Dark Humour at TIFF14. Films reviewed: A Pigeon Sat on a Branch…, The Editor, Wild Tales, Magical Girl

Posted in Argentina, Canada, comedy, Corruption, Crime, Cultural Mining, Death, Drama, Movies, Satire, Spain, Sweden by CulturalMining.com on September 11, 2014

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.

It’s the final weekend at TIFF, with the hits rolling out…  There are amazing biopics, like The PHOENIXImitation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing;  period romantic drama’s like Christian Petzold’s stunning Phoenix, starring Nina Hoss, and the dramatic drama from Ukraine called The Tribe — told entirely in sign-language, no subtitles! — about a boy at a school for the deaf who is pulled into a criminal gang. All fantastic films.

But these are all opening this fall, so I’d like to talk about the kind of festival movie that’s harder to categorize, harder to grasp. This week I’m going to look at the some unusual films from Sweden, Argentina, Canada and Spain. What do they have in common?  Dark humour, whether used ironically, absurdly or for its camp.

MjED0B__pigeonsatonabranch_01-TEMPORARY_o3__8264667__1406644686A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
Dir: Roy Andersson

A pair of morose salesmen ply the streets of Gothenberg, Sweden. demonstrating their wares. They sell entertaining novelties. A rubber mask, vampire teeth, Bag o’ Laffs. One is always angry, the other one depressed. Needless to say, they don’t sell many novelties. They rent sterile, windowless rooms in a boarding house, and frequent Limp-Leg Lotta’s — once a boisterous bar, but now filled with sad, old men sitting alone. At some point, they wander off-map into a sort of a time warp, where an 18th Century gay Swedish king – followed by dozens and dozens of soldiers in three-cornered hats – marches through a modern-day bar on horseback. Sweden is preparing for battle with Russia.

Simultaneously, a large flamenco teacher keeps groping her male student, and a school for kids with Down’s Syndrome is putting in a show.

These are just a few of the story lines and gags that fill this strange but hilariously sad movie. It’s set in a timeless era, maybe retro, maybe present day. the movie’s like a series of New Yorker cartoons brought to life. It’s shot in sepia tones, and the actors all look like they’ve come back from the dead, with pale, powdered fleshy faces and beige clothing. The title “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence” suggests the thoughts Roy Andersson imagined while viewing a diorama of a bird behind glass in a museum. It’s depressing, it’s funny, it’s uncategorizable – and it’s a comment on life, existence and man’s inhumanity to man. Seriously. You’ve got to see it – great movie, and it just won the Golden Lion at the Venice film festival

ElZxkN__editor_01_o3__8277762__1407351475The Editor
Dir: Adam Brooks and Matthew Kennedy

It’s a dangerous time at a 1970s Italian movie studio. They’re shooting a sexy horror film, but someone keeps stabbing the stars. Luckily, Ciso, the one-handed, master film editor, is there to rework the scenes and save the footage. But Detective Porfiry thinks Ciso is the killer – and he’s gonna take him down once he finds the evidence. But he has to navigate round a suddenly blinded wife, devious movie stars, and a razor in a black-gloved hand. Oh yeah, and there’s the catholic priest warning him not to deal in the black arts or he might open the door to hell itself.

OK, that’s the barebones plot. But what The Editor really is, is a combination parody and homage to 70s-era Giallo movies – the sexy, bloody genre made by directors like Dario Argento. That means spooky music, gushing blood, dark shadows, screaming starlets, and blurry, soft-Wnwq44__editor_06_o3__8277930__1407351499core sex scenes. Throw in insanity, lust and suspicion, and you’re all set.

This parody goes out of its way to be authentic – things like characters who say lines, even though their lips aren’t moving.

This one had me laughing very loudly through much of the film, partly because it’s perfectly ridiculous. To say it’s full of gratuitous nudity and gore is like saying a musical is full of music. Of course there’s a lot of it, and in a normal movie it might be excessive, but in a movie like this, it’s not gratuitous, it’s essential to the genre. The movie stars the two directors in lead roles, blond Conor Sweeney as a sexually confused actor, and the marvellous Pas de la Huerta rounding off the cast. Made for drive-ins and Midnight madness. And to think they made it all in Winnipeg.

BgnDyY__wildtales_01_o3__8254116__1406599920Wild Tales
Dir: Damian Szifron

A demolitions expert is furious when his car is towed from a valid parking spot. A waitress in a small town diner discovers the man she’s serving is the gangster who drove her father to suicide. A bride at a Jewish wedding suspects her new husband is already having an affair. A macho douche in a Lamborghini locks horns with a redneck thug in a junk heap on a rural highway. What do these short dramas all share?

They’re all ripping stories — almost urban legends — about ordinary people vowing revenge and retribution. Each of the six, separate segments in Wild Tales functions as its own short film. It starts with a small incident or conversation, but gradually escalates into something huge and potentially disastrous. Some of the characters are sympathetic, you can understand why they’re acting this way, even if you wouldn’t yourself. But it’s not just a random grouping of short films, shot like hollywood features. No. In Wild Tales the whole is more than just the sum of its parts. The tension grows as the movie rolls on to a series of amazing climaxes. Wild Tales is a compilation of funny, absurd looks at extreme consequences caused by small actions.

P1MR0y_magicalgirl_03_o3_8343970_1408453081Magical Girl
Dir: Carlos Vermut

Luis, an out of work professor, is trying to take care of his young daughter. Alicia is into ramen, manga and anime. She says she and her friends go by Japanese names. But the girl is also dying of cancer. Luis will do anything for her. So in an effort to grant what he believes is her last wish, Luis decide to get her the dress the Magical Girl wears in her series. In desperation he decides to commit burglary, but is stopped by a strange coincidence that introduces her to Barbara (Barbara Lennie.)

Barbara is a beautiful woman married to a rich but domineering psychologist, who decides LgA62A_magicalgirl_01_o3_8348922_1408453230what she can do, who she can talk to and what meds to take. Luis ends up sleeping with her, but then turns to blackmail to get the money for his daughter’s dress. Now Barbara must decide whether or not to return to a previous secret life. But will that lead to unpredictable consequences both for her and Luis?

This is a combination comedy, tragedy and drama. It feels like an O Henry short story brought to the screen.The audience poured out of the theatre in droves as soon as it was over, because they all found it disturbing — it is disturbing. But in a disturbingly good way.

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, The Editor, Wild Tales, and Magical Girl are all playing at TIFF through this weekend. Go to tiff.net for details.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my website culturalmining.com.

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  1. […] Wild Tales is a hilarious dark comedy from Argentina. It’s a series of short revenge stories about ordinary people who take it too far. […]


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