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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FNC 2016: Review of A Decent Woman

fnc-2016-a-decent-woman

A Decent Woman was shot in Argentina. The original Spanish title is Los Decentes. It has also been shown under with the English title The Decent. It’s a satire.

Belen is a woman who does not say much. She observes, sometimes warily.

Belen (Iride Mockert) starts working for a rich woman and her spoiled son in a gated community outside Buenos Aires. (The residents inside those gates are wealthy, but in the surrounding area there are rundown streets littered with garbage.) Belen’s employer has a large house, but it presents a blank face to the world – it doesn’t look particularly comfortable or welcoming. It’s very bland, lacking personality, inside and out.

The property is on the far edge of the community and Belen soon notices that there is a nudist colony on the other side of the big hedge, and the (highly-)electrified fence. (She notices because she does everything at that house, buying groceries, washing floors, windows, dishes, doing laundry, cleaning the son’s sport shoes, and clipping that hedge. Belen’s employer, Diana (Andrea Strenitz) signs Belen up for cooking classes, too. (Among other things, they make cupcakes – a “very American recipe” according to the instructor.) When Diana can’t sleep, she wakes Belen to keep her company.

After days, maybe weeks, of watching the nudists, Belen lets her long hair down (literally), sheds her clothes and joins them. When they first see her, she is shyly recreating the pose from Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (the one with the big seashell).

They’re a very welcoming bunch and soon Belen is spending lots of time with them. Is this possible because Diana and her son, Juanchito, go away a lot for tennis tournaments, or could it be that Belen is just imagining herself having a different way of life with these people?

Much of the time, they are calm, quiet and relaxed, hanging out in or beside the water, dozing or reading. I won’t describe all of their activities, to avoid the accusation of “spoilers!” Let’s just say, this isn’t a “family-friendly” nudist club, and the place where the scenes were shot is actually a nudist swingers’ club, in the director’s own words.

The nudists do play loud music at night. It’s so loud that Diana’s windows vibrate and she can’t sleep. Other neighbours are upset about them, too, and they start a petition against the enclave.

Up until this point in A Decent Woman, I had no serious complaints. It had been moving at a  languid pace, possibly too slowly for some people, but I could handle it. (I did not notice anyone leaving, either.)

But. . . call me a coward or whatever, I did not like the abruptness nor the content of the ending. One or two people laughed. Was it serious laughter or nervous laughter? I wonder. I prefer to think that director Lukas Valenta Rinner did not know how to end the film, or that the ending is a dream that Belen has. (Yes, I know, dream sequences are a corny cliché.)

One person near me said “If I had known it would be like that, I would not have come.”

* * *

A FEW HOURS LATER:

(I went to A Decent Woman  because I thought that I had read several rave reviews about it, in reports from other festivals like Sarajevo and TIFF. Maybe I got it mixed up with something else.

The FNC catalogue and web site say that director Lukas Valenta Rinner also made Parabellum, which explains a lot. My brain must have skipped right over that. (Did you see it?) If you intend to see A Decent Woman, it might be better not to read about Parabellum beforehand.

As for not knowing how to end it, Parabellum won a prize at the Jeonju International Film Festival in South Korea. A few months later, the Jeonju Cinema Project offered Valenta Rinner money to make his next film, but that meant he only had six months to write, film and edit a work-in-progress version to show at the next edition of the festival.

On the other hand, in an interview with Cineuropa, Valenta Rinner indicates the abrupt ending was a “deliberate narrative decision,” to provide catharsis. And now that I think about it, abrupt changes of tone happen all the time in Korean cinema.

Lukas Valenta Rinner is an Austrian who went to film school in Argentina and still lives there. He has stated that his film is a comment on inequality and social tensions in Argentina. I’ve watched many films from Argentina, but I’ve never been there, so what do I know?

Final verdict: Mixed feelings. Can’t say I’m happy that I went, but I don’t feel ripped off either. I wouldn’t recommend it to everybody, but I imagine there are people within my extended circle who would like it.

Los Decentes (A Decent Woman)

Country: Austria, Republic of Korea, Argentina

Year: 2016

Genre: Fiction

Directed by: Lukas Valenta Rinner

Length: 104 minutes

Screenplay: Lukas Valenta Rinner, Ana Godoy, Martin Shanly, Ariel Gurevich

Cast: Iride Mockert, Martin Shanly, Andrea Strenitz, Mariano Sayavedra

I saw A Decent Woman at the  in Montreal. The festival will show the film again on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016 at 18h (6 p.m.)

Wednesday night suggestion at Festival des films du monde: satirical superhero The Portuguese Falcon

David Chan Cordeiro, left, plays Partridge Kick, and Gonalo Waddington plays the Falcon in a satirical film from Portugal, Capit‹o Falc‹o (The Portuguese Falcon). The film is being shown at Montreal's Festival des films du monde.
David Chan Cordeiro, left, plays Partridge Kick, and Gonalo Waddington plays the Falcon in a satirical film from Portugal, Capit‹o Falc‹o (The Portuguese Falcon). The film is being shown at Montreal’s Festival des films du monde.

UPDATE: I saw The Portuguese Falcon on Wednesday night, and I thought it was pretty funny! The audience seemed to enjoy it, too. I hope to write a proper review after, but just wanted to add this note, right now. On Thursday, Sept. 3, it will be shown at noon. If you work in the daytime, maybe your boss(es) would allow you to take a long lunch to watch it? It’s a thought!

Capitão Falcão (The Portuguese Falcon in English) is a satire on superheroes. Instead of defending truth and justice and the American Way, as such characters usually do, the Falcon and his sidekick defend the fascist regime of dictator António de Oliveira Salazar from commies and feminists in the 1960s.

The film was directed by João Leitão, and written by him and Nuria Leon Bernardo. Gonçalo Waddington plays the Falcon and David Chan Cordeiro plays Partridge Kick, who is more or less Robin to his Batman.
Here’s the synopsis from the web site of Festival des films du monde: “A parody of Portugal’s first superhero: Captain Falcon. A fearless defender of the fascist regime of the 1960s, Falcon, along with his Asian sidekick, Partridge Kick, defends his nation against various threats: evildoers, thieves, and above all, the Red Peril: communists! But one day, Lisbon, the capital, starts experiencing mysterious attacks, and no one is sure who’s behind it all. Will Captain Falcon save the country once again?”

I haven’t seen The Portuguese Falcon yet, but it sounds like good cheesy, goofy fun, the kind of thing more likely to be seen at Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival. But we all like to laugh, don’t we?

The Portuguese Falcon, in Portuguese with English subtitles, is 106 minutes long.

Wednesday Sept. 2, 2015 – 9:30 PM – CINÉMA QUARTIER LATIN 14
Thursday Sept. 3, 2015 – 12:00 PM – CINÉMA QUARTIER LATIN 14

Cinéma Quartier Latin: 350 Emery St., Montreal. (Metro Berri-UQAM)