Lost Souls. Films reviewed: Apples, Moloch, Passengers of the Night

Posted in 1980s, Archaeology, comedy, Covid-19, Depression, Disease, Drama, Family, Feminism, France, Ghosts, Greece, Homelessness, Horror, Netherlands, Radio by CulturalMining.com on July 10, 2022

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

It’s Nunavut day, so what better time is there to catch up on Inuit movies. Slash/Back, a brand-new movie about aliens in a small arctic town, is playing right now. The Grizzlies is a feel-good film about a high school lacrosse team. And if you’ve never seen Zacharias Kunuk’s movies — including The Journals of Knud Rasmussen and Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner — well… you’d better.

But this week I’m looking at three new European movies — from Greece, the Netherlands and France — about lost souls. There’s a lonely guy in Athens who loses his memory in a pandemic; a divorced mom in Paris who seeks solace in late night talk radio; and a widowed mom in the Netherlands who is haunted by the lost souls… in a peat-moss bog. 

Apples

Wri/Dir: Christos Nikou

Aris (Aris Servetalis) lives by himself in Athens, Greece. One day while going for a walk he forgets where he lives. Also his family, his identity, even his first name. He has acute amnesia, the symptom of a strange pandemic, sweeping across the planet. He’s taken to hospital, with the hope a family member will arrive to identify him. But no one comes. About the only thing he knows is he likes apples. The hospital arranges for him to move into an apartment, where they hope he can regain his memory, or at least achieve some level of self worth and identity.  To achieve this they put him into an experimental program. He’s given a series of mundane tasks, all of which he is expected to record, using a polaroid camera. Ride a bike, go to a movie, attend a party, drink alcohol, meet a new friend. It also includes things like picking up a woman in a bar (he accidentally goes to a strip bar with embarrassing consequences) But during his recovery, while viewing the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, he encounters another alienated, memory-deficient person.   

Anna (Sofia Georgovasili) is clearly on the same program. Two is better than one, so they begin to see one another, if in a detached, alienated way. But as time progresses, Aris begins to remember things, including sad memories he wants to suppress. Will Anna be his soul mate? Will he ever find his original home? And is there any meaning to his life?

Apples is a satirical look at modern urban alienation in a time of pandemic. Interestingly, this film was completed in 2019 BC, (before Covid). But somehow it captures the mundane, seemingly meaningless medical obsessions, the injections, the tests,  the isolation, loneliness and self-doubt that we all experienced over the past two years.

Writer-director Christos Nikou worked with the now famous Yorgos Lanthimos, on his earliest film, Dogtooth, and like that movie, it’s funny, weird and extremely awkward, with adults behaving like children, and people blindly obeying seemingly nonsensical rules. It takes place in the present day but it’s filled with obsolete gadgets like polaroid cameras, and cassette tape players not a cel phone or a laptop in sight. Aris Servetalis is excellent as the main character, who fits perfectly within the film’s minimalist feel.

I like this one.

Moloch

Co-Wri/Dir: Nico van den Brink

Betriek (Sallie Harmsen) is a woman in her thirties who lives in an isolated home with her parents and her young daughter, in northern Netherlands. Her home is in a forest, surrounded by peat moss bogs. Her daughter goes to public school but Betriek likes the isolation — she thinks her family is cursed so it’s best to keep to herself. Easier said than done. Especially when a strange man appears in her living room! He can’t stop it, he says, they won’t let him! And his voice seems to be an unworldly chorus of a thousand souls. And then he tries to kill them all. Turns out he worked at a nearby archaeological dig, headed by Jonas (Alexandre Willaume) a Danish man.

Peat moss is a natural preservative and they’re digging up mummified bodies from ancient times. And when they examine them, they discover they are all victims of the same sort of ancient ritual sacrifice to some primeval god. By disturbing the graves they may have let loose ancient demons, possessing her friends and family. Meanwhile, her mother is going through another difficult period with her brain — is it related? Her father says they’d better leave the place and never come back. And when Betriek encounters strange visions of a little girl sending her a message, she realizes things are very wrong. Will Jonas ever believe there’s something evil going on? Can Betriek break her family’s curse? Will they fall in love? And together can they fight off an ancient evil god?

Moloch is an excellent Dutch horror movie about life in a remote village built over secrets that never should have been disturbed. It sounds like a simple story, but actually it’s a multi-layered drama. The film even incorporates a school Christmas pageant where small children innocently reenact an ancient pagan tribute even while mayhem is happening outside. The movie’s in Dutch, but because of the multiplicity of languages, much of the dialogue is in English. And remarkable for a horror movie, the cinematography is gorgeous, as warm and grainy as any 70s Hollywood movie. I liked this one, too.

