Cinema Reviews - White God; Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter
White God. Animal lovers beware. This Hungarian film, a sixth from Kornel Mundroczo, whilst documenting man's inhumanity to animals, shows some of the most graphic scenes of dog fighting since Amores Perros.
One viewer described it as being like a "dog snuff movie." All credit then to the make-up department and to dog trainer Teresa Ann Miller whose task was not an easy one in this Budapest set parable.
Lili (Zsofia Psotta) is the 13-year-old owner of mongrel Hagen. Her parents are divorced and Lili and Hagen live with her mother, however for the summer she will live with her father, Daniel, (Sandor Zsoter) a deflated and defeated man whose bachelor bedsit can barely fit Lili, much less the dog. A law has been passed saying that mongrel dogs are subject to a large tax and, when a neighbour reports the presence of a non-purebred to the authorities, Daniel opts to abandon the dog on the side of the road rather than pay for him. A distraught Lili seeks her dog for weeks, her father's decision adding fuel to a teenage rebellion already underway. Hagen meanwhile meets various forms of cruelty, the most upsetting of which is his brutal training as a fighting dog at the hands of a Turkish restaurant owner.
The film switches perspective, to a dog's eye view and gains momentum heading towards a kind of doggy apocalypse. It's a clever, well put together film, with a great score and some fantastic shots. The Birds meets In the Heat of the Night, in Hungarian. With dogs.
Feb 27 IFI
Found footage, where it is meant to look as if a film is cobbled together from pieces of real hand held camera work, was an interesting innovation back in the day of The Blair Witch Project (which I hate to tell you is over 15 years old.) That it ever became a sub genre was a bit of a stretch in the first place, that it is still being mined is a torment. My heart sank when Project Almanac launched into the contrivance. Apart from the contrivance factor itself, the shaky camera work is annoying.
Anyway, in this film, aimed at the young teen market, science genius David Raskin (Jonny Weston) is accepted for the university course of his choice but without the funding he needs. In a bid to find another project that could win him the full scholarship and stop his mother having to sell the house he looks through the things left behind by his dead father. A scientist who claimed to work for a power company, the father was in fact involved in top secret developments, in his own basement. His work, locked up since his death, proves to have been on time travel, a secret soon discovered by his genius son and his nerdy friends (Allen Evangelista and Sam Lerner). A discovery documented, as with every step afterwards, by David's sister and unlikely nerd hanger-on Christina (Ginny Gardner). The group of friends is joined accidentally by David's secret crush, (Sophia Black-d'Elia) and the adventure proper begins.
After a brief flirtation with the notion of going back in time to undo wrongs, kill Hitler and the like, they opt instead to make smaller changes on a local scale. Promising never to time travel alone their first stop is to arrange to win the lottery, their second to visit Lollapolooza. But inevitably if there are changes you could make, you want to make them and every small change sets off circumstances that are not always predictable or welcome.
That a group of teenagers would choose to make short sighted decisions is entirely understandable and reasonable, that they see the consequences of those choices played out before them is interesting but it follows a safe track instead of veering into horror. This and the bit of romance mean it is suitable for young teens but is unlikely to become a classic.
Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter
Inhabiting a rare place between fact and fiction, Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter was always going to stand out at this time of year, wedged as it is between the Oscarbait and the awards-season run-off.
You won't have seen anything quite like it of late, and while much of its peculiar ambience is tied up in loneliness and confusion, it will leave you with a strangely optimistic glow that will puzzle you for days.
The Zellner brothers (director and co-star David and producer Nathan) co-wrote this fairytale from a beguiling source, namely an urban myth that had adhered itself to a 2001 tragedy. A Japanese woman was found frozen in Minnesota having taken her own life. But media at the time latched on to the rumour that she had gone there searching for the very loot which Steve Buscemi's character is seen burying in the Coen bros film Fargo (1996). The Zellners were concerned only with this dotty and discredited side-plot.
Rinko Kikuchi (Babel, Pacific Rim) is still waters running deep as the isolated Tokyo office worker bullied by her boss and mother for being so alone. On a scratchy VHS copy of Fargo, she studies the briefcase of cash being stashed in the snow with fascination. She gets her hands on the company credit card and ventures off to North Dakota to hunt down the money and its totemic worth.
With an airiness that recalls both Jarmusch and at-times the aforementioned Coens, Zellner tightrope-walks between whimsical and gravid. This is a daydream, designed to tickle fancies and wonders, but with reality's hard knocks serving as a vital bogeyman.
A treasure in itself.
In selected cinemas.
Hilary A White
The Duke of Burgundy
Wordsmith extraordinaire Julie Burchill once wrote of Stephen Fry that he was a "stupid person's idea of what an intelligent person is."
There's a strong sense that, movie-wise, we're in similar territory with the release of The Duke of Burgundy, director Peter Strickland's S&M themed follow up to the well-received Berberian Sound Studio. This homage to Seventies's erotica can't be faulted in terms of style and visual flair but for all these positives, it does little to disabuse you of the notion that Seventies erotica is a genre best left in the Seventies.
Think Fifty Shades of Grey for art-house aficionados and you're well on the way to getting a sense of the demographic targeted by this extended kinkathon starring Chiara D'Anna and Borgen star, Sidse Babett Knudsen.
Set in a universe that doesn't include men, the story revolves around a relationship that relies on recourse to various S&M practises to sustain its precarious equilibrium. Cynthia ( Babette Knudsen) and Evelyn ( D'Anna) are in a committed relationship but their connection seems driven by an energy that suggests the relationship that role-plays together stays together. Cynthia and Evelyn's favoured ritual revolves around the dominant Cynthia humiliating Evelyn for the latter's inability to cut the proverbial mustard as a maid. Difficulties arise as Evelyn's appetite for depravity grows more ravenous just as Cynthia's desires go a little more mainstream.
It seems only fair to state The Duke of Burgundy has been the subject of favourable reviews but I found it to be a slightly underwhelming affair. Performances are uniformly excellent and there are also a couple of admirably understated comic touches. Not enough, however, to compensate for an overall sense that this is a spectacle in which artifice has won out over art.