‘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.

Rie Rasmussen Talks about ‘Human Zoo’ at New Beverly Cinema

Human Zoo movie poster

Human Zoo” is one of the most astonishing directorial debuts ever as it exhilarates and shocks the audience in a way few movies do these days. Its director is Rie Rasmussen who also wrote the screenplay and stars in the film as Adria Shala, an illegal immigrant who is traumatized by a past she is still trying to escape. The fact she performed all these duties on one movie makes her accomplishment all the more profound as it would drive most people in the same position crazy.

Made in 2009, “Human Zoo” finally got its American theatrical premiere in November 2011 courtesy of Quentin Tarantino who screened it for a week-long engagement at New Beverly Cinema. Rasmussen has been at every screening to do a Q&A after the film, and on November 13, 2001, she talked with Julie Marchese who asked the question which needed to be asked most:

“How did you get to be so awesome?”

“Its natural baby, totally natural,” Rasmussen replied.

Rasmussen said “Human Zoo” was inspired by her adopted sister who came out of Vietnam and lost her mother who was sold into slavery in Moscow. Rasmussen’s family spent six years trying to adopt her, and it led her to wonder why our borders and nationalities end up “being our bars.” She talked of how we as a whole “trap ourselves with notions of insecurity” which eventually lead to senseless violence in society. This all fed into the script she wrote which uses the horrific war in Serbia as one of its backdrops.

Born in Denmark, Rasmussen described living in Northern Europe as being “not that fuckin’ fun,” and she even said Inglewood is nice in comparison to it. She got drawn to movies as it provided a much-needed escape from her environment, and because there wasn’t much else to do. The interest of what life had to offer fascinated her, and she found herself looking outside the norm and inspired by what she called the “not so obvious.” She also talked of being attracted to the black and destructive energy in the world and had discovered “Jackass” long before the show made its debut on MTV.

Speaking of that black and destructive energy, it is personified in the character of Srdjan who is an unbalanced psychopath who acts in the wrong ways. In talking about venturing through what she called the “darker alleys of life,” Rasmussen talked about how “the guy who can’t see right from wrong is really interesting.” This is made infinitely clear through Nikola Djuricko’s brilliant performance as Srdjan who gleefully plans to rob houses while the city is being bombed and everyone is hiding in the shelters. We see Shala drawn into this life to where no moral sense is applied to anything, and she gets more deeply involved to where she ends up “going to the dark side.”

Marchese remarked at how “Human Zoo” was sold at movie festivals as a woman’s picture, but she was correct in saying to reduce it to a certain label doesn’t do it justice. Rasmussen’s first movie as a director is so incredible in its accomplishment that it deserves to reach a wider audience than people realize. Boiling it down to a woman’s picture is unfairly misleading, and Rasmussen said it best:

“I have tits, but I’m a person, and that doesn’t take my humanity away.”

Nor should it.

 

 

 

 

 

‘Human Zoo’ is a Thrilling Directorial Debut from Rie Rasmussen

Human Zoo movie poster

Human Zoo” is one of the most exhilarating directorial debuts I’ve seen in some time. It’s even more astonishing to learn its director, Rie Rasmussen, also wrote the screenplay, co-produced the movie and stars in it as well. This got me to thinking about what Robin Williams said when he was presenting at the Oscars:

“There’s the writer, producer, director; one of the few people in the world who can blow smoke up their own ass!”

But having worked with Brian De Palma on “Femme Fatale” and Luc Besson on “Angel-A,” Rasmussen has learned from some of the best and shows a confidence few others have exhibited on their first feature. Released in France back in 2009, “Human Zoo” made its American theatrical debut a few years later courtesy of Quentin Tarantino who screened it for a week at New Beverly Cinema.

Rasmussen stars as Adria Shala, a Serbian-Albanian illegal immigrant who, at the movie’s start, is living in Marseille. We soon learn how she is still deeply traumatized by her past, and the story shifts back and forth in time as we see her trying to survive in the war-torn Kosovo. Adria gets captured by soldiers and almost raped when one of them, Srdjan Vasiljevic (Nikola Djuricko), saves and takes her with him as he decides to desert the Serbian army. From there, the two of them move to Belgrade where Srdjan becomes a gangster and deals out dozens of weapons to the highest bidder. Adria soon learns the ropes of how he does things and stays with him even as things get increasingly nasty (emphasis on the word nasty). It’s this past which threatens to tear apart her present as she finds a new love while helping a friend of hers obtain the citizenship that will help her find a better life.

