Review: “Force Majeure” 2.9.15

Winner of the Un Certain Regard award at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival as well as receiving a Golden Globe nomination for Best Foreign Film at this year’s ceremony. “Force Majeure” was a film I had been highly anticipating as many of the films that have either been nominated or won the former award, which has only been around for 16 years, have churned out some of my favorite foreign films, only second to the world’s most prestigious’ category – the Palm d’Or, which is the Cannes’ equivalent of the Academy’s Best Picture. The Un Certain regard category in which I speak of is almost always reserved for films that the Cannes voting panelists find to be of great significance and importance in relation to the international film community. Some films that have either been nominated and/or won this coveted award are as follows: “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” (2005 winner – Russia), “Tyson” (2008 nominee – America), “Dogtooth” (2009 winner – Greece – still one of my all time favorite foreign films), as well as director Andrey Zvyaginstev’s (“Leviathan”) remarkable “Elena” (a 2011 nominee), and the 1-2-3 punch of 2013’s boastful nominees “Stranger by the Lake” (France), “Omar” (Palestine), and “Fruitvale Station” (United States). As I often times do with seeing a film solely based on the directed of who it is attached to, I also see films (especially foreign) that garner nominations in categories in which I find to have great validity by means of reputation. This film was yet another example of that approach to why I watch certain films. Not knowing or having the faintest idea of what it was about but still trusting my intuition and the word of mouth that comes out of Cannes every year.

The film introduces us to a family taking “holiday” (as most of us know the Europeans call it). They’re what you might consider to be the perfect nuclear family – a seemingly strong-willed father Tomas, his wife Ebba, and young daughter Vera and son Harry. Their holiday at a wealthy ski resort in the French Alps seems like the idyllic family vacation. Which we’re shown through a series of photographs as the start of the story. Ebba is just happy to have Tomas to both herself and their children, as it is inferred that he lives a pretty demanding work life at home. They seem to be enjoying themselves immensely, and I couldn’t help but think of an American version of a trip to Disney World, where at the surface level, everything seems to be perfect. That is until one day they experience a catastrophic event, and the residual and lasting effects that it has on the family, particularly of Tomas’ wife Ebba,  while also acting as a sort of “reawakening” for each member to reevaluate both themselves and that of each of the other family members. This is essentially what the movie goes on to explore, without giving away any further plot details.

This wound up being both a beautiful and remarkable film that had my attention from the first frame to its final one. It works on almost all levels – from the story, to the acting, to the amazing cinematography of the French Alps, but even more importantly, how it explored the interpersonal dynamics of a family following a traumatizing event. The undeniably flawless direction by Swedish director Ruben Ostlund is truly a sight to see for any true fan with an eye for film. The film captures this devastating family tragedy amongst the backdrop of the beautiful French Alps. Not only that, but like Bennett Miller (“Capote”, “Foxcatcher”) it does so with such a restrained approach using long take techniques to capture a certain sense of stillness to everything. That and like the late great Stanley Kubrick, the director has an uncanny ability of filling up every single frame of the picture without a single inch going to waste. It also incorporates a beautiful classic score which I thought was right up on par with some of the best compositions of Kubrick’s films, which to me seemed so fascinating to the images being shown on-screen as it seemed to fit perfectly even if it comes off as a questionable choice for a movie score on behalf of the viewer at the beginning. The last but most verbose part of the review which I think is unquestionably worth noting in relation to this film is how deeply rooted it was in psychology. Anybody that really enjoys reading between a film’s lines for its underlying subtext should find this to be one of the more denser films they’ve seen. Evoking the works of the German director Michael Haneke (“Funny Games”, “The White Ribbon”, “Amour”) who acted as a reference point for me in its examination of traumatic events that shows how they manifest themselves from an individual standpoint. Looking at themes such as residual and vicarious trauma, self reevaluation, moral dilemmas, as well as the primitive instincts that make us human beings. This was just another example and further proof of a belief I’ve always held, in that foreign or international cinema, is operating at such a higher plane, than many if not all of its American counterparts that try to explore similar themes but that aren’t able to do so with such assuredness and a sense of realism. This wound up being a thoroughly engaging, well acted and shot, and probing psychological film that explores some very deep and heavy themes, that had my brain’s light switch turned on from start to finish. A must see for any fan even remotely interested in foreign or international cinema that challenges the viewer to really think, as opposed to merely sitting back and being entertained.

[B+]

Review: ‘Child’s Pose’ 7.19.14

The second foreign film I’ve seen this year that has a strong chance of making my top 10 of 2014 next to ‘Stranger by the Lake’. I had been wanting to see this one for awhile, as I had heard it was from the same part of the world and drew comparisons to ‘4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days’. Which is considered by many, including myself, to be one of the best foreign films of the last decade. Made by Romanian Writer/Directer Calin Peter Netzer, who is part of the New Wave of Social-Realism Eastern Bloc filmmakers on the scene right now, alongside other directors from this side of the world like Andrey Zvyagintsev (‘Elena’) and Cristi Puiu (‘The Death of Dr. Lazarescu’) that are making quite an imprint on the foreign market right now. I wouldn’t even know what aspect of this film to highlight in a review, as there were entirely way too many positive ones. I’ll first start by saying the lead actress, Luminita Gheorghiu (‘4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 days)  was nothing short of phenomenal. Her performance really reminded me of Gena Rowlands in one of my favorite John Cassavetes’ films – 1974’s ‘A Woman Under The Influence’. Complete and total immersion into her character. I wouldn’t be surprised if, like Emmanuelle Riva a couple of years back with ‘Amour’, the Academy even takes notice of this at year’s end. That’s how great of a performance it is. Second, I loved the main theme in which it explored. A mother, who in her later years, is having great difficulty letting go of her on again off again son and allow him to live his own life. I felt like my own relationship with my mother mirrored theirs in a lot of ways. Lastly, and I think I may have hinted at this above, was the “social-realism” aspect, which was prevalent in the 1960’s by the French New Wave and by American directors like Cassavetes (whom I love). Up close and personal films with a sense of immediacy. Allowing the viewer to feel as if they were a fly on the wall. I was in awe of some of the takes going well over 5 minutes without a single edit. Very assured and confident direction. Highly recommended. Especially for people interested in realist social dramas.

Grade: B+/A-

Review: ‘Stranger By The Lake’ 5.14.14

 

Already in contention for my top 10 films of the year. Certainly my favorite foreign film so far. I had known about this one during its short theatrical release at one of the art house cinemas in town, and had my radar on it beacuse I knew a couple of things – one, that it was a murder mystery & two, that it garnered some of the better reviews from every source around. So my expectations were that it was going to be something special. And boy did it live up to the hype. I also remember it being described in one review as “Hitchcockian”, but that’s such a loose term when talking about film I can only take it with a grain of salt. That being said, it reminded me a lot of the Hitchcock films I’ve seen, particularly the ones that emphasize evoking a sense of dread and paranoia. But almost as if it were by way of a Pedro Almodovar film (who incorporates a lot of Hitch’s ideas interwoven with themes of his own throughout his films). Without giving away plot details it takes place in one setting (a lake, hence the title) where men go around “cruising” (a nod to the Pacino film of the same name). There are 4-5 key players that make up the primary players, and a murder unfolds (done in a very observant way where he allows you the viewer in on the mystery unfolding while also questioning what you’ve seen). The rest of the film has you guessing character motivations, done masterfully might I add, as if you’re trying to solve the case yourself. Add in some exquisite cinematography, along with a very engaging and involving murder mystery, and you have most, if not all, of the elements a person could look for in a film of this genre. Highly worth seeking out.

Grade: strong B+

To Note: This film was nominated in almost every category at this year’s Cesar Awards, France’s equivalent of the Academy.