Are you an urban dweller who secretly nourishes a dream about living in the countryside? Do you find the idea of life at a farm, close to crops and animals seem attractive to you, more “real” than the artificial life you lead in the city?
I that case I’ve got a cure for you. Watch Xavier Dolan’s new psychological thriller Tom at the Farm and I think you’ll drop whatever romantic idea you have about how cosy and friendly a rural life will be.
The film begins when Tom (played by the director, who also has produced, written and edited the film, multi-talented as he is) travels to a rural area in Canada to attend the funeral of his boyfriend, Guillame. It turns out that Guillame hasn’t told his family about his homosexuality or about the existence of Tom. It’s only Frances, the brother, who understands what’s going on. And it’s an understatement to say that he’s unhappy about it.
The relationship between Tom and Frances is bad from the start and gets weirder and weirder over the course of the movie. There’s mourning, there’s guilt, there’s a bit of erotic tension and attraction, but most of all there’s a ton of violence and abuse combined with a case of Stockholm Syndrome. And as you watch Tom sinking deeper into his misery, you get more and more frustrated until you reach the boiling point and just want to stand up I the theatre to him: “FFS, GET OUT OF THAT PLACE! “
A darker film
This is quite far away from Xavier Dolan’s last movie, Laurence Anyways. That film too had a serious theme, about a man struggling with his gender identity. But it also contained some beautiful, imaginative shots, such as the butterfly flying out of the mouth of a man or clothes falling from the sky like snow. It gave it a lighter, more playful tone.
There are no such fantasy scenes in Tom at the Farm. We keep getting back to the brown soil, the cows that need to be milked, the corn that cuts you if you try to run through it, the loneliness at the table in the kitchen. Darkness, rain, guilt, violence and aggression – openly displayed or luring under the surface. No dreams. No love. And not a lot of hope.
I liked this film quite a bit. It left me exhausted (watching a lot of aggressive behaviour in a film has that effect on me), but also with a sense of gratitude of living where I do: in a city.
Car pollution or not – the air here is a great deal easier to breathe than it is elsewhere.
Tom at the Farm (Tom à la ferme, Xavier Dolan, CA 2013) My rating: 4/5
Some fellow Swedish movie bloggers also watched Tom at the farm. Here’s what they made of it:
One of the things I love about Lost in Translation is how well it conveys the feeling of being lost meeting an alien culture. It’s not just that you don’t understand the language; you don’t understand the context either, what is going on, what the cultural references are, why people are behaving the way they do. You’re just… completely lost.
I sensed a bit of this as I watched Nugulumar Z when it played at Stockholm Film Festival. It was so strange and so alien that I sensed how I sometimes fell into a nervous laughter that must have come out of a weird defence mechanism.
“Bizarre” is the first word that pops into my mind as I’m trying to come up with a way to describe what this manga inspired action comedy is like. The next word that comes up is “Pink”.
I’ve never seen a movie this pink before. The teddy bear is pink and the Lolita girl is pink and the superhero is pink and the swooshing and swirling when she transforms is also pink. And there are pink petals flying around everywhere. It’s just the blood flies in the air every time the zombies attack that is red. Just like the tomato juice it probably is.
A planet somewhere in the universe has been destroyed in a disaster. Its cotton looking inhabitants have fled towards Earth. A few of them have by accident flown into the filling of teddy bears, which by some magic gives them a way to survive. They’re empowered by the love from the kids who own the toys, I think. Two of those refugees are former military companions. The end up in different teddy bears, one pink, one black, where the pink obviously is the good one and the black… well you can figure.
Then there’s this girl – or young woman, I can’t tell how old she is – who dresses like a cosplay Lolita girl. She and the teddy bear sometimes melt together into a third creature, the superhero Nuigulumar, who looks kind of teddy bearish but girlish too. Her mission is to fight her equivalence on the dark side, the black teddy bear villain, who otherwise will assemble myriads of zombies and then conquer the world.
In this world there are also encounters with other interesting creatures, such as an evil giant baby (a reference to Spirited Away?) and “lazy manga readers”, which are a bunch of grown-up men who attack the heroes rolling around the floor aggressively while reading manga. There’s also a boy (who later on turns out to be a girl), who fights by throwing spoons all over the plays. Oh, and I have to mention the girls who suddenly say that they’re too embarrassed now, so they tear off their clothes an start to levitate wile laser beams are shooting out from their nipples.
At times the acting is so bad that the school plays we did at school when I was ten seem like masterpieces. The film makers must have brought all their friends and friends of friends, rubbed some blueberry jam into their faces, telling them to “act like a zombie” without waiting for a confirmation that they knew what a zombie was. And let’s not get started about some of the special effects.
