Saturday, 17 April 2010

Belfast Film Festival :: Adrift & Dogtooth

Nothing is as far away as one minute ago, said one man. If that's the case then it must feel like an eternity since last I here writing about the 9th Belfast Film Festival. Last year's festival brought some of the best films I had the utmost pleasure of watching in 2009, and one can only hope this year's is no different. To kick off the event (for myself as I am aware the festival was on to its third day by this stage) was a trip to Belfast's wonderful Queen's Film Theatre for two films arguably quite similar yet poles apart in their underlying themes. First up the latest film from Brazilian director Heitor Dhalia, simply titled, Adrift (A Deriva)

Making its world debut at Cannes last year, Adrift is set against the beautiful backdrop of a seaside coast in Brazil, fourteen year-old Filipa is spending her vacation at B├║zios with her father, Mathias (Vincent Cassel), her alcoholic mother, Clarice (Debora Bloch), and her two younger siblings in their beach house. When Filipa feels that the relationship of her parents is deteriorating, she snoops in her father's office, revealing secrets you dare not wish any child to ever have to find out.

The film is not like any of the Hollywood gaffe I have had to endure of late, giving a moving, provocative dissection on family life. Watching the film's events unfold mainly from the viewpoint of eldest child, Filipa, was a brilliant decision from the director as it presented the circumstances of the story in such a clear cut, black and white manner. Yet as anyone over the age of 18 would know, life is never quite as simple as a man cheating on his wife and therefore the wife simply packing her bags and leaving him forever. The beauty of Adrift was how it slowly unravelled the events and circumstances as to why Mathias and Clarice's marriage crumbles apart.

The acting certainly lent to the elegance of the feature, with Vincent Cassel in possibly his most intimate and personal role since L'Appartement, portraying the woes and joys of a married man beautifully. From the in-house domestics with his wife to the undying love and devotion he displays for his children he was simply brilliant. Debora Bloch was equally brilliant in the role of his wife Clarice, initially displayed to the audience as a broken, alcoholic, housewife her story becomes clearer as the film progresses.

Arguably the stand-out performance must go to young Laura Neiva in the role as Filipa, for essentially being the audience's eyes and ears to the entire events, and it was fascinating seeing how the actions involving her parents rubbed off on her in a social context with her friends and would-be boyfriend who pops up from time to time. Her coming-of-age journey, shedding of her innocence was another real vocal point of the narrative which was as enriching to experience as the story between her two parents.

Perhaps one of the more unusual features of the film was the director's attempt to tease the audience with the possibility a family tragedy bigger than the destruction of a marriage was set to unfold, whether this was needed or took away from the beautiful drama unfolding before my eyes is another matter for when I watch the film on DVD down the line.

I have obviously already mentioned how sincerely beautiful the film looked, as well as the amazing cinematography but I think these striking, uplifting images were enhanced by the moving piano score from Antonio Pinto. Now if I could just find it on CD somewhere then I'd be really in business...

Final Thoughts
A simple yet elegant drama displaying the complexities of family life. Though it - perhaps unjustly - teases that something more profoundly tragic may unfold, maybe there is nothing more tragic in a child's eyes than watching his/her parents simply grow apart and lose their love for one another. A refreshing experience in the light of all the mainstream tosh I've suffered through lately.


After a quick break, and once again indulging my love for wine gums, the dark clouds start to gather as I sit myself down to watch Dogtooth.


As briefly mentioned in the introduction, Dogtooth is slightly similar to the previous movie in that its a story about family. However that's essentially where the comparisons end, as this feature was a different beast altogether. The second film from Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos and winner of the Prix Un Certain Regard at Cannes last year.

Dogtooth tells the story of a married couple and their three kids living at the outskirts of a city. There is a tall fence surrounding the house. The kids have never been outside that fence. They are being educated, entertained, bored and exercised in the manner that their parents deem appropriate, without any influence from the outside world. They believe that the airplanes flying over are toys and that zombies are small yellow flowers. Sounds a bit mental surely, but could easily be considered quite quirky. As expected though all is not quite as it seems.

From the opening scene, Dogtooth is quite a harsh film, the house the family occupy is quite barren inside, completely void of any real emotion, which is certainly amplified by the rather odd sex scene between the son - none of the children are ever named - and the family's only outside visitor, a security guard named Christina.

Its a strange film in many ways, because it features some truly sinister moments, including brutal violence (ever fancied seeing someone be bludgeoned to death with a VCR? No? This is the movie for you) and unspeakable acts of incest, seriously grim. However that isn't to say the film doesn't have these peculiar scenes of dark comedy, because it does, but due to the absolutely horrid nature of the darker scenes you almost feel bad to laugh or even crack a smile. Such scenes as one of the daughters reacting to viewing a video of the film Rocky for the first time - never doubt the power of cinema my friends - or the same daughter wanting to name herself Bruce, as she never had a name to begin with.

The performances of the three children (well I say children, they're all easily in their mid/late 20s) were truly absorbing, and shows how easily a parent's influence can mould a child's mind if you cut them off from the outside world. It was a fascinating insight, what may seem completely obscene to any right minded individual seems perfectly normal to these people, because they have no other influence like television, litrature or a free press to say otherwise.

That however doesn't quite justify the actions of the father in the family whose characteristics bared an uncanny similarity to Josef Fritzl (and will no doubt suffice til the inevitable bio-pic). He was quite an interesting person to analyse, you could argue (I don't for the record) he wasn't intentionally evil, just a man who was so terrified at the thought of his children having minds of their own, he would tear them away from the outside world and create this completely warped reality. He thrived on having that control and went to great lengths to attain it.

Final Thoughts
Dogtooth is one of these films similar to Gasper Noe's and Lar Von Trier's best work that challenges film audiences with scenes that are designed to shock and disgust, and the director performs his duties beautifully. The characters, the home, the outside environments are almost as ambiguous as the infuriating ending, which will no doubt leave audiences speculating for long after. I would urge everyone who yearns boundary breaking, extreme cinema to see this as soon as possible! Absolutely masterful.


1 comment:

Ronan said...

Adrift sounds like something I would watch. Unfortunately I didn't notice it in the programme. Cassell is really good. Especially in Eastern promises and La haine, saw it in film studies. Should watch it again.