Leiden International Film Festival – Day 2

Microbe et Gasoil (2015)

Microbe et Gasoil

From French Director Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind and Be Kind Rewind) comes Microbe et Gasoil, a film that almost perfectly captures what it’s like to be young and come up with all sorts of crazy ideas with your childhood friend. The film revolves around two 13 or 14 year old kids (Daniel and Théo) who become best friends almost immediately when they’re seated next to each other in class. I think they might just be acting a little bit younger than you would expect, but it’s possible I’m vastly overestimating my own maturity at that age… Anyway, they devise a plan to build their own car to take on a trip through France as soon as school is out for summer and, this being a Michel Gondry (penchant for magical realism) film, of course they end up doing just that. Uh yeah, even though I never built my own car, this still took me back. 4 stars.

Son of Saul (2015)

Son of Saul

I followed this course once when I was in college, I think it was called ‘Film as Prosthetic Memory’. The idea was that certain cultural products (such as books, comics and films) can act as a kind of collective memory for later generations who were not around to witness certain historical events. The Holocaust (or Shoah) of course being the most important example. Films that attempt to convey this particular subject matter therefore fulfill a very important role, but also have a massive responsibility to live up to. It has, for instance, been argued that a film such as Schindler’s List (by focusing on the extraordinary story of the titular character) fails to represent what The Holocaust was like in the vast majority of cases. Son of Saul has a similar problem, because it documents the events leading to an uprising, which suggests Jewish prisoners had a certain amount of agency (and the ability to fight back). Which, could be argued, is ridiculous. Victims of The Holocaust were so utterly robbed of agency that 1. it is impossible for ‘us’ to vicariously experience it and 2. stories of armed revolt portray a (perhaps) dangerously skewed version of events (that’s not to say this never happened, because it did, but it was rare and the victories that were achieved were – in most cases – hollow and pale in comparison to the awful reality of The Holocaust). – Having said all that, Son of Saul does present us with some truly nightmarish visions. By closely following Saul and showing most of the events out of focus, it seems to be at least aware of its limitations as a work of fiction and the subject matter it is dealing with. 4 stars.

The Lobster (2015)

The Lobster

Okay, so this was a very strange film, think 1984, but instead of the dangers of police state levels of surveillance this focuses on dating and relationships. Colin Farrell plays some poor sod who’s just dumped by his wife and then goes to some kind of resort where he has 40 days to find a new partner (I thought this was of his own volition, but apparently this is a dystopian future where everyone needs to have a partner – so mandatory then). If he fails to connect with someone, he’s going to be turned into an animal of his choice (a lobster in this case). At first I thought this transformation was supposed to be symbolic, but that was before peacocks, camels and flamingos started wandering into the frame. I’m not sure whether this was written by someone who feels persecuted for being single, or who is stumped by the sometimes seemingly arbitrary foundations relationships are built upon, or maybe he or she is frustrated by constantly meeting the right person at the wrong time (and vice versa). Whatever, maybe understanding this one is a fool’s errand. The awkward delivery of lines was great though (and Tires was in it!). 3 stars.

Flocking / Flocken (2015)

Flocking

Flocking is the inverted version of 2012’s brilliant Danish film, Jagten. Instead of a man who is wrongly accused of sexually abusing a young girl, Flocking is about a girl who is raped by one of her classmates, but is not believed. The results are equally devastating though when the entire town turns against her and her family. Apparently they have lowlifes in Sweden as well. It’s hard to watch and the film keeps the audience in the dark regarding the veracity of her claims for quite a long time (no doubt so that the audience can experience the frustration felt in the town – or maybe marvel at the ease with which her accusations are dismissed by most of the town’s residents). However, Jagten did this first and did it better. 3 stars.