On the other hand: I must admit that I laughed quite a bit, at least for the first hour, after which it started to feel overly long and I couldn’t absorb more strangeness. (The fart jokes never got me laughing though. It boggles my mind why the Japanese apparently find them funny at all.)
All in all I ended up liking this movie pretty much. Or rather: I liked the experience I had watching it. It’s unlikely I’ll ever watch it again. On a second watch, I suspect that it would have lost that fresh, crispy feeling you only get when you’re far outside of your comfort zone.
Now I understand better what the food nerds strive for when they eat all sorts of weird things that I wouldn’t even consider putting into my mouth. They don’t eat it because they expect it to be delicious. They do it to broaden their horizons, adding yet another food memory to their collection. That was also what I did s I watched this film. I expanded my film universe.
A film can be so many different things. This is one of them.
Nuigulumar Z (Noboro Iguchi, JA 2013) My rating: 3/5
I watched the movie in company with a few other Swedish film bloggers. Here’s what they made of it:
For me the typical festival movie is one where the sky always is grey. You get plenty of time to study it because once in a while they turn up the camera and lock it on the moving clouds.
It’s slow. Or perhaps “subtle” is a nicer way to put it? In any case you need to fuel up with a bucket sized coffee in order to resist the reoccurring attacks of urgent sleepiness that you’re likely to encounter.
The music is quiet, sad and hesitating and consists of either a single violin or a piano.
The people in it don’t speak. They just stare out in the blue, thinking of something. What that “something” is remains a secret, as the meaning of the whole thing. We’re supposed to figure this out by ourselves. The vaguer it is the better. It gives the audience more interpretations to debate over as they’re waiting in the queue for the next festival film.
As a help for discussion there are symbols. Some of them are mandatory, such as the swim in the pool or the sea. Every character needs a bit of cleansing once in a while! And don’t forget to include an animal. Bird in the sky: freedom. Deserted, injured cub in need of help: the love the character always wanted but never got.
Touring the festivals
Blue Caprice has everything of this (well apart from the cub), and has consequently become very successful at the festival tour. According to IMDb it’s been travelling around the world since its premier at Sundance film festival in January. From US it went to France, then across the Atlantic again to Brazil, then Poland and now Sweden at Stockholm Film Festival. But it’s all been festival screenings. The question is: will it ever get a “normal” audience, like in a theatre? I’m not sure. I don’t think people outside of the festival circuit are as patient with subtle contemplation and interpretation of symbols. They don’t need a constant flow of action, that’s not what I’m saying. But they ask – rightly so – to be emotionally involved. They want to feel something fear, sorrow, joy, pity, excitement. And that’s not what they get here, which is a little bit strange considering the topic.
This film is based on a real event that took place in 2002, when ten people were murdered over the course of a few weeks in Washington DC, Maryland in Virginia. The attacks were performed by two men who picked their targets randomly and shot them. It sounds as a story that could be engaging regardless which perspective you’d pick: the one of the victims, of the assassinators or the cops that were trying to catch them. It turns out that this film chooses to entirely focus on the shooters. The problem is that it never makes any serious attempt to let us into their minds, to see what’s going on inside, why they became like this and what they’re feeling and thinking about it.
As the movie finished I knew barely anymore about the guys than I did when it started. Well, I know that one of them had a conflict with his ex over the custody of their children and the other one had been abandoned by his mother. That was it and it wasn’t enough for me chew on, not enough for me to start caring.
But if grey skies, people silently staring out through the window and slow, quiet music in the background tickles you somehow, this is probably a perfect fit.
Despite my lack of enthusiasm, I’ll give it as much as that it’s nicely crafted and there’s nothing wrong about the acting. Considering it’s the debut movie of the director, it’s not bad at all. I just hope the next project he does will contain a little bit more of… should I call it mojo? With that he could make a movie that would be energetic enough to keep you awake even if you haven’t had buckets of coffee on beforehand. And who knows, maybe he could take the step outside of the festival bubble?
Blue Caprice (Alexandre Moors, US 2013) My rating: 2,5/5
I watched this film at the Stockholm Film Festival in company with a few other Swedish film bloggers. Here’s what they made of the movie:
It’s Thanksgiving Day and two families have come together to celebrate it with food, wine, singing and storytelling. Two young girls, one from each family, leave the party to quickly run over to the other house to get something. But they never come back and the families start searching for them, panic rising with every minute.
This is the beginning of Prisoners, a crime drama on the theme of child abduction and what you’re ready to do as a parent in order to get back your kid. This turns out to be a lot. One of the fathers gets into a state of mind that isn’t all that far away from what Ryan Gosling did in Drive.
