Thursday, 12 April 2012
Artisokka Film Festival 2012
The Artisokka Film Festival has been around for a while and has traditionally profiled itself as a festival about films made by women, about women. But since it has been on the grow, and because it's being handled by much of the same crew as Love & Anarchy, it has now become a sort of a little sister to Helsinki International Film Festival each spring. This year, the festival premiered a number of great and/or interesting films that hadn't yet or haven't at all been brought to big screens in Finland. Thus it's about time to take a look at the festival's program this year.
A Dangerous Method (Canada/USA)
Director: David Cronenberg
Director David Cronenberg is on a roll, since his sci-fi epic Cosmopolis (taking entirely place inside one car) is presumably premiering in Cannes this year. But that film's production has been a long and rocky road, so Canada's own had time to compete this relatively straight-forward period drama before that. And I use the word "relatively" because this is Cronenberg we are talking about, and the resulting film does feel a lot like it was made by its auteur.
Cronenberg has been interested in psychology all through his career and now delves into the sources of some of it's leading developers. Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) is a young psychiatrist running a hospital in Zurich and developing ways in which treat patients from their mental illnesses. Jung gets tangled in an intriguing case when Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) is sent to him, suffering from severe hysteric outbursts. Jung uses various methods on her, such as word association, dream interpretation, and open discussions. Since she takes a turn for the better, he eventually allows her to help him around the hospital. Jung also develops a friendship with his idol, Dr. Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and they have lengthy discussions about the nature of psychoanalysis and particularly the place sexual impulses play in a person's psyche.
Jung, an academic professional, eventually gets tangled up in a spiral of sexuality, and gets turned entirely from what he was in the beginning of the film. Thus, the story is quite Cronenbergian. The director is seemingly having a lot of fun depicting various psychiatric methods on film. The film is also quite distant and cold, with little warmth or sympathy. The film's cold color scheme reflects it, and visually the film reminds almost a sunday evening BBC drama series. But I mean this as a compliment, and Cronenberg has put extra effort in making the world seem reasonable and realistic, when it's characters psyches and emotions clearly are not.
The story is told matter-of-factly, while at the same time Jung and Freud argue about the need for emotions for their line of work, or about how much their friendship is just analysts bouncing ideas back and forth and how much true comradship and mutual respect. The biggest problem of the film lies therein. The three-act structure brings Freud into the picture only at the second act, with the emphasis being on the relationship between Spielrein and Jung. By the third act the focus has shifted entirely to Freud & Jung, and Spielrein has been sidelined. Never mind the actual historical facts, this is sloppy storytelling. Fortunately, all three leads are pretty great (I also bought the exaggerated hysterical expressions of Knightley, even though a number of people have problems with them). Cronenberg makes it interesting of just seeing his leads talk to each other. Vincent Cassel's sex-obsessed Otto Gross steals the show for the few scenes he's in. Eventually the film is about the loss of idealism.
The film is very cranial, while actual sex scenes are few, and violence non-existent, which has disappointed some of the more superficial of Cronenberg's fans. So the whole film is not quite the culmination of the psychological studies of his filmography. It is still an interesting film, and arises fascination in psychoanalysis in even the layman viewer.
Martha Marcy May Marlene (USA)
Director: Sean Durkin
The difficult-looking title delves right into the core of its main character (played by Elizabeth Olsen) and her past, using a different name at different times. Marcy May is one of the workers in a creepy farm, led by their charismatic leader Patrick (John Hawkes). One day she escapes this group and moves in to her sister, Lucy (Sarah Paulson). Living with her and her husband Ted (Hugh Dancy), she is known as Martha. Martha refuses to talk about her past experiences and where she has been the last few years. Yet the past keeps haunting her, surfacing as delusions, paranoia and disturbing flashbacks.
The film doesn't offer clear visual clues on which time level we are moving, so the viewer must pay attention to know what is present and what is past. At times watching the film can be as disorienting as Martha herself views the events. Nevertheless, the structure in which the flashbacks explain directly the events happening in modern time are a bit straightforward.
The film wisely avoids many pratfalls and clichés attached to movies about various cults and communities. In this film, they are not religious wackos or raving lunatics, just good liars. Like Winter's Bone before it, this is another indie film digging into the evil lurking within picturesque mountainside wilderness, this time in the Catskill mountains. As a result, the visual representation is also similar, with blue-toned greyness and brown shades. This makes the colorful ranch sequences taking place in daylight all the more harrowing. As Marcy May is being lured into trusting a false ideal, the surroundings seem quite off as well. She is systematically being led out of her identity with a combination of sweetness and abuse and with a huge dose of lies that everything is OK and she is loved. This culminates in the scene where she answers the phone with a shared identity of "Marlene".
As a psychological piece, it is a very painful picture to watch. Olsen as the central character is present in nearly every scene, and thus makes the film work with her performance that goes right under your skin. As a fractured, broken human being she is capable for various acts, good deeds and wickedness. Strong acts of courage and disturbing madness. In the center is a cry for help for the abused. That's why it's good that the character shows her weaknesses and isn't supernaturally good at handling all the terrible things that have happened to her. Martha aims to be strong and silent, but her mind simply can't handle everything that has happened, spiraling her out of control. Sean Durkin's debut feature is a captivating film, making him a talent to watch for. Quite haunting stuff, which reminds us all to keep track of our personalities.
