Wednesday, September 24, 2014

“These are the Rules” by Ognien Svilicic takes home best actor award in Venice Orrizzonti

By Moira Sullivan

“These are the Rules” by Ognien Svilicic

The Venice Film Festival, which ended on September 6, screened an exceptional film in the Orrizzonti section: “These are the Rules” by Ognien Svilicic, a Croatian, Serbian and Macedonian co-production. Set in modern day Zagreb, the film is about a middle age couple, Maja and Ivo (brilliantly performed by Jasna Žalica and Emir Hadžihafizbegovićwhose teenage son Tomica (Hrvoje Vladisavljević) returns home early in the morning and locks himself in his room. The couple is routinized. but not without affection towards one another and certainly towards their son. Ivo is a bus driver and Maja, a housewife. They go through the daily rituals such as preparing lunch - cutting vegetables and setting the table even with this new development preoccupying their minds. Knocks on Tomica’s door are in vain when finally he emerges clearly pretty beaten up in the face. His concerned parents take him to the emergency room and the attending physician barely looks at him or even takes an x-ray. Later at home, Tomica faints in the bathroom and is rushed to the hospital and never regains consciousness. 
The filmmaker states that the story is based on real life events. What is most astonishing about the film is the indifference almost every person involved in this situation displays towards the incident, Tomica and his parents. A classmate shows Ivo a video of the assault by a classmate. When Ivo shows the video to the police they claim that it is not evidence and he must find more evidence.
The manner in which the story enfolds is the most compelling aspect of the film, apart from the story. The daily routines of this couple in their apartment and the ways in which their truths slowly emerge are subtle yet powerful. There is no increasing tension,  dramatic acting or dramatic music to intensify the story.  It is told simply and truthfully.
This film had much in common with Chaitanya Tamhane’s “Court” which won the Lion of the Future, Court.  The absence of drama, the kind that really belongs to the theater does not always belong in a film. Tomica’s parents are outraged by the incident that involves their son in which he is beaten to death on the streets of Zagreb and they express their grief in their own ways. Their sorrow is intimately felt and yet as a spectator it is not easy to refrain from feeling indignation towards the careless police emergency physician and hospital personnel. Tomica dies as the result of his injuries, a gentle and sensitive young man, who like his parents lives an honest life and is subjected to careless disregard and irresponsibility. Tomica’s empty room with the artifacts of a short life are important to behold  and feel as is the sadness that his parents feel in losing their only son. All of this is expressly related through high quality performances and cinematic style making “These are the Rules” one of the best films screened at the Venice Film Festival this year.
The SPECIAL ORIZZONTI AWARD for best actor went to Emir Hadžihafizbegovic for his role as Ivo.

Emir Hadžihafizbegovic

For Movie Magazine this is Moira Sullivan

© 2014 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 09/24/14
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence wins Golden Lion in Venice

By Moira Sullivan

Typical Roy Andersson mis en scène

The big news from the "Venice Film Festival" that ended on September 6 is that Sweden’s best arthouse filmmaker after the late Ingmar Bergman, Roy Andersson  won the Golden Lion for his film A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence. It comprises 39 separate but thematically connected sketches on two traveling salesmen and  is part of a trilogy of films that began with  his grand prize at Cannes in 2000 (Songs from the Second Floor). After that Andersson was hard at work again crafting a by now clearly recognizable product as far as form and content is concerned. “You, the living” (2008) was made seven years after his Cannes award and A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence completes the trilogy.

Andersson’s work is so completely different from anything that directors in Sweden are producing today that he is comfortably in a class of his own. His feature films follow the same visual style since 1991 with his film entitled Härlig är Jorden , "World of Glory", a cynical slice of Stockholm life, a series of handcrafted vignettes with carefully composed mis en scène and artfully arranged slices of life. The scenes are filmed in medium or long shots, with no close-ups, and virtually no camera movement. The color of the interiors - Swedish apartments, offices or pubs recreated in Andersson’s Studio 24 in Stockholm is always “nausea green”, a little like the green tint in "Soylent Green" from the 1970s.  

There is a frosty chill to these interiors with a decadent fuzzy color stock superimposed on decrepit and deteriorating facades. These interiors could be filmed anywhere in Europe and they often look like East Berlin before the wall came down but they are made in Stockholm.

Today Stockholm is one of Europe’s most elegant and beautiful cities, but in the suburbs of Roy Andersson’s concern, time stands still with ugly brownstones and high rises from the 1960’s. Most of the inhabitants have sparsely furnished dwellings. They are sub-basic and on the verge of spiritual decline as far as utility. The interiors most certainly seem to match the mentality of the characters.

The idea of a series of side-by-side visual vignettes evolved out of Roy Andersson’s career as a commercial filmmaker. His three latest films represent a personal artistic renaissance after years of making commercials and a return to features.

 The archetypal Swede is the central character in an Andersson film,  sometimes referred to as a  “zombie”, an unattractive stereotypical label awarded because of lulls in conversation, sparse functional language, a shyness for helping others and showing compassion when someone has misfortune, and a general lack of warmth and emotion. There is also a ritualized reverence to protocol and a generational and dutiful transmission of the moral codes of the culture. Andersson’s commercials are often good-natured digs at the conventions of Swedish society.

Andersson’s Sweden is reminiscent of the late cold war or an impending catastrophe. A static group pose is present in almost every Andersson vignette:  people standing in line for a bus, sitting in a bar or waiting for an elevator. No one small talks with their neighbor because they don’t really know them even if they have seen each other for years.  These generic qualities have perhaps given Andersson the distinction of making universal films with universal themes. But his films rightly so are particularly Swedish. More than anything there is a sense of impending doom which makes Roy Andersson a unique and cathartic art house director. His latest edition

"A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence" was inspired by a Bruegel painting with a birds eye view entitled "Winter Landscape with Skaters and a Birdtrap".

© 2014 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 09/10/14
Movie Magazine International