‘Parasite’ May Be the Cinematic Masterpiece of 2019

Parasite movie poster

Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” is a movie I would definitely screen as a double feature with Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “Shoplifting.” Both of them deal with characters on the low end of the economic totem pole who resort to deceitful ways in order to survive in an especially harsh and unforgiving world. But while they start as one type of movie, they eventually take a very sharp left turn to give audiences something unexpected and deeply disturbing. Also, they each won Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in different years, and this should give you a clear idea of just how incredibly brilliant these movies are.

The story opens up in a shabby semi-basement apartment where the Kim family resides and struggles to survive. Kim Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho) and his wife Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin) are unemployed, and along with their children, son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) and daughter Ki-jung (Park So-dam), they work low-paying jobs which include putting together pizza boxes for a local company. The area around them is squalid to say the least, and they can never rid themselves of the stench of urine and vomit coming through their window even as they struggle to take advantage of their neighbor’s Wi-Fi. When an exterminator arrives to fumigate the area, Ki-taek encourages his wife to leave the window open so they can get the apartment fumigated for free as it threatens to be overtaken by unwanted insects.

But then one day, the family is visited by Ki-woo’s friend, Min-hyuk (Park Seo-joon), who is currently a university student. While there, he encourages Ki-woo to take over his job as an English tutor for Da-hye (Jung Ji-so), daughter of the wealthy Park family. Ki-woo is initially hesitant as he does not have a degree, but Min encourages him to fake it. With the help of Ki-jung, he is given forged documents which look quite real, and he is off to the Park household for his interview.

“Parasite” is insidiously clever in showing how different the Parks’ living arrangements are from the Kims’. Upon arriving at their glamorous household, he is made to go through a door which opens with a very ominous sound as it sounds like the rest of the world has been shut out to keep anyone from squatting on such valuable territory. It is a modern building and the kind you pass by on the road where sarcastically tell yourself, “yeah, I can afford that.”

From there, the movie turns into a wickedly black comedy as Ki-woo wins over Mrs. Park who watches him tutor her daughter ever so confidently as he encourages her to keep a check on her pulse during exams. When he learns the Parks have an artistically inclined son who is in need of an art teacher, Ki-woo tells her he knows just the person. That person is, of course, his sister Ki-jung, but the siblings have their act together to where they will not reveal their true identities, and it is hilarious to watch how infinitely prepared they are before they ring the doorbell.

It is also sublime to see how Ki-woo and Ki-jung win the trust of this wealthy family as they come up with clever ways of getting their parents hired as a driver and a housekeeper. Of course, this involves getting some longtime employees fired, and the ways they accomplish this are brilliant. Suffice to say, there is now more than one use for a packet of hot sauce.

When the Parks go away on a weekend camping trip, the Kim family spends this time in the lavish home, and they revel in drinking their expensive alcohol as they comment on how gullible rich people can be. I have to admit I found much joy to be taken in this family infiltrating the land of the rich as there is a perverse pleasure of seeing people acquire this lifestyle by fooling others. Boon Joon-ho invites us to share in this giddy deceit, and then he pulls out the rug from under you.

During their inebriated celebration, the Kim family suddenly hears the doorbell ring, and they are greeted by the housekeeper they got fired, Moon-gwang (Lee Jung-eun), who begs to be let inside as she has to retrieve something from down in the basement. I cannot give anything away from here, but everything goes to hell in a handbasket as secrets are revealed, and the characters will do anything to keep them from being discovered. By that, I mean anything.

I am not overly familiar with Bong Joon-ho’s work which includes “Okja,” “The Host” and “Mother.” I have, however, seen his English-language debut “Snowpiercer” which involves its characters going from the lower-class cars of a train to the ones where the elite reside in comfort, and like that one, “Parasite” observes the vast divide between the haves and have-nots which continues to grow in this day and age. Even after the Kim family has successfully deceived the Parks, they wonder if they can ever truly belong in the realm of the wealthy. Ki-woo even asks Park Da-hye if he could really exist in this society, and she simply shrugs.

I love how Joon-ho gets us to delight in the Kim family’s deception as we too deep down would love to worm our way into a level of society which tantalizes us with the possibility of joining even though we never can. But therein lies the trap as he makes us see there are consequences for such conniving actions, and you can be sure that blood will be spilt. Whether or not the Park family belongs to the 1% remains to be seen, but perhaps you should treat this movie as though they do.

From start to finish, I was deeply enthralled with “Parasite” to where I never once took my eyes off the screen. While the jarring twists and turns the movie takes may throw some audience members off, they all make perfect sense and enhance the feelings of tremendous guilt we are forced to endure as these characters suffer great consequences, some of which are worse than death.

The acting all around is superb, and there is not a weak performance to be found here. Song Kang-ho is especially effective as a man who is afflicted by a certain smell he cannot shake, and it is the kind the rich associate with poor people. We see this wear away at his soul as the Park family comments on it without realizing where exactly this smell comes from, it is almost no surprise to see him snap when he does.

My hat is also off to Choi Woo-shik and Park So-dam as they make their characters seem so infinitely clever to where you have to be in awe of their talents. Seeing them worm their way into the lives of the Parks ever so easily and calmly is an utter delight as we can only wish to be as clever as they are in this instance, and they keep this act up to almost to the last minute.

Seriously, “Parasite” may very well be the cinematic masterpiece of 2019 as there are only a few other movies from this past year which come close to reaching this level of brilliance. For those of you with an irrational fear of subtitles, I advise you to put those fears to the side as the most adventurous of filmgoers would do themselves a disservice to miss out on seeing this one on the big screen.

One other thing, Min-hyuk gives the family a large rock which is supposed to bring them wealth, and Ki-woo has several scenes in which he describes the rock as being “metaphorical.” This rock, however, proves to be nowhere as metaphorical as the Indian/Native American hats a couple of characters wear towards the movie’s end. Watch the movie and you will see what I mean.

* * * * out of * * * *

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Emmanuelle Riva Faces the Subject of Death Head On in ‘Amour’

Emmanuelle Riva in Amour

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was written back in 2013.

French actress Emmanuelle Riva has given us astonishing performances in movies like “Hiroshima mon amour,” “Thérèse Desqueyroux” and Krzysztof Kieślowski’s “Blue,” but now she has received the greatest acclaim of her career at age 85 in Michael Haneke’s “Amour.” In the movie she plays Anne Laurent, a retired music teacher who suffers a debilitating stroke, and we watch as her body and mind slowly deteriorate. The performance Riva gives is magnificent and not the least bit melodramatic, and she more than deserves to be among the nominees for Best Actress at the Academy Awards.

“Amour” actually marks the first movie Riva has headlined years as she tends to be picky about the projects she chooses. In talking with Scott Feinberg of The Hollywood Reporter, Riva said she only wanted to work on projects which were good, and she ended up doing more work in the theater than in film. However, she did not hesitate at the opportunity to be in Haneke’s movie as she responded strongly to the screenplay and found that the role came to her at the right time.

“I’m sure you know that roles for older women in cinema are not that numerous. And when you’re 84 years old? It’s not very often that you find a role that matches you. I felt that since I am really in the last stage of my life, this was a tremendous gift that was given to me,” Riva told Feinberg.

