Microbe et Gasoil (2015)
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)
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)
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 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 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.