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TIFF Scandinavian Quickies: Force Majeure, Life in a Fishbowl, Out of Nature

Nathaniel's adventures in Toronto. Day 2...

Part of Day 3's adventure was losing the internet and not being able to recover an entire review I'd written. With time so short that feels more disastrous than it actually is. But since Day 2 was just great from start to finish we won't let Day 3's mistakes -- I also fell asleep unintentionially for 2 hours -- distract us from the goal: sharing it with you.

Life in a Fishbowl (Iceland)
I am told on Twitter that "Life in a Fishbowl" is a terrible English market title and that the title of the film in Icelandic is actually Hope Street. Unless that's a the adress of a nearly empty home which preoccupies two of the three leads, that title is even more perplexing since these characters are quite unhappy. "Life in a Fishbowl" is the name of a novel within the film (as I recall... though perhaps that was just a subtitle flourish?). It's a multi-strand narrative wherein the characters are all connected in some way. If this fills you with as much terror as it does me, rest assured that the movie doesn't strain for "twists" or "ooh, that's how they connect!" moments of faux profundity but just tells it's three stories which eventually intertwine. We meet a handsome athlete turned banker who is being showered with gifts from his new company. (We know that these gifts will come with a hefty price even if he doesn't since he is a movie character and we have seen lots of movies.) We also follow a local celebrity poet stumbling drunk around the city who has just finished his first novel in many years but who is perpetually drowning, figuratively speaking, and not just in drink. Finally there's a struggling single mother who earns her extra cash as a prostitute.

There's nothing particularly new or grandly ambitious here which makes the film's rather rapturous blurbs from home "best icelandic film ever" puzzling. Still, it's quite engrossing with a novelistic feel and amounts to a big leap forward for the director Baldwin Z (Jitters). [This film is Iceland's Oscar submission and though it's good, it's not half as distinctive as their great submission last year, Of Horses and Men.] B/B+

A great Oscar threat and a fine manly ass after the jump...

Force Majeure (Sweden)
Ruben Ostlund (Play) has crafted a real winner in this often hilarious look at a Swedish family on a five day ski-trip. On day two an avalanche viewed from the resorts highest outdoor restaurant frightens everyone in the family. Moods quickly sour and relationships fray, the husband and wife's marital implosion causing an avalanche of its own, if you will, to tumble down on their children and their friends, though that's my own hamfisted analogy and not the films (thank god!).  Toward the beginning of the film, I kept wanting to compare it to The Loneliest Planet for hinging on one split second inciting "incident" but this film is much richer in temperament and far more universal, transcending its one key (and early) plot point rapidly and becoming a much larger satire on marriage, infidelity, grudge-holding, and easily bruised male ego. The screenplay and direction in particular feel nearly unimproveable in their clarity of purpose, brutal humor and alarmingly complete observational prowess. Even the two scenes that felt more like headscratchers, are memorable. A final grade awaits to see what happens when the snow melts and I descend to lower altitudes after the initial heart-racing thrill. [This film is Sweden's Oscar foreign language submission and it sure has hell better be nominated, even though it's far chillier than the kind of films that committee instinctively loves]  A/A-

Out of Nature (Norway)
I would have seen this anyway since I always schedule Norwegian films at festivals but I'll be honest: the ad campaign didn't hurt. It uses only a photo of its protagonist running half naked...literally. This picture is plastered on all the promotional material and on the industry rags around the festival, too. 

The star Ole Giæver's ass is perfect. All good man-at-one-with-nature movies include nudity, usually in the form of skinny-dipping or, uh, skinny-running (think Into the Wild or Never Cry Wolf) but Out of Nature really commits and keeps Martin naked for long stretches. I only bring this up because at some point during the two long sequences where he rocks out with his cock out, so to speak, I began to think... wow this director is really ogling, nay, exploiting his star's body. As it turns out the director is the star and also the writer so he's giving the term "vanity project" a whole new twist. 

