Fantasia 2019 review: Why Don’t You Just Die! (Papa, sdokhni)

Ding dong!

I don’t know what is more surprising – that this surefooted splatter fest is the first feature made by writer-director-editor Kirill Sokolov or that it was supported by the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation. This black, black comedy is artfully done, but it’s not an art-house film. And let’s just say that most of the characters are not fine upstanding citizens.

A young man stands in front of an apartment door while holding a hammer behind his back. We can tell that he intends to use it – we don’t need Chekhov to tell us that. (Chekhov wrote: “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.”)

The hammer might have further resonance for those who have read Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky.

Why Don’t You Just Die! received financial support from the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation.

The door is opened by a bald, stocky man who looks tough, aggressive, dangerous. Not friendly! The visitor introduces himself as Matvei, and says he has come there to meet his girlfriend, Olya. This is news to the bald man, who is Olya’s father, Andrei. All the same, he lets Matvei come in. One inside Matvei is ready to sue the hammer, but…oops, Andrei is not alone. Natasha, Andrei’s wife and Olya’s mother, is there, too.

Matvei (Aleksandr Kuznetsov) has come to visit Andrei, who is the father of his girlfriend. Note the Batman hoodie!

 

Andrei (Vitaliy Khaev) plays a police detective in the Russian film Why Don’t You Just Die! Note how that his pale green shirt matches the curtains. And the wallpaper. Not for long!

Andrei and Matvei sit down at the breakfast table and Natasha goes to the kitchen to make coffee for Matvei. Andrei reveals that he is a police detective. Probably a surprise for Matvei. The hammer falls out of his back pocket. Andrei asks, casually, if Matvei carries the hammer around all the time. No, no, he says, a friend wants to borrow it. As if.

Amazingly soon, the hammer, a television, a shotgun, handcuffs, a power drill and other items will come into play. Someone will be tossed right through a wall. There will be a shower of cash. And blood, ridiculous amounts of blood, torrents of it, rivers of it, gallons (litres?) of it. (In an interview, director Kirill Sokolov said that there isn’t THAT much blood, that other films have had more. Maybe so, but there is LOTS of blood in Why Don’t You Just Die!) However, the effect is cartoonish, not like someone is truly suffering.

Andrei’s shirt no longer matches the curtains.

Assorted flashbacks reveal what kind of person Andrei is, a medical quirk that Matvei has, and the purpose of Matvei’s visit. He is on a vigilante mission, seemingly motivated by love. That makes him the most noble person in the world of the film, next to wife and mother Natasha, who gets neither love nor respect from her husband. Appropriately enough for a vigilante, Matvei wears a Batman hoodie. And like superheroes and supervillains, Matvei and Andrei have remarkable endurance.

Bad behaviour in the past.

On the Fantasia web site, the description of Why Don’t You Just Die! contains this phrase “and all holy household hell breaks loose.” Ha! The understatement of the year!

It was wonderful to watch Why Don’t You Just Die! with a Fantasia audience. We were laughing, hollering and sometimes cringing. What is the sound of cringing? Sometimes it is “Ewwww!” As when bones are broken, blood spurts, a hammer is aimed close to delicate body parts or when one character contemplates using his tongue to. . . do something gross yet crucial.Writer-director-editor Kirill Sokolov has a master’s degree in the Physics and Technology of Nanostructures, of all things. In an interview he said: “Filmmaking is very close to physics and maths, because every scene is like a maths problem or a test that you have to solve. You try from one angle, then from another until you succeed. Very practical, very logical process.”

Why Don’t You Just Die! uses the X-Ray Camera!

I hope that Sokolov will make many more films and that I can see them, too.

(The web site of the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, which showed Why Don’t You Just Die!, says the film’s genre is Splatter, and its tags are: Violence, Satire, Thriller, Humour.)

I am not including the film’s trailer here because I think that it gives too much away.

