Carlos is Olivier (Summer Hours) Assayas’s latest film (well, it’s a three part television mini-series, actually, but let’s not quibble). It’s a magnificent achievement that helps put Assayas at the forefront of contemporary French filmmakers. Ilich Ramirez Sanchez (code-name Carlos, aka The Jackal, though his only connection to that assassin was that authorities found a copy of the Frederick Forsyth book among his belongings) was one of the superstar terrorists of the 1970’s, but his life, at least as portrayed here, was in many ways a comedy of errors. His biggest hit, the one that put him number one on the top 40, was the 1975 OPEC meeting he took over, during which he accidentally kills the minister from the country that was eventually to give him asylum (oopsies). Suddenly, like an actor whose latest billion dollar film flopped, no one wanted him anymore and Carlos spent much of the time flying from place to place, being constantly rejected until he had to make a humiliating deal to survive. The whole movie in many ways reads as a treatise on the uselessness and ridiculousness of terrorism. It’s not so much that it’s immoral in itself, as that it is doomed to failure and just never works. Edgar Ramirez plays Carlos and probably gives the performance of the year. It’s also one of the films of the year.
Submarino is the latest film from Denmark’s Thomas Vinterberg, the director of the powerful film Festen. Denmark is supposed to be the happiest country on earth, but you’d never know it by the downbeat films we’re getting from there. Submarino is about two brothers, Nick and Martin, who, as very young boys, were left by their alcoholic mother to take care of their baby brother; the baby dies under their care, a horrifying incident that latches onto their lives and never lets go. Now adults, Nick is an ex-con who can’t stop drinking while getting random blowjobs from a neighbor and trying to help a mentally compromised friend. Martin is a drug addict who has a child. The two brothers, who haven’t seen each other for a long time, meet up again at their mother’s funeral. When the mother’s death brings Martin money, he starts selling. He ends up in prison and now Nick has to decide whether to take care of his nephew. One wants to dislike these two siblings, but the script by Tobias Linholm and Vinterberg, as well as the strong performances by Jakob Cedergren as Nick and Gustav Fischer Kjaerulff as Martin, won’t let us. And no matter how dark life becomes, Vinterberg strongly believes in the power of redemption.
Dos Hernanos from Argentina is a comic study of a brother and sister. The brother is gay, passive and takes care of their sick mother while the sister is a bully and at times seems to have a precarious hold on reality. When their mother dies, the sister takes over everything including her brother’s life. But while brother starts making inroads toward independence during an amateur production of Oedipus Rex (an odd choice here since it doesn’t seem to have any relation to what is going on off-stage—at least I hope not), sister must accept the idea that she can’t even control her own life, must less anyone else’s. I saw the film at an Argentine film festival and asked a couple I met what they thought of it. They disliked it intensely. They didn’t “get it”, and they have a point. Once the director/writer Daniel Burman and co-writer Diego Dubcovsky decide to not make the sister mentally unstable, which she sure seems to be for most of the movie, they didn’t know how to resolve the situation and the ending is a bit of a mess. But until then, this is a fun, often hilarious character study of a dysfunctional relationship.
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest is the last in the Lisbeth Salander trilogy about the mildly autistic IT genius and central character of a series of popular Swedish mystery novels. In the same way that Denmark is supposed to be the happiest country on earth, yet as of late has been releasing some of the most depressing movies in Europe, Sweden is supposed to be a country incredibly low in crimes like murder, yet seems to release extremely violent mystery novels. My friends hate the movie and the critics were disappointed. I loved it, which caused my friends to look at my oddly (no word on how the critics felt about my opinion, but it probably wouldn’t have been much more positive). I thought the story (director Daniel Alfredson, writer/adaptation by Ulf Ryberg) brought everything together and resolved Salander’s story and character arc very satisfactorily; Salander goes from someone who trusts no one, least of all the government, and comes to realize that there are people out there who care and sometimes the government, in the right hands, can do the right thing. Noomi Rapace, like Edgar Ramirez for Carlos and Vincent Cassell for Mesrine, gives one of the performances of the year and the mystery is first rate. I’m not sure why I’m in such a minority here.
Everyone Else is a study of a Gitti and Chris, a man and woman on holiday whose relationship takes a sudden turn when Chris runs into an acquaintance and he begins to wonder whether he is out of his girlfriend’s league. Gitti, realizing that something is wrong, bangs her head against the wall for awhile and then decides to take her life into her own hands and tells Chris she doesn’t’ love him anymore (take that passive aggressors everywhere). For the first two thirds, the movie (written and directed by Maren Ade) works very well and Birgit Minichmayr gives a strong performance in the lead. The ending however is a serious misstep. Maren Ade, for some odd reason, wants a happy ending and the lengths she puts the characters through to get to it are just a bit too manipulative to be convincing. And who would want Gitti to go back to that louse of a boyfriend anyway?
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is a dark twist on the Santa Clause story. Instead of a holly, jolly fat man who brings toys to boys and girls, he’s a demonic figure who eats children alive. Some time ago, the local villagers in a town on the Finnish/Russian border had enough and encased Santa in ice and then proceeded to rewrite the myth. Now an oil drilling company (headed by English speaking characters of course) accidentally finds Santa, which reawakens Santa’s elves who then work to free him by stealing heaters and melting his ice prison while taking children prisoner so Santa can eat upon his reappearance. The elves say it all, naked old men who run around looking like refugees from NAMBLA, providing some fun tongue in cheek humor to the whole thing. All in all, a fun, quirky little film, imaginatively told.