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Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Vinterberg’

Every once in a while they let me away from the University long enough that I can immerse myself in the Toronto International Film Festival, which takes place at a time of year that is otherwise academically disruptive. Because I help out the TIFF organization during the year with this and that, I am usually given a pass, but most years it just sits there and laughs at me (plus, it’s not transferable!).

By the time an opportunity rolls around to do a proper immersion, I’m never sure if I’ll get into it. Many years as a festival programmer, and attending a great many festivals as a filmmaker, in some ways eroded the magic. But when I actually have the opportunity to do nothing but attend films, the magic comes back!

Day Zero was a work-in-progress screening of Wiebke von Carolsfeld’s film Stay. I worked on this as a story editor. It was nice to kick off the festival with a film from next year. Not surprisingly to anyone who saw Wiebke’s debut Marion Bridge, her new film is delicate and true, beautifully directed with terrific performances from Aidan Quinn and Taylor Schilling. I will say no more.

After the Battle (Baad el Mawkeea; Egypt, Yousi Nasrallah) This film promised sociological fascination, and delivered more than that. Set in present-day Egypt, it explores the social contradictions exposed but not resolved by the Tahrir Square revolution. The subject is the unlikely friendship between an affluent young female advertising executive who has been radicalized by the revolution, and a horse/camel jockey/tour guide whose business has been destroyed with the collapse of tourism, and who was humiliated on Youtube when he was beat up by the Tahrir Square crowd after riding into them on his horse. The filmmaking is polished, and if the tone is a touch earnestly soapy, this is more than redeemed by winning performances from professionals and non-actors alike. There’s a convincing sense of life filling both characters’ worlds, as the film’s ponders how the chasms of class and values that characterize its society can be bridged.

After the Battle

Kinshasa Kids (Belgium, Marc-Henri Wajnberg) Make this into a TV series – now! The plot is almost non-existent, but the setting – the slums of Kinshasa, which have the post-apocalyptic grit that will probably be missing from Dredd 3D – is stunning. The frame overflows with life, and the eponymous kids, street urchins abandoned by their families as witches, who form a band called “The Devil Does not Exist,” are charming and utterly real. At one level the film hits all the predictable clichés about overcoming adversity, except that the conviction and skill of the performers (including  a range neighbourhood characters in addition to the kids), and the filmmakers’ natural style and genuine and heartfelt engagement with everything in front of the camera, make it convincing, pleasurable, even revelatory.

Kinshasa Kids

The Hunt  (Jagten; Denmark) Thomas Vinterberg is back! He kind of lost his way with a some big international flops, but now The Hunt provides a brilliant matched pair with his debut film The Celebration. Where that emotionally brutal masterwork ripped the lid off a family deformed by hidden sexual abuse, The Hunt goes in the opposite direction, looking at the moral panic of a (similarly enclosed) society ready to believe false accusations of abuse. What’s amazing is how the opposite situations come round to the same ugly shadow projections (in one case on the victims, in the other on the supposed perpetrator – rather like the first and second half of Night of the Hunter: in the first half the community refuses to see what the Preacher is; in the second they form a lynching party). Both films take startling looks at male power and male vulnerability. The Hunt explores these themes with, if anything more nuance and depth, and just as much savagery; though the filmmaking is more conventional, and the film doesn’t convey the same sense of revelation.

Mads Mikkelson gives a quietly explosive performance as a dedicated kindergarten teacher falsely accused of abusing one of his charges. For a while the film skirts with misanthropy, a sense that the plotting is being guided by having all characters make the worst possible decision at any given moment, but ultimately its look into the heart of darkness gains complexity and is utterly convincing.  The combination of themes (primal masculine issues of bonding and initiation, the emotional vulnerability of men as nurturers and the particular nature of male emotional pain, as well as the broader collective issues of scapegoating) with the film’s nominal subject (an accusation of abuse) is startling. And the final note is brilliantly disturbing and true.

The Hunt (Jagten)

Pieta Middling Kim Ki-Duk with his characteristic mix of tenderness and cruelty; the purity of a fable; the poetry of the extreme. A pitiless enforcer for loan sharks is gradually humanized by the intrusion in his life of a woman who claims to be his mother.  The intriguing situation and story are hampered by a weak central performance, and a lack of rigour in details and cinematography, which undersell the richly textured location. (Digital artifacts on the output projected didn’t help.) The story takes on a compelling gravity, and the film has interesting things to say about the nature of revenge, but falls well short of the impact it might have had (in spite of the “tsk”ing of the industry audience at Kim’s more extreme moments).

Pieta

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