Troll Fantasy At Its Best

Otto Jespersen, Johanna Mørch, Tomas Alf Larsen, and Glenn Erland Tosterud

Director André Øvredal convincingly turned the fairy tale troll into a reality through one great entertaining footage film. By methodically creating a more modern day treatment of the Troll legend, the movie successfully bridged the gap between fantasy and reality. The devil is in the details, in this fantasy film. From the mythology to the orchestrated government conspiracy to keep the trolls existence underwraps. From the storyline that make impossible for the secret to be maintained, up to the conflicted, disgruntled Troll Hunter, played by Otto Jespersen, who plays the role with a certain level of stellar dramatic weight that in my opinion truly deserves recognition.

While the overall tone of the film is serious, the underlying nature could be best described as subtle fun. But never compromising the very real threat the Trolls poses to the human population. Fear and imminent danger go hand in hand in this film (downed trees, demolished vehicles, unfortunate deaths). The location also couldn’t have been more fitting as it has the appearance of being equally mysterious and charming. The wisps of fog hanging eerily in the air, the fjords, the plentiful waterfalls jetting out of mountainside, and the rocky remote wilderness.

I never imagined I would enjoy a movie about Trolls this much. And I never wanted it to end. I literally felt myself disappear and feel like I was part of the footage. I had for all intents and purposes become one with the film.

It doesn’t just treat the idea of Troll Hunting as another big fantasy epic that happens to have a Found Footage ankle, it actually treats it with a fair mix of the fantasy we know from classic tales with the modernization of common silence. For example, the most famous trait of trolls is that they turn to stone when exposed to sunlight, and the film cleverly explains why once we’re about half way through.

The found footage angle as well doesn’t come off as a cheap gimmick to draw in the viewer, but used for getting a hands on feel for the act of Troll Hunting. Again, this isn’t a movie about Trolls, it’s about hunting them, so the documentary style gives the film a grounded sensuality that pays off greatly.

The Edukators: A Strong Political Commentary

Julia Jentsch, Stipe Erceg, and Daniel Brühl

I find it hard to talk about The Edukators because I feel like I am somehow still undecided on my opinions of the film. I have a love-hate relationship with its characters and I feel like I am always going to be torn on whether it delivered its political commentaries well.

I want to start with the things that I like about the movie. I feel like deep down, despite my acceptance of how society is already, the ideas that Jan, Jule, and Peter have are thoughts that I also have. The truth in what they say is heartbreaking especially when you know it yourself and when you completely agree. But not having the same will and courage to fight for that chance of change in society makes me admire the characters. Even the complexity of Hardenberg’s character, who was swallowed by the system but had the same idealogies before deliver an important, powerful, revolutionary message. The movie fully encapsulates what it’s like to live in an era of frustration and seeing things that are deeply dysfunctional in society but the inadequacy of being able to do anything about it.

The film also looks as if it’s been filmed using a phone camera, but it works so well on how unvarnished the film feels just like how its characters and their understanding of their ideologies and decisions to act are also underdone. The camera feels like a voyeur or a documentation of kids running around revolutionizing organically. I love that the film is able to capture that.

But despite the brilliant message and cinematography, there’s something about how the characters deliver their messages that feels so banal. They do not feel as natural as the messages that were delivered in Goodbye, Lenin! The movie also lacks the sophistication and the elegance of delivering a political statement subtly.

Moreover, and this is where I feel guilty and would like to apologize to Daniel Brühl for, despite the characters’ admirable valor and boldness, they become more and more scattered, disastrous, and annoying at best as the movie progresses. By the end of the film I couldn’t care less about the characters getting in trouble, or who’s gonna get with who, since they managed to infuriate me time and time again. The shift to the petty teen drama of the film that started so strongly with a great political message confused me, and it was hard to watch the characters go over and over the same stupid drama. They also began showing how incapable they are of creating stable decisions on their own without being catastrophic. So much of the movie’s political notes could still be expounded on, if the movie hadn’t so gleefully jumped into teen drama conflicts instead.

