Saturday, July 17, 2010

Fantasia Daily for 15 July 2010: Merantau, We Are What We Are

One of the things that generally makes Fantasia a low-stress festival is that it stretches its schedule in one direction (time) while minimizing the other (theaters) - well, low-stress so long as you have the time to spare. It occasionally leads to days where the schedule looks like Thursday, though - where after Menantau, I look at the schedule and grumble that the options appear to be Mexican blood 'n guts (We Are What We Are) or Serbian blood 'n guts (T.T. Syndrome), and then after that, a choice between a movie I saw a couple months earlier and liked by didn't quite love (Air Doll) and a movie that I never really considered putting on my schedule when it played IFFBoston (Lemmy).

Truth be told, I wasn't really in a blood 'n guts mood, but chose the Mexican movie because the program did a better job of selling it to me - the notes made a comparison to Let the Right One In versus showing a severed head - and I don't know whether that was a terribly good decision. I was fighting off sleep throughout the movie, and then when I walked out, and saw a bunch of Motorhead fans crowding the theater - well, nothing against them, but it highlighted that I was going to be surrounded by people who really wanted to see a movie about Lemmy, versus me not knowing that the band Motorhead had a lead singer named Lemmy before reading the IFFBoston program.

Plus, I didn't realize just how much the week of working 9-3:30 and then seeing movies until midnight had taken out of me before going back to the sublet and dropping to the bed. I feel kind of bad as a guy who figures that I was given a press pass so that I could see and raise awareness of as many festival movies as possible, but I kind of needed the break.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 15 July 2010 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2010)

Before I started attending genre film festivals like Fantasia, I confess, I had no idea that there were so many distinct ways for people to beat each other up. It's probably unfortunate, from a perspective of how we relate to each other as human beings, that no matter where in the world you go, that land can likely boast its own distinct form of hand-to-hand combat, although it's great for those who like variety in their action movies. Merantau is from Indonesia, and thus features silat.

Merantau, the word, is defined for the audience as a journey young people take alone to show that they are self-sufficient prepared for adulthood. As the film begins, Yuda (Iko Uwais) is about to begin his, going from the tomato fields of Sumatra to the big city of Jakarta. He intends to teach silat, although a man he meets on the bus says he will likely wind up using those skills in other ways. And indeed, there are not many teaching opportunities, but when he sees Astri (Sisca Jessica) being manhandled by Johni (Alex Abbad), he can't help but step in. Naturally, it doesn't go over so well; if she can't dance in Johni's club, how will she support her little brother Adit (Yusuf Aulia)? However, when Yuda spots something similar happening the next day - only this time Astri is being kidnapped because Johni promised European gangster Ratger (Mads Koudal) five "fresh" girls... Well, objections to being rescued are dropped.

That's pretty much the plot; once Yuda is in the city, it is basically him chasing Johni's and Ratger's men, or vice versa, depending on whether Astri was last kidnapped or rescued. It's simple and straightforward, with the characters getting just enough depth for audience empathy and providing enough reasons to shuffle locations around so that the fight scenes take place in different environments.

Full review at EFC

Somos Lo Que Hay (We Are What We Are)

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 15 July 2010 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2010)

We are What We Are benefits from a strong opening and a well-made finish, but an unfortunately unsatisfying transition between the two. That opening is just packed with wonderfully cynical symbolism, as a man flails about in an outdoor mall, causing people to shoo him until he collapses, dead, at which point cleaners quickly arrive on the scene, pull him out of the way, and mop the area as if practiced in the art of removing unwanted corpses. He's just unwanted trash. Then we meet a group we later learn is his family, see the friction between the brothers, and learn that the father has put them in dire straits.

The thing is, watching the group, they never seem like they are in dire straits. They're clean and healthy-looking, in a house that's not noticeably cramped. Yes, the mother is nuts, and the younger brother looks to be ready to pop off at any moment, but when we see them casually going out to get "food" (they are, you see, cannibals), there's something missing; what should be a family's desperation comes off as one woman's lunacy. There's also a rambling subplot about what is apparently Mexico City's one honest cop, and while the last act offers a tense standoff as members of this family wake up from their stupor just in time to be cornered by the police, I felt oddly uninvolved in the confrontation, aside from noting how well-shot and directed it was.

No comments: