Posted tagged ‘new directors/ new films’

ND/NF: Not-so-charming vulnerability in Can Go Through Skin

April 1, 2009

Rifka Lodeizen in Can Go Through Skin

In the opening moments of Can Go Through Skin, the debut feature from Dutch filmmaker Esther Rots, we meet Marieke (Rifka Lodeizen), a charmingly vulnerable young urbanite, as she attempts to get some friends together for drinks in her native Amsterdam.  She’s eager for social interaction, but comfortable enough in her own skin to enjoy a solitary night of pizza, wine, and long hot bath when her plans fall through. And then, just like that – in a terrifying sequence only minutes into the film – everything changes for Marieke when the pizza deliveryman sneaks into her apartment and attacks her as she lies unawares in the tub.

The next time we see her, that vulnerability that was once so sweet has taken a paranoid edge.  Marieke moves out of Amsterdam to the country, to a fixer-upper that she doesn’t bother fixing up at all. She steadfastly avoids human contact, ignoring knocks at the door, hardly bathing, and screaming at friendly neighbors to go away.  Rots uses a jittery handheld camera to put us firmly in Marieke’s shoes – we spend so much time alone with her, hiding in her barren cottage, that we’re as startled and wary as she is when another person enters into her world.

As the film traces Marieke’s slow, tentative return to normalcy, I couldn’t help but feel a little frustrated with her insistent paranoia and Rots’ overemphasis on the mundane.  But I do give the director much credit for taking the film in interesting directions and giving it a loose, ambling vibe you wouldn’t expect from a film about a sexual assault victim.

In fact, the film I’d most compare it to is one with a very different heroine, Lynne Ramsey’s Morvern Callar, which also employs striking camerawork and occasionally transcendent use of pop music to create an intimate, nonjudgmental portrait of a woman working her way through a serious trauma.  While Can Go Through Skin doesn’t reach the heights of Ramsey’s film, it’s still worth seeing and distinguishes Rots as a filmmaker to watch for in the future.

-Tim Young

Tim Young also writes for I Heard Different.

Buy tickets: Fri Apr 3: 9 (MoMA)
Sat Apr 4: 4 (FSLC)

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ND/NF: Home is where the highway is in Ursula Meier’s quirky family drama

March 30, 2009

"HOME"

In an emblematic scene in Home, Ursula Meier’s first feature film, Marthe (the mother, played by Isabelle Huppert) wants to give snacks to two of her children, Julien and Marion, who stand across the newly-constructed highway from her after arriving home from school. With the encouragement of her children she decides to pitch the bag of food over the highway. The bag lands on the edge of the road and they erupt in cheer. Just as Julien tries to make a grab for it a car suddenly runs over the bag in a small burst of cheese and bread, much to everyone’s surprise. This scene highlights the warm love shared between the family, especially from the mother, as well as their unique, spontaneous approach to problem solving (that warrants a laugh and a cheer). At the same time, however, there is a rather dark quality to it in the way destruction can come suddenly — the obstacle of the highway is at first a comic problem, but it very quickly becomes a life-threatening one. This dichotomy of humor and dark drama comes to define Meier’s film, a subtle mix of emotional tones that is at once exhilarating and unnerving.

The story focuses on the drama that unfurls within a family when a highway is built right next to their house, blocking their normal route to the outside world (school, work) and making their daily routines a huge challenge. The family’s resolve to stay despite the highway and the noise, danger, and chaos it causes has them adapt in small and drastic ways: Marion, the bookish middle child, wears homemade hazmat suits to deal with the toxic emissions; they cement the walls and windows to reduce the noise. As the tensions within the family caused by the highway start to escalate the humor starts to fade and absurdism sets in, threatening to destroy the once happy-go-lucky family.

The central question Meier seems to be asking is: “What constitutes a home?” At first it is the house itself, the location (the middle of nowhere?) that allows the family freedom. As the house becomes destroyed, however, it becomes clear that home is something else (love? family? sanity?), though Meier never makes that something else explicit. Ultimately, Home forces us to ask: What are those things which keep us together, that make us feel secure, and (most importantly) what do we do when a highway is built right on top of them?

-Kazu Watanabe

Buy tickets to Home: Thu Apr 2: 9 (FSLC) and Sat Apr 4: 6:30 (MoMA)