But despite my dislike of the petty disputes, I can’t help but think that what if, that is supposed to strengthen the whole point of the movie. The characters’ overindulgence of themselves is the film’s way of saying, these individuals are only a bunch of kids. They are a bunch of kids because no one is brave enough to take a stand and demand for change than a bunch of kids. The movie even goes as far as the characters saying, “We screwed up, we did it to save our own asses” acknowledging their vulnerability and susceptibility to mistakes that may have been caused by their age and ignorance. The film magnifies the truth that revolutionaries all over the world are only being led by the youth who are the only ones willing to recognize the defects of society. That is why tendencies such as extremity of decisions leading to catastrophic consequences are happening because, these kids aren’t being guided, aren’t being heard, aren’t being supported. Significant change can only be attained if the adults are willing to wake up as well and want these changes too. The same way Hardenberg was able to recognize by the end of the film that the characters are in need of his support too.

Oh Maria, Maria

Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart

The film, Clouds of Sils Maria, could be the female version of Birdman although with different aspects of direction and without all the technicalities. However, the fable of a washed out actor getting old is an element both of the films share. In Clouds of Sils Maria, the story begins on a train as renowned actress, Juliette Binoche heads to Zurich with her personal assistant, Valentine. The Clouds of Sils Maria is mature and complex and engaging and brilliantly crafted. The life of the characters imitate the art in several ways including how Maria was forced to come to terms with her reality through the acceptance of a character that she’s not even thrilled about playing. There were also several scenes in which she was rehearsing lines with Valentine that kind of blur the line between the fantasy and the reality realms of the film. There were moments in which it was apparent that they were actually arguing and doing more than just simply reading the lines of a play. There were also conversations between the two about art and the art of movies itself making commentaries on cinema.

The film is rich with strong female characters that feel very authentic and exhibit real emotions. Clouds of Sils Maria can be a bit slow-paced and some scenes are rather tedious, but the experience is rewarding as we are brought along with the characters to and their exploration of the passage of time and coming to terms with it.

The film explored the pyschosexual realm of combining the paranoia that is exemplary of a film called All About Eve, and the existential crisis of an old actress is exhibited in Persona. Maria as she deals with the paranoia and existential crisis is encountered with an almost unbearable truth of slowly learning that the narrative isn’t really about her – or at least, she is in it, but her part is no longer as important as before.

The film is filled with brilliant performances that in my opinion, despite the movie already being good, still contributed greatly to the film’s success. Juliette Binoche has always been a wonderful actress, while Kristen Stewart was able to deliver so wonderfully even beside a well-known master in European cinema. What’s even more surprising is that, it’s not such an outcry to declare that Stewart even outshines Juliette Binoche in some of the scenes. Chloe Grace Moretz also delivers a stellar performance despite not having that much screen time. Everyone was on top of their game in a solid film that is worthy of all of its accolades.

An Unrefined Science Fiction

Bárbara Goenaga

It’s such a shame that I had watched a British-Australian film called Triangle prior to watching Timecrimes. A quick overview of my tragedy, Timecrimes and Triangle carry the same concept of looped time and a character horribly realizing he (or she) is making matters worse for every time he or she repeats time. They’re extremely the same in concept that I didn’t enjoy Timecrimes as much as I believe I could have if I had never seen a narrative like that before.

As someone who was already familiar of the plot before, I didn’t have that much of a reaction anymore towards the twists and the turns and the juxtapositioning of the stories together. Although I do still recognize the wonder in them, I was much engrossed on how the film played with emotions despite being a science fiction film. Hector’s struggles grew more and more severe throughout the movie, and as they grew more intense, suffocating desperation fills the air. You can’t help but feel frustrated with the character but also everything that the character was doing that just worsening his situation. Why can’t he just get it right? He shouldn’t have done that! I just want him to completely solve this. I was filled with so many emotions. Moreover, unrelenting sadness smotherly pervades this Spanish movie despite its character’s anti-heroic tendencies, that surprisingly it’s not hard to feel for him as his next actions just merely confirm his already doomed outcome. For all these emotions the film was able to generate in me, I have so much respect for it.

