Monday, November 30, 2009
SLIFF 2009 Coverage Part 4
Director: Adrian Sitaru
A married woman and her mathematics professor boyfriend head off for a romantic picnic, but appear more eager to go at each other’s throats than lips, and one quickly gets the impression that their affair is in the final stages. The mood is made even fouler after they run into and knock unconscious a streetside prostitute. She wakes up while they are in the middle of dumping her body, and they awkwardly invite her to join their picnic to try and cover up their irresponsible cruelty. Tension fluctuates as she chats with the two lovers and picks apart their private affairs with a mixture of ingenuous friendliness and manipulative determination. Her motive is never quite clear, but none of the possibilities are reassuring.
The Romanian New Wave has been one of the international highlights of the last five years, and “Hooked” is no exception. The “Knife in the Water”-esque plot allows for the formation of a highly unsettling triangle, where candid conversations reveal a surface of commonplaces over a layer of tangled emotions over a layer of psychological confusion over layers still deeper. The innovative style uses exclusively first-person perspective, with the editing shifting rapidly and yet fairly smoothly amongst the gazes of the three characters. The screenplay is excellent overall, though the ending has a somewhat gimmicky implication. The acting makes the contrivances natural enough to take seriously and brings out the interplay of clashing personality types. The title is perfect.
Title: 35 Shots of Rum
Director: Claire Denis
Centered on a train conductor and his daughter, this unassuming drama about friends and family exudes a warm, elegiac glow. The father attends the retirement party of a friend. The daughter debates whether she wants to be the reason a restless neighbor settles down and stays. A concert is planned, but car trouble and rain redirect the ensemble to a homely eating establishment for a night of drinking, slow-dancing and finding inner peace.
While a tribute to Ozu’s “Late Spring,” “35 Shots of Rum” is undeniably a work of Denis’s own. Critics have unanimously raved about this film, which will likely top a lot of best-of-the-year lists. Perhaps reading all the uncritical, factory-cut praise has made me feel the need to play devil’s advocate. While I’ve liked Denis’s work in the past, I see no evidence of artistic growth in this overly tame and mind-numbingly boring slice-of-life. Yes, it manages to recall real life with its meandering nonstory, lack of action, gentle rhythms, likable people and all that, but does it have anything to say? It tries so hard to be a quiet, intimate experience that it just made me sleepily note that I’d rather be having a quiet, intimate experience at home than watching one. The camerawork is lazy, the acting so understated that it can’t really be criticized or even much discussed and the pacing is a mess of sluggish debris. Critics will acclaim it, thinking that the masses really need to see this type of film, but audiences will stay well away. I, for one, can’t fault them this time.
Title: Three Monkeys
Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
An accident on a lonely rain-swept road triggers a series of dangerous transactions in “Three Monkeys” by Turkish auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan. The driver, a politician with an uphill election campaign in the works, asks his chauffeur to take the manslaughter rap in exchange for a lump sum of cash. While his dad waits out his sentence the chauffeur’s son asks his mother to get an early installment, leading to painful confrontations and revelations for the entire family.
Nuri Bilge Ceylan (“Distant,” “Climates”) has had an extraordinary career already and if this isn’t his best film yet, which I think it is, “Three Monkeys” is at least his most entertaining. Considering that all his work is drenched in downbeat pessimism and immaculate imagery, it was hardly a leap for him to make an outright film noir (albeit a family drama noir), but what’s more surprising is his heretofore unexpressed knack for comic timing and surreal horror. He captures storm-strewn skyscapes, crumbling concrete and ill-treated flesh silhouetted in Hou Hsiao-Hsien lighting with rapturous shallow-focus, green-tinted cinematography without ever wasting a shot.