Friday, 2 September 2011

Love & Anarchy Tips 2011

Image source: Rakkautta & Anarkiaa -blogi
 It's the happiest time of the year for us film fans in Helsinki. The biggest international film festival in Finland is soon coming to our town for another ten glorious days. You can check out the entire programme here. I have seen a number of films shown at the festival beforehand so it's time again to do some recommedations. I'll have to add that I wrote for both the festival tabloid and the film catalogue. So I hope you'll forgive me if I shamelessly steal ideas from my own texts. The following films are ordered from most to less recommeded.

Bullhead (Rundskop, Belgium)
Director: Michael R. Roskam
Good to see if: You feel dirty play makes your work way too hard and hope you could take action against that.

These days pitch black crime thrillers seem to sprung up from all over the world where ever you'd least expect. Michaël R. Roskom's debut film takes place in the countryside of Flander in Belgium. The place is depicted almost as a mythical realm of all that is evil and wrong in the world. Violence, prostitution, murders, gambling and drug deals flourish. The film is a steroid- and testosterone-filled revenge thriller with brutal violence, so it's not for the faint of heart.

Such shady affairs also draw in the cattle farmer Jacky Vanmarsenille (Matthias Shoenaerts). He is accustomed to pump his meat full of hormones working for his uncle. So when a shady vetinarian suggest that he should work for a local hormone smuggler Marc (Sam Louwyck), Jacky accepts. The deal would open all new markets for Jacky's beef, but he doesn't know that Marc coldly disposes of people who ask too many questions. Getting in Marc's way also ended the life of a local policeman recently. Jacky's deal gets the authorities to look for his businesses a little closer, and also brings back traumatic memories from Jacky's past. The farmer may get a chance to have revenge on people that horrifyingly mutilated him as a child, but is it worth it?

There's no doubt that two things push the film forward: amazingly confident direction from first-timer Roskam, and the excellent performance by Shonenarts. The latter's as convincing as can be as a tough-as-nails muscleman that has been beaten down all his life. This does makes him quite withdrawn. In the beginning, he has moral conflicts, but does mostly aim to do good. Yet, like the name suggest, he is stubborn, and won't give up when he's made up his mind. This makes him a little unpredictible, to both the audiences and also the characters in the film. As for the direction, the countryside bathes in dark colours, and thus makes it seem that all the evil on screen could be from anywhere in the world. Even your backyard. Roskam builds up tensions beat by beat, and also brings psychological layers into his story. I'm left waiting to see what he does next. Let's hope we have the new Nicolas Winding Renf here in him.

Kill List (Great Britain)
 Director: Ben Wheatley
Good to see if: You love gritty crime movies, family dramas and weird horror films, but can only afford one movie ticket.

Praise has been flowing through windows and doors to this British wonder that seemingly effortlessly mixes popular film genres and creates an unique cocktail. And much of the praise is deserved, because Kill List is exciting, creepy, and leaves the viewer pondering the morally grey areas where it dwells. Director Ben Wheatley has clearly been watching a few classic British genre films, but doesn't steal, but rather borrows themes and images to enhace his very own story.

Jay (Neil Maskell) and his wife Shel (MyAnna Buring) are in a difficult point in their marriage. Arguments rage and dishes get broken on a regular basis. Yet the pair still has love towards each other and especially to their son, Sam (Harry Simpson). Much of the arguments are about Jay loafing around the house, and his unemployment. This is why Shel is OK when Jay goes off with his friend Gal (Michael Smiley) to a business trip. Even though she knows very well that their area of expertize isn't exactly legal. It seems this time their assignment makes them meet some truly evil people...

Much like my beloved Disappearance of Alice Creed before, Wheatley's film manages to pull the rug under the viewers a few times during the course of the movie and take the whole thing to an entirely new level. These turning points are not just cheap twists, but bringing forward elements within the film's world that fit the story to be told. That is not to say that everything in the film is easily explained, since it contains a lot of weird, creepy scenes. The violence is used sparingly, which makes all the brutal bursts all the more horrifying. I hope we are witnessing the rise of a new wave of talented Brit horror directors. It's great that film festivals allow us to see this sort of events as they unfold in front of us.

The Other Side of Sleep (Ireland)
Director: Rebecca Daly
Good to see if: You're afraid to be alone at night.

