April 29, 2012

TRIBECA 2012: Critic's Notebook #2

by Steve Dollar

The Fourth Dimension

I don't care what you say; the cinema is richer because Harmony Korine exists within it. Hopes for The Fourth Dimension were calibrated, nonetheless. The only advance word on the new film, a three-director omnibus with vaguely Dogme '95 overtones, was that it starred Val Kilmer "as Val Kilmer," playing a motivational speaker, who rides a kid-sized bicycle and dazzles the faithful at Southern indoor skate arenas. I had penciled it in as part of the Tribeca Film Festival's freakshow trilogy, which included the stunt-casted Elmore Leonard caper Freaky Deaky (Andy Dick and Crispin Glover as playboy brothers) and Francophrenia (James Franco as "James Franco," playing a soap-opera character named Franco). It's much better than that.

Kilmer's episode, "The Lotus Community Workshop," opens the show, lensed by Korine in an extreme panoramic aspect ratio that seemed to highlight the flotsam-jetsam aspects of the director's beloved underclass milieu. Kilmer, who these days might be called "Fat Val Kilmer," rallies an adoring circle of devotees with a nearly incoherent rush of free-association and ecstatic positivity ("Cotton candy!" "Velvet Killed Elvis!" "Vibe jack!"), each phrase peppered with kooky sound effects supplied by the roller rink's DJs.

The Fourth Dimension

The banter is so bizarre, and Kilmer so committed, that you can pretty much sit there hypnotized, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Only it doesn't. The story cuts back and forth with the rest of Kilmer's evening. He meets his girlfriend (Rachel Korine, in wigger hair braids) and they rent a video game called "Kill Freak," encountering a pair of shirtless, older men on the way home—an occasion for Kilmer to share more of his philosophy. Interstitial title sequences fill in some blanks: Each episode is meant to follow a set of rules ("The hero must tell bad jokes... but they're good"), organized either to foster absurdity or thematic flow. Russian director Aleksei Fedorchenko takes the second slot, telling the story of Grigory Mikhailovich (Igor Sergeev) and his mission: to travel through time using his invention, the "Chronoscope." The action unfolds in one of those quintessentially desolate Soviet apartment buildings, a 4th dimension all its own, a quality further emphasized by the actor's resemblance to a Tarkovsky character. In the end, Mikhailovich succeeds in his quest, but his jerry-rigged video screen only reveals things at obscure angles. His chronoscope is a bust. But in his failure, he finally melts enough to connect with a sexy neighbor (Darya Ekamasova) and together they fulfill one of Korine's mandates: they dance.

At the end of the third segment, a viewer in the row behind me complained, "Just what we need, a Polish hipster apocalypse." Truth! The closing "Fawns," from Polish director Jan Kwiecinski, is the best of the trio. A quartet of young punks, with an apparent thing for communal phlebotomy, wander a depopulated town raiding fridges and randomly trash humping, the camera peeping from many odd perspectives. Soon enough, it's revealed that some kind of natural disaster is on the horizon, and these overgrown children—three boys and a girl—continue to play until it's almost too late, a sense of dread gradually draining their ebullience as one of them goes missing and their afternoon takes a couple of unexpected twists leading to a climactic revelation. Kwiecinski's eye is improvisatory and alive with color, and shares a sense of the mordant magic in everyday life that most of us might associate with Kieslowski, and throughout this anthology is illuminated in balloon hues (Cotton candy!).


BEST COEN BROTHERS KNOCK-OFF: The Norwegian Jackpot (Arme Riddere). The next hot literary-to-screen phenomenon about to break out of Scandinavia is crime novelist Jo Nesbø (who also penned the novel adapted for the current, and highly recommended, Headhunters). He came up with the story behind this raucous (and absurdly violent) caper about four losers—employees at an artificial Christmas tree factory—who miraculously win a bundle of kroner betting in a soccer pool. That's the worst kind of luck for Oscar Svendson (Kyrre Hellum), who has to explain to the cops why he's the quartet's only survivor after he crawls alive out of a strip-club massacre. The flashback-driven plot is frantic and ridiculous, littered with corpses hidden in tanning beds, splattered brains and an unusually handy pig farm.

Postcards From the Zoo

BEST SUPPORTING GIRAFFE: Postcards from the Zoo (Kebun Binatang). The director's name is Edwin. Just Edwin. And he's equally concise about matters of dialogue and plot. This charming and hypnotic Indonesian film was one of the more visionary and unique Tribeca selections. It's a ‪ curious consideration of Jakarta's nearly 150-year-old Ragunan Zoo. Though it stars only a few of its 270 species of most endangered animals, many of them are human: in this fictional scenario, the zoo also hosts a colorful community of the homeless, who have turned the property into their own imaginary theme park, conducting tours and entertaining the visitors. Lana (Ladya Cheryl), a child of the zoo, grows up and has to leave this improvised Eden for the urban jungle—assisted by a cowboy-magician whose purposes remain vague. Blatantly obvious statements about natural beauty and the loss of innocence come into play, although given the film's‬ ‪ spare, almost wordless construction, it's hard to say if they are meant to be statements at all. Lana's ‬ beatific aura abides, lending the film a grace that rises above the elliptical narrative.‬

Certain People

BEST BIRTHDAY PARTY MELTDOWN: The American Caroline and Jackie had this prize locked until Certain People came along. The Swedish ensemble comedy, set on the island that Ingmar Bergman called home, is a deconstruction of pretentious, entitled bohemians who visit an elysian country estate to celebrate the birthday of the lissome Katinka (Mia Mountain). But there's an insane amount of tension about to crack the self-satisfied facade, which is doomed the second the host's prodigal (and drunk and freeloading) twin brother shows up. He's brought along a firecracker named Linda (Yohanna Idha), a playful sexpot whose combination of sexual charisma and lack of sophistication makes her a catalyst that exposes everyone's lies and desires. Levan Akin's direction of a colorful cast emphasizes pregnant pauses and dart-like glances, leaving an ample amount of breathing room—space that the audience can color in with its own interpretations of characters who are all an awful lot like certain people we know.‬

THE ‪DUDS: Elles, As Luck Would Have It, Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal.‬

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Posted by ahillis at April 29, 2012 2:01 PM