Oct 9, 2017

24FPS @ LFF 2017: Short(ish) reviews.

Little Crusader
Dir: Václav Kadrnka
Set during the crusades, Little Crusader follows Borek (Karel Roden) on a near silent quest to find his young son (Matous John), who has run away and apparently vanished into the war.

The film opens with a silent ten minute sequence following the young boy. He puts on his tiny armoured breastplate, hangs his sword on his belt and moves around the castle where he lives and the surrounding area, before lowering the drawbridge to let two men in and walking off on his own. This sequence has some of the film’s most arresting images, not least the first, as an expanse of white gives way to show a Knight walking towards the camera. At first I thought this white was snow, but it turns out to be a pair of curtains, the crack between them flapping in the light breeze.

The film is stunningly composed throughout, with Vaclav Kadrnka making striking use of the 4:3 frame, particularly in long held shots. In one of these we see Borek finally arrive in the thick of the Crusades. In one unbroken shot he marches across the desert, cutting down one enemy after another. Another especially memorable long take has the medallion belonging to Borek’s son passed through what seems like an unending parade of children’s hands, searching for its owner. These and other shots do a hugely effective job of communicating the film’s story through pure imagery. The other notable thing about the imagery here is how incredibly textured it is. Every detail - hair, tree bark, the blades of swords, the fabric of a boat’s sail, feels like you could reach out and touch it. I don’t know how the film was shot, but if it’s digital then it’s some of the most detail rich digital I’ve seen.

The problem is, simple as the film is and short as its running time may be, I’m not sure it’s much other than stunning looking. In the first ten minutes we develop an attachment to Borek’s son and not seeing his side of this story seems a shame. The film is gorgeous, but emotionally it kept me a little distant. Still, if you’re fond of slow cinema, of following a character on a very literal journey, Little Crusader has some great rewards in store.

Memoir Of A Murderer
Dir: Won Shin-yun
It’s always useful to have a high concept, a brief logline that can tell a film’s potential audience what they’re in for. Whatever else you think of Memoir of a Murderer, you have to admit that ‘Memento, but with two serial killers, one of whom has dementia’ is a hell of a high concept.

Buyng-su (Kyung-gu Sol) has recently been diagnosed with alzheimer's, possibly as part of the after effects of a car accident 17 years ago. As his memory begins to go, two things remain: his love for his daughter Eun-hee (Seol-Hyun Kim) and his sense memory, the reflexes honed in a career as a serial killer, which ended the day of the accident. When he’s involved in another accident Byung-su comes to believe that the other driver, Tae-ju (Nam-gil Kim) is an active serial killer of young girls. Unfortunately Tae-ju is a cop, and Eun-hee’s boyfriend.

Memoir of a Murderer uses its killer hook to fine effect for most of the running time. Kyung-gu Sol pitches his performance as Byung-su expertly, vacillating between making the character a somewhat pitiable old man struggling with a disease and allowing us glimpses of the organised serial killer who says he only killed ‘bad’ people but, one suspects, is simply self-justifying. The film unpacks the facts about Byung-su, who is by his nature as both a serial murderer and a dementia sufferer a deeply unreliable narrator with patience, managing to land most of its twists as true surprises. Equally good is Nam-gil Kim, whose performance becomes ever more gleeful as he realises that he can let his true nature slip in front of Byung-su, because he’ll soon forget anyway.

Won Shin-yun balances tone well, undercutting the horror with some very black humour. As the film ramps up to its most operatic moments towards the end, it also hits on the best comedic use of Byung-su’s memory problems coming suddenly into play, combining a laugh and a scare in one moment. Won, however, isn’t a stylist on the level of a Park Chan-wook or a Kim Jee-woon and though the film has an effectively cold style and is well shot throughout, it’s not exactly shot through with personality. At just a shade under two hours, the pace flags a few times and the ending, in particular, could probably be tightened, which would also mean the film could pull back on some overblown moments that, for me, slightly sour the effective chill of the rest of the film.

Memoir of a Murderer is an entertaining ride, a little bumpy at times, but it’s got some thrills, some chills and more than a few guilty laughs. It’s worth a look.

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