Tag Archives: film

Into the Forest (2015): survivalist feminist drama

The scene opens with Patricia Rozema’s camera taking a mystical walk through the woods and Cat Power’s mesmerizing voice singing Wild is the Wind, before stopping at a secluded family house situated on the edge of the forest – a house that despite its physical closeness seems to be extremely far from the nature that surrounds it. The family consists of two daughters, Eva and Nell (played by Evan Rachel Wood and Ellen Page) and their widowed father, all of whom seem to be living in a near future that all too much resembles the world that we already live in. Disconnected from the world and nature around and all too dependable on the technology that is micromanaging every aspect of our personal, social and professional lives – this is the future that has already happened, with futuristically designed technology being the only indicator of the film being set in a period that is yet to happen. Each of them seems to be  pursuing their own thing, chasing their own dreams and trying to make the bright future ahead of them (they are living a privileged middle-class life after all) a reality, with Eva trying to make it as a professional dancer and Nell focusing on her education, possibly wishing to pursue her studies in an academic sphere. They know exactly what they need to do, how hard they need to work for it and what reward is awaiting for them in the end. That is until the power suddenly goes out nationwide in what is at first interpreted as a terrorist attack – only that the loss of power does not end up being a simple inconvenience that would last for a few days. Days instead turn into weeks and weeks into months.

When their father loses his life in an unfortunate accident and it starts to become clearer that life with electricity is the thing of the past, girls find themselves completely alone and entirely dependable on themselves – instead of on the patriarchal order that the father (and later, briefly, Nell’s boyfriend) represented so far. However, they (understandably) find it hard to switch their mindset to the new reality in which everything that was once an important part of their everyday life suddenly does not exist anymore and the expression “fugue state” that Nell is learning for her upcoming SAT’s before the power outage, starts to get a life of its own since the girls seem to be unable to let their old, comfortable and privileged lives go. Nell keeps on studying for the exams as if she is still about to finish high school and pursue her education at one of the Universities that she applied to, and Eva practices her dance routine, accompanied by nothing else but the frustrating sound of a metronome, as if the upcoming audition and a professional dance career is still something that will somehow happen.

They’re clearly in denial and they seem determined to keep on living their life as they did before, no matter how much the reality around them has changed. And while they slowly adapt to certain changes, learn to gather food in the forest and chop wood, they somehow still cannot fully acknowledge the permanence of their situation – which, considering how very different persons they are, culminates in quite a few sisterly disputes. It’s not until Nell temporarily leaves, although merely to pick blueberries in the woods, while Eva (alone and unable to defend herself) gets brutally raped (in what is one of the most devastating and powerful scenes in the film) that the two realize just how very important it is for them to stick together and how, no matter how strong and independent they otherwise are, they are completely helpless without one another.

It is only after the rape and Eva’s realization that she got pregnant during it that the fugue state slowly starts to dissolve – but it’s not until she actually gives birth that they fully accept their new reality and find the strength to not only leave, but destroy the life that they once lived (at least what has left of it).

Of course we are all too familiar with dystopian stories that focus on how the end of the world would affect our society as a whole. And it is in this aspect that Into the Forest manages to be a refreshing variation of those all-too-frequent macro-societal dystopian futures. Rozema surprisingly barely mentions the crisis that is going on in the city nearby (and elsewhere throughout the country) – instead, it focuses entirely on these two girls, on two particular individuals trying their best to learn to survive after the world as they knew it suddenly stops existing. But while I admire her intention of analysing how such crisis affects people on a micro level, the characters at times do not feel developed enough for us to contently spend an hour and a half in their company. We hardly learn anything about Eva and Nell that would make us see them as real persons – for which I blame a somewhat clumsily written screenplay (adapted for screen by Rozema herself) that doesn’t manage to portray the sister’s dynamic as well as it could have, despite Wood and Page giving fantastic performances and managing to carry the film forward even when they do not have much to work with.

The Basics:
Directed by: Patricia Rozema
Written by: Patricia Rozema (based on a novel by Jean Hegland)
Starring: Ellen Page, Evan Rachel Wood, Max Minghella, Callum Rennie
Running Time: 101 minutes
Year: 2015
Rating: 7

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A Year of Female Filmmakers: April

This was my fourth month of A Year of Female Filmmakers and I am happy to announce that I’ve already seen 70 new-to-me woman directed films this year (which is almost twice as much as in 2014 when I saw only 36 woman-directed films, out of 340)!

