There are three identities that come to mind when I think of Iceland. One is of the vast and breathtaking landscape, which is so obscenely grand it is almost supernatural. The second is the capital of Reykjavík that carried the country’s dark financial gloom not so long ago. The last, slides far down the scale of grandiose into the quaint peaceful life of the villages that surround the country’s perimeter. This is where Nói albino takes place. Far away from civilization, green grass and warm sun. First released in 2003 by Director Dagur Kari, what Nói albino does, is the incredible job of merging the immense and humbling Icelandic landscape with the day to day life of inhabitants who reside in a small fishing village on the west side of the country.
I first found Fawns while I was busy looking for something else, and it has since proved to be a lesson for me on managing my expectations. Ironically, I had impatiently been waiting for The Fourth Dimension to be released, the collection of short films from different directors curated by Harmony Korine of which Fawns is the last. The longer I waited the taller my expectations on what Korine would deliver grew to mountain heights. To my surprise, when it was released I was disappointed with most of it, until Jan Kwiecinski’s 30-minute adventure Fawns blew me away.
Admittedly, there have been moments in my life when I have lead a causal game of “Would You Rather” in a politically incorrect and permissive environment. My invented questions lump implausible on top absurd and usually force the person on the other end to choose some type of excruciating embarrassment as their out. I have come to terms with the possibility that there may be others out there who probably play as dirty as me. What I never would have assumed is that this concept could be translated on film into a story so powerful and moving. Martin Rosete (Director) and Luiso Berdejo (Screenplay) uses a type of “Would You Rather” approach in their award winning short film, Voice Over.
Years ago, I read an article about a handful of artists and entrepreneurs, who had re-appropriated industrial squat space and neglected mansions into studios and art galleries. The ‘who’ and ‘when’ bit of the article escaped me soon after reading, but I never forgot the “where”. Detroit, and its deserted imagery, has been on my mind ever since.
Forgotten by industry, the abandoned metropolis, formerly known as the “Paris of the West” for its grand urban landscape and Art Deco design, now suffers from deplorable neglect. Once the fastest growing city in the world, today, Detroit holds on to 40, 000 abandoned houses, of which some can be purchased for less than $6, 000. It is home to architectural gems such as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s modernist Lafayette Park, and the neoclassical Michigan Central Train Station, yet it is not uncommon to have only one house inhabited within a three block radius. Teetering on bankruptcy, last year the city was forced to shut off half its street lights in order to save a buck.
Although almost impossible to believe, this is the reality of an American city. Directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, and nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, Detropia, Detroit’s symphonic distress call to the rest of the world, will shock you with its statistics and haunting imagery of what once was.
Chronicling the pre-depression era rise and the post-nineteen eighties demise of the Motor City, the sad tale Detropia tells is affective, with a sensibility not commonly associated with vacant lots and forsaken automotive plants. The crux of Detropia lies with its narrators and the interviewed citizens of Detroit who in the face of a population consolidation refuse to leave their city’s dying side.
Not all is lost, though. There is a light at the end of Detropia’s dark tunnel, and it belongs to art. The shocking fact that one family every twenty minutes moves out of Detroit is counteracted by the calibre of a population moving in. Visionaries, artists, and young professionals seeking to rebuild such as organizations like Ponyride and Loveland Technologies will lead Detroit to its Hollywood ending. Where there is crisis, there is opportunity, and where there is hope, there is determination.
There are two types of people in this world – those who can control themselves around food and those who cannot. I happen to be one of the joyful gluttons who cannot. In an ideal world, my voracious eating habits would be seen as gourmand or sensualist. In reality, if there is one last morsel of bread left in the basket I will make it my steadfast mission to toast it, dip in chocolate sauce, melt 12 year-old cheddar into its spongy core, or encapsulate it in sweet strawberry jam. It will be eaten, and it can get ugly, but I’m prepared to defend my passions. After all, if nothing else, food is emotional.