Timecrimes in my opinion is a three part structure. The first act is tense, mysterious, and suspenseful effusing with the feel of a horror film. The score is chilling and reminiscent of horror flicks. The second act dabbles more in the science fiction element of the movie getting deep with the time travel concept and morphed realities. The third act is a perfect denouement of the events finishing off in silent manner with a relatively open ended resolution, leaving plenty of space to formulate questions.

The film is cleverly crafted even with the quite noticeable absence of visual effects. The movie has a B-movie feel to it, that contributes to the rawness of the story and the coarse, unrefined charm of it. Though there was lack of anticipation while watching the film mainly caused by already being familiar with the narrative, I still found the movie smart with all its other choices.

Hello, Brilliant Comedy!

Daniel Brühl

In comparison to other European movies shown in class, Goodbye, Lenin! was surprisingly very normal, and of the most easily understandable. It dealt with a linear plot, a clear premise, a charismatic central character, not that unconventional ways of storytelling, and a discernible conflict. However, despite it seeming very formulaic of Hollywood movies, I find that its art cinema tendencies are integrated in how it’s able to present itself as conventional, but in its very essence makes fun of the craft of cinema itself. Through a ridiculous over-the-top dedication to movie-making, that parallels so many film majors I know, the movie uses cinema as a major force in Daniel Brühl’s character’s deceit of his mother.

Daniel Brühl, the actor that plays the main protagonist in the film is one of the most charming actors I’ve ever seen on-screen—not in a Hugh Grant charming way, no—but in his own kind of slightly quirky and compelling and magnetic and lively and lovable way. Yes, I am in love with him. To top it all off, he’s one hell of a performer too. I firmly and confidently declare that the film is already worth-watching from Daniel Brühl’s performance alone.

However, the movie itself doesn’t pale in comparison to its vibrant star. It has several notable charms of its own. I find the wonderful satire plot well-written that it’s silly yet still a smart political commentary. Actual documentary footages of this tumultous time in history are shown, and the presence of the dreams and delusions upon which the East Germans were sustained with were all situated in the film, yet everything is discussed with sophistication. A confrontation with a bank teller about Alex’s fortune was based on actual history of the reunification favoring the West Germans. Another commentary of the film is the ridiculousness of the tendency of political beliefs in infiltrating matters such as family and health. There were a lot of other gripping moments in history that the film captured, but they were absolutely elegantly integrated. I think this is firmly what sets it apart from The Edukators, since it is more successful in delivering political and social commentaries subtly and more elegantly.

The driving force of the movie is how it rises above the usual comedy films that made me despise the whole comedy genre. Usually, comedy movies that I am familiar of are filled with shallow jokes, condescending humor, and insulting joculars. Instead, this German masterpiece can humor without making fun of its characters. It mainly is driven by sublime comedic timing that complements the tender story being told. As Alex’s family faced new challenges scene after scene, it’s up to him to come up with hilarious solutions on how to address them. The thoughtful look into the great lengths to which people will actually go for for important relationships is also what makes this movie beautiful. Ideologies melt when it comes to affairs of the heart and that’s what people should remember.

L’Avventura: A Commentary on Poignancy and Alienation within the Bourgeoisie

Monica Vitti and Gabriel Ferzetti

L’Avventura is one of my favorite films that were presented in class. I think it’s raw, honest, and sad in a beautiful and poetic way. I believe it’s a commentary on the feelings of isolation and lonesomeness that exist in the bourgeoisie class despite all the money, and is told by extremely careful and subtle narration. The movie didn’t have to use extreme dialogues, animated movements, and literal depictions of their sadness, the grave atmosphere of the movie was enough to understand the poignancy of the character’s lives.

I am personally a fan of old films yet I wonder why I haven’t heard of L’Avventura before. I think it might have been because it’s in another language, but I wish I had discovered it sooner. It sort of reminds me of Gone with the Wind despite there having so many differences between the two. Gone with Wind was loud, energetic, with bright technicolor, the complete opposite of L’Avventura’s somber and miserable mood, but I find them alike in many ways. First of all, the length and the promise of an adventure at the very start were factors the two movies share. A grand scale of stories in beautiful different places were also presented by the two that you think they’re both celebrations of life. It turns out, the more they progress, the more they break your heart. Tragedies about characters who are rich and obviously to be blamed for their troubles in many ways, but still you understand them and their decisions, and their transparency just sort of speak of their humanity that you end up rooting for them. However, going back to the movie at hand, the subtlety of the narration in L’Avventura was much more impressive to me. Every shot was well-thought out. Shots of the character’s faces even without the characters speaking at all tell so much anguish and pain. Even shots of boats and waves and legs and buildings carry emotion that I don’t know how Antonioni did it.

