Monday, September 9, 2013

TIFF Day 3

Only Lovers Left Alive
Jim Jarmusch's latest film explores a brief period in the very long life of a bored vampire.

Adam (Tom Hiddleston) is a rock star. A reclusive rock star. A reclusive vampire rock star. He also happened to write something for Schubert once. Living in a deceivingly ramshackle house on the edges of Detroit, he wants nothing more than to be left alone while composing his music. He has but one friend, Ian (Anton Yelchin), a human (or zombie as Adam is wont to call them) who can seemingly acquire anything Adam needs, from incredibly rare guitars to custom-made wooden bullets.

Eve (Tilda Swinton) is Adam's wife, living in Tangier, enjoying a life without worries and marvelling at the world around her. She has long since realized that when you're immortal, the point is to enjoy your long life. She hangs out with her dear friend Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), who supplies her with high-quality blood and conversation.

Adam has admired and consorted with great writers and scientists and learned much from them, but as he's watched the "zombies" destroy themselves through greed and arrogance, he has become melancholy and suicidal. Tesla had lightbulbs you didn't need to plug in, in the 1800's. Electricity can be gathered from the atmosphere. Yet humans keep polluting their water and their blood and their lives. The craftmanship of the past, even as little as a few decades ago, is lost, and he despairs. So he calls his wife and mopes her into coming to visit.

Her arrival spurs him to venture out. The arrival of her sister (Mia Wasikowska) sets events in motion that forces change upon him.

But this is a Jarmusch film, so there isn't much that actually happens. There is no major climax or conflict that leads to massive vampiric battles or mass destruction. There are no chase scenes or tense stalkings in the dark. There's no glitter to be found anywhere. What there is, is an exploration of what being an immortal vampire must be like in an age of surveillance and the Internet and the global village and blood diseases and passports and paparazzi and  fame. How does one avoid the dangers of these things while still embracing their possibilities? And how does someone who has seen it all keep themselves interested in living?

It's wonderfully stylistic, with shots to drool over and moments to ponder, with a soundtrack that is as much a part of the story and scene as the dialogue. Droll and darkly humourous, this might not be everyone's cup of tea, but if you go in expecting an evenly-paced exploration of a day-in-the-life instead of a compartmentalized thriller, you won't be disappointed.

Heart of A Lion
A Finnish film exploring the rise of xenophobic whites-only nationalism in Europe through they story of a man grappling with his beliefs, Heart of a Lion is heavy and well-crafted.

Teppo is the leader of a white supremacist group in his Finnish town. Unemployed after standing up for a friend who was fired, he finds that being good with his hands, but not his head means work is hard to come by. After yet another failed interview, he meets a waitress, Sari, who takes him home with her. Upon discovering his affiliations the next morning, she violently kicks him out, as her son is mixed-race. Somehow though, Teppo convinces her that he's worth a shot. That he'll care for her son, and that his beliefs aren't about race but about defending his country and family and friends. She buys this load and gives him a shot.

After just accepting that piece of idiocy (hey, people are lonely and horny and do stupid things, and other than being a complete racist, Teppo seems like a good guy... *sigh*), I moved on and enjoyed the film.

Sari's son, Rhamu, does not take so kindly to his new racist "stepfather", despite Teppo actually trying to accept Rhamu while figuring out how to keep his ties to his gang of bigots. Clearly these are two ideas cannot work in the same space, so something has to give. And give it does.

Sari ends up in the hospital as a result of the conflict at home, Teppo's even more racist (and insane) brother deserts the army and shows up on his (and Sari and Rhamu's) doorstep, unaware of the current situation, the neighbourhood fathers come after Teppo for unrelated reasons - bringing everything to a head.

The reason I like seeing movies from Nordic countries is because they deal with familiar themes without all the bluster of Hollywood. There are fights, brawls, explosions, tension, beatings, and lots of anger in this film, but all if it is subdued by North American standards. Between every beating is a conversation, and often growth or change in one of the characters. These are not smart people, a fact made abundantly clear. They are struggling and ignorant and looking for someone to blame and people to rely on. When something threatens your family, you protect them - the question is, which family is the most important one to you?

Director Dome Karukoski does a fine job of showing Teppo's growth and realizations. From hiding while picking up Rhamu from school to protecting him to admiring him, the visual steps are incremental. The muted colours of the film reflect the bleak reality the characters find themselves in, and the ultimate result of the story is strangely uplifting in its violent way.

The Double
My most anticipated film of the fest, based purely on my interest in the director, Richard Ayoade. Perhaps best known as Moss in The IT Crowd, Ayoade has struck me as brilliantly, insanely funny. The brilliant part of that is what's important, because I didn't expect a movie based on a Dostoyevsky piece to be a laugh riot.

Jesse Eisenberg stars as a worker drone in a dystopian time (think Brazil without the 1984 overtones) who discovers that he has a double that is taking the life he wants for himself. In reality, Jesse Eisenberg plays Jesse Eisenberg and also a Jesse Eisenberg with self confidence. It's not exactly a stretch role for him as both Simon James and James Simon..

In fact, the basic idea behind the plot has been seen before, because the source material isn't exactly new or a secret. You've seen this play. Exactly the same person, except brimming with confidence, and also conniving and immoral, shows up his lesser twin. That's not to say it can't still be done well, which it is here.

Simon (the introvert) wants the girl in the copy room (Mia Wasikowska), has ideas for the founder of the company he works for, is recognized by nearly nobody, and is incredibly alone. Simon's loneliness and shyness is palpable. A pushover who gives up his seat in an empty train because an anonymous man tells him it's "his". He stutters and sputters and kowtows to everyone. James (the type-A) shows up at the company as a rising star, is loved by everyone, meets the boss almost immediately, and can have any woman he wants, all without having a single bit of substance to him. He's rude, demanding, and a force of nature that even Simon gets swept up by.

Jealousy and backstabbing all leads to a forseeable conflict.

Where this movie shines is in its portrayal of the world. It's repetitive, on the verge of breaking down, isolated, inhuman, and seemingly hopeless. Suicides are rampant, everyone is lonely, and seemingly living the same monotonous lives in tiny apartments and a perpetual midnight. Beautifully built scenes that call back to Welles and Gilliam and Carax - shadows and stillness in one moment, colour and motion the next, languid moments running into hyper-kinetic interruptions.

It's a commentary on the humdrum of our daily lives, with the manifest fantasy of "if only I was more confident, things would go better" writ large. A dream and nightmare for the cubicle-dwellers of the world. It's not a perfect film, but it's a damned good one.

And Ayoade was charming and hilarious in both his introduction and the Q&A after the film. So even if this sucked, I'd probably line up for his next one.

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