Author: froiden (page 2 of 8)

Goodbye Mondays

Michael Salmon’s “Goodbye Mondays” follows an increasingly dangerous situation faced by a maid named Lucy (Gillian Saker). After a frustrating encounter with her snobbish employer (who is currently sleeping with an unseen man in her bedroom), Lucy engages in a heated phone call downstairs with the woman’s real husband, who offers her a large sum of money to kill both his wife and the man she is having an affair with.

An escalation of events is developed with great strategy from the start, as we are flooded with brightly white, porcelain lighting and mise-en-scene that is flushed, almost sanitized, in its color palette. Contrast this with a brief intervention of darkly saturated, reddish lighting from within the woman’s bedroom and a nice foreshadowing of violence is established.

Saker gives a stoic performance that cracks with fragility, paying due attention to all facets of her character: the newly-hired innocence, the growing desperation, and the festering vengefulness. The voice of Adrian Schiller as the woman’s husband commands both Saker’s character and the dramatic action itself, delivering a smooth-talking, persuasive devil of a presence. He, too, has moments of fragility and rage, which is probably why he and Saker create a striking dynamic together, even with the former being unseen for the duration of the film.

By the final moments of “Goodbye Mondays,” we are left with the callousness of such an extreme ultimatum, along with the implied consequences that Saker’s character will face after having carried out someone else’s criminal intent. While her motivations perhaps could have been established with more tactfulness and deliberation, especially considering the actions she eventually performs, the film’s cinematographic and performative strengths nevertheless propel this twisted series of events in a captivating way.

Stand Sure

Like any traditional Drama/ Romance/ Dance genre film, STAND SURE (Mulvany and Wild, 2017) leans on the idea that effort and hard work can overcome any obstacles. The movie’s story begins with its heroine, Danica (also the name of the dancer that plays her), stuck in a walking boot because she’s ripped her Achilles tendon. Dejected, she tells her friend/coach/and possible love interest Connor that she couldn’t possibly dance in an upcoming event. He, however, thinks that she has the strength to try, and begins coaching her for the competition.

We then are given a series of training montages that are the backbone of the sports film—from Rocky to Dirty Dancing to Ali—and the way to shorten time exponentially. What makes STAND SURE a little more unusual is the kind of competition itself: Highland dancing. Ever since the emergence of “Lord of the Dance,” which thrust Irish dancing into mainstream culture, different modes of Celtic have a taken on a campy, Vegas feel that is entirely absent here. In the film, highland dancing is a series sport, complete with rigorous training, skill, and pain. We are given this image metaphorically through Danica’s constant ice baths—which consistently has represented the toll on the body that competitive athleticism brings.

The film is well-paced and fast-moving, and the training montage aptly conveys Danica’s physical struggle to overcome her injury and compete. In addition, the two leads do have a certain amount of chemistry. Danica Wild—likely more of a dancer than an actor, plays the lead very competently in the role of a struggling athlete. However, while the film definitely has a certain good-natured charm, it does little to distinguish itself from other films of the same genre. As a vehicle that shows the strength and beauty of Highland dancing, though, it does well to introduce globally the intense athleticism and seriousness of the sport.

NATURAE

There are a lot of great films getting drunk, high, or otherwise loaded and pursuing the idea of a drunken point of view. It’s not so much the drunkenness itself but that intimate connection between camera and perspective. In Ken Russell’s Altered States, scientists even imagine inebriation as the entry into a new reality, in which drugs become the cinematic catalyst for playing with light, sound, angle, color, and perspective, all in ways that defy typical perception.

Andrea Baglio’s NATURAE (2017) is a short made with that tradition in mind. In the film, a young man–caught in the throes of a drunken haze—staggers into the wilderness (or, at least, a very large garden). There, the camera seems to shift from watching the young man to adopting his point of view. This is where the photography becomes beautiful, almost sentient. As we jump back and forth between the view of our drunken protagonist and his POV, we see nature as an oversized expression of the sublime. Flowers grow to oversized behemoths; winter trees are shrouded in mystery and secrets of the world. Nature is by turn beautiful, horrific, gross, overwhelming, and sensual.

NATURAE gestures toward Antonin Artaud’s experimental theater and art spaces, toward the happenings of the 1960s in which the sensory experience mattered far more than the narrative representation. While it doesn’t necessarily completely reach that sensory overload, it nonetheless brings a fresh sense of experimentalism into a contemporary film, which is so often dominated by strong storylines. NATURAE celebrates the pure image, which really can only work if the photography is strong, which it is.

Happy Dolls

Being in a teenaged girls head is a little bit like being in a lunatic asylum. Not in the sense that teenaged girls are crazy, although that may or may not be the case, but that they are always told that they are crazy and that “sanity” is right around the corner if they just try hard enough. Unfortunately for them, however, those who are driving them crazy are also telling them to be better. Girls are sold an amazing amount of mixed messages: they are beautiful just as they are but should buy make-up, creams, and serums to look better; that they should be confident but not too confident; sexy but not too sexy; that they are beautiful, that they are ugly. With all of these competing ideas scurrying around in a rapidly growing, hormonal brain, it’s no wonder that girls often turn to anorexia, bulimia, self-harm, and drugs.

HAPPY DOLLS attempt to get inside the mental space of one of those teenaged girls. A teenaged girl, spurred by a fleeting moment of self-confidence, ask out a boy on whom she has a crush. He, however, instead crushes her dreams and expectations by mocking her with another friend. Disappointed, she wanders off, but the bullying has obviously gotten under her skin. She transfers these feelings from other onto herself in violent and abusive ways. In this case, HAPPY DOLLS speaks to ways that girls believe criticism and turn in inward, usually with vicious and detrimental results.

While HAPPY DOLLS does a good job in getting its point across in a very short period of time, its imagination is nonetheless bigger than its production values. The film struggles with less experienced actors and little budget, filming in a naturalistic style that doesn’t really connect to the gravity of its subject. However, what we do see here is Beltran’s strong point of view and willingness to experiment, which is what young filmmakers need to grow.

Rooftops of My City

Maya Jasmin’s seemingly semi-autobiographical ROOFTOPS OF MY CITY explores how people come to find a city home, especially in the transient, cosmopolitan, immigrant-rich New York. The story follows two characters, a young Swiss burgeoning actor named Oliver, and a German up-and-coming DJ named Lena, whose diverse origins leave her struggling to contact with other. The two live one rooftop apart, and even have some conversations but only begin to really know each other after Oliver overhears Lena speaking German and recognizes as linguistic kin. In getting to know each other, the two discover that they have that ex-patriot bond that seems to connect so many émigrés in foreign lands. They miss Becks beer and speaking German. They both feel like their backgrounds are amorphous and hard to describe. Lena feels German, Japanese, and Polish simultaneously, while Oliver feels not-quite-German at German bars.

There’s a lot to ROOFTOPS OF MY CITY that is quite refreshing. Oliver and Lena have good chemistry that is not romantic but evokes the odd compatriotism that émigrés share. The photography evokes everything that is simultaneously great and problematic about Brooklyn. The pastel shades and dusky light conveys the strange, urban beauty and lonely strangeness that characterizes Brooklyn, a place in which you can be always and never alone simultaneously. Moreover, the actors are sweet, credible, and awkward enough to show how strange a new, actively pursued friendship can be. The director plays Lena, who is clearly a version of herself, while Terrence Schweizer has a very credible performance as a burgeoning actor.

The dialog can be a bit awkward and forced, however, and the revelations that the two have are fairly normal for anyone of complex backgrounds. It seems that this is older, well-worn territory for young people who have grown up in this globalized world. The characters are charming, though, which makes up for the facileness of their conclusions. ROOFTOPS evokes that first move after college and struggle to make our place in a brave, new, world. We really root for them to succeed in their new homes, and, in such a character-driven movie, and may be the real thing that recommends it.

The Contract

In Mehmet Ger’s THE CONTRACT, it’s crucial to convey meaning outside of the dialog. Of course, film is clearly a visual medium, but we often forget the significance of sound. Sound creates three-dimensional space, helps characters move, emphasizes mood, and uses dialog to create meaning. In a film like THE CONTRACT, in which dialog is absent, the key is to be able to convey both mood and meaning without talking.