If European cinema in the 60s were made to be responses to the conventional ways of storytelling of Hollywood, L’Avventura certainly made its mark. There’s cinematic power in how Antonioni watches, and waits, and observes the decisions of the people in front of his camera. A review of the film even mentioned that, “The characters’ motivations were left opaque and unexplained, and the story never quite resolves itself — rather like life.” In many aspects, the film was distant with the characters just like how we can never truly hear other people’s minds, there is distance among every one. The movie also like life, showed that the adventure isn’t about a grand journey with magnificent views, but in a person, a character’s journey within himself and understanding his own motivations, within his inhibitions.  The adventure of the film was the discerning, troubled, alienated characters that bounce off the screen and speak volumes. The brilliance within the characters wasn’t even just revolving around the main protagonists. Even a supporting character like Giulia, had such a heartbreaking storyline that you feel her misery even when she smiles. And Anna, who we thought was the main character but disappeared so early in the film (in a Hitchcock’s Psycho kind of way), had been long gone from the movie, but I still remembered every shot of her unhappy face whenever her best friend Claudia and her lover Sandro frolic and kiss away. The film was an emotional adventure that can only be best experienced by witnessing it and going in-depth with its rich miserable individuals.

Review on Volver

Undeniably, contemporary times has revealed to us how deeply ingrained patriarchy is in our societies. A bitter truth to swallow, most especially for the men in the positions of power, is that the very structures that permit their success is what prevents it for their female counterparts. Women’s fight for equality has been fought for numerous decades by both women in the past and currently in the present. What Pedro Almodóvar’s Volver does excellently is provide an inside view into the lives of women who face the darker sides of patriarchy’s consequences.

In the first few minutes, the film sets itself up to seem to be quite light and to mainly tackle death and the Spanish culture that surrounds it. It was quite eerie how most of the main characters, namely Raimunda, Sole, and Paula, were cleaning the graves of their recently deceased mother. In addition to this, there is also the little tidbit that certain individuals actually buy a plot of land to be their grave and clean it regularly until they have to use it. From here on, the film fully embraces death as one of its central themes and leads to more darker events occurring.

As the family of Raimunda separates, it is revealed that the condition of her house is not desirable, to say the least. It is revealed that her husband, Paco, is quite a poster boy of bums. Unemployed and potentially an alcoholic, Paco can be said to be a good for nothing husband, and even worse, a deplorable father. He is unable to keep his sexual desires in check which eventually leads him to attempt to rape his own daughter. In retaliation, Paula murders her own father for this. What is endearing and a tad bit questionable is how, upon the discovery of these events, Raimunda does not hesitate to take the fall for Paula and immediately sets into action a plan to keep this a secret within the family. Thus begins numerous revelations that surface to Raimunda and her family throughout the duration of the film.

The main revelation that is pertinent is how this cycle of abuse, both physical and emotional, are present generationally in the lives of Raimunda’s family. At the core of all this is the mystery surrounding the inferno that took the lives of Raimunda and Sole’s parents. Up until the time of the death of another family member, their mother was thought to have been consumed by the fire, in the loving arms of their father. However, with the sudden reappearance of Raimunda and Sole’s mother, the absolute truth finally comes out. Their mother was fully aware of their mother’s infidelity, how this was a daily occurence. Yet, what caused her much indignation was when she found out that her own daughter, Raimunda was a victim of rape in the hands of her husband. With her rage, she set the hut where her husband was lying with the mother of Agustina, faking her death in the process. This was both able to reveal why Raimunda easily came to the defense of Paula as well as why Raimunda had grown to despise her own mother.

