Finding Movie Valhalla
Jose International Film Festival has been going strong for
a week, now, and I've got just one thing to say:
THE NORWEGIANS HAVE TAKEN OVER!!!
all you want, but these people are invading, I tells ya'!
volume of Norwegian films showing at Cinequest is pretty staggering.
Sure, you'll see some Spanish sex farces, dreamy Japanese
slice-of-life pics, dark German creepers, and relevatory Middle
Eastern dramas; all the standards of the film festival circuit
are well represented-
NORWEGIANS HAVE TAKEN OVER!!!
from the northlands stormed into the unseasonably sunny festival
this year, meeting with little resistance from the local peasantry.
Viking conquest aside, though, the simple reason for this
turn of events: they're just that good. What the hell is going
on up there for them to produce such a cornucopia (woohoo!
Ten points!) of pop culture films with real feeling? Have
they been thawing differently? Are the reindeer on strike?
Have Americans stopped mocking the lands of ludfisk long enough
for them to finally reveal themselves to us as cinematic masters?
Do I need to come up with more ethnic slurs? The answer
the festival opened with the Norwegians' flagship film United,
thought by some in attendance to be the best Cinequest opener
in years. All I can say is damn their Nordic blue eyes for
not forcing repeat screenings on us. What kind of slacker
conquest is this?
I wasn't too lazy - er, poorly conquered to see Buddy,
which has quickly taken the lead as the audience favorite
of the festival. I could give you a summary of the film, but
it'd most likely sound like a Friends synopsis or something.
A great critic once said the merit of a film lay not in the
"what" but the "how," and that's just
what makes Buddy such an enjoyable film. Is it formulaic?
Sure. Does the boy get the girl? Yup. Aren't we blown away
by the avant garde stylings of the absurdist narrative? Man,
this film's as avant garde as Sesame Street. No, really.
Think about that for a second
it's the way they weave the narrative and allow the scenes
to progress. This is just what the American mainstream needs
a good shot of: that honest feeling that a film built upon
endless coincidence isn't contrived in the least. The humor
is so warm and well crafted, the characters so easily understood,
the plot so natural and unforced. Hey, it may not be Citizen
Kane, but I doubt you'll find a better date film. Well,
outside of Oslo, at least.
surprise was Play, a film that embraced a format all
filmmakers should dread, if not openly despise: the "sit-down"
drama; a formula used in such snore-worthy classics as The
Big Chill. I must confess, this one almost had me convinced
the new Norse conquest was more a police action than a full-scale
The unforgiving digital format did nothing for the visuals;
the inconsistent attempts to spice things up with crane and
dolly shots amidst the nigh-endless handheld cinematography,
the tired device of someone bringing a video camera on a trip
(when, in fact, very few shots in the film come from said
camera). The film seemed to be dying fast.
they hit the moment of crisis
and, with a sit-down drama,
as long as the director can keep you there up to the crisis,
he's done his job. From then on, it's up to the actors, and,
I must confess, these were some talented people (all graduates
from the National Drama School in Oslo, according to the press
release). Again, like in the other Norwegian films, they were
able to naturalize what we always make ridiculous melodrama
in the American cinema, not an easy task when the movie aspires
to be little more than fodder for the actors to graze on.
Damn fine grazing, though.
those plucky little Vikings followed up with Jonny Vang,
which returns us to the style of pop comedy that won over
audiences in United and Buddy. The romance takes
a backseat to the tragicomedy of Jonny's life, but I want
you to consider something; in Hollywood, this film would've
been called Joe Dirt, had the soul sucked out of it,
and gone straight to video like all the other There's Something
About Mary ripoffs they crap out. In the land of the ice
and snow, from the midnight sun where the hot springs blow,
they make Jonny a truly loveable loser with real concerns
who actually suffers the consequences of having his car wrecked,
finding out he fathered an illegitimate child, and losing
the family farm. In your average Ben Stiller movie, that's
just a convenient excuse to get a fat man to take his shirt
I must temper my praise a bit; the film is guilty of padding
the first half with a couple of "dancing in front of
the camera scenes." Not the greatest sin in the history
of movie making, but similar scenes (such as the classic Risky
Business underwear scene) worked better by not repeating
throughout the film and never breaking the fourth wall. Sure,
the actor really can dance and has undeniable star quality,
but I'd rather see the plot get moving than watch him freestyle
romp for a couple minutes.
it looks like I've just about run out of ethnic slurs and
Viking references (not that I really had many to begin with
I'll work on that), so I'll close with some final thoughts
on Norway: Comic fans, hot chicks, good films, fjords- what's
not to like? Well, aside from that whole arctic climate thing
but I hear they're working on that, too. So give Norway a
chance... or they'll crush you, see you driven before them,
and hear the lamentation of your women.