Trailer: 1001 Grams

Bent Hamer’s quirky, visually formal romantic comedy was one of the most surprising pleasures at last years Toronto International Film Festival. In matters of science and love, if you get down to the most first-principle measurements at atomic levels, it’s more of an agreed upon reference than actual fact. What a novel and unusual way to articulate a life! The film might be on the nose at times and it’s driest of dry Norwegian humour is a bit of an acquired taste, but it is so brilliant and beautiful in how it goes about itself, that I fell in love with 1001 Grams, unequivocally.

When Norwegian scientist Marie attends a seminar in Paris on the actual weight of a kilo, it is her own measurement of disappointment, grief and, not least, love, that ends up on the scale.

Trailer: Big Game

This ridiculously fun a, Amblin-esque popcorn muncher from Finland was a big hit at last years Toronto International Film Festival with the midnight crowd. Much of the Finnish cast from Jalmari Helander’s previous exercise in dead-pan holiday fun, Rare Exports return and are mixed in with a slew of Hollywood character actors Samuel Jackson, Ted Levine, Jim Broadbent, Ray Stevenson, Felicity Huffman, and Victor Garber to achieve maximum results on a limited budget. And in English, too. It is a shame that Big Game doesn’t have set release dates on this side of the Atlantic yet, but UK folks get a chance to see it on May 8th.

When Air Force One is shot down by terrorists leaving the President of the United States stranded in the wilderness, there is only one person around who can save him – a 13-year old boy called Oskari. In the forest on a hunting mission to prove his maturity to his kinsfolk, Oskari had been planning to track down a deer, but instead discovers the most powerful man on the planet in an escape pod. With the terrorists closing in to capture their own “Big Game” prize, the unlikely duo must team up to escape their hunters. As anxious Pentagon officials observe the action via satellite feed, it is up to the President and his new side-kick to prove themselves and survive the most extraordinary 24 hours of their lives.

Note: I interviewed both Jalmari Helander and his young star, Onni Tomilla, at TIFF over at Twitchfilm.

Friday One Sheet: Rated R-100

Japanese comedian Hitoshi Matsumoto specializes in delightful, deadpan movies. His previous efforts, Big Man Japan (aka Dainipponjin) and Symbol were both international successes, and great films as well. His latest is the bizarre S&M-dramedy, R100 that takes its title from the Japanese film rating system, indicating that nobody under 100 is authorized to view it.

Can a poster be dead-pan? I think the large amounts of text on this, and a woman in fetish-leather wear is both eye grabbing, and kind of self-deprecating at the same time. Good on you Drafthouse Films for capturing part of the spirit of this crazy film, without spoiling a darn thing.

Trailer: White God

White God

Winner of the Prize Un Certain Regard Award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, White God is described as “a brutal, beautiful metaphor for the political and cultural tensions sweeping contemporary Europe”:

When young Lili is forced to give up her beloved dog Hagen, because it’s mixed-breed heritage is deemed ‘unfit’ by The State, she and the dog begin a dangerous journey back towards each other. At the same time, all the unwanted, unloved and so-called ‘unfit’ dogs rise up under a new leader, Hagen, the one-time housepet who has learned all too well from his ‘Masters’ in his journey through the streets and animal control centers how to bite the hands that beats him.

Review: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared

[Opening Today in Toronto on a single screen, if you get the chance to make it out to this one, run-don’t-walk]

For all of us who feel Robert Zemeckis’s Forrest Gump is a sentimental, condescending insult to cinema audiences everywhere, and Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is not any better, we finally have an entry into ‘the man who fumbles successfully through history’ nano-genre to call our own. Do not let the maladroit title fool you, Felix Herngren’s big screen adaptation of the bestselling novel by Jonas Jonasson, is a Swiss-fucking-watch in the plotting department, and savagely amusing in its come-what-may temperament. It sneaks up on you in similar ways as Jo Nesbo’s Headhunters even as it dazzles you with the sweep of history.

After a tone-setting and highly unfortunate incident involving a sweet kitty, a hungry fox and a bundle of dynamite, one of cinemas strangest heroes, Allan Karlsson, finds himself confined to a retirement home on the eve his centenary year on this little planet called Earth. The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared (hereafter The 100 Year Old Man) is the delightfully absurd story of our eponymous very senior citizen who does indeed bail out the open glass portal of his tiny room right on the day while the nurses are attempting to count and light all those candles on his marzipan cake, but it is also the story of us as a conflicted and nutty species.

Would you like to know more…?

Foreign Language Oscar Submissions – 83 of Them!

Wait, it’s Oscar nom time? But I haven’t seen anything good this year! Well, perhaps you’re in the wrong country or not hitting the festival circuit; because apparently the world seem to think that there are at least 83 films worthy of Oscar consideration. It’s a record year for the Foreign Language submissions this year. Last year there were 76 submissions (also a record), but 2014 has bested that number by seven.

Of course not all 83 will be up for an actual nomination. Eventually this list of 83 will be whittled down to five (which you will likely have heard of by then) and then on the big night only one will survive. I’ve always contended that the foreign language category is the one category that The Academy actually gets (mostly) right – both in nominations and often the winner.

At any rate, come February 22nd, one of the following titles will be crowned king of the films not funded by American monies:

Would you like to know more…?

Trailer: Force Majeure

ForceMajeure

This dark comedy of gender roles and familial morality from Sweden was a hit in both Cannes and Toronto. The trailer is cut with a wry precision and a sense of showcasing intimate conflict alongside epic scenery. I personally missed the film due to conflicts with other screenings, and because it is coming to Lightbox in Toronto later in the month, and indeed, Magnolia is giving the film a commercial release in select cities. From the TIFF Catalogue:

On a family skiing vacation in the French Alps, Tomas and Ebba are enjoying lunch with their two children when their meal is suddenly interrupted by thunderous booms emanating from the mountain above them. The complacent Tomas initially dismisses the possibility of danger — but when it appears that there may be an avalanche, he grabs his cellphone and bolts, leaving his wife and children to fend for themselves. The remainder of the film monitors the fallout from this fateful incident, as husband and wife hotly debate what actually occurred, and what Tomas’s proper response should have been — a battle that eventually threatens not just Tomas and Ebba’s relationship, but those of the people around them.

TIFF 2014 Review: Leviathan

 


A rundown fishing town on the coast of the Arctic Ocean is the rugged edge-of-the-world stage for Andrey Zvyagintsev’s complex, but quite accessible, new film. There is a visual mastery of relating wide open natural spaces, with precise man-made interiors, present in all of his work, but taken to new heights here.

Leviathan tells the tale of a man losing his land, losing his wife to his best friend, and losing his son to anger. It scales this Job-sian human tragedy up to savage some sacred-cows, the Russian institutions of community, the state and the orthodox church. That this is based on a true story is shocking (and utterly believable) in both the specifics and the universality. You certainly don’t have to speak Russian to understand human flaws and failure.

Kolya is living on the best piece of land in town, on a hilltop which overlooks the river as it joins the Ocean. The towns corrupt mayor, Vadim, is intent on seizing this property for a choice development project and is willing the exploit a property rights loophole, and his control over the municipal courts and police, to get his way. In a Kafka-esque single-take shot, the court baliff reads, at robotic speed, several pages of policy and verdict on why Kolya’s appeal to keep his property is being denied. Shortly thereafter Kolya is arrested and put in prison for filing paperwork.

His long-time army pal who is now a big-shot Moscow lawyer, Dima first tries conventional bureaucratic methods but soon take another tact, attempting to blackmail Vadim, a heavy, belligerent brute who has more skeletons in his closet than Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and is up for re-election. A lot of vodka is consumed, a lot of cigarettes are smoked. Men confront one another in intoxicated states. The local teens drink and smoke in one of the towns abandoned churches, indoctrinating themselves into what will likely be their fates as adults in the local fish processing plant. Images of gutted fish being sorted and processed cement the notion.

Another scene involves birthday party getaway to an isolated quarry to BBQ meat, drink vodka (of course) and shooting bottles. When the supply of bottles is exhausted (in part because the birthday boy is packing a Kalashnakov automatic rifle) targets are switched to portraits of Russian presidents. Near the shooting gallery is a waterfall, which we only get a glance, of two boys tensely navigating the rocks and froth at the summit. It echoes the opening moments in the Zvyagintsev’s The Return. One boy witnesses Dima and Kolya’s wife, Lilya in coitus, shattering things on the home front, pitting Kolya and Lilya’s mutual friends against each other and sending their son Roma running off into his own confused wilderness of adolescence.