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014, written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour) –  an Iranian vampire spaghetti Western that will at times remind you of French New Wave films (Godard’s Breathless) and early Jim Jarmusch (especially Stranger Than Paradise). If we got Only Lovers Left Alive and What We Do in the Shadows last year, this is the vampire film of 2015 that is showing us that – after some bad years, thanks to the Twilight saga – vampire movies are finally back and they’re in better shape than ever.

Monsoon Wedding (2001, written by Sabrina Dhawan, directed by Mira Nair) – one of Mira Nair’s best known films, revolving around a traditional Punjabi Hindu wedding in Delhi. It won the Golden Lion at 2001 Venice Film Festival.

Saving Face (2012, co-directed by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy) – a documentary about acid attacks on women in Pakistan. One of the most shocking and devastating documentaries I’ve seen lately – I cried through the whole thing.

At Five in the Afternoon (2003, written and directed by Samira Makhmalbaf) – film about an ambitious woman trying to get an education in Afganistan after the defeat of the Taliban by an Iranian writer/director Samira Makhmalbaf, the daughter of Mohsen Makhmalbaf and one of the most influential directors of the Iranian New Wave.

Boys Don’t Cry (1999, written and directed by Kimberly Pierce) – a dramatization of real-life story of a trans man Brandon Teena who is beaten, raped and murdered by his male friends after they discover he’s transgender. One of Hilary Swank’s best roles to date. (This was actually a re-watch, but since I last saw it when I was 16, I decided to include it on the list. I’m also not sure if I truly appreciated the brilliance of this indie film back then).

Wasp (2003, written and directed by Andrea Arnold) – Arnold’s Oscar winning short film about a single, working class mother who is determined to not let her four children be an obstacle in her pursuit of rekindling a relationship with an ex-boyfriend. It has some strong parallels with Arnold’s real-life childhood, since she herself was one of four children that were brought up by a single mother in a working class family in Dartford, England.

Sherrybaby (2006, written and directed by Laurie Collyer) – Sherry is a young woman who is trying to get her life back on track after being released from prison. She’s finally clean from heroin and ready to rebuild her relationship with her daughter; but this turns out to be a lot harder than she expected. There is not nearly enough American films that would portray the life of working class families, less alone put a woman protagonist in the centre of such a story (Debra Granik and Kelly Reichardt are the only woman directors who come to mind that make films about the difficult lives of the lower class –  but it would be great to see more stories like this being told – without any moralizing about the “wrong life choices” or false hope in a better future). This is an uneasy film to watch, but a great one nonetheless – and I should also point out that Maggie Gyllenhaal’s is absolutely brilliant as Shelly (this is my favourite work of hers, besides Secretary ). She manages to give the character, who tries her best at rebuilding her life when all the odds (and people) are against her, an unbelievable depth and complexity.

The Notorious Bettie Page (2005, written and directed by Mary Harron) – a biographical film about 1950’s pin-up and bondage model Bettie Page, starring Gretchen Mol (probably best known for her portrayal of Gillian Darmondy in Boardwalk Empire).  There’s hardly a person who hasn’t heard of Bettie, but we don’t know much about her life beyond her fame as a pin-up model. This film portrays this model icon in a completely new light: as an ambitious and naive Christian woman who leaves Nashville after a failed marriage and being a victim of a gang rape, who is trying to turn her life around in New York by becoming an actress. But when she gets an opportunity to work as a model, she puts her acting career on hold and it’s not long before she becomes a star in the underground world of bondage aficionados…

I Shot Andy Warhol (1996, co-written and directed by Mary Harron) – I knew all about Valerie Solanas shooting Andy Warhol in 1968, but up until now I knew almost nothing about Solanas herself. This film focuses primarily on her life as a prostitute and a feminist activist, whose attempted murder of Warhol was a result of her paranoid schizophrenia. Lili Taylor is outstanding as Solanas and Stephen Dorff is completely unrecognisable in the role of Candy Darling.

Mississippi Masala (1991, written by Sooni Taraporevala, directed by Mira Nair) – Mira Nair’s second feature film that is exploring the Indian diaspora and the interracial romance between an African-American (Denzdel Washington) and Indian American (Sarita Choundhury) in rural Mississippi.

