Sunday, May 29, 2016

Caught on the last day: Older than Ireland, Men & Chicken

On the one hand, this should be another post about how I should have gotten to this stuff sooner, but I saw both on their last day playing in Boston, and while I really don't have much excuse for not catching Older Than Ireland sooner - not only did it play at the Irish Film Festival Boston just across the street from me with guests and whatnot, but its one week booking at the Kendall kept getting extended so that the fact that I waited until the end of its third or fourth week, when it was sharing the smallest theater in Kendall Square with Men & Chicken - which got a one-week booking when it was only playing at 4pm and 9pm. I wound up getting to both of them on Thursday, and really wish I'd gotten there sooner - Men & Chicken in particular, i one I might want to do a bit of a hard sell on.

On the other, there was Captain America and baseball and you can only get to so much in a week.

Older Than Ireland

* * * (out of four)
Seen 12 May 2016 in Landmark Kendall Square #9 (first-run, DCP)

There are several events that can function as the birth of the Republic of Ireland, but the Easter Declaration of 24 April 1916 is the most recognized, and that gives director Alex Fegan, if nothing else, a great title for a film about his country's centenarians. It is exactly what one might expect - a fond look at folks who have seen both a lot of history and a lot of everyday life - and nicely put together.

To a certain extent, living that long is a matter of chance, underlined by how the first person Fegan shows, 103-year-old Bessie Nolan of Dublin, is smoking a cigarette, because sometimes there's just no predicting what will get a person past the century mark. She's the first of about thirty people that will be introduced in about 80 minutes, and in some ways, that makes Fegan's work as the film's editor one of the most impressive things about it: He rarely, if ever, has more than one of his subjects on-screen at any given time, which means that each person gets about three minutes, and yet nobody seems just pop up for barely the time needed to display their name on-screen and disappear; there's enough time to make an impression.

That Fegan doesn't show these men and women discussing what they have seen or what their lives are like appears to be a very deliberate choice (especially given one of the things pointed out during the credits) - a major recurring theme during the film is that being this elderly is a very lonely experience. They don't necessarily speak about it directly until late in the movie, but when they do, it's easy to remember all the times that they have been shown alone in a room, whether it be in a care facility or in an empty sitting room. There's a tremendous sadness to a birthday party Fagen shows; there may be a three-generation gap between the fairly indifferent guest of honor and most of the people there.

Full review on EFC.

Mænd & høns (Men & Chicken)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 12 May 2016 in Landmark Kendall Square #9 (first-run, DCP)

Men & Chicken is Anders Thomas Jensen's first film as director in ten years, though in that time he has been a prolific screenwriter. What makes this particular screenplay the one that gets him back in the director's chair? Well, there are some ideas that you just can't bear to give to anybody else, and some that nobody else will believe in like you will. Given that the film he made is both deeply peculiar and strangely affecting, it may be a little of both.

It starts with two brothers, Gabriel (Daid Dencik) and Elias (Mads Mikkelsen) losing their father, only to inherit a VHS tape that says that they have a different biologic father, Evilio Thanatos, who lives in an old sanitarium on the tiny Isle of Ork. Eager to learn more about their roots, they make a pilgrimage, only to find three more half-brothers - Gregor (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), Franz (Søren Malling), and Josef (Nicolas Bro) - all with the same harelips they were born with, about as bright as the fairly dim Elias, rather reluctant to let them meet their 99-year-old father.

Black comedy that comes from the interactions of difficult-to-like people has traditionally been Jensen's stock in trade, and Men & Chicken offers so much of that up that the outright slapstick absurdity might not immediately register. The early interactions of Gabriel and Elias are powerfully uncomfortable - I'm not sure whether Elias's bizarre presumption that proximity his powerful attractiveness sabotages Gabriel's relationships is buttressed or refuted by his strong regular need to masturbate - so that by the time they get to the former sanitarium they've been given for an address, the tension is so fraught that when Elias, Gregor, and Franz start whaling on each other with comically large bits of junk, the brain needs a bit of time to adjust. The first guy in the theater to laugh might get some dirty looks, but as the goofiness becomes more overt, the laughter becomes easier and flows freely, even in the middle of the grimy, kind of repulsive environment. Jensen piles on the physical comedy, but interweaves it with intellectual absurdity as Josef tries to rationally process the Bible as literature while reading it for the first time, and every shade of comedy in between.

Full review on EFC.

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