The year's theme seems to be loners in a rural setting. Well, never mind that, because Rebecca Daly's debut feature film seperates from the others by being a real one of a kind gem. It is the kind of film which mixes reality and dream, yet it is not us viewers who may think we are dreaming, it is the young factory worker Arlene (Antonia Campbell Hughes). Arlene is having trouble sleeping, but when she does fall asleep, she walks around her town. She may wake up from weird places with her fingers and skin all bloody and other weird stuff having happened. Hughes plays her part mostly expressionless, like hypnotized. That's why it's really hard to tell the difference of when Arlene is awake and when sleeping.

When another young girl is killed in her village, Arlene becomes interested. There's two reasons for his fascination. First, if someone is stalking young girls at night, she may be a suitable target while sleepwalking or coming home from work. Second, when she isn't sure what she does at night, she herself might be the killer! Arlene starts to pay close attention to the case, saves newspaper articles about it, and visits the crime scene. She also starts to see the persons close to the victim, whether unconsciously or to get clues.

Daly's film mixes up a lot of things that European art cinema is good at. There are shots in the textile factory where Arlene works that are reminiscent of social realist films such as the work of Ken Loach. Some moody thriller scenes, like lonely walks on the road at night, remind of giallo thrillers. And the dream-like quality of many scenes in the central plot have traces of the modern expressionism and surrealism. There's also a seemingly undefined wild card in the mix, which makes the film's mood calm and threatening at the same time. In the film, the mystery comes second in how the film is told, and the viewer gets rather sucked in by the sheer mysticism of it all. That's good, because the film doesn't offer straight answers, and a lot, like Arlene's thoughts behind her expressionless face, is left to be decided by the viewer him/herself.

Cold Fish (Tsumetai nettaigyo, Japan)
 Director: Sion Sono
Good to see if: You hate your boss and wonder if he (or she) is as two-faced elsewhere as in your workplace.

The story in Sion Sono's film Cold Fish is announced to be based on actual events. This thriller about business brutality is claimed to follow reality pretty closely, only having switched dog kennel keeping to owning an aquarium shop. I'm not sure whether to believe that, because the whole story feels so imaginary, poignant, and clever, just like Sono's films at best do. Two aquarium keepers, the friendly-seeming Mr. Murata (Denden) and the timid family man Mr. Shamoto (Mitsuru Fukikoshi) become friends after Murata hires the thieving teenaged daughter of Shamoto to work in his shop. The men become fast friends. But it soon turns out that Murata is in fact a cruel psychopath, dealing with the yakuza and officials both with brutal ways. Shamoto is soon tangled to Murata's web of lies and nasty businesses, but is too much of a pushover to oppose his dominance over him. But like one can see from films like Straw Dogs, you can only push one so far, until he has to bite back. Yet on the line is not only his oppressor, but also Shamoto's dysfunctional family, over which he wants to take on a new dominance.

The character of Murata is a fascinating and memorable villain. In the beginning he seems genuinely excited in seeing exotic fishes and joking around with people he barely knows. Yet he is actually a lot more cruel than would seem on the outside. He truly cares more for fish than people, as he has a talent of pulling people's strings to do his bidding. People are objects to him, and able to be disposed of when they outlive their usefulness. His aquarium shop is filled with teenaged girls in skimpy costumes, and he can take any woman he wants with a mixture of lies of understanding them and taking what he wants with force. His sense of humour extends to the dirty part of his business and he derives great joy in chopping his victim's corpses and plays around with different organs. Veteran character actor Denden does great job in bringing this human monster to life and his character is one of the greatest criminal characters seen in recent years.

Unlike Sono's 4-hour Love Exposure from last year's Love & Anarchy, Cold Fish runs on a little bit too long, and feels repetitive. It deals with many of the same themes, such as the state of families, the unfairness of Japan's society which pushes people to do deperate things, and one person's decision to fight for a more pleasant ending for himself. One still can't claim that this tale filled with hopelessness, fear and pain isn't gripping. Cold Fish is also trencehed in black humour that Sono handles very well. He also utilizes a lot of the familiar Christian imagery in the background of its violent atrocities. By delivering another corker, Sono is well on his way of becoming his native country's most interesting  modern filmmaker.

Sensation (Ireland)
 Director: Tom Hall
Good to see if: You feel today's society is over-sexualized and pine for some basic values such as love and respecting one another.

isn't really a love story, even though it's about a boy meeting a girl. This drama, laced with dry black humour, has much too dark themes to be a feel-good movie. Director Tom Hall takes an ironic look at modern loneliness. The film is set in the Irish countryside where unmarried old bachelors deal with their farms alone. The only way to get release is to wank off to porn magazines in the field with the sheep watching or to hire a call girl.