“Human Zoo” is at times a shockingly violent movie, but never in a flashy way. The violence is an integral part of the lives of these characters, and it is portrayed in all its foul ugliness. It is never glamorized as Rasmussen is reflecting the real-life tragedy of what happened in Kosovo during the war. There is also a rape scene which is one of the most realistic ever featured in movies as Rasmussen never ever tries to make it look the least bit arousing as other directors might have.

Watching this movie twice in the same week, I was blown away at how many long shots Rasmussen pulled off. We’re in a time where movies seem to be about quick cuts and shaking the camera all over the place more than anything else. But she makes each scene flow naturally even as they seem incredibly complicated to put together. There’s one sex scene which looks astonishingly realistic as it lasts two or three minutes, and it’s this kind of directing that sucks you completely into the story and its characters.

Rasmussen also succeeds in staging a brilliant overhead shot in a gunfight sequence which has her character going down a hall as we see what’s going on in the rooms surrounding it. DePalma, among other movie directors, have pulled off scenes like this many times, but Rasmussen makes it all her own to where it feels very fresh.

“Human Zoo” could have been utterly confusing as it constantly jumps back and forth in time, but Rasmussen manages to separate the timelines to where they are easily identifiable. She uses a cold blue color when presenting the past in the same way Steven Soderbergh used different colors in “Traffic.” The color suits this part of the story as it starts in war torn Kosovo and continues on into a world which looks every bit as cold it seems. Watching Adria’s journey into an abyss where the difference between right and wrong becomes seriously blurred is one we cannot turn away from. Her friendship with Srdjan keeps growing into something else even as he maintains a detached mindset on human nature in general.

Rasmussen also gets away with tackling different issues like immigration, slavery, war, and others, and yet this film never feels overstuffed. They are all issues very important to her, and she gives time to explore them without spelling everything out to the audience.

As an actress, Rasmussen gives a ballsy performance as Adria as she takes her character from a naïve young girl to a very self-sufficient one. It’s a great role for any actress because there are so many levels to play with, and she never misses a beat. In interviews, she has talked about seeing the darker side of life which taught her how to defend herself, and this life experience certainly bleeds through into her portrayal of Adria.

Another terrific performance comes from Nick Corey who plays Adria’s American boyfriend, Shawn Reagan. At first, it looks like Corey will coast on the surfer dude stereotype when Nick bumps into Adria by accident. But Corey imbues Nick with a love for life as we learn how he has traveled from one country to another, and he gets a great scene where he prepares to fight in a bar by stripping off all his clothes. Corey makes the scene believable and funny, and it also helps how Rasmussen said she saw a guy do this in real life.

But the best performance by far in “Human Zoo” comes from Nikola Djuricko who gives us one of cinema’s most enthralling and seductive sociopaths as Srdjan Vasiljevic. We should despise Srdjan for what he does, but Djuricko makes him too entertaining to be around. For the majority of this film, his eyes never tell us if he’s a good or bad guy. In watching the delight he takes in his bad deeds and his bleak perception of humanity in general, Djuricko pulls the audience in with a tight grasp to where we can’t take our eyes off him. It’s a fearless performance as he believably portrays a person with qualities we want to believe are not a part of us, and this actor makes an infinitely appealing character out of a certified monster.

I hope “Human Zoo” eventually finds a wider audience than it has already received. The movie more than succeeds in breaking through all borders in its path, and it deserves to be taken a chance on. We are still stuck in a cycle of endless (not to mention needless) remakes and movies “based on a true story,” but this movie has a life force about it which commands your attention and exhilarates you from start to finish. I can’t say that about many movies which come out these days.

* * * * out of * * * *

Exclusive Video Interview with Jonas Carpignano about ‘A Ciambra’

A Ciambra” was Italy’s official submission in the Foreign Language Film category for the 90th Academy Awards, and it was made in the heart of the country’s Romani community. A gritty coming of age story, it follows Pio Amato, a 14-year-old boy who is eager to grow up real fast. Pio spends his days smoking and drinking as well as following his older brother Cosimo (Damiano Amato) around town while learning the skills needed for survival in their hometown. While tensions between the different factions, the Italians, the African immigrants and his fellow Romani, remain high, Pio is able to slide through each in a way few others can. When Cosimo is arrested one night, Pio is quick to convince everyone he is more than ready to fill his older brother’s shoes and take care of things. But as the movie goes on, he wonders if he is truly ready to become a man.

“A Ciambra” was written and directed by Jonas Carpignano whose previous film, “Mediterranea” won various awards including Best Directorial Debut from the National Board of Review and the Gotham Award for Breakthrough Directing. What he has succeeded in doing here is giving us a motion picture which makes you feel like you are hanging out with these characters instead of just watching them from a distance. Carpignano combines biographical elements with documentary style filmmaking to give us something we experience more than anything else. There are not many movies like this one these days, and I will take them wherever I can get them.

