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Showing posts with label Lars and The Real Girl. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lars and The Real Girl. Show all posts

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

You’re just a sore loser

This is a review of Rams (Hrútar) (2015)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2015 (3 to 13 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

9 February

This is a review of Rams (Hrútar) (2015)

Of course, though there are sheep in the film, those are not the rams – but no one, even without having seen the film-poster, need feel complacent for that realization…

Film references :

* Addicted to Sheep (2015) [interview with director Magali Pettier]
* Burden of Dreams (1982)
* Fitzcarraldo (1982)
* Iona (2015)
* It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
* Kosmos (2010)
* Life in a Fish-Bowl (2014)
* Nebraska (2013)
* Rear Window (1954)
* The Field (1990)

However, there are some puzzles in the film – asking ourselves, as we try to be intelligent observers, Why is he doing that ? [meaning, usually, Gummi¹], and intractably getting no answer in at least one case – and they require our patience. There must also be half-a-dozen times when, through things such as reflections, our attention is drawn to the fact that Gummi is looking at the world through a window : in one shot, we almost have more streaks of light featuring across the image than the image itself, and at a moment when we are really watching Gummi watching (or the character playing him, pretending not to expect what he sees), and not just first being shown him at the window, then what we know that he is seeing.

They are still there, but writer / director Grímur Hákonarson does not overdo it with beautiful views of Iceland, and there are two sorts of shots that he has cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen distinctively employ : external long-shots with a static camera-position, allowing us to take in what we see, and which may include an element of movement to which we can give our attention (not least if we are asking ourselves the question Why are we being shown this ?), and internal medium shots, again static, that let us take in Gummi, sitting, or with someone else, where there is a landscape painting above him, but what the window is framing is at least as worth looking at (a point of connection with the previous paragraph).

Those who invite us to see this film on the basis that it is 'deadpan comedy', executed extremely well, seem to see that as sufficient reason in itself, but no film is under an obligation ‘to be about’ what it appears to be about – and this one does not even seem to be about the sheep (even if there is enthusiasm akin to that of Tom and Kay Hutchinson in Addicted to Sheep (2015), and the passion and love for, and for breeding, the prize-winning favourites). When Gummi delivers Kiddi to the hospital, we might stop to consider where the humour comes from (even if it may elicit an amazed snort, rather than a belly-laugh - though there were pockets, in the screening, of those fervent to derive much amusement from their viewing) :

In constructing the scene, Hákonarson first of all effects a misdirection (which derives from the manner of the delivery, and in relation to an earlier scene²), and it has already been noted how, as a quiet way of subverting our perception, he has us react to what we expect, e.g. early on, when Gummi does not receive first prize, and what he is then about outside (a moment whose implication drives the whole story on, but which looks like sabotage).

By the time of this part of the film, Hákonarson has already set up a polarity, where our time is very clearly with Gummi (as well as our sympathies), not Kiddi, and what works here is the incongruity between action and the duty that informs it³. (A little, as it turns out, with Tom and Jerry, we may be worried about Kiddi, taken to and left in the surprised care of those who have half a mind that their attention should be on the unknown driver, but Kiddi soon turns out to bounce back (as those characters do), in a way that belies our fears.)

We need to spot, but only to set aside, the patent theme of obsession, for this is not the desire-at-all-costs of Richard Harris (as ‘Bull’ McCabe) in The Field (1990) (or of Klaus Kinski in Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo (1982), though, at times in Burden of Dreams (1982), we might ask whose mad obsession the film is about), despite arising from the issue of ‘the last of the Bolstadur stock’.

Artfully, then (and with the wise investment in using no fewer than four translators to care for its foreign-language viewers), the film is a lot more to do with an obsession that actually speaks and treats of notions of identity and personhood (as in Nebraska (2013)), which is exposed, on one level, when the government official / lawyer tells Gummi You’re the one who’s responsible. If we mentally stay with its arc (and never quite credit, per se, this conceit of deadpan comedy, any more than we can / should with Lars and The Real Girl (2007)), Rams has laid foundations⁴ so that, led by Atli Örvarsson’s score, we build in the last ten or so minutes to what is actually the heart of the film, with excellent sound-design, visual-effects and situation.

