International Writers Magazine:Film
Gabriela Davies on film
will Hollywood make a film that will make us think? Endless reels
of high budget films with average casting and direction have left
us, hungry audiences that we are, raring for talent.
often comes to Hollywood from abroad. This is a generalisation,
and is not to say that Americans cannot make good films. They do.
The Hollywood industry has given us much home-grown talent,
but the arrival of international players on the scene certainly
brightens the current cinematic spectrum
An example of this
is the Danish director Susanne Bier, known within the Danish cinema
niche for her naturalistic dramas. When her American production Things
We Lost in the Fire came out in late 2007, starring household Hollywood
names Benicio del Toro, David Duchovny and Halle Berry, something about
it set it aside from the Hollywood norm. America is still present, in
the luxurious houses and the accents of the cast. However, the plot
of Things We Lost is so tragically sad, pessimistic and quiet,
that it becomes an unusual film in its simmering rhythm. Big bucks came
from producer Sam Mendes, director of the seminal American drama American
Beauty (1999). But what keeps this film from being a Hollywood blockbuster,
as it slips its way into home rental and DVD?
It is clear that Bier has no intention of compromising her auteur style.
You can see an influence from Scandinavian founding father Ingmar Bergman
in the slow-paced, bleak shots, as well as inspiration from Jean-Luc
Godards signature handheld camera work. The film has a very European
feel to it. For the mainstream cinemagoer, these traits can become tiresome,
so it is the narrative pull of the plot and the dramatic acting that
brings it along. Halle Berry plays a grieving mother who has to come
to terms with the reality of life without her husband (Duchovny), who
dies whilst trying to defend an assault victim. Berrys grief is
quiet, and noise only arrives with Benicio del Toro, her husbands
best friend, to whom she transfers her utmost devotion.
The film comes as a clean break from the happy endings we are used to.
The narrative is strong, yet simple. Dialogue is to the point and acting
is superb. Berrys desperation is utterly believable, and Del Toro
manages to do the classic going cold turkey scene without
falling into cliché. This is European talent on an American budget.
I look forward to more.
A parallel to this and recently at cinemas is Funny Games U.S.,
an American remake of German director Michael Hanekes 1997 film,
Funny Games. Haneke also directs the remake. He remakes it word-by-word
and shot-by-shot even the soundtrack is exactly the same. Why,
There are two different frames of reference for watching this film
knowing the directors intent, or just watching the film for its
face value. Working within the former, I knew what to expect. Haneke
wants to bring a message first filmed ten years ago to its most relevant
audience mainstream American cinemagoers.
The 2007 version counts with stellar performances from Naomi Watts and
Tim Roth, both established British actors. Both share European links
in cinema, Watts was in David Cronenbergs 2007 Eastern Promises
and Alejandro Gonzalez Innáritus 2003 21 Grams.
Tim Roth has starred in a few British typically anti-Hollywood productions,
namely Peter Greenaways The Cook, The Thief, The Wife &
Her Lover, and Alan Clarkes Made in Britain. The film
also brings young American talents Michael Pitt (who was in Bertoluccis
2003 The Dreamers) and Brady Corbet, the psychotic teenagers
whom the plot is based around.
Hanekes stroke of genius is to bring the plot so close to home;
home being the place we have all seen dozens of times in films. The
pretty American couple are vacating at their lakeside home in the Hamptons.
The family itself is representative of this all-American family
its outfits, mannerisms, sing-along-songs, mom, pop
and the big friendly dog. Haneke knows we have seen this all before,
making his attack on it superb. He understands the cultural silence
of a foreign film in mainstream global society, and knows the way to
make it louder.
The film provides a shocking insight into youth culture and its values,
the fragility of human bonds, the insanity of brutality, and the sheer
banality and pace with which it can come. It also, on a sideline, exposes
the reality of the hegemony of English language, and the fact that a
director must film in the U.S.A if he/she is to bring his film to a
wider audience. The film is not directly aimed at the U.S., but merely
uses that acronym to get it noticed which works like clockwork.
As an audience, independent of our nationality, the film is a frustrating,
psycho-torturing clever ensemble of jump and fade-away shots. Camerawork
is toyed with constantly, violence is seen in the off screen sphere;
someone elses reaction to torture, blood as it sprays itself from
a body to the living room wall. At one point one of the teenagers faces
the camera and asks us a question, completely removing the fourth wall
concept that keeps cosy viewers in their own reality. This deconstructs
the figure of audience as voyeur and takes that audience hostage too,
a terrifying experience. You forget your tub of popcorn and the parking
meter ticking on outside, you become part of this insane experience,
claustrophobic and unnerving. Corbet (who calls himself many names throughout
the film, part of the psychotic trait of both boys) asks the critical
question: do we want them to stop now, or do we want it to end with
a logical plot progression?
The answer does not matter, Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet cannot hear
us, or they can and they choose to ignore. So why not take the lovely
happy all-American family and just shoot them in the first ten minutes
of the film? Because, Brady Corbet would say, we shouldnt forget
the importance of entertainment.
© Gabriela Davies May 2008
gabrieladavies at gmail.com
Gabriela is agraduate from the University of Portsmouth working in London
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