Thursday, September 17, 2009

TIFF Review - Apan (The Ape)

When you only pick 10 films or so out of over 300, you have to be choosy. It helps to have some semblance of a system. Me? I like to try and squeeze in at least one "I have no idea what this is about, but it sounds cool" film. They also tend to be from Scandinavian countries for some reason.

This year it was Apan (The Ape), from Sweden's Jesper Ganslandt.

And as has been pointed out time and again, it's not a film you should give plot details about, since the whole film hinges on you NOT knowing what happens or what exactly is happening. In fact, the lead actor himself was led from location to location without being told what was happening next.

The main character wakes up on a bathroom floor, heads to work, and starts losing his cool at people. From there his day progresses. That's about all I'll say plot-wise.

But this isn't a surrealist piece, there are no wonky visions or Lynchian characters or scenes to confuse you. The story itself seems fairly straightforward. It could be called postmodern though.

The camera stays close to the protagonist, Krister, for the duration of the film, following him as he attempts to keep it together. Olle Sarri plays the man on the edge of nervous breakdown well, and the scant dialogue punctuated with amplified cacophonies of surrounding noises does an admirable job of bringing the audience into his world. In fact, the loud cues are what I really noticed, be it during a tennis game, near a passing train, or just the sound of a door slamming shut.

North American audiences tend to like having their stories wrapped up for them, and their plots explained at the end of the film. We want to pat ourselves on the back for being oh-so-smart and figuring everything out. We want validation from the filmmaker that we understood their film. This movie doesn't give this. It ends abruptly, like having a puzzle nearly complete and then realizing you're missing the final pieces of the scene - you know what the picture is supposed to be, but you're left with the slightest doubts about the details.

This was met with groans by the audience I was with. They'd been engrossed for 80 minutes by a story they didn't fully understand, but when it wasn't wrapped up for them with a neat little bow, they rebelled. Critics next to me said "are you kidding?" deeming it the worst movie they've seen at the fest. People behind complained to each other about how they had been enjoying the movie up to the end, but now were pissed off that the climax never happened.

I just shook my head at their reactions. For they failed to see that they were putting their own inability to think for themselves on display. Here was an engrossing piece that had held them rapt for its duration, and now they turned on it because its conclusion was left open to their interpretation.

Ganslandt has made a movie where the details of the cause are unimportant, and the effect is the focus. We start at scene 2, not scene 1, and end at the penultimate act instead of the finale. The point is the character, and the psychological effects of his actions, not the initiating actions themselves. We instinctively know what happened, and how it well end, it doesn't need to be spoon fed to us.

I walked out a touch confused myself, and wasn't entirely sure I enjoyed it. But now that I've finished this review an reanalyzed what I've seen, I realize that it worked exactly as it should have. I was on the brink of passing out when I walked into the theatre, purely from exhaustion, and it kept me awake and rapt for its duration. The film then forced me to think about it as my day continued, and spend time analyzing what its goals were. If that's not successful execution of art, then I don't know what is.


Manal said...

I totally disagree with the gratuitous credit you are attributing to this film. There was way too much hype about this movie. I, too, was exhausted when I sat down to view this movie. It held my attention more out of my own resilience for keeping an open mind and giving it a chance, rather than it being a well-executed work of art. It basically followed around a guy taking calls on his bluetooth and nothing else...

I disagree with people who supposed that perhaps we were not smart enough to understand the film. The bottom line is that movies are supposed to make sense on some level of conciousness and this was just a frustrating disappointment that was being hyped up on the "don't give away the plot" kind of movie...that's because THERE IS NO PLOT to give away. Even apes are smarter than this movie!

mandee[ said...

Manal.. I completely agree with you, movies are supposed to make at some sense and there generally should be a purpose.

I generally don't mind films that end abruptly, or films where the plot is not the main focus and I can generally even ignore huge plot holes (m night shyamalan films) as long as they are an engrossing film. When you sell a film as something that hings on you not knowing the plot going in before hand, you are putting emphasis on the plot being important, thus it's stupid to say at the end of the film that figuring out the plot and the story isn't important.

Furthermore, the film was introduced as being one of the most suspenseful films of the year, I think it doesn't take much skill to make a suspense film in this way, just start off with a scene without context and roll from there and you'll have the audience wondering what the hell is going on what the hell is going to happen

Julius_Goat said...

I haven't seen Apan (yet), so my comments don't really apply to that movie specifically, but I don't know if I agree with the premise that "movies are supposed to make sense". I think it is fair to say that most movies make "sense", or at least follow an internal logic. But ultimately, a film is an artistic experience before it is a narrative, and that artistic experience can take many forms. One might say that the painting American Gothic makes more "sense" than Salvadore Dali's melting clocks or a Jackson Pollock canvas, but it wouldn't follow to say that Dali and Pollock's efforts were invalid art because "paintings are supposed to make sense."

