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Cinequest 2005:
Der Flix Dat Flopped unt Der Flix Dat Flew

Shambling on into Week Two of Cinequest, we were greeted by possibly the best and the worst of what the festival had to offer. Films both local and international; inspiring tales and god awful wastes of time.

In fact, one film called Set Point was so bad, I felt the need to write in the rating “god awful” on my audience survey card. I also went on about how movies like this one start wars and that I’d never wanted to take a movie and punch it in the face, until now (Just being honest). It’s not just that the movie was boring, pretentious, hard to follow, and ultimately not worthwhile. It sucked, too!

Set in the Tallin, the capital of Estonia, this movie finds us caught up in a murder mystery. A guy gets shot in the street, three witnesses happen to be on the scene, and one of them is the wife of the local police supervisor. But she also fears her husband is trying to kill her. As the evening goes along, we start to think that might not be such a bad idea.

If the filmmakers had been willing to rein in their egos, this might have been a nice short film. It’s well shot, pretty decently acted, and looks to have been funded by the entire Gross National Product of Estonia. But the story is so bland and unimaginative, revolving around a group of people whose ambitions seem limited to wanting to have sex with any nearby source of warmth or reciting bad poetry.

I’ll warrant that some things may have been lost in translation, but, when so little is actually happening, there’s not much for you to lose. If characters die and no one cares, you could be in trouble. When people in the theater are actually rooting for the stars to get killed, you messed up.

Hoping to cleanse the taste of the last film from our palates, we headed into Trench Road, a drama about the dangers of being a househusband in Finland. ...well, more about the dangers of pursuing masculinity in this modern world of ours.

The lead character slaps his wife one night after she blasts him for how boring their lives have become, so she walks out on him with their young daughter in hand. Our hero then undergoes a strange transformation, trying to purchase a house to please his spouse (nothing more exciting than that!) and turning himself into a blackmailing wannabe commando/stalker, pestering a real estate agent, pissing on peoples’ lawns, and making money through semi-erotic massages.

Despite being wrapped around a few messages I can appreciate, this film is bizarrely dull and too creepy for its own good. Nice cinematography and a strong if repetitive score kept us waiting for the big ending, but, when it came, there just wasn’t any satisfaction to be found. It felt like we’d been watching a serial killer flick where no one died. There was no salvaging it. Trench Road wasn’t tragicomic, suspenseful, or involving. Just kinda sad.

The way foreign language films had been treating us, we did indeed have some fear when approaching Villa Paranoia. Thankfully, we finally struck some cinematic gold. This charming Danish dramedy finds us with Anna, an unemployed actress who’s reached her wits’ end, and Walentin, a nearly comatose old man who’s barely tolerated by his creepy chicken farming son. When Anna finds herself too artistically compromised to continue her dramatic career, she accepts an offer from Jorgen, the aforementioned farmer, to nursemaid the old man.

As the story unfolds, we learn of the dark past shared by Walentin and Jorgen when Anna figures out her patient isn’t nearly as vegetative as people believe. When he throws things at her, she throws things back and cusses him out. When he stares longingly at a picture of his dead wife, Anna finds an old dress in the house and and tries some roleplaying on him. When he sleepwalks and cries out in his sleep for loved ones and days gone by, she knows she has to help him, despite what a bastard he might be.

Tempering the psychological drama with biting satire and well-timed comedy, Villa Paranoia draws us into the mystery of the plot and the emotional arcs of its characters with a subtle hand that isn’t afraid to slap us in the face every now and then. If I had one complaint, it would be that Jorgen’s such a despicable character it’s hard to tolerate him (even after we learn about his childhood traumas). Thankfully, every scene with Anna and Walentin works well enough to suck you right into the film.

Finally picking up some buzz on popular films at the fest, our crew just barely managed to catch the last showing of Verflixt Verliebt, a film title that could translate as “Crazy Love, Crazy”, “Jinxed Love”, or “F**ked Love” (though the director preferred the consonance of the original German title). It follows Miro, an Argentinian in Switzerland who’s mistaken for a famous international filmmaker.

Unfortunately, this happens just when he meets the girl of his dreams; an actress so impressed by his mistaken identity that he continues the ruse in hopes of winnning her heart. What follows pulls from cinematic traditions dating back to the golden days of Charlie Chaplin. Though somewhat hard to summarize, the story unfolds like an inverted Man Bites Dog when a group of student documentarians attach themselves to Miro and force him to continue making his “masterpiece” even after he’s gotten the girl.

Absurd and slightly uneven, Verflixt Verliebt is still the best film about filmmaking to grace Cinequest in quite a long time (quite an achievement when you consider that’s this year’s common plot). Sharing some of the pseudo-documentary tricks that have made films like Albert Brooks’ Real Life such strong examples of the sub-genre, this is one that’ll have even the most jaded film geek smiling like a kid on Christmas.

That’s all for now, but we’ll be coming to you with more reviews of films like The Works, Uno, Dark Arc, and Vares – Private Eye.

Jason Schachat

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