FANTASTIC FEST: September 27th
AALAVANDHAN (2001, India, dir. Suresh Krissna)
Celebrated soldier Vijaya (Kamal Haasan) is on the verge of marrying his longtime girlfriend Tejaswini (Raveena Tandon) when he decides to introduce her to his disturbed twin brother Nandha (also played by Haasan), who lives in an insane asylum. Nandha sees Tejaswini as the same kind of manipulative woman who destroyed Nandha and Vijaya’s family, and vows to “save” Vijaya from her. He escapes from the asylum and goes on a rampage, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake. Can Vijaya stop his brother before it’s too late, or will Nandha’s mad genius overpower him? AALAVANDHAN is the craziest film of this year’s Indian rep screening sidebar by a wide margin. Even if it just featured this amazing double lead role from massive superstar Haasan–who gained 30 pounds and shaved his head bald to play Nandha–it would be something special, but the film goes on a number of wild tangents that push it over the edge. There’s a lengthy sequence in the first half in which Nandha hallucinates himself and others into an animated action scene that is truly jaw-dropping. Despite the wall-to-wall insanity, the film is expertly paced. At 190 minutes, it’s the longest single film that played Fantastic Fest this year, but its running time flies by. By the time the film gets to a ridiculous car chase sequence designed by Australian stunt legend Grant Page (stunt coordinator for MAD MAX and STUNT ROCK among many others), AALAVANDHAN has secured its place in film history as one of the wildest action spectacles of all time. Huge thanks to Fantastic Fest for giving attendees a chance to see this on the big screen!
FAULTLESS (France, dir. Sebastien Marnier)
Constance (Marina Foïs) has just turned 40. She finds herself abruptly evicted from the flat, and with nowhere else to go she returns home under the pretense of taking care of her elderly mother. Six years have passed since she left, and things have changed. Her old boss is reluctant to give her another chance after she walked out without notice before, and her former lover Phillippe (Jérémie Elkaïm) has a young son. When young Audrey (Joséphine Japy) applies for Constance’s old job, Constance invades Audrey’s life by posing as a prospective client and befriending her. Marina Foïs gives a spectacular performance as a character who is damaged and reckless, but whose issues run far deeper than they initially seem. Creating such a character with whom the audience can empathize is a tightrope walk, but Foïs handles it beautifully. FAULTLESS may feel a little cold in its technical precision, but as the tensions coiling throughout the film start to snap in the final act it becomes chilling in an entirely different way.
POPOZ (Netherlands, dir. Erwin Van de Eshof)
Ivo (Huub Smit) and Randy (Sergio Hasselbaink) are best friends who became cops thinking their lives would turn into one long 80’s American action movie. When they try to apply that philosophy to a hostage situation, things go very badly and the guys end up in jail. Even though they’re no longer cops, they end up crossing paths with criminal mastermind Mercator (Pierre Bokma) and going deeper undercover than they ever have before in order to bring down his cocaine trafficking empire. POPOZ is a feature based on characters created for a sketch comedy TV series for Comedy Central in Europe, which has never aired in the States. Familiarity with the show isn’t required to enjoy the film’s absurd humor; co-directors Martjin Smits and Erwin van den Eshof explained in a Q&A following the screening that the bits on the show are self-contained and characters regularly die only to return in the next segment. The movie never goes quite that far, but it does allow for a lot of weird touches sprinkled in with tons of action film goofs and more of the jokes land than miss. It’s enough fun that I’m really curious to see the series on which it’s based, especially given some of the more bizarre outtakes shown in the film’s end credits.
ALOYS (Switzerland, dir. Tobias Nolle)
After the death of his elderly father, private investigator Aloys (Georg Friedrich) continues to work and interacts with his clients as though his father was still alive. He performs constant surveillance, but is unable to interact with anyone. After getting drunk and passing out on a public bus, he wakes to find his camera has been stolen and soon after he receives a phone call from Vera (Tilde von Overbeck). Vera offers to return the camera if Aloys will join her in a mysterious practice called “telephone walking,” in which Aloys and Vera are seemingly transported places by their telephone connection. ALOYS is the feature directing debut from Tobias Nölle, and it occupies some of the same territory as whimsical films such as AMÉLIE and LIZA THE FOX-FAIRY. However, instead of the bright, cheerful tone of those films, ALOYS deals with its characters’ neuroses in a much darker and more subdued fashion. There are moments of joy here, but they are bright spots punched through a thick layer of gray depression. The performances are great — especially Tilde von Overbeck, who is mostly represented as a voice on the phone — and the moments of magical realism are deployed expertly.
RAW (France, dir. Julia Ducournau)
Justine (Garance Marillier) is an incoming freshman at the veterinary school where her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) studies. The upperclassmen have aggressive hazing rituals, and when they insist Justine–whose entire family are strict vegetarians–eat raw meat as part of her initiation, she balks. Alexia pressures Justine into complying, and almost immediately Justine begins suffering major physical reactions. She soon learns she also suddenly has a taste for raw meat, including humans, and her relationship with Alexia curdles into a bitter rivalry. RAW is a brilliant debut feature for writer/director Julia Ducournau, a smart and surprisingly funny examination of burgeoning sexuality and the rift it can engender between close family members. In some ways it is reminiscent of John Fawcett’s GINGER SNAPS, but it’s much more complex and nuanced than that film. Aside from some similarities to the themes they explore, the main parallel between the two films is that they are both defined by a pair of excellent lead performances by young women. Garance Marillier and Ella Rumpf are both fantastic, and they help catapult RAW into being an instant classic in female-focused horror cinema.
SHIN GODZILLA (Japan, dir. Hideaki Anno & Shinji Higuchi)
On an otherwise uneventful day in Japan, a large creature lurches out of the sea and lays waste to everything it passes as it runs on an erratic path through the nearby city before returning to the water. While the government tries to formulate a response–consulting scientists, passing relief bills for those who were in the creature’s path, holding press conferences to prevent panic–the creature returns, doubled in size, and sets out on a new round of massive destruction. Can the government stop this monster before it completely levels Tokyo? And how much paperwork is going to be left in its aftermath? Godzilla in SHIN GODZILLA seems to obviously be a metaphor for the 2011 Fukushima disaster, as the focus in the film is squarely on the lumbering machinations of government that have to happen to get anything done in a large-scale crisis. Godzilla is on screen and trashing Tokyo for maybe 20 minutes of the film’s two-hour run time, but the destruction is truly spectacular and the new take on the creature is more creepy and imaginative than it first seems. The other 100 minutes jump around from conference room to conference room, with large on-screen title cards displayed for every one of the film’s dozens of speaking parts, locations, military vehicles and weapons. If this sounds dry, it’s also slyly funny: one running joke involves nominal protagonist Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa) getting an increasingly lengthy job title every few scenes, and there’s more than a little shade thrown at America’s mercenary response to the creature’s discovery. It’s an interesting approach to take, and it pays off. The final shots of the film hint at a much different and exciting possible direction for a sequel, so hopefully enough fans rally behind SHIN GODZILLA to make that happen.
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