Thankful for World Cinema: The Color of the Chameleon (2012)

Introduction

For an introduction to the concept of Thankful for World Cinema please go here.

The Color of the Chameleon (2012)

At the crossroads of science and alchemy is cinema, amongst other things. What I mean by that is that as much as we may try to define rules there are always exceptions and things that challenge our notions. The particular reason this comes to mind when discussing The Color of the Chameleon is because of the way, much like the animal its title is inspired by, changes its complexion at varied points in the narrative.

The film begins with a scene establishing some of the basics wherein a Mother (Svetlana Yancheva) is talking to a headmaster concerned about her son Batko (played in his younger incarnation by Dennis Andreev) specifically about his obsession with onanism. This is a theme that ties much of the seemingly disconnected pastiche together, as foreshadowing and inference indicate this habit may have had something to do with his being unfit for military service. Following that we meet with him in college and see him recruited to the secret police by an agent (Roussy Chanev) and the thrust of the film, such as it is, is introduced.

About midway through is when the film makes an interesting structural and tonal change. There comes a turning point wherein you see a now-mature Batko (Ruscen Vidinliev) in a series of interrogations that are very funny but don’t seemingly connect. The closest kin to such a sequence I thought of is a “Bad audition montage.” However, this is more extended, and while you do have to wait for it, there is later follow-through and narrative impact from this sequence.

The structural oddities are always introduced with flair and style such that even if you’re not quite on board with the new direction the film has taken you will be entertained along the way. However, I would suggest your bearing with it and keeping everything in mind as seemingly small elements influence later jokes and stylistic choices. There is a visual transformation late in the tale that’s making commentary more so than any dialogue in the film. However, when thought of in conjunction with lines previously uttered underscores the absurdist, farcical critiques of communism, secret police, transition to democracy and politics in general. Criticisms that while being very specific to the Bulgarian experience can also be ascribed and understood by those in other nations.

The Color of the Chameleon 2

When Batko’s seemingly convoluted plan comes to fruition the film, despite its jumps in style and time, which are brave and commended; really does click in the end. Anything seemingly out of place is well incorporated including the aforementioned late-film stylistic departure. Aside from visuals there are also genre conventions that are familiar to many viewers borrowed and incorporated here in unique and quirky ways that add to the beauteous, hilarious chaos.

Perhaps the best part of this film is that it doesn’t just come up with a way of making some very scary mechanisms like totalitarian communism and secret police bodies farcically inept, but also uses the personality of the protagonist to help subvert these entities which is humorously adding salt to the wound. In this regard a lot of the first half of the story in essence functions like a heist film in hindsight as the mechanics and tactics of surveillance are learned and we later on see them implemented in a twisted way.

There needs to be grounding and a center to a film attempting things as zany such as these. The interviewees and peripheral characters aside from delivering laughs also lend an air of believability to the tale based on how they react to given situations. However, the tone of the film with regards to the actors’ interpretation all starts with the lead. Ruscen Vindiliev may have differing overtones but his motivations and convictions always remain the same. For as manic as in his need for acceptance, individuation and revenge as he becomes there is always a quite, intense diligence of seeking to accomplish the task before him and find some cursory acceptance and peace. Even when playing all ends to the middle there is a cool veneer that helps make the outlandish plausible and he helps communicate a clarity of motivations that makes the tones make sense, and make him an identifiable lead even if his methods may get Machiavellian.

Out of all the films I’ve viewed this month to fit in this theme, quite a few have been different than what the average viewer may be used to. However, the biggest break from the humdrum I found was The Color of the Chameleon. It’s a film you should be on the look out for and view if you should have the chance.

7/10

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Thankful for World Cinema: Child’s Pose (2013)

Introduction

For an introduction to the concept of Thankful for World Cinema please go here.

Child’s Pose (2013)

As Thankful for World Cinema comes to a close I must say it had a bit of a different focus than I initially anticipated it to have. I say that as a very good thing indeed. I had a bunch of posts lined up that have not yet debuted on this site though they had previously appeared on The Site That Must Not Be Named. They have now shuffled off to further down the line and maybe they will appear next year. The reason for this is that I was able to track down and view not only many contemporary foreign films I wanted to see, but many that are Oscar contenders for their respective nations.

Aside from that honor for Romania Child’s Pose also boasts the Golden Bear from the 2013 Berlinale making it a top-prize winner from one of the small handful of the most influential film festivals in the world. When pairing that with some reviews I’d seen that makes it perhaps one of the more anticipated viewings I had in this block.

Child’s Pose takes a few minutes at the start to introduce Cornelia (Luminita Gheorghiu) talking to her sister (Natasa Raab) , lamenting the way her son, Barbu (Bogdan Dumitrache), has been treating her and indicating some of her overbearing nature. The inciting incident is when she learns her son has been involved in an car accident where he has killed a child crossing a street. Prior to having met Barbu there’s an indicator and we then proceed to see how she interacts with him, her husband, the police and the victim’s family.

What’s impressive throughout the course of the film is that aside from the beginning where she is being established and getting some reasonable advice from her sister, there really isn’t vocalized judgment of Cornelia, but rather an understanding both of her and all characters involved that allows the drama to unfold in a very palpable way throughout ever ascending to the film’s finale.

In my Twitter reaction, which is admittedly usually more of a knee-jerk, I advised perspective viewers of this film to hold on. It’s not that the film is ever slow or disengaging but the dramatic engine does take a bit of time revving up, but when it does in three consecutive dialogue-driven setpieces with a witness to the crime, Barbu’s wife, Carmen (Ilinca Goia), and lastly with the victim’s family the full gamut of the situation is examined; as well as the multiple facets of her character with nearly Bergmanesque precision. It also bears mentioning going in that you’re in for a character study and not a procedural thriller and thus you’ll be far less ambivalent about how things play out.

Luminita Gheorghiu in this film delivers one of the powerhouse performances of the year, which perhaps more than anything underscores my lament of not yet having caught up with the Romanian New Wave going on at current, as she features in many of the notable titles in the past few years.

Another joy to discover in this film is when a strong supporting performance comes to the fore later in the game and makes a strong statement, and Ilinca Goia in her extended scene does just that.

Child’s Pose is a morality play unconcerned about legalistic outcomes but rather about how different people with disparate agendas behave to escape culpability or deal with the gravity of what they’ve done. It’s about Cornelia, yes, as she is insistent most everything concerns her in one way or another, but in their struggles to state their case and separate themselves it does manage to be about the other characters and the situation as well.

8/10