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« Review: "Blair Witch" | Main | 10th Anniversary: The Black Dahlia »
Thursday
Sep152016

TIFF on Fire: "Pyromaniac" and "Death in Sarajevo"

Nathaniel R, reporting, still at the Toronto International Film Festival where you'll notice I tend to give dual grades. This is the way to go in the mad rush of festival going. As nourishing as festivals can be from a cinephile, they aren't actually the best climate in which to generate definitive feelings because when you're done with one piece of art you have to rush on to the next one. Here are two films I saw this week that were quite combustible.

Dag lights up a small Norwegian town... unfortunately it's with matches.

Pyromaniac (Dir. Erik Skjoldbjaerg, Norway)
One of Norway's best known directors (Pioneer, Insomnia) is back with another unsettling thriller. The peculiar dichotomy of a fireman who also sets fires is the focus. Create your own dream job, they do always say. Dag (Trond Nillsen, King of Devil's Island) is the son of the local firechief and when he returns to his hometown after military service a small town is suddenly plagued by arson, first in the woods but slowly closing in on actual residences. As fires go this thriller doesn't build to an inferno, as a more traditional movie might, so much as it threatens to consistent. Like someone waiting with gasoline by a small fire. The result is a discomforting slow burn, elevated considerably by artful intuitive detours with female characters. These don't serve the plot so much as bring humanity up face-to-face with inexplicable evil; some see it for what it is (one scene with a piercing scream and a lit match is absolutely terrifying), others flippantly dismiss it. Dag's own mother (a great Liv Bernhort Osa) is handed the painful evasive denouement. [Trivia Note: Strangely Norway has yet to submit Skjoldbjaerg for the Oscar race in Best Foreign Language Film though he's been a finalist before and was again this year. They didn't even submit him for his international breakthrough Insomnia (1997) famously remade by Christopher Nolan a few years later.] B/B+

a talk show host and her volatile guest come to fascinating verbal blows

Death in Sarajevo (Dir. Danis Tanovic, Bosnia & Herzegovina)
Bosnia & Herzegovina's Oscar Submission
Danis Tanovic came to fame with the anti-war drama No Man's Land (2001) which took the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in its day. Fifteen years later Tanovic is still committed to deeply felt statement films and still righteously angry about senseless wars. The entire film takes place within a cash-poor luxury hotel in Sarajevo that will soon host a meeting of European dignitaries. Everyone is on edge, nobody is getting paid, the workers are ready to strike, and guests are arriving. Though the film beguns with the taping of a talk show on the violent cycles in South Slavic history, fears that this might be little more than educational history lesson were quickly assuaged by strong storytelling and multiple interesting characters like the hotel's laundress, a lovelorn cook, an ambitious female manager, and the cerebral but fierce talk show host and a guest she berates as a "thug" who fits this description but is multi-faceted, too. In one witty but distressing bit another guest of the talk show praises the affect of all the civil wars on the Bosnian people  'it protects us from uniformity of thought.' Uniformity of thought is not a problem with these characters. We know that all the separate stories with their personal dramas and opposing agendas we'll eventually collide (that's what happens in this subgenre of drama) but it's still fascinating to watch them braid together and Tanovic does this artfully. Some of the political content still went over my American head -- especially the story of a man rehearsing a political speech (the film is based on a one man show "Hotel Europe" and this section seemed to be the most direct lift). But as with all fine political dramas, this one understands that politics is personal and vice versa. B/B+ 

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