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Film Criticism by David O'Connell

Thereís not a lot to distinguish Mikkel Norgaardís adaptation of yet another bestselling foreign language mystery novel. The wave of Nordic and Scandinavian crime has well and truly crested, leaving us shaking our heads as to how to sort the wheat from the chaff. Though it's certainly not without merit, The Keeper of Lost Causes (2013) is conventional in nearly every sense. The prologue establishes the rash, headstrong nature of lead character Carl Morck (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) Ė naturally a character flaw that will see him at odds with superiors. Returning from a gunshot-enforced layoff he finds himself booted down to the lowest rung of the departmentís ladder, retrieving cold cases long since buried in basement files. Carl, we soon discover, is not one for contorting his mouth into the upturned contour of a smile, for example. Heís not a happy camper and shows little faith in his designated partner, Assad (Fares Fares), who seems to have been trawling these lower reaches for quite some time.

Bowing down to duty, Carl takes interest in a case of apparent suicide by a stable young woman, Merete (Sonja Richter) on a cruise ship when in the company of her mentally handicapped brother. Ruled a suicide officially, Carl smells a rat and decides to dig deeper. Through means of instinctive deductive reasoning he comes to believe in foul play and throws caution to the wind in his search for answers. The competent Assad isnít entirely convinced, but bemused Ė and presumably amused by the novelty Ė of his new partnerís intense desperation to unlock a thought-to-be solved mystery, he plays along.

In a parallel plotline we discover, of course, that Carlís instincts are not without foundation. An individual with a grudge has gone to elaborate lengths to exact a torturous, elongated revenge. Though the race-against-the-clock predictability of Nikolaj Arcelís screenplay means the narrative arc is hamstrung by its orthodoxy, thereís still a mildly gripping curiosity that has us holding out hope for a cleverly wrought, unforeseeable twist. The finale, when reached, proves to be derivative and conservative yet the always riveting Kaas is certainly enough to sustain interest. His physical presence - utilised by far better directors than Norgaard, including Lars Von Trier and Susanne Bier Ė comes to the fore and his combination with the laidback Fares shows just enough promise to have us believing that the inevitable string of films to follow based on more of Jussi Adler-Olsenís crime novels have a chance to deliver creditably in what is a stacked, highly competitive genre.

The Keeper of Lost Causes is now out on DVD through Madman.


Wetlands (Wnendt, 2013)

December 2nd 2014 04:50

Provocative and playfully transgressive for its own sake, David Wnendtís adaptation of the popular German novel by Charlotte Roche sadly runs out of interesting ideas once you look beyond the shock value of its premise. A young woman, Helen (Carla Juri) is fascinated with anti-hygiene experimentations from an early age and goes to great lengths to immerse herself in a world of germ-exposure. Later, surviving the early beats of a colourful, taboo-surrendering narrative that includes miscellaneous acts of blood-smearing, tampon-swapping and orifice probing , weíre left with an enjoyably anticipatory anxiety as to how far outside the borders of decency the film will be willing to go.

Though Wetlands (2013) is ultimately undermined by its limited narrative scope, there are suggestions of far more interesting ideas at work. Itís just that these - mostly involving Helenís painful inability to reconcile her parentsí separation - get tossed into the margins too regularly as the gross out factor is brought to the surface. The performances are solid, with Juri outlandishly forthright as the uninhibited Helen whose recurrent trouble with haemorrhoids sees her restricted to a hospital ward for much of the film. Christoph Letkowski meanwhile as the male nurse attending to his idiosyncratic patient is a standard issue love interest-in-wait.

Wnendtís direction is generally excellent, breaking up the potential for monotony (something he doesnít entirely avoid) with dreamily hip, music-laden sequences in which Helen reflects on past escapades, experiments gone wrong and her fleeting interactions with her parents and only friend, Corinna (Marlen Kruse). In the end however, thereís just not enough Ďrealityí to Wetlands to give it substance. The out-there subject matter, whilst often laugh out loud funny for those willing to toss their social reservations to the wind, flattens the filmís credibility, and giving the impression that a brilliantly subversive 30 minute short film is contained somewhere within.