Needless to say this is uncomfortable to watch and squishies should be warned: this might be too much for you (I had to cover my eyes a few times.) But it’s also very suspenseful and engaging. My attention didn’t drop for a second. In this way it reminds me of the director Denis Villeneuve’s previous movie, Incendies. Both movies contain a great deal of violence, both movies are emotionally powerful and both movies are built up as mysteries. We get a riddle. We get an investigation and a few twists and turns along the ride. (Some may argue that they could see them coming, but I didn’t. I ever went ahead of what was presented to me). And then we get a satisfying explanation that ties it all together.
When I left the theatre I felt exhausted and a bit bruised. It’s not just because the running time is long (over 2.5 hours); it’s also that there’s so much to take in as a viewer during those hours. I couldn’t have been more tired if I had been binge watching an entire season of a TV series.
Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal are both excellent as the worried father respectively the main police investigator. They’re so much one with their character that you forget that they are actors. The setting is also very realistic and feels familiar with the suburban environment, the pine forest and the winter weather: typical Scandinavian.
As I watched Hugh Jackman’s character crossing line after line in order to get his daughter back, I couldn’t stop repeating in my head, silently: “No, don’t go that way. Do NOT go that way. NOT. I know how you’re feeling, but it isn’t right”.
But again: who am I to judge? As much as I’m against torture and death penalty, it’s the first thing that would come to mind if someone did anything bad against my daughters. So who am I to judge?
Anyway: if you want an engaging, well-crafted mystery that will keep you mentally as well as emotionally occupied for an entire evening, Prisoners is one of the better choices right now (provided that you’ve already watched Gravity and Captain Phillips).
Prisoners (Denis Villeneuve, US 2013) My rating 4/5
Wroooouuummmm! Iaaauuuoooooschhhhhhh! Euooooooouuuu! Pfffshhhhhouuuuuu!
OK, I’m sorry. I’m a lousy imitator. But I case you didn’t recognize it: it’s supposed to be a car engine. Don’t ask me which, because I can’t tell one from the other. But there are others who can, such as the people over at Sports car digest: “When you saw a Lotus, a McLaren or a six-wheeled Tyrrell P34 you heard a Cosworth DFV V-8, and when you saw a BRM or a Ferrari you heard their respective V or flat-12.” I take this as an approval.
In any case, I just wanted to start off this post by a sound, because the roaring of the cars is one of the things that I enjoyed most about Rush. I know it comes off as a little bit odd. Who above the age of eleven gives a crap about accelerating sports cars? It’s just ugly, annoying noise, polluting the silence?
Nevertheless, as little sense as it makes, my heart started to beat a bit quicker every time the noise went up and I knew that the group of cars was approaching.
Partly it was because I – for good reasons – worried about the security of the drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda, whose rivalry the film is all about. Without knowing anything about the true story, I couldn’t see how this could end in any other way than a car crash of some sort.
But there was also this other element of joy: the thrill when the sound waves went into my seat so I could feel it vibrating, the rush of adrenaline as the car accelerated. For a brief moment it was me clinging to the back of the flying, roaring dragon, trying to become its master.
In reality I’m of course a coward of a driver, unable to get a go-cart run any faster than walking speed. The one time I tried, at a work-event, I had to step out after just a few rounds since all the twisting and turning made me nauseous. However there is something about the craziness, the speed and the people putting their lives at risk that attracts me.
If the film had been completely fictional they would probably have turned one of the drivers into a hero and the other one a villain. As it is now they’re presented as different personality types. One is a perfectionist, grinding his way to stardom by calculations and hard work. The other one is a talent, who wins thanks to his intuition and fearlessness. Both are likeable in their own way, even though I personally found it easier to identify with Lauda, the geek, than Hunt, the playboy.
I’m a little bit late with this review and I’m afraid that the movie probably doesn’t run in a lot of theatres at this point. It’s a shame, because it should really be seen on a big screen. I suppose it’s watchable at home too, provided that you have a good sound system and patient neighbours.
Rush (Ron Howard, US 2013) My rating: 4/5
It doesn’t happen often that Sweden appears in news headlines over the world. Abba is still fondly remembered by some, but apart from that, tidings from this dark and remote area doesn’t catch a lot of attention.
Apart from the successful football player Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who makes the headlines every now and then, last time Sweden appeared worldwide was probably when the sexual assault charges came up against Julian Assange. Now however we’ve made it again. The word about the A-rating of movies that pass the Bechdel test became a major hit in media this past week. While I’m not a huge advocator of this label, I can’t help feeling a little satisfied and proud seeing Sweden getting all this attention and being described like a gender equality heaven.
With the spotlight directed at Sweden, I thought I might as well grab the opportunity to point the international audience of The Velvet Café to two Swedish movies that came out recently. They are my favourite Swedish movies of the year so far, and I have high hopes for the chances that some distributor will help them to find an audience abroad. They sure deserve to reach a bigger market. And if they do, you’ll hopefully remember that I recommended them to you.
My first recommendation is Hotell, which as opposed to what the unremarkable title leads you to believe is quite special.