Passengers of the Night

Dir: Mikhaël Hers

It’s the mid-1980s in Paris. Elisabeth (Charlotte Gainsbourg) lives with her two teenaged kids high up in an apartment tower. Her daughter Judith, is outspoken and into politics, while her son Matthias (Quito Rayon- Richter) is more introspective — he gets in trouble for writing poems in history class. The dad, though, is nowhere to be seen. He moved in with his girlfriend and pays no child support. So Elisabeth is forced to search for a job to keep her family afloat.  She finds solace listening to a late-night radio talk show, and applies to work there. She lands a job at the switchboard vetting callers and guests for the host, Vanda (Emmanuelle Béart). She invites a young woman to the show based on a touching letter she wrote. Tallulah (Noée Abita) is 18 but has lived on the streets of Paris for years, sleeping under bridges and in squats. She has raven hair, pale skin and doe eyes. 

Elisabeth can’t stand the thought of her sleeping in the rough, so she invites Tallulah to stay, temporarily, in a spare room tucked away far above their apartment. She wants to keep her separate from her kids, but they soon meet up. She’s street smart, and teaches them how to live on nothing and tricks like how to get into a movie theatre without a ticket. Matthias is smitten by her and longs to take it further. But after a late night tryst, she flees the apartment and disappears, leaving the family shocked and saddened. Four years later, things have changed. The kids are growing up, Elisabeth has gained self-confidence and she has a day job and a much younger boyfriend named Hugo.  But when her ex says he’s selling the home, it’s time for major changes. That’s when Tallulah reappears again at their door in a bad state. Can Elisabeth save Tallulah from her spiral into darkness? And what will the future bring?

Passengers of the Night is a beautiful and heartfelt look at a Parisian family navigating its way through unexpected shifts in their lives, and how a visitor can change everything. The film is set in the 80s (from 1981 through 1988), not just the costumes, music, and Talulah’s big hair but also the tumultuous political and social changes from that era. And it’s punctuated by views of Paris from that era — high-rises, sunsets and views through commuter train windows — shot on a narrower bias, to give it a realistic feel. While more gentle than a sob story, it still brings tears to your eyes.

Passengers of the Night and Apples are both playing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. And Moloch is now streaming on Shudder.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Saturday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

In the shadows. Films reviewed: Hellbender, Cyrano

Posted in 1600s, Coming of Age, Family, Feminism, France, Horror, Musical, Supernatural, Swashbuckler by CulturalMining.com on February 26, 2022

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

February, always the worst moth of the year, is finally coming to an end, and the theatres are all opening up again. This week, I’m looking at two new movies, a musical and a horror story. There’s a French wordsmith who hides in the shadows, and an American hellbender who never leaves her home.

Hellbender

Wri/Dir:John Adams, Zelda Adams and Toby Poser

Izzy (Zelda Adams) is a typical teenaged girl. She’s 

a vegetarian, wears  hoodies and converse sneakers, and is in a goth rock band called Hellbender (she plays the drums). She lives with her mom  (Toby Poser) in a big wooden house on top of a small mountain surrounded by lush forests and a bubbling brook. So what’s so special about Izzy? She’s never seen or spoken to anyone except her mom since she was five years old. She suffers from a rare disease and outside contact could kill her. 

But one day she wanders to the edge of their property and sees another young woman in a backyard swimming pool.

Amber (Lulu Adams)  who is brash and outspoken, invites Izzy to join her.  Why, Amber wants to know, have they never met before (Izzy says it’s because she’s home schooled.) She returns the next week for a swimming party, where she meets a guy who says her disease doesn’t match her symptoms (he’s a pre-med student). So she won’t die from getting to close. Then he dares her to drink a shot of tequila and swallow the worm — but he puts a live worm into her glass. The results are surprising. Everything starts to blur, voices whisper in her ear, and she’s filled with lust, anger and a strange new power. She wakes up at home, and has lots of questions. 

Her mom apologizes. There is no illness, she says. You’re not in danger, other people are. We are Hellbenders, people with great power. When you ate that worm, you gained power from its fear of death. And the bigger the animal you consume, the more power you have, and the more dangerous you become. That’s why I’ve been keeping you isolated she says. So you can live like a human. But now that she knows who she is, what will become of Izzy?

