Saturday, June 28, 2014

You, the Living (2007)

You, the Living is a wonderfully oddball surrealist film by the gentlest of oddball Swedish filmmakers, Roy Andersson.  There is no plot but a series of vignettes linked by a theme of life failing to live up to expectations.  In the scene above, for example, the bloke on the bed - a jobbing sousaphone player - is busy telling us about his failed pension schemes whilst the beautiful buxom lady in the becoming helmet builds to climax.  This has nothing whatever to do with the builder in a traffic jam who tells us about his nightmare (a botched attempt at the classic tablecloth trick sees him sent to the electric chair) or the young girl who dreams she has married the rock star who bought her a drink in a bar.  The latter occasions the most surreal moment, when she fantasies about the wedding night which takes place in a house travelling past a railway station thronged with adoring public.  Yet it all blends seamlessly thanks to the strength of Andersson's vision, the magnificent photography, gentle performances, and the Dixieland soundtrack.  I adored this film and am on the lookout for Andersson's earlier work, especially Songs from the Second Floor (2000).

Friday, June 13, 2014

Valhalla Rising (2009)

It starts - we don't know where, we don't know when - with a one-eyed warrior being taken from his cage to fight another man to the death for the amusement of his barbarian captors.  One-Eye wins - he is Mads Mikkelson, after all - and the chieftain sells him on to another bloodthirsty chief.  Being dragged along to who knows where, One-Eye escapes in spectacularly bloody fashion, taking the boy, his keeper, with him.  They come across a bunch of Christian Vikings - it turns out this is not Norway or Iceland but Sutherland and these particular Vikings are all Scottish actors.  They are going on crusade to recapture the Holy City of Jerusalem.  One-Eye and the boy tag along.  One-Eye says nothing.  The boy does his speaking for him.  The pilgrims are becalmed in a fog for ages.  They are on the brink of death when One-Eye drinks the water lapping alongside.  The others laugh - it's salt water, he'll go mad and die.  But it's fresh water.  They are on a river.  They are in sight of land.  What land, we never found out.  Who lives here we do discover, but it means nothing.  Look at them.  They could be any lost tribe.

The story is mythical, a quest.  We know what the pilgrims are after but have no clue about One-Eye.  All we discover about his past are flashes of memory in which everything is vivid red, the colour of Kensington Gore in old Hammer movies.  He says absolutely nothing.  He barely reacts.  He doesn't lose his temper, he doesn't despair.  The Scottish pilgrims are scarcely chatterboxes.  The older among them - their leader and his henchman, the wonderful Gary Lewis (best known as Billy Elliot's dad) - think deep thoughts and speak profundities.  It is above all a film about mood.  The bleak landscapes are a sodden green and muddy brown.  The land they come to, which can be seen in the photo above, looks like it might be the surface of Mars only less hospitable.  What writer-director Nicholas Winding Refn (he of Drive) does marvellous things with fog and mist and the occasional vivid blue sky.

Mikkelson does mean and moody - we all know that - but he is also convincingly violent.  The boy is beautifully played by young Maarten Stevenson.  Turns out it's the BBC part-funded the film - well done to them.  My only reservation - dreadful music.

Le Havre (2011)

Le Havre is a French film by the celebrated Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki.  It's a comedy about human dignity.  Poor old Marcel Marx (Andre Wilms, above left) is an superannuated shoeshine boy, scraping by, borrowing from Peter to pay Paul.  He once lived in Paris, he says; a writer, he says, but only an artistic success.  Now he lives in Le Havre with his dog Laika and his adored wife Arletty (Finnish actress Kati Outinen).  It's tough going, but he maintains his standards.

When Arletty is taken into hospital with an unspecified but incurable disease Andre fills the hole in his life with an illegal immigrant boy Idrissa (Blondin Miguel, on the right).  He first came across Idrissa hiding in the docks.  He shied away from Marcel, naturally, but Marcel left him some food and some money anyway.  Then, one night, Marcel comes home to find Idrissa sleeping in the shed with Laika.  Idrissa too is a man of principle.  He pays his debts.

It becomes Marcel's mission to get the boy to his mother in London.  The local community, who have hitherto looked on Marcel as, at best, a character, rallies round.  Little Bob even comes out of retirement for a charity gig.

(Le Havre's own Little Bob - Roberto Piazza)

But the police are looking for Idrissa.  Inspector Monet has direct orders from the M. le Prefet to make the case top priority...

The deadpan style is maintained throughout - my favourite moment, Marcel at the Immigration Centre, telling the bureaucrat in charge that he is a relative of Idrissa's relatives.  "I'm the family albino."  Wilms is superb throughout.  The face of a Caesar and the rumpled dignity of Stan Laurel.  Equal with him in plot and performance is Jean-Pierre Darroussin as Inspector Monet in his black coat, black hat, and what looked to me like a Lancia circa 1979.  The exteriors and interiors were all retro - the music too, scratchy old chansons of the thirties and forties, and Little Bob's classic Rock 'n' Roll.  The colours sang.

Brilliant movie.  I loved it.