Monday, October 8, 2012

Vancouver International Film Festival 2012: Part Two

The Hunt 

Rumour has it The Hunt is a return to form for director Thomas Vinterberg. Well, perhaps. It does involve child molestation—the subject of The Celebration, his best-known work—so it has the sense of a homecoming (no joke intended). But if we’re talking in terms of merit, then I will have none of it, because this is a rank piece of filmmaking, dull and mean-spirited despite whatever minor interest its polished storytelling and acting may provide. Vinterberg works himself into a righteous lather over a vicious town that falsely accuses a kindergarten teacher of molesting a little girl,but the whole game is rigged from the start to confirm his general contempt for the brainless mob. After a couple of scenes of the girl confessing her lie to uncomprehending adults—they all but pat her on the head and say, “No, sweetie, trust us, you were molested”—the film begins to verge on comedy. While the teacher is weeping in church as a Christmas choir of children sing about baby Jesus, you may be wondering why everyone on Law and Order: SVU is speaking Danish. Is this what passes for high-powered psychological drama these days? All I see is cheap cinematic thuggery.

Thursday Till Sunday 

Children are often reduced to baggage during the dissolution of a marriage, dragged along, fought over, lost. Dominga Sotomayor, perhaps unwittingly, makes this very point when the two children in Thursday Till Sunday are granted the privilege of riding on the rooftop luggage rack of the family car so that mom and dad can air their grievances in peace. Not that either child—hyperactive Manuel and his pensive older sister, Lucia—understand what’s happening. They’re just enjoying the ride. That split between carefree youth and embittered adults drives Sotomayor’s assured debut, which clings to Lucia’s perspective of the growing family discord over a four-day road trip. Set largely in the confines of a single junky Mazda, the film captures the nuances of expression and gesture that reveal these characters—a sour look, a turn of the head, a pregnant pause. Sotomayor captures this all with exceptional grace and skill, playing foreground calm against background disorder with great ease. Finally, the film ceases to simply echo Lucia’s perspective and becomes a larger vision of the family unit in turmoil, everyone alone and together simultaneously, as four private worlds orbit and collide.

La demora 

Beginning as a humble drama about a single mother’s struggle to care for her aging father, La demora soon veers off into the same terrain as a Dardenne brothers working-class passion play. This is a good thing. Director Rodrigo Plas sketches out mother Maria’s dire situation in early scenes, but the crisis that drives her to abandon her father—who is displaying signs of encroaching dementia—is never quite brought into focus. Is it a money matter? Fear of her father’s growing senility? Sheer exhaustion and helplessness? All are suggested as plausible reasons, yet none are developed with enough force to make the woman’s lapse come across as natural. Still, Maria’s frantic nighttime journey from shelter to shelter as her father dutifully awaits her return is a powerful argument for the film’s merits. Mundane emotions—aren’t aging parents a pain?—take on renewed gravity, and Plas’ filmmaking grows stronger as the light dims. The city becomes a lonely landscape of shimmering lights and amorphous shapes, an alien place where the only solid thing for both Maria and her father is each other.


The young Cronenberg lad has taken up the family business, and comparisons are all but impossible to ignore. Indeed, it’s almost shocking just how many elements from the father’s early work—sinister corporate systems, bodily violation and mutation—are evident in Brandon Cronenberg’s first film. But then one realizes that David Cronenberg has cast such a long shadow over this sort of near-futuristic semi-satiric body horror that any young director would likely owe him a debt, never mind his own son. So instead of picking on Antiviral for what it isn’t (Videodrome, Naked Lunch et al.), let’s concentrate on what it is (a middling debut that fritters away its oddball premise with an aimless rehash of second-rate conspiracy blather). The film’s big idea turns out to be its only one: we’re looking at a skewed version of our own future, where celebrity is all and star-struck acolytes pay for the privilege of being infected with the same diseases carried by the rich and famous. But the film offers little beyond skin-deep riffs on the cult of celebrity while indulging in some baggy storytelling—two hours is quite a long time for such a simple sinister plot to unravel (even the welcome presence of Malcolm McDowell can’t sell this one, I’m afraid). At most, Cronenberg culls some cute jokes from his scenario, and the film’s striking white design ensures the visual pop even if the plot never does.

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