I think that better questions would be, "what is the artist's intent for ending the movie abruptly, where it ends?" and "to what purpose is our expectation of traditional narrative flow being confounded", followed by, "how successfully was that intent and that purpose conveyed."

Some of my favorite movies make no damn sense at all.

Astin said...

They hype was due to the fact it's an original vision of a VERY common theme. As an audience, we've seen the events of this movie unfold countless times, but usually in a far more "Hollywood" manner. There was no reason for us to see what started this chain of events, or how they would ultimately end, because we've already seen it countless times in more conventional movies.

The movie made perfect sense, with perhaps the exception of the final line (which is largely missing context, not meaning). Are you saying that your day would be much different under those circumstances? Knocking him walking around talking on his headset is calling out one of the key aspects of the film. His life was progressing around him as normal despite the events he experienced, and he was a slave to this.

The suspense was in wondering WHEN any of the more obvious outcomes were going to occur, or if we'd be surprised by an unexpected explanation. Suspense doesn't require a resolution, just the expectation of one.

Manal said...

Julius, I am sensitive to the point you are trying to make. Some things are not meant to make sense, but rather engage the audience on a level not done by many mainstream movies. But if you refer to the point Mandeep is making, the whole movie was sold to me on the premise of not knowing the plot, but rather discovering it as you go along. Again, my frustration with this is that THERE WAS NO PLOT!

When I spend time, energy, hard-earned money and brain cells on getting to know the characters and the stories being told, I expect the movie to at least leave me with questions other than why I wasted my resources on it. To end the movie abruptly was the one saving grace so as not to prolong my agony of having to sit through more. If one is going to put a movie like that into what is dubbed the people's festival, then perhaps that person should evaluate whether or not this is the right audience for it.

In fact, I think our understanding of the artistic direction would have benefitted more if we were at least explained the premise for making such a movie. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have the storyteller sit in their midst to explain it.

For me, the hype created around the plot for The Ape is akin to selling snake oil to the masses.

mandee[ said...

Julias, I agree with most of what you had to say, but I feel that the intent of the artist should be conveyed by the Art piece itself and to me this film failed to do that, In the end we can say I didn't get it, but I think neither did most of the audience, so what was the point.

mandee[ said...


I agree with you if the movie had just ended without the final line the kid speaks, I would have taken the film as an unconventional but more realistic look at how one might react after having committed a horrible crime in passion, but now I feel like, I don't get it at all, Why did the kid make it seem like the father was a positive character, what the hell really happened the night before.

Astin said...

Mandee[ - And for me, that's what made the movie. It's otherwise a fairly conventional, if unexciting, concept. The final line opens the whole thing up to interpretation. It makes us question our assumptions about what happened, but provides absolutely NO answers.

One could just as easily take the opposite view - that the father is the only non-positive character.

I caught the second screening of the film, so the director wasn't present. But I've heard that in the first one he told the audience they likely wouldn't be entertained because that wasn't the point - he just wanted them invested in the story. The other thing from the screening that came out was that when people asked him for an explanation in the Q&A, he was very evasive and refused to give them an answer to questions like "what does x represent?" or "how did y happen?" As he wanted them to interpret it in their own way. This effectively makes the audience part of the story. We fill in the blanks with our own preconceptions and assumptions.

mandee[ said...


"The final line opens the whole thing up to interpretation. It makes us question our assumptions about what happened, but provides absolutely NO answers."

Do you really think that is good film making and hard to do?

I don't claim to know much about films, I usually just watch a movie and reflect on the experience and sort of just categorize it as either being worth my time or not.

I guess since I am out here having this discussion the filmmaker succeeded in his purpose. But, overall it was not a very fulfilling experience.

BTW I was also at the 2nd screening on Wednesday. I was the guy laughing out loud at the "Fight Dance" skit.

Astin said...

I think it is when done effectively. It's easy to TRY and do something like this in a movie, but most of the time it falls very flat. Doing it so it has the desired effect is hard.

Look at the second Matrix as a well-known example - the Architect spends minutes spewing tripe that is supposed to both confuse the audience and blow our minds. It achieves the former (on the first viewing alone, watch it a second time and it's easy to follow), but fails miserably at the latter. What was intended to be the catch for a shitty movie that makes us want to see the sequel ended up being a laughable display of overconfidence and arrogance on the part of the Wachowskis. The only discussion that followed was "wow, that sucked." "yah, it really did."

But in the case of The Ape, the line is almost surreal, and so out of context that it becomes a focal point for discussion and DOES change one's view of the movie, or at least causes them to question it - as you did.

The movie isn't for everyone, that's for sure. It took me a day before I decided I actually liked it myself. It's not entertaining in the classic sense, and for many it will seem like a waste of time. But for those who both "get it" and like what it's done (and it's quite possible to get it and NOT like it), I think it's a worthwhile way to spend 80 minutes, but that's just my opinion. As you said, here you are debating it 2 days after the fact, so it had to have some sort of effect.