Tag Archives: foreign films

TIFF20: Another Round (Druk)

Martin (Mads Mikkelsen) has been burned out and running on autopilot for some time. There’s little time or reason for joy. His job has become dull and burdensome for both himself and his students. I’m not excusing the behaviour that’s to follow, but I am giving you the context in which Martin and friends/colleagues Peter (Lars Ranthe), Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), and Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) agree to conduct a social experiment.

Under the guise of “research,” they agree to test the theory that people operate better with a constant 0.05 blood alcohol level. Drinking at work: what could go wrong? Certainly four professionals should know better than to fall for such pseudoscience and likely they do, but caught up in some major midlife malaise, any excuse to numb the drowning desperation sounds like a good one. Drinking all the time to maintain that certain level needs not only commitment but opportunity which does involve some risk. But soon their classrooms are enlivened, their home lives invigorated. Martin and his friends are relaxed, they’re enjoying life again, people notice they’re less inhibited.

You and I can spot the problems coming a mile away, but feeling cocky, and perhaps with slightly impaired judgment, they all agree that since 0.05 is good, more must be better. This is the inevitable folly of man. Soon Martin and his gang are dosing themselves at ever-increasing levels. It’s fun, at first. They’re completely stress-free at work and they’re spending loads of their free time in each other’s company, where everyone is similarly inebriated and having a good time. Everyone else seems so uptight in comparison, but together they mix drinks and dance. They dance! Four white middle aged men just dance around their living rooms unselfconsciously. And since more is so much more fun, even more must be even better right? So now they’re alienating their families and risking their jobs but they don’t care or notice because they’re so intoxicated.

No matter how low they go, director Thomas Vinterberg, who wrote the script with Tobias Lindholm, manages to keep the film quite dignified even when its characters are not. We are witnesses to a social experiment, it’s just not quite the one that Martin and friends set out to prove. It feels dangerously easy for such a film to veer off course into raunchy comedy mode but Vinterberg maintains a steady hand and a thoughtful introspection

Mads Mikkelsen is at his very best in the film, teetering on one ledge or another, giving a thrilling performance that is being constantly and expertly recalibrated. But at its heart, Another Round is an ensemble, and Mikkelsen is very ably supported by Ranthe, Larsen, and Millang. The script gives them each something to chew on, ensuring that the audience gets an impressive menu which ultimately ends in a very satisfying meal.

TIFF20: 76 Days

An unidentified and unidentifiable young man is crying, begging to see his father one last time. The mourner is indistinguishable from his comforters as they all wear the same fully encapsulated protective garments. His father is already being wheeled toward a temporary morgue, his corpse zipped up in a special HAZMAT body bag, his remains a possibly infectious hazard that will be cremated unceremoniously in the nearest facility. There will be no last embrace.

We are in a hospital in Wuhan, China, the capital of Hubei Province and home to 11 million people. This is where COVID-19, first known simply as the coronavirus, or severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), was first identified as a cluster of viral pneumonia in late December 2019. Wuhan entered lockdown on January 23 2020, with WHO declaring it a public health emergency of international concern a week later, and a pandemic by March. Wuhan’s lockdown was an unprecedented bit of grace that would allow the rest of the world to prepare; it would be followed by lockdowns in many other countries the world over.

Wuhan stayed in lockdown for 76 days, and many hospitals, including this one, were simply overwhelmed by 50 000 cases of a disease they didn’t yet know how to treat. The need quickly outstrips the capacity. Doctors and nurses in thrown-together, inadequate PPE are shouting at panicked crowds of sick people, trying to get them to come in only a few at a time, hardly equipped to handle both the people and their ailments. A special ward for COVID patients was quickly separated from the rest, where fear bubbled, and impatience, loneliness, sorrow – not just the patients, but the doctors and nurses who are also locked down, isolated from their families, risking their lives to treat an unknown, highly infectious disease with a higher than average rate of death.

Directors Weixi Chen and Hao Wu try their best to tease out a few narratives from the chaos, but the film is actually at its best when the scenes are random, the pace urgent, its subjects on edge. Loud speakers throughout the city announce lockdown rules to empty streets; “Don’t create or spread rumours,” they say, with no one there to hear them. A bin full of cell phones belonging to the dead sits on a nurse’s desk, some of them still ringing.