Why Don’t You Just Die! (Papa, sdokhni)
Country: Russia
Year: 2018
Duration: 100 minutes
Language: Russian
Director: Kirill Sokolov
Producer: Sofiko Kiknavelidze
Writer: Kirill Sokolov
DOP: Dmitriy Ulyukaev
Montage: Kirill Sokolov
Composers: Vadim QP, Sergey Solovyov
Cast: Vitaliy Khaev, Aleksandr Kuznetsov, Evgeniya Kregzhde, Mikhail Gorevoy, Elena Shevchenko
Contact: Arrow Films

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Fantasia 2019: Lake Michigan Monster looks like wacky, Maddinesque fun!

Lake Michigan Monster – low budget but creative as all get out!

The loopy trailer for the feature film Lake Michigan Monster is enough to make me want to see it, and several enthusiastic reviews on the Internet further seal the deal.

In the Detroit Free Press, John Monaghan writes: “The entire budget would barely pay for one of Captain America’s boots, but that doesn’t stop the Milwaukee-made horror comedy “Lake Michigan Monster” from delivering more crazy and clever visual tricks than the last 10 Marvel superhero blockbusters put together.”

On the Film Threat web site Joshua Speiser writes: “Self-winking parody is one of the hardest genres to pull off. So, my hat is off to Tews and his band of merry pranksters. The films’ ridiculously limited budget, anemic/scenery chewing acting, grainy 16mm film stock, Dollar Store special effects and weaponry, and chop-socky editing all work to the film’s advantage to create an aesthetic that would make Ed Wood proud. . . I encourage you to follow the filmmaker’s lead — grab a bottle of rum (or two), gather together some of your idiot friends, cast off your high-brow cinematic pretensions, and cue up this 78 minutes of nonsensical nautical mayhem.”

Sounds good to me!

At Isthmus, Josh Heath writes: “The black-and-white aesthetic, along with hand-crafted sets, digital special effects, and kinetic camera work make this film stand out. Its bonkers comedy, constant barrage of humor, and reliance on meta-humor, in particular, may leave some viewers a little overwhelmed, however.”

No worries, Josh, the Fantasia audience can handle it!

He goes on to say “It’s not necessarily a movie you’ll want to watch casually on a Sunday afternoon. You need friends on Friday night for something this ridiculous.”

Fantasia is showing Lake Michigan Monster at 5 pm on Thursday, July 25, 2019. Close enough? Anyway, everyone says the weekend starts on Thursday, right?

To top it all off, there will be FOUR (4!!!) guests at the screening – director Ryland Tews, screenwriter and editor Mike Cheslick, actor Daniel Long and producer Louis Schultz. I’m sure that they will share some cool stories. We can ask questions – that’s always fun! Let me save everybody some time here. The film was shot for a mere $7,000 and it took two years to make.

(At an after-screening Q&A someone ALWAYS asks”how long did it take” to shoot and “how much did it cost,” instead of the things *I* would like to know, such as “How did you DO THAT?” “How did you EVER get permission to. . .?” “How on Earth did you convince X to take part?”)

Read more about the film and the Fantasia Film Festival in general on the Fantasia web site.

Sailors galore in Lake Michigan Monster.

Lake Michigan Monster (2018) Written and Directed by Ryland Brickson Cole Tews. Starring Ryland Brickson, Cole Tews, Erick West, and Beulah Peters

Thursday, July 25, 2019
5:00 pm Salle J.A. De Sève
1400 de Maisonneuve Blvd W,
Montreal, Quebec
H3G 1M8

 

FNC 2018 Suggestion: See hilarious Iranian comedy Pig (Khook) tonight, Tuesday Oct. 9, 2018

Hasan Majuni plays film director Hasan Kasmai in the Iranian comedy Pig (Khook).

Black comedy, dark comedy, parody, spoof, all those words are suitable to describe the Iranian film Pig (Khook).

I don’t know how a script that includes murders, adultery and dancing was approved by Iranian censors, but it was, and I enjoyed it a lot. Check it out for laugh and surprises!
Acclaimed actress Leila Hatami gets to show her lighter side. You can read my review here.

Leila Hatami plays actress Shiva Mohajer in the Iranian comedy Pig (Khook.) In this scene, her costume makes me think of a pinata.

