Sunday, June 9, 2013

SFF Capsules #1

I'm having a great time at the Sydney Film Festival so I'm unearthing my blog to write about some of the movies. We'll see how long this newfound desire to write again lasts.

Vic + Flo Saw a Bear 
“I know. Horrible people like me don’t really exist.”

Vic + Flo Saw a Bear is a deliciously strange film. At its centre is a lived in relationship portrayed by two actors turning in nuanced, understated performances. At its edges is an off-kilter world both charming (golf carts as a major means of transportation) and chilling (psychopaths with bear traps). The two shouldn’t work together but somehow they do. 

Perhaps it’s the women in the aforementioned relationship that make the film work. Vic is grounded enough, albeit anxious and needy, but it's Flo’s personality which feels like a synecdoche for the rest the film. She’s alternately serious, playful and passive aggressive, sometimes she's even all three at the same time. It says a lot about Romane Bohringer’s skills that she can incorporate all these traits into one cohesive character. 

Alternately it might be Dennis Côté’s camera which impassively studies his actors’ worn faces before viewing them in motion and pans right with the same unhurried precision whether it’s approaching a boy playing with a toy helicopter or two women in tremendous agony. I don’t want to suggest that the camera feels totally removed from events but it almost always seems to be studying the action from a position of bemused detachment.  Similarly the film’s mise en scène often seems to undercut scenes' dominant mood. In particular many ominous moments are ever so slightly undermined by a playful note. For example a normally opaquely menacing henchman idly playing his guitar or an agonising sequence being interrupted by a hilariously incompetent trumpet player. 

Whatever the case it’s a fine film, by turns exquisitely moving, wryly hilarious and disconcertingly surreal. Sometimes it’s even all three at the same time.

The Rocket
Its subject is worthy, its director is endowed with not inconsiderable chops and its child actors are as cute as any cherubs who’ve graced the screen. It’s no wonder then that I feel like a right curmudgeon for not being able to enjoy this fable of a cursed son trying to save his family and his sense of self.

The biggest stumbling block for me is its tone.  Ostensibly this is a pretty grim story of people coping with enormous loss; no wonder then that director/screenwriter Kim Mordaunt feels the need to lighten the mood somewhat. It’s an impulse I could get behind – I don’t disagree that even the grimmest of lives is leavened now and then. It’s just that the humour is so hacky, consisting as it does of an endless stream of selfconscious wackiness and limp bodily function jokes. Here’s a traumatised war veteran who is also a James Dean impersonator! Oh and did you know that rockets are kind of phallic? I mean they’re just like dicks! Dicks, geddit?! Also here’s a little boy pissing!

Another stumbling block is that of the plot itself which bears a horrifying similarity to any number of uplifting family drama/comedies I was made to watch as a youngster before I was able to choose my own viewing material. Granted it is a little more accomplished than those movies – the cut from a difficult birth to a giggling boy on a swing and the suddenness and brutality of a woman’s death are two of many minor formal coups that never appeared in the likes of Ed – but the storyline’s payoffs are every bit as familiar and tired, robbing them of any resonance their real world relevancy might’ve lent them.