Monday, October 03, 2005

Morally Serious Cinema at the VIFF

Two films I can recommend, seen thus far: La Neuvaine, a Quebecquois drama about a woman enduring feelings of suicidal bleakness after a failed attempt to morally intercede on someone's behalf; she ends up helping, and being helped, by a young man who is on a pilgrimage to pray for his dying grandmother. The film is a little chilly at times -- there are lots of rather cold compositions of the woman sitting alone and stiff against bleak backgrounds, and I rather wish that the film had allowed itself to be a little more naturalistic at such times, rather than trying so hard, so obviously, to formally evoke her inner state -- but it is effective and well-acted and ultimately quite touching.

More interesting, I thought, was a rather bleak European film, Fallen, a Latvian/German co-production that follows the "investigations" of a somewhat detached, somewhat numb protagonist into a woman's suicide, which, though a witness to it, he did nothing to stop. The film reminded me at times of Wenders' early Alice in the Cities, perhaps because the protagonist looks a bit like Rudiger Vogler, or because of the use of black and white (tho' it is much darker than Wenders film); even more than Wenders, it has some of the feel of a Bela Tarr film, in that it is very slowly-paced, using long takes and bleak landscapes to enhance the mood, and deals with a certain absence of moral engagement in the world. Morally serious cinema, with a nicely gritty feel to it, and abundant shots of decaying and dingy landscapes (which, as my friend Marina rightly observed, appeal to me). There's also an excellent use of ambient sound. I found it very compelling viewing, though perhaps it would only be so to a very scopophilic cinephile such as myself; it's not particularly original, but it attempts to do something meaningful with the medium, and achieves its end quite effectively. The film held my attention very firmly, and left me with a mood of lingering disquiet.

A third film, which I actually brought my parents to, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, deserves praise for its ambitions, but didn't really excite me; it chronicles the apathy, arrogance, and coldness with which a dying senior citizen -- somewhat drunk, disshevelled, and cantankerous -- is treated by the Romanian medical system. If you've been in a hospital for any length of time, you probably don't need to see the film, though it certainly is well-made; it feels like one is watching a documentary.

Looking forward to 13 Lakes and Ten Skies tomorrow night...

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