Pig (Khook)
Directed and written by Mani Haghighi
Cast: Hasan Majuni; Leila Hatami; Leili Rashidi; Parinaz Izadyar; Mina Jafarzadeh; Aynaz Azarhoosh; Ali Bagheri; Siamak Ansari; Ali Mosaffa
Language: Farsi with English subtitles
Length: 107 minutes

You can see Pig on Tuesday, Oct 9, 2018, at 9:30 p.m. at Cinémathèque Québécoise (355 de Maisonneuve E.) as part of the Festival du nouveau cinéma.

FNC 2018: Review of Iranian comedy Pig (Khook)

In the Iranian film Pig (Khook) a blacklisted director cannot make films, but he CAN make really weird commercials for insecticide.

Pig (Khook) is so funny that it might be a big surprise for people who expect Iranian films to be serious, sad, or downright tragic. Added bonus: Leila Hatami, who has been in many sad and serious films gets to have some fun in it, too!

Pig is written and directed by Mani Haghighi. It’s about blacklisted filmmaker Hasan Kasmai (Hassan Majuni), who has not been allowed to make films for the past two years. Luckily for him, his family and for us, he IS allowed to make TV commercials.

His hilarious ad for bug-killer spray features dancing women in red who look much nicer than your average insect pests. (Oh, wait! They are not dancing, they are “moving in unison.” Dancing is not allowed, in real life or in commercials. Censorship, you know!)

Later, Hasan and his tennis-partner friend Homayoun (Siamak Ansari) borrow the insect costumes, antennae and all, to wear to a decadent costume party. (Somehow they remind me of Spanish dandies from the Middle Ages in those costumes…apart from the antennae, of course.)

(When he’s not attending costume parties or funerals, Hasan usually wears T-shirts promoting Western rock bands like AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Kiss, etc. At least one reviewer took that as a sign that Hasan is still a child at heart. Maybe he is, but maybe he also likes those bands and those clothes. Theoretically, they could even be a political statement.)

Hasan Majuni, left, plays director Hasan Kasmai, while Ali Mosaffa plays his hated rival, Sohrab Saidi, in the Iranian comedy Pig (Khook).

Hasan was already upset that he could not make films, but now he has new worries. His muse and mistress Shiva Mohajer (Leila Hatami), who became a star through his films, is considering a part in a film by one of his rivals, the highly pretentious and unlikable Sohrab Saidi (Ali Mosaffa).

Leila Hatami plays Shiva Mohajer, muse to director Hasan Kasmai. Hasan is jealous when she considers a role with rival director Sohrab Saidi.

In a more serious vein, a serial killer is targeting Iranian filmmakers, and leaving their severed heads in public places in Tehran, with the word “pig” carved into their foreheads. Hasan is terrified that he might be the next victim, but he’s also hurt and offended because the killer must think that he’s not important enough to murder. (Pig’s director Mani Haghighi includes himself as one of the murder victims. Hasan has to identify him.)

Things get more complicated when a video of Hasan throwing a public tantrum “goes viral.” Threats uttered in the heat of the moment against two of the murder victims make him suspect No. 1 and he’s arrested by Azemat (Ali Bagheri) the sinister, high-level, pony-tailed policeman who’s been following him around.

I enjoyed Pig immensely, though I thought a few script decisions went too far. Within the first few minutes I was wondering “Censorship? What censorship?” Amazingly enough the script was approved by the Iranian authorities, despite the dancing, the mistress and many other things.

Pig (Khook)
Directed and written by Mani Haghighi
Cast: Hasan Majuni; Leila Hatami; Leili Rashidi; Parinaz Izadyar; Mina Jafarzadeh; Aynaz Azarhoosh; Ali Bagheri; Siamak Ansari; Ali Mosaffa
Language: Farsi with English subtitles
Length: 107 minutes

You can see Pig on Tuesday, Oct 9, 2018, at 9:30 p.m. at Cinémathèque Québécoise (355 de Maisonneuve E.) as part of the Festival du nouveau cinéma.

 

FNC 2017: Review of Hong Sang-soo’s The Day After (Geu-hu)

In this scene from Korean film The Day After, Song Ah-reum (Kim Min-hee) is ready to begin her first day working at a small publishing house. The Day After is directed by Hong Sang-soo.