Right at this moment, where we may misdirect ourselves as to what is taking place, we might just puzzle a bit about what happens after the black-out at the end (and leave, saying so loudly, and what a good film it was)... Or we might consider what, in us, has made us doubt what we see, both in this film, and in the world outside : what challenge, in other words, the film might mean for our lives, when we construct realities of the world, and of - and for - people who are in it, both those whom we write off, and those whom we credit.

Still from Lars and The Real Girl (2007)

And, for those who also stay for the credits, there is a chance to reflect on how the theme for piano sounds now, when reprised, and to note that Örvarsson played it, as well as the organ and accordion, with the session musicians.


¹ It is only a diminutive nick-name (as is Kiddi), but, if we did not note the full name in the film, IMDb (@IMDb) does not know, and cannot tell us after the event…

² As well as by the look of some of the shots (characterized above), one is reminded of the powerful close of Kreuzweg (Stations of the Cross) (2014), but also of the brothers, driving around in Kosmos (2010).

³ Contains spoilers * Not unrelatedly, it is as if Gummi is feeling required to kill the fatted calf, but his heart is elsewhere – and by no means rejoicing – when he does it (a little as with George Bailey, and his life ?), and from this way in which Hákonarson has Gummi (hardly for the first time that we know of) care for Kiddi, but without according him any more dignity than a bag of potatoes. A treatment grotesquely exploited, at length, by John Cleese and Connie Booth with ‘The Kipper and The Corpse’ in Fawlty Towers.

⁴ In a way that Iona (2015), set on the island of that name, just fails to, wishing to seem genuinely portentous (as if it had the emotional pull of Greek tragedy ?), but only being bogus and hollow. (In a similar way (though less unsuccessfully), Icelandic film Life in a Fish-Bowl (2014) wants to nestle big themes, such as those of the Icelandic banks, amongst domesticity, as if it were another Chinatown (1974)...)

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Beginning with ‘Beautiful’

This is a review of Air Doll (2009)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

12 November

This is a review of Air Doll (Kûki ningyô) (2009)

One might feel that Air Doll (Kûki ningyô) (2009) makes Lars and the Real Girl (2007) feel simplistic and uni-thematic, or that the latter makes the former seem overcomplicated and confused. There is an element of truth in both, perhaps.

Do they even have much in common, other than the life-sized sex-toy that is Nozomi and Bianca, and that both are fairy-tales ? In Lars’ case, Bianca is certainly a substitute, but he is not pretending, whereas Hideo (Itsuji Itao) is, and, for that reason, would never introduce Nozomi to his family in complete seriousness as his partner.

Lars (about which I have written here) operates on a psychological level (Bianca, in herself, is never anything other than Bianca, partly because Lars (Ryan Gosling) named her, and she arrives in the post), but Doll embodies Nozomi in Doona Bae’s body, and exploits the sexual aspect of so doing straightaway. It shows first her breasts as she awakens, then her naked back, before she tries on various outfits, settling on that of the French maid (albeit with knee-length white socks).

As Bae’s body has become that of Nozomi, she can do things for which Bianca relies on the agency of others (partly because Lars has pictured her to the world as disabled), such as dressing, eating, getting work : they have these things in common. As if somehow drawn to the world that most represents herself, Nozomi gets a job in a video shop, but there a huge element of unreality steps in :

With her having little more than a blank slate for a mind, which knows nothing about the world (though she soaks in information), and having never seen a film, would the (unnamed) manager – even though he fancies her – employ her ? Unless that is just the point, that the upskirt views justify her being there for the customers and for him, and she is being regarded just as a doll on the payroll.

With Bianca, the situation is turned around, with much input from the psychologist, from people laughing at or resenting Lars (because he is parading with a blow-up sex-doll as a girlfriend) to showing their care for him by entering into the fantasy, and looking after Bianca by involving her in evenings out. They come to approach her as if she were real, but the only person who believes that she is – and then has an epiphany – is Lars.

There is no depth or dimension to the film other than that, but it is moving, because of what everyone, led by Gosling, comes to do. It is a fairy-tale because the toughest person to get to sympathize is Gus (Paul Schneider), Lars’ brother, whereas we know that there would be much more antipathy in real life.

