Toronto International Film Festival 2015 - UPDATE #3
One Floor Below
Directed by Radu Muntean
ROMANIA/FRANCE/GERMANY/SWEDEN/93 MINUTES/CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA
It's ultimately difficult not to walk away from One Floor Below without feeling a small measure of disappointment, as the movie's strong premise and impressively naturalistic atmosphere are slowly but surely rendered moot by filmmaker Radu Muntean's all-too-deliberate tendencies. The sparse narrative follows blue-collar husband and father Sandu Patrascu (Teodor Corban) as he overhears a fight in a neighbor's apartment one fateful afternoon, with trouble ensuing after the resident is murdered that same day by, Sandu suspects, the man (Iulian Postelnicu's Vali) he saw emerging shortly after. What subsequently ensues is a slow-burn drama revolving primarily about Sandu's actions in the days following the event, as well as the increasingly suspicious manner by which Vali begins ingratiating himself with both Sandu and Sandu's wife and son. Muntean admittedly does a superb job of initially establishing the central character and his less-than-posh existence, with the intriguing atmosphere heightened by Corban's thoroughly (and often irresistibly) authentic performance as the tight-lipped Sandu. And although the film's initial stretch has been peppered with a few engaging sequences (eg a fantastic scene wherein Sandu is questioned by a police officer that unfolds in a single take), One Floor Below begins to lose its already-tenuous hold on the viewer as it slowly progresses into its almost egregiously uneventful second half - as Muntean emphasizes the day-to-day minutia of Sandu's life to an increasingly wearying extent. The undercurrent of inherent tension, as a result, can't help but deflate steadily past the one-hour mark, and while the movie features an absolutely dynamite confrontation near the end, One Floor Below finally concludes on a perplexingly inconsequential note that confirms its place as a semi-watchable disappointment.
Directed by André Turpin
The degree to which Endorphine ultimately peters out is nothing short of devastating, as the film boasts a first half that's admittedly confusing yet completely transfixing. The impossible-to-describe narrative essentially details the comings and goings of a young girl who is seemingly unstuck from time, so to speak, with writer/director André Turpin offering a number of scenes that appear to double back on themselves and an overall atmosphere of sci-fi complexity. Turpin's striking visual sensibilities certainly go a long way towards perpetuating the movie's place as a low-budget, Nolanesque mindbender, and there's certainly no small measure of satisfaction to be gained from the mystery surrounding the protagonist's very existence. It's clear, too, that the recurring emphasis on a complicated lecture regarding the nature of time and our perception of it contributes to the puzzle-like vibe, and yet there eventually reaches a point wherein Turpin should be answering the narrative's key questions but instead layers on more and more head-scratching elements. The too-weird-for-its-own-good feel ultimately does ensure that Endorphine fizzles out significantly as it passes the one-hour mark, which, in the end, confirms the film's place as an admittedly singular piece of work that doesn't even remotely stick the landing.
The Endless River
Directed by Oliver Hermanus
SOUTH AFRICA/FRANCE/110 MINUTES/CONTEMPORARY WORLD CINEMA
Oliver Hermanus' last picture, 2011's Beauty, was an uneven yet thoroughly intriguing drama that seemed to signal the arrival of an exciting new talent, although, if The Endless River is any indication, that movie was nothing but a fluke and Hermanus absolutely needs to go back to the drawing board. The laughably overwrought narrative details the relationship that ensues between two broken individuals, but Hermanus proves hopelessly unable to transform either character into a sympathetic figure and it is, as a result, impossible to work up any interest in their continuing exploits. Far more problematic, however, is the almost astonishingly deliberate pace with which Hermanus has infused the proceedings, as the movie, which suffers from a plethora of overlong and flat-out needless sequences, seems to be unfolding in slow motion for the majority of its punishing 110 minute running time. There's little doubt that Hermanus is going for the feel of a 1950s melodrama, especially given the old-school opening credits, but aside from some nice visuals, the entire thing feels like a hopelessly amateur production - with the almost comically inept performances by the movie's two stars certainly perpetuating that vibe. By the time the big emotional revelations arrive in the third act (all of which fall completely flat, naturally), The Endless River has confirmed its place as a shockingly inept and misbegotten work from a once-promising writer/director.
Directed by Jeremy Saulnier
USA/95 MINUTES/MIDNIGHT MADNESS
Jeremy Saulnier's disappointing followup to 2013's superb Blue Ruin, Green Room follows the members of a punk band as they find themselves trapped within the title locale of a known skinhead venue - with the movie detailing said band's efforts at escaping from the clutches of their excessively brutal captors (led by Patrick Stewart's Darcy). It's a solid premise that's executed to pervasively middling effect by Saulnier, as the filmmaker, working from his own screenplay, proves unable to transform any of the protagonists into wholeheartedly sympathetic figures. (Conversely, Saulnier also fails to deliver a single compelling villain, although Stewart's quietly menacing performance is, admittedly, consistently entertaining.) It is, as such, not surprising to note that Green Room suffers from a dearth of tension that only grows more noticeable as time progresses, with the hands-off atmosphere perpetuated by a needlessly convoluted storyline that doesn't begin to make sense until well past the one-hour mark. The action-oriented moments also manage to disappoint, surprisingly enough, as Saulnier has chosen to suffuse such interludes in murky darkness that renders them mostly unintelligible. And while the movie's final few minutes are admittedly decent, Green Room suffers from a third act that feels both irrelevant and endless (ie the film didn't need to leave the confines of that club) - which finally does ensure that the film, for the most part, comes off as a stellar premise in search of a compelling narrative.
The Here After
Directed by Magnus von Horn
The Here After follows a teenager (Ulrik Munther's John) as he's released from a juvenile facility after a two-year stint, with the movie detailing John's ongoing and increasingly problematic efforts at reintegrating himself into his community. For the most part, The Here After comes off as an almost prototypically slow-moving and understated foreign flick, as director Magnus von Horn employs a seriously deliberate pace that's perpetuated by a meandering narrative (to put it mildly) revolving around John's day-to-day existence (eg John works on his family's farm, John goes to class, etc, etc). The most troublesome issue here is, without question, von Horn's decision to hold off on revealing John's crime, as his ongoing efforts at transforming John into a sympathetic figure fall completely flat because we're not sure if we even should be rooting for him (ie the guy might've raped and murdered someone for all the viewer knows). It's likewise not surprising to note that the film's few tense interludes don't fare nearly as well as they should, with the most obvious example of this a sequence in which John sneaks into the home of...someone. The pivotal reveal is finally made at almost exactly the one-hour mark, but it's long-past the point where one is able to care - with von Horn's consistent emphasis on irrelevant episodes (eg the unpleasant euthenasia of a family dog) ensuring that The Here After fizzles out to a remarkable degree (and that final shot is almost comically abrupt).