Carpignano spent his childhood between Rome and New York City, and he currently lives in Italy where he continues his filmmaking endeavors. He was in Los Angeles to talk about “A Ciambra,” and it was a pleasure taking with him about how he went about making the film with non-professional actors. In addition, he spoke of what it was like to work alongside Martin Scorsese who is the film’s executive producer and of the most valuable piece of advice the “Goodfellas” director gave him.

“A Ciambra” opens in Los Angeles at Laemmle’s Royal Theater on February 2, 2018. Be sure to check out the interview above as well as the movie’s trailer below.

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Toni Erdmann

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It’s hard to tell you how to go into “Toni Erdmann” as it works as both a comedy and a drama. Some moments are truly hysterical while others are deeply moving as German filmmaker Maren Ade draws us into a story which takes us in completely unexpected directions. These days, only a foreign film can get away with what “Toni Erdmann” does here as it balances out both its hilarious and moving scenes for a nearly 3-hour running time. Yes, it’s that long, but don’t let this and subtitles give you a reason not to sit through it because you will be missing out.

We meet Winfried Conradi (Peter Simonischek), a music teacher who thrives on playing pranks and practical jokes on unsuspecting victims with tremendous glee. Winifred is eager to reconnect with his daughter, Ines (Sandra Hüller), who is currently working in Bucharest, Romania as a business consultant in the oil industry. Ines is hopelessly addicted to her phone, as many of us are from one nation to the next, and she barely has any time at all to spend with her family as she is constantly called away to work. Following a sudden death, Winfried impulsively travels to Romania to spend time with Ines, but his unexpected visit cannot compete with her seemingly ambitious climb up the corporate ladder. Winfried at one point asks Ines what she enjoys most out of life, and she finds she cannot really answer the question as the term enjoyment is impossible for her to honestly define. These days, with everyone struggling to make a living, it’s very hard not to relate to how she feels.

After feeling quite alienated, Winfried decides to leave Romania and let Ines go about her hectic life. A few days later, however, Winfried reappears as Toni Erdmann, his alter-ego who presents himself as a life coach and consultant to Ines and her friends, and it doesn’t take long for him to draw a crowd with his effortless charisma. Ines is at first horrified by what her father has pulled off as she feels her career might be put in jeopardy as a result, but she eventually finds herself playing along as it gives her life a levity which constantly eludes it.

Watching “Toni Erdmann,” I kept thinking how a Hollywood studio would try to dumb down the material and force the director to cut the movie down to 90 minutes so they could maximize the number of screenings which can be shown in a day. I imagine producers were trying to do the same to Ade, but she apparently said deleting scenes would have hurt the movie’s pacing. Keep in mind, she spent over a year editing the movie and even gave birth to her second child in the process, so you cannot say she didn’t put a lot of thought into what she was doing here. The end result is a final cut which doesn’t have a single wasted shot in it as we watch Winfried and Ines struggle with this crazy thing called life.

Both Simonischek and Hüller are exemplary in portraying characters who could have been played far too broadly in any other movie, and the actors fully invest in the emotional natures of Winfried/Toni and Ines to where we are completely caught up in what’s going on in their minds. Just when you think each actor has given their best moment onscreen here, they come up with another one which has you in awe as well as in hysterics in regards to what they succeed in pulling off.

Winfried could have been a completely obnoxious and annoying father like many are in movies these days, but Simonischek makes him a wonderful presence even when Winfried, in his alter-ego of Toni, threatens to overstay his welcome. When he reveals who he really is to another person and why he is putting on such a disguise, it is a wonderfully moving moment as he is not greeted with disdain but instead with understanding and empathy. I imagine most parents are desperate to keep a strong connection with their children after they move away from home, so it shouldn’t be a big surprise when some resort to desperate measures.

Hüller gives us a character ever so serious in advancing her career in a male-dominated business, but she’s also not afraid of showing the bruises in Ines’ armor which come up when her world becomes too much to deal with emotionally. She also brilliantly takes her character in directions you couldn’t possibly anticipate, and this results in a musical scene and a birthday party, both of which need to be seen to be believed. She fearlessly dives into those moments with sheer enthusiasm as she soon finds herself battling against a lifestyle which has become far too suffocating to deal with.

“Toni Erdmann” is in many ways a comedy, but the comedy doesn’t just come out of its hysterical moments. It also comes out of the painful and awkward ones as humor at times becomes the only way to deal with the emotional hurdles life constantly throws in our direction. There is a seriousness to the subject matter as well as life and death are dealt with in equal measure. Taking this into account, it’s best to go in with an open mind as expectations will threaten your cinematic experience rather than inform it. What you can expect are a number of surprises you could never have expected, if that makes any sense.