With Doll, it is Nozomi’s realization about who she is, what place she has in the world, that has an emotional effect, and that falls upon Bae as Nozomi in a way that it cannot upon Bianca, not just because she is almost always present to the camera (except when we see scenes of others’ lives). Where she is playing truant to Hideo, we would think that, as in any double-life, the film or she would be careful not to be caught out, but that seems to matter less, even to the extent of his unwittingly buying a DVD from her, which means that she will be there, not in his home, when he gets back.

It is not just at the level of whether she attempts not be caught out that the film seems frayed. Quite apart from whether Nozomi would make a worthwhile employee, the complete lack of impatience or bewilderment that Junichi (Arata Iura) has with her questions, or with helping her, is just a given, but he may be seeking something from her, too, or making her a substitute.

When she has a nasty accident in the shop, it brings their friendship closer, in a way that he proves to want to desire to repeat, over and over. Nozomi has feelings, but, despite having found that she has a heart, they seem at a distance, just as Junichi’s interest in her seems to be really more of a fascination. What fascinates him – is it the mechanism of her sexuality, rather than her as any sort of woman, just as the owner of the shop seems to have only a basic need for her ?

We see her enjoying things that she finds or is given, and she amasses a treasure that she carries with her, but she has been wounded by what she is told about having become a real woman : indeed, it has not even been noticed that she is real, so taken for granted is she is a possession and a toy to play with. Driven on by her experiences, and the knowledge of her mortality, she seeks further encounters with others who might explain to her who she is.

In this, she seems to stand for every woman, perhaps everyone, who wants to know about where to be in society, and the removable vagina that we twice see being washed stresses her functionality on that level. Back with Bianca, if she were a disabled person, she might not so readily receive the accommodation and acceptance that we see, and it is only through people’s deeper love and care for Lars that she has any place.

Maybe both films ask the same question, deep down : what is the role of a woman in relation to others when coming to their world from outside ?

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

The patterns of Samsara

This is a review of Samsara (2011)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

5 September

This is a review of Samsara (2011)

* Contains spoilers *

Unless you intuit something from the eyes of the dancers at the beginning (and they, at least, are allowed a varying expression, not just a fixed gaze), you may not realize how intense, disturbingly intense, Samsara (2011) is going to get. You may recognize some locations early on, such as Petra, The Hall of Mirrors at the Palais de Versailles, the cathedral of Rheims, but it is not material, for this is not a travelogue with a soundtrack of music: its abiding purpose is not to substitute for visiting those places.

Let's come back, first, to those unvarying faces, without expression save in the eyes. This is not witnessing, this is determining, as if for passport photographs, how someone must agree to look to appear. So, also, is the editing, which, for example, takes out unwanted frames in the close scenes of workers on production-lines, by selectively speeding up that part of the process so that we see the product but not what intervenes.

On these grounds alone, quite apart from the fact that the credits acknowledge Fricke and Madigson's 'treatment', do not doubt that this film will manipulate you any less, perhaps more, than a feature film. The transitions, the juxtapositions, are managed well and done carefully, because they need to be in what is choreography, a thought-through presentation of images and music, much composed especially for the film.

Samsara has, in its widest sense, a political message. It shows chickens being gathered by machine to be caged for transport, piglets suckling in a confined space, cows being milked on a huge turntable, food items and meat being processed en masse, landfill sites and scrap PCs in pieces being rooted over, and the process of manufacture of weapons, and electrical goods and even, to take things to their logical conclusion, sex-dolls*, together with a display of dancing Thai lady-boys (all with a number, and so all can be chosen).

All is pattern, all is conformity, from the convicts performing aerobically in a jail in The Philippines (to what appears to be an added disco-beat) to vaster numbers still of the military performing tai chi, where, seen from one angle, the uniformity of movement became translated into order. There was a similar effect of reducing the individual to a geometric display with the worshippers at Mecca, or military parades of what appear to be US marines and Chinese women with short red dresses and automatic weapons.

