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The Invisible Eye

November 23, 2010

The Invisible Eye will always be a memorable film for me – not because of its quality, but for the fact that the whole screen sold out and in my desperate need to watch it I chose to sit down ON THE FLOOR on the cinema at the front and watch the whole shebang from there.

I do not recommend anyone ever try this. It made me feel physically ill. Never slag off being on the front row in a cinema again because believe me there is WORSE.

And if this film had been an absolute howler it probably would have been the worst experience of my life (although I like to hope I would have had the sense to walk out of it halfway through). But thankfully it wasn’t. It was a grim watch though, with no sweet and light to take away the neck pain and bile in my throat that came with my seating position. Set in 1980s Argentina, Marita is a young teaching assistant in a school where every miniscule action made by any one person is being watched by the thousands of eyes around them. Marita must be that ‘invisible eye’ – survey the pupils she is guiding, and report any irregularities or blatant misbehaviour to the headmaster, Mr Biasutto: “call me Carlos.” – the creepiest and most hateful character I’ve seen at this year’s LIFF.

It’s clever in the fact that everyone is watching each other. In her zest to be a model employee Marita’s surveillance of the pupils becomes tainted when she becomes attracted to one of the young boys. Clearly inexperienced and confused by her feelings (she is identified as a virgin at a party because her skin is like paper) she begins to slide down the slippery slope to infatuation, and does things out of desperation which are degrading and quite uncomfortable to watch – you don’t know whether to laugh uneasily or just turn away from the screen. Whilst all this is happening Biasutto is watching Marita. At first he tries to coax and charm her, but when he realises she has been ‘spying on young boys in the toilets’ his actions and behaviour towards Marita becomes abhorrent and leads to a devastating climax.

There is something empty about The Invisible Eye. It’s not something I could tell when watching the film (I was too preoccupied with being ill), it dawns upon you afterwards when you’re struggling to find words to describe and rate the film other than, “well that was a bit grim.” Marita is quite a meek character, and so other than a few bedtime convos with her grandma we don’t see her express herself other than by her appearance and her actions. She’s a hard one to crack, to get involved with (although by the end you are completely on her side). The atmosphere of the school feels very sterile as well because of the forced oppression and obedience. It’s shot very well (use of the black and white chequered marble courtyard stands out) but it doesn’t come together in a completely satisfying way.

A good film if it does come your way but not remarkable. I do hope you get to see it on a comfy sofa, too!

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Catfish

November 21, 2010

Catfish still has me in a quandary – was it a documentary? If so, was it authentic and filmed as things happened, or did they script some of it and re-film shots? Did these events happen or have they just staged them as if they did? In that case is it a docu-drama, and it’s all made up for story?

Whatever the case, this was one of the best films I have seen at LIFF this year. Constantly intriguing and then at times veering between creepy, uneasy, tragic and funny this film had a lot to offer, and a lot to say as well on the way we operate our lives today in a world motored by the internet. Whether the events are true or not they have explored an area of web life that is so often merely judged as being paedophiles posing as young boys to attract the attention of underage girls for grooming purposes. There have been countless horror stories in the press about this, and the upshot of that has been a real wariness amongst parents, and a crackdown in schools with comprehensive lessons and talks about the dangers of the internet and the importance of knowing who you’re talking to. But paedophilia while present isn’t the only force in these ‘relationships’ – people can pretend to be someone else for entirely benign and harmless reasons – boredom, one – or it can be the result of a deeper psychological issue, which is what manifests here in Catfish.

Young photographer Nev strikes up a relationship online with 8 year old Abby after she sends him a drawing in the post of one of his photos. Immediately you think you know where this is going, but as Nev starts to have contact with other members of Abby’s family – her mother Angela, her brother Alex and her sister Megan – this interest wanes and Nev begins to concentrate on other things: Megan. He is attracted by her photos on Facebook, and slowly they begin flirting. Meanwhile while all this is going on, Nev’s brother and flatmate have decided to start filming and documenting Nev’s relations with the family out of curiosity. In personal confessions to the camera Nev starts trying to find reasons why he and Megan might be really good for one another – it’s very candid stuff. But then things start to become suspicious.

