Dark Comedies. Films reviewed: The Square, Happy End, The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Posted in Clash of Cultures, Class, comedy, France, Greece, Psychological Thriller, Satire, Scandal, Sweden by CulturalMining.com on September 5, 2017

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

TIFF started just last night and continues through the 17th. I’ve seen a lot of the films now, but I’m barred from commenting on most of them until they open. So I’ll tell you a bit about a few European movies having their Canadian Premiers at TIFF. All three are dark comedies.

The Square

Dir: Ruben Östlund

Christian (Claes Bang) is a rich, handsome and successful man at the top of his game. He’s divorced with two kids and uses his single status to pick up women for one-night stands. At work, he’s the chief curator at a famous art museum inside a former royal palace. The gallery is known for challenging old ideas… it’s revolutionary! Like the new show he’s working on, called The Square: a simple brass plaque on the plaza where a statue of a king on a horse once stood. Now the square welcomes everybody, as a place of respect and responsibility, whether you’re rich or poor, have- or have-not, Swedish born or a recent immigrant.

But things start to go wrong, that call into question his intehrity and high- minded beliefs. When con artists steal his celphone, he traces it back to a public housing highrise, but doesn’t know which apartment it’s in. So he prints up hundreds of threatening letters and drops them into each apartment mailbox. At work he scoffs at an accident involving an art installation – just replace it, he says, no one will notice. He hires young MBA hot shots to promote The Square, but doesn’t pay attention to an offensive promotional video they make – it’s all good, as long as it goes viral. And his personal life spirals out of control when he tries to juggle responsibility toward his bratty kids, with his sex life. Will his life and career all collapse from a series of awful mistakes? And will he realize he’s part of the system causing all these disasters?

The Square, by the director of Force Majeure, is a biting satire about hypocrisies in the art world, told in a series of very funny vignettes. Like when a night of sex with a woman he meets (Elizabeth Moss: A Handmaid’s Tale and Mad Men) turns into a hilarious fight over who owns the used condom – the man or the woman. It’s a long movie but a very enjoyable one. And it won the Palme d’Or at Cannes.

Happy End

Dir: Michael Haneke

Georges Laurent (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is the patriarch of a Laurent enterprises a huge corporation based in Calais France. It’s run by his daughter

Anne (Isabelle Huppert) a no-no-nonsense business woman. Her brother Thomas (Mathieu Kassovitz) a successful surgeon, lives on the family estate with his young wife Anaïs. Then there’s the third generation. Pierre (Franz Rogowski) Anne’s son, knows how to wear a hard hat, but that’s about it. He’s responsible for a disaster that happens at a construction site. And Thomas’s daughter Eve (Fantine Harduin) from a previous marriage re-enters his life when his ex-wife suddenly gets sick. The cute and innocent little girl is not as nice as she seems. She’s a tiny psychopath who does horrible things just for the lulz – and to share them anonymously on Snapchat. And Georges, the patriarch, desperately wants to end it all.

Happy End is a very dark comedy about a rich, dysfunctional family. Haneke its great director, does something really unusual: He recreates characters from a previous film, but with an entirely different back story. Amour, Which won an Oscar in 2013, was about an elderly musician man, Georges, facing his wife’s dementia. IN Happy End, Georges (and his daughter) are back again played by the same actors, but this time not as musicians but as corporate leaders. And this time it’s a comedy not a tragic romance. Another great movie.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos

Steven and Anna (Colin Farrell) and Nicole Kidman) are a Cincinatti power couple, both successful doctors. They live in a beautiful home with their two kids. Everything is normal, except… theres a teenaged boy named Martin (Barry Keoghan) who Steven is spending a lot of time with. He meets him on the sky, treating him to lunch at a local diner, meeting him beneath city bridges. He buys Martin a Rolex as a birthday gift. And then Steven takes him to meet his family. What’s going on?

It turns out the boy’s father died a couple years before on the operating table. Steven was the heart surgeon. At first Martin wants to befriends – he even tries to set Steven up with his mom (Alicia Silverstone) at an awkward dinner date. But his true motives are much more sinister. He says Steven must suffer as much as he suffered when s father died. He wants him to sacrifice – in the manner if the ancient greeks – a sacred deer. Meaning one of his family members: his son, his daughter or his wife. And due to some strange condition that the doctors cannot diagnose, the two kids become paralyzed from the waste down. Only Stevens decision can stop this terror.

The killing of a sacred deer is advertised as a horror movie, and there is a bit of that, but like all of Lanthimos’s movies – from Digtooth to the Lobster – it’s more of a dark comedy with a bizarre premise. And like in all the movies, the characters talk like robots, say inappropriately formal things, and don’t notice their own strangeness, because everyone in the movie acts the same way. You get the feeling he doesn’t treat it completely seriously. For example, whenever he’s near Martin, even in an innocuous situation I, the extra loud forbiding music starts to play. I think I liked it, once I accepted the premise. And it is alternatively very funny and disturbingly shocking.

Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Square, Happy End are all playing at TIFF. Go 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

 

 

Going, Going, Gone. Movies Reviewed: Wolf, Before I Go to Sleep, Force Majeure

Posted in Boxing, comedy, Crime, Cultural Mining, Family, Netherlands, Psychological Thriller, Sweden, UK by CulturalMining.com on October 31, 2014

Toronto Toronto Zombie Walk Burger King ZombieHi, 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, Toronto Zombie Walk Ronald McDmovies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

It’s Halloween – you can tell by all the zombies on the street. But if you’re too old for trick-or-treating, there are some grown-up movies to watch. This week I’m looking at a Dutch gangster flick about a man who doesn’t know where he’s going, a Swedish comedy about a man who doesn’t know where his marriage is going, and an English psychological thriller about a woman who doesn’t know where her memories have gone.