The young Donal's (Domhnall Gleeson) father doesn't take this kind of life any more and takes his own life. Donal inherits the farm and a sum of money, but doesn't really know what to do with it. Being horny as hell, he decides to invest in a prostitute. Thus he meets the new-zealandese Kim (Luanne Gordon). The couple hit it off very well, and come up with an idea to invest the money. They start a pimping circle in the countryside for other lonely men around. This proves to be a successful idea, but has strains on the relationship between the pair.

The film ponders the question whether everyone really needs sex to be a balanced individual. Sex itself is treated like a trade, and the performance doesn't initially hold any significance in the minds of the characters. Yet because they focus too much on only the intercourse, the characters forget a lot of other important things in relationships, and life in general. Getting sex won't give the characters any respect from anyone, nor any skills to respect anyone else. The blame falls to the fractured modern life: internet makes pimping easy, but earning any love hard.

7 Sins Forgiven (7 Khoon Maaf, India)
 Director: Vishal Bhardwaj
Good to see if: You're a romantic, but feel that true love evades you

We westerners often have a stereotypical idea of what a Bollywood film is: a formulaic 3-hour romance story with superficial song and dance numbers erupting every now and then. Altough 7 Sins is a long, melodramatic and epic drama that contains a lot of romance and music, it breaks every cliché it can find. The film is also filled with black humour, and the music varies from tango to acid rock. Instead of a full color pallette, the film is shot in dark blue, brown and grey-tones. The film's plot may initially feel predictable, but even though it is told in flashbacks, it still has a few tricks up its sleeve with which to genuinely surprise the audience.

Susanna Johannes (Priyanka Chopra) has been unlucky with love all her life. It seems this drove her to suicide. The shocked
Arun Kumar Singh (Vivaan Shah) is ordered to do the autopsy. He tells her wife that he used to secretly pine for Susanna years ago, as he grew in her farm and she later worked as his mentor. Susanna's story is heard in a flashback. She has tried to find a man to love that would love her unconditionally, and thus has gone through seven husbands. Six of the first have been a sinful bunch, being full of self-obsession, wrath, vanity, greed and other mortal sins. They all, from an army general through a rock musician to a hippie professor, treat her badly. Thus, Susanna comes up with clever ways to kill them to go searching for the next husband.

Chopra's performance as Susanna is the backbone of the film. Even though her character is ruthless and cunning, her unlucky exploits looking for love in all the wrong places make her symphatetic. She also has a great deal of determination, even though she ages from a teen to an old crone during the course of the movie, and turns to a little bitter. Chopra also brings a little eerie mystique to her performance, making watching her enchanting. 

The Enemy (Neprijatelj, Serbia, Bosnia-Hertzegovina, Croatia, Hungary)
 Director: Dejan Zecevic
Good to see if: You ponder what makes perfectly normal people into beasts during the wartime.

Films from the Balkans often deal with the horrifying violence the young countries had to endure not too long ago, whether directly or indirectly. The resulting films have been pretty grim, and The Enemy is no exception. This horror film by Dejan Zecevic approaches the subject from both directions at once. It is set on the battlefields of the Bosnian war, and the characters witness mass graves and varous other horrors that were realities back then. But the film's story does also seem to have some supernatural elements in it. Whether they are real or just psychological delusions of the characters is left to the viewer to decide.

A group of Serbian soldiers on a scouting mission comes upon a contry house and discovers that a man has been laid inside the wall. The man acts oddly and seems to have been peacefully waiting to be discovered. The patrol is commanded to stay to wait for back up, but it wouldn't be much worth to leave anyway, as the area is filled with mines. But the patrol isn't alone in the area, and has to deal with both civilians and enemies moving around the area. Everything doesn't work out, and the stress gets to the men.

The director Dejan Zecevic knows that the best horror films often work with a slowly building tension. It is also a clever idea to reflect contemporary war history with a story confined in a small space. The war crime sin the Balkans certainly are much more scary than any fantastical monsters one might come up with. The film doesn't dwell on the cruelties, or stare at its own navel, but flows along smoothly as the tension builds layer by layer. A big part of the excitement comes from the good characters getting distrustful towards each other, and eventually ending up on each other's throats. The Serbians know all too well, that the cruellest mass murderer might be a normal-seeming friend.   

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 (Sweden)
 Director: Göran Olsson
Good to see if: You dream of a better world and aren't afraid to take action when necessary.