Kama Sutra – A Tale of Love (1996, written by Helena Kriel, directed by Mira Nair)

Films that I didn’t particularly cared for:

  • And While We Were Here (2013, written and directed by Kat Coiro)
  • L!fe Happens (2011, written by Krysten Ritter, directed by Kat Coiro)
  • Laurel Canyon (2002, written and directed by Lisa Cholodenko)
  • The Voices (2014, directed by Marjane Satrapi)
  • 2 Days in New York (2012, co-written and directed by Julie Delpy)
  • The Sisterhood of Night (2014, written by Marilyn Fu, directed by Caryn Waechter)

Films I didn’t like:

  • A Case of You (2013, directed by Kat Coiro)
  • Post Grad (2009, written by Kelly Fremon, directed by Vicky Jenson)
  • Foxfire (1996, co-written by Joyce Carol Oates and Elizabeth White, directed by Annette Haywood-Carter)

Respire (2014)

Respire is Mélanie Laurent’s second feature length film and although I still have to see her 2011 debut The Adopted, there’s no doubt that she’s an incredibly talented filmmaker. This coming of age film, adapted for screen by Julien Lambroschini and Laurent herself, may seem simple at first, considering it’s about a shy and introverted 17-year old who becomes friends with a wild, extroverted and rebellious new girl that transfers to her high school. However, the film quickly evolves into a compelling and multi-layered drama about a destructive and obsessive friendship that develops between the two teenage girls.

High school, teenagers and female friendships: this already sounds like a catastrophe that is bound to happen. Guys may not know how awful teenage girls can be (or they might, I don’t know), but I was a teenage girl not so long ago and I still remember those days all too vividly. I’m sure that guys have their own ways of expressing the confusion, anger and the overall awfulness of a particularly uneasy life stage called adolescence, but for girls it mostly means being manipulative and self-involved to the point of being insufferable. This is exactly how Sarah, who transfers to a new school in Paris after moving from Nigeria, acts and she immediately finds herself a new friend (or rather a victim of sorts) in an insecure, quiet and trusting Charlie. I was Charlie for so many times in my life that my head literally hurt when I was watching her being continuously manipulated by Sarah and getting isolated from the whole classroom when she finally managed to stand up for herself. Everything in this film was all too familiar: how she doesn’t say anything about it and quietly tortures herself, quite possibly even defending Sarah’s actions in her head (“she comes from a troubled family, she didn’t meant to do that, it’s probably all my fault” etc.). I liked how it remains unclear if Sarah’s really just a friend to somewhat awkward and inexperienced Charlie, or if their drunken kiss during the holidays actually results in her having romantic feelings towards her best friend. It’s obvious that Charlie’s deeply infatuated with Sarah, but the film leaves it to the viewer’s interpretation if she’s actually in love with her or if her obsession is just pure admiration, her wanting to be like Sarah in every aspect of her life.

You may say that the whole story is unbelievable or over the top, that Sarah is a complete psycho and that friends would never act like this. If you’re saying this, you’ve clearly never been a teenage girl. I’ve met my fair share of Sarah’s in my life – and it may not have ended so tragically as it does in the film, but it was certainly something that I won’t easily forget. This film was like watching my own life when I was 12 years old (slightly younger than Sarah and Charlie are) and while I didn’t like the memories it evoked, I loved the film and it’s realistic portrayal of how psychopathic and manipulative teenage girls can be.

This film consists of almost entirely female cast, which is an extremely rare and precious thing (there’s some male characters here and there, but none of them is really important for the plot: there’s Charlie’s mostly absent Croatian father, a high school teacher, Charlie’s mother’s new love interest and a couple of male classmates). It’s also unbelievably refreshing to see that Sarah and Charlie’s fallout isn’t because of a boy (which is usually the reason for women to fight on screen), but rather Sarah’s troubling secret being revealed, which results in Sarah declaring war to masochistic Charlie, who seems to think she deserves all the hell that comes her way. The film is also impressively multi-layered with details like Charlie’s treatment of her childhood friend Valerie, who is her closest friend up to the point when Sarah enters the picture. After that Valerie’s mostly ignored by Charlie, who for the first time in her life feels liberated and alive, all thanks to her being around the spontaneous Sarah. Her treatment of Valerie isn’t much different to how Sarah later treats Charlie herself. Some parallels can also be drawn between Charlie keeping quiet when being psychologically tortured in school, repeatedly forgiving Sarah for acting this way and her mother’s constant forgiveness to her father’s transgressions.

Laurent certainly proved that she’s more than a capable director and I’m looking forward to seeing more of her films. Relatively inexperienced lead actresses Joséphine Japy and Lou de Laâge also give strong performances, with Lou de Laâge’s portrayal of Sarah being particularly haunting and hard to forget.