What is commendable with Almodóvar is that he did not shy away from these unspoken realities that women face. Incest, and later on, cheating are occurrences that women have learned to deal with in silence. The main difference with the family of Raimunda is that they take a stand against these injustices, taking fate into their own hands and preventing themselves to become another victim of men.

Review on Clouds of Sils Maria

What stood out with the Clouds of Sils Maria is how it mainly featured a cast of non-Europeans. Immediately, one is greeted by familiar Hollywood actresses with the likes of Kristen Stewart, and later on, Chloë Grace Moretz. For the greenhorn to European film, the thought that comes to mind is how come these actresses were placed in this film and most especially alongside a veteran such as Juliette Binoche. Even the most unfamiliar with European film can tell how talented Binoche is despite only seeing her for the a few minutes in the film. She commands the attention as the main protagonist gracefully and seems to fully combine her role as Maria Enders with who she really is—a seasoned actress who has been prestigiously awarded. What came as a delightful surprise was how both Stewart and Moretz were able to hold their own alongside Binoche. They were able to fulfill their characters as the young, angsty, and mysterious assistant to Enders and the Lindsay Lohan-esque character portrayed by Stewart and Moretz respectively. Clouds of Sils Maria proved to be both a physically and intellectually provocative film that dealt with feminist themes as well as adding a bit of homosexuality into the mix.

The film focused mainly on the relationship between Enders and Valentine (Stewart) as the former was presented with the reality of time. Majority of the earlier scenes of the film is devoted to Enders reminiscing on her prime as a young actress. The main point which she always highlights was her breakthrough role in a play turned film entitled Maloja’s Snake. To say that she embraced her role as Sigrid in this work would be an understatement as Enders personally admits that she sees herself as that character, and that playing her foil, Helena, would be equivalent to suicide. The build up of the film is quite slow up until the point where Enders reluctantly acquiesces to a director that wishes to remake Maloja’s Snake, with the catch that she plays Helena instead.

From this point onwards, we see Enders attempt to unravel various issues that hinder her from portraying the role of Helena. The realities of aging and waning femininity are presented in a manner which is unpretentious and relatable even to those who are non-female. What aides in this is how the narrative of the film slowly, yet casually, melds with the narrative of Maloja’s Snake. Maria Enders slowly becomes what she detests, unaware that she is embracing the bitterness and vulnerability of Helena as a woman past her prime. Valentine steps up to become the object of Helena’s obsession, transforming to be Enders’s very own Sigrid. This unsurmountable desire for youthfulness is what gives way for the film’s more provocative scenes. The hunger Enders possesses for youthfulness and her inability to come to terms with the femininity that comes with her age takes the form of Valentine’s supple and pristine body. Countless scenes are devoted to show Enders’s sexualized gaze on Valentine, placing emphasis on how deeply Enders craves the youthfulness and demeanor she naturally lost to time.  

The turning point for Enders exacts the toll of having Valentine depart from her life completely, with little to no explanation. The audience is then introduced to a more docile and somewhat dimmer version of what was Maria Enders. Signifying her acceptance of time’s effects, Enders is seen to submit easily when Moretz’s character ignores her pleas to share the spotlight with her.

Clouds of Sils Maria is able to unabashedly relay a universal tale of dealing the realities of youthfulness and femininity that is delivered across despite of having a male director at the helms. The centrality of the women in the narrative bolsters the genuineness of the difficulty of facing the said realities.

 

Review on Heavy Trip

Juuso Laatio and Jukka Vidgren’s Heavy Trip relays the story of an upstart heavy metal band’s journey towards their long standing dream of reaching stardom. Turo, who is also the main protagonist for the film, is part of a four man band whose name was unknown despite having been formed years prior. The other members of the unnamed band are Lotvonen, Jynkky, and Pasi. Combined with a unique cast of larger than life individuals, Heavy Trip is able to tackle factual matters ludicrously without overselling nor underselling the punchline. From start to finish, Heavy Trip is able to present itself as a familiar and comedic narrative of how the underdogs slowly gain their rightful place without taking itself too seriously.