Every once in a while, we need a movie which reminds us of the importance of living in the here and now as life becomes far too hectic for us to realize it. “Toni Erdmann” never tries to shameless manipulate its audience into feeling anything as we come to fully sympathize with Winfried and Ines to where we do see the importance of stopping to smell the flowers more often. Winfried’s last scene with Ines drives this point through as they come to realize how quickly time passes everyone by to where it is very hard to slow down for just a second. Please don’t try to convince me you don’t relate to this in the slightest.

I am still thinking about that last scene long after the movie ended, and of how Hollywood would never have let Ade get away with a nearly 3-hour running time. I’m convinced they would rather rush to get to the “live in the moment” scene in a mere 90 minutes because more screenings in a day means more money. Sometimes it is worth it to take the time to tell a really good story.

* * * * out of * * * *

Exclusive Interview with Ashim Ahluwalia on ‘Miss Lovely’

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On the surface, “Miss Lovely” might look like a typical Bollywood movie, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s a Hindi feature film which digs deep into the sordid back alley of India’s film industry of the 1980’s which churned out countless horror and soft-core porn movies. In the midst of this sleazy atmosphere are the Duggal brothers, Sonu (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) and Vicky (Anil George), who are among the most prolific producers of trashy C-grade films for Mumbai’s underground market. But while Vicky has no problem with what he does, Sonu is desperately looking to escape this underground reality. When he meets the beautiful actress Pinky (Niharika Singh), Sonu sees not only his chance for escape but also the opportunity to make a real romance movie with her as the star. But as he works to make this a reality, he ends up going down a road from which there is no return.

“Miss Lovely” was directed by Ashim Ahluwalia who is said to be part of a new generation of Indian filmmakers who prefer to avoid working with Hindi film stars, and his films have been described as unconventional in how they blur the lines between documentary and fiction. This is certainly the case here as Ahluwalia’s film deals with an industry he has seen up close, and he invites us to journey into its murky depths. It was originally supposed to be a documentary, but when Ahluwalia couldn’t get those working in the C-grade film industry to be involved, he decided to make a fiction film instead. What results is an unforgettable motion picture which is as unsettling as it is intoxicating to sit through, and it’s one of those movies I sarcastically describe as being good fun for the whole family.

I got to speak with Ahluwalia while he was out to promote “Miss Lovely,” and he was super excited to talk about it as the movie looks at an industry which has long ceased to exist due to changes in technology and the widespread availability of pornography on the internet. It was fascinating to hear him talk about this as filmmakers today are dealing with a shift in technology from film to digital, and it’s a shift many are not quick to embrace.

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Ben Kenber: I was blown away by it and it was not at all what I expected. It’s more of a movie you experience than just watch.

Ashim Ahluwalia: Exactly. I think that’s really a good way to describe it.

BK: I especially liked how you shot this movie on Kodak Super 16 and 35mm film as it gives the movie a really rough feel which in turn captures the sleazy nature of the business these characters are engulfed in.

AA: Yeah, it was also about the end of celluloid. The whole period that these films were made in was kind of the end of celluloid and then you have VHS replacing it. In a way, that was the precursor to the digital age and this whole way of consuming sleaze I guess. It just moved to the internet in the 2000’s and then that was the end of that. So I think a lot of it has to do with this material that was so critical in the way these films are made and consumed. It’s crazy to think that they were shooting that sleaze on 35mm (laughs), and now people would just die to get their hands on that kind of access to celluloid, so it’s pretty much part of what the film is about.

BK: Now some have suggested that “Miss Lovely” is part of a new wave of Indian cinema. How do you feel about the reaction this movie has had so far?

AA: It has random individuals doing random things and they’re not really connected, and that has more to do with the fact that now people are more exposed to cinema and they’re getting excited by what’s happening in the rest of Asia and the possibility of digital, etc. I think this whole idea was kind of overblown. It was sort of a moment when they were trying to tie everything together. I think “Miss Lovely” is a very odd film honestly. It’s not unique. It’s not odd just to India; it’s just odd generally because it’s such a hybrid film. It’s just taking very comfortably in a way that most art-house movies don’t just take it from the musical, taking from a 50’s noir, taking from sex horror, taking from porn, maybe documentaries or experimental films and stuff like that. I don’t think it represents a new specific type of film from India, but I think this is definitely a moment where there is new stuff and it’s not just Bollywood, Bollywood, Bollywood.

BK: To be honest, I’m not too familiar with Bollywood films…

AA: Well you’re lucky (laughs).

BK: I think the closest I’ve come to Bollywood so far is “Slumdog Millionaire,” but I’m not sure if that counts.

AA: Well yeah but it’s borderline Bollywood honestly. New Bollywood is kind of like that.

BK: How difficult was it to re-create the Mumbai of the 1980’s as you remember it?

AA: It was really hard because most of the places were being bulldozed as we were shooting them. So sometimes at a location, half the building was already knocked down and we just got them to hold for like a week until we shot a scene. It was literally shooting the last remnants of that kind of 80’s one-hour hotels and cabaret halls and stuff. I would say that about 60 or 70% of the locations are gone now and it’s not even been two years. It becomes kind of a document of those places and that kind of time. It doesn’t exist anymore.

BK: I read that you were not looking to romanticize or do a parody of the 1980’s. How did you manage to keep yourself from doing that?

AA: Well I think there’s sort of like a hipster 1980’s thing and I really wanted to stay away from that. I didn’t want to just make like fetishes of all those little 80’s objects. For me, the reason is because I spent a year and a half hanging out with a lot of these people from the C-grade industry because I initially wanted to make a documentary. So, by the time I was done with that one-and-a-half-year period, it was very hard to poke fun at anyone because these are people that you spent so much time with and saw so intimately. It was hard to caricaturize them.

BK: During the movie, we don’t see a lot of the real world outside of the one the Duggal brothers inhabit. When it does intrude on their sleazy underworld, you feel almost as lost as the characters do as they desperately try to escape their circumstances.

AA: Yeah, it’s kind of claustrophobic. I wanted the film to be like this kind of maze that you were trying to get out of and you can’t. The whole point is this kind of escape ends up being a fantasy of a film that could maybe get you out of there, but it’s sort of like endless passageways that lead into other passageways. It’s just a very interior, claustrophobic kind of environment which I think, for me, I relate to that. When you work sometimes in film you feel like that. You don’t have to really only work in secret cinema, but sometimes a bad day job can be like that. So, I think that idea of you were always trying to escape but you can’t, I like that somehow.

BK: This is your first feature film as a director, and your previous film was a documentary. What was the transition like for you from making documentaries to directing an actual feature film?

AA: The first film I made was “John & Jane” and that was a documentary, but it was shot on 35mm and looks more like a dystopian sci-fi film than a documentary. Somebody told me that my documentaries look more like fiction and my fiction looks more like documentaries, so I’m really interested in this idea of what a fiction film is and what a documentary is. “Miss Lovely” is not a conventional or traditional film. It’s still quite loose in terms of its language and it’s quite experimental, so I don’t find much difference. I feel like I could slip in and out between these two worlds quite easily in some ways.

BK: You once said that the raw energy of these C-grade filmmakers reminded you of why you set out to make films in the first place. What was it specifically about them that reminded you of that?

AA: Well I think what happens is that when you start working in any capacity like in an industry or an environment, what ends up happening is that you become quite jaded as a filmmaker. You’re just like always thinking about how do I get money, do I put it in this thing, if I put this person in it then I get this money and then if I work with that person then I get this distribution, etc. I think what ends up happening is that you lose that energy and spirit of why you really love cinema. You don’t watch films anymore because you’re so jaded by it. But when I experienced these guys making films, although the films are very bad admittedly, the way that they would make the films would be so like run and gone. It would be like, “Oh are we running out of film stock? What we do? The actor’s not available? Get another actor to stand in for the guy.” So the character is now played by a different actor, or if you don’t have a shot then you put a stock shot in, or the police are coming into the building so you have to finish the scene like within 15 minutes. The whole anarchic energy of the way the films are made really reminded me of what independent film should be; just making it with such passion. It’s like the passion is going to make the film happen. It really inspired me in a way to just make something which I really love with some degree of madness and passion which I think sometimes gets filtered out of you.

BK: I’m always waiting for the independent film world to explode again like it did in the 1990’s.

AA: Yeah exactly, and then you see how it’s just been co-opted and it feels like such a tired kind of thing.

BK: The characters in “Miss Lovely” are basically composites of the people you met in this industry. You said you originally wanted to do a documentary, but a lot of the people you talked to didn’t want to be involved in it because of the illegal nature of what they were doing. How accurate is this movie to those types of filmmakers?

AA: A lot of the people that were going to be in the documentary initially, I got them to just play themselves in the background. So all the background characters are all like real C-grade people. All the secondaries are actually people that, when I cast them in a fiction film, were like, “Okay I’ll do it.” But they didn’t want to be in the documentary somehow. So, a lot of those real elements I just kind of brought back into this movie in another way through another backdoor and just brought the realism back into it.

BK: That’s surprising to hear that they did find a way to be in this movie without compromising their true identities.

