Fantasia 2012: Love enters the belly of the ‘Beast’

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Beast

Directed by Christoffer Boe

Written by Christoffer Boe

Denmark, 2011

Everybody enjoys a well told love story. The sub genre, less prominent perhaps, is the doomed love story, the ones in which the two protagonists do not get exactly what they want by the film’s end. It can be played in such a way that grips the audience, sending them on an emotionally charged ride along with the characters. A second variation of the sub genre pushes the limits of what makes a love story even further, David Cronenberg’s The Fly being a prime example. The emotional tugs are there, even though the movie is more hard core than one’s typical romance tale. Then there are projects the likes of Christoffer Boe’s Beast, movies that purport to be about the emotional side of the breakdown, with that aspect serving as mere salad dressing for the far more experimental intentions lurking underneath.

On a cold winter’s day, Bruno (Nicolas Bro) and Maxine (Marijana Jankovic), holding hands and giving themselves gentle kisses, walk around the condo building where they have just purchased their new home to start what they believe shall be a passionate life together. Flash forward some time later (weeks, months, years…it is unclear). They sit at a café, sipping their respective drinks quietly, Maxine hardly making eye contact with Bruno at all. The latter attempts to strike meaningful conversation in an effort to discover and understand where things went wrong for them. Clearly, their relationship has gone sideways, although the audience is not filled in on the complete reason just yet. From that point onwards, the disintegration of what they once had ventures into unsettling, para-normal territory. One scene depicts Bruno laying over Maxine body in bed, knife in hand, ready to literally get inside of her as he himself so ferociously states. A cut underneath her wonderful right breast allows Bruno to suck some of her blood, an act which has painful repercussions in the weeks that follow, such as whenever Maxine secretly meets with her new lover, mutual friend Valdemar (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), at which point an uncontrollable pain erupts in Bruno’s belly. What is happening to him and how much longer can he take Maxine’s attempts to distance herself from him?

The one thing that will creep up on unsuspecting movie goers who take a chance on this picture is how austere it is. Indeed, for a story where multiple characters express their thoughts, feelings and even doubts on the subject of love and interpersonal relationships, the is a coldness to Beast few that permeates throughout. Christoffer Boe’ endeavour falls very much in the ‘experimental’ and ‘art house’ categories, with many little clues as to what might be transpiring, some of which do lead the viewers on a certain path, however by the picture’s end not everything is completely spelled out, nor does the story follow any safe and easy pattern with a climax that ties all the plot threads together in a neat package. It is a film that takes many of its cues from the Cronenberg school of filmmaking, with the exception of the aforementioned The Fly, which itself does have a great deal of heart. The movie is cold, deliberately paced, mysterious and quite unsettling whenever it wants a scene to enliven its more fantastical undertones. The movie therefore operates less as a romance flick and more as an experimental study of a romance’s breakdown, replete with a nasty little edge.

All that being said, concluding that Boe’s film is in poor taste would be off the mark by a country mile. After all, comparing it to something that might have emerged out of the imagination of David Cronenberg is not a criticism, it is in many ways praise and rather tall praise at that. While it refuses to embellish any overt sentimentality, forgoing that potentiality altogether, its strengths emanate from the precision with which the director and cast create that aura that something is amiss in the current situation. The film is titled Beast, a definite hint that what may come shall not come across as perfect normalcy. Just who is the titular monster is a question that at first appears comparatively easy to answer. Once Bruno starts sucking on Maxine’s delicious, even though he only does so once, culpability is aimed squarely at him. Then again, Maxine does allow him to perform the act. She offer little to no resistance when he expresses interest in discovering a way to get inside her boy. As the story evolves, or devolves it might be argued, it becomes apparent that on the surface, Bruno is either an incomparable nut job or is an animal of an entirely different nature. His proclamations grow more operatic, as does his demeanour. Once the fact that Maxine is sleeping with another man, a close friend no less, comes to light, Bruno’s extravagant predictions and assertions are all the more vile, filled with penchants for violent outbursts. He is the easy beast to identify in the picture. Maxine herself should not be overlooked however. It is only after her blood enters Bruno’s system that the internal cramps explode. Her attitude in the face of Bruno’s increasingly bizarre behaviour is either to shrug it off, reminding him that she no longer cares for him, or one of mild annoyance, only further feeding Bruno’s anger and exasperation. Who really is the beast now?

These two starkly different characterizations are all the more fascinating to watch interact for they, despite appearances, represent two of the many sorts of attitudes real people can adopt when relationships hit the rocks. Bruno is the desperate one who cannot fathom living without Maxine, hence his desperate claims and loopy behaviour. Maxine, on the flip side, is the one who has already given up on their hopes long ago and, resigned to the fact that there is no future with Bruno, has already taken the first steps towards moving one (behind his back, but nevertheless). Beast uses horror and science-fiction to study an everyday phenomenon, highlighting humanity’s many faults, putting them into context and inviting audiences to think about them in provocative ways. Christoffer Boe’s film does what good science-fiction should do.

Complimenting the director’s vision are two fantastic lead actors. Nicolas Bro brings power and vulnerability to his role, enforcing the notion that he is by far the more volatile of the two. His manic episodes remind the viewer that this man is not to be messed around with, against which are juxtaposed moments of genuine pain and frustration. Marijana Jankovic is superb as Maxine, giving a very relaxed performance. Not in the sense that she does appear to be investing any effort, but rather that her character is effortlessly deflecting each and every one of Bruno’s attacks with her quips that puncture his heart like needles.

Beast does not exist to tug at the heartstrings. It has no desire to make one cry because of the beautiful story. Director Boe’s thoughtful, languid depiction of a relationship gone awry will leave an impact. They say is a beautiful thing…almost always.

-Edgar Chaput

 

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