The last of the monthly round-ups for 2019!
I Lost My Body
A severed hand escapes from its hospital storage and embarks on a journey across Paris to be re-united with its owner, Naofel (Hakim Faris). On the way it remembers the events that led to its severing, revolving around a quest for purpose and a young woman named Gabrielle (Victoire Du Bois).
The first of two oddball animated films I took in this month, the French language J’ai Perdu Mon Corps doesn’t wait around. In its opening scene a re-animated hand jumps out of a hospital fridge and finagles its way outside, acting like a malformed spider. Any viewer will be suitably intrigued – and maybe a little revolted, it is a severed hand – and they will probably stay that way for the remainder, which unfolds as a somewhat wispy but endearing story of young life and young love.
Director Jeremy Clapin co-wrote the screenplay with Guillaume Laurent, author of source material Happy Hand, and his film is a dual narrative, one featuring the aforementioned journey of the hand, and the second being a flashback to its owner, the awkward Naofel. Orphaned at a young age and struggling for identity and direction, a chance encounter over an intercom with the enticing Gabrielle – pretty much the only person in his life who treats him as more than just a nuisance – leads to a transformation. This is depicted positively as Naofel gets out from the under the thumb of a less-than-stellar adopted family and finds a trade as an apprentice carpenter, but also in negative terms: Naofel essentially stalks Gabrielle, taking the apprentice job from her ailing uncle to be close to her and following her to her place of work. The film depicts such things without much of a critical tinge, typical of 90’s era rom-com tropes, but it certainly made me feel a little queasy.
It’s strangely better when focusing on the hand, and its episodic trek across Paris. Dangers abound between rubbish bins, pigeons, rats, ants, frozen streams and seeing-eye dogs, and at times the depiction of the journey can get quite brutal. The animation is simple, but pleasurable to look at. The higher point is elusive, maybe to too much of an extent: is it an allegory for incompleteness of the soul, that needs more than physical reunification to solve? Are the main characters’ musings on the nature of free will meant to tie-in to the severed hand and its quest in some fashion? And what is the meaning of the film’s somewhat open-ended final scene?
It is a stereotype to classify French film as aloof, aimless and mumblecore with an accent, but there are elements of I Lost My Body that fit the bill. It could do with a little bit more in the way of direction, the kind of thing that the hand plot has lots of, until it intersects with the “main” thread. But with its animation and its unique narrative surrounding the hand and its titular plight, it’s still very much worth watching. Recommended.
The Awakening Of Motti Wolkenbruch
Orthodox Jew Motti (Joel Basman) is constantly harangued by his mother (Inge Maux) to find a wife, but feels stilted in such efforts by the social mores of his religion. When he meets outgoing “shiksa” (non-Jew) Laura (Noemie Schmidt) and starts a romance he finds a fulfillment he didn’t know was possible, but the judgement of his mother and community is always around the corner.
Based on the novel by Thomas Meyer and apparently better known by the truly excellent title Wolkenbruch’s Wondrous Journey Into the Arms Of A Shiksa, this is an interesting glimpse into the strange (to an outsider) world of Orthodox Judaism, in this case the community based in Zurich (the film being a mix of German, Hebrew and Yiddish in its language). Strange in certain customs that is, as Motti’s plight is one that is easily recognisable: an awkward bachelor whose mother wants him married to the person she picks, when he has his own unorthodox (ha!) love interests.
The majority of Wolkenbruch progresses as a dark comedy where Motti tries to stay one step ahead of his interfering mother, to the point that heads off to Israel on a wife-finding trip at her insistence (unfortunately it doesn’t go quite to her plan, though Motti is pretty happy). He fakes an engagement with a similarly hen-picked woman from the same community in the hopes of being left alone, and finds solace and the titular awakening in the form of college classmate Laura, not just a shiksa, but a liberal fun-loving shiksa. Schmidt is decent as a first love that Motti places on too high of a pedestal, and the back-and-forth between her and Basman rings true, as he rejoices in a person with whom he can mock the, as he see’s them, somewhat pretentious and pointless conventions of his religion and community.
It all has to end in inevitable tears of course, when Motti stands up to his mother and must choose between the dictates of his faith or those of his heart. Wolkenbruch has a bit of a predictability to it in many ways (indeed, in an early joke Motti outlines the predictable beats of an Orthodox Jew’s life, from brit milah to kvura), but it makes up for it with its sense of humour and the power of its central performances. They give what could otherwise be fairly humdrum material some much needed humanity, and it will be a cold heart indeed that does not root for Motti’s coming-of-age, regardless of what side he comes down on in the end.
It got me thinking of Stacey Maltin’s The Other Side, an as yet un-produced screenplay that was given a podcast treatment over on The Blacklist Table Reads a few years ago. Where that used the backdrop of Orthodox Jewish communities (in Brooklyn rather than Europe) for purely dramatic purposes, Wolkenbruch mostly goes for comedy with a lot of drama at the very end, and since both are effective in their own ways, I think it shows that there is plenty of potential for story-telling from such background. Recommended.
Reuben Brandt, Collector
Psychotherapist Reuben Brandt (Ivan Kamaras) suffers from vivid nightmares where famous works of art attack him. In an effort to overcome this strange haunting before it induces insanity, Brandt enlists a quartet of his patients, art-thief’s all, to steal his tormentors. They include the beautiful Mimi (Gabriella Hamori), but Brandt may find his plans foiled by P.I. Mike Kawalsky (Zalan Makranczi).