“Fortunately for me, my own age corresponded exactly to the age of the character that was going to be portrayed in the film. It was really a very miraculous kind of thing that this role should come to me when it did,” Riva continued. “I thought that the script was very, very strong. The writing was very powerful, and it was very authentic, and it was the authenticity that touched me very much.”

Considering how “Amour” does deal with the theme of mortality and is an emotionally draining movie to sit through (many said they cried during the movie and after it had ended), this must have made it seem like the kind of project actors would be quick to shy away from doing. No matter how good the screenplay is, this movies deals with questions many of us don’t want to know the answers to for a long, long time. While humans can suffer from a stroke at just about any age these days, most people still believe they only happen to the elderly. But in an interview with Sharon Waxman of The Wrap, Riva said she accepted this role without any hesitation.

“Afraid? No, not at all,” Riva told Waxman. “Why would I be afraid? This role presents the subject of the film that touches each of us, every human on the planet. As an actress, it’s so exciting to be engaged in a role like this. I would never have felt fear for this. If an actress is afraid, she should head for the door right away.”

“I was so happy in the work,” Riva continued. “Every day, every day. Two months of work. It was such happiness-a feeling of complete fullness. Of life, of death, of love. I never lost the excitement of the work. I was so infinitely happy during this shoot. So serious, but it wasn’t sad at all.”

It’s also easy to assume the mood on the set of “Amour” must have been very tense considering the grim subject matter. You might also think the cast and crew would approach each day with a stone faced serious as they dealt with characters who are at death’s door, and this especially seemed to be the case with Haneke directing. His films “Cache,” “Funny Games” and “The White Ribbon” have dealt with the darkest parts of the human existence, and on the surface “Amour” looks to be not much different. Riva, however, told Xan Brooks of The Guardian of how things on the set were not severely strict, and that the mood at times was actually quite playful.

“The subject matter is obviously intense. But we had a lot of fun along the way,” Riva told Brooks. “So much laughter, so many funny things. I remember once, when I was playing dead, I had to stay quite still. But when the crew went to look at the monitor, they came back laughing. I said, what’s so funny? And they told me that my toes were wiggling. My toes! I didn’t even know they could see them. So, I had to do the whole scene again and concentrate very carefully. I think my feet have a will of their own.”

Indeed, it’s movies like this one which test not just our emotions, but also how we see and treat diseases of any kind. Riva has spoken very highly of Haneke as a director and said he knows exactly what he wants and is not a bully about making his vision become a reality. And while this movie may seem infinitely sad, Riva never saw it as a scary one to be in or watch. She made this abundantly clear while talking with Tracy McNicoll of The Daily Beast.

“Because it is about a lady who becomes very sick, people believe it is difficult [to play]. But no, no. We incarnate a role and voilà,” Riva told McNicoll. “I knew people stricken like this. I knew, I saw; there are many. And performing that seemed fascinating. Sure, it wasn’t easy. But there is a rigor, there is a conductor in Haneke, a conductor who knows the right note to strike in things. He told me, ‘no sentimentality.’ So, I understood right away. No sentimentality. So that becomes really very interesting to perform. Because there is a restraint, a distance that is a pleasure to experience.”

While “Amour” remains the least watched of all the Best Picture nominees of the year, many are still rooting for Emmanuelle Riva to win the Best Actress Oscar. Right now, the front runners look to be Jennifer Lawrence for “Silver Linings Playbook” and Jessica Chastain for “Zero Dark Thirty,” but this is a year where anything could happen at the Oscars. It would certainly be a great cap to an extraordinary career for this French actress who has appeared in many classic movies throughout the years, but Riva right now is taking all the acclaim and potential job offers in stride.

“If by chance people would still offer me roles, I’d still like to do them. But if not, that’s OK. I love life,” Riva says. “I love life to death. If I don’t act in another film, who cares? I’m 85, it doesn’t matter. I’m still alive and that feels great.”

SOURCES:

Scott Feinberg, “‘Amour’ Star Emmanuelle Riva, on Brink of Making Oscar History, Looks Back at Career,” The Hollywood Reporter, February 17, 2013.

Sharon Waxman, “Oscar’s Oldest Nominee, Emmanuelle Riva, on ‘Amour’: It’s a Gift in the Last Stage of My Life,” The Wrap, February 13, 2013.

Xan Brooks, “Emmanuelle Riva: ‘You don’t say no to a film like Amour,'” The Guardian, November 8, 2012.

Tracy McNicoll, “Oscar’s 85-Year-Old Darling: A Talk with Emmanuelle Riva of ‘Amour,’” The Daily Beast, February 15, 2013.

‘Cold War’ Beautifully Contemplates The Things We Do for Love

Cold War 2018 movie poster

It has now been over a week since I watched Paweł Pawlikowski’s “Cold War,” and it is rightly described in the production notes as being “an impossible love story in impossible times.” Indeed, there is something about love which forms a bond which cannot always be described in words. The two star-crossed lovers we see here share a love for music, but their differences come to the surface more often than not to where you wonder why they keep reuniting time and time again. Pawlikowski never tries to provide an absolute answer as to why these two individuals cannot end their deep affections for one another, but he doesn’t need to as some things cannot be put into words.

Thinking about “Cold War” somehow brought to mind one of my favorite songs by Howard Jones entitled “What is Love?”. This song was released back in the 1980’s which marked the start of America being seduced by infinite greed, but I was just a kid who had yet to have his innocence ripped away from him. The music really took me in as the synthesizer melodies were a big favorite of mine back then, but the lyrics have since taken on a deeper meaning for me:

“I love you whether or not you love me

I love you even if you think that I don’t

Sometimes I find you doubt my love for you, but I don’t mind

Why should I mind, why should I mind?

What is love anyway? Does anybody love anybody anyway?”

“Cold War” seeks to ask those same questions as it transports us back to post-war Poland in the 1950’s where we meet Wiktor Warski (Tomasz Kot), a musical director at Mazurek, a nascent folk arts ensemble which, as one of its instructors makes very clear, deals with the music of “pain and humiliation.” In the process of auditioning new singers, he comes across the young Zuzanna “Zula” Lichoń (Joanna Kulig) who is fearless in continuing her performance even after she is told to stop. It’s a thrilling scene as these two individuals from different parts of life are quick to lock eyes and create a connection not easily formed in the average Nicholas Sparks cinematic adaptation.

Wiktor comes from a more refined and educated world while Zula comes from, as some may say, the wrong side of town. Their attraction to one another is instant. Is it a fascination with a person’s past history? Wiktor is told Zula stabbed her father with a knife, and this of course makes him wonder why someone would do such a thing. When he asks her why, her answer is blunt and to the point, “He mistook me for my mother and a knife showed him the difference.” We never even learn which part of the body the knife pierced.

Their differences are strong, but there is an unmistakable bond between them which will not break. As “Cold War” moves on, their relationship stretches over a decade and several different locations including Poland, Warsaw, East Berlin and Paris. They become involved with others, but the love they have for one another will not die an easy death. You keep waiting for one of them to tell the other “I wish I knew how to quit you” because they cannot get themselves to leave the other be. Wiktor tells Zula to find “another normal guy” who can support you to which she replies, “Such man is not born yet.” This happens around the movie’s midpoint, and by then it is unlikely such a man will ever be born.

