May 3, 2011

I Think We're Alone Now

Also this week: Smiles of a Summer Night, Fat Girl, Green Hornet

Denis Côté’s fifth film has little to do with curling and even less to do with another sport that’s featured even more prominently. Both activities figure into the film’s meticulously calculated narrative, but Curling (Mongrel) is far more preoccupied with the open-ended dynamic of its two leads.

Côté’s most emotionally affecting character drama to date follows the quarantined lives of Jean-François and his 12-year-old daughter Julyvonne (played by real-life father and daughter Emmanuel and Philomène Bilodeau). When he’s not attending to his unimpressive work duties at a shabby bowling alley and dingy motel, Jean-François makes every attempt to shield Julyvonne from the outside world. We're offered little explanation as to why Julyvonne doesn’t attend school or play with friends, only that her mother’s incarceration may have triggered this outcome.

While her father works, Julyvonne explores the forest near their home, leading to a symbolic encounter with a tiger and frequent visits to a pile of frozen corpses. The latter finding may be linked to another morbid discovery at a motel, but nothing is certain and anything is possible.

If the last passage seems puzzling, that’s the director’s intent. Curling is knowingly full of loose ends, but these digressions add to the film’s striking tone. In the hands of a less skilled director, this strategy would not work, but Côté gives his lean plot haunting undercurrents.  

There’s an emotional core that optimistic viewers might even find heartening. A somewhat playful moment occurs when Jean-François and Julyvonne listen to Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now” in silence. There’s also an icky suggestiveness to this sequence that the film is surely conscious of.

Curling is Côté’s most accessible film to date (2009’s also-great Carcasses is infinitely less polished), but remains uncompromisingly art-house. Credit DP Josée Deshaes, whose lyrical representation of rural Quebec is astounding. The film’s title shot of father and daughter walking along a windy, snow-swept highway is one of the most striking images I’ve seen all year.

Mongrel’s DVD comes with a nice set of extras, including two shorts by Côté (Les Lignes ennemies and Tennessee) and a lovely little French making-of that’s sadly sans subtitles. Then again, like the feature itself, words can’t always best describe the arresting beauty of what we’re watching.

Also Available
Criterion’s high-def winning streak continues with two DVD-to-Blu re-issues from two seminal European artists who've helmed their share of controversial classics. The name Ingmar Bergman is generally linked to bleak existential dramas like The Seventh Seal and Cries and Whispers. 1955’s Smiles of a Summer Night (Criterion) is not one of those films, but rather a fun and flirty erotic comedy about swapping sex-mates that was a key ingredient to the director’s international success. The film’s longstanding appeal is undeniable – in the early ’80s it was loosely adapted into Woody Allen’s A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy. Less friendly is French provocateur Catherine Breillat’s 2001 coming-of-age shocker Fat Girl (Criterion). Much to the chagrin of our province’s film society, it was at one point banned in Ontario due to its graphic sexual nature. But this only served to stimulate viewers’ interest in something sexy and pornographic, which it is neither. Other than the contentious, fuss-causing finale, Fat Girl paints an unflinching portrait of adolescent sexuality that ranks as one of Breillat’s best. Short-but-sweet extras on both releases remain the same as their DVD counterparts, but newly minted transfers breath new life into these gems.

Based on the sorta-popular comic and Bruce Lee-costarring cult TV series, Michel Gondry’s big-screen adaption of The Green Hornet (Sony) is a mixed bag that many critics were quick to dismiss as one of the sloppiest superhero flicks to emerge in some time. A slimmed-down Seth Rogan cracks jokes as the crime-fighting Green Hornet, while Taiwan pop sensation Jay Chou does all the legwork as sidekick Kato. Christoph Waltz is underused as a self-doubting criminal kingpin and Cameron Diaz is non-existent as a sexy secretary, but Michel “no stranger to visual ingenuity” Gondry has enough tricks up his sleeve to keep things afloat, namely a spectacular split-screen sequence that is by far one of the most inventive devices to ever grace the superhero screen. Also worth your while is a nifty James Franco cameo. The Blu-ray scores an A+ for outstanding a/v, and the extras include a chatty commentary with Gondry, Rogan and others, deleted scenes, bloopers and a half-dozen geek-friendly featurettes.