It’s incredible that the film makers were able to piece something together so quickly, something that may one day serve as a primary document of this historical event, and even though we are still very much fighting this war and don’t yet know how or if it will end, I was on the edge of my seat watching it unfold at ground zero, where it all began. It is raw, emotional, desperate. It is a human and humane portrait of these troubling times.

The Paramedic (El Practicante)

Angel (Mario Casas) is an ambulance paramedic who gives off major creep vibes as he snatches souvenirs from the accident scenes he works. He himself becomes the patient after an accident leaves him paralyzed, and angry. His accident has guilted girlfriend Vane (Déborah François) into staying longer than she’d like, caring for him even as he spirals out of control, suspicion raging, spyware engaged, but unsurprisingly his insane jealousy does not endear him to her and she leaves. Angel was an angry guy before the accident and he’s angrier now. Angrier still to discover that Vane has taken up with his old paramedic partner Rodrigo (Guillermo Pfening) and they are expecting a baby together. Rodrigo, who was driving at the time of their accident, has stolen his life.

The beautiful thing about this movie is that it’s basically peak diversity. Not only is the main character disabled, the script offers equal opportunity serial killing. Anyone can murder if you make it accessible enough. He can’t enjoy sex anymore but he can stab syringes into basically anyone, which disables them enough to be handled. It’s genius, really, to turn the tables this way.

The Paramedic is dark and menacing well before Angel transforms into a murderous stalker. His injury doesn’t make him this way, it merely gives him the opportunity to indulge his most sinister thoughts.

It’s a slow burn, a thriller of a certain type, one you’ll no doubt recognize because we’ve seen shades of it many times before. It’s competent and well-acted but doesn’t distinguish itself from peers. Even if the quality’s variable, the character is chilling enough to give it a chance, and the final act just about justifies the whole watch. If you’re in the mood for a thriller, this is a viable option from Netflix.

TIFF20: New Order (Nuevo orden)

Marianne (Naian González Norvind) is resplendent in a crimson suit, about to marry her sweetheart at a swanky, high-society affair at her parents’ home, if only the judge would hurry up and get there. At the gate, an old family employee is begging for money. The timing is bad, but his wife will die without surgery, and he needs cash now. Marianne’s parents have offered some but he needs more and need makes him persistent. Marianne takes pity, and since the judge isn’t there yet anyway, she has another employee, Cristian (Fernando Cuautle), drive her to the sick woman so she can get her to a hospital.

Outside the gates of her lavish family home, there is unrest. Wedding guests and their cars have been showing up bearing traces of green paint – the protester’s signature colour. The rumble of rebellion grows louder, the streets chaotic. Back home, the estate walls have been breached, the wedding overwhelmed with “uninvited guests.”* Guests are stripped of their valuables, the house is trashed, the safe cracked. The Have Nots have risen up against the Haves, forcing guests to wire vast sums of money, shooting the ones who won’t. Wealth is being redistributed. For Marianne, things are even worse. The army has “intervened,” meaning they’ve identified high-resource targets like her and including her to be held captive with dozens, hundreds, thousands more who are tortured and held for ransom, all while blaming it on the protesters.

Unapologetically and brutally violent, not to mention unrelentingly bleak, Michel Franco explores what it means when the bottom 99% decide they’ve had enough. It’s a very literal interpretation of class warfare. There are no heroes here, just multiple levels of corruption.

Franco’s film is tough to watch. It starts out boisterous. demanding, pulsating with life and its many needs. His civil uprising is sudden, visceral, vicious. But with little context and no attachment to its characters, the second half loses its way amid the chaos. Franco is more focused on making shocking statements than stories, but even the ability to shock is blunted when it’s overused.

This is the kind of movie that you hope is dystopian rather than prophetic. Although, with the kind of 2020 we’ve been having, this is not a possibility we can afford to rule out entirely. New Order has a heightened capacity to disturb because it feels possible. By keeping the details vague, you could almost imagine any industrialized nation in its place; Franco is issuing a warning for anyone brave enough to see it through. It’s Parasite meets The Purge, weighted a little more toward horror than satire, where the civil war doesn’t so much bring new order as no order, and everyone is vulnerable.

The film, which took home the Silver Lion Grand Jury Prize from the Venice Film Festival, is more about awe than answers. Like an electrified cattle prod to the privates, it won’t be for everyone, but at the very least, it should serve as a wake-up call.

*Recently nominated for euphemism of the year.

I Hope You’ll Die Next Time :)

In light of the recent suicide prevention day, I would love to talk about a Hungarian movie that I think is definitely worth watching. I Hope You’ll Die Next Time 🙂 was released exactly 2 years ago, in September 2018 and I can tell you that I’ve watched it quite a few times since its initial release – especially now that it’s also available on Netflix!

Now, the title of the movie is pretty shocking on its own – who on earth would put a smiley face at the end of such a sentence? Well, I’ll not tell you the exact reason why it is there as I really do not want to drop a major spoiler but all I can say is that the smiley’s there for a good reason: this is a movie about teenagers living in Budapest, the Hungarian capital and just like any other teenagers in the world, they normally use emoticons while texting each other.

So, what is the movie is about? You may have already guessed from the title that it’s about suicide. But it also talks about other problems of teenage life such as cyberbullying, relationships with friends and parents, love and sex. And well, they’re pretty interesting topics, aren’t they?

Synopsis

I Hope You’ll Die Next Time  tells the story of a Hungarian high school girl, Eszter, who is just like any other teenage girls – she loves manga, does cosplay and she has a crush on her English teacher – okay, I am not entirely sure whether having a crush on one’s English teacher is considered to be average but I guess it’s happened to some of us in our high school years. I mean, I too had a crush on one of my teachers.

I know it may sound pretty much like a Hollywood romcom. But it’s not. Eszter’s life seems to be pretty happy but obviously something bad needs to happen. And in her case, things will start to take turn for the worse when her English teacher (Csababá) announces that he’ll leave the country for a foreign job.

Will Eszter forget him? Of course, she won’t. And I guess it will not be a major spoiler if I tell you that our teenage protagonist starts a sexting relationship with her ex-English teacher – who’s actually married by the way – and that’s when things really start going out of control.

Well, I will not carry on with the story but I think it’s pretty obvious that this whole situation will not end well. And by the end of the movie, you’ll also learn why the movie’s title is “I Hope You’ll Die Next Time”.

Oh and I think I should also mention about the beautiful visuals of the movie and about its great pastel colours (just love the atmosphere!). And another thing that I loved was that it includes video calls, text messages which make the whole thing look more realistic.

And at the end of the day, the most important thing is the message of this movie. The characters have a seemingly perfect life, living in one of the prominent Budapest neighborhoods but this doesn’t mean that they do not have their own problems such as bullying, self-esteem issues and other mental health problems. And parents often realize that there’s a problem when it’s already too late….

Where To Watch?

The movie is available on Neflix and also on HBO Go – but as far as I know, their catalog varies greatly depending on your region.

Guest post by Mark Wester. Mark is a 27 years old guy from Central Europe who has suffered from OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) for most of his life and thought sharing stories and personal experiences could help people living with the same condition. Visit him at his blog, Overcoming OCD.

Cuties (Mignonnes)

Amy is an 11-year-old Senegalese immigrant living in a Parisian apartment with a conservative mother, a strict auntie, and several siblings who await their father’s return with a second wife in tow. Her life is so different compared to the other girls at school, so seemingly easy with their bodies, dancing freely, hardly a care in the world. In Amy’s home, money is scarce, modesty is valued, and things are complicated.

Like pretty much every kid ever, Amy just wants to fit in. “The cuties” are a dance troupe at school that she’d very much like to belong to. They’re the cool kids of course, with maybe just a smidge of mean girls. They’re irresistible. Amy (Fathia Youssouf) is so desperate to belong she does whatever it takes: her baby brother’s tshirt is a crop top on her. A stolen cell phone becomes her portal to a world of gyrating, scantily clad girls, simulating sex and calling it dancing. She learns from them, in secret. And when the cuties have a sudden opening, she’s more than ready to step in.