Director: Andrew Haigh
The seemingly straight Russell (Tom Cullen) goes to a house party with his friends in the city of Nottingham. After the party, he sneaks by himself to a gay club and picks up a handsome stranger just before closing. He wakes up the next morning with regret, hoping that the man lying next to him, Glen (Chris New), would leave. But Chris wants to talk. And they talk about everything, their past, their identities, their sexuality. What was meant as a one-night stands deepens. n. But there's something in Glen's life coming up that will keep the men apart. They only have the present, this weekend. Which is why Russell needs to do some soul-searching.
The film is well-acted and consists mostly of the two men just talking. Basically, it's not even that important that they are homosexual, as this could be taken to mean any relationship. Of course there is Russell's dilemma about coming out of the closet. That's why it seems like a major triumph when he finally allows himself to be seen in public together with Glen. The film has a clear time definition, of taking part during a moment and evolving truthfully. But for me at least, the film also doesn't offer much new. It's been done before, and it's clear where the film is heading from the get-go. Sympathetic though the main pair are, one's interest falters while watching them for 96 minutes non stop. An OK romance film, but not that special.
We Need To Talk About Kevin (UK/USA)
Director: Lynne Ramsay
The only actually woman-directed film I've so far seen from the festival's program was this film, based on the acclaimed novel by Lionel Shriver. And it is very well-directed piece, visual and story wise. It's also a real feel-bad film, that forces it's viewer out of his/her comfort zone to ponder about the nature of evil and injustice.
Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton) is a broken woman, having to deal with the grief and guilt caused by something horrible her teenaged son Kevin (Eszra Miller) has committed. Hated by her neighbors and ignored at her work, she is utterly alone in these feelings. When someone throws red paint all over her house at night, she begins to clean it, all the while thinking about Kevin and how he came to this point. She has felt alienated with the child ever since he was born. Kevin has been a stubborn, destructive and odd kid even when little. But whenever she would want to talk about his development or weirdness to his husband Franklin (John C. Reilly), she gets shrugged off. Franklin doesn't see anything out of the ordinary in Kevin.
At first I didn't like how evil Kevin is represented from the get go. Slap some Latin chanting in the background and he could easily be Damien from The Omen. But as the film progressed, I started to realize it's because this version exists in the memories of her mother, trying to make sense of all the events that have unfolded. It's also because he seems so unstoppably evil that she feels so helpless and that there was nothing that she could've done to stop the chain of events. In the scenes depicting the modern day, there are always some red elements in the background, with the blood work not allowing Eva a moment of tranquility. There are plenty of scenes of her attempting to wash red color off from her house's walls or from her hands, intercut with her memories of Kevin as a child. The real Kevin appears in the film's final scene.
Rather, the film sees Eva as bit too much of a martyr. The very opening scene sees her in a Christ-like pose, carried by a number of people all covered in blood-looking tomato sauce. The woman has had to give out her life of adventure and happiness for her family, and Kevin still resents her. The film is understanding for the resentment of a parent towards the child, but is also careful in not delving into over-analyzation. The film is about one woman's cross to bear, and any connections to sad real-life events seem consequential. In the flashback scenes, Ramsay uses (and Eva likes to listen to) Kabuki music, which emphasizes that the motherly love she feels for Kevin is all a masquerade. Or perhaps it's Kevin who masquerades as a good boy while in the presence of his father, but shows his true nature for his mother? The whole film is also laced with melancholic country songs, which give out a clear signal of a tale of a person that has lost everything.
Parents, punish your children. Not out of spite, but for love.
The Rum Diary (USA)
Director: Bruce Robinson
The festival closed with this box office bomb that was excluded from Finnish theatrical release altogether. It's a shame, really, since it's a sort of return to form for Johnny Depp, and a fun enough alcohol-fueled adventure from the director of Withnail & I. It adapts more Hunter S. Thompson's actual life and diaries, than the fictional novel of the same name he wrote. The blurriness between Depp's character and real Thompson may also have been confusing to the audiences. If I remember correctly, Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas wasn't initially a big hit, either.
Depp plays American journalist Paul Kemp, who has arrived to Puerto Rico and takes on various freelance jobs while there. He's assigned to do boring pieces about tourists that never leave their hotel, while a revolution is boiling on the streets. Kemp wants to get in on the action. He's much into alcohol, and his story hunts tend to end on him getting wasted. The situation is not helped when he hits it off with Sala (Michael Rispoli), another hard-drinking journalist. Another side of Kemp's misadventures revolves around the real-estate magnate Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart) and his ravishing young wife Chenault (Amber Heard) who strikes her eye on Kemp.
As one might think, there's not much in the way of plot, with just Depp and various other bonkers character bumbling their way through the film. That also makes some scenes very funny, but most of the film very uneven. Journalism is forgotten for the most part in the get-go, as Paul and Sala focus their minds on how to get incredibly wasted. Eckhart's character in turn seems to fit some other film altogether and the blossoming romance between Paul and Chenault is almost cringe-worthy in its clunkiness. As for Puerto Rico, the film manages to show both the luxurious and the seedy parts, making the island both idyllic, and more than a little dangerous at the same time.