Tuesday, June 12, 2012

2012 SFF Short Reviews: Tabu, Alps and Once Upon A Time in Anatolia

Tabu (Miguel Gomes, 2012)

Winner of the Alfred Bauer Prize for Artistic Innovation and the FIPRESCI Jury Prize at Berlinale, Miguel Gomes Tabu has two very distinct halves. It opens up in contemporary Portugal and follows a temperamental old woman named Aurora, her Cape Verdean maid, Santa, and a caring neighbour who live on the same floor of a Lisbon apartment building. Pilar does her best to take care of Aurora, who gambles away all of her money at casinos and is convinced that her maid is practicing witchcraft on her. When Aurora's health fades she asks for a man she once knew to come to her deathbed. When he is tracked down, he reveals to the women an extraordinary tale of obsessed love shared by he and Aurora in colonial Africa, and the events that led to their life-long separation, but continued affections for one another.

Tabu is a bizarre film, mostly in a good way. Director Miguel Gomes, in telling this unusual tale, has utilised a number of interesting stylistic devices; a 4:3 ratio and black-and-white cinematography from the very beginning, and in the second half a complete absence of dialogue and reliance on gesture, expression, voice-over narration (Ventura's account) and visual storytelling. Though they are inspired ideas and add a vibrant uniqueness to the storytelling, I wasn't convinced they were necessary or served much of a purpose. Miguel Gomes' film is certainly not dull. It moves fast and is very watchable, and for a future analysis I would be interested in giving it another go. All of the performances are spot on, and the sound design is brilliant, but as I got further into the story, the less engaged I was, and though it is eloquently scripted, I grew tired of the voice-over after a while. Still, it is a tribute to the power of true love, and how even fleeting chapters in our lives, if they change our lives at the time, remain with us until we die.  ★★★1/2

Alps (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2011)

Director Yorgos Lanthimos is the man who put Greek 'Weird Wave' on the map with the black comedy, Dogtooth (2009). He also produced Athina Rachel Tsangari's offbeat Attenberg (which screened as part of last year's Official Competition). Alps (co-produced by Tsangari and co-starring Attenberg's Ariane Labed) follows a secret club whose members are paid to act as replacements for the recently deceased. They find out details about the deceased; going into their homes, impersonating them and getting uncomfortably intimate with the bereaved. The film is framed by one of the team, a rhythmic gymnast, performing a routine in a gym. Save for a handful of scenes that piqued my interest, these were the most impressive moments in Alps. This is the meeting place for the team, who have named themselves after the mountains that make up the Swiss Alps (Matterhorn for example). 

While the clouding between their reality and their stand-in roles begins to blur throughout the film, this world is too obscure to be entertaining, and not obscure enough to be engaging. While obviously removed from a reality we are acquainted with it fails to effectively flesh out its interesting premise, resulting in flat and unconvincing execution. I did not buy into the fact that their services - staged and lifeless substituted actions - would aid the bereaved at all, and I wanted to learn more about the team. Dogtooth was nominated for an Academy Award. I can only assume this is no Dogtooth. Once I realised what the premise was - it takes about half an hour to reveal - I knew this film would never get off the ground, and simply wanted it to end. ★★

Once Upon A Time In Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2011)

Once Upon A Time in Anatolia, directed with great precision and assurance by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, shared the Jury Prize at last year's Cannes Film Festival with The Kid With A Bike. The film opens in the dead of night as a group of men in three cars - including a police commissioner, a prosecutor, a doctor and a murder suspect - drive through the tenebrous Anatolian countryside, the serpentine roads and rolling hills lit only by the headlights of their cars. They are searching for a corpse, the victim of a murder. The suspect, who claims he was drunk, can't remember where he buried the body. The story unravels unconventionally, with events taking place at a natural pace and when the characters are ready to converse or take action. Sometimes we follow the commissioner as he escorts the prisoner to look for the body, and sometimes they disappear and conversations take place between characters who remain behind. The focus shifts between multiple characters (the aforementioned ones predominantly), with the doctor and prosecutor sharing the film's most interesting and thematically meaningful story. As the night draws on, and night becomes day, details about the murder begin to emerge and the unorthodox law-enforcers begin to reveal their own secrets and hypocrisies. In the Anatolian steppes, nothing is what it seems...and not a lot happens either.

Once Upon A Time In Anatolia was very long and very slow and despite being a slog of a film, it remains a puzzling and captivating one nonetheless. Great dialogue, surprising humour, a trio of interesting core characters, stunning composition and photography make it just a win. It is mostly comprised of very long takes; lengthy shots tracking the three cars as they snake their their way through the hills towards the next destination and beautiful shots of the illuminated grass and surrounding hills, which make the men seem tiny and insignificant. What must have proved aggravating for many an audience member, it does leave a viewer short on answers and after the enormous running time - which does feel like 157 minutes - that is disappointing. Still, I am unlikely to ever forget this film and I think I will appreciate it even more over time. ★★★

1 comment:

  1. I have to say that I'm very much looking forward to "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia." The premise sounds fascinating. With its pretty hefty running time, I hope I won't feel like I've wasted my time. Those are the worst!

    I haven't heard of the other two. Will look more into them. Thanks!