Mini-Review: The Giants

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

The Giants

If there’s a trope, or worse yet a cliché, you can name in a coming-of-age film it’s very likely that The Giants sets you up to expect it and then subverts it. That is not to say you should approach this film with a checklist, but there are many times wherein either salvation or damnation threatens these characters, but what you see instead is maturation and survival. Brothers, Zak and Seth, along with their friend Danny are isolated both by circumstance and by choice. The adult world is an invasive burden on their existence but one they are ultimately forced to cope with by themselves.

The film has opportunities to embrace conventions either of dystopian coming-of-age stories, like Kids, or more utopian ones where despite all the travails the characters go through there’s a classical Hollywood ending. This film takes the road less traveled as often as possible when faced with a plot point that can be seen as fairly common and that choices pays off over and over again.

With parents that are perpetually absent without true explanation, it’s a tale essentially of individuation rather than any of the other pitfalls of growing up. There’s definitely no love interest in the tale, and, without station too much, if there is even any true commentary on sexuality is left ambiguous.

The restraint and certainty that the film has in the handling of its plot, edit and musical selections is matched by the young cast. This especially applies to Zacherie Chasseriaud shows the poise and control of a veteran from first scene when he deals with his mother’s absence and nearly cries, but doesn’t, through to the end.

Bouli Lanners does not seem to be going for either extreme of the emotional spectrum with this tale, but rather and accurate portrayal of kids in circumstances out of the ordinary forced to grow up. They are neither idealized through nostalgia or auteristic proclivity nor are they “gritty” just for the sake of it. Elements that could be used for shock value in less-skilled hands here are what they are, meaning part of their existence and are there without commentary. The Giants is a highly effective, well-crafted tale deserving of a larger audience.

10/10

Limbo: When Casting Clouds a Point

One of the films featured at Philly QFest (when I went) was called Limbo. The tale of a 5th Grade homosexual boy who falls into a delusional world after suffering an accident. Having missed this film upon its initial screening it became a DVD must. However, this film in the end suffers from more than just aesthetic/technical issues.

Those issues are rather abundant: The dialogue is rather repetitive – repeating that “it is limbo” and “everyone has their own” several times seeming to want to make up running time because they didn’t have enough, the video cinematography is uninspired to say the least, the sound is not good – in fact it’s quite bad, the revelation of the significance of the blind man is no surprise. In the end a bulk of the movie is (to not give it away too greatly) like an entire season of Dallas, at some point the lawyer, who is in Limbo with him, takes over and becomes the center of the film and the development of Isao and his driving the story stops completely, the cuts out of the limbo state to his friend’s reaction and the “real world” is jarring more than anything else and only seems to interrupt things.

As if those things weren’t bad enough it is also becomes confusing as a selection for a gay film festival in a couple of ways. The first way in which it manages this is through an exchange between Isao and the nurse towards the end, made even more awkward because she is a Virgin Mother figure, in which she says vaguely “You should give girls a chance.” The film’s message in the end is not one of conversion but at this moment that is dubious and the fact that this film depicts a Mary figure seemingly encouraging a gay boy to be straight is actually the most disturbing rendition onscreen, and that includes Sinead O’Connor’s turn in The Butcher Boy because that was Francie Brady’s vision and he was off-kilter to say the least.

Limbo (2008, Gussi Artecinema)

The intent of this line is softened, but only slightly, a few minutes later. Isao is alive and well with his friend, who tried to kiss him earlier, and tells her “I don’t want to be your boyfriend, but I like you,” and then they kiss. This would be fine if it hadn’t gotten into slow motion, and gone on for so long. There’s no reason for it and it becomes disturbing after a while.

The gaffes committed by the film don’t end there. In the end credits you’ll notice that Isao was played by Fatima Diaz. This fact is not cited on the festival page or on the Amazon listing and not even on the DVD blurb. This is a casting ruse that is completely and utterly unnecessary. The character was not written or played such that a young male actor could not have pulled it off, this is not like Felicity Huffman in Transamerica where the unconventional casting choice worked to a great advantage of the film. It wasn’t made a necessity or even preferable. In the end this little bit of simulacrum not only creates a lesbian kiss where there was supposed to be a friendly one but also makes the homophobia that Isao faced seem almost justified because there isn’t even a boy playing this role. Making it seem like it’s unacceptable for a male actor to play this part. Mind you I don’t blame Diaz in any way, though not spectacular she was only noticeably a girl when she screamed, which at time I thought was an odd ADR choice not a casting one; a casting choice more appropriate for The Crying Game than this story.