Wetlands will be released on DVD on Wednesday, December 3 through Madman.


L'argent (Bresson, 1983)

November 17th 2014 04:08

How can one manís life be so corrupted by a chain of innocuous circumstances? In director Robert Bressonís final film, Líargent (1983), he assures us that the divide between upper and lower classes has never been more evident. When two young boys, clearly from families of wealth, pass off a forged note in a camera store, the owners decide to pass on a stack of recent forgeries now in their possession to a struggling working-class man, Yvon (Christian Patey). In turn, the unsuspecting Yvon uses them to pay for food elsewhere but is accused of the recent outbreak of phony notes entering circulation and duly arrested.

Yvon loses his job, a bitter pill to swallow for his young family, and when a friend offers an employment opportunity he immediately commits to it, agreeing to be present in a designated place at a certain time. Heís to be the getaway driver for bank robbers but with the heist foiled by police alertness, Yvon winds up in custody before being sentenced to three years in prison. Matters only head further downhill from there with a series of misfortunes that seem to transform him into a hardened, embittered man with an irreducible weight clinging to his soul, capable of doing anything to survive once released.

All of the trademarks from previous Bresson films, such as Pickpocket (1959) and Trial of Joan of Arc (1962), are present here, including his curiously intuitive selection of non-actors, ensuring stilted, self-conscious movements often at odds with the words the characters speak. His proclivity for aesthetically pleasing performers - or models as he referred to them - in place of traditional good looks is notable too, the intense, baleful glares of Yvon and Lucien, the assistant of the camera store owners, marking them with distinctive appearances.

Considering Bressonís past work itís hardly his intention to shed favourable light on the idle, elitist upper classes whose deflection of guilt, preserving their dignity through petty vengeance, allows a lesser manís life to be clinically dissected and washed away. With calculation and subtle persuasion, the master director shows his disdain for them as their problems are made to disappear with financial handouts, even their slightest gestures having the power to harm those beneath them in the social order.

The owners of the store are later betrayed by their assistant Lucien, who had committed perjury on their behalf by lying about Yvon in court. ďI thought dishonest people could get along,Ē he rationalises when caught cheating, exposing the bitter irony in how these upper classes donít always get their way, equally capable of devouring one another, concealing the mercenary within - a wolf in sheepís clothing.

The misery delivered upon Yvonís life, stripping him of faith and hope, may be purely fateful for in Bressonís world itís as if a man of miniscule means, boxed into his corner, has to enact out some prescribed role, fulfilling his destiny no matter how dire. The final few scenes, played out in Bressonís typically minimalist, detached manner, are still wrenching for their powerful insights, Yvonís struggle to survive leading him into the arms of a saintly old woman who assures him that ďif I were God, Iíd forgive everybody.Ē Providing the solace and comfort of a saviour, and in keeping with the spiritual turmoil that Bresson regularly explored, she seems to fully comprehend the nature of the darkness congealing in Yvonís heart and is willing to sacrifice herself in turn.

Inspired by Leo Tolstoyís short story The Forged Note, LíArgent is economically shot with a sombre tone and deliberate lack of flair, but you still come away with indelible images from the last few scenes lodged in your mind. Itís another quality film worth rediscovering, and a fitting end to Bressonís unique cinematic career.


A Place in the Sun (Stevens, 1951)

September 24th 2014 02:24

Vernon, Florida (Morris, 1981)

August 20th 2014 08:34

Raze (Waller, 2013)

June 25th 2014 03:52



Dom Hemingway (Shepard, 2013)

April 29th 2014 02:31

Cheap Thrills (Katz, 2013)

April 23rd 2014 04:15

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