Farväl Falkenberg (2006)

28 06 2009

It is pretty difficult for me to construct a view of this film that isn’t completely influenced by bias. Sure, film is a subjective experience, but I feel a little bit like films such as this one are “cheating” (for lack of a better word) by depicting a point in time that hits so close to me. I don’t intend to turn this into an essay about myself, but I finished my last year of high school in May and I can’t help but feel some sort of connection with a story about a group of friends who are unsure how they move on to adulthood. This kind of narrative isn’t particularly new, but what is, is the way filmmaker Jesper Ganslandt presents the story.

Unfortunately for Ganslandt’s sake, the images are captured with a ugly DV camera. It’s hard to criticize a filmmaker when he is using everything within his means, but the fact remains that despite his best attempts, Ganslandt’s film looks pretty ugly. “Best attempts” just means focused shots of plants, setting suns reflecting in the lens, and a few other key elements from the Terrence Malick school of filmmaking. Some sequences come close to being legitimately beautiful, but there’s just as many that are overwhelmingly ugly.

The other fault in Ganslandt’s otherwise poignant cinematic universe, is the rather unnecessary dramatic turn that occurs in the second half of the film. I won’t give it away, but needless to say, the shift from plotless philosophy to sheer melodrama is a very bumpy one and Ganslandt never really recovers. So there’s two really big problems with this film from a “objective” (or maybe just technical) standpoint, but everything else is wonderful.

A majority of the movie is a group of friends goofing around and reflecting on one of the biggest and most important turnings points in their lives. Throw in some 8mm footage (echoes of Korine’s debut masterpiece) and poetic voiceovers and you got a very personal cinematic experience. It’s difficult to say why this film works, other than repeating the fact that I can completely relate to these characters, but it does. I’m a little hesitant to call it a masterpiece because of the aformentioned faults, but it most certainly is one of the most emotionally accurate films I’ve ever seen. One just has to take that for what it’s worth.

The Tall Target (1951)

28 06 2009

This is the sort of movie that modern day Hollywood is suppose to be so great at making, but actually isn’t. It is pretty much the most perfectly executed piece of “genre cinema” that I’ve ever seen and it comes as no surprise that it is the work of the great Anthony Mann. Like every other Mann film I’ve seen, not a single moment is wasted within this tight 77 minute long picture. While I won’t argue against the fact that it has a watchability as “escapist entertainment” I will say that it is the best example of commerce and art merging. Although it may not have been successful for Mann, it had all the pieces in place to wow a mainstream audience, but still showcase Mann’s personality.

Technically, this is a period piece, which may or may not have thrown off audiences in 1951. It takes play in 1861 on the eve of Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration. This is made glaringly obvious by being the main topic of conversation between background characters. The protagonist, John Kennedy, is aboard a train to Baltimore in order to foil multiple plots to assassinate the president while on his way to D.C.

Mann, of course, never actually shows Lincoln, which only adds to suspense of the situation. Kennedy is weaving his way through numerous obstacles for the sole purpose of protecting Lincoln’s life, but it is his own life that is most often seen in danger. His dedication to his job presents the only real flaw in the film. It seems unlikely that someone would risk so much just to have an opportunity to save someone else, even if that someone else is to be the president. It’s not hard to believe exactly, but I guess it comes dangerously close to being either a) extremely patriotic or b) not logical. The more cynical viewer would see these two possibilities as being the same.

According to IMDB, this is one of two MGM films to not have a soundtrack. The other is Ford’s Mogambo, which I recall actually having some tribal music. Mann’s tension is real and palpable because it isn’t developed from any sharp music cues, or “jumps” in sound. The music of The Tall Target is the industrial soundscapes of the train that a majority of the film takes place on and it enhances the drama in a way that a conventional orchestral score never could. The lack of music is just another example of Mann’s technical simplicty, which makes his pictures more engaging, not less. Simply stated, this is how its done.