a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

Posts tagged ‘Icelandic Saga’

icelandic Film Festival at Film Society of Lincoln Center

I have always been enthralled by Icelandic Cinema, and also dismayed by the almost complete lack of attention paid to it state-side. But the American glacier of indifference is slowly melting as evidenced by the historic Icelandic retrospective of films recently on display by the enterprising Film Society of Lincoln Center, which just had a very big spring with their Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in March.
Scheduled directly opposite the Tribecca Film Fest downtown,  this terrific retrospective tribute was struggling to gain media attention, and also public attention. But the films are very, very good, some of them unforgettable, and attention must be paid.
I was fortunate to have been in Reykjavik twice in its’ banner season of 1999-2000, when Baltasar Kormakur who is now one of the main forces in Icelandic cinema, had his first film “101 Reykjavik” a GLBT comedy/romance about lesbian marriage starring Spain’s Victoria Abril, open to record-breaking box-office attendance in Iceland.
Baltasar was also starring in the true Icelandic legend Fridrik Thor Fridriksson’s “Angels of the Universe” as a stuttering madman who thinks he is a Beatle.
The Film Society proclaimed “Angels of the Universe” as “Fridriksson’s masterpiece” having seen the film four or five times now over the years(once without English subtitles!) I can only heartily concur.
“Angels” is a haunting, beautifully rendered cry of great pain from the great heart of Fridriksson as he charts the downward spiral of schizophrenia in the true story of his best friend’s brother. Based on Einar Gudmundsson’s prize-winning book, its’ a compassionate, violent and also very funny look at Iceland’s attitude towards the insane. Ingvar Sigurdsson’s Pall is wrenchingly memorable as the central character who longs to paint or play music or SOMEthing, before his world fades inevitably to black.
And  the asylum he is sent to is almost a respite from the endless white noise in his head. There he encounters Baltasar Kormakur’s crazed/shy Beatles’ maniac, who stutters and strums his way into the viewers heart with an Icelandic “Hey Jude.” Kormakur utterly captivates the audience as he befriends the friendless Pall, who doesn’t seem insane to him at all.
The scene where they, on an illicit afternoon out, end up having the most expensive and delicious dinner of their lives at the Hotel Holt (yes, the Hotel Holt. I must be Icelandic going back centuries…) and then getting arrested when they, of course, try to walk out on their bill, It’s a hilarious set-piece and also heart-breaking as you realize this will never ever again happen in their imprisoned lives.
And there  is the suicide of another chain-smoking inmate played memorably by Hylmir Snaer Gudnsasson. Who was also the star of Baltasar’s “101 Reykjavik.”
And did I mention Baltasar was also directing “Midsummer’s Night Dream” at the National Theatre of Iceland while starring in another production there of “A Doll’s House.”? He’s a one-man Icelandic powerhouse.
Iceland also produces incredibly talented and versatile actors, by the dozens(literally) who populate the films in “Images” from the Edge” over and over again. In a country which now has a population of 320,000, there is a lot of artistic overlap, and because of the small size of its’ vibrant and highly creative film and theater community, actors are expected to be as skilled at drama, and comedy, and even musicals.And they are. Because if they want to work constantly, they have to be.
Baltasar Kormakur also proved a vital action hero in this festival’s “Reykjavik Rotterdam”(2008) directed by Oskar Jonasson. It’s a pulse pounding thriller, which had the highest audience turn-out so far at Lincoln Center this Sunday. You’ll be familiar with this story of luckless drug smuggling sailors as Kormakur just directed Mark Wahlberg in its’ American language re-incarnation this spring. It was “Contraband” and it made # 1 at the box-office, the first time any Icelandic director has ever done this American hat-trick, and it has catapulted Kormakur into directing Wahlberg’s next feature starring him and Denzel Washington and Paula Patton now lensing in New Orleans.
In addition to Fridrik Thor Fridriksson’s magnificent “Angels of the Universe”(2000),this towering almost -Viking figure, had THREE other films in the Festival, one of them “Rock in Reykjavik” from 1982, a doc on Iceland’s red-hot music scene, featuring a teen-aged Byork, in her then group called Tappi Tikarrass.Also “White Whales” (1987) and an installation in , off the main foyer of the Walter Reade Theater called “The Circle” or “Ring-Road” which looped constantly  in the Furman gallery, And hypnotized all who watched it as the camera,as Fridriksson described it, “moving at the speed of light” down Iceland’s all encompassing Hwy.No .1 which literally rings the island.
Set in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, this isolated volcanic island of poets, artists, actors and filmmakers touches the Arctic Circle. And anyone who seeks out any of these marvelous films(too numerous to mention here) will also be touched by this enchanted island’s magical allure. Iceland itself is always the main character in any of its’ films. I can’t wait to go back.
If only “Angels of the Universe” had been shown at the New York Film Festival when it was originally made in 2000! Now 12 years later, it’s getting its’ due But I was shocked to discover that no Icelandic film,  as EVER been shown in the prestigious NYFF. I think after this colossal “Images from the Edge” retrospective festival, things will be different in the future.
It ran through April 26.

Oscar on its’ way to being “Tattoo”-ed? Fincher’s GREAT re-do nails it!

I can’t begin to tell you what a wonderful experience it was to be soooo totally surprised, stupefied and blind-sided, and deee-lighted to be so, by David Fincher’s re-do of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” I’m kinda hog-wild about it. I think it’s an instant classic.