Hellbender is a cool low-budget supernatural horror movie. It has a very small cast and I think (just going by names) they’re all related and maybe all in the band Hellbender. It has a good “look” to it, too: there are jagged black rocks on the mountainside, and nice leafy woods. The trippy, psychedelic dream sequences are short but very well done. One part I didn’t like was the opening sequence — a Salem village-type hanging of a witch — it felt unnecessary, but, other than that, this is a tight mother-daughter, drama that combines horror with a coming-of-age of a young woman discovering her power.

Cyrano

Dir: Joe Wright

It’s 17th century France. Cyrano de Bergerac (Peter Dinklage) is a decorated soldier, a champion fencer in the King’s guard, as well as an exceptionally eloquent poet. He wows the crowds at a theatrical performance where he takes down the awful lead actor through the use of verbal barbs and comical swordsmanship. There he catches the eye of a woman named Roxanne (Haley Bennet). She’s a beautiful aristocrat but also a penniless orphan, destined to marry an aristocrat. They get to know each other and she comes to adore and admires him. Likewise, Cyrano swears he’ll be her lifelong protector. He’s actually in love with her…but never expresses that love because of his appearance. You see, he is a little person. And he is resigned to failure when she tells him she’s in love, but not with him, with a handsome, but inarticulate musketeer named Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr). Cyrano is forced to support Roxanne by helping his rival, to the extent where he expresses his love for her in letters that are sent by Christian.  Later he even hides in the shadows feeding lines to Christian wooing Roxanne on her balcony. Will she ever discover his true love for her? And that the love letters are from Cyrano, not Christian? Can she escape the wicked aristocrat she is meant to marry? And who will survive the coming wars?

Cyrano is a new musical version of the classic French play. In the original, Cyrano has such a big nose that he thinks his true love will never desire him. This time it’s that he’s too short. Does this new version work? Sadly no. Dinklage was fantastic in Game of Thrones and various movies; and Kelvin Harrison Jr is one of the best young actors around (in movies like Waves, Luce, and It Comes at Night). But this is a musical, and there’s an old theatrical term called a “triple threat” — an actor who can also sing and dance. Dinklage and Harrison are single threats. Great actors but not so great as singers and dancers. (Haley Bennet as Roxanne does have a good voice) And the music is terrible. Fans of the band The National might like these songs but I found them tedious, repetitive, and totally uninspiring. Not a catchy tune anywhere. The dance scenes have the lead characters standing still surrounded by weirdly dressed dancers who twist all around them, so you don’t notice. The sad parts aren’t really sad, the funny parts aren’t  that funny, and the story is so famous that there are no surprises anywhere. It’s based on an earlier stage version but they didn’t do much to make it cinematic — it was almost like watching a filmed play. I wanted it to be good, but sad to say, this Cyrano sucked.

Cyrano opens theatrically in Toronto this weekend; check your local listings. Hellbender is currently streaming on Shudder.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Saturday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

Northern Europe. Films reviewed: The Good Traitor, Boys from County Hell, About Endlessness

Posted in comedy, Denmark, Diplomacy, Experimental Film, Family, Horror, Ireland, Religion, Sweden, Vampires, WWII by CulturalMining.com on April 23, 2021

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

I don’t care what they tell you, movies are not the same without the whole movie experience — going out, choosing a movie, standing in line, eating popcorn… and sitting in a large space beside a crowd of strangers laughing, booing or screaming to the same things you are. You can’t get that watching a laptop or a flat screen TV.

Remember TimePlay? That movie trivia game you used to play before the film starts? Well, they’re about to launch a TimePlay app, replicating the movie experience, where you get to compete against other movie buffs in real time (The winner gets Cineplex Scene card points). I tried it out this week in a trial run for media, and it’s goofy but a lot of fun.

This week I’m looking at three very different movies, all from northern Europe; an existential arthouse film, a comedy/ horror, and an existential arthouse film, and an historical drama. There’s a Swedish storyteller, a Celtic vampire, and a Danish diplomat.

The Good Traitor

Dir: Christina Rosendahl

It’s 1939 in Washington DC, on the brink of WWII. Henrik Kauffmann (Ulrich Thomsen) is the Danish Ambassador, who lives with his brilliant wife Charlotte (Denise Gough) and their two young daughters. It’s a pleasant life, drinking champagne by the swimming pool or mingling at a cocktail party… but beneath the surface, everyone knows Hitler is going to invade Denmark. Should they just let it happen? Or should they do what they can to stop it? The Nazis march in and the Danish government declares  nothing bad is happening here. But Henrik and an earnest young Danish lawyer (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard) decide to do something drastic. They declare themselves representatives of the Free Danish Government in exile. And they’re joined by a dozen other Danish Embassies around the world. But can they do for money? And will they get US government support them. (The US stayed out of the war until Pearl Harbour in late 1941).

