Berlinale Day 1: The Wound (2017)

A South African film was on show for the opening night of the Berlinale. Directed by John Trengove, it’s the story of Xolani, set against the backdrop of a local circumcision initiation ritual. Barely had I settled into my seat, that penises were being sliced up at the edge of a forest, in ad-hoc conditions. So, yeah, it caught my attention.

The whole story though finds itself at an interesting intersection between tradition, homosexuality and validation. For Xolani, who otherwise works in the city, it’s the yearly return ‘in the mountains’, to meet Vija, the man he loves. For Kwanda, Xolani’s initiate, it’s the pressure to conform with alpha male stereotypes. For most of the other participants, it’s a last stand in the face of modern turpitude, both a rite of passage into manhood and a rite of separation from the others. 

The first half or so of the movie, which sets the scene and introduces the characters, is almost fascinating. With strong acting all around, it’s easy to get sucked into the experience and what’s even more impressive, is the manner in which Trengove infuses such sensibility in something that otherwise could count as butch. The contrasting personalities are wrought with tension, culminating in some beautiful moments of just…being. It all comes to life thanks to commanding craftsmanship and an eye for strong visuals, which is one consistent feature throughout.

Unfortunately, the latter part of the film elects to go for a more traditional exposition and resolution, with uneven pacing. What’s worse though is the characters losing some of their sharpness, especially in scenes where they are turned into mere rhetoric tools. By the time the finale came around, I felt waywardly uninvolved. It’s like the need for relevance and clarity became overbearing.

All things considered, The Wound stands as a film that, at its best, conveys a unique poetic restraint. It might not shine all the way through, yet it provides insight into a corner of the world that’s usually left in the dark, tackling some big themes on the way. I would never want to fault someone for being too ambitious, so The Wound gets my recommendation.

***

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Movies of the Week #5 (2017)

Then the Lord said ‘let this week be random’. And it was random.

A week with Oscar contenders, new releases, classics, one of my favourites and an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. What else can a man desire?
 
Also, please don’t bat any eyelashes that a dystopian classic is rated as highly (lowly) as a movie where Arnie goes undercover in a kindergarten. That’s just how life is sometimes, funny.

Movie of the Week:

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (2016) (just kidding!)

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)

scott-pilgrim

Monday

  • Proof (2005): There I was, just turning on my TV on a Monday and the fresh face of Jake Gyllenhaal just popped up. It was Cinemax and part of my philosophy of life is that you don’t switch away from Cinemax if you have the time for a movie. Top Gyllenhaal with Anthony Hopkins and Gwyneth Paltrow – you’ve suddenly got quite the cast. Unfortunately, although not a complete mishit, the Proof is rather flimsy. Robert (a brilliant mathematician) withers away as the movie begins, having suffered some mental disturbance, with his daughter (Paltrow) left to clean up his legacy. In her aid comes Hal (Gyllenhaal), all preppy and fresh and somewhat irritating, whose PhD had been supervised by the deceased. He believes Robert might have left some fantastic last ditch proof to one mathematical conundrum or another in the piles of notebooks clamoring around his room. Then stuff happens. I enjoyed parts of the journey and even warmed to Paltrow, who is usually hard to warm to. But all these human-interest movies about science or mathematics follow familiar patterns and usually fall short in under-delivering on the latter. Being based on a play does little to help in terms of rhythm. However, the twist of the movie gives it a jolt in the last third, climaxing with a beautiful scene that I quoted earlier this week. 6/10

Wednesday

  • En man som heter Ove (2015)Contending in the Best Foreign Picture at the Oscars this year, A Man Named Ove is a Swedish film about a middle-aged ++ man who has recently lost his wife and, implicitly, his desire of living. How much of the grumpy, OCD behavior was there before one can speculate over, but throughout his routine, Ove desires to end it all – only to find out that it’s not that simple, as the (new) neighbors keep interfering with his suicide attempts. It’s funny, I just finished reading When Breath Becomes Air, and I dare draw a parallel, in that both deal with finding meaning in the face of emotional devastation. Clearly, in the case of the former, a cancer diagnosis provides a different frame, but Ove’s plight is not all that foreign, with spousal loss being named as one of the foremost shocks one can have to bear. And the movie manages to paint this picture, wherein Ove’s sense of purpose was deeply rooted in his marriage, as his wife was the counterpoint to his rather morose nature. Its shortcomings pertain to certain cliches and some discounted sentimentality, but all in all Ove is full of life in the face of death, which is something in itself. 7/10