Rosewater (2014)

Rosewater

Rosewater is Jon Stewart’s (of Daily Show fame) first attempt at a feature film. It chronicles the events surrounding Maziar Bahari’s arrival in Iran, his documenting of the rigged 2009 elections, the resulting riots and his subsequent capture by the totalitarian government of Iran. He was held for 118 days before being released due to increasing pressure and attention from abroad. Though it’s a competent film, it definitely shows that this is Stewart’s debut as a director. I think his personal connection with Bahari is what moved Stewart to make this film. Apart from one disarming moment between Bahari and his interrogator (Pusher’s Kim Bodnia), this was pretty standard stuff. 3 stars.

 

Leiden International Film Festival – Day 1

It’s one in the morning, I’ve had a few drinks and I’ve seen five films in a row today, so don’t expect too much, just going to hammer these out. It’s that time of year again though: Leiden’s International Film Festival. I understand this is its tenth year actually. Last year my friends and I (same group) saw about twenty films in the space of a week and with twenty-six reservations for this year, we’re on track to set a new record. First, here’s the crew and then some thoughts on the five films we saw today:

From left to right: Lester, Roelf and Flemming

King of Devil’s Island (2010)

To start things off, we went with this Norwegian film starring Stellan Skarsgard. His name featuring prominently ‘on the box’ is probably why we picked it, but the actual main attraction turned out to be Benjamin Helstad who played the role of ‘C19′, a fresh arrival at an extremely nasty, snow-ridden, heavy-on-the-corporal-punishment boys home somewhere way out in the middle of nowhere Norway. Absolutely beautiful scenery though. Usually, the new kid is subjected to all kinds of hazing rituals before they earn their spot, but C19 didn’t take shit from anyone. It was great. Former top dog Oystein did make an attempt in the washroom, but he never stood a chance really. The rivalry does have a nicely bromantic pay off when they join forces for their many escape attempts, much like Nicholas Cage (Sean Archer) and Chris Bauer (Dubov) in Face/Off. 4 stars.

600 miles (2015)

Coming from the good looking wide-angle sweeping scenery shots of the last film, 600 Miles was a bit of a change of pace. It reminded me a lot of A History of Violence and Eastern Promises (both Cronenberg films) in that this film told a very small scale and intimate kind of crime story. This was reflected in the way the camera stayed close to its characters. Just close-up and medium shots combined with a handheld style. At the heart of the film we find Kristyan Ferrer (as wimpy Mexican arms dealer Arnulfo) and the venerable Tim Roth (as ATF agent Hank Harris – whose wife is actually not dead – well played, Hank). 600 miles takes it sweet time to build to a climax, but it’s very effective. Much like in the mentioned Cronenberg films, the eruption of violence feels personal. Also: this will probably have the best title card of the festival. Think I gave this one 5 stars.

Un moment d’égarement (2015)

I swear, the French have this type of film down to a science. It’s a romantic comedy about two dads (age somewhere around 50) and their two daughters (17 and 18 I think?) who go to Corsica (which is my favorite place in the world by the way) to enjoy a couple of weeks in the sun. There’s just one problem: both Vincent Cassel (dad number one) and Lola Le Lann (his best friend’s daughter) are absolutely insanely fucking good looking. At one point, Lola decides to take notice of Cassel’s incredible hotness and sets out to use hers to ruin the guy’s life, which takes her all of five minutes probably. But seriously, he should get a medal for even holding out that long. Good job, Cassel. Count your lucky stars you’re in a light hearted French comedy instead of real life. Had an absolute blast with this. 5 stars.

London Road (2015)

This, on the other hand, was garbage. Avoid (and don’t let that awesome still fool you into seeing this film). 1 star.

Cop Car (2015)

Bringing things to a close this evening was Cop Car, a fairly middle of the road, though high concept, thriller about two runaway kids who come across an abandoned, you’ve guessed it, cop car. After they find the keys Edward Furlong style, it is decided they’re taking the car, and its contents, for a joyride. As soon as they start to tire of driving the car around they decide to liven things up a little by pointing assault rifles at each other saying ‘aim at the vest’ (kid, I’m not sure the vest is going to stop a 5.56 round). So yeah, sufficiently stupid kid-like behavior. Other than that, there’s really not much to say about this film other than the fact it does have Kevin Bacon (always a good thing), who’s sporting a really nasty mustache and looking rather fit for his 57 years. Couldn’t have hurt for Bacon to have been just a little more menacing in this film. 3 stars.