However, what is the most fun of The Contract is how it uses sound to play with depth. In the short piece, an unnamed man enters into a non-descript high-rise for an interview. The vast majority of the film is the figure traveling through space and the auditory signals that go along with it. He opens doors, traverses long highways, and otherwise makes space real in this echoing, almost empty building. As he is led through the labyrinthine hallways, the clicking of his female guide’s pointy stilettos dominates the soundscape.

The juxtaposition between silence and background noise creates an ominous mood that is matched by the austere, empty setting and harsh, corporate lighting. Like many films that use a blue filter, the film presents a cool, harsh landscape that seems infertile and sterile, which fits in excellently with the film’s final images.

However, even given the film’s limited scope, it seems to have challenges conveying it’s meaning. The film leaves several questions unanswered, including what is the larger background of the world in which this particular event takes place? The film’s combination of knowing glances and blank stares create an eerie sense of a world without human desires, needs, or wants. However, the film leaves with a strong mood—but little sense of the circumstances that make this world possible.

That being said, the film is definitely a fun experiment in sound at a time in which sound has become second to the dominance of the image. Much like its earlier predecessors of the early sound era that attempted to understand the role of diegetic sound in the moving images, The Contract emphasizes the three-dimensionality of cinematic space, even though its characters are fundamentally two dimensional.

The Moustache

Some of the best comedy is built on absurdity. In Kubrick’s DR. STRANGELOVE, the heightened symbolism that connects sex, dominance, and war provides a fantastic spoof on hyper-masculine American military culture. Meanwhile, in films like Gilliam’s BRAZIL, banal disinterest in catastrophe, terrorism, and torture speaks to our ability to slide quite easily into authoritarianism. This is not to say that Michael Schaar-Ney’s THE MOUSTACHE rises to the level of BRAZIL or STRANGELOVE, but it nonetheless plays on our culture’s most ridiculously tendencies, in this case, the notion of fashion and image as self-improvement.

In the film’s narrative, a portly, nebbish office worker named Mike decides on the fly to grow a mustache. While he hopes it may make him appear more charming (especially to his neighbor), he is surprised by the radical changes that a mere mustache made in his life. His neighbor notices him for the first time, he gets a promotion at work, and his life starts to turn around. Of course, as it begins to pay off for him big time, he also begins to get carried away by the glory of his mustache.

Like most good comedy, the film’s humor comes from its pacing, reiterated. Mike appears somewhere, and people at first flustered then intrigued and then entranced. And, because it’s a comedy, the banal workspaces, bars, and apartments serve only to highlight the absurdity of Mike’s newfound celebrity.

While all this doesn’t raise THE MOUSTACHE to a comedic masterpiece, it does show an emerging filmmaker who understands what makes absurdity great and can accomplish this in a small piece.

To Valhalla

In 2016, the Norwegian MMA (mixed martial arts) fighter Emil Weber Meek attempted to make a name for himself by fighting Rousimar Palhares, who had been kicked out of the league for violence. The story seems like a work of fiction—a young outsider, determined to make a name for himself goes up against a world champion. The documentary TO VALHALLA (Even Evensen, 2017) charts the journey to the Meek’s big fight.

While the story plays out like a fairly common sport’s narrative, the film plays with national imagery and the sports genre in interesting ways. Meek seems endlessly fascinated with ancient Vikings and those warriors and explorers that made it to Valhalla through their heroic deeds. Valhalla—a wooden hall helmed by the god Odin himself, is a place in which chosen and tested warriors plan their next battle. The film definitely capitalizes on the Viking motif, filming Meeks at abandoned forts and castles and in candle-lit wooden structures. Moreover, the film is peppered with shots of the fantastic mountains and rivers that evoke a previous, ancient era of warriors and tribes.
Sometimes, however, he seems like more of the joyful kid he his, excited about breakfast cereal, or more vulnerable than the Vikings, such as the moments in which he’s trying to make weight. The films most interesting moments, in fact, is when it charts the machinations that have to be done to Meek’s body. To shed 10 kilos, he must not eat or drink and sweat out fluid through hot baths and steams. Afterward, when he’s allowed to eat, he looks physically and mentally smaller, spooning out yogurt in his hotel bed.