Is this real love, or is it just obsession? Such answers do not matter because all you need to know is how strong Wiktor’s and Zula’s bond is. You can question it all you want, but the love is there even if it exists in a state of emotional torture. John Lennon once sang of how love is real, but Nazareth made it clear that love hurts, and the love these two mismatched souls have for one another seems to exist in a space between those two thoughts.

Just like Mike Leigh did with “Mr. Turner,” Pawlikowski does a brilliant job of taking us back to a time and place to where I felt truly transported to another era. I never questioned the authenticity of what was being presented because it all felt so real to me, and Łukasz Żal’s black and white cinematography is simply gorgeous to take in. It makes me wonder why we don’t get more black and white movies these days. While the lack of colors may seem limiting to filmmakers in general, there is something about the monochrome look which gets everything just right.

What’s especially commendable about “Cold War” is how epic this love story is, and yet Pawlikowski fits everything into a running time which is just below 90 minutes. The movie felt so much longer than that, and yet I came out of it feeling like I saw something immense and wide-ranging.

Tomasz Kot is one those actors who has this smoldering intensity about him. I remember William Petersen having this same kind of intensity in “To Live and Die in L.A.” and “Manhunter,” and it’s as if he doesn’t have to do much to generate any kind of charisma. I am envious and, I have to admit, a bit resentful of actors who can pull this off, but he also lets you see what is going on in his mind as his character of Wiktor suffers through a maddening heartbreak and career setbacks which have him trading the music he loves out for something more politically friendly. You have to admire the subtle acting he does here as it is never easy for anyone to pull off.

Joanna Kulig is every bit Kot’s equal as Zula, and it is fascinating to watch her take this character from being a young student to an adult in an equally subtle way. Kulig also excels at spelling out what is going through Zula’s head to where she needs no dialogue to spell out her feelings, and she is fearless in portraying the character’s constant struggle to escape the confines of a life which keeps putting her into a corner.

“Cold War” is one of the most immersive cinematic experiences I got to witness in 2018, and I hope any phobias you have about movies with subtitles do not keep you from seeing it. The love story is harrowing, but the visuals are beautiful. It’s hard to find movies these days which suck you into their settings the way this one has, and it serves as a reminder of how powerful cinema can be.

Pawlikowski has said this movie is semi-autobiographical as it was inspired by his parents who kept splitting up and getting back together time and time again. Why do couples do this to themselves? It seems unhealthy, and yet some cannot tear themselves away from a mad love story. But once again, he is not out to answer what he believes love really is. I guess he just wanted to know their love was real in some unspoken way. With “Cold War,” I believe he has accomplished just that.

* * * * out of * * * *

‘Shoplifters’ is an Emotional Rollercoaster and One of the Best Movies of 2018

Shoplifters movie poster

Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “Shoplifters” is one of the most emotionally resonant movies I have seen in 2018, and it is a real gem in a cinematic year dominated by, big surprise, superhero blockbusters and endless sequels. The hope and warm emotions which emanate from it feel like the kind I have not been witness to on the silver screen in ages, and the movie dares you to ponder what the word family really means. While many see families being bound by blood, “Shoplifters” suggests there is more to it than that.

Things start off with Osamu Shibata (Lilly Franky) arriving at a supermarket in Tokyo, Japan, and we will eventually see how this movie got its name. With him is the young Shota (Jyo Kairi), and they use hand signals with each other to indicate when the coast is clear to take what they want and need. Put aside the fact no parent or adult figure should ever be teaching a child to steal; these two have an effective system which leads to them obtaining the goods they need without going through the checkout line or setting off an array of alarms. More importantly, it shows the strong connection between these two, and it is not one which is easily formed.

Upon arriving home, we see they with several other people in a cramped apartment which was made for two people at best. Among them are Osamu’s wife, Nobuyo (Sakura Ando), who works an unforgiving and low-paying job at a local laundromat, their daughter Aki (Mayu Matsuoka) who performs sex shows for anonymous customers, and grandmother Hatsue Shibata (the late Kirin Kiki who steals every scene she is in) whose residence they all reside in. Everyone here is suffering through an unsteady economy dominated by recession, so these characters are forced to steal items such as food and clothes in order to get by. Yes, Hatsue does have her late husband’s pension to fall back on, but it is never enough to fulfill their needs.

Then on one cold evening as Osamu and Shota are returning after another successful day of shoplifting, they come across Yuri (Miyu Sasaki), a 5-year-old homeless girl sitting all alone by herself. As the temperature decreases rapidly, and you could do a drinking game for every time a character says “it’s cold,” they decide to take her home for the night. With their apartment overcrowded, Nobuyo suggests they return Yuri home, but a visit to her residence reveals her parents are abusive to one another and to Yuri as well. As a result, Osamu and Nobuyo find themselves informally adopting her.

What struck me most about “Shoplifters” is how genuine its emotions feel. From a distance, the description of the plot might make it seem something along the lines of “Three Men and a Baby” or maybe even “Raising Arizona,” both of which featured characters who become parents in unorthodox ways. But Kore-eda is not out to manipulate our emotions for a single second as he lets life unfold before us in a way which feels real and unpredictable. No one appears to be acting here, and every single actor inhabits their roles to where you are seduced into the movie’s wonderful atmosphere with what seems like relative ease.

The affection everyone in the small apartment has for Yuri feels wonderful and hopeful to take in, and her presence has a profound effect on them all. The scene where Nobuyo and Yuri burn the 5-year-old’s clothes in an effort to start fresh in life speaks volumes. The two share scars of past abuse, and Nobuyo cuddles her and says how people show their love for one another through hugs, not violence. If there has been a more genuinely sweet scene in a 2018 movie, I missed it.

As for the others, Osamu and Nobuyo find an intimacy in their relationship which has eluded them for far too long, and Aki yearns to get closer to one of her customers as she can no longer keep him at a distance. Shota slowly begins to bond with Yuri to where he feels comfortable calling her sister, but this later leads him on a journey to find himself in a way which will have inevitable consequences for everyone that we don’t really see coming.

Revealing more of what happens in “Shoplifters” would be criminal, but I can tell you the last half is truly devastating as everything we thought we knew about these characters is turned upside down. One of Kore-eda’s masterstrokes as a writer and director is he never judges the characters, and as a result, neither did I. Even as the local news reports of Yuri’s disappearance, Osamu and Nobuyo justify their actions by saying they did not kidnap her since they never asked for a ransom. It’s a weak defense to be sure, but seeing the connection these characters have with one another deeply moved me to where I actually found myself giving them a pass which I never would have in real life.

With “Shoplifters,” Kore-eda aims to look at what makes a family. While we collectively believe it is blood which makes a family, he wonders if there is more to a family than that. At a key moment, one of the characters says if having a baby automatically makes you a parent. Well that goes without saying, but considering the love and affection these characters grace Yuri with, I had a hard time finding enough of a reason to separate her from them.

Kore-eda was also influenced by the Japanese recession, and he uses this to deal with the declining social statuses many are forced to deal with in the country. Then again, “Shoplifters” could be about any country where greed continues to wreak havoc due to corporations valuing the size of their profits over the rights of the workers who helped get them those profits. We Osamu trying to get whatever work he can, and the work he gets never pays enough. Nobuyo’s job offers her a pathetically low wage, and then later we get a scene where her boss forces her and her co-worker to decide amongst themselves who should get fired when it is determined there is only enough money to keep one of them on the payroll.

