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Violet: a nice try - but not quite there
Violet is the debut feature of the Flemish director Bas Devos.
Violet deals, mainly in a visual way, with the grief and guilt feelings of a teenager (Jesse - César De Sutter) who -rather passively- witnesses the violent death of his friend and BMX mate Jonas in a shopping mall.
The movie leans heavily on visuals. Even the title Violet is associatively related to violent and to violet, a color at the higher end of the visible spectrum (and also the soundtrack by the black metal band Deafheaven).
Dialogues are sparse, and when they take place hardly decipherable. Which I found quite annoying. The acting was moderate.
In an interview, Bas Devos said he found it more important how the images affect you than what they exactly show. However, in my case the images hardly had an impact: they were isolated pictures, mere beautiful images, nice long takes of the neighborhood at dawn resp. sunset. Even the excellent and original shots of BMX-rides didn't truly add to the story.
Indeed, the Flemish Nicolas Karakatsanis (known from the Drop, the Welp and Rundskop) is an expert in atmospheric cinematography. But only at times the visuals enhanced the story.
For instance at the start of the movie, we see shots of a desolated shopping mall (mostly in dead silence) with two groups of boys who will later appear to be the offenders and their victims. We watch them from different angles, even when they meet. Later it becomes clear we are looking at a CCTV footage. Then the footage is re-winded , the sounds return and we see the mall and the boys -one dead- in "real life".
Also the loud "background noises" from birds in the morning, traffic and children's voices added to the alienating effect.
Thus in conclusion, a nice debut feature with excellent camera work, but too experimental for the average audience, even art-house fans like me.
O Lobo atrás da Porta (2013)
A Wolf at the Door: An interesting and intelligent debut feature film of Fernando Coimbra
O Lobo atrás da Porta (A Wolf at the Door) got 2 stars out of 5 from in a Dutch newspaper. I went anyway and was not disappointed. As a matter of fact the Brazilian movie, directed by Fernando Coimbra, kept me engaged for the full 100 minutes.
The main critique of the newspaper was that the characters should be more fleshed out: the psychological effects of being a mistress, a mother who may loose her child or a man on the verge of being exposed as an adulterer, should have been more explored.
But I disagree.
This movie is a crime thriller, and as the plot unfolds, we understand a lot of the underlying psychology.
The scenario, the camera-work and the acting are all great.
The story opens with a mother (Sylvia, played by Fabiula Nascimento) arriving to pick up her daughter at school, only to learn that the girl has already left with another woman. Soon it becomes clear that the Sylvia's husband Bernardo (Milhem Cortaz) has a lover, Rosa (Leandra Leal), who might be involved in the kidnapping in one way or another.
Central in this movie are the interviews by the agile inspector (Antonio Saboia). We see the stories as told by the interrogated people in a flashback.
First the stories are embellished. The husband tries to mitigate his adultery by saying something like "having a mistress is typically a man's thing, you know what I mean?" (to which the police officer briskly answers "no"). Bernardo also claims he was honest about his marriage to Rosa right from the start, but from Rosa's story it becomes clear he was not.
Step by step we learn about the characters, the relationships, what really happened and why.
Struggling to survive in megacities as told in 12 stories
Michael Glawogger is known to move fluidly from documentary to fiction, but it is somewhat confusing to see both formats in a single movie/documentary. Of course it is true there is no sharp line between fiction and reality.
Hanu Abu-Assad introduced his documentary "Ford Transit" by saying that no documentary is objective. By the choice of your topic (he is Palestinian), the shots you take, the cutting, even your mere presence at the scene.
However in a documentary I do not expect "staging", unless it is clearly indicated and functional like in "The act of killing".
Anyway, the apparent acting throughout the movietary, as I would like to call it, negatively affected my perception of the movie. We see people chasing each other towards the camera and then the camera follows them. No coincidental shot. A gay man is " seduced" and while we see him naked and "turned on" he is humiliated and forced to pay money. A woman is interviewed in a broadcast and we see both the anchorman and the woman in the street. This is all clearly staged.
The effect it had on me was that I began to doubt most of the scenes. Were the beautiful long shots with the man sifting red, blue and yellow dye colors real, or was the man asked to exaggerate for the effect (he became red, blue and yellow himself).
Does this mean I found the movietary a real fail? No I didn't.
Megacities portrays the twelve lives of poorest citizens of four megacities: Mumbai, Moscow, New York and Mexico City. (I therefore prefer the German title: "Megacities - 12 Geschichten vom Überleben").
The best scenes are those where the camera mercilessly shows the emptiness, the monotony, the bad working conditions, the poor hygiene and the struggle for money. Dog-fights for fun. Gruesome. Rows of people doing the same work, each day. A chicken factory where chickens are handled and killed carelessly (they keep screaming and moving while their blood spatters against the wall) a shocking and painfully beautiful picture.
Later I realized that Glawogger wanted to tell a story with images not words (no interviews). When real spontaneous shots were not possible, the scenes were replaced by "acting".
The stories were connected by asking the twelve persons for their ultimate dream. Dreaming means hope and that is what one needs under these circumstances. The last woman even wished she would stay in (or always return to) the ghetto she lived in. A beautiful end.
St. Vincent (2014)
Enjoyable, but predictable
This movie was enjoyable and entertaining, although I generally prefer more subtle humor. Presumably the Dutch audience (~150 people) felt the same as it remained rather quiet for a comedy.
The story is about an embittered grumpy old veteran, Vincent (Bill Murray), who loves to drink, curse and bet and has weekly visits of a Russian (pregnant) prostitute (Naomi Watts). Desperately in need of money, Vincent accepts the offer of his new neighbor who is just divorced (Melissa McCarty) to "babysit" her son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher).
Of course the grumpy old man soon shows his softer alter ego: he faithfully visits his wife in a nursing home, shows some kind of affection for the prostitute (and vice versa) and becomes "friends with Oliver". Oliver (who is small, intelligent and nice, but bullied by his new class mates) in his turn learns to stand for himself - and not only with words.
There are many memorable one-liners: Oliver: "Are they old?" Victor: "They're dead. That's the oldest you can be.". When the hooker tells Vincent her water is broken he replies: "Call a plumber".
The mediocre script and predictable ending is saved by the strong performances of all main actors, and especially of Bill Murray, who is uniquely suited for this role.