You may have heard that Netflix has caught some major heat over this film, mostly from people who hadn’t seen it. They’ve called for Netflix to remove the title from its streaming platform, and threatened mass unsubscribing if they don’t. Their complaint: the movie hyper-sexualizes young girls. Is it valid?

Sure it is. But this is exactly the point film maker Maïmouna Doucouré is trying to make. Her film is a social commentary about the pressure young girls face not just from social media, but absolutely from social media, which they are exposed to from very young ages. And we are all in some way contributing to a culture that only finds value in females that can be sexualized, treating all others as if they’re invisible. If a girl wants to be seen, and has access to a tablet or a smartphone or peers, she won’t have failed to notice what her (lack of) options are.

Is it fair or necessary to sexualize these young actresses in order to prove a point? To be honest, I sort of hate putting kids in show business altogether. No matter how carefully a director isolates mature themes from the children on set, kids are notorious sponges and almost always absorb more than we think. Child actor turned director Sarah Polley was in the news this week reflecting on having to kiss a man twice her age on the set of a TV show when she was 13. A show Canada prided itself on for its wholesome family viewing. It’s a valid concern, even if it doesn’t have an easy answer.

If her film has inspired conversation, then Maïmouna Doucouré has done her job. You can’t move the needle if you don’t ask the hard questions. So I don’t think that muzzling Netflix or forcing censorship on an emerging female director flexing her voice for the first time is the answer. I know that Doucouré hasn’t included these scenes to entertain us; they are there to provoke discomfort. So let that be the starting point for the discussion that needs to be had. Let’s talk about why this makes us uncomfortable, and what we can do so this isn’t Amy’s story anymore. So the next time someone writes a movie about a girl like Amy, it won’t be about how the only currency she has is her body.

TIFF20: Get The Hell Out

Technically, this film does have a premise and a plot. I mean, it totally and legitimately does. But as a Taiwanese comedy-horror that mixes zombies, martial arts, and politics, it probably didn’t have to go to the trouble. As part of TIFF’s legendary Midnight Madness program, it’s not just a case of fitting in, but establishing a new bar for the kind of oddities the best of genre cinema can offer.

Hsiung Ying-ying (Megan Lai) is so mad the government wants to tear down her father’s house to build a new chemical plant, she gets herself elected to parliament to actually do something about it. But opponent MP Li Kuo-chung (Chung-wang Wang) is a veteran politician and isn’t about to just back down and let her have it. In fact, he instigates a brawl that riles Ying-ying into busting out some badass kung-fu moves, including her signature huracanrana, and then calls for her resignation, having successfully baited her. Bumbling security guard Wang You-wei (Bruce Hung) is the one who broke up the fight, and his corresponding rise in popularity has both camps thinking they can use his seat for their own purposes. But You-wei only has eyes for Ying-ying, so on the appointed day and time of the power plant vote, he shows up to Taiwan’s parliamentary chambers ready for a fight, but not the kind that actually goes down.

Turns out, the Prime Minister himself has contracted a virus and the minute he starts rabidly biting into people’s flesh, hell breaks loose and the building goes on lockdown. A measure normally used to protect the Prime Minister from outside threats, this time it’s trapped his colleagues in chambers with him, and he’s turning fellow politicians into crazed zombies faster than Donald Trump can spout lies to the press. In fact, he’s going through victims quicker than if he was a wood chipper, while his bored security detail looks on, seemingly unperturbed – they’re there to protect him, not protect others from him. Don’t question it, it’s the kind of magical “logic” politicians rely on every day.

As Ying-ying watches from the safety of the press pit, her rival, her protege/love interest, and her father (Tsung-Hua To) all fight for their lives. The blood spatter is voluminous, exuberant. Luckily Taiwanese politicians are exceptionally well-dressed, battle lines drawn vividly between fuchsia and tangerine. Director I.-Fan Wang’s larger than life, cartoonish violence reminds me a little of Edgar Wright circa Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. It’s a monstrous spectacle, but you can’t deny its vigor. I dare you to pass up the opportunity to see someone wield the person they’re giving the Heimlich to as a weapon. Where else on earth are you going to see that?