Megan claims to be a singer, and starts posting recordings of songs onto Facebook for Nev. But after doing some – just basic – investigating, he realises that they are recordings taken from sites such as YouTube that she is claiming to be her own. Outraged, but in an incredulous fascinated way, Nev and his filmmakers start wondering about how to tackle this. By this point Nev and Megan speak on the phone and text regularly, and Nev begins to wonder if all of his outpourings of desire have been aimed at a 50 year old man – this is the first conclusion he jumps to.

They decide the only way to get to the bottom of this is to do some proper detective work, and travel all the way to Michigan to see the family in person. At this stage you’re so invested in the film and wanting to know what the hell is going on, you’re practically sat on the edge of your seat as they pull up to Megan’s house in the dark to peer through the windows. Catfish in some media has been described as a ‘thriller’ – well this is as close as you’re going to get in these few scenes where they discover the house Megan claims to live in is empty.

The next day they visit the main house belonging to Angela and her husband and where Abby lives, and discover that none of the people living there look like their pictures on Facebook. Only Abby it seems is real and consistent, but only to a point – she’s not a talented painter at all, just a normal fun-loving eight year old girl who likes her dolls. It all begins to become apparent that the culprit in all of this is Angela. Nev is torn over whether to confront her or not and get the truth – there’s no sign of Megan, and his continued presence at the house is becoming uncomfortable. So he tells her they need to sit down and have a talk about what’s happening – and then she bursts into tears and reveals to him the truth: nearly all of the people Nev has been speaking to over the past few months have been Angela – including Megan. He discovers her numerous fake Facebook accounts, how she used photographs of family friends and photos off the internet to put faces to these people, how she has a mobile phone for herself and one for ‘Megan’… it all sounds creepy as hell, yet Angela is a tragic figure: in reality she lives with her husband, Abby and two severely disabled sons and what started as a lie – she painted the photograph – has spiralled into a whole other life, filled with different projections of Angela as different personalities, and an escape from her normal life into a fictionalised one no-one else is aware of and one Nev has been fully duped by. The grim reality of Angela’s life makes you realise how this could have happened – and was she to know Nev would turn up at her door one day?

It’s all very sad, and a sobering climax to what was an adventure for the three young men. It’s not a paedophile or a psychopath posing as a young woman – it’s a middle aged mother trapped in her own life, wishing to be all of these people she has created. It’s only when Nev asks Angela to do the voice of Megan – then things become slightly unbearable to watch and even Nev and his crew take their cue to leave. He doesn’t question her about the ‘phone sex’ they had – I think that’s better left forgotten!

It’s only after the film has finished that you start to think about the questions I posed in the first paragraph. What actually happened here? Is Angela real? Did she really not question why they were filming her as soon as they arrived at the house? There’s quite a good breakdown on the real/fake debate here, but the filmmakers themselves stress everything is real. The thing which makes me slightly support the latter is the fact that the ending is so different. My belief is that these events actually happened, but the filming was done at different times and edited in a way to make it look like real-time. They would have had to have cleared with Angela before they filmed her and got her consent to use her real name and expose her in the film – it’s just madness otherwise.

All of this doesn’t detract away from Catfish being an engrossing and involving experience. What will come of this who knows, and what you get out of it is up to how much you buy into it. But it’s definitely one to watch as it’s a worthy example of a new generation of films about a web-obsessed society and online connections – expect upcoming features Chatroom and Trust to have more to say, but with more melodrama on show.

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Sweet Little Lies

November 18, 2010

I messed up slightly with this one – got my timings wrong and missed the first 20 minutes of the film. But I was determined to watch it, so stay I did and ended up taking in a beautifully sweet, infinitely sad bittersweet tale of a young married couple who aren’t in love but desperately want to be.

Like I said I missed the beginning so I’m not very clear on how Ruriko and Satoshi met and ended up getting married, and whether their relationship was anything other than it is now: awkward, polite and cavernous. Both are very different characters: Ruriko is creative, sensitive and a free spirit, whilst Satoshi is more quiet and intense, clumsy and confused – unsure of where his feelings lie, unsure of how to express them, and unsure what they really mean for him. Both are having affairs and both keep this secret from one another, although it’s possible they know the truth and accept that this extra marital ‘bonding’ needs to exist to keep their own marriage alive.