Now perhaps director Horacio Rivera was trying to make a statement both in casting and in the lesbian kiss, but what he failed to take into consideration was that that message needs to be trumpeted and said message, if intended, is more likely to backfire when the whole film just fails to work. The bottom line is that it’s a choice too open to the audience’s interpretation and undercuts the message of the film entirely.

Mini-Review: La Sirga

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

La Sirga

This is a film where much happens beneath the surface. It’s a narrative wherein we also have few, if any, assurances of what occurred prior to the film beginning and what occurs after it is completed. In fact, what can be considered the climactic moment of the film isn’t visible, but rather takes place behind a closed door. There isn’t too much said, but what is said bears thinking about and reading between the lines; as nothing jumps out and screams “Hey, this is important!”

That’s not to say the film isn’t engaging, or that conflict is absent. It’s just that it’s not as engaging as it might be and the conflict is highly internalized. The cinematography of the film is quite spectacular especially in terms of framing. It features some of the most exacting frames I’ve seen since Found Memories. It’s definitely a film worth viewing and considering.

7/10

Mini-Review: The Deflowering of Eva Van End

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

The Deflowering of Eva Van End

I’ve discussed the fact that I quite enjoy the Film Movement film-of-the-month club. One aspect I’ve mentioned less frequently than the included short films on each DVD release, is the fact that on the inside cover there is usually a statement about the film from both the company and the director of the film. I make it a point to not read either until after I’m done watching the feature. The reason I mention that is because what struck me from the first frame is what Eva’s (Vivian Dierickx) look, her persona; reminded me of was Dawn Wiener, the protagonist of Todd Solondz’s Welcome to the Dollhouse, and as the opening scene played out that notion was reinforced. Those sentiments were echoed in the statement. However, I agree this is its own film because it’s not a myopic view of a world but rather a portrait of an entire family.

Eva is our entry into their world. She gives us our first glimpse of them and thus we see them in a very broad stroke. As Veit (Rafael Gareisen), the German exchange student who turns their world upside down, changes their behavior we learn about them, what their insecurities were and what they try to do to take control of an alter their lives.

It’s a very funny film in both its exaggerated renditions of reality, but also a very real one with dramatic consequences. The characters progress but are not perfect; they remain flawed in the end, but better for the experience. Veit could be the only one who walks through it unchanged. He is what he always is, it’s what the family projects him to be that alters.

Through artful cinematography, editorial finesse and music that enchantingly encapsulates this odd world, there are well-executed tonal shifts and visceral impact that far overcome any minor quibbles I may have. The Deflowering of Eva Van End is a film that paints the portrait of a family far more fully than its title suggest and is recommended viewing if you see it about.

9/10

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

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

Thankful for World Cinema: The Golden Dream (La Jaula de Oro) (2013)

Introduction

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

The Golden Dream (2013)

La Jaula de Oro is a film that I was completely unaware of until one of my more dedicated readers saw an article written about it in light of the Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes and sent it my way. The film then ended up on My Radar and one I wanted to see not only based on the story but based on the director’s work with non-professional young actors in this film.

La Jaula de Oro follows three Guatemalan teenagers Juan (Brandon López) , Sarah (Karen Martínez) and Chauk (Rodolfo Domínguez) as they try to get through Mexico and ultimately across the US border.

This is a film that has very little reliance on dialogue and few conversations of any consequence. It’s a story that’s told with visuals at the forefront, focusing on the landscapes around the characters and how they interact with them and each other non-verbally.

The film sets this tone early on as we watch Juan and Sarah each make their own preparation for their first attempt to leave. Some of the maneuvers made may seem curious but as events play out they will become clear. Other occurrences that are wordless are the way the characters change in the way they look at each other. This quietude is almost by necessity inasmuch as Chauk is a Guatemalan native and does not speak Spanish; therefore nonverbal cues are key.

