KVIFF CAPSULE REVIEWS by Alex Deleon
The competition film “Zabic Bobra" (To Kill a Beaver) by Polish director Jan Jakub Kolski is a grisly psychological drama that tries to show what it is like inside the head of a returning professional soldier who cannot readjust to everyday life. Kolski, 56, has been described as a master of Polish “magical realism” and is certainly one of the few directors of his generation who can be called an auteur. At his press conference Kolski said “I make personal films, films not aimed at viewers but at myself. They’re about how I see life right now, to find out where I am at the given moment. This time, I used my dark side,” Incidentally the director had to deal with the death of his mother during filming and the film is dedicated to her memory.
In this story Eryk, (Eryk Lubus) a muscular man about forty takes up residence in a house out in the woods and starts waging war against the beavers in a neighboring stream. He is a total loner and is on some kind of revenge mission that the beaver bashing somehow connects with. One day Bezi, a sexy high school girl (Agnieszka Pawelkiewicz) comes floating down his beaver dammed stream and soon intrudes herself into Eryk's life seducing him with some very hot and vigorous copulation. (so hot it looked more stimulated than simulated...) Well, who wouldn’t be seduced by her! It turns out that she is trying to run away from a sex molesting father and quickly claims that she has fallen in love with Eryk –after just one session in the sack. But Eryk is a pretty brutal character whose mind is traumatized by memories from the Afghanistan wars and he waxes hot and cold --very unpredicatble. He also seems to have a strong death wish and is always waving a big automatic pistol around at her and at himself. After numerous callous violent episodes and several false starts the simple sexy girl Bezi puts violent complex ridden Eryk out of his misery by shooting him in the head while he is sleeping, using pillows as silencers as he once taught her to do. Eryk is miserable, the girl is miserable, and everybody else who appears in this film is miserable to the point that you are relieved when the picture has finally put itself out of its own misery. I’m sure it was very well made and the characters were vaguely appealing but all in all it leaves one depressed if not despondent. The film has not yet been shown in Poland and this was the world premiere. Some films are 'to die for' -- this one was more like one to commit suicide after seeing.
Because of good experiences with Iranian films in the past I was all up for the new Iranian film “A Respectable Family” (Yek Khanevade-ye-mohtaram) which was introduced personally by the director Massoud Bakhari an Iranian exile based in Paris. Bakhari stated that the Iran-Iraq war which lasted almost the entire decade of the eighties is now forgotten and practically unknown in the west. This is spite of the fact that both sides were supported by the Western countries because both countries are oil rich and the long war brought the price of petroleum down. Even young Iranians do not remember it. Therefore this is a subject he felt needs to be ddressed. He also stated that Iran has been through 1000 wars in its history --usually being attacked.
Arash, the hero returns to Iran after a 22 year stay in Paris where he has accepted an invitation to lecture at a university for a year but his ideas are considered anti-Islamic revolution and his writings are banned. Worse, when he tries to return he cannot get his passport back unless he agrees to go along with a very corrupt deal involving a large inheritance of “dirty money” that his mother has refused to accept. This respectable family turns out to be anything but respectable --and full of greed and personal treachery – At the end our enlightened professor finds himself trapped back in the corrupt Islamic Republic as we are treated to grainy scenes from the war, aside from which we do not really learn much about the effect the war had on the lives of the people in the story. This is another film that came here by way of Cannes where it got high critical marks but I found the hopelessness of the situations in the film so depressing and the characters so distasteful that I couldn’t wait for it to be over. Maybe what was most depressing was that by forcing myself to sit through this tedious seance I missed the bus out to the media party in the country which is usually one of the best free lunches of the Karlovy week.