“Shoplifters” is a movie which will stay with you long after you have watched it. I was deeply moved by it from start to finish as its humanity really made me appreciate the value of family in a way no other movie has in a long time. We are at a point where there are far too many movies to keep up with, but this is one I highly recommend you check out above others. This one took me for quite the emotional ride and left me fully wringed out by its end, and the experience was one of the most rewarding.

* * * * out of * * * *

‘The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest’ Provides an Imperfect but Satisfying Finish to the Millennium Trilogy

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets Nest movie poster

The journey of Lisbeth Salander came to an end (in Sweden anyway) with the release of the third and last film in the Millennium Trilogy, “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.” Picking up where the last one left off, we watch as Lisbeth (the ever superb Noomi Rapace) slowly recuperates from the injuries inflicted on her by less than caring family members. Soon after, she is forced to stand trial for murders and crimes we all know she did not commit, so Mikael Blomkvist (the late Michael Nyqvist) and his staff at Millennium Magazine work to prove her innocence. Still, Lisbeth’s cold bastard of a father Alexander Zalachenko (Georgi Staykov) vows to silence his daughter for good, and he threatens to expose the corruption he is fully a part of. All the while, Lisbeth’s panzer tank of a half brother Ronald Niedermann (Micke Spreitz) is on the run, laying waste to everything in his path.

Of the three films in this trilogy, “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” is easily the weakest. This one has more talk than action and, like the second film, it keeps Lisbeth and Mikael apart from each other more than we would like. But if you get past the problematic things about this third movie, there’s still a lot to appreciate. We have traveled along with these characters for two movies now, so it should be clear as to how emotionally invested we are in their collective fates. While society may view them from a distance, we see them for the individuals they are.

At the center of attention is Lisbeth Salander, far and away one of the strongest female heroines in literary history. We see Lisbeth beaten to a pulp, left for dead, and we watch as she endures a slow and painful recovery and seeks a long overdue justice for all the wrongs inflicted on her throughout her lifetime. With this third movie, we see fully why she is such a damaged human being and how she was rendered a victim through false imprisonment and abuse which forever wrecked the trust she could allow herself to put in others. We started this trilogy off by looking at her from a distance, thinking we knew what kind of person she was at first sight. By the end, we saw her as a very complex human being who will no longer be manipulated against her will. Lisbeth no longer cares if you like her. She just wants you to know that if you mess with her, the payback will be vicious as she demolishes you without any remorse.

Watching Noomi Rapace in her last go around as Lisbeth is a never ending thrill. Once she heads into the courtroom, all decked out in full punk regalia with a mohawk to boot, we cheer her on as she spits in the face of a world which has tossed her out like garbage. Those intense glares she shoots off at the prosecutors across the room penetrate right through the silver screen and pin us to our theater seats (which were hopefully comfortable to sit in). Throughout this trilogy, Rapace has walked a fine line with Lisbeth in making her both brilliant and being just one step away from becoming a full-on sociopath. Whatever you make of Lisbeth, Rapace makes us care deeply about this deeply wounded character, and we revel in her persistent abilities to outthink those who wronged her. Seeing those who deluded themselves into thinking they had her under their complete control get their just desserts is immensely satisfying.

But as great as Rapace is here, we shouldn’t forget to mention Michael Nyqvist and his understated work as the relentless reporter Mikael Blomkvist. Instead of making Mikael out to be this heroic figure searching for truth and justice for Lisbeth without fear of reprisal, Nyqvist makes him completely human with all the flaws we like to think we don’t have. Not once in these films do you ever really catch Nyqvist acting this role as much as he inhabits it. Michael gets the audience to be fully invested in this character as Mikael struggles for an end to Lisbeth’s unfair character assassination while risking his own livelihood as well as those who work for him. We root for him on his quest, but we also feel his pain and confusion when these escalating threats threaten to tear his magazine apart.

“The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” also features other strong performances from its supporting cast. Annika Hallin is great as Mikael’s sister Annika who agrees to represent Lisbeth at her trial. This is another strong female character who holds her own with her anti social client and a group of corrupt men who are about to be justifiably obliterated during her very direct cross examination.  Anders Ahlbom exudes the Bjurman-like slime of his character Dr. Peter Teleborian, the man who changed the course of Lisbeth’s life and unforgivably so. Lena Endre also returns as Millennium Magazine editor Erika Berger who acts as the conscience Mikael needs to hear from time to time. Her face a mask of devotion and fear, Endre gives life to another strong female character in a movie full of them.

But yeah, overall this does feel like a weak ending to this film trilogy which was thrust into American movie theaters all in the space of a year. It’s not an utterly frustrating conclusion the way “The Matrix Revolutions” was (I’m still trying to get over that one), but it feels like “The Hornet’s Nest” could have been stronger even if it meant taking liberties with Stieg Larsson’s novels. It also would have been great to have Rapace and Nyqvist share more time onscreen together as their chemistry and tension were among the main reasons “Dragon Tattoo” was so damn good. Plus, the character of Ronald Niedermann is left to wander around the movie without much of a reason to be there, and his need to eliminate his half-sister feels somewhat unmotivated.

Still, “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” is a very engrossing experience which is anything but boring, and there’s no way fans of this trilogy can pass this one up. The fully developed characters give this film its dramatic power, and we are with them all the way to the end in the hopes of finding some fairness in a world crueler to some more than others.

* * * out of * * * *

 

‘The Girl Who Played with Fire’ Reminds Us Not to Mess with Lisbeth Salander

The Girl Who Played With Fire poster

Studios are always trying to get sequels out quickly, and they hate keeping the audiences in limbo. As for myself, I have developed a lot of patience throughout the years to where if a filmmaker says it’s going to take time to get things right on a sequel, then I should be able to handle the wait. I find this is a much better prospect than having a sequel, or any other movie, rushed into production without a finished script.

The Girl Who Played with Fire” came to America just mere months after its brilliant predecessor, “The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo,” did. For once, we didn’t have to wait an infinite amount of time for a sequel. Of course, this may have to do with the fact parts 2 and 3 were already filmed and completed by the time the first movie even made it to the United States. Noomi Rapace returns as Stieg Larsson’s female antihero and brilliant computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander. From the moment she walks onto the screen to when the credits roll, Rapace owns this movie without question. Also returning is Michael Nyqvist as Millennium Magazine investigative reporter Mikael Blomkvist, and it’s great to see him back as well.

“The Girl Who Played with Fire” takes place one year after the events of “Dragon Tattoo” with Lisbeth in the Caribbean reviewing her investments and about to return to Sweden after her time abroad. Meanwhile, Mikael is still working at Millennium where a new reporter is on the verge of exposing prostitution and human trafficking, and he has tried to get back in touch with Lisbeth with little to no success. Things then go downhill quickly when Lisbeth is framed for three murders and quickly becomes the subject of a massive manhunt, but Mikael however is convinced of her innocence and stops at nothing to prove it before the police get their hands on her.

