Thursday, November 12, 2009

Landscape No. 2

Without millions of frequent flyer miles and a hefty spending allowance to attend multiple festivals, it can be difficult to see Oscar's Foreign Language Film submissions in a timely manner. One usually has to wait it out a year or three to catch up. By then one loses interest (at least I do) because there's a whole new crop off films tantalizingly dangled to try and reach for. The cycle begins anew. Even the annual high profile films (this year's crop includes Germany's The White Ribbon and France's Un Prophète) are purposefully withheld -- from the American public at least -- in the hopes that an Oscar nomination will sell tickets the following year. It'd be so much more fun if people could see the movies and argue the merits of Best Foreign Film vs. Best Picture lineups each year ... "five by five". (Or, rather, 'five by ten'...argh. Damn you, AMPAS! You're screwing with the beautiful symmetry)

Thankfully there's always an exception or two. The first easier-access contender this year is Landscape No. 2 (official site) from Slovenia, readily available at Netflix and Blockbuster.

The film begins like a mystery drama, as two thieves steal a painting (the titular landscape) from a decorated general's home. The younger thief Sergej (Marko Mandic) ignores his boss Polde (Janez Hocevar) who has warned him to stick to the art. Instead he helps himself to extras, pocketing money and paperwork from a safe. Unbeknownst to either thief, the stolen documents detail a grim war crime from World War II which would ruin the reputation of, you guessed it, the man they just stole from. It's so damning it could incite civil unrest given Slovenia's post-war psychic scars. Shit, as you may have guessed, will hit the fan.

At first, though, the film seems to be settling for slice of blue collar life dramedy as the thieves socialize with friends and caddish restless Sergej darts between his wallflower fiancee Magda (Barbara Cerar) and his randy girl-on-the-side, Jasna (Maja MartinaMerljak). When these two share a scene, the clothing is not safe. The sex scenes are graphic, hot and funny and serve as an open mouthed (with tongue) reminder that American filmmakers are totally prudish.

The athletic sex scenes and especially the character bits, are only deceptions. For as the movie progresses it becomes ever more clear that what we're dealing with is political allegory and the characters are, quite possibly, not characters but statements like Apolitical Youth of Slovenia or The Past. While it's always a bit difficult to read political commentary in films from countries outside your own, I feel safe in assuming there's a lot of one thing standing for the other in that so much of the last third of Landscape No. 2 seems too direct. The film's final lines in particular seem closer to theme statements than dialogue.

Even more shocking than the film's ample displays of flesh though was the violence, which is portrayed just as graphically. The film veers uncomfortably close to the slasher genre for this squeamish viewer as the death grip of The Past begins to reveal itself as a theme of No Future. One murder, though exceptionally well staged and absolutely gripping in the surprise of its ferocity, scared me so badly that I actually had to leave the room for a moment the next time I assumed a character was done for.

It's not for the squeamish and probably not for the Academy. Still, there's something to be said for bold and forceful filmmaking even if you sometimes wish the confident director would carry a mallet rather than a sledgehammer. B-

an actual frame from the film. No, I shan't explain it.



Janice said...

For a non-smoker you hold that cigarette in with a enviably artful effortlessness. Just had to say that - because I can't contribute a thing to the post otherwise, though I enjoy your review of the film.

You are quite right though - it would be lovely to be able to see the films before the Oscars, but I guess the distributors assume that Americans think anything with subtitles have, like, cooties and we just won't go. (Not that we do a very good job of disproving that, except in NYC.) But how many more dollars are they really picking up in the US by holding the movie back for the "Academy Award nominated/winner"? Maybe a few more folks along the way, but isn't the main audience still the moviephiles who would have been the main audience before the Oscars anyway? Everyone else is perfectly content to wait for the screwed-up American version anyway.

Goran said...

Yeah - I'm not sure how many foreign film fans consult the Best Foreign Film category before deciding on which specific foreign film they should go see in January. Also - people who are willing to tackle subtitles (the valour of it!) tend to be the more adventurous type of moviegoer. Movies that win Best Foreign Film Oscars tend to be wannabe Hollywood films peppered with tinkly piano and cute children to distract you from the fact that no one on screen is genuinely American or even speaks English.

In the meantime - how encouraging to Eastern European filmmakers that a Slovenian (!) film is readily accessible by Netflix. Across all of former Yugoslavia this film would probably be less accessible.

I'm kind of looking forward to it. I'm a little wary of the sledgehammer aspects you bring up, but I can't wait to check out these sex scenes.

adelutza said...

This is a sour issue for me since the longest time. When I used to live in Europe I had issues because I couldn't see the Oscar nominees in time for the Oscars. Now I live in US and I still can't see those because of the limited releases. On top of that , I can't see foreign releases either.
I know I have complained about it endlessly but , please!, let me spend money on movies!