Sweden, about as white-bread as countries get, had a strange fascination on the Black Panther movement in the USA in the late 60's and early 70's. Many reporters were working in the country shooting the everyday life in Harlem, interviewing movement leaders and of course reporting on the most important events. Director Göran Olsson has recently found these tapes and cut them together as a movie that tells a story about the Civil Rights Movement from a little different perspective than usual. The material's strength is in the multiple interview tapes of important Civil Rights protesters that were not that well known outside America. The media in the US was more interested in the violence and other concrete acts the Movement was able to do. They never asked too many questions about their ideology, unlike the Swedes.

The political viewpoint is nicely formed in the various interviews of the film. Olsson has also peppered his film with modern interviews with people linked to the movement. As he's out to create an image of the past times, he only uses the modern interviews in audio, letting the contemporary images tell another half of the story. This is a stylish idea and works incredibly well. The only quarrel with the film is that one must know the main details about the American history in those years beforehand. The most important leaders such as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X are ever-present in the background, but their basic ideas and means are dealt with only briefly in the film.

My Neighbors the Yamadas (Hôhokekyo tonari no Yamada-kun, Japan, 1999)
  Director: Isao Takahata
Good to see if: You love your family deeply, even though sometimes they drive you crazy.

Isao Takahata's 1999 family comedy is based on a popular Japanese comic strip, and is often said to be the most un-Ghibli of Ghibli's films. I agree to this claim concerning the film's sketch-like animation style. But at core, Yamadas is as fitting to the Ghibli stable as any of their films. Altough it concerns the mundane lives of a middle-class Japanese family, occasionally it allows for their imaginations to run wild and that results in fine fantasy sequences, beautifully relized in the minimalistic style.

The Yamadas are a happy family. There's the pre-teen Noburo, Takashi and Matsuko (mom and daddy), little Nonoko, grumpy dog Pochi, and the eccentric grandma Shige, who's too old to be polite. The film doesn't so much have a plot as a series of skits of the family's ordinary problems. Nonoko gets lost in the mall, Noburo falls in love with a school friend, Matsuko wants to watch a film on TV while Takashi wants to watch sports, or Takashi must give a speech at work. All problems are chaotic at first as the family reacts in their personal ways. In the end, everything is solved with the Yamadas' unique style. The film is a little uneven, even if it is cheerful and happy-go-lucky by nature. Some of the jokes work depending on whether you care for the various family comic strips on newspapers. It's not to say the film is bad, as it certainly has that Ghibli charm. The Yamadas love each other, and thus the film is an ode to the nuclear family. If you have similar memories from growing up, or have a similar family of your own, it is easy to find something to like here.  

Griff the Invisible (Australia)
Director: Leon Ford
Good to see if: You feel lonely, and sometimes hope you could be someone else. And you love quirky indie comedies.

According to director-screenwriter Leon Ford, the idea for this romantic fantasy movie came from observing a 5-year-old acting out his superhero fantasies. Griff the Invisible is a study on what would happen if an adult would never abandon these fantasies, but would go on playing a hero in his everyday life.

Griff (Ryan Kwanten) is a timid and shy young man, teased by his co-workers. His only friend is worried that he doesn't go out enough, and introduces him to a young girl, Melody (Maeve Dermody). Melody becomes intrigued by Griff's fantasies and wants to start participating in them. As the romance starts to bloom, the simple superhero fantasies grow ever more elaborate and start to have strange turns. In the end, it is not clear whether the company of the two lovers is good for either of them. The film asks the question whether growing up required for everyone.

parodies modern superhero films by its dark colour pallette and athmosphere. This in turn makes Griff's loneliness in the story seem a lot more crushing. But one really can't think of him as a pure victim, as he does fight back to his office bullies. I like that such a silly premise is played so seriously. Yet, the film made me laugh very scarcely, but ponder the relationships adults have on their daydreams and their values all the more. It's a good thing, I suppose, but all in all, the film is a little conventional for a quirky independent love story. Still by far worth seeing if you're into these sort of films.


So there you have my picks from the things I've seen. There's a lot of good stuff in the festival as always. I eagerly await to see at least the LA neo-noir-action Drive in a special Gala screening, Paddy Considine's tough-as-nails directing debut Tyrannosaur, Takashi Miike's return to form in 13 Assassins, and the mad Indian action film Robot (Endhiran), which you may remember as one of my MIWS. The festival takes place from 15th to 25th of September. Be sure to read a lot more film introductions and reviews here as the festival kicks off!

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