This is where the real power comes to play. It’s Charlotte, his brilliant wife. Her family has been friends with the Roosevelts since long before she met Henrik. But can she convince FDR to side with her husband? But there’s a twist;  Henrik had a fling with Zilla, Charlotte’s vivacious younger sister (Zoë Tapper) a decade earlier in Beijing. And now she’s sure they’re sleeping together again in Washington. Will Charlotte and Henrik’s troubled relationship influence the geopolitical fate of the world?

The Good Traitor is a fascinating WWII drama viewed from afar, within the safe confines of Washington’s diplomatic corps. It gives hints at the importance of diplomacy and politics in world events, and how much of it takes place behind closed doors. And so do their personal relationships. This is a very tame retelling of true events, with no battles, no death, no violence, except for a shocking twist (no spoilers). But I liked it.

Boys from County Hell

Dir: Chris Baugh

Eugene (Jack Rowan) is a youngish guy who lives in a small Irish town called Six Mile Hill. Its main claim to fame is its association with Dracula author Bram Stoker, and an ancient cairn (that’s a pile of stones) on a field. It’s said to be the burial place of a legendary vampire known as the Abhartach. When he’s not cleaning up an old house his mother left him,  Eugene is probably hanging at the local pub with his best mates William (Fra Fee) his girl friend Claire (Louisa Harland) and SP (Michael Hough) the bearded maniac. They earn extra bucks as tour guides for gullible tourists. But one night, in the dark, William is brutally slaughtered near the cairn. Is there something to this vampire myth? Things are brought to a head when Eugene’s dad Francie, a hard-ass contractor, hires him to tear down the cairn, to make way for a development plan, damn the possible  consequences. But someone, or something, doesn’t like that. Have they gone to far? And is the entire village in danger if the Abhartach returns?

Boys from County Hell is a horror comedy, with an emphasis on the horror, but told in a lighter style. That means lots of blood, in the most disgusting way  possible (when a vampire gets close, blood starts to flow spontaneously from the eyes and noses of anyone nearby.) But there are also a lot of over-the-top violence of the dark humour type, and quite a few surprises — there’s a mystery element. This is a very Irish movie, meaning you may have to turn on the subtitles to understand what some of them are saying. I haven’t seen a good vampire movie in quite a while, and this one varies from a lot of the cliches. The cast is appealing and the pace never drags. I quite liked this one, too.

About Endlessness

Wri/Dir: Roy Andersson

A middle-aged man and woman are sitting on a park bench on a hillside overlooking a vast grey city. They tell each other interlocking stories, about men or women they saw — either in a dream, in a fantasy or in reality (it’s never made clear) People like an awkward virginal young man staring longingly at a busty hairdresser watering a dying potted palm. Or a  man who gets increasingly frustrated by a stranger who ignores him passing by on an outdoor staircase, who he recognizes as someone he had bullied years ago in public school. And a catholic priest having a nervous breakdown because he lost his faith while preparing the communion — with a psychiatrist who refuses to see him because he doesn’t want to miss the bus home. Add to this Hitler in his bunker, a father killing his daughter in an honour killing, prisoners in a Siberia trudging toward a gulag, and an ethereal couple in their nightgowns floating far above a city.

If you’ve ever seen a Roy Andersson movie, you’ll understand that there’s no linear narrative, no main characters, or plot, per se. Rather it’s a series of vignettes that together share a theme.  In this one this Ione the theme seems to be about the unrelenting melancholy, frustration and futility, passing from generation to generation. Everything is ordinary, sepia toned and middling in its regularity. People wear plain, dumpy clothes, with average bodies and faces, People rarely speak and the camera hardly moves.

It sounds like I hated this movie, but I actually loved it.  About Endlessness avoids prettiness like the plague, and is never twee. And it somehow manages to imbue common, depressing thoughts with an ethereal majesty. 

The Good Traitor is now playing in VOD, Boys from County Hell starts streaming today on Shudder, and Beyond Endlessness opens next Friday at the Digital TIFF Bell Lightbox. And Timeplay is now running online every Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday at 8:30 pm ET.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

%d bloggers like this: