Art House Dramas. Films Reviewed: We are the Best, Things the Way They Are, Eastern Boys
Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.
With spring comes blockbusters, superheroes and giant atomic lizards. But it’s also spring festival season. Inside out, Toronto’s LGBT festival runs through the weekend, and coming soon are NXNE, with some great movies, spectacular Luminato, the Italian Contemporary Film Fest, and NIFF, a new, integrated festival in Niagara Falls combining movies, food and wine. This week, I’m looking at great festival-type movies: realistic, low-budget, art-house dramas. There are punk girls in Stockholm, a culture clash in Santiago; and, from Paris, a gang of eastern European boys.
It’s Stockholm, Sweden in 1982. Bobo and Klara (Mira Barkhammar, Mira Grosin) are two young girls who are mad at the world. Grown-ups are idiots without a clue. Other kids are into aerobics and spandex, or long hair, metal, and prog-rock. So they chop off their hair, make it into spikes or a Mohawk and declare themselves punk. Punk not dead! They embrace punk ideology, clothes and politics, not just the music – everything from questioning authority to garbage picking. They are firmly against nukes, organized religion, and consumerism.
Conformist kids pick on them, and they miss out on school sports and clubs. So they start off on their own, spontaneously, with a band. Without any music skill. Soon, it’s Bobo on drums and Klara on bass. They’re awful. At the fall talent show, they see Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne), the school pariah and a fundamentalist Christian. Because she plays classical guitar and dresses conservatively she gets booed off the stage. But Bobo and Klara can see she really knows music. So they make her a deal: she teaches them how to play and they’ll be her friend and let her join their band. Though labeled a “girl band” these punks set out to prove they are the best.
This is great movie that captures the early 80s dead-on. The best part? These girls are 10-13 year olds, yet they play the punks flawlessly and carry-off the movie.
Jeronimo (Cristobal Palma) is an ordinary guy who quietly lives in a huge crumbling house in Santiago, Chile. He makes his money renting rooms to foreigners, and spends all day painting, plastering, and trying to bring the place into livable condition. Jeronimo has a helluva black beard, looking like a cross between an urban hipster and a 19th century anarchist. But his politics are anything but. He wants things to stay exactly the way they are.
Into his life comes the beautiful, young Sanna, a blonde woman from Norway. She’s there to teach drama classes to kids in a poor part of town. But Jeronimo can’t understand why. What does she get out of it? What’s in it for her? And he’s baffled by Scandinavian attitudes toward sex. Women have sex with whomever they want? In Chile, we call them prostitutes.
Sanna’s for openness, trust, change, being free. Jeronimo is suspicious, class-conscious, homebound. Still, there’s something happening between them. Will love follow? But when Jeronimo, who likes snooping around his tenants rooms, discovers a surprise under Sanna’s bed, that totally changes their situation.
I liked this movie. It’s attractive to watch, though not exciting. It’s more about contrasting characters, cultures and personal philosophies, giving an intimate slice of life in contemporary Santiago.
Daniel (Olivier Rabourdin) is a blank- faced businessman who regularly passes through the Gare du Nord in Paris. He meets a handsome young prostitute there named Marek (Kirill Emelyanov) and gives him his address for an upcoming tryst. What he doesn’t realize is that Marek is part of a closely-knit gang of guys from Eastern Europe who practically live at the station. They’re hustlers, thieves, pickpockets, conmen, and prostitutes. And the next day, to his horror, they show up, en masse, at his condo door for a “party”. Their leader, known only as “Boss” (Daniil Vorobyov), is the sinister but seductive alpha dog. He puts on music, pulls off his shirt and starts dancing in front of the businessman. Daniel’s non-plussed, but eventually just says to hell with it. He dances with thieves wearing a paper crown, while they strip his apartment bare. His art, his computer, his TV… everything is loaded onto a white van.
C’est la vie, right? No. Who shows up the next day at his empty apartment but Marek, the sex worker who started it all. He says it wasn’t his fault, and he’s still willing to do what he was hired for. Sex is cold and perfunctory, but he begins to show up regularly, on the sly. He’s emphatic that Boss can’t know. Marek spends his weekends at a remote suburban refugee hotel with the gang, where they hold his passport. Daniel’s life is opaque. But we slowly find out more about Marek. He’s from a war zone and still hears the bombers, gunshots and explosions in the distance. Cold Daniel starts to show some backbone and compassion. Gradually they change from buyer/seller, to lovers, to roommates, to friends… to something very different and unexpected. Can Marek escape Boss’s control and leave the gang for a future in France?
This is a disconcerting and disturbing film, but quite good. What’s remarkable though is the ensemble of Eastern European actors, working perfectly together like Oliver Twist performed by Cirque de Soleil. Though moralistic at times, it works both as a crime thriller (with minimal violence), and as a social drama.
Eastern Boys played at Inside-Out, We Are the Best and Things the Way They Are both open today in Toronto: check your local listings.
This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com