AA: Yeah, and as long as they were in costume they felt like they weren’t revealing too much of themselves, but they were playing themselves essentially. That just gave the whole thing a bona fide genuine authentic atmosphere that is just almost impossible to re-create artificially with actors who don’t know anything about that world. I felt it just brings another energy to it.

BK: The cast is just spot on with their performances. What was the casting process for “Miss Lovely” like?

AA: Well a lot of them are real people that, when you meet them, are so performative anyway. There’s a midget casting director, the little guy, and when I met him he was just so charismatic when he was talking to me about what he did. He is actually a casting director in real life, so he just had to do what he always does and he was really comfortable. A lot of them were really comfortable around the cameras somehow. It’s almost like they were waiting all their lives to be in front of the camera, and suddenly they just did that thing. And of course, if I gave somebody lines, finally they would never remember the lines but they would do their own thing which would be better than the lines I wrote. I would be like, “Yeah let’s just keep that. It’s much better.”

BK: All the actors seem to have a wonderfully natural quality whenever they appear onscreen. It’s like there inhabiting the roles instead of just playing them, and it really sucks you into the atmosphere of the movie even more.

AA: Well that’s because a lot of them really are those people, so that’s partly it. And the others who were more professional actors were now having to match their performance with someone who’s so bona fide and so real that they are like, “S—t! I need to get better at what I’m doing because I’m looking fake now in relation to this person.” So, putting nonprofessional and then professional actors in the same space together creates a very interesting dynamic.

BK: “Miss Lovely” reminded me a bit of the Coen Brothers’ film “Barton Fink” as both movies have protagonists who really want to make a difference in the industry they’re working in, and then they see their dreams get shattered in the worst way possible.

AA: Yeah, I like that film a lot actually. That’s a very atmospheric film. The atmosphere is very much a character in the film, and it’s not just about the narrative. It’s just about the texture of that space and stuff. It’s a good reference I think.

BK: Another movie reminded me of was “Boogie Nights” and the scene where the producers are talking to Burt Reynolds about switching from celluloid to videotape since it’s a lot less expensive.

AA: Yeah. I think probably there are similar interests from filmmakers because we grew up in a certain time and a certain place, and you’ve seen this shift happen to digital and it’s such a radical change in terms of what it means to make a movie or what a film even is. I think it’s all about a certain generation of filmmakers grappling with the shift.

I want to thank Ashim Ahluwalia for taking the time to talk with me. “Miss Lovely” is now available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray, and Digital.

Exclusive Interview with Carlos Marques-Marcet on ‘10,000 Km’

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The thought of a long-distance relationship is frightening as it thoroughly tests the bond between a loving couple to where it looks like they are destined for disaster. One relationship is put to this test in “10,000 Km,” a romantic drama co-written and directed by Carlos Marques-Marcet.

Alexandra (Natalia Tena) and Sergi (David Verdaguer) are a loving couple living in Barcelona, Spain, but they also struggle to balance out their careers while trying to start a family. Then Alexandra accepts a one-year residency in Los Angeles which could really jump start her photography career, and Sergi has no choice but to stay in Barcelona where he works as a teacher. Luckily, they have modern technology which allows them to keep in touch on a daily basis, but what is helping to keep them together may also tear them apart.

“10,000 Km” proved to be a powerful meditation on the struggle of a long-distance relationship, and it starts off with a scene which lasts several minutes and captures the characters in their most intimate state. I got to talk with Marcet while he was in Los Angeles, and he talked about how that scene came about and how long it took to shoot. In addition, he also clarified how much of the movie was shot in Spain and Los Angeles, how he came to cast Tena and Verdaguer, and of how he kept the actors separated during shooting.

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Ben Kenber: It’s interesting to see how this relationship evolves once the two lovers are separated by continents and use technology to keep in touch with one another. Was it hard to balance out the benefits of technology with the human element in this movie?

Carlos Marques-Marcet: No. We knew from the beginning that the driving point was to portray the relationship which derives from the human element. The technology was the tool and the human part was the means somehow, so it wasn’t so much about finding a balance but trying to see how to use these tools to convey the means.

BK: The opening sequence of “10,000 Km” is amazing as it lasts several minutes and features the two lovers being intimate with one another, and then one of them receives an unexpected job opportunity. How did you go about setting the scene up?

CMM: It was a long process to arrive there. It was originally not such a long scene, but then we looked at the script and it suddenly made sense to have this very long scene where you see them together. It’s a two shot of them and you are with them, then afterwards the rest of the movie we shot over shot because they have no other possibilities. There’s a symbolic element to it, this raw thing of being with two people together that weren’t there together. The making of it involved a lot of preparation. The location was the producer’s house, so I knew where I was going to shoot. It was a combination of working with all the departments, the actors and rehearsing. It was like a dance.

