Soulmining at TIFF '09, Day Nine - My Son My Son What Have Ye Done, Same Same But Different and Valhalla Rising
22nd Oct 09
It’s the penultimate day here at TIFF 09 and a lot of the international press have already left now that the festival is winding down. A few final P&I screenings remain this morning and thereafter any films that I see will have to be at public screenings on a rush basis.
My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done
First up is Herzog’s other new film, the one that isn’t Bad Lieutentant: Port Of Call New Orleans. Another police-procedural thriller, albeit this time lead by a good cop, My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done is set in San Diego where the aforementioned policeman Hank (Willem Dafoe) is called to a suburban neighbourhood where Brad (Michael Shannon) is holding two people hostage after seemingly killing his own mother with a sword. As the stand off between the two intensifies and a crowd gathers, that includes Brad’s girlfriend (Chloe Sevigny), we discover that Brad has never been the same since returning from a trip to Peru and has recently been rehearsing for a play that echoes the exact nature of his mother’s murder.
Produced by David Lynch, the director’s penchant for strange, otherworldly characters living in the heart of suburbia is embraced by Herzog to limited effect here. An underlying sense of unease is present, and there’s no denying the bizarreness of the case that Hank’s assigned to, but sadly the narrative is lacking and there’s not enough substance in Brad’s story to keep the viewer hooked. Herzog is without doubt an accomplished director and he’s got a solid cast at his disposal but the film never really takes flight, it just comes across as a little tiresome and boring. In the end I couldn’t help but think if only Nicolas Cage’s Terence McDonagh character were on the case, now that might have been something worth watching…
That’s my final P&I screening so my next port of call is the screening library to have a look at their screener list and see what titles are available that I might have missed. I book a 5pm slot for later in the afternoon and then go and find Gerald in the Press Office who helps secure me a ticket for Ong Bak 2: The Beginning tomorrow night, the closing Midnight Madness film.
Same Same But Different
My next selection is a public screening of Same Same But Different over at the Cumberland which I manage to get into without any problem. From German director Detlev Buck, the film is a bittersweet romantic drama based on a tragic true life story. Ben (David Kross) is a young man on holiday in Cambodia who falls for local girl, Sreykeo (Apinya Sakuljaroensuk). Despite Sreykeo’s former life as a prostitute, against all odds the two become lovers, but their long distance relationship comes under tremendous pressure after Ben is forced to return to Germany to find work and Sreykeo discovers that she’s HIV-positive. What does Ben do when the woman he loves is thousands of miles away and in desperate need of medical care?
The subject matter being what it is, there’s a danger that the film could be overly melodramatic, but Buck does a fantastic job of reigning things in and keeping it real. The travel scenes will be familiar to many – I smiled in recognition at Ben’s friend, the one who always threatens to move on somewhere else but never quite gets around to it because he’s having so much fun where he is – but it’s the emotional journey that really convinces thanks to Kross’s sensitive performance and Sakuljaroensuk’s innocent charm. Despite its sad, melancholic moments there is a lot of light and hope in the film too, and Buck never resorts to cliché preferring loud punk songs to orchestrated strings. A rich and rewarding love story that made me want to read more about Ben and Sreyko’s lives, Same Same But Different is an apt title indeed.
So what should I choose to catch up with down at the screening library this afternoon? Top of my list is Valhalla Rising and I’m delighted to find that they have a screener available for me to watch. Less happy once I’ve seen the film, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Arthouse vikings anyone? Yes, Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest film is all about a fearsome warrior known as One Eye (Mads Mikkelsen) who is captured by a group of Christians and taken on a journey across the ocean to the Holy Land to lead the fight against the pagans who rule the land at this moment in history. One Eye’s only friend is a nameless young boy who follows him. In fact One Eye is the only character that’s given a name at all. And he doesn’t speak either, aside from the occasional grunt.
Refn has always been a director who takes risks and his previous film Bronson (which incidentally I loved) divided audiences with its abstract approach to one of Britain’s most notorious criminals. Filmed back to back with that film, Valhalla Rising is even more left field with its minimal dialogue and narrative and is more a mood piece than anything else. Save for the occasional bout of combat this could be a travel documentary on wild coastal landscapes! Mikkelsen certainly looks the part, his sinewy body covered with tribal tattoos, and rises to the challenge of portraying One Eye through sheer physicality alone, but for me it’s just not enough. It’s a bold approach for sure, but makes for a very frustrating experience for those seeking some characterisation and investment in those characters. Whilst I can’t fault Refn’s talent behind the camera, story wise it’s a disaster and I quickly grew tired and even at the end I struggled to see what the point of the film was or what message he was trying to deliver. Disappointing.
Assorted TIFF 09 clutter
With the screening library closing its doors at 7pm there’s no time to perk myself up with another screener, so instead I grab a bite to eat and head back to my apartment to sort through my programme guide and try and decide which remaining films to see tomorrow. Tonight’s Midnight Madness film is A Town Called Panic, but having already seen it earlier in the week at its P&I screening I elect to have an early(ish) night and watch Masashi Yamamoto’s Man, Woman And The Wall on DVD instead.
For further information on TIFF 09 visit the festival website: www.tiff.net/.
Valhalla Rising will screen at the BFI 53rd London Film Festival in October.