Having witnessed the events of “Dragon Tattoo,” we now have a better understanding of Lisbeth and the dark places she is coming from. But throughout “Fire,” we get to dig even deeper into her history along with Mikael as he uncovers more secrets involving her deeply troubled childhood which was filled with endless abuse. It is amazing she didn’t turn into a full-blown sociopath as a result of experiences no one should never have to endure as a child. Any kindness she gives to others is often rebuked as those who know her don’t even try to hide the fact of how she can give off an endlessly cold vibe. As a result, she is a little too late to make amends to them.

Rapace does amazing work in bringing to life all the different dimensions of Lisbeth, and she makes us sympathize and root for her in the face of increasing adversity. She never makes the character easily likable, and heroines rarely get more punk or tougher than Lisbeth does these days. Rapace takes the time to make clear how tough of a front Lisbeth puts up to survive in this world, and yet the actress still allows Lisbeth to exhibit a vulnerability which she can only hide from others for so long.  When giving her apartment keys to a friend so she can live there for a year rent free (the dream of any Los Angeles musician who has broken up with their girlfriend), it becomes more about business than friendship. But the moments she shares with her former guardian who has survived his stroke count for a lot as he is one of the very few people she can easily trust, and who knows what kind of person she is and what she has gone through. Rapace is nothing short of a dynamo throughout the movie’s two-hour running time, and she never lets up.

While the late Michael Nyqvist gets overshadowed by his female co-star, I certainly don’t want to leave him out in the cold. As Mikael Blomkvist, Nyqvist never tries to make his character a typical action hero as he does the opposite and makes this reporter a noble man who remains uncorrupted by powerful people and leads a seemingly ordinary life while continually pursuing a well-hidden truth which can only evade the public eye for so long. The beauty of what Nyqvist does is that you never really catch him acting. He is more about inhabiting his role, so you believe him as this character without him having to emote all over the place.

Other key performances in “Fire” come from Peter Andersson as Bjurman, the sadistic lawyer who abused Salander until she brilliantly turned the tables on him. Andersson still oozes slime as well as fear of the person he thought he had control over (as if). You also have Yasmine Garbi as Mimmi Wu, Lisbeth’s close friend and sometimes girlfriend who does not get taken hostage so easily, and Paolo Roberto co-stars as himself and even gets to kick some ass in a scene or two.

The villains in this sequel are deliciously evil, and your hatred for them is immediate upon their slimy arrival. Georgi Staykov plays one of the key antagonists (I’ll leave his character’s identity for you to discover), and he gives us one of the most callous characters I have seen in a film who has nothing but contempt for everyone, especially his family and children. His affection for human lives other than his own appears to be nonexistent, and he doesn’t even try to hide this.

Another villain, and a seemingly impenetrable one, is Ronald Niedermann (played by Micke Spreitz), a man as big as a panzer tank. This gigantic monolith of a human being has a medical condition known as analgesia, which means he is unable to feel pain, and this makes him a more frightening opponent. Even a stun gun to the groin cannot easily subdue this giant who is loyal to the most evil of people.

Taking over directorial duties from Niels Arden Oplev on this sequel is Daniel Alfredson, brother of “Let The Right One In” director Tomas Alfredson. Daniel does a good job of keeping the tension high between the characters, some who are willing to lay down their own lives in order to make things right. The story is at times a little hard to follow (a second viewing will probably make things clearer), but the pace of the movie never lags. Daniel even captures some great moments which had me jumping out of my seat.

“The Girl Who Played with Fire” is pretty much on a par with “Dragon Tattoo,” but if I had to choose, the first one is still the best. I haven’t read any of Stieg Larsson’s books, but I have been told these movies are quite faithful to the source material. Please don’t let whatever prejudice you have over reading subtitles turn you off from seeing this. Besides, they are much more preferable to the hopelessly bad English dubbing which studios often rely on and which makes even the best movies look ridiculously stupid.

And remember, don’t ever mess with Lisbeth Salander!

* * * ½ out of * * * *

 

‘I Saw the Devil’ Serves Up Revenge at its Coldest and Most Brutal

I Saw the Devil movie poster

Many people will be quick to criticize “I Saw the Devil” as being excessively and unnecessarily violent. Indeed, it is an unrelentingly grim cinematic experience as we watch a serial killer chop up beautiful young women into little pieces and the boyfriend of one of them getting his revenge on the evil bastard. I’m guessing there will be a number of critics as well who will say Americans would never come up with such graphic depictions, but we know otherwise (“Saw” or “Hostel” anyone?).

But unlike other horror movies, “I Saw the Devil” does not exist to simply gross us out or make us uncomfortable as humanly possible. There’s a real story here amidst all the carnage about the hollowness of wanting revenge and of what it does to those who seek and get it. But Jee-woon Kim, the same man who directed “The Good, The Bad, The Weird,” has created a motion picture which finds brutally fresh new twists that keep us pinned to our seats for the entire two and a half hour running time. Yes, it is truly unrelenting.

The movie starts off with the beautiful Joo-yeon (Oh San-Ha) talking with her fiancé Soo-Hyun (Lee Byung-hun) on the phone while she is waiting in her car on a snowy road out in the middle of nowhere. Before you know it, a man by the name of Kyung-chul (Choi Min-sik) viciously attacks and knocks her out. Back at his grungy workshop, Joo-yeon begs for her life and tells Kyung-chul she is pregnant, but it does no good. Kyung-chul’s face is an enigma as you are not sure what he is feeling at the moment. You want to think he has some form of empathy in his rotten soul, but to him this is a luxury he cannot afford. Either way, it doesn’t stop him from chopping away at Joo-yeon with a rusty hatchet.

Upon finding her severed head in a nearby lake, Soo-Hyun, a special agent, vows to make her attacker feel the same exact pain he made his victims feel. From there, the movie turns into a cat and mouse game, and we begin to wonder which of them is the more vicious and violent. Unlike most American revenge thrillers where we can tell the hero apart from the bad guy, the line between them is hard at times to make out.

The first thing I want to say about “I Saw the Devil” is just how beautiful the cinematography by Lee Mo-gae is. It’s kind of a cross between the vivid colors of Dario Argento’s “Suspiria” and the immensely cold and snowy landscape of “Let the Right One In.” I’m guessing Kim Jee-woon and Lee Mo-gae were inspired by the filmmakers of both movies, and even he succeeds in finding a beauty amidst all the hideous carnage which goes on. The image of the snow proves to be a metaphor for how cold the soul of the two main characters are or have since become, and things grow colder for them all the way towards the movie’s messy climax.

In terms of acting, Choi Min-sik’s performance stands above everyone else’s here. Choi is best known for his amazing and unforgettable performance in Park Chan-wook’s “Oldboy.” Throughout the movie’s running time, he never tries to hide the fact his character of Kyung-chul is a pure psychopath and a manipulator of emotions he is unable to fully experience on his own. It’s a brave performance which doesn’t hold back anything, and it makes you wonder what depths the actor went to in playing such a twisted human being.

Lee Byung-hun also deserves points for bravery as the now fiancé-less Soo-Hyun. This is the character we most easily identify with here, but he soon becomes “I Saw the Devil’s” most tragic one as well. We can’t really blame him for wanting revenge and to torture this killer without a conscience, but as the movie goes on, we see how his quest for vengeance it is destroying whatever is left of his damaged soul. Lee makes us care about this man even as he becomes almost as depraved as Kyung-Chul. Even when he slices off a key part of Kyung’s body, we still follow him even if we are increasingly repelled by his actions. His conscience comes out in the form of Soo-Hyun’s family, but their sane take on the situation is not enough to pull him back from the abyss of hatred he is forever trapped in.