Be forewarned, the descriptor title of Rick Alverson’s ‘The Comedy’ is largely a misnomer. The film may boast a comedian as its front man and there is a chance that if you like black comedy (and I mean the blackest, soot covered, darkest kind) some type of uncontrollable laughter may ensue. Released in 2012 on the indie label Jagjaguwar, the point of ‘The Comedy’ isn’t to make you laugh. The point is to make you feel uncomfortable, to question motivation and to allow some room for the uninhibited to breathe. Alverson’s success in this regard, whether you like it or not, lies in the hands of comedian Tim Heidecker, the face of ‘The Comedy’ who incites anger or awe from his performance.
Known mainly for his off-beat show ‘Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job’, Heidecker’s comedy is eccentric and off-beat, yet compellingly addictive with the intention of making you squirm. Here, in his dramatic role as Swanson, an aimless overgrown Williamsburg hipster, Heidecker lives to provoke and push behavioural limits, expectations and social norms.
Playing what is essentially a wealthy hobo who lives off the family buck, Swanson is accountable to no one, and lives his life in direction-less escape with friends (James Murphy from LCD Soundsystem and Eric Warehein from the Tim and Eric show). As he patiently waits for his father to die, leaving him a hefty inheritance, Swanson, cares about nothing in the process. He embodies the final gestures of someone who has reached the ultimate limit of apathy, the cultural phenomenon that is sweeping the twenty/thirty something generation. A jerk, in the lightest of terms, his only appeal and intrigue can be found when Alverson beautifully captures his rare his moments of introspection pointing to a deep sadness, but one that will not be examined here.
The sarcastic wit of the loosely improvised dialogue is truly brilliant, and Alverson nails the ethereal and easy lifestyle of what hipster dreams are made of; but any film that guarantees to hurt this many feelings should be watched with a fair bit of caution, perhaps under a blanket or at least while bearing the thickest of skins.
After almost too many years of waiting, the audience finally gets what it wants. The nerd/geek fantasy first came to life to the tune of billions of dollars of revenue and endless DVD sets, each claiming to be more essential, more complete, more fulfilling than the last. 9 years after snagging 11 Oscars at the 74th Academy Awards for its grand finale, The Lord of the Rings receives the beginning of the prequel that started it all: The Hobbit, elongated and trifurcated for our viewing pleasure.
Maybe it’s the imminent decent of cold weather on the east coast or the controversial holiday stir that is rising out of a soon to be gender neutral Sweden, but Scandinavia seems to be everywhere I look lately, and I love it. Known mainly for films that explore the bleak side of existence with two very famous exports, Lars Von Trier and Ingmar Bergman figuring at the top of the region’s stark and melodramatic brand, the cinema of this region is not to be ignored.
One of the best films out of Norway in the last coupe of years is Jens Lien’s The Bothersome Man. It is a quiet subtle film, which focuses on the non-verbal and the implied in its exploration of a disturbed parallel reality. If you have ever worked a painful office job and longed for the day that you would be able to break free from the suspended ceiling tiles and monotonous rhythm of the photocopy machine, you will understand The Bothersome Man.
Set in dystopian Iceland, a world that looks unchanged from the land we know today, Andreas (Trond Fausa) is transported (literally) into his new mediocre middle class life. Provided an office job, an apartment, a wife and friends from an unknown source, the new life of Andreas denotes perfection on the surface, yet why does he still feel empty? Realizing that he is the emotional outsider of his cold surroundings, Andreas notices that human indulgences, from the taste of food to the feeling of love, are absent in his new world. Additionally, he begins to witness strange occurrences that all point towards the inability of his fellow coworkers to be able to feel (physically and emotionally).
As Andreas becomes aware that he is also moving towards apathy and desensitization, his only answer is to inflict as much pain as possible on himself in order to escape the dystopian world through suicide. But even that is met with failure. Until he discovers what he thinks is utopia, a gateway to another world on the other side of a concrete wall in the basement of a random apartment building. Andreas is determined to get to the other side.
There are a plethora of amazing Scandinavian films for lovers of early cinema and devotees to contemporary culture. The Bothersome Man is one, five other noteworthy films available on iTunes and Netflix are Wild Strawberries, The Celebration, Antichrist, Let the Right One In and Insomina (the 1997 version).