VIFF Film Reviews: The Hunt; Design of Death; The Key of Life; Berberian Sound Stage; Rust and Bone; Oros.

The Hunt (Drama, 110 minutes, Denmark/Sweden, director Thomas Vinterberg). Director Thomas Vinterberg has a knack of making films that elicit audience response. When I saw The Celebration (Festen) in 1998, the film was punctuated with cries of “Not again” and “Don’t do it.” In The Hunt (Jagten), there’s a scene in which a school principal and an inspector interview a six-year-old girl who they suspect has been molested. Under their gentle probing, Klara comes to understand that the only way she can get out and play with the other kids outside is to nod affirmatively at the right times. Every time the inspector posed a leading question, audience at the VIFF groaned. With justification. Klara nodded. Within a minute of film time, the adults had the answers they wanted. Within five minutes the entire town was convinced that Klara’s teacher Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) had abused not only Klara but all the children in his care. From there on, things get worse for Lucas. Don’t miss this film if you get a chance to see it. But be prepared to flinch.

Design of Death (Something, 109 minutes, China, director Guan Hu). In a mythical rural village, trickster Niu (played by the apish and boring Huang Bo) subverts every tradition he can find. I’m all for subverting mystic traditions, but Huang’s rubbery face (he makes Jim Carey look like Richard Nixon on a bad day) wore me down. It just went on and on. I walked out.
The Key of Life (Comedy-Thriller, 128 minutes, Japan, director ). It all starts with a piece of soap. You will have to watch the film to see how that sliver of detergent robs a ruthless Beethoven-loving contract killer of his memory and allows an unemployed, witless actor to take his place. Throw in a compulsive computer scientist out to catch a husband and you wind up with two hours of mischief, mistaken identities and plot twists that never let go. Does this film probe deep injustices, delve into the mysteries of the human soul, or pick apart a personality? No. Not a chance. It does exactly what is supposed to do — bring laughs and thrills to the screen. My favourite so far.

Rust and Bone (Drama, 120 minutes, France, director Jacques Audiard ). This audience favorite bears all the hallmarks of a film written by a committee. Despite the hype, the characters are standard and the plot predictable. We feel neither the anger of an athletic young woman losing her legs nor the desperation of an out-of-work muscle-man trying to feed his five-year-old son. A well-made film, but a bore.

Berberian Sound Stage (Drama, 91 minutes, UK/Germany, director Peter Strickland). When English sound engineer Gilderoy  (Toby Jones) gets a job bringing a hackneyed Italian horror flick to life, he finds more than backup tapes in the underground studio. Unfocussed and very noisy.

Oros (Drama, 81 minutes, Phillipines, director Paul Sta. Ana) Deliberately emphasizes the mundane in Phillipine lower class society. Makoy (Kristoffer King) serves as a sort of a Godfather to his neighbours, helping them out with cash, credit and counsel.But things fall apart when the cops bust up a big card game. Depressing as hell.

About aharmlessdrudge

Way back during the late Bronze age -- actually it was the 1950s -- all of us in high school had to take a vocational test to determine our interests and, supposedly, our future careers. I cannot remember the outcome, but I do recall one question that gave me pause. "If you were to win a Nobel prize, would it be in literature or in physics?" I hesitated over the question: although I enjoyed mathematics and science more than English class, I did have a couple of unfinished (and very bad) novels hidden away at home. I cannot remember what I chose back then, but the dilemma followed me to university, where I switched from mathematics to English and -- after a five-year stint in journalism -- back to mathematics. I recently retired as a professor of statistics. Retirement. What a good chance to revive my literary ambitions. I have finished a novel -- more about that in good time -- and a rubble of drafts of articles about mathematics and statistics is taking up space on my hard disk.
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