Make no mistake, “I Saw the Devil” is a seriously violent motion picture. It feels like forever since I’ve seen so much blood spurting out of the human body on the silver screen. I also can’t remember the last time a guillotine was used so predominantly in a movie either. All the same, like any great Argento movie, it’s rendered in the most beautiful cinematic fashion. This is not your average “Friday the 13th” sequel where things are thrown together in the cheapest way possible. The colors are vividly realized, making everything we see here all the more cinematically gruesome.

Once you get past the seemingly unending carnage, you will see how these two men pretty much deserve one another. “I Saw the Devil” is a strong character piece featuring people who, in any other movie, would be at opposite ends of the law-abiding spectrum, but who have more in common with one another than they initially realized. While a part of us wants to see this sick bastard suffer horribly, there’s another part slowly reminding us how we can suffer just as much in wanting an eye for an eye. It’s also full of twists and turns you cannot see coming, and none of them seems convoluted in the slightest. The movie is full of surprises, many of them incredibly grim. If you thought “Harry Brown” was dark, this will redefine the term for you.

Now look, I am not saying it is bad to like revenge/retribution movies. Lord knows we need them every once in a while in order to exercise the parts of our psyche which are hopefully ruled over by common sense. But sometimes we need a cinematic reminder of how wrong it can be to get what you wish for. Gaspar Noe’s “Irreversible” was one of the harshest examples of this, and “I Saw the Devil” is not far behind.

* * * * out of * * * *

‘Let the Right One In’ is Not Your Average Vampire Movie

Let The Right One In movie poster

This is one of those movies which made me want to be a film critic. I love to tell you what movies I really like and flat out hate, and this is even though I never expect to change your mind over what you want to see. But there are certain movies which I really want to see get the audience they deserve, preferably in a movie theater. “Let the Right One In” is a Swedish movie which absolutely deserves a loyal following as it is one of the most beautifully atmospheric movies to be released in 2008.

“Let the Right One In” follows young Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) who is an overlooked kid bullied by kids at school that have somehow managed to recite lines of dialogue from “Deliverance.” This is a kid who clearly doesn’t have a lot of friends and, like many, is a child of divorce. One night, while he is in the snowy courtyard outside his home, he is met suddenly by a girl named Eli (Lina Leandersson) who has just moved in to the same apartment complex he lives in. Eli quickly tells Oskar she cannot be his friend, but soon enough, they bond over a Rubik’s Cube. Their friendship builds throughout the film and serves to strengthen them as people to where they deal more effectively with the struggles they are forced to endure.

There is one catch though, and it is clear to the audience from the start: Eli is a vampire. An older man believed to be her father ends up blocking the windows with cardboard and other forms of paper to keep their apartment dark. We see this same man going out in the freezing dead of night to kill total strangers and drain them of their blood. Why? He’s got another mouth to feed. When he screws up and doesn’t come through, she shows just how vicious she can be in her displeasure. But despite who she is, you can see why she is cozy with Oskar. They are both outcasts in a world which does not appear to have much use for them.

What I really loved about “Let the Right One In” is how it takes the vampire genre and makes it fresh by combining it with the things we remember from our childhoods: bullies, sucking at sports, parents not understanding what we are going through, etc. We always hope for that one person who understands us and can relate to what we are going through. Some of us are lucky enough to have such a person in our lives, but others are not so fortunate. You could say Oskar becoming friends with a vampire would not be in his best interest, but these are two people who need each other at this fragile point in their lives.

We see Oskar getting whipped at school by the bullies who pick on those they feel are beneath them, and they call him piggy among other things. We later see Oskar fantasizing about getting revenge on those bullies as if he is Robert De Niro in “Taxi Driver.” With Eli, he finally gains the confidence to get back at them. In turn, Eli’s growing friendship with Oskar provides her with an escape from her eternally lonely existence. The real question between them is, can Eli trust herself enough to keep herself from making Oskar another victim? And if she reveals herself to him as who she really is, will he still accept her as his friend? Despite the bloody acts we see Eli committing, deep down we don’t want to see these two separated.

“Let the Right One In” was directed by Tomas Alfredson, and he does a brilliant job of opening the movie in silence as he slowly introduces us to the snowy suburb these characters inhabit. The frozen landscape mirrors the dreary and repressed nature of everyone who lives there, and it feels as cold as upstate New York felt in “Frozen River.” Of course, were the movie to be sunnier, it would require certain characters to die a fiery death. The vampires here perish the way vampires do in other movies, and if you are a vampire, it should go without saying how you appreciate the nighttime more than others.

But the wonderfully surprising thing about “Let the Right One In” is how tender it is. While it looks to be marketed as a horror movie, it is really a love story. While it is at times a violent and bloody movie, what really wins out is the bond these Oskar and Eli share throughout. It is a chaste relationship (they are both 12 after all) built on need and loneliness. There is a moment where they both lie together in bed which is really lovely, and it reminds one of how lonely it can be to sleep by yourself.

There is not a weak performance to be found here, but the real credit goes to the two young kids who have to carry this movie almost entirely on their shoulders. Kare Hedebrant is exceptional as the young Oskar, and there is never a moment in his performance which feels fake or forced. Hedebrant is a natural in front of the camera, and he acts from the heart. This is not your typical nerdy school outcast we see in so many movies made in America, but instead an intelligent boy who never quite fits in the way we all wanted to when we were his age.

Lina Leandersson, who plays the vampire Eli, has the toughest role in as she has to portray different emotions without actually showing them. Throughout the movie, her face is a mask of coldness and detachment, but in her eyes, she shows how much she likes being in this unexpected relationship with Oskar. Leandersson’s performance is truly remarkable as she makes you care about this person even after she commits abhorrent acts against others. This is not your typical vampire drunk on power like Lestat in “Interview with The Vampire,” but one who was born into this life without any choice. Eli does not drink the blood of others because she wants to, but because she needs to in order to survive. Lina’s drive is one of survival, not dominance.

Looking back at 2008, there were a lot of really good movies released, but not many great ones. Maybe I hold things to a higher level than I should, but “Let the Right One In” is a true masterpiece in this or any other year. It is both frightening and tender at the same time, and I don’t know of many other movies which have managed this balance ever so effortlessly.

* * * * out of * * * *

Exclusive Interview with Yana Novikova about ‘The Tribe’

The Tribe Yana photo

Yana Novikova is one of the stars of the critically acclaimed Ukrainian drama “The Tribe” which was written and directed by Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy. It opens up on a shy young boy named Sergey (Grigoriy Fesenko) who has just arrived at a boarding school for the deaf, and he soon finds himself being initiated into the school’s gang which deals heavily in robbery, bribery and prostitution. But just as he becomes like any other member, he falls in love with one of his female classmates, Anna (Yana Novikova), and this triggers a series of events which in turn leads to an unnerving and unforgettable conclusion.

The cast of “The Tribe” is made up of deaf, non-professional actors, and it contains no subtitles and no narration. Yana has one of the movie’s most challenging roles as her character works after school as a prostitute in order to save up money for a visa. She dives into her role fearlessly, and it’s a role which required a lot from her in terms of nudity and raw emotions. That’s not even to mention the scene where Anna gets an abortion, a subject which remains taboo in many societies.

