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Tribeca Diary, Days Four and Five: Nightmares

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The big opening at Tribeca on Sunday was Henry Hobson’s Maggie, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger in his first indie role, as a father in a zombie-style apocalypse who has to deal with the infection of his daughter. However, your humble correspondent won’t be able to see that film until later this week. Fortunately, there were no shortage of films to report on Sunday and Monday, and one of them actually did star a Teutonic titan.

That film is Virgin Mountain, whose title in Swedish is Fusi, after the main character played by Gunnar Jonsson. Fusi is a sexless 43-year-old, but no one should confuse this film with The 40-Year-Old Virgin. There’s no slapstick in play here, and not even that much fun; most shots in the film are what I like to call “Sad Verb” shots, where the lead character morosely performs alone in a scene designed to make the audience say “awwwww…” in sympathy. The dramatic tension comes when Fusi’s mother buys him entry into a line-dancing class, and he meets a young woman (Ilmur Kristjansdottir) who shows interest in him. Kristjansdottir’s character is not the dreaded Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but that’s not to say she’s fully developed; it’s not entirely clear what she wants or what she sees in Fusi, and she’s more a bundle of mental illnesses than a person. In some ways Fusi is equally poorly developed, as it’s nearly impossible to believe that a grown man living in a city in this day and age would need to have the sexual possibilities of the Internet described to him, or would inadvertently open himself to a semi-comic accusation of pedophilia. Virgin Mountain perks up a bit in its second half, as the story goes to some dark places which are logically true to the characters, but those characters still feel far too slight to be completely enjoyable… Grade: B-

A much different type of sexual nightmare is portrayed in the Indian-French production Sunrise. An Indian cop (Adil Hussain, who played Pi’s father in The Life of Pi) is haunted by dreams of children being kidnapped and delivered into sex slavery, dreams that bleed into his reality until it’s nearly impossible to tell the difference. In that sense, Sunrise can be a difficult film to watch, because at the moment its plot seems to be making sense, the scene will suddenly shift into dream logic. However, this also means that director Partho Sen-Gupta has a freedom that not even Christopher Nolan had; Inception was limited in how much it could resemble a dream, because it was a big-budget blockbuster that needed to have a coherent plot. By contrast, this film truly understands how helpless its characters are against nightmares both real and imagined. That helplessness can’t be expressed in the real world, it can only be told according to the illogical, elliptical rules of dreams. A deeply soulful performance by Hussain bolsters the movie in its more obscure moments, as his eyes suggest that he’s just about to understand his dream’s real significance, right before he loses the thread again. Sunrise is a sad, lovely film that deserves multiple viewings to delve into its deepest meaning… Grade: A-

Finally, we have an outright comic nightmare, expressed in the British rom-com Man Up. Lake Bell (who studied drama in London and sports a flawless English accent) plays Nancy, a thirty-something woman who has become bitter and cynical about love. A chance encounter with a woman on a train leads her to accidentally usurp that woman’s blind date, a divorced businessman played by Simon Pegg. Thankfully, the absurd ruse of Nancy pretending to be someone else doesn’t last long, but even after the truth is revealed, the movie plays out as simple and predictable as its premise implies it will: some smart jokes, some will-they-won’t-they-of-course-they-will, and a pair of horribly dumb music cues at the climax. Although Bell’s character is smart and sarcastic in ways that should work along the same lines as her recent film In a World…, this film undercuts her by constantly having men goad her into awkward situations with the claim that “you owe me,” including a subplot involving Rory Kinnear which basically seems to say “you owe me to allow me to sexually assault you.” Jokes like that destroy the film’s indie cred; if Bell were using an American accent instead of English, no one would think Man Up worthy of Tribeca, and it would probably receive the same size opening that The Five-Year Engagement got. Still, even the frustrating jokes go down easy thanks to sweet performances from Bell and Pegg, who have a chemistry better than this script deserves… Grade: B-

Coming Tomorrow: TBD. Your humble correspondent has suffered a back injury which will hamper his ability to see movies for at least the next day or two, but I’ll try to post updates involving films I’ve already seen that haven’t yet been covered.

-Mark Young


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