The last film of the day today in the Main Hall was a bizarre, supremely over-the-top, episodic spectacle, with the beguiling title of "Holy Motors" most deftly directed by Leos Carax known affectionately in France as "The bad boy of French cinema". Fifteen minutes into the picture, which is a string of grotesque appointments with murder, rape, suicide, and other exceedingly weird anti-social acts perpetrated by a mysterious "Mr. Oscar" who changes costumes for each episode and is chauffeured about Paris in a white stretch limo piloted by a pretty weird old woman in white -- it is not hard to see how he earned this sobriquet. The limo Mr. Oscar rides in serves as a dressing room for his many transformations ranging from a bent over old woman beggar, to an acrobatic dancer in full-body black leather tights with embedded lights all over, in which he engages on a darkened rooftop in wild sexual acrobatics with a woman similarly dressed in red body leather – simulating cunnilingus through the leather and ending in a wild trapeze ejaculation with a giant dildo. This section also has some amazing computer generated animation -- Next he visits a man he seems to have something against and stabs him in the neck as the blood gushes copiously and he drops dead -- next Oscar shaves the head of the cadaver and starts making him up to be a double of himself --whereupon, the hand of the cadaver moves, picks up the knife and stabs Oscar in the neck -- as Oscar bleeds to death we see him and his victim lined up on the floor side by side like a pair of bloody twins ... Inexplicably Oscar recovers and is soon seen in another episode dressed something like a one eyed Hunchback of Notre Dame in long red hair and bare feet, Oscar accosts a tall beautiful woman posing as a living statue for a crowd in Pere Lachaise cemetery and drags her down into the sewers of Paris where he eats the money from her purse, eats part of her long black hair, licks her armpit, then dresses her up in an improvised chador and undresses himself revealing an incredible phallic erection (is it real or a device?) – on and on –he shoots a banker at an outdoor restaurant and picks up his teenage daughter from a party telling her he must punish her for lying to him - and for being unpopular with the boys ---but her punishment will just be having to live in her own unhappy skin -- all these scenes very beautifully filmed and framed – finally he meets a young woman who seems to be in love with him – again on a rooftop – but when he rejects her she jumps off and is found in a pool of blood on the pavement below – finally, our hero Oscar alone in his bedroom after a hard day’s “work” ponders the emptiness of his life and the meaninglessness of death – amazing colorful depressing stuff set to sweet cello music –and , oh yes –at the end the limo is dropped off at a limo garage dominated by a large neon sign saying HOLY MOT-RS (one letter is burned out) which explains the title -- here Many identical limos are lined up and start sending each other grotesque messages – to end the film with talking limos ...
Many of the scenes are hypnotically beautiful, decoratively original, dramatically absurd, and even humorous at points.
But the total effect is that of an extended nightmare in a film that seems to be a mix of Cocteau and Pink Flamingos with a touch of Godard, all with the souped up cinematic technology of the 21stcentury, produced by a talented but singularly twisted mind. The events depicted are so far-out that they are not even outrageous –just weird and grotesque and, ultimately quite depressing. There were many walkouts but we who stayed the course were left with the idea that if we did have our lives to live over again it would only be to go through the same hell all over again –without love. If that is not a depressing thought I don’t know what is …
Director Leos Carax, now 51, made a strong debut in 1984 at the age of 24 with “Boy Meets Girl” and is noted for his poetic visual style and tormented descriptions of the miseries of love. Since then, other than shorts, he has only made four full length features all extremely unconventional if not downright outrageous, but critically admired for their esthetics and originality. “‘Holy Motors” was in competition at Cannes this year where many advocates thought it should have won the Palme d’Or. For its uniqueness alone all I can say is “why not?” For the record, Mr. Oscar was played by Denis Lavant, 50, an actor who is peculiarly ugly, quite agile, and has been in all of Carax’s films - -in two of them opposite Juliette Binoche. The limo driver was played by 74 year old actress Edith Scob who is of Russian background and was a favorite of surrealist Georges Franju from 1958 to 1962. Tall and gaunt with thick white hair she is even now still pretty, as well as pretty weird -- the perfect chauffeur for His Weirdness Monsieur Lavant.