It was a great pleasure for me to talk with Yana back in 2014 while she was in Los Angeles, and she was joined by two sign language interpreters who helped bring her beautifully long answers to light. For a first time actress, she gives an exceptionally brave performance.

The Tribe movie poster 1

Ben Kenber: How were you cast in “The Tribe?”

Yana Novikova: During my time in Belarus, which was my hometown, I was going to college and was studying engineering, tailoring and was busy with my studies. There was an acting program nearby. I was not involved with that, but I was called by a friend of mine about the fact that in Kiev, Ukraine they had a college for the deaf. So the Ukrainian friend of mine was telling me about how they had acting classes and you could learn about dance and movement and things like that. My friend told me that there was an audition taking place in Kiev, Ukraine, and it was in two weeks. So, I had two weeks to prepare for this audition before I flew out to Kiev. To start my preparation of my rehearsal I had to tell my parents about the audition, and at first my mom said no, absolutely not. She was shocked this was my plan that I wanted to do. She said, “You don’t have friends out there in Kiev. Do you even know the city?” So mom was very concerned. “You can’t drop out of college, you know? You are working on getting your degree” at the college I was attending at Belarus. I had to strongly express to her that, even though I was involved in my studies at college, I really wanted to get into acting. My mom told me repeatedly no and I had to calm her down and convince her, so I changed my story a little bit and told my mom that I was going to be visiting friends in Kiev. So, I had to lie a little bit and I did everything secretive. But I made my preparations, I flew to Kiev and stayed with a group of deaf friends and there was a group of writers there. I didn’t know who the writer was, I didn’t know who the director was, but that director was looking at who had auditioned. He was just sort of incognito. We didn’t know that he was there and he was watching all this. I got completely involved and completely absorbed in rehearsing in preparing for the audition. They tell me that, after the audition, they were going to be selecting three people and I was like, “Three people? That’s it, out of this whole group of 10?” They said there’s just not enough scholarship money to audition for this program. There’s only enough scholarship money to accept three deaf people for this acting program. I was so upset when I wasn’t chosen. I cried and I asked them questions about why I wasn’t selected, “What were you looking for? Were you more concerned about my logistical issues about living so far away? Was that an issue; would I be able to pay for the dorm or not or things like that? What were the selections based on?” And they said, “Well you’re better off staying in Belarus and continuing on with your college and your studies.” And I said, “No, my heart is not in engineering. My heart is not in sewing and tailoring. I really want to get into acting.” So we went back and forth and back and forth, and they repeatedly told me no and that they were not selecting me. But the director, who was present, made time and came up to me and said “Well perhaps if you’re willing to fly to Kiev for the next production and try out for that audition, we have an audition for another project coming up called The Tribe.” So, I ultimately did that. I flew back to Kiev and auditioned. There were about 300 people who auditioned for the film, a long line of people all deaf. They took photographs of us as part of the audition process, they got our profiles and everything, they got information, and after the audition they told us to check the Internet to look and see if your name shows up on the list to see if you were selected. So, for about a week I kept my close eye on the casting list, and when I finally saw my name on that list and that I was chosen I was thrilled. During that process there was actually another very small film project that was going on that I was given a very, very small role in. It gave me an opportunity to do some rehearsal and do some practice in the role as a boy actually, a little rebellious boy character. So I had this real short, small role in this other project, so while I was filming and preparing for that, the director really took a hard look at me and evaluated me during that whole process, and then in September I was already chosen for my role in The Tribe. I was so happy. I completely dropped out of college and I told one of my professors and he was like, “Why are you quitting? You don’t like college? You don’t like what you’re doing?” And I said, “No. I’m actually an actress and I’m getting into acting.” And I let the professor know that I got a job and the professor was like, “Are you joking?” I said, “No I’m actually going to be acting in a film.” So, once I did that I went home and packed, and still my mom didn’t know at that time what had taken place and that I was chosen for this film. So I was in the middle of my packing process and mom came in and said, “What are you doing?” And I said, “Well I was chosen to be an actress in a film.” My mom said, “Are you joking? You dropped out of college and you are completely shifting your plan?” I said yeah and my mom obviously got very, very upset and told me no I don’t want you to do this. So I ignored what she told me and I flew to the Ukraine and started filming The Tribe, and I actually didn’t see my parents for the whole month of September. I did stay in contact with my parents, but I didn’t see them in person. Once the production was done, I found out that it was chosen to be shown at the Cannes Film Festival and won some awards and things like that. Finally, through that process and learning about that on the Internet, my parents finally started to believe in me and that’s when the nudity issue came up and that I had to be nude in the film. I said, “Well mom and dad, that’s part of the acting work and life.” So I was so happy that finally I was actually a real actress and that I was a real thing.”

BK: Speaking of the nudity, you were asked to do some things that are not easy for any actor to do. How did you manage to get comfortable with the actors and the crew during the scenes where you had to be nude?

YN: The very first scene, I was just nude from the top up when the boy pushed the new student into our dorm room. But the script actually said that I was just going to be wearing a small little bra type thing, so that was what I was expecting at first during the filming of the first scene. And the director said, “Well actually, do you mind… Let’s time out for a second. I think the scene would do better with nude from the top up without the bra.” So I was like whoa, really? That was really overwhelming. I was upset at that point. I considered myself an actress and I wanted to get into my role, but I wasn’t expecting that. The director and his wife, they talked me down and calmed me down and said this was part of acting, “You don’t need to feel uncomfortable. Just focus on the beauty of the film in its entirety.” They gave me some different films to watch and to help get myself more into my preparation and into the role to help give me some ideas, and there is one specific French film called “Blue is the Warmest Color.” That specific film I watched and it had a significant impact on me. That really, really got me to change my point of view. The director decided to tell me more about the film itself which also went to the Cannes Film Festival and explained the process it had gone through, and I was full of questions about it. So, after seeing and learning more about that movie, “Blue is the Warmest Color,” I started to ask Myroslav, “So is it possible that ‘The Tribe’ could be that successful? Could it make it to Cannes and have the same level of success that the French film for that?” At that point in the whole process I hadn’t been finally selected for that full role, so we were just in rehearsals in that part of the process. So then when it was suggested to me that I watch that other film and started asking Myroslav those questions, it was at that point in time that my point of view completely changed. I got completely into the role during the rehearsals and everything, and I decided at that point I was fine with going with Miroslav’s direction of going full nude, and I wanted to prove to him that I could do it and that I was capable and that the film could make it to Cannes. So, it was a change in my point of view and my focus. During the scene where Sergey and I had to practice nudity, what we did to rehearse for that part was that we got into the nudity slowly so day by day by day we would remove more and more clothing as we rehearsed that scene. So we did all the rehearsal and then the actual filming took place, and finally everything just came together. Everything just melded so we filmed, and little by little by little by little the clothes came off as part of the filming process of that scene, and after we had done that scene it was no problem for me. We just completely filmed the whole thing, and then the next scene was the sex scene where we were in the 69 position. Our characters really grew. We became closer with one another and love developed. Our characters started to love one another, and love requires so many different ingredients and all these small and different elements being in tune with one another and showing that connection to the camera. Both myself and Sergey, it was our very, very first experience doing that type of thing and we were able to connect, and the rest is history.

BK: Another big scene for your character is when she has the abortion, and it’s a very brave scene in the movie. Myroslav explained to me that it was all an illusion, but your acting and the nurse there made it seem very real. How did you go about preparing for that particular scene?

YN: Thank you for that complement on that scene. When I learned that the abortion scene was part of the film, I didn’t have a problem doing it. I knew that it was part of the movie, but the challenge for me was that I didn’t have any real life experience with an abortion. So I had to do my research. I checked on the Internet, I interviewed and spoken to other women who had been through that experience and I tried to incorporate all those different elements into myself and then actually put those into that very scene. The other girl who was active in the film, she and I were in the same boat. She had never had that personal experience, so she and I and a director went to an actual medical clinic where they do those types of things, and the doctor there shared with us everything we needed to know about the abortion process. So, when the filming began the very next morning, it was a very long day. There were many, many takes and many retakes. We had to start from the beginning of the scene, walk-in and take off my clothing and go through the emotional part of it; the crying and the whole thing. And then we had to cut many, many times. We had to stop. Filming that scene went from morning until night. We went through a lot of tissues. I went through a lot of tissues that day. I was completely exhausted. I had to really try my best to conserve my energy before filming and then film the scene, be completely exhausted and then try and find that energy again and film the emotional parts again. It was exhausting and at that time I was trying to connect with the character and going through that abortion experience, and as a woman I tried to really reflect what it was really like and really tried to show it accurately. The director really worked with me to really draw out my genuine emotions to reflect that character. The goal was so that the audience could connect with that character and really connect with what she was really going through, and that scene was very, very important. It had a big impact in the movie. It actually was showing the beauty of what that person was going through. That’s how I would describe it. It was very, very hard work, and it was something I wanted to share.

BK: Were you aware from the get-go that this movie was going to be shown without subtitles or any narration, and how did you feel about that?

YN: I definitely was aware of that fact and I thought it was cool. I liked it because, for myself, when I watch a film I don’t like to look at the action and then have to look down and read. It’s work to do that to watch a film. It’s almost impossible sometimes to get everything all at once. I thought it was cooler because then the audience could really focus on the actual character and all the different elements of the character and really get into that, and so I absolutely completely supported Myroslav in his position to make the film without subtitles.

BK: It’s great because, even if you don’t know sign language, you still get the gist of what’s going on in the movie from scene to scene.

YN: Yes, absolutely. You get the gist, you get the story, you get the emotion, you see the facial expressions and all of that is obvious. It’s impossible to not understand from the beginning to the very, very end. It’s a very colorful film. It’s easy to understand. Everything is right there and presented visually for you. It’s like a person kind of going through and really experiencing that life and gives them that idea of getting into that story.

BK: In the end this is not a movie about deaf people but about people trapped in a situation that does not offer them an easy escape, and that’s what’s great about it. It’s not about one kind of people because it’s really universal in its themes.

YN: Yes, it is universal, absolutely. It’s both. It incorporates the deaf world and there was no interpreting needed actually. You understand the concepts and it’s beautiful. There’s no interpretation of language and it applies to all walks of life and the emotional parts of it as well. It applies to everyone. The emotions are universal. Everyone feels the same emotions. It’s very explicit.

I want to thank Yana very much for taking the time to talk with me. “The Tribe” is now available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital. For those movie buffs who are very interested in having a unique cinematic experience, this is a must see.

 

Exclusive Interview with Dragan Bjelogrlic about ‘See You in Montevideo’

Dragan Bjelogrlic photo

See You in Montevideo” was the Serbian entry in the Best Foreign Language Film for the 87th Academy Awards, and it is a sequel to “Montevideo: Taste of a Dream.” It takes us back in time to the first World Cup which was held in Montevideo, Uruguay and follows the national soccer team of Yugoslavia. These players have never been outside of their home country before, and everyone else views them as outsiders to where many of their competitors treat them with utter disdain. However, they eventually win people over thanks to their youthful enthusiasm and their love of soccer. But as the games go on, we see how their love of soccer threatens to be crushed by corrupt forces beyond their control.

Both “Montevideo: Taste of a Dream” and “See You in Montevideo” were directed by the same director, Dragan Bjelogrlic. In addition to being a filmmaker, he is also an actor who is considered by many in his country to be a “Serbian Robert Redford” as he is typically cast in roles where he plays a charismatic criminal like Čika Kure in “The Wounds.”

Bjelogrlic was in Los Angeles for a screening of “See You in Montevideo” at the Landmark Theatres back in 2015, and I was lucky enough to spend a few minutes with him afterwards to talk about it.

See You in Montevideo poster

Ben Kenber: This was a wonderful movie. I have to apologize because I haven’t seen the first movie yet.

Dragan Bjelogrlic: Oh no, no. I prefer people who have not watched the first movie because my whole idea was to make a totally independent second movie and totally independent story which is the global story. When we decided to make two movies about the same subject, I organized all of that and I said to my producer, “What do you think? Maybe I’ll make the first movie and then get something else to make the second movie.” But after the success of the first movie he said, “No, no! You must! Just forget about the first movie and try to make something else.” So I like spectators who didn’t watch the first movie (laughs). No really! And you’re right, (if you have) watched the first movie you will feel more comfortable.

BK: That’s a good point because this movie does feel like it stands on its own. I also found it fascinating how the movie chronicles the love of the sport and how it gets corrupted by greed and politics towards the end. How did you go about researching all this project?

DB: I read a lot of articles and a lot of books which were made about soccer. It’s the most popular sport. And there were a lot of journalists that wrote about it, and people didn’t read it back then. There were some people who were aware of what things were going on. There was the enthusiastic period where they were pioneers, and the people who created it first were very enthusiastic and it was good. The first World Cup was very good, but when 100,000 people come it’s some big plan. Okay let’s make some compromise, but it’s really very sad. We are witnesses now.

BK: Regarding the actors who played the soccer players, did you want real soccer players cast or were you just comfortable casting actors whether they had soccer experience or not?

DB: They are actors. At the beginning some of them were students and some of them were actors, but I try to combine actors and athletes. Thanks to God, we Serbs are good at both (laughs). We had a lot to choose from so it was not a difficult choice. That’s something which was not such a big problem. The only problem was the bind. Like somebody said, “Oh people in Uruguay, they will not like this.” It was a problem for me, but they find this fact that the policeman gave back the ball and somebody covered that. I said aha, this could be a subject. Who knows in which kind of sports football will be developed? That’s something which was my idea.

BK: In the process of turning this true story into a movie, did you have to take any dramatic license with the facts at any time?

DB: No. We just followed the facts and we tried to be precise with all facts especially with the match between Yugoslavia and Uruguay. What has happened? Who got the first goal? Who was the referee who canceled the first goal? It’s all the facts you can find in articles. There is my concession that the facts are facts.

BK: What’s up next for you?

DB: I don’t know. I have a lot of opportunities. My main job is as an actor, that’s my main profession. I like to act a little. This may be comfortable for me, but it’s not necessary for me to direct. If I find something which I feel (strongly about), I will direct.

Big thanks to Dragan Bjelogrlic for taking the time to talk with me. “See You in Montevideo” is now available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital.