The Fantasia International Film Festival is currently underway featuring films from all over the world. This virtual celebration of cinema runs until September 2nd and I’ve had the pleasure of seeing a handful of quality films, with more on the watch-list. So, let’s get into a few of them now.
CRAZY SAMURAI MUSASHI
This was certainly the most ambitious of the films I’ve seen this year from line-up at Fantasia. Directed by Yûji Shimomura, this story visits the famous battle of samurai Miyamoto Musashi. The biggest draw to this film was without a doubt the 77-minute, one-take, fight-sequence that follows Musashi as he takes out hundreds of enemies. It was nicely captured by handheld camera and it does put you right into the middle of the violence. It’s presumed the budget for this one is of a smaller scale, so with that considered I think this extended, (one man against an army) fight delivered plenty of excitement.
There were some noticeable flaws with background fighters unnaturally leaving the frame here and there. There were also moments where the enemies of the great Musashi telegraphed the fight choreography just a tad. The repetition of the moves did set in after a bit as well. But those were small issues in a film that overall did many things right. The flow from one backdrop to the next created a variety to the visual appeal. The fighting flows smoothly from the forest, to the villages, and with natural lighting and other added weather effects, it can easily pull you in.
The level of difficulty for this movie to be accomplished was certainly high. It required a ton of planning and orchestration, with a precise timing from all the performers to make it work. So even where this movie may seem simplistic. Taking into account the layering needed to achieve this from a simple film-making aspect is commendable. I think the final-act was a rewarding one. It was clear this is where the bulk of the budget went. The fighting was quicker, much more visceral, and filmed with more technical styling. The closing was very polished, and it almost felt like a different movie. In the end I did enjoy this movie for what it was, and I think Shimomura has bright career ahead of him in this genre.
CLIMATE OF THE HUNTER
This was an interesting film to say the least. I’m not quite sure the story in its entirety worked for me. But sections of it did and I think it closes out strong. The story follows a pair of sisters who subtly, and at times not so subtly, compete for the affections of one of their long-time friends when he comes to visit them. He’s well dressed, he’s articulate, and he quite possibly could be a vampire. This premise was enough for me to be interested. It felt like a film that had the potential to deliver both grim atmosphere and dark humor. Both of which it does provide at times.
The pacing was the biggest hindrance for me. After watching the film and seeing how it ends, I couldn’t help but feel there were some wasted minutes. This movie delivers what seems like endless dinner conversation. Much of it does elude to other things at play behind what we are actually seeing. But it also felt like a lot of the table talk didn’t, and this is where I think the story would have benefited from a slight dialing up of the tension. I think it could have used this time to plant a few more seeds as to where it was going which would have naturally killed some of the repetition. The closing idea of this story was excellent. Yet the path of the narrative leading up to it didn’t feel as deliberate as it could have to result in more natural intrigue.
I appreciated how smart the script treated its audience. Looking back, you can see instances in the story that were subtle indications. And while watching that was able to maintain a level of curiosity. I think the performances from Ginger Gilmartin, Mary Buss, and Ben Hall were all charismatic. Like I said, a lot of time was spent at the dinner table, but I will say that the delivery of the dialogue from this trio made the most of it. The swings in their emotion and their small mysteries were all naturally captured through their performances. It was a unique story without question. It also provided an eerie tale filled with eccentric character that seemed normal, but also seemed a little off. It didn’t grab me like I had hoped, but with a foreboding charm to it, I wouldn’t say I disliked it either.
FREE COUNTRY (FREIES LAND)
When done properly the psychological thriller is one of my favorite genres of film, and I would say this movie delivers a winning recipe. The story follows a pair of newly paired cops that are sent to investigate the disappearance of two teenage sisters in a small town. As their investigation continues, they learn many people in this rural area are harboring secrets. And from there this film delves into the darkness as the grim nature of the case evolves, along with the toll it takes on the cops trying to find answers. Which to me was where the film shined, in its exploration of the effects of the case on these partners that are both fueled for different reasons.
There was a strong “True Detective” vibe going on in this movie and I loved it. I felt it created an ominous atmosphere. It was cold and bleak, which matched the tone of the story, and without a studio polish it almost felt like a peek into a real case, with real people, and genuine emotional intensity. It does run a little long and the pacing is methodical, but I think that was a nice touch in connecting the viewer to the fatigue of the cops working the case. The story is a slow-burn but it continually evolves creating that interest which will have you invested in their mission. The story spends time with the case itself as the focal plot-line, but it also peels back layers of who these cops were behind the badge. So, where the two-hour length does feel beefy, it does use every minute to tell its narrative.
The performances from Trystan Pütter and Felix Kramer were excellent. They kept their characters grounded. They also had an authentic timing with one another. I think it was able to effectively capture them as being new partners who weren’t fully comfortable with one another. Not to mention the adjustment each had to make due to different styles of getting the job done. The direction from Christian Alvart was polished. He frames the shots on the characters nicely to effectively capture the emotion of given scenes. And he uses the backgrounds, lighting, and angles to accentuate the already foreboding mood. It’s a complete film that fits nicely into the genre. It does feel similar to other genre films in places. But it certainly stands on its own legs with plenty of its own merits, to make it recommendable.
Anthony Digioia – SilverScreen Analysis © All Rights Reserved