Monday, 7 September 2009

TIFF '09: Picks & Pans #3

MAX MANUS Unfair it may be, but after Tom Cruise miscast himself in Valkyrie and ruined a brilliant opportunity to bring a fresh viewpoint to the screen, I wasn’t that enthusiastic about seeing a bio pic about a Norwegian resistance fighter. Documentaries are so much better at these screen portraits, that I almost skipped the press screening thinking that I would do my own research on Max now that I had been introduced to his name, and his exploits. I’m glad I stayed.

Directors, Espen Sandbergrand and Joachim Roenning deliver a solid film that tells the story of one of Norway’s most well-known World War II heroes and his very effective team of resistance fighters. Max’s blatant and daring escape from the Nazis spurred a war-long effort by the Germans to recapture him, and put an end to the destruction he and his team caused with their efficient sabotage of Navy vehicles and intelligence operations.

Max Manus is not an American-style war picture with a larger than life actor playing the lead and a screenplay riddled with pyrotechnic explosions captured by multi-camera angles; instead it is a very realistic picture of a soldier, injured in action, returning to a country occupied by the enemy. Max’s driving force is his resentment of what he perceives as his country’s easy surrender to the Nazis. Unwilling to sit back and do nothing, he and his team fight back in an effort to remind the Norwegian public that there are those among them that have not given up.

Aksel Hennie is well-known in Norway but his averagely-muscled body-type and fair, smooth looks brings a credibility to the role of Max Manus that reminds us that this is a film based on real aspects of someone’s life. Hennie’s Max Manus is a thinking soldier as well as a man of covert action. The supporting cast does an excellent job of humanizing the real life roles they are playing, and their youthful interactions sometimes make them seem like frat boys even as they plot their resistance moves. It’s hard to look at their young faces, and not think about today’s young soldiers. A well-done introduction to a lesser-known aspect of World War II.

PARTIR(Leaving) I could have chosen a more passionate image to promote this film, but I decided on this one because the film belongs to Kristen Scott-Thomas. We know she is capable of playing roles of deep emotional depth and passion (I’ve Loved You For So Long, The English Patient), but rarely have we seen her as we do in Partir.

In this film, Scott-Thomas plays a woman who is both wildly out of control and self-determined. We always expect married screen mothers, living in lovely homes with lovely families to temper their wild affairs with men of lesser economic status with common sense. We expect them to go along with their boring, palatable existence and sacrifice themselves for the sake of hearth and home (they can live later, if at all). Low-income screen mothers in passionate affairs, either end of killing themselves because they can’t choose, or running off with their equally low-income, but hunky lovers and leaving their loathsome brats and sad sack or abusive husbands.

Rarely, do we see on screen, as we do in Partir, an upper middle-class woman who abandons all for lust and love with her labourer-lover. The love scenes between Scott-Thomas (Suzanne) and Sergi Lopez (Ivan) exhibit sensuality, passion, and tenderness, emotions that are demonstrably lacking in the marital relationship. Suzanne’s husband, Samuel (Yvan Attal) is detached and subtly abusive, aspects of his personality that rise to the fore, as he crushes her financially in an attempt to get her back under his control. For Samuel, Suzanne is another element of his art collection, to be displayed as the perfect wife and mother that a man of his status must have to project the perfect image.

Don’t expect sexual acrobatics or hyperbolic emotions in this film. This is a character study of a woman’s re-awakening of her sexuality and her determination to navigate the consequences of choices made on her own terms. Partir is a wonderful addition to Scott-Thomas’ already satisfying body of work.

PASSENGER SIDE I found this road comedy about two brothers very tiresome. I enjoyed the brotherly rivalry and the caustic volleys at the beginning of the picture, but then their constant harping at one another got on my nerves. Punctuating almost every scene with bad music is a weak way to transition scenes, and loading up your script with one weird character after another only works if they add something to the plot or reinforce the world that is being established. Weird for weird’s sake gets boring if there is no cinematic control or direction. This is not even bad enough for a good laugh. (By the way, The Mentalist's Robin Tunney is listed in the credits but she only appears on screen for about 7 minutes.)

PHANTOM PAIN Til Schweiger is apparently a huge star in Germany. I’m going to have to check out his other screen offerings because this one was grossly underwhelming. About the only things going for this film is the fact that Schweiger takes his shirt off (a lot), and the father/daughter scenes, and these are probably influenced by the fact that they are father and daughter in real life. Those scenes of Schweiger as a divorced, underemployed father trying to maintain a connection to his daughter draw you in, but then the movie loses you when it switches focus to Schweiger as Mark Sumner, an avid cyclist, who loses a leg. I’m not giving anything away here, since the title refers to the pain experienced by some amputees in the area of the missing limb.

Going in to Phantom Pain, I expected more scenes of Schweiger dealing with this neurological pain, the pain of mourning his lost limb and his very physical world of cycling, as well as the pain of his current life. The film begins with Schweiger’s narration about his life and his less than loving relationship he had with his father, but so much time is wasted on Sumner as a ladies’ man, and Sumner the active man, that by the time the accident does happen, you’re ready for an explosion of emotion. Well, that never really happens; instead, we see Sumner being aided and rewarded by his very understanding friends, and forgiven by his supportive girlfriend. The anguish and the emotional growth you are set up to expect never appear, and all you’re left with is a ruggedly handsome man who turns into an even more ruggedly handsome man when he gets his hair cut. Disappointing.


B-Gurl said...

Have never heard of Max Manus. Might check it out with the boyfriend. Thanks.

gigi said...

Even though I'm not too interested in Phantom Pain, I still might check it out for the hot guy, who takes his shirt off. I loved Hipsters and can't wait to see it again, it was so much fun.

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