López, Martínez and Domínguez all perform admirably in this film and based on the direction, and the work they all put in together, you’d never guess that this was their first venture. López has perhaps the most challenging role before him not just being the lead, but also taking a seemingly simple arch through several one-note iterations and slowly progressing. However, the progression does come through. Martínez has a persistent duality to her role as the has to have a gentle nature but also be tough enough to be believable as a boy, as she is traveling as such. She achieves both these tasks with ease. Lastly, Domínguez through all his close-mouthed stolid persona has to emote wordlessly with few single reaction shots and manages to.

In an interesting decision that I’ve seen a few times, but never as persistently as in this film, when Chauk does speak his native tongue it is not subtitled. His companions don’t understand exactly what he said so neither do we, but in most cases we get the gist.

The film does illuminate many situations and facts about the northward migration that most either don’t know or never considered. Firstly, that it’s not just Mexican citizens trying to cross the border but also some of the realities on the road, which is really the focus. For the film eschews the MacGuffin of illuminating what is exactly that’s prompting these teenagers to make their attempts solo. It cares about the journey instead.

La Jaula de Oro puts its characters before any overarching messages. Sure, they are there if you look for them based on how certain situations play out but they are never vocalized. It’s a depiction rather than soap-boxing and it’s one of the more compelling dramatizations of this journey that’s been rendered in the past several years.

8/10

Thankful for World Cinema: You and the Night (2013)

Introduction

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

You and the Night (2013)

I have a theory about this film. I put that forward from the start to immediately plant the seed that it’s the kind of film that one might develop theories about. Now, the cynical view would be that any film that requires theories about it is being far too abstruse for its own good. However, there are a number of affectations within this film that I believe make theorizing not only necessary but welcome.

The set-up, on the surface, is a simple one. Round about midnight a couple and their live-in transvestite maid are in preparations for an orgy. The guests at said orgy are all “labeled.” And I mean labeled such that they are hardly if ever referred to by name but rather as a label: The Slut, The Star, The Stud and The Teen. Even the maid, who can be argued to be one of the more central figures in the narrative, is usually referred to as just that, The Maid.

That’s just one thing that lends some credence to theory-bearing. The hints flow into the story slowly. There is a deftly not-much-commented on futuristic music player, there are sudden theatrical infiltrations of negative fill in the apartment during story telling by many of the players. When there are intrusions of seeming reality (such as the police in search of a missing person) the interaction is odd, stylized and over-the-top, but decidedly so and not accidentally. All this and more contribute to a notion that the film is fact an utter fantasy fashioned as such to examine as many sexual quirks and avenues in singular psyches as possible.

The lack of convention can be plainly seen in the third act as fantasies dissolve back into a reality that more closely borders the surreal than ever before in the film. These are the more secondary intimations that have less bearing on the plot, the more obvious hints that I interpreted this way cannot be discussed lest they give away too much of the film’s action.

There are many subgenres and approaches to film that require more out of actors and this film certainly gets plenty from its ensemble. The central triad is played by Kate Moran, Niels Schneider, whom I recognized from Xavier Dolan’s Heartbeats, here he is equally as evocative if not more so; and lastly Daniel Maury as the maid. For as absurd as the interactions of this trio may be they pull it off, and more importantly, behave as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. Flanking them are footballer-turned-actor Eric Cantona who has a similarly unenviable task of not only saying his monologues straight-faced but selling them and succeeds. Fabienne Babe astutely plays the star-in-hiding with skeletons in her closet. Alain Fabien Delon, son of legendary French leading man Alain Delon, brings a perfect ingenue-like quality to this film and effectively plays a fought-over prize. Perhaps the most enigmatic, and in some ways most lacking character is that of The Slut, however, this is no fault of Julie Bremond’s. There is an attempt to plumb a profundity beneath a pornographic façade of all of these characters. The results with her character just don’t prove as conclusive as they do with the others.

There is an odd kind of mysterious magic that keeps You and the Night engaging throughout. It’s tale is a curve rather than a straight line and thus the end is a bit of an ellipsis. However, ultimately the journey is an intriguing one which plays out a bit like Pirandello writing an exploration of human sexuality for a different medium in a different century.

