Tuesday, 7 September 2010

TIFF 2010 Reviews #6: Behind Blue Skies, Small Town Murder Songs, Soul of Sand

Behind Blue Skies, Hannes Holm, (Contemporary World Cinema)
Bill Skargard
is the focus of this film about a teenager who seizes the opportunity to escape the tension in his family home and make some money to help his beleagured mother.

The film is inspired by a true story that occurred in Sweden in the 1970’s, but honestly, the events are so universal, and the film is told in such a way, that the facts hardly matter. There are no date and time stamps to follow except, the clips and commentary about another young Swedish teen, Bjorn Borg. Bill Skargard’s character, is just like any teen who goes away for the summer to work at a resort. He has to share a room with a pots-moking lout, he falls in love with young woman, and he tries to find his place among hierarchy of new and returning workers.

When his circumstances at the resort change, Martin becomes captivated by other means of making money. His new father-figure, Gösta (Peter Dalle), the camp director, introduces him to a way of life that he has never experienced, easing the strain he had always experienced at home and building his confidence. Skargard’s innocence, and yearning for change can be read in his wonderfully expressive eyes. I can’t help but smile remembering his elation when he is first kissed by a pretty girl at the camp, and I can’t help but marvel at the strength of character he brings to the role of a teenage boy looking out mother while trying to get his alcolic father under control.

Director, Hannes Holm, offers us the lightness of a summer camp teen romance with the sombre wash of poverty, alcholism, and crime. Skargard is in almost every scene of the film, and the weight of its success lies with his portrayal of a boy transitioning into manhood. Lucky for us, we get to see an emerging young actor who is able to carry a feature film on his very talented shoulders.

Small Town Murder Songs, Ed Gass-Donnelly (Contemporary World Cinema)
I’ve been a fan of Ed Gass-Donnelly since saw his first feature film, This Beautiful City. Last year his 60 Seconds of Regret (Short Cuts Canada '09) showed that he could tell a story in a brief amount of time, but I was still a bit apprehensive to see how hewould do with this second feature. I’ve interviewed Ed, I love and support Canadian and didn’t want to have to write a negative review. Well, as soon as the film started, I knew that if Ed just kept to the story he was telling then, I had no need to worry. Congratulations, Ed, Small Town Murder Songs did not disappoint.

The film stars Peter Stormare as Walter, a small town cop with an anger management problem that has caused him to be on the outs with his Mennonite father. He has also lost one girlfriend Rita (Jill Hennessy) and is now living with Sam (Martha Plimpton), and trying to keep things together. Walter is heading an investigation into the murder of a young woman, whose body was dumped in his jurisdiction. Who is she? She's obviously not a local (everybody knows each other in this town), so where did she come from? Who killed her?

What’s different about this film is that it’s told in chapters, demarcated by passages from the Bible and accompanied by rousing religious music that is pure brimstone. The film would fall apart without the assurance with which actor plays his conflicted character. Like many people with anger issues Walter is mostly even tempered and can get along with everybody; when he loses his temper, it’s explosive and shocks you into remembering his flaw.

Shots of small town Ontario solidly grounds the piece in its Canadian setting, with shots of Main Street, scenes inside the ubiquitous town diner where pie and coffee are served along with the latest gossip. The meat and potato dinner scenes with Walter and San, the awkward third party communication between Walter, his brother and his estranged father (in English and the Old Language), and the inclusion of the OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) serve to define the nature of the town, and emphasize how rare an occurrence the murder is.

I love this new style of filmmking by Ed Gass-Donnelly. I will be seeing this one again!

Soul of Sand, Sidharth Srinivasan, (Discovery)
TIFF’s Cameron Bailey stabbed me in the heart when he compared this film to works done by directors, Satyajit Ray and Ingmar Bergman. Did he see the same movie I saw? Sidharth Srinivasan’s film Soul of Sand isn’t even in the same league as those masters! Srinivasan’s film about a watchman at an abandoned silica mine is fine if you’re watching it on OMNI on a Sunday afternoon—grab the popcorn— but to pay $20 to see it at TIFF? No way! Save your money.

Soul of Sand starts out as an impressive social drama with a touch of the absurd as we see a lone watchman guarding, guarding the defunct Royal Silica Mine. Sitting in the hot son, his posture erect, holding his defensive pole and wearing the drab uniform embroidered with RSM on his breast pocket, the watchman seems to be portraying the dramatic “Fool”. Kow-towing to his upper-caste master upon his visits, the watchman is so entrenched in carrying on his generational dury as a watchman and carrying out orders, that he is oblvious to the master’s forced attentions on his wife. If the film had remained focussed on the social elements of the class and opression, the film would have been worthy of the praise Bailey has heaped upon it; but after the opening scenes the film descends into a laughable high drama with a mysterious hitman chasing after the master’s daughter and her runaway boyfriend. This is an indulgent soap opera with a cool bad guy a la Clint Eastwood in his spaghetti westerns, this film is so bad it fun, but in no way is it the “artful” film Bailey proclaims it to be. Sorry, but this director is no "discovery".

What will you see at TIFF 2010?

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