For fear of sounding reductive, here’s a movie about relatively lower middle class people in German-speaking Switzerland. In Off Beat, Lukas (Hans-Jakob Muhletahler), a Zurich based rapper in his mid twenties, is literally going down while his brother Sami (Manuel Neuberger) takes his place in the music game. The relationship between him and older his manager Mischa (Domenico Pecoraio) gets sour when the latter wants Sami into the fold, made more complicated because of drugs, alcohol and the secret romance between elder brother and manager.
The film focuses on the melancholy within Lukas instead of getting more conventional storytelling done. And we know his is a sad movie because it is set and shot in eternal night/dawn/twilight. What the audience gets instead are rap-like narrations, exposing Lukas interior thoughts, his surprisingly convincing love for Mischa as well as thoughts about his fragmented family, especially about his father who never appears on-screen.
We also see Sami ignoring his older brother the way adolescents do, even when the latter is being publicly humiliated or being helplessly young within the adult world he’s thrust himself into. Or Mischa’s reticence in revealing his romance with Lukas, or not doing anything to mend the brothers’ relationship. Or Lukas, a character well performed by Muhletahler, starting rap rivalries like their North American counterparts do. Extras include the worst rap song and the four most creative interpretations of the anthem-like Beethoven’s 7th I’ve heard so far. A slow-paced yet convincing drama. 3/5.
In this contemporary yet arguably obtuse adaptation of Plato’s “The Myth of the Cave,” an allegory of the stubborn insularity of totalitarian regimes or a depiction of terrible parenting, Dogtooth is set on a large house on an exurb in Greece where a family man wants his wife and children, the latter in their twenties, never to leave the house and to know anything about the outside world. Why do I never get interested or hooked in the first part of the films I’ve been watching recently? Sometimes the camera doesn’t show the characters’ heads, frustratingly obscuring them in long takes. I wasn’t even fully interested when the father brings Christina, a security guard, to his house to have sex with her son without intimacy, their bodies connected but separate. Maybe I answered my question there.
The parents misinform their children of the definitions and functions of objects associated with the outside world. For example ‘sea‘ is an armchair, ‘excursion’ is a floor material and that airplanes fall out of the sky into their garden.
For some reason, model airplanes mark the relatively exciting parts of the film, as the older sister Bruce – she names herself – steals an airplane from her brother and throws it out towards the gate. The first airplane incident creates a chain of accusations and violence. She accuses him of stealing the plane. In the next scene, she slices her brother’s arm. Next scene, Father slaps her. Bruce becomes the least favourite, having the least stickers, being hit in the head again by the VHS tapes she has watched. He inflicts lesser forms of abuse to the other members of the family, telling them to walk and bark like dogs in case a dangerous cat intrudes their home.
The father also hits Christina, who smuggles the tapes to Bruce, with a VCR player even if she’s an outsider. Violence in this film isn’t set up with intensity nor is spoonfed, happens surprisingly after calm dialogue, an animalistic release from the children who are raised by it. Other critics have assumed that the parents have secluded the children for protective purposes, but ironically, the most violent and sexually perverse encounters to ever occur to a child happens in their own home. That’s true in this film, and it would be less groundbreaking without showing this damaging effect of seclusion to both the children and parents.
In order to get the plane back, the son has to ask his father to drive the car outside the gate so that the latter can pick it off the ground. Here we have two different versions of maleness, the father obviously victorious over the son he has emasculated. The son’s practically a grown man but going outside is naturally verboten to him. He has the most stickers but he’s starting to lose contests. His arranged sexual encounters with Christina and Bruce – because eventually they can’t trust outsiders anymore – doesn’t have any intensity. He even has reservations on his second time having sex with Christina. It’s also arguable that the father is emasculated, carefully peeling off the labels of the water bottles he brings home, bloodying himself up when he discovers that a cat has intruded his home or mouthing words to his wife when they’re arguing. He’s so committed into his lies that he doesn’t break character both with or without his family’s presence.
Speaking of the differences between family members, the film includes a contest between the children on who gets a plane that falls out of the sky. The son almost gets it until Bruce trips him, grabs the toy and makes it to the finish line and doesn’t get punished for cheating. Bruce is the oddest out of these oddballs, and possibly the one who’s most experienced with the outside world. After having sex with her brother, she threatens him of killing his clan, as if quoting from a movie. The parents have also raised these children with competition, inevitably raising a child who years for freedom even if she’s never experienced it.
This film has been nominated for the Best Foreign Picture by the Academy in 2010. We’re going to win.