BK: This scene must have taken a very long time to shoot.

CMM: 17 takes and three days of shooting. We planned it and we wanted to do it with the dollies. There was no handheld camera. We wanted it to be grounded to the ground. I think it was an interesting way of how to go about it.

BK: Natalia Tena and David Verdaguer are both terrific in this movie. What was the casting process like?

CMM: So basically, we found David about a year before shooting. I had just graduated from UCLA and I didn’t want to shoot another short. I just took a couple of scenes from the movie and shot them just as an experiment with another actress. I watched a lot of You Tube videos and interviews. I like to see how actors move and how they talk, and I was looking for another actor, not David, and then I saw him in this video he made with a cell phone of two friends. Then I saw that he was an actor and I proposed to my producers that we bring him in for casting, but then it turned out that he’s actually known as a comedian. I had no idea. He’s like a “Saturday Night Live” comedian. Actually, he’s done a lot of theater, very serious theater, but people love him for his comedic aspect. But then he came into the casting process, and it was a very long casting process with two people for hours. I like to work with the actors instead of just having them come in to read. I like to meet people. It was David for sure, no doubt. And then with Natalia, it was a last-minute thing. We were actually going to shoot with another actress and she had to cancel, and when we finally found Natalia it was like a miracle. It was very clear that they had chemistry, and they became very close friends instantaneously.

BK: When it came to shooting the scenes when she’s in Los Angeles and he’s back in Spain and they are using Skype to keep in touch with one another, did you purposely separate the actors?

CMM: Yeah. Originally I wanted to shoot it in Los Angeles and in Barcelona at the same time, but Natalia had some scheduling conflicts. It wasn’t that cheap to do it. I wanted to shoot it in my own house in Los Angeles, but schedule wise it was not possible. So we put them in two different apartments in Barcelona and I actually after shooting the first scene said that it would be nice if they didn’t see each other, but that lasted like two or three days (laughs). After three days I was like it’s fine if they hang out with each other. I wanted to create the feeling of missing somebody, and three days was totally enough. In the end, they were hanging out together every night playing cards, going over the lines and drinking wine, and in the morning they had to be separated. So, for them being in touch every day and then during the day not being able to be together was very frustrating, and I think that shows up somehow in the movie.

BK: When “10,000 Km” begins we see this couple at their most intimate, and they still have that intimacy throughout the movie to a certain extent. I don’t want to give away the ending, but I loved how you ended the movie on an ambiguous note. It’s not the kind of movie that begs for a solid or more definitive conclusion.

CMM: Yeah, that came about during the editing. Actually, the script was much more clear, but while we were editing there was a bunch of dialogue that we decided to take out because I felt that already through the images we could tell what was going on. Then we took it out and then for some people it became more ambiguous than it was in the script. I like it. It was not in the plan of how I shot it. I have my own vision of it, but I also like to let people imagine whatever they want.

BK: “10,000 Km” is not designed to give anyone a definitive answer to whether long-distance relationships can work or not, but I came out of it hoping these two would find a way to make things work out.

CMM: That’s a very optimistic view (laughs). We leave it so that the very optimistic people can think that (laughs).

BK: Despite the scheduling conflicts, were you able to shoot any of the movie in Los Angeles, or was it mostly shot in Barcelona?

CMM: Mostly in Barcelona, and then I shot some of the stuff in LA. There are some shots where you see my home in Echo Park with the webcam and everything, but mostly we shot it in Barcelona. We faked the LA interior in Barcelona. It was not possible to do it the other way around. In Los Angeles, you won’t find interior like you would in Barcelona. I didn’t want to shoot in a studio. I wanted to shoot in a real location so they have the feeling that they are in a house or a real apartment.

I want to thank Carlos Marques for taking the time to talk with me. “10,000 Km” is now available to own and rent on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2009)

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You look at her from a distance, and all you see is just another punk chick who’s nothing but trouble; born under a bad sign. You’d figure she’s pierced her body in lord only knows how many different places, and the mascara applied to her eyes might make you see her as an intimidating threat. Not once does she try to adjust her antisocial behavior or clothing attire in the workplace, and this is a sign of how unwilling she is to compromise her learned set of values.

But once you get to know her, you will find Lisbeth Salander is not your average punk rock girl. In fact, she’s a brilliant hacker and researcher who knows more about yourself than you could possibly realize. Bo Diddley was right when he said you can’t judge a book by looking at the cover. I mean you could, but she would just kick your ass because a rough upbringing has more than prepared her for the harsh reality of life.