I saw this film as a part of my Year of Female Filmmakers.

The Basics:
Directed by: Mélanie Laurent
Written by: Julien Lambroschini and Mélanie Laurent (based on a novel by Anne-Sophie Brasme)
Starring: Joséphine Japy, Lou de Laâge, Isabelle Carré, Claire Keim
Running Time: 91 minutes
Year: 2014
Rating: 8

Palo Alto (2013)

Palo Alto is a directorial debut of Gia Coppola (Francis Ford Coppola’s granddaughter and Sofia Coppola’s niece), based on James Franco’s collection of short stories which Gia herself adapted for screen. Sofia, currently one of the most acclaimed and recognizable female directors, was clearly a great influence on her 27-years old niece, who decided to follow her aunt’s footsteps into the world of cinema. It is also clear that Gia has talent and that her debut is not merely a result of nepotism, but Palo Alto‘s main problem is that it’s too similar to Sofia’s cinematic style (and little details, like a poster of Kirsten Dunst from The Virgin Suicides in April’s room are not particularly helping with that). This is a solid film debut, but only time will show if Gia’s capable of finding her own, authentic film style and step out of a shadow of her aunt’s career.

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Gia Coppola is not the only one from Palo Alto crew who comes from an established Hollywood family. Film’s main characters, Teddy and April (teenagers who are deeply infatuated with each other, but are unable to communicate their feelings), are played by Jack Kilmer (Val Kilmer’s son) and Emma Roberts (Julia Robert’s niece). Jack Kilmer does a great job playing a high school stoner who doesn’t quite know what he wants to do with his life, and his inexperience in acting makes Teddy’s struggles only more believable and authentic. Emma Roberts also does a fantastic job playing April, a somewhat dreamy girl who is trying to process all the emotions bottling inside of her. But a great surprise were also the supporting actors – extraordinary Nat Wolff as an arrogant, sociopathic and self-destructive Fred and Zoe Levin as Emily, who’s “never been in love” and tries to compensate her inability to emotionally connect with promiscuous behaviour, which only deepens her self-loathing and shatters her already low self-esteem. Coppola’s camera frequently stops in close-ups of her eyes, on her empty and sad look, which is probably a highpoint of Levin’s acting. Her eyes tell us more about her disconnection from everything and everyone, about her feeling of emptiness, than any words could.

Fred, who is hating everything and everyone around him, including himself, is a typical teenager who acts problematic and self-destructive in hope that someone will acknowledge his personal struggles. But no one seems to see past the surface of an idiot who brings nothing but trouble to anyone who spends time with him. Teddy, otherwise a shy and artistic guy, who is somehow intrigued and fascinated by Fred’s fearless behaviour, is probably his closest (if not the only) friend. But all he gets out of this friendship with Fred (who likes to live on the edge and is constantly pushing everyone around him beyond the boundaries of moral and acceptable) are his constant manipulations and community service.

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And then there’s April who comes from a family of narcissistic “new age” parents, too involved with themselves to ever fully acknowledge her existence. Her stepfather (Val Kilmer) spends his days smoking hashish and playing video games, while her mother spends every waking hour on the phone with her personal guru. Despite all that, April seems like a stable person who somehow manages to balance her life of a good student and of an outgoing, social person who never misses the parties on the weekends. But her life gets shaken to the core when a grinning James Franco enters the picture. Franco (or rather her soccer coach Mr. B), who is also a dad for whom April frequently babysits, soon makes April weak in her knees with his straightforward affection.

Palo Alto is mainly a film about the difficult transition from childhood to adolescence; it’s about first sexual experiences, falling in love and attending decadent parties. It’s also about the time of unbearably heightened emotions, confusion and the inability of reflective thinking. As adolescents we don’t really have any other choice than to wait for the difficult period to pass – and this is exactly what Teddy and April are doing when they’re continually filmed in their rooms staring into the wall, lying on the bed, talking to themselves. Gia Coppola perfectly infiltrates this feeling of the adolescence into the film – probably because she’s still young enough to remember it realistically and not with romantic nostalgia, as so many people often do. But it is exactly this feeling, the melancholy and hedonism of young people, that strongly reminds us of Sofia Coppola’s work. Gia is, just like her aunt, using empty spaces (children’s rooms, playgrounds) to indicate the melancholy feeling of the teenagers and other minimalistic details (Barbie dolls, teddy bears, paper unicorns on the walls) to show the contrast of the childhood and adolescence and the dilemmas of the protagonists, already teenagers, who are still clinging to their childhood and are not yet ready to completely grow up.