Kolya (and for that matter, Dima, Lilya and Vadim) want reasons and answers for their woes and conflicts, but are left as alone in the wilderness as Roma. Even as there are occasional winners in the game, the mortar of modern Russia is mixed with the crumbled bones of its citizenry. A character mentions offhand that no fortune was ever amassed without sin and suffering. In personal or political circles this is likely a truism if there ever was one. The final gut-punch of the film (allow me to reiterate that this is a true story) is feral in its undiluted satire. And the pounding score drives home the epic nature of this story of small people rolled over by the body of the whale.

Whale skeletons and fishing boats share equal space on the beach with a corpse whose fate is a mystery, but both institutions and community have little problem crafting meaning around it. Far from a pleasant experience, where the power of forgiveness is a whisper in a hurricane, Leviathan is masterclass in imagery and storytelling (the screenplay won the prize a Cannes earlier this year) one of the best films of the year, and showcases a director at the absolute top of his craft who is still willing to lob a grenade into the power circles of his country.

TIFF 2014 Review: The Duke Of Burgundy

 


Starting off with what is undoubtedly the opening credit sequence of the year, Peter Strickland’s The Duke of Burgundy never ceases to surprise and delight over its 100 minutes, offering a dry but meticulous humour and rhythm. Those credits, offering the promise of ‘perfume by’ and ‘lingerie’ by,’ evoke a specific period of Euro-sleaze cinema from the early 1970s that was drenched in velvet, silk and hosiery (and undoubtedly all kinds of musk). Harpsichords and cellos abound.

In Strickland’s previous film, Berberian Sound Studio, he took the mood and repeated patterns of the Italian Giallos to deliver a witty and uncomfortable workplace comedy. It was a film where a British man is driven mad simply by the culture shock of alien ungraspable protocols. It was terrifying, confusing and above all, funny as hell. Here he does a two hander in an oversized, lushly designed manor house in the country exploring the sexual politics of two women immersed in the protocols of their own passions. Their only break between shared intimacy is in the meticulous study of moths and butterflies, creatures who are nearly infinite in variation, aid in pollination, and whose rapidly pulsing wings sound more than a little like a vibrator.

Young Evelyn arrives to work as the housemaid for the matron of the house, who haughtily finds fault in every task; a master who is clearly power tripping. Everything is heightened as Evelyn brushes the carpets on her knees, hangs damp underwear up to drip-dry, or slowly polishes the barrel of the microscope in the entomology laboratory, where hundreds of glass cases of moths and butterflies pinned to velvet pillows. If you can take your eyes off the production design here, your sympathies might slide towards poor Evelyn, but things quickly get complicated as it becomes obvious that she is seriously getting off on the ritual. Body language and pregnant glances are the key to unlocking this picture, so keep at attention.

Like nearly every scene in the film, there is a punchline. It is amusing to watch this film with a large festival audience (I hope everyone gets a chance) as certain visual cues become apparent at different times for different people, giving an atmosphere of someone on the verge of laughter at any given moment, while others are intent on something entirely different. I won’t give anything away, but suffice it to say, that as the film progresses, it gets murky, then clear, then murky again, in who is the slave and who is the master. The rhythms and cycles of The Duke of Burgundy echo the give and take between lovers. How far can things go before the proclivities of a partner begin to feel like a chore? When do the sexy outfits begin to be more constrictive than empowering? When does the purchase a human-toilet device start to feel like a compromise?

Wait, what?

Strickland is fond of saying that he does not deal in metaphor, but comedy is association, and the image a moth pinned by its wings and displayed glass is ripe. As is a room full of handsomely attired women lecturing one another on the minutiae of cricket sounds and colour markings. No matter, there is mood to spare – the film is nothing if not fully immersive. But it also traffics in playfully obscuring its own sight gags. Be sure to pay attention to the slightly out of focused middle ground during the films several moth seminars with out loosing focus of all the passive-aggressive judgement throughout.

Observation and understanding create entertainment and pleasure, that works just fine even whether or not you are familiar with the genre Strickland is archly riffing on and reconfiguring. And boy, oh, boy those opening titles. For that matter, stay for the closing credits for further gems such as ‘human toilet consultant’ which are scattered throughout the text.

There is not a single man in The Duke of Burgundy, but the film doesn’t need any to show us some universal truths about the species and its mating rituals. I can still smell the perfume.