Foreign & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video ">
Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video
FILM COMMENT SELECTS
Two thrillers stand out among the previewed films culled from the festival circuit by the editors of Film Comment for this annual eclectic series. (This may one of the few U.S. venues for any of their selections.) Director Johnnie To, who has quite a record of double-crossing, produced the meticulously plotted Accident, a perfectly paranoid movie for a paranoid age. It thrives on the suspicion that behind every strange or unexplained calamity lies an elaborate conspiracy theory.
In a dark, uncluttered office, four coworkers eat takeout and dryly brainstorm about their new assignment—how to electrocute an old, wheelchair-bound man in the middle of a Hong Kong street. The intended victim’s son has hired the team, whether for the insurance money or revenge, it doesn’t matter. A job is a job, until Murphy’s Law strikes. There’s a strange push-pull while watching the crimes unfold. No matter how appalled you may be by the hired hands’ line of work, there’s a fascination on how they pull off the elaborately staged hits. Director Pou-Soi Chang wastes no time in piling up the bodies. (My only nitpick, and this plays a part in the plot, could anyone fly a kite in a heavy rain storm?)
The Russian film Morphia is an unassuming period piece as tough and harsh as any contemporary druggie movie. In 1917 at the cusp of the revolution, mild-mannered, boyish Dr. Mikhail Bulgakov arrives in the Siberian backwoods. (The script is based on the autobiographical story of the real-life Bulgakov.) The doctor’s descent into addiction, told in short chapters, begins after a treatment to an allergic reaction.
Director Alexei Balabanov’s last film, Cargo 200, was easily the most repellent and queasiest film released last year, one long metaphor for the rotting Soviet Union of the early ’80s. Morphia is gentler but with a few moments of revulsion of its own, namely an amputation. The real star here is the setting, where marauding wolves are on the prowl during snow storms, nurses smoke in the operating room, and the doctor is a cipher, as emotionally empty as one of his jars of morphine.
Director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Air Doll goes where the quirky Lars and the Real Girl would never dream of. Its anatomically correct love doll is truly the object of sexual desire for a lonely middle-aged waiter—he calls her Nozomi. In the first of the film’s permutations, the tone turns from frank and a bit unsettlingly to winsome: the doll comes to life, becoming the ultimate fish out of water. Dressed in a French maid outfit, she wanders off when her owner’s away at work. She picks up her vocabulary listening to her neighbors, and fits right in with children in the playground. Then she comes back home at night, her owner oblivious that his doll now has a heart.
Nozomi’s wide-eyed wonder is infectious as she gets a crash course in movies at a video store and sees the ocean for the first time. She’s not quite a blank slate, however. When she discovers the box she arrived in back in her owner’s closet, she learns that she’s a later doll model—and a cheap one at that—and realizes that she’s “a substitute for handling sexual desire.” An observer of everything around her, she picks up the vibes of loneliness in the drab Tokyo outskirts, leading to the slow-paced, tragic ending. Although most of the movie is fantastical and wonderfully perceptive, it’s nevertheless deflating to see Nozomi become a latex version of Eleanor Rigby.
Would Tales from the Golden Age, five urban legends from the era of the Ceausescu dictatorship, serve as a shortcut primer on the Romanian New Wave? Yes and no. More often than not, this mixed bag hits its mark, but in two drawn-out stories, the rhythm, not to mention the absurdist plot twists, fall flat. Each segment has a different director, but all are written, with a tone of resignation, by Christian Mungiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days). His script lacks the overall stamina of the exceptional acting ensemble. Kent Turner
A second perspective:
Another thriller in the series, Be Good starts out like it could be yet another Fatal Attraction-inspired stalker flick. But debut director Juliette Garcias deftly demonstrates she is a gifted protégé of Catherine Breillat’s bent style of empowering young women against handsome, smooth-talking predators. Anaïs Demoustier builds a break-out performance that is comparable in tone and theme to Ellen Page in Hard Candy, with less violence but as much emotional devastation. The young woman insinuates herself into a picturesque French village and is mysteriously obsessed with the father of a happy family in an isolated villa. Generating considerable suspense, she circles ever closer around him. The audience is pushed to uneasily shift allegiances between the characters several times until the full truth is revealed.
Raúl Ruiz’s Nucingen House starts out like Alejandro Amenábar’s spooky The Others when a couple drive up to an isolated estate—and there will be ghosts here too. But in transmuting elements from a couple of Balzac stories into the 1920’s, Ruiz aims more at making creepily visible the philosophical and psychological consequences of unlucky choices. The main character, a William James (Jean-Marc Barr), has won a mysterious mansion in a poker game, along with all its strange inhabitants and bad karma, much to the unease of his wife, who gets infected with the “house sickness.” Blood, bees, lawyers, and maybe even vampires, prevail, though the film’s too much about intellectual games and heavy with surrealist images before the final ironic twist.
who think that the Hollywood adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road
was too glitzy a take on post-apocalyptic survival,
minimalist, less violent, and so visually dark it needs to be seen in
pitch black to appreciate its austere beauty. It could be a disaster, or
survivalist ideology, or maybe psychological trauma that has driven a
family deep into the Alpine forest to forage the land and face their
primal natures. The thrill of logging and hunting in the wilderness with
a hard-working horse recalls the hermit in
but the relationships are more Freudian and far more confusing as each
family member is gradually introduced.
When a hunky young
stranger shows up, Un lac becomes a universal story. He will
threaten the other males and become irresistible to the teenage girl.
(The audience may want to row off into the mist with him too.)
Grandrieux will introduce this film
as well as his two earlier dark films, the serial killer of Sombre
(1998) and the Balkan war-set La Vie nouvelle (2002).
Nora Lee Mandel