Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Only God Forgives

Only God Forgives

The latest movie by Nicolas Winding Refn is hardly the disaster that some critics have made it out to be. Far from it, actually. For starters, the cinematography by Larry Smith is amazing. And the set design is a knock out; the characters all seem to exist in a remarkable post rain storm Bangkok exterior and dark neon, glossy, color saturated tableaux interior, which all help to give the film the look of a live action, hothouse, graphic novel.

True, the story isn't much. A man kills a teenage prostitute, her father kills him, the police are involved in a cover-up and Ryan Gosling and mom [Kristin Scott Thomas] come seeking revenge. Amid all of this the themes of morality, judgement, loyalty and betrayal are all swirled together in the narrative much like the colorful neon noir look of the film. But, like many comic books, the whole story is at the service of the visuals and the style. Yes, the film is an exercise in style. Yet, at 90 minutes, it hardly overstays its welcome because every frame offers up something visually remarkable to behold.

I would say the expectations of Refn after the huge success of Drive - and a long string of other good movies - was such that it pretty much sunk this movie in the eyes if the critics even before it was shown.

But there is a lot here to savor. Other than the look of the film there is Kristin Scott Thomas giving a deliciously bitchy performance as Gosling mother; there's a dream-like, symbolic quality to the editing, which alternates between the reality of what we are seeing and the visions and dreams and flashbacks [or are they flash forwards?] that are in the head of the characters. There's also the dark, deadpan humor that is often accompanied with some sharp, vicious violence. And an engaging, ambient musical sound-scape score that keeps the movie creeping forward [some would say slowly].

I believe Refn and his cast and crew knew exactly what they were up to and what they wanted to achieve with the film. It can be argued that perhaps Refn needs a producer [or an editor] to rein him in. He certainly, too, could have used a co-writer - as was the case with his last three movies. When he writes alone he gets a bit indulgent.

So, yes, Only God Forgives is not the film of the year and it's also not the film that pushes the range of Refn's talent. But who cares? I would say this film is pure unfiltered Refn and if you like the way that sounds then dive on in.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Lost Island of VHS...XIV

An Unforgettable Summer - Lucian Pintilie - 1994

Even though in the past few years there have been maybe half a dozen notable Romanian films most moviegoers in America can count the number of Romanian films they have seen on one hand. But prior to that the pickings were mighty slim. One film that some may have seen would have been An Unforgettable Summer. However, they likely wouldn't have seen it because it was Romanian or because it was directed by Lucian Pintilie. They would have seen it because it starred Kristin Scott Thomas who was hot off of Four Weddings and a Funeral.
The story, which takes place in the 1920's, is about an army officer who with this wife and three kids is essentially exiled to a garrison out near the Macedonian border. The officer is Captain Petre Dumitriu [Claudiu Bleont] who is a short, monocled man who follows orders without questioning them. His wife [Kristin Scott Thomas] makes the best of the situation by bringing a bit of sophistication to the household, and treating everyone - including the Bulgarian peasants who work for them - with respect. However, after they are there a short while, there is an attack by some Macedonian bandits who kill some of the Romanian soldiers on duty. Captain Dumitriu is commanded to circle the wagons and take no chances, which includes the strict instructions to execute the Bulgarian peasants. An order which his wife is adamantly opposed to. What's a Captain in the army supposed to do? Especially when on the one hand his wife will never respect him again and on the other his subordinates are chopping at his heels to get his job.

Pintilie directs the movie in a stately manner filling the frame in foreground and background and some nice camera movement. He also has some occasional dynamic flourishes [the movie's opening and ending in particular are amazing]. And, yes, Ms Thomas speaks Romanian in the movie. How can we not be impressed by this charming polyglot?

The film's conflict comes down to will Captain Dumitriu follow or disobey orders.

It's more than worth seeing it if you can find the VHS.