Monday, December 17, 2007

Adam's Apple

A friend lent me this DVD, solemnly committing it to my care, explaining that it is not available in the U.S. and that he had great difficulty obtaining it from Europe. Somehow I missed this at Sundance a few years ago. I've never been a huge fan of Danish films, so maybe that's why I overlooked it. But this effort from director Anders Jensen is a far cry from Lars Von Trier. Adams Apple (or Adams Aebler, as it appears on the DVD in Danish) is an extraordinary movie.

Unfortunately, it defies description. This is Candide done by Franz Kafka, with tastes of Kierkegaard, Camus and all their existentialist friends, and maybe a little Plato and Nietzche and ... not sure anyone can be left out. It's an absurd examination of good and evil, and both the attractive and repugnant elements of religious zeal. It is a violent comedy with dark, brooding themes and an outrageously quirky cast of characters, somewhere between the Coen Brothers and Little Miss Sunshine.

Adam is a neo-Nazi sociopath that is sent to this country church at some stage in his rehabilitation process. The church is run by Ivan, a seemingly unflappable priest with a tenuous hold on reality and a world viewed only in black and white (well, mostly white). The rest of the cast is equally odd, including a reforming Pakistani terrorist, an oafish kleptomaniac alcoholic former tennis player, Ivan's son, who has cerebral palsy, and a local doctor who finds vulgar humor in his patient's ills.

Somehow, Jensen manages to make this film an engaging drama, with compelling characters trying to find their way among the absurdities of life. And somehow, he manages to infuse the story with dozens of symbols and metaphors, working a loom of philosophy and idealogy, yet at the same time keeping the whole thing so simple and comprehensible, so accessible and within range of you and me.

Hopefully it will be released someday in the U.S. If you get a chance--grab it.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

No Country for Old Men

Being a big fan of the Coen Brothers, I had to go see No Country for Old Men. The critics were raving, which usually means I'm setting myself up for disappointment. Not this time. There are plenty of reviews with exquisite detail lauding the performances, the Hitchcock-level tension, the haunting personification of pure evil and the masterful use of sound. I agree, concur and redundantly acclaim “Here here!”

Yet for me the overpowering impact of the film was the message, delivered in naked truth by the lives and fates of the characters, but also in the faithful lifting of dialogue from the Cormac McCarthy novel upon which the movie was based. Tommy Lee Jones as narrator and grizzled, philosophical sheriff has seen the tide of evil pound the shores of his world in bigger and ever more powerful waves. One can speculate on the reasons as a source of conversation and commiseration, but that hardly matters because the condition is inexorable. Despite what we want to believe through more traditional Hollywood fare, in this brutal and unsympathetic reality, power and viciousness trump honor and good intentions. You can’t expect fairness or just desserts. Only dumb luck sometimes, and sometimes not.

This is a world with no tidy answers; and a story with no happy ending, in fact, no ending at all. And if you didn’t bring a moral coming in, don’t expect to leave with one.

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