The familiarity with Heavy Trip immediately arises from the very beginning of the film. Few minutes into the film, it isn’t made a secret how these four men are perceived  in their small town. Their outlandish appearances and interest in heavy metal music has turned them into good for nothing outcasts—a nameless band with, quite literally, nothing to their name. Heavy Trip capitalizes on this familiar, Hollywood style narrative of redemption for the band of misfits who seems to have nothing right going for them. Perhaps this is the magic that the film has up its sleeve. It takes the familiarity of the said Hollywood trope and morphs it in its own idiosyncratic, Finnish way. Touches such as how Lotvonen’s day job is working at his family’s reindeer farm bolsters the film’s uniquely Finnish mark.

For a film that has heavy metal music so deeply ingrained into it, I believe that the direction it took was a necessary one. Having heavy metal music as the focal point is a difficult challenge to overcome. This genre of music, to the casual listener, is typically foreign territory due to it being commonly seen as an acquired taste. The almost incoherent lyrics combined with harsh instrumentals often cause the unfamiliar to stray away almost completely and immediately. However, heavy metal did not become a hindrance towards the film, but instead enriched the narrative even further. What Heavy Trip capitalized on is the endearing qualities of its cast, bolstered even further by the protagonists’ love for heavy metal. The audience is deeply immersed in the journey which the band takes towards there long sought after stardom. The gradual build up from their practice in Lotvonen’s basement, to creating their very first demo tape, to finally playing at Northern Damnation in Norway allows viewers to naturally root for these misunderstood underdogs.

Comedic up to the last minute, Heavy Trip rightfully pays tribute to its heavy metal roots while maintaining its distinct Finnish flair. Rather than alienating with heavy metal music, it chose to take a lighter and less serious approach to it. It presented the genre in a universal manner through the relationship of individuals who have been deeply invested into it. If one thing can be said, love for music is transcendental and the film capitalized on it excellently.

 

Review on Raw

The blood and gore displayed in Raw are but the surface level of what makes this film standout. It is all but natural that blood and gore factor in as majority of the shock value all throughout the film yet what stands out even more are the themes weaved so masterfully along with its grotesqueness.

Often, the sexual maturation of a woman can become quite a heated and messy topic to discuss. If not in a manner of sexual emancipation and the willfulness of the female to truly live out her bodily desires, shame and disgust is often at the forefront instead. What is fascinating with Raw is how it blends both of these ends of the spectrum giving each its respective time in the spotlight. The femme fatale and main protagonist of the film is Justine, who seems to act quite docile for the very first minutes of the film. What comes at the delight (or disgust for some) is how immediately this front of hers is shattered and in its place comes something quite visceral and violent.

In the early part of the film, it was established that Justine, her older sister in college, Alexia, and their mother are all adamant vegetarians. The reason behind this remains unknown for only a short while as it is revealed that they are a family of cannibals. Justine’s baptism into her cannibalistic tendencies could not have been any more repulsive yet intriguing. Her first piece of meat was a raw rabbit’s kidney that ushered her towards sparking within her the insatiable desire for flesh. As if her body knew that it was an act equivalent to sacrilege, it acts out violently through rashes that eventually give way to her more carnal tendencies. It begins gradually, with chicken meat but slowly escalate to one of the most memorable scenes of the film—Justine devouring her very own sister’s chopped off finger. From here on, the audience soon understands the extent of their voraciousness for human meat as well as why their mother made them vegetarians.

Unexpectedly, the sexual maturation of Justine goes hand-in-hand with her growth as a cannibal. As she grew more brazen in pursuit of fulfilling her meat fix, the more overtly sexual she became. Personally, I believe that this is quite an apt, albeit extreme, metaphor of the reality that women face in their journey of discovering their sexualities. One cannot help but cite the double standard they face, in which men are rewarded with praise with their plentiful sexual conquests while women receive scorn for it. Undoubtedly, one cannot equate cannibalism to sex but the adverse reactions other have to their perversity cannot be ignored.

What Raw does excellently is the manner of interpretation it has on cannibalism. The gore within the film is not overtop but not lacking—despite the reaction of disgust on the surface, one has to admit that a primal urge was awakened within them. There is a finesse in the manner the film attacked the whole issue of cannibalism which in the end provoked an inner sense of kinship with the cannibalistic tendencies of the family.