Friday

  • Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984): Again, having fairly recently read the book for the first time (shame on me), seeing the movie came as a reflex. But I hadn’t decided on it until the passing of John Hurt, earlier this week. Add to this the fact that I had just rehashed Il Postino (1994) by the same director, Michael Radford, and it’s like life mischievously plots these things out. Unfortunately, while it sure as hell captures the dire mood and atmosphere of the book, the characters are so sterile it’s hard to ever get going emotionally. I’m not even sure how filmable 1984 is, such that, perhaps, this is pretty much the best one can achieve. Hurt is fine but insanely dry, with Julia (Suzanne Hamilton) a match, yet that’s how one would expect them to be. The only bit of juice came from Richard Burton, playing the infamous O’Brien. Burton actually passed away just after the movie was finished, which is not unlike what happened with Massimo Troisi in Radford’s Il Postino. Strange randomness. Anyhow, I didn’t even take the time to wonder how hard it would be to understand what’s going on if you haven’t read the book – this movie surely is not a replacement. 6/10

Saturday

  • Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (2016): What can I say, thank God it’s over! I’ve loathed the Resident Evil movies throughout their run, with a ratings streak like 4 – 3 – 4 – 5 -2 -4. Yet, like so many bad habits one acquires, seeing them through becomes like a mission. The bad Paul Anderson (not to be confused with the good Paul Anderson) just did whatever he felt like doing with a potentially cool game series adaptation, ripping off countless movies along the way. Things get really meta here, as we’re served the same laser-splicing scene we saw in the first movie, which even then had been blatantly copied off Cube (1997). Don’t even ask me about the plot, because I have no idea what Alice (Milla Jovovich) has been doing these last five movies. Luckily, you don’t need to worry about it either, because as in all the previous movies, a three minute recap offered in beautiful narration at the start is all you need to know. For this (hopefully) last ride, we’re gathered to watch the return to Raccoon City, where evil doers Umbrella have their underground HQ. Things blow up. People die. But it’s not like you care for anyone, so yeah. The only mildly positive thing to say is that the last twenty or so minutes are almost decent, this being the reason why I’ve settled on an almost above-average rating for this franchise’s standards. Also, seeing Jovovich in good form isn’t half bad an experience, which also applies to Iain Glen (Jorah from Game of Thrones), promoted to a title character after his negligible roles in the previous movies. Good riddance! 4/10
  • Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010): I first saw Scott Pilgrim on release, this being something like my 6th or 7th rewatch. Maybe it’s not fair to the other movies to include it, but I just needed to wash the aftertaste from RE with something soothing. Perhaps it does not have the most fascinating story, or even the most intriguing characters, but in this spectacle of romantic nerdyness, Edgar Wright recreates the comic book with exquisite feel for tempo and rhythm, building a memorable visual identity to what might otherwise have been a bland retelling of an age-old story. But I also love Scott Pilgrim because it has non-sexual-sado-masochistic shades of grey, it oozes self-irony and provides a near-endless amount of in-jokes. More on this in the review I’ll publish next week. 9/10

Sunday

  • Kindergarten Cop (1990): What better to do early Sunday morning than watch one of Arnie’s many implausible movies? I assume most people have seen it, or just stumbled across it on TV, as I did today, so I won’t spend a lot of text on this. All I’ll say is that it’s crazy how such an improbable concept can amount to a silly, yet enjoyable movie. It has something to do with the absurdity of it all, of life as we know it. 6/10
  • Don’t Look Now (1973): I’m always weary when it comes to canonical movies. They still intimidate me and I just hate lingering in a lukewarm ‘it was somewhat interesting, but I don’t get what’s so special about it’ place. This is what happened with Don’t Look Now as well, a psychological thriller starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, who play a bereaved couple, having just lost their daughter. The action is set in Venice, where Sutherland’s character works on the restoration of a church, but the spiritual connections will come mostly from an unlikely duo – an elderly woman with her equally elderly, but also blind sister. The latter claims to have the ability to see their dead daughter, while also being prescient and warning the couple to leave Venice ‘before it’s too late’. I’m not really sure what the movie plays at, although seeing the more stalwart and resilient father, a denier of grief, fall prey to danger while the mother seeks to work through her feelings openly, it does strike a note. What really caught my attention was the build-up, the atmosphere, and I find it admirable that although I’m not completely sure what all happened, or why it happened, or if I care that it happened, I still got sucked into the sense of dread. Does that make a classic? 7/10