Sunday, January 07, 2007
If you want to learn how to make mayonnaise while learning French, how to smoke, how to destroy a piano with an axe, how not to rob a bank, and how to survive in an environment of mind-numbing boredom, Dagur Kari's first feature Noi Albinoi may be the key. Noi is a coming-of-age comedy/drama with a morbidly deadpan sense of humor, but it is also a film that tackles a very serious subject, the physical and emotional isolation of bright teenagers growing up in an environment that does not nurture them. Set in Bolungarvik (pop. 957) in Iceland's Western Fjords, the stark quality of the remote village sheltered between the seacoast and the frozen mountains has a bluish glow that makes the world seem ominous and the relentless quiet of the secret snow conveys a tone of oppressive solitude.
This is the environment a gangling 17-year old named Noi must face each day. He is a notorious underachiever whose routine consists of avoiding school and trying please his alcoholic father Kiddi (Throstur Leo Gunnarsson). Convincingly portrayed by Icelandic actor Tomas Lemarquis, Noi is an enigma. With his shaved head, pallid complexion, and intense eyes, it is hard to know if he is an albino or a devotee of Hari Krishna. We first meet Noi in his bed as his grandmother (Anna Fridriksdóttir) tries to wake him up for school by firing a rifle over his head. Though he is considered by the school psychiatrist to be exceptionally intelligent, Noi is not fond of school and makes his teachers crazy with his lack of punctuality, sleeping in class, and general uncaring manner.
When he goes too far by placing a tape recorder on his seat to record the lecture while he goes home, his expulsion from school is the predictable result. Feeling trapped, Noi retreats to the basement of his grandmother's house where he can think about an exotic destination to escape to, made more real when his grandmother gives him a stereopticon to view pictures of a land of beaches and palm trees. His interest in life picks up when Iris (Elín Hansdóttir), a young city girl, shows up in town from Reykjavik to take a job at the local gas station. Awkward and stumbling, Noi manages to get a date but her father, a local bookseller, warns him to stay away from his daughter. On their "romantic" first date, they break into a local museum, Iris taking it on herself to break the glass on the front door while Noi attempts to jimmy the lock. They come across an exhibit showing places on a map but, as they discover, there's no button for Iceland, a rather apt metaphor.
Noi takes a job digging graves in the local cemetery where the priest hilariously attempts to use a remote control from his house to direct him where to dig a grave and the two haggle over the depth of the grave to be dug beneath tons of ice and snow. Noi's exasperation builds until he takes things into his own hand, which leads to a series of serio-comic adventures more emotionless than anything this side of Fargo. While the ending may ultimately be liberating, I was unprepared for the film's sudden dark turn. Kari, however, pulls it off and makes us care deeply about what happens to the icy town and its eccentric inhabitants. Noi Albinoi is an excellent first effort.
Schumann Again. Thanks
Ever since Paradise Now and Freezone, I have been a big fan of Hiam Abbass. I have yet to see a number of excellent performances by her in movies like The Syrian Bride and Le Pain. This one however seems tailor-made for her. It's a rather simple story but one that makes a very strong impact on the aspect of the importance of health.
Issues such as women's health and child upbringing are rarely, very rarely treated with care in the industry. I guess this little known film was first screened as part of some health week or somethin. Because that's what it does: educate.
A 45 year old rapidly ageing mother, Nadia (Abbass) suddenly finds herself caught in the throes of midlife crisis. Menopause causes her to slowly let go of her former youthful appearance. A heavy, careless diet inspite of the doctor's warnings and refusal to let anything take away her youthfulness make her go mad as she desperately clings on to her old short, tight dresses which no longer fit her and her husband who tries to be as helpful as possible. As if this wasn't enough, her daughter, Sarra is slowly coming out of the warps of adolescence as a beautiful, young, attractive woman. This makes her mother, Nadia somewhat jealous. She constantly pries into her personal life, behaves badly towards her boyfriends, watches pornography, and continues to wear near-splitting clothes. Though all this might sound funny here, it's exactly the opposite while watching the movie.
The father too gets sick of Nadia's spitelful behaviour and since he does not know what really is the problem with her (she never tells anyone), he considers himself a bad husband. Nadia too sees all her husband's trips to parties, his behaviour towards women in general, his female colleagues, his phonecalls, even their own relatives with strong suspicion. Depression reigns supreme in the once happy household until Sarra takes things into her hands and becomes the adult in the house.
Although very depressing and educative, this movie was pretty monotonous. But undoubtedly, this is Abbass's best performance.
Saturday, January 06, 2007
In 2002, Philip Noyce's Rabbit-Proof Fence attacked the Australian government's policy of forcibly removing mixed race Aborigines from their families, sending them to government camps to be sold as servants, converted to Christianity, and eventually assimilated into white society. Just released on DVD and set six years earlier in 1922, Australian Indie director Rolf de Heer's The Tracker is a parable that also explores racism in Australia but on an even darker level, reflecting, according to de Heer, the practices and attitudes of that era towards the Aboriginal people. As three white men and an Aboriginal tracker set out on horseback to search for a black fugitive (Noel Wilton) accused of killing a white woman, the search through the stunning landscape of the Flinders Ranges becomes an exercise in savagery that raises questions about genocide.
The travelers in the search party are nameless and referred to only as The Fanatic (Gary Sweet), The Follower (Damon Gameau), and The Veteran (stuntman Grant Page). They are characters who are both individuals and archetypes who seem to represent racial discrimination and its passive acceptance. The Fanatic is the pompous police officer who is shown as repulsively intolerant of blacks and an individual that will not hesitate to kill. The Follower is his young and innocent assistant who is startled by The Fanatic's relentless racism yet too inexperienced to make a move. The Veteran is an old timer who will not challenge authority.
In The Tracker, De Heer employs two effective and original touches. One is the use of ten original songs composed by Graham Tardif, with lyrics by de Heer, and performed by Archie Roach, an Aboriginal singer who sounds like Tom Waits. Like the Neil Young score in Jim Jarmusch's subversive Western, Dead Man, the continual music can be intrusive but it creates a mood of solemnity. In another device, de Heer cuts away from scenes of violence to show still shots of Peter Coad paintings done in a simple primitive style. The raw emotion of Roach's songs and Coad's expressive artwork establish a record of the horror and allow us to relate to the mythic quality of the drama.
The Tracker plays the part of a fool saying to the officer "Yes, Boss. Okay Boss" yet, like Feste in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, he is a knowing fool, a man of humor and irony and an instinctive intelligence about the natural world, its spirits and its sacred places. When The Fanatic tells him to show The Follower the signs he is following, he points to one stone in a field of thousands saying, "Dis stone in the wrong place, belong over here", underneath almost dry, he gone couple of hours." revealing knowledge of the place of every stone. We know that The Tracker, though outwardly subservient, is the one who is really in charge and that the search party would be lost without him. As The Fanatic forces The Follower and The Veteran to participate in murder, the groundwork is laid for revenge and retribution.
The Tracker is a beautiful and powerful film that bears witness to the time when there was no talk of Aboriginal reconciliation and no hope for it. Damon Gameau shows great promise as the young man who has developed that rare quality called conscience and we identify with his strength of character. The highlight performance of the film, however, is that of charismatic native actor David Gulpilul. He portrays a man of simple dignity, not a "noble savage" or a faithful "Jacky Jacky" figure necessary to white dominance of the frontier but simply a man who has a profound sense of the world around him. Through him de Heer allows us to glimpse the possibility of establishing a true multi-racial society where people respect each other as equals. By Howard Schumann from Vancouver.