Different Styles, Different Results By Bregtje Schudel
The films in this year’s selection are anything but conventional, ranging from the peculiar (an eccentric female composer being wooed by a mysterious stranger in Romania’s An Angel Hooked on Me [îngerul necesar]) to the outrageous (a priest performing fellatio on a dog in Japan’s The Whispering of the Gods [Gerumaniumu no yoru]). But it wasn’t the unorthodox themes that made this year’s selection so memorable. The most remarkable aspect was the high percentage of unconventional styles. Four films really stood out, for better or worse.
Nowhere was the contrast between styles as great as the gap between the Hungarian film My One and Onlies (Egyetleneim) and Boznia-Herzegovina’s Mum and Dad (Mama i tata). One is a love story with an attention deficit, revolving around an unhinged youth looking for love in all the wrong places in Budapest; the other is a painfully realistic picture of an elderly couple stuck with each other in the claustrophobic confines of their Sarajevo flat. My One and Onlies is an assault on the senses. It has so many erratic fast cuts that it plays like a badly made 76-minute music video. Instead of making a hip, fast-paced film, all the hyper-cutting actually slows the film down, like the illusion of slow-motion created by stroboscopic light. You do get the idea that director Gyula Nemes wanted to convey the leads’ skittish state of mind through editing, but it’s a cold comfort. The film does manage to induce a feeling of motion sickness; unfortunately, that is the only sincere reaction it elicits.
The hyperactive editing of My One and Onlies a far cry from the long static shots employed in Mum and Dad. In a few drawn-out shots, director Faruk Loncarevic – who based the story on his own experiences – manages to burrow deep into the despair of the elderly couple. Love has long since gone, and after a stroke, the woman is assigned the thankless task of nursing her ungrateful and aggressive husband. Loncarevic frames the uncomfortable subject matter in a reality-tv format, with fixed cameras and a returning ad that encourages the viewer to vote for his or her favourite parent. The sardonic use of product placement even echoes the ingenious satire The Truman Show. Loncarevic lets the scenes evolve at their own slow pace, which, coupled with the documentary feel, makes this bleak and depressing Kammerspiel even more powerful.
The most experimental work of the pack is the French film Nocturnes for the King of Rome (Nocturnes pour le roi de Rome). Largely shot with a common low-resolution camera phone, it’s a poetic tale about a German composer meditating on a love he lost in Rome so many years before. The crude picture quality does take some time getting used to – especially for a generation spoiled by high definition – but after a while the vague images develop an ethereal quality. Add the hypnotic voice-over of the composer, and you’re strangely mesmerized by the blurred shapes and shadows, ghostlike figures that float in and out of the picture, and in and out of the narrator’s life.
And then there is the Danish film AFR, an exercise in style par excellence. This skilfully crafted mock documentary flawlessly mixes real footage of Danish minister-president Anders Fogh Rasmussen and other politicians with fake interviews, creating a frighteningly persuasive piece of fiction. In this reality, the prime-minister is assassinated by his neglected male lover (played by director-writer Morten Hartz Kaplers). Or are there other, political forces at play? Kaplers has made a clever political commentary that constantly challenges us to separate the fabricated from the real. But after watching it a second time, one does begin to wonder: Is there anything more to this film than just a deftly executed gimmick?