6/10

Thankful for World Cinema: In the Fog (2012)

Introduction

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

In the Fog (2012)

In the Fog goes about its narrative in a few ways that are a bit outside the norm. By norm I mean standard three-act formatting and forward-moving chronological narrative. What this film does is persistently but languidly pushes its narrative forward about twenty to thirty minutes at a time then at a necessary crossroads backtracks to fill-in any blanks that may have been left by the previous passage. However, the reason this method works for the most part is that you get a bare minimum of information as you need to be able to follow the plot. What the backtracks do is illuminate the shock, but what had occurred prior is engaging because of the basic drama, and in part some of the disorientation being felt.

Another aspect that makes this structural decision adept is as you follow the tale of this man who has been wrongly accused of collaborating with the Nazis who are occupying Belarus at this time is that the end of his, and the film’s, story are not that difficult to figure out. However, the structuring of the tale is such that impact of most plot points and twists is heightened and made more profound by information you glean after the fact.

Nearly all the drama in this story centers around three soldiers: Sushenya, the accused (Vladimir Svisky), Burov, sent to capture him (Vladislav Abashin) and his partner Voitik (Sergei Kolesov). It is largely thanks to these three performers that you stay as engaged in this tale as you do. Much of the time these three are interacting, either recounting what has occurred or engaging when only stakes and not details are yet understood and its their commitment and clarity that is communicating what the details omit.

Another aspect of this film that is worth noting is that the framing is usually rather loose and withdrawn, leaning toward wide shots that are fairly static. It plays into the more storytelling nature rather than a battle tale. The film is a human tale amidst a war not a war film amidst humanity.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this film is the psychological. Both the psychology of the characters that is examined throughout, but also the psychology of the Nazi nemesis in this film, which is very accurately portrayed and seemingly well-adapted from the source material.

The only things that really holds this film back are that slight bit of lag, and the fairly clear endgame in sight. However, those are not the be and all and end all of this film, thus, those facts are not ruinous to this film and it does manage to engage well enough.

7/10

Thankful for World Cinema: The Fifth Season (2012)

Introduction

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

The Fifth Season (2012)

The Fifth Season is a film that tells the story of a small town in the Ardennes region of Belgium that starts to suffer greatly when winter doesn’t end as its supposed to. This is a film that starts out with a more community-oriented view and starts to narrow its focus to a few central figures and storylines, as the climate begins to take its toll on the agrarian community more and more as things deteriorate.

These problems get their first indicator at a bonfire celebration. In a scene that could be plucked out of a low-key horror film you get a sense that some very weird things are afoot. As with many stories about unusual occurrences, there is naught found in the way of explanation. In lieu of that we examine people under duress and see what they do when bereft of  basic necessities. It’s a harsh illustration not only of the affects of climate change but also mob mentality which assumes that it can’t be everyone’s fault, which is the more likely explanation, but rather seeks to find a single person to scapegoat.

However, on smaller levels you also witnesses relationships deteriorate: such as the young couple like that of Alice (Aurélia Poirer) and Thomas (Django Schrevens) and even between man and beast. There are also small wondrous scenes that turn bittersweet in light of later events like the wonderful scene where Pol (Sam Louwyck) and his son Octave (Gill Vancompernolle) sing one of Papageno’s arias together.

There in this film a precision of framing as well as a tonally brilliant approach to the edit that communicates far more than any piece of dialogue in the film can. Thus this way the utter malaise that the town is thrown into, the depth of despair is exactly communicated, whilst how they react to it is guarded such that those moments where there is a lashing out still come as a surprise.

In The Fifth Season nature and the environment are not merely part of the atmosphere, but are turned into an active player, much as it is in reality. The task of making it a palpable entity in a two-dimensional plain is never easy and this film succeeds at that and having its impact on the characters rendered quite dramatic; more dramatic, in fact, than if anything supernatural had occurred, because few things are actually more palpably frightening than a cessation of any kind of order to something we as a species had become reliant upon – this is especially true when we’re most to blame for such erratic shifts.

8/10