The comedy is broad, the violence gleeful and gruesome, and the satire unsubtle. Even as they wield axes and nail clippers, anything that might help them get the hell out, they continue to wheel and deal, consummate politicians, the vote never quite forgotten. If their political criticism is to be believed, cowriters Wang and Wan-Ju Yang don’t have a lot of respect for Taiwan’s actual legislative fights. They do, however have a lot of fun lampooning them. It may not be pretty, but Get The Hell Out is loud and exhilarating, and in a guilty pleasure kind of way, it’s actually pretty fun.

#Alive

Just a week or two ago, Sean and I were doing the Fantasia Film Festival thing and were about to watch a movie called Alive, for which I’d read the following synopsis: The rapid spread of an unknown infection has left an entire city in ungovernable chaos, but one survivor remains alive in isolation. It’s funny how we watch movies differently now that we’ve been living in pandemic-related isolation ourselves. Now I can’t even watch people in movies without face masks without feeling a bit of a fever coming on. But it turns out we were watching a different movie, also called Alive, no hashtag, and only now are we getting around to the more social media ready one, which is in fact the one with the raging infection.

Oh Joon-woo (Ah-In Yoo) wakes up alone in his apartment. His parents and sisters have gotten an early start, and Joon-woo isn’t exactly an early bird. Although he appears to be more or less a grown man, they’ve left him grocery money to restock the fridge, and his mother’s last plea is that he not spend the whole time playing video games while they’re away. Commence: video games! Except this turns out not to be just another ordinary day in Joon-woo’s life, as attested by the running and screaming of seemingly everyone else in his high-rise apartment building. Bits of news filter in from various media: some sort of infection transferred through blood is making victims extra violent and quite cannibalistic. You and I might call them zombies, or at least we did before we started battling super-bugs in real life. What will our zombie movies look like now? I bet they’ll cough.

A garbled final message from his parents implores him to survive, so he vows to stay in his apartment, but a) you’ll remember he never went for groceries and b) his apartment isn’t exactly invulnerable. Many days later, on the brink of starvation and in the throes of understandable depression, Joon-woo is all but resigned to his death when a laser pointer indicates another human presence. Out his window he sees that someone else has survived in the building across from his – a young woman named Kim Yoo-bin (Shin-Hye Park). Too far apart for real communication, and with flesh-craving zombies crawling around both their buildings and the parking lot between them, they remain alone but just a little less lonely.

I’m fond of movies that are about how life goes on even during the worst of circumstances, like how little boys still need to live their childhoods, even in Nazi Germany (Jojo Rabbit). And how romance can bloom even while a blood thirsty army is banging down your door. Ideal circumstances? Definitely not. But since when has that stopped anyone?

Director Il Cho navigates the complexities of a zombie-horror-romance in the smart phone age with blood, guts, and selfie sticks. Plus vlogs and drones for good measure. South Korea often does horror very well, and while I might not put this in Train to Busan territory, it’s a pretty decent watch, and since we are, for the most part, still social distancing as much as possible, it’s a good reason to stay home and stay safe, and let others take the stupid risks and internalize those consequences.

Stay #home, stay #Alive.

Unknown Origins

Detective Cosme (Antonio Resines) is being put out to pasture, but he’s showing his young replacement, Detective Valentine (Javier Rey), the ropes before he goes. They inspect a gruesome crime scene together, a possible homicide of course, a maniac bodybuilder so intent on building muscle mass he winds up with a windpipe crushed by his own weights. Cosme is meticulous and organized in his habits, in direct opposition to his son Jorge (Brays Efe), your classic lazy slob, a good for nothing grown son who works at a comic book store when and if he gets out of bed and still lives at home. But luckily for Cosme and Valentin, Jorge spots something neither of them ever could: the crime scene looks suspiciously like a panel from issue #1 of The Incredible Hulk. And the next murder scene they’re called to seems to be another comic book recreation. Madrid has a serial killer on its hands, and Valentin will have to tolerate Jorge’s help to stop the man bent on using seemingly random victims to imitate various superheroes’ origin stories. Oh, and did I mention Valentin’s beautiful new boss Norma (Verónica Echegui) is a bit of a cosplaying geek herself? Yeah.