That’s what so strange and oddly fascinating about Sweet Little Lies – the lies are sweet because they’re actually doing more to help than to hinder. Neither Ruriko or Satoshi want to be with their respective lovers – what they really want is to transfer their feelings and passion from the ‘stand-in’ to each other and make their marriage work. This is shown when they celebrate their wedding anniversary together at a restaurant where Satoshi went on a date with his girlfriend, and when Satoshi asks Ruriko if she wants him to hold her (and thus the two stand in a queer, non touching embrace for several seconds before Ruriko indicates to stop). The film is too slight for cymbal clashing displays of emotion and is about as opposite to melodrama as you can get, but that doesn’t stop the actors from being able to effectively convey their feelings despite being so reserved – every look, word and action is important. I wouldn’t say you ever fully ‘route’ for the pair, but there’s something so rewarding in their fierce loyalty to one another that makes you fully believe in their complicated relationship.

The ending was beautiful – I loved the veiled messages behind their words to one another:

“I’m home.”

“Did you go away?”

“Yes, but I’m back now.”

“That’s good.”

“How about you?”

“I’m coming home soon.”

Very glad this got a special mention from the Golden Owl jury (it would have been a worthy winner to be fair, and better than the actual champion) – it’s a film that digs its way into your subconscious and stays there, marked out for its unusual approach to love and its subtle, beautiful scenes (Ruriko lying in the grave with the dead dog to name one) and also occasional touches of black comedy which is always appreciated over here. Really interested to check out some other work by director Hitoshi Yazaki now, and it makes me wish he had been the guy to take charge of the big screen adaptation of Norwegian Wood – he would have felt at home.

 

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The Last Employee

November 18, 2010

I think I must be having a mid film festival crisis/breakdown. Not only has the mind-numbing Tuesday After Christmas been awarded this year’s Golden Owl Award for Best Film – WTF! – but the Silver Méliès award has also gone to a film with very little merits: The Last Employee. Plugged as a German film playing up to the Japanese horror style, it was neither scary nor clever. But I think I’m going mad. Everyone else in the screening (including my other half) seemed to enjoy it so I wonder if I’ve become too hardened in all my years of churning out reviews. Maybe I can no longer appreciate a simple, well-made, effective film without wanting the extra mile. But NO, I cry! This film was well below par, especially for a horror, and I’ll tell thee all why.

The general set up had potential: psychologically frail lawyer David (Christian Berkel – Downfall, Das Experiment, Inglorious Basterds) has to make a whole workforce redundant, but one of the employees takes it harder than the rest and naturally she’s the creepy, smashing her head against the wall for no apparent reason type who then hangs herself. Or in turns out, has hung herself before he took the job, meaning he’s either being haunted by an angry spirit, or he just thinks he is. In fact I was quite enjoying the first 20 minutes or so, and thought I was going to be in for a right scary time with the woman moving about Ringu like, and slowly infiltrating his life. I think the problem was man at the helm Alexander Adolph doesn’t have the confidence in executing a horror – you could see what he was trying to do, but it all felt so amateurish. In fact at one point the audience started giggling at how bad it was – David discovering the dead woman lying next to him in the bed and his subsequent WAHHH WAHHH WAHHHH screams were not in the least bit convincing. That trick failed a few times – he also finds her in his son’s bed, but it’s an instant ‘scare’, there’s no tension in him creeping up to the sheets and slowly pulling them back to reveal her horrible face. Her face isn’t even that horrible – just a bit pale and bumpy.

Sooo many wasted opportunities. The flickering lights and distorted music in the empty office – why was nothing made of this? It got to a point where I barely noticed it anymore because nothing of any relevance happened. I liked him speaking with Greta the grandma and the long shots of her standing against the wall as you expect her to turn around as the ghost, but that doesn’t happen. It was a nice bluff, but he could have pushed it further. How about following it up with a big jumpy moment just when you feel safe again? More could have been made of the hide and seek/scary monster game the family played too, although it did generate the best scare of the film (ghost’s eyes in the blinds). There were a few ‘hints of dread’ that were dropped by the characters – David talking about the scary creatures living in grandma’s back garden which she catches and keeps in the freezer – that I was anticipating coming into play later on in the film but instead were just left hanging. Again I don’t want Adolph to be too clichéd about the story, but it felt like it wasn’t all tied together as tightly as it could have been and that’s down to a lack of experience and a lack of vision.

