MIFF 2012: Reviews of Il Capitano and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Welcome to day twelve of my coverage of the Melbourne International Film Festival. You can read previous entries here: Day One / Day Two / Day ThreeDay Four / Day Five / Day Six / Day SevenDay Eight / Day Nine / Day Ten/ Day Eleven. Enjoy.

Il Capitano

Il Capitano

I knew nothing going into this film except that it was Swedish in origin and based on a real murder case. I didn’t even properly read the synopsis as the aforementioned details were enough to get my bum on a seat. I was taken aback when this film started: firstly, the image was grainier than the local bakery and, secondly, it started with a silhouetted, abstract, title sequence that set off alarm bells in my head. I thought: Dear Lord, what have I gotten myself into? I needn’t have feared, as Il Capitano is a low-key crime classic and the image grain is the result of the film being over twenty years-old and not some wanky visual effect.

Il Capitano, also known as Swedish Requiem, is based on the true crimes of Finnish nutjob  Juha Veikko Valjakkala and his complacent girlfriend Marita Routalammi. The crimes were committed in 1988 and this film was controversially produced only a few years after the trial (1991). The filmmakers changed the names to Jari and Minna, but the events depicted are largely the same. Young Minna (Maria Heiskanen) falls quickly for the delinquent Jari (Antti Reini). Jari is a petty car thief with a true anti-authoritarian streak. He commandeers cars so he and Minna can make their way across Europe. When Minna grows tired of their nomadic lifestyle, she starts to pester Jari. Jari does not react well to criticism and his behaviour becomes increasingly irrational and dangerous, culminating in an unspeakable act.

Il Capitano has a gritty realism reminiscent of the horror films of the 1970s. Shot on 16mm film, Il Capitano’s visuals are as grungy as Jari’s leather jackets. The film is episodic in nature and, except for a few flashbacks that demonstrate Jari’s troubled childhood, this film moves in a dead straight line. It is a clever move, as it lets us witness firsthand the genesis of a murderer – this is morbidly fascinating stuff.Surprisingly, we are equally engaged in the relationship of this couple as we are in Jari’s increasingly aggressive behaviour. This is due to some spectacular acting by the leads. Jari and Minna have an archetypically abusive relationship and Maria Heiskanen is devastating as a woman who equally loves and fears her partner. The real find of this film is Antti Reini; he is a knockout as Jari. As I was watching this I thought: Who the fuck is this guy? He is going to have a massive career. Alas, I was twenty years too late. Reini has been steadily working ever since, but he seems to have never broken into the international stage. It’s a shame because he has the swagger of a rockstar and the intensity of a psychopath.

You would probably have more luck seeing a UFO than finding Il Capitano on DVD. Though strangely enough, you can watch the whole thing on youtube (without subtitles), if you do come across it I highly recommend checking it out as this is a little-seen gem.

Four Stars

***

 

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Seeking a Friend is two potentially great films fused into one. Unfortunately, the two halves don’t peacefully coincide and the sharp changes in tone and emotion drive this film off its intended trajectory.

Seeking a Friend starts off with the news of an unavoidable apocalypse — in the shape of an asteroid — approaching Earth. Dodge (Steve Carell), a terminally depressed insurance salesman, doesn’t feel terrified or uninhibited by the news’ he feels like this is an ironic end to a dissatisfying life. He is shaken out of his apathy when he meets his free-spirited neighbour Penny (Keira Knightley). Together, the pair set out to find a way to get to England so that Penny can see her family one last time.

I was knocked upside the head by the start of Seeking a Friend. This film is fearlessly funny and it milks its apocalyptic setting for maximum laughs. The world hasn’t just lost its hope, it has lost its morality as well: everything is up for grabs. Hedonism is rampant, people bring heroin to house parties and the legal drinking age has, seemingly, dropped to five years-old. Writer/director Lorene Scafaria injects the film with hilarious cameos — Rob Corddry drunkenly proclaims ‘This ain’t the Ark, baby. It’s the Titanic!’ — and unpredictable, darkly funny situations, then, around the three quarter mark, the laughs dry up like a biblical drought.

Scafaria wants to cleanly segue from the comedy into emotional drama but it is far too stark a change. Scafaria has made the mistake of going for one or the other when she could have easily had both. Seeking a Friend leans hard on its characters in the last act and this is where the problem lies – compared to its concept, its characters in this film are positively weak. Dodge is deadpan to the point of catatonia – thank God Steve Carell has decent dramatic chops, because this is one of his most underwritten roles – and it feels like the logical conclusion of his hangdog shtick. I consider Keira Knightley to be an excellent dramatic actress; there is something regal and histrionic about her performance style that makes her stand apart from the other actresses in her age bracket. By that notion, she is woefully miscast in this film. Penny is a bohemian free spirit and Knightley’s interpretation of ‘happy go lucky’ sees her merely accentuate her mannerisms – coy smiles, squinty gaze and rat-a-tat dialogue. If you are not a fan of Miss Knightley, you will despise this film as she is seriously Kiera Knightley-ish in this.

I’m sure that some people will love this film, warts and all, but I couldn’t buy what it was selling. While the ending had zero effect on me, I absolutely loved the depraved first act and for that it gets a (very) mild recommendation.

Three Stars

***

Tomorrow’s films: Broken and Sightseers.

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