Tuesday, September 22, 2015

LFF diary day two: Cronies, Virgin Mountain and Madame Courage

Executive producer Spike Lee presents a Michael J. Larnell joint. Cronies (a slang term for a close friend or companion) plays like a bromance-version of Lee's 1986 debut She's Gotta Have It from the very first scene. The slick black & white cinematography, the talking to the camera, the nerdy protagonist are all there. Louis (George Sample III) and his white colleague Andrew (Brian Kowalski) want to hang out. They are joined by Louis' childhood friend Jack (Zurich Buchner) for an afternoon of chilling and casual drugs. The result feels like an old-fashioned graduate film (mainly because it is), but it has a lot of charm. Buchner owns the film with his complex portrayal of Jack as a poser with a soft interior. Larnell also manages to find his own voice in his hometown of St. Louis and provides an interesting take on contemporary race relations and integration.

Virgin Mountain is not an innovative or radical film, but it shows emotional complexity and a great deal of heart. It tells the coming-of-age story of a cripplingly shy middle-aged man named Fúsi. He lives with his mother, is bullied at work, plays with WWII-models and spends his Friday nights alone at the local Chinese restaurant. Gunnar Jónsson is the heart and soul of the film as the central character with a terrific non-performance. Acting is often about big speeches and emotional breakdowns, but sometimes it's simply the art of doing very little. Fúsi is never pathetic (although his life clearly is) thanks to Jónsson's warmth and humanity. He looks and moves like he was born to play this part. Even during the rare moments of activity, he appears vulnerable and passive. Inevitably, Fúsi meets a girl. Sjöfn (Ilmur Kristjánsdóttir) could have been developed a bit further, but at least she is not your typical Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She arrives with her own set of problems and anxieties, which don't discourage the admirable Fúsi. Virgin Mountain is a sweet character study that is worth a look if you are in need of a good cry.

Finally, Madame Courage was a film I didn't really warm to. The experienced Algerian director Merzak Allouache tells the story of an unstable teenager from the slums around the city of Mostaganem. One day, pickpocket Omar (Adlane Djemil) becomes infatuated with one of his victims. He follows her home, returns the necklace he stole and starts to linger outside her apartment building for no apparent reasons. Madame Courage is a film that is fine on many levels (well made, social commentary, performances), but fails to excel in any category. The frequently irritating protagonist is not very relatable, which inhibits an emotional connection from the audience. Ideas, such as Omar's drug consumption, are introduced but never developed further. I found it difficult to care.

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