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Palo Alto is a great presentation of a lost generation that grew up with permissive parenting of narcissistic baby-boomers. But the audience is too often reminded of the fact that our protagonists are somehow still children. Gia’s camera is constantly stopping on the little childish details of their rooms, on their clothes and girlishly painted nails; so much, that the message slowly starts to lose its meaning. Emily’s character is also somewhat underdeveloped. We never get to know anything personal about her or about the reason of her promiscuous behaviour and constant objectification of herself. There is this one sequence with Frank’s voice-over narration where we get to know that she was a victim of a gang-rape for which he was responsible – but the crime is only briefly mentioned and never problematized. Nevertheless, it is a convincing film debut that leaves us in an anticipation of what will the young artist do next.

The Basics:
Directed by: Gia Coppola
Written by: Gia Coppola (adaptation of James Franco’s short stories)
Starring: Emma Roberts, Jack Kilmer, Nat Wolff, Zoe Levin, James Franco
Running Time: 100 minutes
Year: 2013
Rating: 7

The Internship (2013)

Imagine that you are an unsuccessful, uneducated, 40-something man-child who doesn’t know a thing about technology. And you were just let go from your job – from the only thing you were ever really good at. On top of all that the economy is bad, there are hardly any jobs available and even where they are, no one wants to hire a man in their 40’s. Sounds bad, right? Not really, no. In a world of Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson you have every chance of getting an internship – not just anywhere, but at Google! – and eventually even a job. Yes, let’s keep the American Dream alive, people!

I could go on forever about this ridiculous script. Another thing (besides the obvious message the film tries to deliver) that really bothered me was that almost all supporting characters were painfully stereotypic. We have an arrogant and pretentious British guy, so mean that he could easily be a long lost brother of Draco Malfoy. Then there’s an Asian geek/mathematic genius with very strict and conservative parents who only care about his professional success and don’t allow him any social life. There’s also a gloomy, “I’m so above you all” hipster guy, because let’s face it – it’s 2013 and it’s hip to have a character like that (or at least that’s probably what Vince Vaughn thought when he wrote this brilliant screenplay). And finally, there’s a character of 30-something career woman who needs to find a man to complete her self-realization. And this man is, of course, no other than infantile, incompetent Owen Wilson.

Anyhow, the main point of the film, hidden behind this badly written »comedy«, is to maintain the illusion of American Dream. There’s one scene where the younger members of the Wilson/Vaughn team are worrying about their future – because no matter what schools you attend and how much time and effort you put into education, it is not guaranteed that you’ll land a good job. American Dream is dead. But is it really? Wilson and Vaughn try to comfort the audience and show them that the American Dream is still very much alive. You don’t need any education, any experience, you don’t even have to know how to work with a computer to land a job at Google (or anywhere for that matter) and to turn your life around and start from scratch. No matter how old you are – everything is possible! If you’re a middle-aged white male from a middle-class family, of course.

The Basics:
Directed by: Shawn Levy
Written by: Vince Vaughn and Jared Stern
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, Rose Byrne
Running Time: 119 minutes
Year: 2013
Rating: 1

Obvious Child (2014)

The film opens with Donna Stern (played by Jenny Slate from Saturday Night Live and Parks and Recreation) doing a stand-up routine in a club in Brooklyn. And then, right after her spontaneous, funny, honest and confessional (although somewhat preoccupied with bodily functions) performance, she gets dumped by her cheating boyfriend in the club’s unisex bathroom. She’s heartbroken and as if that’s not enough – she finds out that the bookstore where she works during daytime (brilliantly named Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books) is about to close. But because she is the obvious child of the film, she handles her situation in the most mature way – she gets wasted, has a painfully bad performance at the club, gets even more wasted, meets a guy, has a rebound one-night stand – and then goes on living her life, without ever imagining seeing Max (a somewhat square but nice guy that she took advantage of) again. But things don’t go as planned – she soon finds out that she got pregnant during that drunken night. Does she tells him about the pregnancy? She doesn’t even know the guy. And she also doesn’t plan to keep the baby. She’s still far from being a grown-up (even though she’s pushing thirty) and not at all ready to be a mother. Not to mention that she doesn’t have a job. She can barely afford to get an abortion – how could she ever afford to support a child?

