Heads Being Used Here

I have seen several pieces on screen lately that deal with using our heads. However, each discussed the head in conjunction with other factors.
Brit TV series, River, lives up to its acclaim. A one-off mini-series of six episodes, it managed to grip me immediately in its treatment of how grief not only affects the heart but also the head. Stellan Skarsgård and Nicola Walker are police officers in this crime drama but in the name of spoilers, I won’t say much more. Other sympathetic performances come from actors like Lesley Manville, but I didn’t really buy Georgina Rich as a police psychologist, at least in the way she chose to/the director asked her to act it. Anyway, the takeaway is that you can’t always use your head in exclusion of the contributions of the heart, either personally or sometimes even professionally. Encouraging symbiosis between the two can facilitate redemption, serenity or at least a sense of acceptance.
A year ago, I loved La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty) so was excited to take advantage of my new TIFF membership and see Youth, also by director Paolo Sorrentino. I won’t lie: the chance to see another role by Michael Caine was a huge draw. While Youth also featured the gorgeous music of David Lang, it was better in Beauty, perhaps because it was used so creatively in the juxtaposition to the visual in the opening scene in particular. I found the art and music were not characters in this movie as they had been in Beauty. They were interesting but I think Sorrentino was more interested in the widely irresistible Alps. As the scenery didn't really grab jaded ol' me, it left me able to focus more closely on the human characters’ stories. And that is where Sorrentino shines. He does not reveal all, so that sometimes we don’t know background and thus motivation. But he does seem to touch upon myriad emotions throughout the cast of characters: grief, anger, resentment, boredom, disgust, loyalty and sometimes several, sometimes simultaneously, in each character. These are not static characters, but the action does reflect the immovability of the setting—literally the background. Loved Caine; Harvey Keitel doesn’t do much for me, but other attractive performances were by Rachel Weisz and Paul Dano, who plays a young, already-disillusioned movie star who finds redemption through the words of a kid. Luna Mijovic is an ingenue-ish Yugoslavian actress playing an ingenue masseuse/wannabe dancer; in the director’s subtlety, we don’t learn much about her, but what we do learn we glean from her few words and the brief glimpses into her non-work life.
In essence, it’s about the monkey chatter in your head or what monkey chatter you think, often inaccurately, is in someone else’s head. I’m not saying it’s parabolic, but it’s not a bad takeaway. 'Live and Let Live.' So while I didn’t love Youth as much as La Grande Bellezza, it’s certainly a good gallop through funky ideas, the spectrum of human emotions and existentialism. Oh and the T&A is not gratuitous: it's making a point, too.
I also learned about Canada’s Top Ten Film Festival at TIFF and was ecstatic to find a (post)apocalyptic film amongst the offerings: Into the Forest by director Patricia Rozema and starring Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood. I went an hour early (I’m slightly neurotic about getting my favourite, unclaustrophic seat) and was surprised to be tenth in line! Yet another of my favourite genres appears to be gaining popularity. Sigh.
Good direction does not tell you everything up front or even at all, and yet Rozema manages to get us to buy into this vague setting and to empathize with two sisters who must learn a new way of life: survivalism, and I mean that both as a social movement topic and as the physical goal of survival. But again, it's not just about using your head; the influences of the heart are equally necessary for survival. As someone who considers going to a hotel camping and avoids the unpredictability of Nature and all Her little friends, this story hit close to home: I don’t think I would have lasted the almost two years of the film’s story. The plausibility of the disaster in the near future via widespread power outage is shiver-invokingly real (remember 2003?) yet Rozema’s view, while realistic, is hopeful. Her Q&A session at TIFF after the film was one of the more interesting I have attended. Beautifully filmed in Campbell River, B.C., I hope it does well, as I think some of the issues it raises may eclipse the strength of the film’s artistic merit when it is released, likely in May 2016.
Finally, Concussion, starring Will Smith and Alex Baldwin, was excellent not for its acting, I'd say, but rather due to its educational value. I thought I knew the extent of the risk and results of contact-sport concussions, but this movie made me realize how little I was aware of. The movie makes the issues understandable for the layman and is effective in presenting a multi-layered topic within a two-hour movie. Although perhaps a little too heavy on the America-as-paradise theme, it was an interesting exposé into the power of corporations under threat and the extent to which they will go to maintain the status quo rather than to help their employees. 


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