Early on, the film propounds a theme of decay, of the stars in their apparent traverse across the night sky in time-lapse scenes being the backdrop to human activity and the natural world, and of the transient nature of all things: if we know the Book of Ecclesiastes or the Buddhist teaching about impermanence, still none of this prepares us for the cumulative power of the images with which we are confronted, summed up for me in the scene from France where a man wearing a suit and sitting at a desk slowly starts applying clay to his face and is soon, in a frenzy of transformation, no longer recognizable. Likewise, the multi-lane highways from around the world, showing traffic ever in motion, are both mesmerically beautiful, and seem to question the point of all this motion and striving

The film takes us into all this activity and consumption to an almost unbearable degree and then calmly back out through revisiting a Tibetan Buddhist painting that, when the novices came in from outside and gathered around, we saw being carefully constructed with coloured sand (a
mandala. The West’s approach might be to revere or seek to preserve such an artefact: here, first one line, then three others intersecting it, is scored through it to represent that, however attractive it may have been, it is just one world-picture amongst others, and the coloured sand is then mixed together by all present, scraping and scooping it up into a container.

The simplicity of the horns that called out from the monastery have brought us back to the dancers in Bali or somewhere like it, performing one in front of another with a profusion of elongated arms and eyes on their palms. Their actions seem serene, graceful, although embodying the same need for everyone to play her part in a seamless whole.

We end with the desert to the sound of the sea. All of these things that we saw before both seem and do not seem different, because we are different**.


* I was unavoidably reminded of Bianca in Lars and The Real Girl (2007).

** I avoided Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life (2011), because it seemed overly long and likely to be irritating. Samsara was not, but I was glad when I could sense that the uncomfortable footage was coming to an end. On that note, I have found some reviews that I found worth looking at (the last two very brief ones, the first in more depth):;;

Monday, 12 September 2011

Meditating about Lars

This is a review of Lars and the Real Girl (2007)

More views of - or at (or before) - Cambridge Film Festival 2011
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

13 September

* Contains spoilers *

This is a review of Lars and the Real Girl (2007)

I am still musing about this film, not just because I delayed until to-night to watch the special features, and not even because of most of what was in them. So what causes me to continue to muse?

The answer may partly be in the title (as I don't think that 'the Real Girl' refers to Bianca), and where it locates this film. Undeniably, whatever the cast and crew say about her in the so-called featurette, it would not have worked if Ryan Gosling, too, hadn't been good - and he is very good.

In order not to meet the film head on, although I do not really believe that it has any hidden depths, I find myself thinking about the therapy sessions in Good Will Hunting: when I saw the film, nothing could detract from or diminish the fact that Matt Damon's character was there with that of Robin Williams on account of the improbability that - despite the obvious problems posed by the notation alone - he had just been able, in a casual way, not only to pick up advanced mathematical learning from blackboards, but also to become a highly competent practitioner. (The impudent memory that lingers is of the joke that is told about the old couple, when all is said and done.)

Or I reflect on A Beautiful Mind, and what that film wants to suggest about the nature of experiencing schizophrenia, and how it seeks to set academic life, honour and achievements against discordant behaviour. (One could go on to mention Shine, though some disputed that it dealt with mental illness as such.)

I continue musing, knowing that the film gets the viewer to credit certain things, but at the same time - largely - presenting such a utopian picture of acceptance and understanding of another's needs that, if there were any truth in it and it is not to make us feel better about what could be, we would not face so many struggles that seem bound up with life, but, rather, people would bend when they saw how we were hurting.

In a world where people sometimes label one another as 'needy', a word that laughably seems to suggest that the labeller has no needs, I rather doubt it...

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Sunday, 11 September 2011

A posting that has lacked a title (until now)

More views of - or at (or before) - Cambridge Film Festival 2011
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

11 September

I was chatting to a man of the cloth earlier about films and the Festival, and he mentioned one (well, a pair of them) that had been given what I understand not to have been the smoothest ride by the Rotten Tomatoes web-site (well, maybe nothing new about that - the UK critics, for example, all wrote in a way that disappointed me about Sarah's Key), but which he thought worth a view: The Gods Must Be Crazy I + II.

As the Internet Movie Database, IMDB (, also gives a voice for those who do not review films for a living, I have just casually looked up this title, and it seems that I might as well take him up on the offer of borrowing the DVDs some time...

To-night, though, is too soon, as I plan to delve into the backlog of home-viewing and catch up with Lars and the Real Girl in time for the release of Melancholia.

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