Sunday, August 16, 2020

Fantasia On-Demand Preview 2020.02: Lapsis (and Free Country)

A short entry for "Day 2" (Friday), but one of the slots was taken by something I'd already seen because Geothe-Institut and the Coolidge are pretty cool and for the other, well, there's a request not to post negative reviews until the festival is actually underway and, well, you do a deep dive into a film festival and you're not going to love everything. I'm pretty sure that a festival as big and devoted to movies that push buttons as Fantasia would see its programmers disappointed if something didn't rub any given critic the wrong way.

Hopefully I won't have a whole bunch of stuff to bump on Thursday, though.

Anyway, both of these are pretty darn decent, although I think I liked Marshland (seen at Fantasia back in 2015!) a fair bit more than Free Country. Both are pretty solid watches for those north of the border, hopefully available on screens all over North America in a couple of months.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 14 August 2020 in Jay's Living Room (Fantasia Festival, internet)

Lapsis takes place in a sort of alternate present, which is handy; the filmmakers not only don't have to pay a lot to build the future, but there's not a whole lot of specific futurism to get in the way of how they're talking about present-day issues. It doesn't always work well; there's a lot of chances for the actors to disconnect with the reality. In this case, thankfully, that's seldom a problem, even when the characters are themselves more than a bit thrown.

The big difference here is that in the movie's world, quantum computing has been invented, and major financial networks are built by threading cables between quantum nodes in isolated areas. Courier driver Ray (Dean Imperial) is not exactly a natural for such work - he's clearly not a guy who does wilderness hikes in his spare time - but his brother Jamie (Babe Howard) suffers from Omnia, a variant of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and the treatment costs a lot of money. Fortunately, he knows a guy (James McDaniel) who can get him a bootleg cabling medallion. It's a weird scene - routes assigned by apps, automated carts potentially stealing them while you sleep, armies of untended kids ambushing cablers to steal their equipment - and that's before Ray discovers that the identity on his medallion (username "Lapsis Beeftech") has left him with access to big-money routes and the resentment of a number of the other cablers, although he really doesn't understand why until he meets Anna (Madeline Wise) when their far-flung routes briefly intersect.

The ways quantum computing could change financial analysis in particular and the world's data infrastructure in general, or how all this cabling facilitates it, is given pretty close to zero time in the film, beyond it suddenly leaving everything on the entire old internet obsolete, and that's fine. That sort of disruption is worth having stories told about it, but it leads to other disruptions closer to the ground, and writer/director Noah Hutton zeroes in on how the big companies have an invisible monopoly and create a gig economy designed to make worker organization almost impossible. Hutton doesn't do much to hide what he's doing, right down to having the characters literally having to stay ahead of robots that are trying to snipe their jobs, but it's worth doing in part because a lot of tech-savvy science fiction fans might not have looked that closely at the economic aspects of their favorite app-based services.

Full review at eFilmCritic

Freies Land (Free Country)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 15 May 2020 in Jay's Living Room (Goethe-Instiut German Film/Coolidge Corner Theatre Virtual Screening Room, internet)

It's been a while since I saw Marshland ("La Isla Minima"), the Spanish film remade here, though I didn't recognize the connection as I watched the new version. It does, however, make sense in retrospect: Free Country plays like a story mapped and adapted to a similar situation, and does that well enough to work as a thriller but is perhaps not as incisive as the filmmakers intended it to be.

It takes place in 1992, soon after the reunification of Germany which has left the East in turmoil; it's no surprise teenage sisters Patricia and Nadine Kraft talked of leaving the town of Löwitz and going to Berlin. Their disappearance still must be investigated, with Patrick Stein (Trystan Pütter), recently reassigned from Hamburg in the West, and Markus Bach (Felix Kramer), from Görlach in the East, assigned to the case. They start by talking with parents Henner (Marius Marx) and Katharina (Nora van Waldstätten), and classmates including Nicole Liederbach (Alva Schäfer), who appears to be dating the "Handsome Charlie" (Ludwig Simon) that the older sister had been seeing. A so-called psychic provides one clue, but the investigation expands when new information comes to light.

Murder, after all, was the sort of crime committed in decadent capitalist countries, and swept under the rug in places like East Germany. Ideally, this would be the heart of the movie, with the squeaky-clean Stein having to deal with everybody in the area associating the police with the Stasi while Bach struggles with decreased authority, or directly confronting how the fall of communism and reunification has not necessarily made things better in places like Löwitz but instead given them capitalists who want to decrease their already-low wages while hiring Poles from over the border. To the extent that this is a factor, though, it seems to be one where a viewer might have to be a German of a certain age to see the nuances of it. Other than the most clearly-described instances, this tends to fade quickly into mismatched-cop territory, with a side of "city cop in a small town" - a clash of styles, but in the most familiar, generic manner.

Full review on eFilmCritic

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