The Bully Trilogy: the Eye for an Eye section at TIFF 2014

My take on the revenge movie section of TIFF 2014, from a FIPRESCI jury member perspective.

At first sight, Anna Odell’s The Reunion (Återträffen) doesn’t appear to be much of a revenge movie. In the first segment, we are witness to a 20 year class reunion the heroine does everything she can to sabotage. Her challenge of the version all her former schoolmates seem to adhere to is more and more fierce, and therefore gets a response that is also more and more violent – in the end, she is hit, wine is thrown in her face, she is taken by force and thrown out of the party. However, in the second part of the film, it turns out it was nothing but unreliable narration: the reunion didn’t really take place (not the way Odell depicts it, at least), and it was all just a film-within-a-film she starts showing her colleagues, who didn’t even bother to invite her at the real reunion. In this second segment, the same scenario is followed: Anna confronts her classmates with a reality they fail to acknowledge, the only surprise stemming, to some extent, from the ending.

One can say Anna Odell’s experiment has therapeutic value, but it is no less true that, with her film, she becomes a bully herself. In it, she can say whatever she wants about her colleagues, and there is no way they can defend themselves. From this point of view, the film is, in fact, three times a revenge movie: Anna tells her story, then she shows her colleagues’ either unconvincing, or aggressive, therefore all the more blamable, probable reaction, but first and foremost the fact that the movie simply exists makes it fit into the category. The ending, with its aerial shot of modern, urban still life, is more pretentious than a tuxedo at a rock concert, yet the fact remains that, 20 years after graduation, Anna finally has her last word, in what must have been a great personal victory of the actress, director, artist and person Anna Odell, but which fails to provide the setting for a great cinematic victory as well.

I Know What You Did 15 Summers Ago: Honeymoon (Líbánky)

The reason why Jan Hřebejk’s film is such an efficient revenge movie is the fact that not only does it bend the conventions of the genre: it exploits them. Thoughout the movie, we keep waiting for the initial act, that which later needs to be revenged, to take place. Until very late into the movie, we think we know who baddie is: Benda (Jirí Cerný) is the only one dressed in black, while almost all the other people at the wedding are wearing white. Benda offers to hold the child of a stranger for a while one minute upon having met her, only to be always surrounded by children, who are never under the supervision of another adult, later in the movie. At the same time, several guests believe he is a member of the LGBT minority, which makes him not only what they consider to be a pervert, but also a subject of ridicule (at least in their eyes, but Hřebejk surely doesn’t mind if the public agrees). Most importantly, amidst all these families, gay or not gay, Benda is a suspicious character because he arrives alone – outside the good old fashioned couple, there is little, if any, happiness to be found… Finally, late in the night, the orchestra departs, leaving the guests all the more vulnerable, as the wedding takes place in a cabin in the woods near a lake, yet another genre trademark.

In the end, our suspicions are confirmed: Benda really does have a go at Family, something that is sacred in films in general, and in this film in particular, but for the purpose, he doesn’t use a knife shining in the dark of the night, an axe of the length of an utility pole or some other object found in the tool shed, but the revelation of injustice that took place a lot of years before, when Benda and Radim (Stanislav Majer) were schoolmates. His attack, all the more vicious as it is of a moral nature, is aimed at the very foundation of Radim and Tereza’s marriage. Yet, the status quo prevails, which is certainly not one and the same thing with a happy end.

No Students Were Harmed In the Making of This Film: Harmony Lessons (Асланның сабақтары)

Winner of the Silver Berlin Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2013, this first project of director, writer and editor Emir Baigazin is surprising both because of its astute observation of the milieu it is dedicated to, that of the students of a country school in Kazakhstan, and for its mistrust of the cognitive and associative capabilities of the members of its audience. After Aslan (Timur Aidaberkov) has a rather unfortunate drink as a result of a vicious prank, glasses repulse him. In an early scene, when the protagonist is eating in the school cafeteria, a nurse carrying a tray full of glasses comes in. There’s no one else in the room, so there’s no way we won’t notice her (which is the safest, and at the same time the laziest choice – Baigazin is not much of a gambler, and doesn’t care much about complicated mise en scènes), while the tray carries only glasses, and a lot of them, so there’s no reason to fear we might believe Aslan is regurgitating his food for some other, mysterious reason.

It’s a dog eat dog world in Aslan’s village: the stronger kids beat their schoolmates, police officers both the strong, and the weak, while stronger insects… well, you get the point. Also, when Aslan goes to prison as a murder suspect, and his cell mate tells him again about the joy he finds at Happylon, some arcade bar in the city, I found it quite curious that Baigazin refrained himself from shooting a bright neon colored daydream scene. I was soon to be proven wrong: it comes very late into the movie, but the dream sequence is there, all right.

A lot of movie goers remember von Trier’s Antichrist for its speaking fox, so Harmony Lessons should claim its place in movie history for at least two things: the wonderful parts played by the child actors and the white sheep walking on water.

Articol publicat pe platforma fipresci.org

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