In a Friday full of premieres, we highlight Drive. The award-winning film by Nicolas Winding Refn is indebted to a whole tradition of vintage film action, but it’s far from being a mere prefab thriller. The Danish filmmaker does an impressive job keeping repetitious raw material fresh.
In addition to Drive, we also highlight the tortuous journey of My Joy, Brazilian director José Eduardo Belmonte's forray into popular cinema with Billi Pig.
Imbued with a certain air of American films from the '80s and '90s, Drive is rooted to a synthpop soundtrack that comments on the action appearing on screen. Ryan Gosling embodies the strong, silent type that refers to the grim but good-hearted archetypes from the films of yesteryear that Steve McQueen played.
Gosling plays an expert driver who uses his skills as a stuntman overturning cars in Hollywood movies, a mechanic and as a getaway driver for criminals, as shown in the impressive opening sequence that would justify the award for Best Director that Nicolas Winding Refn won at Cannes alone.
Refn delivers a slow film, almost contemplative, so that violence – when it breaks out – is unusually sluggish. Rarely, for example, has a couple's kiss in an elevator seemed so charged by the brutality that follows it. The director also avoids the temptation to turn Drive into a mere object of retro-cool. He aims to not only cite and reprocess his influences, but to also give the film a painful but contemporary texture that says a great deal about the icy age in which we live.
Dir. Nicolas Winding Refn, USA, 2011. Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Oscar Isaac, Christina Hendricks. 100 mins
Eastern European films have always been reliable sources for bleakness The Ukrainian film My Joy, starts with a nightmare scene that leads to the Second World War.
The rest of the film takes place during the equally inhospitable present: a truck driver gets lost, trapped by thieves, severely injured, and swallowed by the bowels of his own country. In his first feature film, director Sergei Loznitsa and cinematographer Oleg Mutu’s camera finds people to try and bury alive. In frank terms, My Joy reveals how this world can be uninhabitable, makes it a model of the best kind of movies.
Dir. Sergei Loznitsa, Ukraine/ Germany/ Netherlands, 2010. Viktor Nemets, Olga Shuvalova, Vladimir Golovin, Aleksey Vertkov, Dmitri Gotsdiner MaryVarsami. 127 mins
The filmmaker José Eduardo Belmonte, responsible for unusual films as Se Nada Mais Der Certo and Meu Mundo em Perigo, now seeks to enter a dialogue with the general public. Billi Pig is nevertheless a tribute to the old popular movies and presents a series of wacky characters – a would-be actress, a bankrupt insurance broker, a false priest and, well, a talking pig – whose sole purpose is to get along in life. Closer to the anarchy of the director's short, Cinco Filmes Estrangeiros, and the radical A Concepção, Billi Pig has a good chance of reaching a larger share of viewers without resorting to the poverty aesthetic featured in so much of Brazilian’s commercial cinema.
Dir. José Eduardo Belmonte. Brazil, 2012. Selton Mello, Grazi Massafera, Milton Gonçalves, Milhem Cortaz. 95 mins
The Underworld franchise has reached its fourth sequel. In Awakening, the vampire (Kate Beckinsale) wakes up from a more than decade-long coma to discover that she has a daughter who's a powerful vampire-werewolf hybrid. Together, mother and daughter fight against an enemy intent on decimating both species.
Dir. Måns Mårlind and Björn Stein, USA, 2012. Kate Beckinsale, Stephen Rea, Michael Ealy, Theo James, India Eisley, Sandrine Holt, Charles Dance. 88 mins.
Three teenagers get superpowers after contact with a mysterious substance. The interesting wrinkle comes after they start playing around with their new skills. To the extent that they are what they are – boys, that is – the power brings terrible results. Chronicle is another example of the narrative form made famous by films like The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity: all we see are recordings made by the characters themselves. It cost a measly $12 million and grossed $22 million in its US weekend debut.
Dir. Josh Trank. Michael B, USA/England, 2012. Jordan, Michael Kelly, Alex Russell, Dane De Haan. 84 mins.
Not much to say about this scatalogical parody of the Twilight 'saga', except that those responsible for renaming the film in Portuguese (which translates as ‘The Shellfish Saga: Twilight’) had their work cut out for them to try and match the product they needed to sell. Scary (in a bad sense, of course).
Dir. Craig Moss, USA, 2011. Heather Ann Davis, Eric Callero, Frank Pacheco, Michael Adam Hamilton. 90 mins.
Finland's Aki Kaurismäki is an old regular of the festival circuit. His films tend to offer an irreverent approach to serious issues with different ideological implications, but without being a burden to the unsuspecting viewer. In Le Havre, it isn’t an accident that there are characters named Marx and Monet. The first is a shoeshine man whose wife is hospitalized with cancer. He hides an African boy, an illegal immigrant, of the inspector Monet.
Making use of an aesthetic reminiscent of French director Robert Bresson, who was known for his bleak and personal style, Kaurismäki achieves the opposite effect by taking a fond look at the confusion in the world. His films tend to draw conspiratorial smiles from viewers traversing the rich human geography he maps out for us.
Dir. Aki Kaurismäki, Finland/France/Germany, 2011. André Wilms, Kati Outinen, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Blondin Miguel. 93 mins.