Thursday, April 28, 2005

Ju-on: The Grudge (2003)

A Film Review

Copyright Dragan Antulov 2005

Asian horror films are now what French comedies used to be in 1990s – remedy for the lack of original ideas in Hollywood. This phenomenon benefited both Hollywood and Asian filmmakers; at least some of the audience introduced to the usually inferior Western copies took some interest in the original versions. Their curiosity, however, sometimes led to disappointment and JU-ON: THE GRUDGE, 2003 Japanese horror film written and directed by Takashi Shimizu, represents one of them.

JU-ON: THE GRUDGE, based on Shimizu’s 2000 TV film, has spawned two sequels and American remake starring Sarah Michelle Gellar. The plot is set in a house whose owner has killed his wife and child in a fit of jealous rage. This horrible crime created terrible curse and the house is haunted by malevolent ghosts of the murdered victims. One of the people to experience this phenomenon is Rika Nishina (played by Megumi Okina), young social worker who replaces mysteriously disappeared colleague and enters house. Soon it becomes apparent that everyone who enters is subjected to the curse which manifests itself in ghosts scaring their victims to death. All those incidents are presented chapters relating to an individual being in some way connected to the house.

JU-ON features some really effective scenes and this film isn’t the one that could be recommended to those faint at heart. Because of that JU-ON had opportunity to become genuine horror classic. Unfortunately, the film’s structure is flawed –there is very little narrative glue to connect those scenes and despite use of chapter format – which looks innovative at first – JU-ON quickly gets repetitive. By the time film ends fate of each character is going to be predictable. To make things worse, there are too many characters and few of them are portrayed in a way that would allow audience to really care about their fate.

This doesn’t mean that JU-ON is a bad film. Fans of horror genre are probably going to be satisfied. The acting is good most of the times and Shimizu shows great skill in creating effective scenes with small budget. Unfortunately, there are certain formulaic limitations that JU-ON, just as most of its Hollywood genre counterparts, can’t overcome.

RATING: 5/10 (++)

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Strayed (2004)


A Film Review

Copyright Dragan Antulov 2005

In recent years it became quite fashionable for Americans to mock French over their alleged lack of martial spirits, for which surrender of France to Nazi Germany is often used as the best proof. French filmmaker Andre Téchiné in his 2004 drama STRAYED shows that the event was anything but simple or non-traumatic for French.

For the first few months of WW2 French were quite serious about fighting Germans, at least serious enough for protagonist of the film, schoolteacher Odille (played by Emmanuele Béart), to lose a husband in one of border clashes. In June 1940, when the film starts, French defensive lines are broken, Paris is being evacuated and French roads are clogged by endless columns of refugees fleeing south. Those column not only prevent creation of any meaningful defence, but also represent easy target for Luftwaffe whose pilots slaughter helpless civilians en masse thus creating additional mayhem and panic. In one of such raids Odille, a mother of two, has lost a car. Her family is rescued by Yvan (Gaspard Ulliel), resourceful blue-collar youth who advises that it is much safer travelling through woods and back roads. His advice is reluctantly taken, just he reluctantly becomes some sort of protector and food provider for the family. Finally, four of them stumble into abandoned country house in a middle of nowhere. Odille there finds not only food and shelter, but some sort of middle-class normalcy, with Yvan becoming substitute father for some of her children. But this utopia doesn’t last long, because Yvan becomes increasingly nervous with a prospect of someone else, especially authorities, coming to the house.

Unlike most films dealing with WW2, STRAYED takes very simplistic and minimalist approach towards that traumatic chapter of world history. Actual carnage is seen only in beginning, but the real psychological impact of those horrors displays itself gradually and through the set of very revealing episodes. Good example are the scenes in which protagonists travel through the woods and are surrounded by great natural beauty, yet all-too-aware that they lack food, water and all the necessary ingredients of civilisation.

But the real strength of the film is in characterisation. Extreme situation in which protagonists find themselves is excellent opportunity for Techine to explore how war destroys not only lives, but also the delicate fabric of the modern society, forcing two different worlds to mix in unexpected ways. Odille, brilliantly played by Emmanuele Béart, who used to be respected member of society, is utterly lost without that society and forced to depend on someone she could have scorned under normal circumstances. On the other hand, Yvan, sees the collapse of society as an opportunity to turn the tables and once in life enjoys many things which had been denied to him. Yet, he, just like Odillle, can’t overcome boundaries set by his previous life, especially because of his immaturity that would be revealed in most unexpected ways – both during the obligatory love scene and during the film’s shocking ending.

The ending of the film is also shocking in another way, at least to the audience accustomed to Hollywood version of WW2. The film provides some sort of closure at the historical point in which conventional WW2 film would only begin. This might look like a surprise, but it works perfectly in the context of STRAYED – what looks like a disgrace from historical perspective, looks perfectly normal from the perspective of protagonists.

Unfortunately, Téchiné failed to underline that point. Instead, he opted for pathos, embodied in documentary footage which occasionally interrupts the plot. This not only breaks film’s narrative structure, but also takes away the realism, which is one of the greatest assets of STRAYED.

However, this film nevertheless deserves praise, not only because of the quality of acting and intelligent script, but also because it makes many viewers to wonder what would they do if they or their countries ever find themselves in the situation faced by protagonists.

RATING: 6/10 (++)