On her first day at a new job, Song Ah-reum (Kim Min-hee ) is insulted and slapped by the wife of her boss, Kim Bong-wan (Kwon Hae-hyo). Kim runs a small publishing house and Song is his only employee. Song had no way of knowing that Kim had been having an affair with her predecessor, Lee Chang-sook (Kim Sae-byeok). Now that she does know, is she seeing the “getting-acquainted” lunch she just had with him in a new light? Was he grooming her to be his next conquest?

Kim keeps saying “it’s not her!” but his wife, Song Haejoo (Jo Yoon-hee) does not believe him. Song Ah-reum’s forehead is wrinkled in thought as she watches the two of them bicker. Their marriage might be in trouble, but they still have a bond of sorts, after all, while she is the true outsider. As a woman, she might naturally sympathize with Song Haejoo, but not after being hit several times and being called a shameless hussy (or the equivalent.) Her boss HAD seemed like a nice guy (though maybe a bit condescending). Obviously, he isn’t so nice, after all.

“A man behaving badly” would describe most of the Hong Sang-soo films that I’ve seen, and it certainly fits The Day After. While Kim’s wife frequently calls him a liar, he usually just clams up and says nothing at all, or asks “Are you serious?” rather than answer her questions directly.

Confrontation! In this scene from HongSang-soo’s film The Day After, Song Ah-reum (Kim Min-hee) left, watches her boss, Kim Bong-wan (Kwon Hae-hyo) argue with his rightfully suspicious wife, Song Haejoo (Jo Yoon-hee).

The film is shot in black and white, and moves around in time, as Hong’s films usually do, showing Kim Bong-wan at home (not very often!) in his office, and in restaurants eating and drinking (drinking a lot!) with Chang-sook or Ah-reum. We see Kim on the streets, too, walking with one of the women or by himself. He walks a lot, because he’s trying to figure things out, because he lives far from his office, because he has a guilty conscience? Could be any and all of those. Much of this walking takes place in darkness, at night, or in the very early morning hours; it’s not always clear which. At one point he tries to jog, seemingly confirming his wife’s suspicion that he is trying to improve his appearance for someone other than her.

Sometimes Kim Bong-wan even cries on his solitary walks, but I’m not at all convinced that this means he loved Lee Chang-sook, maybe he just misses having someone, other than his wife, to be with. And drink with.

Lee Chang-sook and Song Ah-reum are both young and pretty and Song Ah-reum seems quite brainy, too. While Song does tell Kim that he is one of the best critics in Korea, he doesn’t come across as exceptional in any way. That did lead me to wonder, why did Chang-sook fall for him? Does proximity breed affection? Was she bored? Very lonely, far from home, with no friends in Seoul? Can Kim be really charming when he puts his mind to it? (If Hong had chosen from among my fave actors for this part, I might not wonder as much. Probably that’s exactly why he did not choose them. Sorry, no offence is intended toward actor Kwon Hae-hyo.)

I wonder: Does Hong Sang-soo know about U.S. comedian Stan Freberg? At one point, the two lovers are locked in a passionate embrace while they exclaim “Bong-wan!” “Chang-sook!” over and over. Do a Google search on “John and Marsha,” you’ll see what I mean.

Things I found amusing: When Kwon Hae-hyo eats with his wife, he slurps his soup and munches his kimchi very noisily. He is much more restrained when eating with his assistants.

Meta or gossipy aspect: Director Hong Sang-soo left his wife of many years for actress Kim Min-hee, who has now appeared in four of his films. You might know her from Park Chan-wook’s film The Handmaiden.

Montrealers can see The Day After at the Festival du nouveau cinéma on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017 at 5:30, in Salle 17 of Cineplex Odeon Quartier Latin, 360 rue Emery, métro Berri-UQAM.

 

The Day After (Geu-hu, 그 후)
92 minutes long
In Korean with English subtitles
Written and directed by Hong Sang-soo
Cast: Kwon Hae-hyo, Kim Min-hee, Kim Sae-byeok, Jo Yoon-hee

Film Review: A Man Called Ove

Rolf LassgŒrd plays the title character in A Man Called Ove.
Rolf LassgaŒrd plays the title character in A Man Called Ove.

The Swedish film A Man Called Ove is one of the five entries competing for an Academy Award as Best Foreign Language Film. It’s also nominated for a Best Makeup and Hairstyling Oscar.