This Hungarian animation (though made in the English language) is certainly unique looking. Taking its cues from the cubism movement (think Picasso), it presents a warped and almost grotesque animation style, where the characters look altogether inhuman, a veneration of the artwork that the film itself revolves around. The effect is something similar to the uncanny valley, but more in the line of something resembling a human form just enough that you can understand what it is, while still being unnerved by the incorrect proportions.
I’m sure director Milorad Krstic doesn’t mean to unnerve the audience, but I suspect the vast majority of viewers will be just that. It helps that the film commits as much as it does to this incredible animated premise, with action sequences – an early chase across Paris and a later fist-fight in a basement are real stand-outs – that are as dynamic in the setting as they possibly can be, wherein the strange environments are as much a player as the vaguely human figures. It’s clear that Krstic is a man with a love for the 13 prominently featured artworks, and what unfolds is his own unique testament to them.
It’s ostensibly a heist movie, but with a fair whack of old spy thriller and psychological horror mixed in. Sequences where the titular psychotherapist is attacked by works of art as varied as Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth Of Venus and Andy Warhol’s Elvis I and II are intense and frightening, giving the entire film a certain surrealist sense that will certainly not be to everyone’s taste. At times Reuben Brandt, Collector can be frustratingly obtuse, a bit too artistic for its own good, indulging itself with its visuals, as everything else falls to the wayside to some extent.
The actual plot is really nothing all that special. There is a succession of heists (that seem to be carried out all too easily), a private detective on the trial, a family secret to be uncovered and a big mash-up at the end. It’s short in running length yet still feels empty and not all that concerned with its script or its narrative, though the VA cast are impressive, most notably Hamori as the sultry cat-burgler Mimi. It’s the kind of film that could have done with a bit more time, and with a more fully-formed ending: the one that we get is a finale that invites far more questions than answers, and seems tailor-made to be thought-provoking, when it mostly comes off as obtuse. Reuben Brandt, Collector remains a film that needs to be seen to be believed, but which lacks a greater substance to make it truly stand-out.
Billionaire “One” (Ryan Reynolds) fakes his death so that he can use his resources to fund a vigilante team dedicated to targetting the people that governments are too scared or unwilling to touch. Former spy “Two” (Melanie Laurent), hitman “Three” (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), parkour runner “Four” (Ben Hardy), doctor “Five” (Adria Arjona), driver “Six” (Dave Franco) and sniper “Seven” (Corey Hawkins) join One in his quest to take down dictator Rovach (Lior Raz) by any means necessary.
Yes, yes, Michael Bay has come to Netflix, and seeing as how I was paying for his film with my subscription, I didn’t feel too bad giving it a look, having long since decided to stop paying for a cinema seat to witness his attractions. I did wonder if the streaming format and smaller screen experience might inspire some restraint in the man. It will not surprise you to learn that I wondered incorrectly.
From its nonsensical opening narration where Ryan Reynolds jabbers on about being a ghost to a finale where the power of magnets is a significant part of what goes on, 6 Underground is Michael Bay to a tee. The man knows how to direct kinetic, fluid action sequences that you can’t quite tear your eyes away from, and that’s about it: he doesn’t know narrative, he doesn’t know characters, he doesn’t know script and he definitely doesn’t know nuance, or pacing or doing more with less. But he can make a car chase or a shoot-out exciting, even if you just wish he could keep the camera steady for a few more seconds at a time.
6 Underground, replete with a goofy premise that makes no sense (Reynolds’ billionaire should be an Elon Musk-esque celebrity, but can fake his death and travel the globe minus a disguise without being recognised) has all the traits we have come to associate with “Bayhem”. The action scenes are numerous, the Dutch angles are more-so, women exist mostly to be seen in their underwear, foreigners exist mostly to be made fun of and it’s easy to see who paid for the whole thing, what with the prominent logo placement for Red Bull, Alfa Romero, Lavazza, Captain Morgan, Heineken and Aviation Gin (which Reynolds owns), and those were just the most obvious ones. Attempts to imbue the affair with sentimentality are fleeting and predictably ineffective.
Like with all of Bay’s films, 6 Underground displays an immaturity that is most likely intentional, from a director that, to his credit really, openly admits that he makes his films primarily for teenage boys. It’s puerile one moment, overly violent the next, and filled with scenes worthy of ridicule (my favourite being the parkour guy gunning down bad guys while grinding a rail on a skateboard). Bay’s obsession with constant movement in his repetitive shots, so easily spotted now as to not even be parody worthy, distracts and annoys.
What’s frustrating about Bay, from an artistic point of view, is the signs that he could, if he put his mind to it, be a much better film-maker than he is. He understands action, he knows how to layer a shot with detail, to a certain extent he knows glib comedy. But he has chosen instead, with 6 Underground and with all of his other films, to make something that’s real lowest common denominator in just about all of its aspects. It’ll make money for sure (Bay’s filmography is nearing 4.5 billion in total returns, behind only Spielberg, the Russo Brothers and Peter Jackson) but, I confidently predict, will be forgotten all too easily. Not recommended.
(All images are copyright of Rezo Films, DCM Distribution, Sony Pictures Classics and Netflix).