The ending was also a huge let down – no twist, no revelation, no explanation. Just lots of blood and characters making foolish decisions. The whole thing felt very going-through-the-motions for me, and that’s not what I want when I go to see a horror movie – I want to be entertained, impressed or just too plain terrified to care – get it off my screen! I didn’t feel anything towards The Last Employee other than a big, fat meh. Quite what everyone else was watching is beyond me.

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The Woman Who Dreamed Of A Man

November 16, 2010

Perhaps it’s time Europe did a remake of an American film. After all, a film this side of the Atlantic has barely been born before the US version is already in the works, usually a carbon copy of the original with bigger buck names and CGI thrown in for a glossier finish.  

For better or for worse, The Woman Who Dreamed Of A Man is Denmark’s answer to Fatal Attraction…but with, er, dreams. I’m not exactly happy with this, as up until the last crazy 20 minutes I thought the film was very good and was really enjoying watching the passionate affair between photographer K and lecturer Maciek develop and the way the story tousled with the idea of fate and destiny. Yes the script was ropey at times (lots of ‘surprising’ coincidences) but if you bought into the idea that these two are somehow connected to each other on a level akin to soul mates and no matter where their lives led them they would end up bumping into each other then it was a mesmerising watch. But the climax does let it down, and the cynics from the beginning will waste no time gleefully turning around to tell you what an awful 90 minutes you’ve just sat through. But somehow I can’t hate it – it was silly, but a good silly.

The film opens with K having a dream about a mysterious man – a dream so powerful she cannot shake it from reality…especially when the man turns up in real alive 3D the next morning in her hotel. Intrigued and perhaps a little bewitched she begins to follow him until he cottons on to her presence and confronts her. Obviously sceptical about her dream there is nevertheless an attraction between the two and they begin a lustful relationship of one night stands (and one time stands in alleyways). Both are married and this puts a growing strain on the trysts, with one if not both of the pair behaving in more and more jealous and obsessive ways. Things come to a head when K’s agency sends her on a job to Warsaw, where Maciek lives (one of those coincidences!) and frightened about what she may be capable of if she goes, her husband unwittingly invites himself and their daughter along so they can have an impromptu family holiday. Messiness ensues. K cannot keep away from Maciek and her unexplainable absences and lateness cause her husband (Michael Nyqvist from the Millennium trilogy) to find out the truth about her affair. It’s once she separates from her husband that K starts to go a bit loopy – firstly taking up residence inside Maciek’s spare apartment that sits opposite his home so she watch him and spy on his family. Then she starts becoming obsessed with thoughts that every girl she sees him with is a lover, and when she is wrong begs for his forgiveness with an unhealthy need for sex (whenever, wherever) and slowly she deteriorates into this possessed woman whose only function in life is to be with Maciek. Needless to say the more intense she gets the more he backs off until he tells her to ‘get the fuck out of his life’. Then she finally loses it and starts running about with a knife… it’s all a bit too much, which is a great shame as it had potential to be a great character unravel.

The initial dream which catalysed all these events is largely forgotten about except at the end when it is revealed that he has also secretly been having the exact same dream about her. I don’t understand the point of tacking this on is – if they were so connected then why not explore and conclude it in a more satisfying and gentle way? Why did you have to start throwing in all the crazy? You’re not sure at the end whether K goes back to her family, but she does appear to be the same woman she was before, indicating she has got over her madness. Closing a film like that isolates the episode, the affair between the two, and it all becomes a bit pointless and throwaway. What did it all mean in the end? Bugger all.

A very disappointing finish to what is a stylish and very sexy film. But let’s leave the Hollywood ideas to the shiny suits…or at least make it more about the person than the maniacal antics.

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Tuesday After Christmas

November 15, 2010

I like films that are realistic, but Tuesday After Christmas takes it far too literally. Yes things happen, but they are so mind numbingly tedious, and happen to such unlikeable people that I really couldn’t care less.

A married couple with a young daughter are preparing for Christmas in Bucharest. Whilst they seem like a happy unit, the husband has been having an affair for the past few months with the family dentist, a younger and more carefree woman named Raluca. As the mistress leaves the capital to spend the holiday season with her mother, the husband’s attachment to her grows, and after lying to his wife and going to visit his lover, he reveals the truth on the Tuesday after Christmas, and despite an emotional argument and subsequent hostility between the parents they decide not to tell their daughter or the rest of the family until the new year.