Shocked that material I knew so well ~ I saw all three Swedish movies and read all three blockbuster books and was totally entranced by all of them, and I  could not BELIEVE that a director whose work has been so notoriously uneven, really could re-invent, in a completely NEW, a startling way, a movie we’ve actually already seen. As recently as last year. Which is when I caught up with it.

I mean, really! Quelle shock! Quelle surprise! And how wonderful to suddenly see David Fincher turn into Alfred Hitchcock, in all of the best possible ways. I mean, Fincher has really done the IMPOSSIBLE. He re-thought and re-shot a re-make and made it all utterly, entirely entertaining.engrossing and WATCHABLE. All nearly three hours of it! Yes, it’s that long, dear readers, dear cineastes.

Fincher wants you to go through an epic, an ORDEAL, as his Viking goddess, Lisbeth Salander, becomes a true immortal Norse Mythological Heroine in his hands, and in Rooney Mara’s equally stunning performance ~ It’s a SAGA! An Icelandic SAGA! Or in this case Swedish.

Lisbeth Salander is  on par with Brunnhilde, these days. But, oh wait! That’s German! But yes, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” has that on its’ mind, too. Nazis. And there’s a lot of them. And they populate Sweden and esp. this film (and the book, too. No Fincher didn’t ADD them. But he did ad a cat… )

And there’s a LOT of Swedish politics and rage against the supposedly perfect Swedish social machine. Where corruption exists on all levels, mostly high, but mid-range, too, as exemplified by the beaurocrat Bjurman(a really slimy pig of a politico played here Yorick Van Wageningen.) His rape of Salander jump-starts the film into hyper-space, if the film’s opening five minutes of INCREDIBLY dark and oily, inky black  titles  with pounding music by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, that turn into blood and then into fire, didn’t already blow you there.  I don’t ever remember Opening titles getting applause!

How DID he do this???

Welllll, there is a biiiiiig difference between a $15 million budget which is what all THREE Swedish films had, and the something upwards of $150 milllion that this “Tattoo” was inked with.

Quelle difference! But it’s not just the money. It’s how Fincher USED the money, wisely. It’s superbly shot in a de-saturated, almost black and white tone, by his great cinematographer, who makes Sweden look black and BLUE.  There are snowscapes upon snowscapes of incredible beauty. Some thing the original Swedish version directed by Niels Arden Oplev did NOT do.

Oplev’s Stockholm looked glamorous, beautiful, colorful, intriguing, inviting. It made you want to go there. It was a celebration of Stockholm. It was if we’d never seen it before. Oplev WANTED you to go there.

There is no color whatsoever in Fincher’s version. It’s all chilly, foreboding, FREEZING. Everything seems like it’s happening in a new Ice Age. And he’s more interested in frightening the living daylights out of you by the winter gloom. It’s as though the two “Tattoos” were filmed in two totally different cities. One you’d want to go to and one you wanted to run from.

And there is a LOT of darkness in Lisbeth Salander’s world, the world that Steig Larsson created for her. It’s a Nordic vision of hell, and it’s so rotten you can also smell the stench of decaying souls. Lisbeth’s last scene takes place, metaphorically, next to a dumpster, as once again, it’s snowing.

And the suspense! Not since Hitchcock, as I said. My hero. He was the greatest of great filmmakers IMHO. And that Fincher is able to sustain this for NEARLY three hours is absolutely astonishing.

There are SOME bright lights shining in this land of the midnight sun, and it’s all in the casting. The excellent ensemble boasts a rubicund Christopher Plummer as the rich guy who hires the down-on-his-luck Blomkvist. And Blomkvist is magnificently played by none-other than James Bond himself, Daniel Craig. He’s the hero and we all know it. And a helluva nice guy. A journalist who’s a crusader against corruption in all forms, Henrik Vanger (no, not WAGNER, but you get the drift) hires the hapless Blomkvist to track down the disappearance many years prior of a beloved neice, Harriet.

Add a perfectly cast Robin Wright, Stellan Skarsgard and Joely Richardson, who’s never been better and you’ve yourself got a superb group of players. Down to the smallest bit part, Fincher has assembled a great, an historic ensemble of actor’s actors. One of the best ever for his kind of thriller-diller shockeroo. But that’s what Hitchcock did, too. He always had THE BEST actors, and by doing so elevated the genre.

That’s ONE plot, the Harriet plot. Then there’s an Agatha Christie-esque mystery-within-the-mystery, which is the real core of the story. THEN there’s the great love story that develops between Blomkvist and Salander and SHE’S definitely the one on top here.

One of the great successes of Steig Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy is his reversal, his up-ending of the usual sexual expectations in a genre like this. And both Mara and Craig are totally up to and under it. They were hot together when their relationship starts to turn carnal. And it does! We suddenly see what is keeping all those Swedish nights so warm!  And like in Ingmar Bergman’s great cinematic ouevre, it was always about the women.

And Lisbeth Salander is one of the great fictional heroines of our time, and Noomi Rapace in the Swedish films did a beautiful, mystifying job. She was as glamorous and intriguing and complicated as the Sweden that was depicted in the previous films.

Rooney Mara has large, almost gigantic blue eyes, They seem to dwarf her completely. Noomi had dark, impenetrable, almost black eyes. What WAS going on behind them in all those intense close-ups of her throughout the first three films?

With Mara’s enormous orbs, we SEE what is going on inside her much, much more clearly, and yes, there is ultimately a vulnerability that Fincher finally reveals in the film’s last scene which was like a cinematic sucker punch.

And Rooney and Oscar? Well, I’ll write more about that tomorrow!

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: