Tribeca is over and we're almost done catching up with reviews. Here's Nathaniel on a potential Oscar submission from Estonia and a twisted thriller from the UK.
The festival described this crime comedy as Fargo-like and that's true to a degree. It takes place in a small town where everyone seems to know each other...ish. The local customs are amusing or peculiar to the outsider (namely, us). There's also a noticeable undercurrent of 'and all for a little money' despair about the human condition that tugs at both the red herrings and the true crime. A young ladies-man teacher named Lauri (Siim Maaten), something of a slacker/dreamer as he had big plans but never moved out of his parents home, has been in a coma for months following a shooting. While his long suffering mother attempts to care for him alone (the father is no help), a parade of visitors including friends, lovers and policemen keep bursting in to bear their souls or search his room on the sly. The director Kadri Kousaar (yay for female filmmakers!) keeps the camera as invasive as the guests, and we're often looking where we shouldn't be behind doors or curtains or seeing things from odd angles. One of the best sustained jokes in this deadpan comedy (it's not really a movie for guffaws but heh-heh touches) is that no matter how many times there's a knock at the door, the parents are surprised even though their house has become Grand Central Station.
But who is responsible for the shooting and why is everyone acting so suspicious or guilty about their history with Lauri? While the story revolves around the mystery surrounding the son, the mother is the star of the picture (in case the title didn't clue you in). Despite a difficult character to dramatize with Elsa being barely verbal and moving throughout like a resentful silent martyr to her drudgery, Tiina Mälberg is terrific in the role. And it's her first movie! She makes the character alternately funny and intriguing and, in the odd moment here and there, when her mostly surpressed emotions bubble up Mälberg earns the reveals and keeps the character cohesive. Grade: B/B+
P.S. The Estonian film industry is tiny, producing a couple handfuls of films a year so we have to take any release that makes its way to American festivals seriously as a potential Oscar submission. The country enjoyed its first nomination in the foreign language film category with Tangerines in 2014 (a joint production with Georgia).
Another film where the laughs land uncomfortably -- because boy is this nihilistic -- is Ben Wheatley's adaptation of J.G. Ballard's "High-Rise". The allegorical satire takes place (almost) entirely within a high-rise apartment building where the 1% (Jeremy Iron as the architect) lives at the tippity top and everyone else is more or less at his mercy and subject to suffer for his follies if things don't work quite right in the building. Doctors like Tom Hiddleston's Laing, a brain surgeon, are somewhere around the floor and so on down to lower floors where families (Elisabeth Moss & Luke Evans) with seemingly endless children struggle to get by. The eventual societal breakdown is revealed from the very first image which is rather an odd choice; it kills what might have been gut-churning momentum. We already know the downward spiral will have the adults going Lord of the Flies on each other and Laing will be living in shambles as one of the society's only survivors.
If you can get past the nihilism and poor treatment of animals, the film has plentiful pleasures including a smart performance from Hiddleston and rich filmmaking from every department. Clint Mansell contributes another intriguing score but the MVP is the eye candy from fascinating production design through to the very attractive cast. A crisp white shirt has never looked so pornographic as it does here on Tom Hiddleston but he's also wearing a lot less, which his fellow resident (Sienna Miller - yes her again) notices and appreciates straightaway immediately spinning the interpersonal web of craziness that will grow and grow from the moment Laing moves in on every floor. Ballard's novel was written in the 1970s but the film never plays it like a period piece really despite the flare of some clothing and hair and prop details, which helps keep it out of time and universal; the film isn't going for realism but allegory anyway. Not all of this works, the pacing is a particular sore point since the film gets mired down on its way to where we know its already going and he doesn't quite stick the landing, but I left convinced that director Ben Wheatley is someday going to make a great film. Grade: B