This cop movie is spiced heavily with super hero flavour. If you know and love comics, you’ll likely predict the outcome a lot faster than the rest of us, and pick up on clues and cues planted specifically for your discerning eye. The film is a little uneven, sometimes cheesy heroic catch phrases, sometimes gritty police procedural, sometimes real horror and gore, other times goofy costumes. And yet it’s obvious that director David Galán Galindo is not only offering a send up to the super hero genre, he’s inspired by it, influenced by it, and given it a more real-world setting than others have been able to. It’s less slick than M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable, less glossy, less ambitious, but it’s obvious too. The script is occasionally awkward and juvenile, and the sole female character could use a fuller and more subtle approach, but mostly Unknown Origins is a story we know very well, and it works because we love the genre and we can never get enough.

Jumbo

I’ve been trying all day to figure out how to break this to you, and I’m no further ahead now that I was this morning, and you’ll see from the time stamp that it very very late in the evening now. Assuming I get something put on the page and hit publish tonight, which is assuming a lot since I still have bupkis. Well, that’s an exaggeration. Not the bupkis, the bupkis is spot-on. It’s just that by “all day” what I really mean is “intermittently, for the past 13 hours, for a total of probably not more than 90 minutes.” Which is still quite a lot as I can usually bang these out with great efficacy.

But this is what you get when you attend the Fantasia Film Festival, a festival dedicated to the weirdest and most wonderful corners of the wide world of cinema. It’s not for blockbusters, and not generally for Oscar bait, although it has hosted its share of contenders, including South Korea’s A Taxi Driver, Japan’s The Great Passage, and our own Tom of Finland. It’s been visited by the finest film nerds, including Ben & Josh Safdie, Guillermo del Toro, Mark Hamill, John Carptenter, James Gunn, Nicolas Winding Refn, Eli Roth, Takashi Miike, Ben Wheatley, and me. It’s funny because it’s true.

I have seen lots of strange stuff at this festival: people pooping out their living, breathing, emotional baggage; humanoid cockroaches; sex cam horror; an impregnated bathtub; a frog-man serial killer; a hunt for bigfoot; cannibal grandparents… and I could go on but won’t, for both our sakes.

But Jumbo…is in a category all its own. It’s about a woman, Jeanne, bit of a weird duck that one. Still lives with her mother. Kind of a loner. Works at an amusement park. Falls in love with a carnival ride. Typical French woman, eh?

So yeah. She calls him Jumbo because his real name (slave name?) is vulgar (and let’s face it, it’s more of a descriptor than a name). It’s one of those tilty-whirly rides that make kids squeal and/or turn green. And it’s dead sexy. Well to Jeanne (Noémie Merlant) he is. He’s very attractive, smart, funny…well, okay, it’s hard to see what exactly she sees in him, other than he’s just about the only one who hasn’t called her a weirdo. At least not to her face. And he does seem responsive: he flashes his lights, he takes her for a spin, he blows smoke and leaks oil…oil that is sometimes good and sometimes bad. It’s a bodily fluid I suppose, which at times makes Jeanne orgasmic and elsewise makes her anxious.

You know who else is anxious? Everyone who knows about Jeanne’s little crush. Suddenly being “a little odd” is seeming a bit more pathological. Her mother (Emmanuelle Bercot) is not exactly lucky in love herself, yet she still feels empowered to criticize Jeanne’s choice of beau. And the human male coworker (Bastien Bouillon) who up until quite recently had a crush on our Jeanne feels a little stupid for coming in second to a garish attraction that plays 80s songs while stirring up puke.

Writer-director Zoé Wittock deserves an award for the pure audacity to take such a story to the screen, to present it to an audience and say “Yes, I made this. On purpose.” But we can’t help who we love. Unless it’s an inanimate object, in which case we should really, really try. I can’t help but admire a movie that subverts even the modern romance, I can’t help but love Jeanne for her genuineness, her sincerity, but I can’t quite get on board with Jumbo. It’s an experiment, a bold one, yet still reminds me of things I’ve seen before (Under The Skin!). Jumbo and I are not a perfect match, which is find and dandy with us both – after all, Jumbo’s already got a girl, and despite what I felt was a marked lack of chemistry, they seem to be quite serious about each other. Quite.