Day two gives us a new Studio Ghibli co-production, the latest from Ana Lily Amirpour, and more.
The Red Turtle
France, 2016. AKA La tortue rouge. Directed by Michaël Dudok de Wit. 98 minutes. ★★★
This much-anticipated collaboration between Dutch animator Michael Dudok de Wit and the Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli (Miyazaki’s home base, not that you didn’t already know that) concerns a man stranded on a deserted island with a giant red turtle who consistently blocks his attempts to escape. Things take a most unexpected turn from there.
The film’s meandering, largely plotless story makes it feel longer than its comparatively meager 80-minute run-time, at least to me; remember, I’m generally a plot guy. Dudok de Wit makes up for it with an enchanting art style heavily influenced by the linge claire of Tintin creator Hergé. It’s a delight to look at, even if I didn’t find it to be as powerful as it was clearly intended.
Also, whenever anybody tries to tell you this film contains no dialogue, call bullshit on them. The word “Hey!” is distinctly uttered four times. I counted.
Short film: Limbo
United States, 2016. Directed by Will Blank.
This ruefully funny short strands a young man in the desert with no cell phone, a craving for burritos, and a dying dog who grants a wish. It’s a lot deeper and poignant than I’ve indicated here, with exactly the right ratio of quirk to non-quirk.
Canada/Japan, 2016. Directed by Nick DiLiberto. 64 minutes. ★★
Much has been made of Nova Seed‘s DIY creation; writer/director/animator Nick DiLiberto spent years animating every frame by hand. Appropriately, a distinctly personal vibe permeates the film, a quirky, pulpy space opera about a lion-man who seeks to defeat the mad scientist Dr. Mindskull (probably the greatest character name ever).
I started to nod off after a while during the screening–not because of the film, but because I hadn’t gotten good sleep the night before and was still pretty tired. So I think there’s a lot I didn’t get about the project’s dense backstory and world-building, and I often felt lost trying to suss out exactly why the characters were doing what they were doing. But I’m sufficiently intrigued to consider a second viewing; I don’t think there’s anything else I really want to see in Nova Seed‘s repeat slot.
Germany, 2016. Directed by Maren Ade. Starring Peter Simonischek, Sandra Hüller, Michael Wittenborn, Michael Loibl, Trystan Pütter, Hadewych Minis, Lucy Russell. 162 minutes. ★★★★
Maren Ade’s two-and-a-half-hour-plus epic about a German executive living and working in Bucharest, whose relationship with her difficult and eccentric father is strained even before he starts showing up at her business functions wearing an awful black wig and alternately claiming to be a business coach and a German ambassador, has been classified as a comedy, a claim that doesn’t feel entirely accurate.
To be sure, there’s much about Toni Erdmann that’s uproariously funny, most notably a scene involving an apartment full of nudes, save for a someone dressed as the Bulgarian pagan figure babugeri. And you’ll never hear the song “The Greatest Love of All” the same way again after this film.
But between the pointed corporate satire and quirky human comedy lurks a distinctly humanistic bittersweetess and unexpected depth. The film’s almost tragicomic tone left me expecting either of the lead characters–expertly portrayed by Sandra Füller (Requiem) and Peter Simonischek–to die towards the film’s climax. If nothing else, any film whose closing-credits theme is one of the dirgier Cure songs (“Plainsong,” the opening salvo from Disintegration) can be considered a laff riot.
The one flaw is that it does go on too long, but there’s nothing I really feel I’d cut. (Well, maybe the guy masturbating onto a pastry.) Such is art.
The Bad Batch
United States, 2016. Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour. Starring Suki Waterhouse, Jason Momoa, Diego Luna, Keanu Reeves, Yolonda Ross, Jim Carrey, Giovanni Ribisi, 115 minutes. ★★★
The genius of Ana Lily Amirpour’s debut A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night was its cross-pollenization of very different modes, with its Islamic/Arabic aesthetic as its nucleus, a combination so obvious in hindsight that my friend Amanda opined that it was hard to believe that “vampires in hijabs” had not been done before.
The Bad Batch, a dystopia which situates Sookie Waterhouse between a beefy cannibal loner (Jason Momoa) and a creepy white-suited cult leader (Keanu Reeves) who leads a settlement that is basically one huge rave, doesn’t feel as distinctly original as A Girl Walks Home. The setting seems straight out of Mad Max: Fury Road, only without cars and chases (Reeves’s harem of Frankie Say-shirted pregnant broodmares underlines the comparison), with major aesthetic elements seemingly coming from Rodriguez (Waterhouse’s wardrobe seems to consist entirely of ironically flirty shorts) and Tarantino (Amirpour uses Ace of Base’s “All that She Wants” the same way QT used “Stuck in the Middle with You” in Reservoir Dogs).
That lack of distinctiveness–not to mention some seriously bizarre plot choices (which I can’t really discuss without spoilers) and the positioning of Momoa as romantic lead and sex symbol (I just don’t get that)–meant that Bad Batch didn’t impress me as much as I’d hoped it would. But at least there’s someone out there making movies like this, so bless Amirpour for that.