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« X(avier) Marks the Spot for Jessica Chastain | Main | TIFF: Benedict vs. Redmayne, Round 1 »
Thursday
Sep112014

TIFF Quickies: 1001 Grams, Sand Dollars, Labyrinth of Lies

Nathaniel's adventures in Toronto. Day whichever.

Three more quick takes on Norway's Oscar submission, a LGBT romance of sorts in the Dominican Republic and a surprisingly intense film from Germany that I hadn't heard of before arriving.

Bent Hamer directs Ane Dahl Trop in the Norwegian Oscar submission "1001 Grams"

1001 GRAMS
How much does a soul weigh? I don’t mean to bring up painful memories of 21 Grams, but everything in 1001 Grams must be effortfully measured. Lab technician Marie is just such a meticulous woman, in charge of the official Norwegian kilo, which is to be weighed and calibrated in Paris at an annual seminar to ensure that all countries kilos are the same or else: chaos! Though the oddity of this international standards milieu suggests a comedy, what we get is stonefaced drama... or possibly comedy so dry, I needed a humidifier in the room to get it. Bent Hamer, who directed two previous Norwegian Oscar submisssions O'Horten and Kitchen Stories (neither won nominations), so precisely calibrates this new film that every image feels carefully storyboarded. There's a gorgeous balance of stark blues and bright whites and he often abandons our lonely protagonist in silhouette in dark sparsely furnished apartments. Even Marie’s car, an cute electric thing, fits the color schemes. When Marie and her colleagues take smoke breaks at work the images are so strictly shot that the actors seem like mice stopped for a moment to think (?) in a narrow stretch of  bureaucratic maze. Marie is so controlled that she can’t even express her grief when her father dies, and the actress Ane Dahl Torp, doing fine if limited work by the nature of the role, has to squeeze all Marie's hurt into tiny hollow syllables like “takk” (thank you) when people wonder how she’s doing. It’s a solid movie but unfortunately its strength, that crafted precision, is also its weakness. There’s so much time spent establishing how regimented, monotonous and empty Marie’s life is that the film turns into a dull laborious watch. Things eventually begin to change for Marie when she meets a bird-loving Frenchmen at a business seminar but the actual drama is so backloaded that it's tough to make it to the final stretch. Slightly touching in an unusually low key way, but it’s a complete mystery as to why Norway chose it as their Oscar submission over the daring and hypnotic Blind (Sundance review) which was also in the running. C+

Yanet Mojica and Geraldine Chaplin star in "Sand Dollars"

SAND DOLLARS
Wealthy septuagenarian Frenchwoman Anne (Geraldine Chaplin) is wiling away her twilight years on a private beach of the Dominican Republic. There’s little to tether her to France, her only child being estranged, and she’s fallen in love with a young local girl named Noeli (Yanet Mojica) though she knows almost nothing about her. Money is often exchanged though Noeli is neither, strictly speaking, a prostitute nor a kept girl. This intimate and relatively stable relationship (two years and counting) begins to crack when Anne wants to take Noeli back to Paris with her permanently. Sand Dollars hits its encomic colonialism, class disparity, and exploitation notes relatively indelicately  -- there's no mistaking the themes -- but the odd connections between its characters are, in contrast, delicately observed. Noeli's true feelings are hard to read, but she is both an attentive lover and shameless about requests for money. Little details begin to accumulate like the way Anne's mascara clumps always look like she's crying even when she's happy, how Noeli dances both for self pleasure and with awareness of the practical value of her body, the way that even when Noeli's boyfriend  looks away he's weighing the presence of "the old lady". The film gets under your skin especially with the complications of actual affection where only a business transaction would be easier for everyone. A minor film but sensitively delivered and blissfully short (80 minutes) in keeping with its slim story. B/B-

