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Letters from Venice - II

Above: Barbet Schroeder's Inju - The Beast of the Shadows.
In films, a subjective point of view can be something of a mixed blessing. For every powerful exploration of a character’s psyche as translated into cinematic means, there is another film that pretentiously wiggles the camera about in the hope it will look arty. At the 2008 Venice Film Festival, examples of both can be found.
Some of the clearest examples of the use of a subjective point of view are in the Giornate degli autori / Venice Days sidebar, an independent section akin to Cannes’ Director’s Fortnight. Flemish entry Nowhere Man ((N)iemand) is the sophomore effort of director female director Patrice Toye. It follows 40-something Tomas (Frank Vercruyssen) as he fakes his own death and escapes to a tropical island, only to see him try to pick up his former life again five years later, a disillusioned man, tinged with regret. But his widow (Sara de Roo) has moved on and has a new life now, with a husband and kids, and Tomas finds himself in the weird situation of becoming the secret lover of his former wife.
Like in Barbet Schroeder’s French competition entry Inju – The Beast in the Shadows (Inju – La Bête dans l’ombre), Toye visually shows what Tomas would like to happen at times before showing what actually happens – a first marker of the film’s willingness to incorporate an inner reality that is different from the perceived reality. But as the events in both Inju – about a French crime writer looking for a reclusive, possibly homicidal Japanese colleague whose work he imitates – and Nowhere Man grow more disturbing, the films’ distinction between a perceived outer reality and an alternative inner reality, becomes increasingly blurred.
Inju is too obsessed with genre conventions and their theatricality to really work (the nods to film noir and Japanese genre films get in the way of character development), but the inherent duality in the story of an acolyte who finds himself on dangerous terrain when he comes to the country of his great example is fascinating. Likewise in Nowhere Man, the ideas buried behind the narrative are more intriguing than what actually unspools on screen, especially in its provocative second half. It is almost a shame that Toye forces so much subjectivity on the viewer – actually seeing how this would have played out in real life could have been even more fascinating.
For two other films in the Venice Days sidebar, the point-of-view of the characters is even more integral to their being, and they are both better films for it. Apart from that, they are almost polar opposites: the talky Romanian relationship drama Hooked (Pescuit sportiv), shown exclusively in wobbly point-of-view shots from the protagonists, and the contemplative, near-silent Finnish tale The Visitor (Muukalainen), with its stately widescreen photography. The latter film, about a mute boy whose father is in prison and whose farmer mother has taken in a mysterious visitor, is a subjective film through and through, because the entire world it creates is very close to the experience of the 10-year-old child. An undefined time frame – sometime during the first half of the last century by the looks of it – helps the film to acquire an allegorical quality, while the fact that almost no words are spoken since the boy is a mute, and there is no information on screen that he does not know, make the film an intriguing new addition to the coming-of-age genre. Director Jukka-Pekka Valkeapää is definitely one to watch.
Hooked, from director Adrian Sitaru, is a no-budget, dogma-to-the-extreme talkie that compensates for its gimmicky choice of visuals with some solid, off-the-cuff acting and a decent screenplay. There is never much at stake in Hooked, but its slice-of-life realism, reinforced by its visual style, makes for a fun diversion. Together with Radu Muntean’s Boogie, it also shows there is a willingness in Romanian cinema to not only confront the country’s own recent past and present, but also to simply look at human beings and their relationships in a universal way.

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