ScarJo vs. internet pornography in JGL’s directorial debut: Don Jon

Frequent masturbation and addiction to internet pornography are the subjects Joseph Gordon-Levitt chooses to tackle with his 2013 directorial debut: Don Jon. In pursuit of doing so, JGL assumes the role of this New Jersey guy who seems to have a reasonably firm hold on life: he’s in excellent shape, manages to hook up with beautiful women on a regular basis, he’s got a couple of close friends to chase said women with and, to top it off, he’s got this gorgeous ’72 Chevrolet Chevelle from which he (rightly, no doubt) shouts obscenities at other drivers in vastly inferior vehicles. So it seems he’s doing alright then. If only it weren’t for the fact that he sometimes pleasures himself up to thirty-nine times a week. That seems like it might be too much of a good thing.

JGL’s persona and trashy (can I say that?) accent are a little jarring at first, but you get used to it pretty quickly and I think it’s a good choice for him to create a little bit of distance from the usual well-dressed, well-read and JGL of impeccable taste we’re familiar with from movies like Brick, Inception and 500 days of summer. Scarlett Johansson is equally effective in her portrayal of the extremely sexy, though slightly trashy, character that might be the answer to JGL’s problem (you’d almost forget this is the same woman that once starred in Lost in Translation). Sadly, even her spectacular curves can’t satisfy JGL’s insatiable appetite for his very particular view of what sex should be like and Johansson cuts JGL loose after catching on to the fact he often supplements their sexual acts with the ones performed by strangers on video. Don Jon‘s pretty smart about this breakup not being the (sole) reason for JGL’s acceptance of the fact he might have a problem, that’s resolved later on, when he meets Julianne Moore. Prior to that however, the film illustrates that Johansson’s expectations of her partner are perhaps even more unrealistic and grievous a transgression than JGL’s wrongdoings in a scene that appeared, to me at least, strikingly familiar. Granted, this film is directed by a guy, so it’s possible there’s a bit a bias there. But I appreciated it all the same.

Perhaps then, the film is not so much about porn addiction as it is about modern day media creating a somewhat twisted view of what men should be to women and vice versa. I’m not sure whether it succeeds in sharing any earth shattering revelations on that matter, but it does serve as good illustration (through a couple of excellent casting decisions and a subtle change in direction/style towards the end of the film) of how beauty, in a broader sense of the word so that it also includes the truly erotic, trumps sexy every single time.

The Robocop remake

They remade Robocop and, perhaps not surprising, the results are not great. You’re probably already familiar with the story of Robocop and how it was told in Verhoeven’s original 80’s classic featuring the venerable Peter Weller, so I won’t bother you with the specifics. It suffices to know that they’ve done a pretty decent job of updating the film’s premise by focusing on Robocop’s resemblance, in function, to the drones that are already in use in Iraq (and other places…). This provides both an interesting and topical point of departure for the film when they put something ‘organic’ (Joel Kinnaman) into one of those drones and simultaneously illustrate, in a way I hadn’t really considered until now, what it would be like to have your body replaced with a machine. Quite horrible as it turns out.

In that sense, this remake definitely has something going for it, but it fails in most other areas. The writing sucked and the action scenes are offensively uninspired. I really don’t understand how you get to direct an action film when you so obviously don’t have an eye for it, José Padilha. Furthermore, about halfway through, they turn the film into some kind of open-world, videogame fetch-quest type of experience where Robocop uses his newly unlocked abilities to start grinding through his fucking quest log. Who comes up with this stuff?

In short then: the Robocop remake poses an interesting question but it fails to come up with any answers. And the rest of film’s direction certainly doesn’t do anything to accentuate Robocop’s phenomenological crisis. Just go watch the original, it has Miguel Ferrer doing blow off a prostitute before getting shot and left with nothing but gaping holes in his legs and a going away present that has a 4 second fuse, courtesy of Kurtwood Smith. See, twenty-seven years later I still remember that.