In the centre of the movie is Erika who is about to have her first child and as every upper middleclass woman these days, has everything planned in detail. But life doesn’t always obey to plans and wishes, and after a trauma, she ends up depressed, which leads her to group therapy. After one of the therapy sessions, an idea is tossed out: wouldn’t it be nice to check out from your own life, as if you were going to a hotel where you could live someone else’s life for a while? Before we know it, it’s been settled. They’re doing this for real and we’re follow them as they explore new and sometimes pretty kinky sides of themselves.
I think humour and darkness makes a wonderful combination. It’s far more accessible than the plot description may lead you to believe. I wouldn’t rule out that someone will do a remake of it for the US market. The theme of it feels universal.
We Are the Best!
In the name of transparency I should probably tell you right away that my judgement is somewhat clouded in the case of We Are the Best! This film is about three teenage girls who decide to form a punk band in 1982. Basically it’s about me. I too was a punk rocker in the early 80s, I too played in a band for a while. And I too listened to and loved a lot of the music that is played in the movie. I still know many of those text lines by heart and it was only with some effort that I could supress my urges to start singing along.
Like in an earlier movie by Lukas Moodysson, Together, it’s spot on in every little detail when it comes to how people dress, what they eat and what furniture they have at home. It’s a pleasant (and somewhat unpleasant, because being 13 kind of sucks sometimes) walk down the memory lane for everyone who was around at that time.
But if I try to get rid of my own luggage, watching it with the eyes of someone from a different background, I think it’s still enjoyable. The girls have some issues, but it’s still mostly light and upbeat in the tone, reminding of the earlier success films by Moodysson (Show me Love and Together) in its style. The perspective is always the one of the girls. Grown-ups appear in the background, boys will come and go, but they can’t compete with the friendship between the girls, which is the beating heart in the film. And yes, of course it passes the A-rating I’d even give it a double A. Or make it a triple, one for each band member. They’re the best.
Hotell (Lisa Langseth, SWE 2013) My rating: 4,5/5
We Are the Best! (Vi är bäst!, Lukas Moodysson, SWE 2013) My rating: 5/5
Perhaps it’s just an age thing, but I think the Before series only gets better with each new installation.
It could of course be as simple as that it’s easier for me to recognize myself in them in the later installations. Jesse and Celine were almost in the age of my children in Before Sunrise. In Before Midnight on the other hand, they’re about my own age, perhaps just a couple of years younger. This makes me feel a lot closer to them. The life issues they’re struggling with are issues that I can understand.
But I think it’s more than just identification that makes the movies better and better. It’s also a question of how they develop and grow over time. With every new conversation a new layer is added. Do you remember the introduction to the symphony orchestra in Moonrise Kingdom, where one instrument after another is introduced? That’s how those movies run. And like in a symphony, there are melodies that keep coming back, but different every time.
Celine and Jesse keep growing. If they were like a simple house wine in the first film, nice and easy to drink, but not overly complicated, they have matured into something far deeper, more complex, with a full body and more tannin when we meet them now. And the older they get, the more do I like them. It’s the same as with trees. They’re not particularly interesting when they’re young and newly planted. But over time they develop a personality and they become rooted. Wrinkles are to humans what annual rings are to trees.
In the middle of this love letter to Before Midnight I must admit that I did notice one little dissonance in my experience of it. It didn’t by any means ruin the movie for me, but I had to wrestle with it a little before I could accept it. What bothered me was that I did notice some tendencies of stereotyping differences between men and women. You know in the “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” style, which I find pretty annoying. But after having a conversation with myself I found that I could accept it. After all: the movie doesn’t advocate this view on men and women; it just shows two people who are products of their upbringing. Perhaps I’m prejudiced, but I imagine that neither France, nor US is far progressed in this area. So it only reflects the time and the culture. I don’t need to agree with what they say.
That’s it though. I don’t have any other criticism against it. It’s a wonderful film in a wonderful series, which more and more is turning into a version of Scenes from a Marriage, but in a modern setting.
Richard Linklater refuses to say if there will be another Before movie or not. It’s not because it’s a secret; he doesn’t know himself yet. But I’m already hoping and waiting for another movie. The nine year countdown has started. And after that I hope there will be another one made, in 18 years. And then yet another, in 27 years.
It would continue like this, until we get the final film, at a point where Celine and Jesse will be like the couple in Haneke’s Amour. I wonder how I’ll feel about that one, provided that I’m still alive to see it. Will the reminder about my own aging and imminent death as I see their aging be too painful for me to watch? Or will the annual rings that I’ve grown over the years provide a skin think enough to protect me? I don’t know yet, as little as Jesse and Celine knew what awaited them as they met on the train so many years ago. But I’m willing to make the journey with them.
Before Midnight (Richard Linklater US 2013) My rating: 5/5