Monday 27 October 2014

London Film Festival 2014 Capsule Reviews: Pasolini, White God & When Animals Dream

Pasolini (dir: Abel Ferrara) Pier Paolo Pasolini’s brutal murder in 1975 was truly an ignoble and cruel exit for the firebrand cultural figure. On the surface, the criminally underrated Abel Ferrara might appear to be an odd choice to make a biopic about such a divisive intellectual artist. However, the NYC auteur boasts a controversial movie or two in his own filmography and shares with Pasolini a certain roughhewn, albeit, poetic vision. The two directors could be spiritual brothers.

For a man often charged by his detractors as an immoral soul, the screenplay by Maurizio Braucci – and actor Willem Dafoe’s portrayal – paint the man as a profoundly moral individual, whose last movie, Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, was a doom-filled political allegory so shocking that its message was barely palatable, let alone comprehended.

The cinematography, all rich noir-style chiaroscuro lighting, that slashes across interiors, faces and landscapes to suggest not only is this a man with one foot in the grave, but captures, too, the conflicting, even contradictory, nature of Pasolini and his work and ideas. For example, he tells a reporter, “I’m an assassin and a good man.”

Dafoe is excellent as the doomed director in a role he was destined to play. No doubt Ferrara’s depiction of Pasolini’s murder at the hands of a rent boy and several others will cause further discussion and debate. The film is serious-minded, structurally playful and works as both character study and tribute to a radical talent.

White God (dir: Kornél Mundruczó) The winner of the Prize Un Certain Regard at Festival de Cannes 2014, as well as the far more prestigious Palm Dog, Kornél Mundruczó’s horror comedy, White God, works as both an astute political satire and madcap ‘nature’s revenge’ saga. It comes off as Robert Bresson’s masterpiece, Au hazard Balthazar, has reimagined by Stephen King.

Hagen is a mongrel cut adrift by his owner onto the mean streets of Budapest. Captured by a tramp, he is sold into servitude for a plate of food and trained as a fighting hound by a gangster. Then, like a canine version of Spartacus, Hagen rebels against his new master and turns the city into an apocalyptic war zone with a little help from his buddies at the dog pound.

Scenes of animal cruelty hit hard, for sure, but it makes the third act all the more exciting and vengeance-packed. The closing scene is heart-wrenching as well as an amusing riff on the old adage that ‘music soothes the savage beast’. The film leaves us with jaws firmly planted on the floor with a majestic and awe-inspiring final shot. White God is an exceptional and batshit crazy movie that is not to be missed.

When Animals Dream (dir: Jonas Alexander Arnby). With his debut feature, When Animals Dream (Når dyrene drømmer), the Danish director takes werewolf and more general monster movie tropes and reworks them into a coming-of-age story. In a curious kind of way, this horror drama is a far better Carrie remake than the recent Kimberly Peirce effort. The similarities between the two are strong enough to bear the comparison. There’s even a scene of ritual humiliation among peers. 

Perhaps too artsy for genre fans who like their monster movies bloody and less mopey, Arnby’s slow-burn drama is bolstered by Sonia Suhl’s excellent performance as factory girl Marie, who one day finds a rash on her breasts and wonders whether the changes to her body have anything to do with her wheelchair-bound mother’s own illness. Moodily shot by Niels Thastum – the gloom is quintessentially Scandinavian – the film changes gears in the second and third act as Marie accepts her new situation and must fend off anxious locals.

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