LABYRINTH OF LIES
For the first reel or two of this postwar German drama, I wondered why they’d cast such a handsome but blank lead actor (Alexander Fehling) as the protagonist Johann Radmann. Radmann is an ambitious young lawyer who, somewhat on a whim, takes an interest in unpunished war crimes and former Nazis teaching school children that a local activist reporter has clued him in to. But the initial empty suit impression is a false one. At a party early in the film the reporter tells his bohemian friends that they have to encourage Radmann until his flicker of humanity turns to a raging fire. It’s meant as a ‘loosen up’ joke, and very smartly delivered as an offhand remark rather than foreshadowing. But this is exactly what happens in this impressive debut feature from Giulio Ricciarelli. Fehling's performances, very well modulated, grows more and more intense as the new case shifts from curiousity to a detective-like fascination and then full blown righteous vendetta with Fehling's blown out eyes and angrier voice dramatizing that he hasn't slept in weeks, and that his daydreams are all nightmares. The story is fascinating, detailing the widespread ignorance about The Holocaust in Germany just one generation after the war. Auschwitz, for example, the chief subject of the investigation, is a place most young Germans the lawyers talks to have never heard of. Labyrinth of Lies is glossily made (perhaps too glossy?), well acted, and moving with a constant throughline of the need for survivors to tell their stories and for people to understand their own country's history and face their own demons.

Germany was the first country to ever try its own soldiers for war crimes and if there is a significant mark against the film it's that this is, frankly, an impossible story to squeeze into a 122 minutes motion picture. It's implications are so vast and though the movie has many fine scenes and is appropriately sober about the psychic turmoil of survivors and the need to understand your nation's own character and face your own personal demons, it also wants to be a detective story and a romance. Labyrinth is sometimes so swift that some of the developlments and results feel convenient rather than desperately produced or are brushed off so quickly that they matter less in retrospect. I rarely ask for movies to be longer but this one could have used Zodiac's willingness to chase loose ends and run on for at least another half hour or so. B+ 

Alexander Fehling loses himself in horrific documentation of World War II

Also at TIFF
A Little Chaos
The New Girlfriend
Wild
The Gate, Cub, The Farewell Party and Behavior
The Theory of Everything and Imitation Game
Foxcatcher and Song of the Sea
The Last Five Years
Wild Tales and A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
Force Majeure, Life in a Fishbowl and Out of Nature
Mommy
The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness
Charlie's Country

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Reader Comments (8)

Labyrinth of Lies sounds really great (even with your caveats). Hope it lands some type of US distribution.

September 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSteven

I'm sorry to hear that 1001 Grams isn't all that good. I had high hopes for it, since Hamer's O'Horten is one of my favourite films of the past decade, and I kind of liked Kitchen Stories, too.

September 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBill_the_Bear

What's your problem with 21 GRAMS?

September 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGustavo

I'm looking forward to Labyrinth. I like German film and could easily spend 122 minutes with Fehling.

It's curious how much interest there still is in WWII. No other conflict seems to have the enduring draw of that one. It seems that every year, someone takes on another aspect of that period while WWI, Vietnam, the Civil war and especially the Korean conflict are only occasionally touched. And it crosses Nationalities as well. The British are obsessed with WWII, in Television in particular.

September 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

Norway chose Blind as Norways nominee for the Nordic Council Film Prize which is given to "the creation of an artistically original film that is rooted in Nordic cultural circles" and chose 1001 grams for the Oscars, so I think Blind is considered the better film while 1001 grams is considered as more of an Oscar film.

September 11, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterkirenaj

Steven -- it was JUST PICKED UP. Like this morning. by Sony Pictures Classics.

Gustavo - hate it.

Henry -- i suppose it's because world wars touch everyone of every stripe and we haven't had one since though sadly war is still very much with us in multiple countries.

Kirenaj -- yeah, i figured that but if they chose for Oscarability i can't imagine this one making it. It's just not jazzy enough or anything enough. At least Blind would have had a longshot chance because fans would have been devoted.

September 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNathanielR

NR-Haha, I was JUST coming back here to update my own comment with that news. Woohoo!

September 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSteven

"The kind of performer and role that's strong in ways people don't even notice. And I swear he's not here just because he's the most beautiful British man on earth..."

The understatement of the year! After watching Mr. Goode in "Match Point," "Brideshead Revisited," "Stoker," "A Single Man," and most of all in "The Lookout," I have been waiting for validation of my opinion of Matthew. That scene in "The Lookout" as he exits the bedroom to confront Joseph Gordon-Levitt has kept me fascinated and I look forward to seeing much more of Mr. Goode going forward.

September 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPatryk

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