- Dogtooth: Disturbing dark comedy with a bite (theglobeandmail.com)
The news about Jonathan Franzen was picked up locally – he and his new novel “Freedom” had moved around for a book tour with a stop at Toronto two months earlier and meant everything to the city now – because of his appearances at the IFOA. According to very flattering reviews in the city’s alternative weeklies, Franzen made an epic splash tackling both the professional and private lives of the fictional Berglund family whose story spanned from St. Paul to Washington. While the blogger was wallowing with self-pity because of being unable to pay for tickets to see someone who was practically a living literary genius, the blogger contended with reading the 500 plus page tome by himself months later, and realized that the first thing he was thinking about was who would play the characters in a movie version which MAKES HIM A PRIME SUSPECT RIGHT? Then again, a film version would be in the spirit of the ambition in this book, and regardless the parts that were in Joey’s perspective, which is practically Franzen channeling Bret Easton Ellis, and even if certain plot points are revealed twice, the book can compel and break the hearts of the readers each time.
The blogger kept thinking about what it would have been like if this movie was set in the late 1980′s with a cast like Danner-Redford-Goldblum, or Kristine Sutherland (Buffy’s mom)-Kline-Goldblum, or a mid 1950′s cast consisting of Taylor-Hudson-Dean. But what is done is done. The blogger will give a set of names that also depends on which director the movie version would make the film, and how ambitious and cool-headed this director is.
JESSICA BERGLUND. Walter and Patty’s intelligent, ethically sound older daughter. She’s daddy’s girl but their relationship isn’t as poisonous as Patty and her brother Joey’s.
My choice. Emma Roberts. It’s weird casting a younger actor who’s only more than ten years younger than the actors playing his parents. The only thing I’ve seen her in is the trailer for It’s Kind of a Funny Story. Hope my instincts aren’t off.
CONNIE MONAGHAN. The girl next door to the Monaghans. She’s an outsider from the neighborhood and Joey’s girlfriend.
My choice. Kristen Stewart. This girl’s probably going to be too cool for school after On the Road is released or when, by lucky stars, she gets the role of Kate for the new East of Eden. But as much as I liked her in The Runaways, when you read about a character that’s feral and sexual and has no ideas of her own, who else could I have thought of?
LALITHA. The young woman of Indian descent who has two passions – anti-overpopulation and her boss, Walter Berglund.
My choice Freida Pinto. The book describes Lalitha as having round features like Aishwarya Rai, who isn’t on the age range as the character. There’s a calming sense to her performance in Slumdog Millionaire, and the sexual element is obviously in there as well.
JOEY BERGLUND. The wonder boy who’s rebelling from his parents through sexual relations with Connie Monaghan and through Republicanism.
My choice. Anton Yelchin. This’ll be a jump from Yelchin, whose foray into science fiction films make him seem benevolent and dorky. But young minds can absorb. Plus he can still pretend to be in high school, depending on what the film wants him to be. The only questions are how he’s going to look with blonde hair and a little beer weight?
RICHARD KATZ. Truncated from the hardcover’s leaflet thingy, he’s an outre rocker and Walter Berglund’s best friend and rival. But what is he still doing in the picture?
My choice: Unknown This is a cop-out, but every source material has a role that’s hard to cast. It’s better for a casting director to scour the earth and find someone out of a thousand people other than saying Depp or Bale or Leo. Colin Farrell might do if he looked the part.
WALTER BERGLUND. As a nature lover, working for Big Coal becomes the career move that gets him in the New York Times. Has Freudian rivalry issues with his best friend, his son, his father and brothers.
My choice: Paul Rudd. Ageless Paul Rudd. We need someone sincere to open up to Patty as he talks about how mean her best friend Eliza is Sure he hasn’t done drama since The Object of My Affection, but you can’t lose that kind of training. His comic side might help reduce tensions in many scenes while arguing with Joey or his wife Patty and will help him while thinking about overpopulation statistics and going ballistic on a pill-addled speech that goes viral, pre-Youtube days. Thinking about Paul Rudd made me realize what a funny character Walter is.
PATTY BERGLUND nee EMERSON. The basketball star turned perfect housewife to bored, drinking housewife who wallows in self-pity and writes her autobiography for therapy.
My choice: Michelle Monaghan. ‘I’m 34. I’m a baby,’ Monaghan says in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang five and a half years ago. Although she looks more mature in Somewhere, the blogger is sure she can still fit in as a young blonde girl in a college basketball team and eventually transform herself into an older Washington housewife. She has the hardness in her voice to nail ‘Did Walter ever tell you I slashed Blake’s snow tires?’ and humour and goodwill to bring Patty to our sympathies.