Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Hunt (Denmark 2012) aka"Jagten": Fate is a hunter

Directed by Thomas Vinterberg and not to be confused with the William Dafoe vehicle The Hunter of the same year.

A middle-aged man working in a pre-school in rural Denmark is wrongly accused of child sexual abuse.

The Hunt is definitely a well-made film with strong performances, but the screenplay is psychologically suspect.

Certain behaviour of a pre-schooler doesn't ring true, depicting a child at a very young age with a mindset that pushes her into lies, and the accused despite having a clear affinity with kids handles a delicate event with blundering insensitivity, oddly contrary to the sensitivity he displays with the child in the film's opening scenes. A scene involving the girl's teenaged older brother, which is supposed to provide fodder for an innocent fabrication is so shocking and unreal as to be contrived, and out of character for the brother, who later is shown to have a finer sensibility. The brutal reaction of friends and community is predictable.

Cinematically, there is little to distinguish the effort, apart from idyllic rural tableaux as a counterpoint to the trauma being played out. But again, nothing new.

Vinterberg I think to a certain extent sets up a straw man that makes it easier for our blood to boil more ferociously in response to the treatment meted out to the accused by his friends and the local tight-knit community. Consider that if the innocence of the accused had been revealed only at the end (or not at all), and the audience was placed in the same shoes as friends and community. Perhaps our emotional response would be more problematic and, dare I say, more genuine?

There is something deeper going on, but most won't see it, basically a noir motif - shit happens yes - but there is a sense that fate here is not just capricious but avenging. The killing of a stag by the accused in a hunting trip is essentially - like all hunting for recreation - a vile act against nature and the soul, a grave sin. That just like the stag, fate can single the hunter out - fairly or unfairly. His dead dog killed in response to the charges is shown in the same deathly repose as the stag, with its tongue hanging out of it snout.

Gripping but flawed.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Blind Venus (1941) “Vénus aveugle”: Vive la Romance! Vive la France!

The very rare Abel Gance film Blind Venus (1941) “Venus  aveugle” (original title) is a truly magnificent movie.

A masterpiece. A master film-maker fashions from a melodrama a picture of epic emotional sweep with a heroine to die for, played with true pathos by the luminous Viviane Romance. Set in a French port town, the moods of the sea in calm and in storm are harnessed through sublime montage and expressionist abstraction to enthral your senses and seduce your sensibilities.

Clarisse a vivacious young woman is diagnosed with an inoperable eye disorder which will destroy her sight in a year or two.  Her amour fou with a seaman demands that she break with him and hide her coming affliction.  The stage is set for a passionate and almost unbounded melodrama.  Yet the film soars beyond the melodrama to a sublime comédie humaine.  Made during the German occupation the film is also an allegory. Through human decency and solidarity the unachievable comes within reach.

There are no miracles, but there is redemption and acceptance. The heroine's unaffected voice of reconciliation reflects the visual poetry that has borne her through wild seas to a safe harbour:

I'm no more in the night.
I'm in the snow.
I see enough to make out
the white shadows of people,

and the smoke of things...