It’s a strange paradox this film, as for all its dullness and slow pacing, it’s actually quite engrossing. Key scenes are just filmed in one shot, following the characters about the room until the camera finds a moment to cut away. The daughter getting her braces fitted at the dentists is a fascinating watch as she and the wife are oblivious to the relationship between husband and Raluca who are in the same room together and secretly hating the fact they can’t be alone. There’s no sexual tension as such, or secret daring touches or longing looks but yet a moment which is so trivial flies by. I commend the director for these episodes – the closing scene where the parents are getting by a dinner at the grandparents whilst loathing each other under the surface is also expertly shot, and acted. There’s a tinge of sadness about the mother being able to deftly hand the father the daughter’s present – which you see them buy earlier in the film together at the department store – behind her back without anyone noticing so they can pretend Santa’s been and gone. But sometimes these long drawn out scenes don’t work – whilst the cake eating scene is amusing it’s nowhere near as amazing as the LIFF film guide made it out to be, and the scene where the husband breaks the news to his wife that he’s met someone else just goes on and on and onnnnn and with acting as bad as that you just want the house to fall down so you can be rid of them.

The problem with the film is that it’s a domestic drama, intended to relate to people who have been through similar events. But everything seems drab and predictable (husband tells wife, she’s mad, husband tells lover, she’s happy, husband moves into lover’s flat, etc) – there’s nothing new or interesting here, just a well directed film with a substandard script and mediocre actors. They babied their kid so much too – I couldn’t believe she was as old as eight! Subtitles also a complete mess (“the hole truth”; “witch way”) but I won’t hold that fault against them…

Don’t rush out to see this.

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Kitchen Stories

November 15, 2010

A beautiful heart-warming tale from the snows of Norway, and one of my favourites of the film festival so far.

Kitchen Stories begins really slowly introducing the audience to the research study the Swedish scientists are undertaking into the movements of single men in their kitchens. It’s done in a rather vague and detached way and apart from the odd jibe between the men about their Scandinavian neighbours (on both sides) you’re so busy trying to take everything in you’re not paying attention to why they’re conducting this survey and what its purpose is. If this sounds an odd premise for a film I beg you to look past the first 15 minutes and ignore the blurb. It’s not about the research at all, and once the main characters settle on screen the film really begins to flourish.

One of the scientists, Folke, is assigned his newest ‘host’: a bad tempered and unfriendly old man called Isak who lives in Norway. As part of the study he has to sit in an elevated chair in the corner of the kitchen, akin to a lifeguard looking over a swimming pool, and it’s quirky touches like this that bring the laughs and slowly, as you watch these two men interact with one another, you find yourself involved with their lives. It sort of reminded me of The Lives of Others but with more of a domesticated sitcom vibe.

At first Isak is resistant to having this strange man in his house observing him from on high, and starts sneakily cooking his meals upstairs in his bedroom and watching him from a hole in the ceiling. As well as the invasion, there is also the general needling undercurrent of post-war politics and divisions between Sweden and Norway. But as time goes on the two men begin to adjust to one another and the barriers are broken after Folke lends the old man some of his tobacco after he finds his stash empty. Isak we have learned, is a lonely man with no family and only two friends in the world – a man called Grant who occasionally calls round for coffee and a haircut, and his horse who is very poorly and causing Isak a lot of upset. Having now found a common ground with Folke, he begins to open up and more and more Folke is coming down from his perch to sit and laugh with the old man at his table. Isak becomes almost tender towards Folke, who too is a lonely soul without family. But soon Folke’s supervisor starts to become suspicious (hosts are not allowed to speak to the researchers and definitely not permitted to socialise) and Folke’s time with the old man is threatened.

I won’t say anymore and hopefully that’s enough to entice you in. It’s a few years old now (2003) so available to watch on DVD. The humour is dry, visual, delightful and funny events are often off-set by a moment of genuine affection by a character that further cements your routing for this unlikely but yet necessary friendship and its continuation. The kidnapping of Folke by a jealous Grant is one of the highlights of the film. I loved both the leads and unashamedly say I grew very attached to them – fine performances all round.

A surprise this one, as I wasn’t expecting very much before going in. But this strengthens my feeling that Scandinavia is a hotbed for sweet, unassuming and touching comedies and if you’ve yet to discover this fact yourself, start with a watch of Kitchen Stories.