Posts Tagged ‘Psychological Drama’

Lara (2019) ** Karlovy Vary Film Festival 2019

Dir.: Jan-Ole Gerster; Cast: Corinna Harfouch, Tom Schilling, Volkmar Kleinert, Andre Jung, Rainer Bock, Gudrun Ritter; Germany 2019, 97 min.

Jan-Ole Gerster enjoyed overnight success with his black and white comedy debut Oh Boy, his 2012 graduation feature from the Film and Fernsehakademie Berlin. His Karlovy Vary Crystal Globe hopeful is a hotchpot of banality dressed up as psycho-horror, proving once again that the second film is generally the most difficult one.

To say that LARA is muddled, is an understatement. To start with, Gerster and his writer Baz Kutin seem unsure about genre. As it turns out, Lara oscillates between neo-gothic horror and hyper realism, with a large dollop of misogyny.

We meet the titular Lara (a brilliant Harfouch) early in the morning, about to take her life – on her 60th birthday as it turns out – but a plan to jump from the window of her high rise is interrupted by a ring at the doorbell. Two policemen enter. They ask her to witness the search of a flat belonging to her neighbour Czerny (Jung), whose son is a drug addict. Meanwhile, her own son Victor (Schilling), is preparing for his debut piano solo, the premiere of his first composition. Lara has devoted her life to coaching him after giving up her own promising career on a whim. She will later meet her former teacher, professor Reinhofer (Kleinert) who also happens to know her son. Victor has since moved in with his grandmother (Ritter), in preference to his mother and girl friend – for reasons unknown. Victor’s attitude towards his mother is hostile. His father (Bock) seems to share his feelings. Undeterred, Lara makes a beeline for her grandmother’s house where she sneaks into Victor’s room, advising him not to perform his piece due to its being “too affected”. While Victor is torn between obeying his mother and revolt, Lara busily buys up the remainder of the concert tickets, distributing them among her former staff at the city council, who, so she is told, hated her. 

All the time, a dark cloud hangs over Lara, but we are never told what caused her mental breakdown a few weeks previously. After a lifetime of dedicated to her only son she has clearly lost her way with his leaving home. The other female characters (girl friend, council employers) are either weak or bitchy. By contrast, the men are reasonable and capable of conflict resolution. Only the grand mother emerges strong and sympathetic – being no sexual threat because of her age. Lara fails to solve the issues it raises, petering out in a limp ending, award winning DoP Frank Griebe unable to save the clumsy direction and clunky dialogue. AS



The Captor (2018) **

Dir: Robert Burdeau | Cast: Ethan Hawke, Noomi Rapace, Mark Strong | Drama 90′

Ethan Hawke dominates this strangely placid bank robbery drama spiked by absurdist humour and based on a real event in 1970s Stockholm that gave birth to the medical condition (Stockholm syndrome). It was back in 1973 that criminal Jan-Erik Olsson (Hawke) donned a jaunty cowboy hat and strolled cockily into the main branch of Kreditbanken. Clearly on drugs, he has a field day as the Easy Rider robber and even finds love with the unlikely bland bank clerk Bianca (Repace is a real discovery in the role).

The capable cast desperately try to enliven this curious caper eking out their thin characterisations – but to no avail. Boring and monotonous for the most part the humour almost succeeds but eventually even that starts to run out of steam. Burdeau seems happy to let Strong and Hawke run wild as the shouty criminals but there’s no real dramatic heft in this hammy heist. MT


X&Y (2019) **** IFFR Rotterdam 2019

Dir.: Anna Odell; Cast: Anna Odell, Mikhael Persbrandt, Shanti Roney, Thure Lindhardt, Trine Dyrholm, Sofie Grabol, Jens Albinus, Vera Vitali, Per Ragnar, Ville Virtanen; Sweden/Denmark 2018, 112 min.