If this review strikes you as unduly horny rather than informative, please know that the movie earns it. See, Martin himself is always thinking about sex (the constant chatter is not dialogue at all but Martin's voiceover inner monologue) . At one point this lost manboy even monologues about his ass and what to call it (he deems "bum" too childlike and hairless and "arse" too vulgar but still more appropriate for strong manly hairy cheeks). Martin suffers from discomfort in his own skin, socially, in the movie's opening scenes but Ole Giæver is actually more than comfortable in his actual skin - the arse monologue concludes with bragging about how wet the sight of his ass would make his female co-workers.

In some ways Out of Nature is a tough movie to love since Martin isn't that likeable, especially if you're at all impatient with indulgent white straight male early midlife crises. He's unhappy, constantly restless in both body and mind (I wanted the voiceover to stop...but so did Martin!), more than a little sexist, and tempted continually to shirk his responsibilities as a father and husband. But, in another way, it's a tough movie not to admire visually and respect since it has a frisky sense of humor, beautiful imagery and, most importantly, feels brutally honest and intimate about masculine preoccupations and insecurities. More universally, it burrows into the crazy conclusions, projections and hypocricies people find inside themselves when they're weighing their actual life against their fantasy life... the one they think they ought to be living instead. I wish Martin and the movie had more curiousity about his wife's feelings but at least its honest about the man's failings. The movie tenderly inches Martin towards self-awareness and acceptance of the limitations of his own father who we see in flashback memories.

The Ass: A+; The Nature: A; The Movie: B / B-

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Reader Comments (11)

I love the Cannes-TIFF continuum for reminding of me of little movies I need to look out for. Force Majeure is one of those.
Out of Nature sounds bizarre - wonder if it will make it to arthouses.

September 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

I saw that glorious ass in the TIFF catalogue and seriously thought about seeing it just for that, because I'm not above a perv watch once in a while, but decided against it. Sounds better than I expected, though - I'll try to check it out if it ever makes it stateside.

Glad to hear Force Majeure lived up to the hype. Ostlund's last film, PLAY, was a major discovery for me at TIFF in 2011, so I'm super stoked for this one - though since it's not playing at TIFF while I'm there, and skipping NYFF, I'll have to catch it whenever it hits its commercial run in NY. Oh well. This and Mommy were the only high profile fest titles I was dying to see, but couldn't get tickets too. I'll live!

September 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRoark

I liked Force majeure - certainly way more than I did Ostlund's last film Play (which was a ham fisted Haneke pastiche). but ultimately it did feel like a bit of a pale rehash of Loneliest Planet

September 7, 2014 | Unregistered Commentergoran

That avalanche shot in FORCE is an early contender for shot of the year. Wowsers.

September 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMichael C.

goran -- really? I think this one is more expansive, more clever, and far more intellectually stimulating than Loneliest Planet... though that one did have a sort of beauitfully meditative quality and a sensual quality that make it highly recommended.

michael c - oh, you've seen it already?.

September 7, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Caught a screening in late August. Liked it nearly as much as you did. I'm not sure about the final stretch, say the last 20 minutes or so,. but even those scenes are so bold and worth arguing about, my qualms about how well they "worked" seem almost irrelevant. Terrific film.

September 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMichael C.

It's strange to see the label "White" on the protagonist. He's a native Norwegian, not a white American male. For Norwegians colored people are foreigners or something you find in other countries like the US. You're confusing and mixing to entirely different cultures

September 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterChris

Chris -- I can't follow this complaint. Martin is most definitely white. Caucasian. Race does not only exist in America. Plus I used to live in Norway so I'm not entirely ignorant about cultural differences there.

I just don't see the issue with grouping him with other films about early midlife crises for straight white men. It has all the hallmarks of that subgenre: boredom with his life, "is this all there is?" soul searching, narcisissism, comic masturbation, temptations to cheat even though he's got what looks like a good deal at home. About the only way that this doesn't qualify and shows (I don't mind saying superior) cultural differences is that he actually DOES wonder about his wife's interior life... which you don't find in American male midlife crises movies.

September 16, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

@Nathaniel: Which two scenes in Force Majeure were the head-scratchers for you? I just saw it so now I'm ready to ask.

September 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

Nick -- i'm embarrased to admit that i can't remember both of them.. But the final scene I couldn't quite wrap my head around.

September 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Don't be embarrassed! I forget entire endings to movies, major plot points, all of it.
By any chance, did the second scene involve a remote-control UFO?

September 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

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