Oct 18, 2014

24FPS @ LFF 2014: A Blast

Dir: Syllas Tzoumerkas
The Greek 'weird wave' kicked off, at least at LFF, in spectacular style by Yorgos Lanthimos' modern classic Dogtooth has produced some of the most challenging work in recent world cinema.  Some of it - Alps, Miss Violence, Attenberg - has been great, some -  the infuriating Boy Eating The Bird's Food - has been abysmally poor.  The good news is that A Blast isn't as terrible as Boy Eating The Bird's Food, the bad news is that it's a very close run thing.

The film focuses on Maria (Angeliki Papoulia, of Dogtooth and Alps); a mother of three in her early 30's.  When we meet Maria she is clearly running from something (or to something, it's hard to tell).  She's had debt problems thanks to the failure of the shop she owns with her Mother, has a fractious relationship with her sister (Maria Filini), whose husband has joined Golden Dawn, but still leaves her children with them.  She also appears to be on the outs with her cargo ship captain husband Yannis (Vassilis Douganis).  The film skips between scenes of this increasingly frantic Maria and of her early, more carefree, days with Yannis.

There are two major problems with A Blast, which together conspire to make it one of the absolute worst films at LFF this year.  The first is the register at which it is presented.  The entire film is set at an hysterical pitch, every emotion overplayed, every line garbled out as if in a dialogue speed reading competition, or a rap battle with no rhythm.  This reaches a fingernails down the blackboard annoying fever pitch in scenes between Maria and her sister, in which Papoulia and Filini trade loud insults at 200 miles per hour.  The effect is very much like being in a wind tunnel lined with people bellowing at each other.  

Aside from the fact that it's just wearing, this constant pursuit of volume and speed over sense has another damaging effect: it makes everything overplayed.  As anyone who has seen Dogtooth and Alps will tell you, Angeliki Papoulia is a great and fascinating actress who can say volumes without speaking.  Here, sadly, she's directed into shouty histrionics at almost every turn and it all feels like she's in a ridiculously sexually explicit panto, so broad and directed at the back of the room is her performance.  It's tough to say anything nice about the other performances, but as they are also pitched at this same level you have to extend the actors the benefit of the doubt for their clanging falseness.

The other film-hobbling issue that A Blast has to contend with is how much of a mess it is, and how its all over the shop structure ultimately renders it an exercise in empty, unfulfilled, metaphor.  Co-writer/director Tzoumerkas is clearly trying to draw a big metaphor about how the financial crisis and the rise of Golden Dawn ripped Greece apart, boiling that conflict down to this one family.  He fails.  Hard.  The reason he fails is that little of this attempted substance can make its way through the sheer volume of the present day scenes and that the flashbacks, while trying to set a different tone, are so needlessly explicit (and seldom any quieter than the present day story) that there is no space left in these 83 minutes for nuance.

For the most part, A Blast flits all but randomly between time periods.  It may be worse when it stops being random, cutting clunkily between a sex scene, Maria watching hardcore porn in an internet cafe and Yannis teaching Maria to throw a punch.  The metaphor is beyond obvious and lamely executed.  When it's not obvious the film is infuriatingly obscure.  For example, early in the film a 'first payment' of 65,000 euros is put in to Maria's bank, setting her off on her journey.  What is this payment for?  How much is yet to come, in how many installments, and what does she have to do for those?  Not only does the film never answer these questions, it barely even feigns interest in them, preferring to cut to yet another borderline hardcore sex scene instead.

The sex scenes pretty much encapsulate A Blast's larger issues; screamingly over the top content over substance.  Papoulia has hardly shied away from explicit content, indeed Dogtooth also has a sex scene that at least skirts very close to being hardcore.  The difference is that the explicitness here serves little purpose, leaving it feeling exploitative of both Papoulia and Douganis.  Yes, it shows how at one point the couple had an intense connection, but this is something film neglects to demonstrate in anything but a physical way, and it hardly needs in excess of ten minutes of extremely explicit sex to demonstrate it on a physical level.

A Blast ends on a suitably infuriating note; an ellipsis that tells us nothing.  That's just...

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