Ove is only 59, but he looks much older. That’s what crankiness will do to you! Ove is a stickler for rules; his main purpose in life seems to be upholding them. Even the possibility that a rule might soon be broken raises his ire.

Every morning, Ove Lindahl (Rolf Lassgård) does the “rounds” in his suburban neighbourhood, even though he is no longer the head of the residents’ association. Cars parked (or driven) where they shouldn’t be, errant bicycles, cigarette butts, tiny dogs piddling where they should not, these are just a few of the things that get his goat. Ove even takes his suicide rope back, to a Home-Depot type place, to complain that it was not “suitable for all uses.” The man has chutzpah!

Why suicide? Grief, boredom, or feeling useless and rejected? I choose “all of the above.” Ove’s wife Sonja died within the past year and he misses her very much. Every day he visits her grave to promise her that he will join her soon. He recently lost his longtime job with the railroad, too. (The dialogue in that scene should make human resources people everywhere cringe.) Arguing with the neighbours and store clerks is just not enough to keep a man going. But when decent, friendly Patrick (Tobias Almborg), his wife Parvaneh (Bahar Pars), and their two little girls move in next door, they do provide many new distractions.

Bahar Pars plays Parvaneh, the friendly, lively neighbour of Ove (Rolf LassgaŒrd).
Bahar Pars plays Parvaneh, the friendly, lively neighbour of Ove (Rolf LassgaŒrd).

A Man Called Ove is a crowd-pleasing tear jerker, with some jokes and pokes at smug, smirking bureaucrats. Some of those bureaucrats are just clueless, while others are truly evil.

Ove himself is not evil, he’s a sad, somewhat clumsy man, who has constructed a hard shell over his gooey centre. He’s a politically-correct crank – he does not hate gays, immigrants, or women, so he doesn’t have too far to go to redeem himself, as we know he eventually will. This is not one of those stories where a neo-Nazi sees the light and becomes a human-right lawyer. Too bad he’s so mean to retail clerks, though. As for his run-in with a clown. . . who really likes clowns, anyway?

The young adult Ove (Filip Berg) while socially inept in the extreme, wins the heart of school-teacher-to-be Sonja (Ida Engvoll). He is astounded by how many books she has when they move in together, but gamely sets to building more yet shelves when he realizes he did not make enough the first time. At first, we only see Sonja in relation to Ove, later we learn more about her life-changing goodness toward others. It might have been nice to see more of her, but the story IS A Man Called Ove, not a Woman Called Sonja.

When that same young adult Ove meets his neighbour Rune, it’s like finding another sort of love, as they run after the local rule-breakers with the joy of small children, or frolicking puppies.

Most people might guess the general direction the film will take and some might feel manipulated. While A Man Called Ove has its clichéd elements, I enjoyed it anyway, I’m not sorry I watched it; I don’t feel like I wasted my time. Be warned though: Reviews I read before seeing the film led me to expect a comedy about a cranky man. I was surprised by the many tragedies and injustices that were revealed in the flashbacks. While Ove’s life was not quite as bleak as that of the Biblical Job, he did suffer a lot, much more than I had expected, based on summaries and reviews I’d read before seeing the film.

Random info and musings: The film is based on Fredrik Backman’s  popular novel; it’s been translated into many languages.

Makeup artist transforms actor Rolf LassgŒrd into the balding cranky Ove. (Gala magazine photo)
Makeup artist transforms actor Rolf LassgaŒrd into the balding, cranky Ove. (Gala magazine photo)

Rolf Lassgård has played the detective Wallander on TV. In real life, he doesn’t look much like the worn-out Ove at all. Hence the nomination for a Best Makeup and Hairstyling Oscar.

Ida Engvoll, who plays Sonja, is slightly toothy. If she were a Hollywood star, would someone have suggested that she “fix” those teeth?  I wouldn’t be surprised.

Ove was so lucky to meet his wife, who accepted him as he was. Would an awkward woman be so lucky? I wonder. Don’t think I have see a film like that yet.

Ove’s estranged friend Rune reminded me of one of the guys from TV show Trailer Park Boys.

The blue in Ove’s workplace made me think of the blue of Montreal’s metro system.

