Thursday, April 23, 2009

Tribeca 2009: Day 1

Dazzle (Oogverblindend)

The idea of trying to "measure sorrow" with a "socially engaged" camera makes Cyrus Frisch a rather daring filmmaker. But as Dazzle yields more and more to classical conventions, his filmic poetry--in fact, even the randomness of some shots--starts to feel forced. What starts out as neo-voyeurism with a philosophical twist soon settles into a contrived long-distance romance.

For the first half of the film, we see only what Kira (Georgina Verbaan) sees (and has seen) as she dumps her problems onto the troubled Argentinian doctor (Rutgar Hauer) who has accidentally called her. She's become a social recluse because of the way she sees humanity, and Frisch helps to further distort the slanted, shaky view from her window by toying with digital effects, from grainy B&W to solarized shots, and he provides plenty of black screens to emphasize the free-associative idea of being lost in thought. And there's plenty to think about, for when Kira isn't watching the sun reflect off the canal by her apartment in Amsterdam, she's watching the depravities of the drugged-out homeless, realizing that she cares more for a mouse drowning in coffee than a man slowly going insane in the -15°C night. In fact, she blames them for making her feel terrible: "Why shouldn't I have the right to look the other way?" she asks.

The forced viewpoint of the camera and the stretches of static images compel us to really listen to what she's saying, so when Frisch suddenly abandons this conceit, showing us what Kira looks like, we're able to remove ourselves from such complicated thoughts. In contrast with the overhead, seemingly candid shots of the Amsterdam populace, these scenes also cannot help but seem acted. Things worsen as Kira fights to convince this doctor--whom she actually turns out to know, and love--not to kill himself over the guilt he feels for his unconscious contributions to the military's acts of torture. In the end, it's pedantic, not dazzling.

In The Loop

Few things lend themselves to comedy more readily than politics: for every bit of double-talk--in this case, that war is neither unforeseeable nor foreseeable--there's a double-take waiting to happen. In Armando Iannucci's brilliant satire, In the Loop, he leaves the reactions to the audience, trusting the blank looks of the hapless UK minister Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) and frothingly profane tirades of the communications chief Malcom Tucker (Peter Capaldi) to do the work. When that's not enough, he throws in Steve Coogan as a manic constituent, and then doubles down on the all-too-plausible idiocy of Toby Wright (Chris Addison), whose political ambitions as Simon's aide lead to leaked intel, romantic entanglements, and last-ditch waffling.

Aaron Sorkin would be proud of all the semantic twists that occur on the road to war with the Middle East, especially as an anti-war faction led by US Assistant Secretary for Diplomacy Karen Clarke (Mimi Kennedy) and General Miller (James Gandolfini) face off with the pro-war manipulations of Linton Barwick (the perfectly cast David Rasche), using papers from their aides and politicos in the field as pawns in one wildly comic chess match. In addition to the distanced documentary-style shooting of the action, which keeps things feeling authentic, Iannucci fills each shot with sight gags, from the size-differential between Miller and Barwick to the sad evening Toby and Simon spend watching oceanography in their underwear, or the more overt laughs of Karen stuffing her bleeding mouth full of toilet paper, or Miller calculating the projected death toll on a little girl's talking calculator.

It's this use of contrast that ultimately puts war--and the big and small talk behind it--into perspective, and that hopelessly daft perspective itself that keeps the audience laughing.

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