The Nordic styling can verge on somewhat overdone here. The film vacillates between being an investigation of the event and pro-MMA propaganda, and the propagandistic side can appear a bit over the top.
Over, even the film’s enthusiasm leaves room for a bit of ennui. Without giving away who wins at the end, I think it’s fair to say that the end is a bit anti-climatic. As Meek himself say “Its six years of training for 45 seconds,” and there is, of course, always the next fight to look forward to. Much like the Vikings will have to fight for Odin even in the afterlife, an MMA fighter only continues to be good if he (or she) is still in the game.

Bench

In the United States, it’s estimated that between 20 to 25 percent of the country’s homeless are mentally ill, compared to 6 percent of the broader population. It’s unsurprising; while many in America find themselves homeless at one time or another, individuals with mental conditions are less likely to be able to hold down a steady job or engage in some of those necessary functions that allow people to live independently. In the US, people can fall through the cracks and out of the system.

In BENCH (2017), Charles J. Ouda attempts to humanize both homelessness and mental instability—in this case, in the form of a veteran’s PTSD. This film starts with Emma, a young job seeker in a new city that feels like she’s having a really bad day. She stabs herself with her mascara wand, spills coffee on herself, and fails about in her morning job interview. She finds herself in the park, complaining to her mother about her failures. While she’s there, however, she meets a George, a black man who may or may not be homeless. George gives her a pep talk and tells her to have more confidence. Even as he makes her feel better about herself, she gets a call from her prospective employer that turns her day around.

This seems like, at first, the classical “magical negro” trope, in which an older black man helps a younger white woman to be happy. However, the films take a more interesting turn when he needs help, and it turns out that she is incapable of helping him, in part because of real and assumed prejudices against mental illness.

BENCH explores the ways that the world is set up to benefit some and not others. Emma spills coffee on herself and acts like a spaz, but still gets the job, as the interviewers like her verve and “spirit.” When George acts abnormal, he (and the rest of the world) sees it as threatening and shameful.

Despite the film’s at times uneven technical elements, it does highlight the talents of Nathan Hinton, who conveys the horror, fear, and shame of PTSD without overplaying it. The final image, of George fearfully hugging himself on the sidewalk, far away from his beloved park, shows the director’s potential as a nuanced filmmaker, able to show complex problems that might not have individual answers.

The Bed

In India, prostitution is a multibillion-dollar business, with as many as 10 million sex workers conducting business there at any one point in time. Anand VRS Tomar’s THE BED (2017) attempts to illustrate the ways that this trade can affect children and, indeed, the ways that early exposure to prostitution can shape how children live their lives. THE BED primarily works in simplicity and frankness, which creates a kind of horror.

The film takes place in one long-take reverse zoom, which initially focuses on a child’s amidst the sound of disconcerting masculine sexual grunting. Because the shot is so tight, it’s impossible to see what’s actually happening. As the shot pulls outward, the viewer can see that the child is a little child, terrified, hiding under a bed, while above sex is being sold, most likely by her mother. After the man gets up, pays, and leaves, the woman attempts to comfort the child. It’s the juxtaposition, however, of the man’s grunting with the child’s face that is entirely unnerving and horrific. Like the child, we are unable to see or know what’s going on—we also sit in the vulnerable position. Moreover, it’s the young girl’s acting that really works here. It’s incredibly challenging to have child actors maintain the character for such a long take, and she accomplishes the task masterfully.

While the subject is both sensitive and relevant, the film does read more like a public service announcement or another kind of commercial than as a piece of cinema. It is absolutely shocking, but its length means that it really can’t go into the challenges and nuances that exist in the world regarding sex work, underage prostitutes, and trafficked children in Asia. Because of its length, it does gesture toward melodrama do much of its work. However, as a short work that attempts to introduce its audience to a painful and often shameful problem, it does simply and elegantly that primary staple of film –the close-up—to make its point.

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