Sonntag, 30. März 2014


Canadian director Denis Villeneuve's "Enemy" is a stylistically remarkable but narratively undernourished entry into the familiar genre of Doppelgänger-thriller.

The technical craftsmanship invested here is undeniable. Chronically underlit but done so in a waxy, faded fashion, the movie looks gorgeous and creepy from the get-go. The unsettling sense of an alien beauty is further enhanced by the sleek camerawork that often finds unexpected, slightly disorienting angles into a scene and the architectural backdrop of Toronto that's mutely foreboding in its hypnotic geometry. Finally completing the oppressive visual spell is the bold, borderline showy editing, which disrupts the order of the already cryptic frames some more to give the whole thing a proper puzzle-like feel. The score is also effective. From the tiniest sound of a spider scurrying on glass to the bossy, ominous strikes of the timpani, it's all part of a lush and scary soundscape.

Which is, of course, why it's so frustrating for me not to be able to embrace this movie. Despite the superb job on the visual and aural design, the film is exceedingly light on charater- and motive-building. Thinking beyond any superficial level and asking about the plausibility of the actions portrayed would bring one immerdiately out of the trance and cast everything in a somewhat silly light. So even with a stupendously ballsy ending that kind of, sort of comes brilliantly full circle and demands you to connect the dots scattered from the very beginning, the feeling of being cheated by a measly short bloated to feature size that's a little too confident for its own good is hard to shake.

Dienstag, 25. März 2014

Short takes

"Hundraåringen som klev ut genom fönstret och försvann (The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared)", a Swedish comedy about just what its title promises, is, despite its far-fetched, century-spanning storyline involving dictators, espionage and atomic bombs, a rather modest affair. Not eye-catching in terms of acting, visual or sonic design, the movie by director Felix Herngren relies mostly on the unlikely tale to intrigue and entertain. While here and there that goal is achieved with an extra helping of off-beat Scandinavian quirk- the escape from the Siberian labor camp and the whole Cold War sequence come to mind- its humor is never sophisticated nor out-right hilarious, but more of the harmless "ha-ha" variety. Loopy, irreverent and in the end, all those casual deaths and body disposals notwithstanding, quite life-affirming, it's a pleasant ride with plenty of eccentric characters but, without a confident hand to hold it all together, it's one that can't be called memorable.

"Alles inklusive (All Inclusive)", a cross-generational German dramedy about an eclectic bunch of lonely souls out searching for happiness but landing where they started, is generally agreeable but not exceptional in any way. Writer/director Doris Dörrie is known for her empathetic take on the little joys and heartaches of the everyday, and indeed there are places in this film where you can sense the hint of prickly wit or crushing sadness projected on the flamboyant, furiously colorful vista of a Spanish beach resort. It's to her credit that she always seems to find unremarkable but definitive gestures or words that can make a character come to life. Unfortunately, this movie can't quite connect those bits of revelation into an expressive, organic whole, so in the end one is left with the empty feeling you have when an itch is not properly scratched. The cast is fine, but when a dog steals the show from such iconic/reliable players as Hannelore Elsner or Nadja Uhl, you know something's wrong.

"Kill Your Darlings" is a tale of romance and murder surrounding famed poet Allen Ginsberg set in 1940's New York. The movie looks fetching and boasts strong acting from an able supporting cast. First-time feature film director John Krokidas puts an edgy, modern spin on some of the scenes using flashy speed modulations, nifty cuts and warped sound that prove to be impressively controlled. So it's too bad that outside the fantasy sequences or montages, the narrative often feels drab, a fact probably most attributable to a script that's muddled and too inarticulate for a story about such legendary writers. It doesn't help that Daniel Radcliffe, while serviceable as Ginsberg, is no match for his on-screen crush as he is instantly out-acted by co-lead Dane DeHaan, whose unreadable blue eyes threaten to blink away that look of helpless fragility with an icy glare at any second. Otherwise Nico Muhly's soundtrack is a gem. Where the writing fails, the surprisingly varied and bold musicality of the film saves it from ever being a bore.

"שש פעמים (Six Acts)" is a sexually charged Israeli teenage drama, although drama may be too strong a word, since the movie, built on a loose, incident-based narrative with a lascivious focus on the young, toned bodies of its actors, often feels like a late-night special on date rape or an extended Abercrombie & Fitch ad spot. What director Johnathan Gurfinkel succeeds in doing is conveying a restless vibe among a group of adolescents high on hormones and low on reason or self-esteem. The giddiness of constant lust and easy lay, the thrill of dominating, owning someone else, the shame of rejection are all photographically captured on a shaky camera with suggestive lighting. But the story, besides making sure you know that everyone and their father and kid brother want to get into the pants of the female protagonist, is characterized by an utter flatness and lack of tension. There's no arc, momentum, twist, substance, which makes it a risqué little atmosphere piece shockingly devoid of meaning.

Montag, 24. März 2014

Die Frau des Polizisten (The Police Officer's Wife)

"Die Frau des Polizisten (The Police Officer's Wife)", a 3-hour domestic drama set in rural Germany, is quite the strange beast. Divided into 59 chapters, each bracketed by two separate title cards announcing its start AND end (not even kidding), it's, contradictorily, both formal minimalism / overkill. The merit of this approach will possibly forever be dabated. To some the endless opening and closing of scenes will no doubt come across as insufferably pretentious, not to mention repetitive, but the intention to suffocate by employing a purposefully punishing framing device can equally be argued.

Substance-wise, the film is not any less experimental. The theme of marital violence is addressed in an unusually elusive way, embedded within a torrent of seemingly unrelated sidenotes or impressions, like those chapters with only seconds of footage showing random wildlife activity or the protagonists singing into the camera. Add to that a deliberate scrambling of chronology, which gives the already bewildering material even more of a dream-like quality, and it's very likely the viewer won't get any closer to understanding the dynamics of this family of three or the motivations behind the abuse when the tragedy is done.

For all its daring and striking oddness, I don't think writer/director Philip Gröning is quite yet the master of chaos à la Tsai Ming Liang, evidenced by the lack of a gravitational pull, a logic-defying suction from the combined senselessness. Besides the consistently impressive cinematography, which in some cases affords the film an eerie fantasticism and a Lars von Trier / Terrence Malick virtuosity (ex. the bathing scene), the elements don't always come together to really stick or even to intrigue. And so it's probably recommendable only to die-hard cineasts who like their movies all obscure and compulsively different, with no music nor high dialogue concentration, of course.