Artist and filmmaker Anna Odell (The Reunion), the enfant terrible of the Nordic film scene, is back with a new feature. X & Y is a star studded ensemble peace, which explores hidden female/male identities. Odell came to prominence in 2009 with her student project Unknown Woman, 2009-349701:  in a life performance in Stockholm, she acted out her psychotic breakdown and suicide. She was later fined for this, but insisted it was not about her own experience in the Swedish Mental Health system, but an attack on the power structures within the institutions. 

X & Y is tamer in comparison, even though structure and topic are extremely (thought) provoking. Odell plays a female director who fancies macho film star Mikhael Persbrandt, who has just published a memoir in which he tackles his image. Odell has chosen three actors for herself and Persbrandt, to play the alternative personalities of the lead couple: Grabol (brilliant as always), Albinus and Vitali act out Odell’s alternate personalities, whilst Roney, Lindhardt and Dyrholm (matching Grabol’s performance) are the alter egos of Persbrandt. Two psychologists, Ragnar and Virtanen try to help the octet come to terms with Odell’s cryptic and basic script.

Odell, to give her credit, holds her own in a star studded cast. After the opening chapter, in where Odell and Persbrandt get close up and personal, the Alter-Egos take over, and start attacking or lusting after their counterparts. Best are the scenes when the leading couple is represented by a different gender actor, showing that the ambivalence of feelings like jealousy, dominance and sexual obsession are not as gender specific as one might think. In the play, Odell is always behind with the script, infuriating her cast. The actors sleep in two groups, and Odell, who has manufactured a frisky animal costume for herself, becomes sexually aggressive with the trio in her bed. Finally, at a re-union month later, it turns out she is pregnant with an “art-child”, obviously drawing on her recent experience of giving birth. Odell, always the provocateur, stated in an interview that, “she is looking forward to introducing her own child to Lars van Trier, who is also the product of an artistic relationship”. 

 X & Y is provocative, but stays inside a concept: every person has three identities: the self, the one we would like to be, and the way we are seen by others. These identities often differ often, and Odell works it out without shrinking from exposing herself. A great ensemble helps, as well as DoP Daniel Takacs, whose images range from distant froideur to aggressive close-ups. Odell’s temper tantrums still are still hard to take, but she is more much reflective now, without having lost the talent to excite.


Pluto (2013)

Dir.: Shin Suwon; Cast: David Lee, Sung June, Kim Kkobi-bi:

South Korea 2012, 120 min.  Psychological Drama

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The director Shin Suwon was a teacher at a middle school before turning to filmmaking. Her valuable working  knowledge of the system makes this film even more depressing than it already is and proves that truth is sometimes than fiction.

Kim June gets transferred to an elite school where the top 10 students form a clique and engage in acts of rape, murder, bomb-making in a bid to eliminate their fellow students, ensuring that they maintain top grades eventually allowing exclusive access to the revered Seoul National University.

In contrast to the other, wealthy students, June is from an underprivileged background with a mother who financing the family by selling insurance. June takes the place of a girl who has killed herself;  and after his roommate Jujin Taylor is murdered by masked students, June becomes the main suspect with the local police.

Another pupil Sujin, then hacks into the activities of the group via the internet, trying to find out more about the suicide of her friend Eun-Joo. This psycho-drama culminates, with June committing further atrocities in a bid to discover the truth. The action takes place in the cellar of the school building, which was once the site of a CIA torture chamber.

Despite a rather bewildering script, PLUTO succeeds in being frightening with its frosty, wintry, blue and white aesthetic. These characters are like sharks in an aquarium. June is shown as an hopeless opportunist, unable to solve anything without resorting to violence. But at least he is aware of his nefarious actions. The rest of the group is busy trying to keep the exclusivity of their elite intact, for fear they may threaten their status. Random acts of physical and psychological violence are an everyday occurrence, and never questioned, in their quest to achieve  their goals: a place at the National University. The use of surveillance equipment is logical, it gives the film an extra layer of emotional fascism.

With this immersive study of evil, Shin Suwon demonstrates how the environment of the school prepares these young, well-heeled psychopaths for their future leading roles in society. AS


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