Oct 22, 2010

LFF 2010 Mini Reviews

SCHASTYE MOE
[MY JOY]
DIR: Sergei Loznitsa
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Guess what? The title’s ironic. For me it was ironic on two levels; not only is there absolutely no joy depicted in MY JOY, but I got very little joy from it. It starts off as little more than a series of vignettes, tenuously linked by the presence of a truck driver (Viktor Nemets). He has a run in with some corrupt traffic cops, he’s told a story by an old man, he walks through a town, he has a run in with three men who want to steal what he’s transporting. And then, about an hour in, he’s gone from the film, at which juncture the film flies off on several random tangents, mostly focused on a mute bearded man. It does slowly (very, very slowly) draw together the various strands, but by that point I was a long way past caring.

The problem really is that we never learn anything about any of these characters or their lives, the whole film is just a series of ugly events, and for that to have any meaning for me I really have to be able to care about the people to whom those events are happening, and that was never the case with these near mute ciphers.

The only vignette that I really engaged with was a brief episode in which the truck driver, stalled by a long traffic jam, meets a young prostitute touting for business. I thought I recognised the actress, and the end credits confirmed that she is Olga Shuvalova, who I last saw in the exceptional EVERYBODY DIES BUT ME. Shuvalova is so forceful, and at the same time so vulnerable, as this nameless girl that in just five minutes she’s more interesting than anything else in the film.

MY JOY does look very good, especially in a menacing nighttime scene in the middle of the film, but the punishingly slow pace and the utter lack of interest I had in the characters made that scant compensation in a film from which I would like to claim back all but about five minutes of my time.


DES FILLES EN NOIR
[YOUNG GIRLS IN BLACK]
DIR: Jean Paul Civeyrac
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They’re known as Emos now, apparently. They were Goths when I was growing up, and there was probably some other name for them when you were a kid, but the one thing that hasn’t changed from generation to generation is that those kids who wore black, thought everything – including life – was crap and romanticised dead rock stars were really bloody annoying. On that level, I suppose, YOUNG GIRLS IN BLACK is just about an unqualified success. On all other levels, however…

The bulk of the film unfolds over a single day; the day on which friends Noemie (Elise Lhomeau) and Priscilla (Lea Tissier) have decided to enact a suicide pact together. I can’t really fault Lhomeau and Tissier’s performances, it’s just that the characters are so irritating, and their problems so prosaic, that you just want to slap a bit of sense into them and tell them both to grow up. The other problem is that the film is just so predictable. The minute any pact is mentioned it seems obvious how it is going to end, and end it does, sadly the film refuses to follow suit.

The last twenty of the mere 85 minutes that YOUNG GIRLS IN BLACK runs are barely explicable, the film is so obviously over, and yet it continues, introducing new characters and ever more clichéd and corny moments, before ending with a shot which is simultaneously cheap and pretentious (something of a feat, to be fair).

Ultimately, YOUNG GIRLS IN BLACK is a demonstration of the fact that while strong acting is always welcome in a movie, it can’t always rescue one that isn’t working.

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