Lisbeth Salander is the heroine of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” a brilliant mystery/thriller based on the best-selling novel by the late Stieg Larsson. Many have said Noomi Rapace gives a star making performance as Lisbeth, and nothing could be more true. She finds the heart of this incredibly intelligent yet mysterious character whose past is hinted at but never explained until the end, but we come to get enough of a glimpse which helps us understand where she is coming from. Lisbeth sets the bar high in terms of compelling characters (and not just females) you can find in movies from any country.

Right from the start, this film absorbs us in its compelling mystery involving the case of a missing girl which has remained unsolved for 40 years. Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), the publisher of Millennium Magazine, is coming off of a trial where he was wrongfully disgraced, and soon after he is hired by rich man Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube) who wants him to look into the disappearance of his great-niece Harriet who was last seen years ago when she was only 16. Henrik believes Harriet was murdered by someone in his family, and it’s a very dysfunctional family filled with those who will fight one other for the whole inheritance without a single thought for anyone else.

Please believe me when I say “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” puts so many American movies of this genre to utter shame. Seriously, many of the mystery thrillers I have seen in the past few years are full of plot holes Michael Bay could lead both Autobots and Decepticons through no matter how enormous they are. Instead of being enthralled, we come out of them feeling like they are average at best, but they do allow us to feel smarter than the filmmakers since we spotted all their foolish mistakes.

Compared to all those wannabes, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” has a very well-constructed plot to where if it is at all flawed, we certainly don’t realize it because we are too caught up with what’s unfolding onscreen. But where this movie truly succeeds is as a character piece in how deeply it involves us in the lives of two very different people. The two main characters are well developed and are very complex, something I always look forward to seeing. Lisbeth is a wounded person, damaged by life, and the trust she puts in others is exceedingly rare. These two end up coming together as Lisbeth has been hacking into Mikael’s computer as part of his case, and she ends up giving him some clues which have eluded him. While she is hesitant to get involved with Mikael professionally or emotionally, he points out how she contacted him in a way that is easy to track.

Lisbeth and Mikael are indeed an odd couple, and yet perfectly matched to work on the coldest of cases. They are also coming together at a time where they are in a very isolated state, having been largely misunderstood by just about everyone around them. While many view them negatively, they come to see one another as who they really are. The more they work together, the more they gain each other’s trust. In the large scheme of things, these are two people who do not let others define them.

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” was directed by Niels Arden Oplev, a three-time award-winning director from Denmark. He deserves a lot of credit for keeping us deeply involved in a movie that could have easily overstayed its welcome. Not once did I find myself getting bored or restless while watching it. Oplev balances out the story and the acting to where they are on equal footing and never upstaged by style. Never does he indulge in quirky camera angles or other visual elements which would have taken away from this movie. Some directors just love to show off instead of just trusting what is there, and Oplev has clearly laid his complete trust in the story and the actors cast.

Noomi Rapace brings a powerful life force to Lisbeth Salander, a character destined to become as iconic as Clarice Starling from “The Silence of the Lambs.” Beneath her hard exterior is a person whose trust in others is practically non-existent for reasons which eventually become clear. Rapace more than succeeds in making Lisbeth tough as well as sympathetic. Her performance could easily have been a caricature, but she proves to be far too good of an actress to allow this to happen.

Michael Nyqvist does excellent work as Mikael Blomkvist, showing his strong resolve and utter frustration without ever going overboard in his performance. When he is first shown to the audience, it is as a man who has just been found guilty. We don’t know why at first, so we can only assume he had it coming or perhaps he was framed. We see him walking down the street when his picture comes up on television, pretty much defining him in the eyes of those who do not know him personally. But Nyqvist invests his character with a strong moral code which he never surrenders even when it seems smart for him to do so. We sympathize with Mikael as it always seems the wealthiest of people are more than willing to smash down the individual, especially when said individual is correct in what he or she discovers about them. The truth always seems to come at a heavy price.

Peter Andersson doesn’t even try to hide the hideous slime that consumes his utterly immoral character of Bjurman, a sexually abusive bastard who takes advantage of Lisbeth in the worst way possible. Even worse, he is her new legal guardian who takes charge of her trust fund after her original guardian suffers a stroke. Not to worry though, the pain Bjurman inflicts on Lisbeth comes back at him in a most vicious way, showing us once again what you see on the surface does not even begin to tell you the whole story.

Two sequels based on Stieg Larsson’s follow up novels have already been made, and I eagerly await the opportunity to see them on the big screen. They will have a tough act to follow after “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” but with Rapace and Nyqvist reprising their roles, they will continue one of the more interesting and unusual partnerships you can hope to find in cinematic history.

It will be interesting to see who will be the next idiotic human being who foolishly thinks they have complete control over Lisbeth. Even more interesting will be in what way Lisbeth lets said person know just how wrong they are. Pray for whoever it is.

* * * * out of * * * *