WolfPosterWolf

Dir: Jim Taihuttu

Majid (Marwan Kenzari) is a kickboxer who lives in an ethnic enclave in suburban Netherlands. The son of Moroccan immigrants, he still shares a room with his little brother in his parents’ desolate, high-rise flat. He works at the same place his dad spent 30 years in unrelenting dedication. It’s a quintessentially Dutch job – he drives a forklift at the flower auction held each morning near Schipol airport. He doesn’t like the job – it’s boring. He’d rather be out on the streets with his weasely best friend, Adil (Chemseddine Amar), or training at kickboxing. But he’s wolf5forced to work there because he’s on parole. He dabbles in snatch-and-grabs for extra cash.

He’s the black sheep in the family. His educated brother Hamza (who is dying of cancer) is his parents’ darling. The one thing Majid is good at is fighting, and a kickboxing win could generate some much-needed cash. But he messes up his first fight by ignoring the ref, and clobbering his opponent, nearly to death.

wolf1Watching the fight was a gangster kingpin, a successful Turkish immigrant named Hakan (Cahit Olmuz). He hires Majid as a backup heavy for a high-level drug deal. It seems Majid has other skills – he can think on his feet and is quick with a gun. And he understands Arabic, something the Turkish gangsters can’t. The job goes great, and he is rapidly promoted. He has a meteoric rise, but how long can it last? Will it interfere with his true ambition – his boxing career? And will his father ever bewolf3 proud of him?

Shot in stunning, sharp black and white, Wolf is an interesting look at the gangster world, sympathetically told through the eyes of second-generation immigrants. It shows the racism they face, as well as friction among various immigrant groups. And how the lure of money and power drags some people into a life of organized crime. The movie covers a lot of ground, and leaves some of the stories incomplete, dangling. It’s also one of those movies where female characters are incidental, confined to a stoic mom and a breasty girlfriend. But Kenzari has a dynamite screen presence, and Olmuz as the crime boss and Amar as his shifty best friend round out the cast nicely. Wolf is worth watching, especially if you’re a fan of gangster dramas.

IMG_7072.CR2Before I Go to Sleep

Dir: Rowan Joffe

Christine (Nicole Kidman) wakes up in a strange bed with a strange man, thinking: Where am I? What did I do last night, how did I meet this guy? He soon sets her straight. He’s her husband, a patient, kindly schoolteacher. Ben (Colin Firth) is there each morning to help her recover. Recover from what? From total amnesia – she suffered a nasty bump on the head, which wiped her memory clean. IMG_0096.CR2And each night, when she falls asleep, she forgets anything she learned that day.

To combat this and to try to recover her memories, she also meets the secretive Dr Nasch (Mark Strong). He’s a neuropsychologist. With his help – and unbeknownst to her husband, she records a video each night as a letter to herself the next day. She discovers the amnesia came from a terrible beating. But who did it? And she’s haunted by images of a IMG_0053.CR2third man with a scar on his face. Lovely Christine is caught between the intensely handsome doctor and the comforting and patient husband. Both of whom seem to be hiding something from her. Which one can she trust? Or should she only trust herself?

This is a good, tight psychological thriller that keeps you guessing. It’s angsty and scary. You feel for poor Christine as she gradually recovers her past, and the pain and regret the memories bring her. The three main actors, Kidman, Strong and Firth, are all good in their respective roles. Before I Go To Sleep is a good, tense thriller. The problem? After it’s over, if you think about it too hard, the plot falls apart like a house of cards. None of it makes any sense.

Force Majeure

Dirstacks_image_236: Ruben Östlund

Tomas and Ebba (Johannes Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli) are a happily married Swedish couple. With their two cute kids, Vera and Harry (Clara and Vincent Wettergren) they take a much-needed vacation in the French Alps. Tomas spends too much time at work or on his smartphone, so this is where family bonding and quality time should kick in. And it seems to be working. They pose for pictures, ski down slopes… they even wear matching pale blue long underwear. But one day, at an open-air restaurant on the chalet roof, something terrible happens. A fierce avalanche sends tons of snow thundering down the stunning peaks, covering them in a white cloud. In a moment of panic, Tomas grabs his phone and runs away — leaving his wife and kids cowering beneath the table. Moments later he realizes it was a false alarm. He FORCEMAJEURE_03creeps back as if nothing has happened. But the seeds are planted. When it comes up in conversations with other tourists Tomas pretends it never happened. His kids are furious, and Ebba is flabbergasted. If Dad won’t protect them or even admit to his failings, how can they ever trust him?

Ebba tries to talk with Swedish women she meets at the hotel, but they all seem to be having casual sex behind closed chalet doors. Will no one uphold the sanctity of marriage? Does it mean anything anymore?

Later they encounters a bearded hipster travelling with a much younger woman. The two end up joining them in discussions of the dilemma of what Tomas should do, even holding impromptu marriage counselling. What are bravery, morality, FORCEMAJEURE_02masculinity, honesty? And what would you do facing a real disaster?

Force Majeure is both a brilliant comedy, and a clever social satire. It’s told against the background of a futuristic/minimalist chalet: all blonde wood, clanking ski lifts, moving sidewalks, and toy drones. And in the distance, loud cannons add a sinister tone of impending doom to what should be a normal ski trip. Great movie!

Before I Go to Sleep and Force Majeure open today in Toronto; check your local listings. Wolf is released on November 4th on DVD. And look out for the Kubrick exhibition, opening today at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

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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