The film opens in the plant department of a store that looks like the Home Depot on Beaubien St.

Feline trivia: According to web site imdb.com, the large fluffy cat in the film is portrayed by two Ragdolls, both from Poland. In an interview after a screening in Seattle, director Hannes Holm said one cat was sleepy while the other was quite aggressive. More than once, crew members brought the wrong cat onto the set, with painful consequences. Holm also said that a Hollywood film would probably opt for CGI cats, but Swedish filmmakers don’t have that kind of money. When told that the film Inside Llewyn Davis used six cats, he said he couldn’t have afforded so many. The entire production budget for A Man Called Ove was a mere $350,000! Quite amazing!

In Montreal, A Man Called Ove is playing at Cineplex Odeon Forum, Cinéma du Parc, and Cinéma Beaubien. One hour, 56 minutes long, In Swedish with English subtitles at Forum and Cinéma du Parc, French subtitles at Cinéma Beaubien.

A Man Called Ove, written and directed by Hannes Holm, with Rolf Lassgård, Filip Berg, Ida Engvoll, Bahar Pars, Tobias Almborg, Poyan Kamiri, Borje Lundberg, Stefan Gödicke

FNC 2016: Review of French sketch-comedy film Apnée

Thomas Scimeca and Céline Fuhrer in the French comedy Apnee.
Thomas Scimeca and Céline Fuhrer in the French comedy Apnée.

Apnée begins with two men and a woman, each wearing strapless wedding dresses, flouncing into an elegant town hall and asking the mayor to marry them to each other. The mayor explains the available options in a polite and friendly manner. He tells them with regret that they can’t marry each other “yet.” The implication is clear: have some patience and your day will come. But the three don’t want to wait and they begin a collective rant about their rights. Then it’s time for the mayor to express his many frustrations with his job and his family. You had to be there. It was funny!

Apnée is a collection of loosely connected sketches, a bit like the old Monty Python show, though there isn’t any animation and the Spanish Inquisition doesn’t show up, either. In the press notes, director Jean-Christophe Meurisse calls it a road-trip and a “comédie socialo-mélancolique.”

A few of the subjects include: dealing with bankers; the ridiculous price of housing ($1755. for less than 200 square feet!) and the hoops people still have to leap through for the privilege of paying for a tiny, overpriced dump; parent-child relations, expectations and disappointments; a mock job interview at an employment centre that gets stuck at the handshaking part and just gets sillier and sillier (in a good way).

Some outdoor scenes in Apnée were shot in lovely parts of Corsica. That might give the tourist industry a boost.

DirectorMeurisse and the three main actors, Céline Fuhrer, Thomas Scimeca and Maxence Tual, are part of the popular French theatrical troupe Les Chiens de Navarre. (The group presented its latest play, Les armoires normandes, here in Montreal last month.)

I enjoyed some sketches more than others, and the driving scenes went on too long for my taste, but I thought Apnée was pretty damn funny. The description in the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma catalogue already sounded appealing, but then a friend recommended it to me, and that clinched the deal. I’m glad I went!

The English subtitles are a blessing because the actors speak very quickly and sometimes everyone is talking at once. Serge, the friend who suggested Apnée to me, is a francophone, but even he appreciated the English subtitles.

Not sure if I should even mention this but. . .I’m also very glad that I did not see Jay Weissberg’s review in Variety before I went. He called it an “insufferable improvised madcap comedy.”

Of course, people have different tastes, experiences, backgrounds and expectations, but I feel like we did not watch the same film. Maybe he was suffering form “film-festival burnout.” I’ve had that happen right here in Montreal, on my home turf. Imagine the stress and pressures of the Cannes Film Festival. Variety is a very powerful publication, so I hope his negative review does not scare people away from Apnée.

Apnée (or Apnea)
Directed by Jean-Christophe Meurisse
With: Céline Fuhrer, Thomas Scimeca, Maxence Tual, Thomas de Pourquery, Olivier Saladin, Claire Nadeau, Jean-Luc Vincent, Nicolas Bouchaud, Pascal Sangla, Robert Hatisi, Solal Bouloudnine.
88 minutes long, in French with English subtitles.

Seen at the 2016 Festival du Nouveau Cinéma in Montreal.