Friday, April 27, 2007

IIFF #1: First Three Days

I'm not actually in Indiana yet for the IIFF (Indianapolis International Film Festival) but just pretend I am for the sake of this early report. The festival was kind enough to send me some films early. The first couple of days of smaller festivals are usually light. Once the weekend hits it'll be in full swing.

Day 1 Wednesday
Thicker Than Water (Blóðbönd) is a solid feature debut from 35 year-old Reykjavik native Árni Ásgeirsson. This was the runner up selection to Iceland's Oscar submission, Children in 2006. Blóðbönd begins with an ultrasound and we meet proud parents-to-be Pétur (played by the excellent Hilmir Jonsson) and Asta (Margrét Vilhjálmsótter) but somber music, a cool color palette, and a fainting young boy (their 9 year old son as it turns out) let you know that things aren't so idyllic for this couple. Thicker Than Water isn't quickly paced but the story set up is over in minutes: blood tests clue Pétur into a ten year old lie: he isn't his son's father. The rest of the movie is a justifiably angst ridden unravelling of the discombobulated family, particularly the father. If it's not quite exciting to watch - it leans so far towards realism that it's not just anti-Hollywood but nearly anti-drama (every time you want an explosion of feeling you get implosions. People do sometimes clam up rather than vocalize their rage) - there's still a good deal to recommend in it's incisively observed moments. Plus, the strong ending gives it staying power: Thicker Than Water's resolution details the way that people who unravel generally stitch themselves back up. The haunting final shot reminds us that there will be scarring.

Day #2 Thursday
They did not send me a screener of Away From Her... so unfortunately you'll have to wait for that review. I do love myself some Julie Christie (who is, according to everyone who has seen it, strong enough to warrant Oscar consideration) so I'll let you know as soon as I manage a screening.

Day #3 Friday...that'd be today.
I absolutely love that this festival is showing the Buffy sing-along tonight. We've had it here a few times in Manhattan but it sells out fast. For the poor unfortunate souls reading who have still not joined the cult of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (of which I am a zealous missionary) that's the extra long musical episode "Once More With Feeling" from that landmark show's amazing and difficult sixth season. Neither of today's entries that I've seen The Living and the Dead (UK) and Nevermore (Germany) can hold a candle to that Buffy episode but then, it's not really a fair contest. They do however share with that classic a willingness to go way the hell out on a spindly limb.

The Living... circles an unhappy family: father, sick mother, and heavily medicated son who live in a huge empty estate with a name that sounds like "Lonely House". The rest of the movie isn't subtle either. The father leaves for a brief trip and the mother and son descend into hell. The director Simon Rumley seems to be enjoying his looping narrative and especially his static camera placements which, through repetition, become more alarming for the changes that occur within the frame. It's all rather baldly played to shock and horrify but mostly I just wanted out of the house. The aim is surely to put you in the schizophrenic mindset of its main character ? characters (?) and this is not an impossible task, but it surely is no easy one. I remember the film Clean/Shaven some years back accomplishing the disorientation trick without losing control. But this particular film piles too many tricks on top of tricks (film speed and nonlinear chronology are the guiltiest parties) smothering the actors who have little to do other than embody guilt (father), sickness (mother), and insanity (son). They spend a lot of time screaming and crying. I never audibly joined in but I know just how they feel.

I had better luck with Nevermore (Nimmermeer) This dark fable is about a poor fisherman, his young son and a travelling magic circus. Its the first feature from 28 year-old German writer/director Toke Consantin Hebbeln who has previously directed short films. Hebbeln's style is decidedly cinematic, he loads the movie with visual flourishes which are well executed by the creative team. That said he most definitely errs on the side of overkill: a little slo-mo and swirling cameras go a long long way. (Pull it back!) These things tend to work better in music videos which need instantly potent images rather than visuals which sustain and compliment a narrative. Thankfully Nevermore calms down and improves as it goes along. The climax, a magical circus show, is blissfully simple. For its final surprise, this movie that didn't seem to know when to quit wraps up just after the hour mark. Imagine it: a movie that knows that when your story is over, you end the movie. I'll be curious to see Hebbeln's sophomore effort.

5 comments:

Kamikaze Camel said...

I sort of love that Thicker Than Water's native title sort of looks like "bloodbond", considering "blood is thicker than water" and all. ...never mind me.

Neel Mehta said...

Interesting photo. I had no idea that Toby Jones fronted a KISS tribute band.

Nick Davis said...

Great write-ups! It's fun to have your take on films that are still out there on the wayside of the mainstream market. Looking forward to more reports.

NATHANIEL R said...

kamikaze --i don't know much icelandic but i'd consider it a good bet that is' translated just how you think.

neel --strangely there's no KISS on this movies soundtrack?!

nick --i'll see what i can do.

i leave sunday morning so i'm not sure when the report will be up. two more movies to share about...

Ásta said...

Yes, it's Bloodbond (common Icelandic phrase but perhaps rather goulish if translated literally). I didn't see this movie in theaters - very few people did because frankly it didn't look interesting. The reviews were fine - similar to your own - but there was little to draw you in.