I admit, I expected another comedy similar to Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up (that hardly even mentions a possibility of abortion – the only implication of it is in the following cowardly sentence: “I won’t say it, but it rhymes with shmashmortion.“) or Jason Reitman’s Juno (where the option of abortion is considered for exactly 5 minutes – Ellen Page quickly changes her mind after being verbally attacked by Christian Asian girl and decides that giving the child up for adoption is the right (moral) thing to do). But Obvious Child is nothing like that. Abortion is not considered as amoral, wrong or as a bad word that should be avoided. Instead, Robespierre takes a very clear pro-choice side by making a film (wrongfully accused of being an “abortion comedy”) that’s simply trying to say that if a woman doesn’t feel ready (emotionally, financially or both) to have a child, it is her right to choose not to give birth. It’s about time that we got a film like that – that doesn’t moralize, but deals with this serious topic realistically and with a great deal of brilliant and intelligent wit. It is also about time that this issue got presented from a woman’s point of view. Both Knocked Up and Juno dealt with unwanted pregnancy, but both times the view on pregnancy was presented from a man’s perspective  – as it usually is in Hollywood, where female directors and writers are still terribly rare and underrepresented (even Sex and the City, one of the most popular TV shows for female audiences was entirely written and directed by males!).

This film is funny, witty, intelligent and above all – it has this fresh approach to women’s issues that only a female writer/director could provide. Obvious Child is Gillian Robespierre’s film debut starring Jenny Slate who will make you fall in love with Donna even when her sense of humour is on a verge of disgusting (seriously, all that talk about peeing and farting?). The supporting cast is also great, but I especially have to point out Gaby Hoffmann who plays Donna’s feminist best friend Nellie:

Why do you care whether he needs to know or not? You are the one who has to get this procedure and pay for it, okay? You think if he was pregnant, he would be worrying about you right now? No. You guys, we already live in a patriarchal society where a bunch of weird old white men in robes get to legislate our cunts. You just need to be worrying about yourself.

I didn’t believe – until the very end – that Donna will go through with it. I saw so many Hollywood films with pregnant protagonists who considered having an abortion, but who always change their mind at the very last minute, that I found it hard to believe this film will manage to break the pattern. But it did. This is one of the first American films with a really clear pro-choice message; a film that is not afraid to speak about the problem that almost every woman eventually deals with, but is still mainly considered a taboo. And even though the story is mainly about abortion (that happens on a Valentine’s Day, I may add), this doesn’t mean that Obvious Child is in any way unromantic. On the contrary – it is in many aspects a very romantic, as well as entertaining story, that also manages to deliver a very strong message to the viewers: firstly, if I put it in Donna’s own words: “Don’t play Russian roulette with your vagina.“; and secondly, if you by any (drunken) chance do and you get pregnant, it is okay to decide for whatever option you want.

The Basics:
Directed by: Gillian Robespierre
Written by: Gillian Robespierre, Karen Maine and Elisabeth Holm
Starring: Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffmann
Running Time: 84 minutes
Year: 2014
Rating: 7.5

Sailing to Paradise (2014)

I’ve been working as a volunteer at the Festival of Slovenian Film for the past week and Sailing to Paradise (with original title Pot v raj) was sadly just one of two films that I managed to see there. But since it won the Audience Award and because a lot of people asked me what I thought about it during the festival when I was too tired to adequately form my thoughts, I decided to write a short review now that I’m rested and able to think properly.

Sailing to Paradise was directed by Blaž Završnik, who was also one of film’s co-writers, together with its main stars, Klemen Janežič and Ajda Smrekar. Janežič plays physics student Žak who suddenly loses both of his parents in a car crash and embarks on a sailing trip in search of peace and solitude. But his trip is interrupted by Lučka who desperately wants a travel companion and manages to convince him to take her sailing.

The first part of the film, where Žak’s travelling on foot from his home to Slovenian seaside, is very similar to Sean Penn’s Into the Wild, while later, when Lučka comes by and disturbs his trip to nowhere, film starts to look like a Slovenian remake of Linklater’s Before Sunrise – although none of the characters is even remotely as well written as Celeste and Jesse in Linklater’s masterpiece. On the contrary, the screenplay is probably the film’s weakest point and the characters are somehow hard to connect to. For the first half of the film, Lučka is nothing but annoying – she seems more like a caricature of some spoiled girl from the city than a real person. Everything about her is exaggerated to the point that her dialogues seem unbelievable and disruptive. But in the second half her character suddenly turns out to be a complex person, full of unexpected depth. Her monologue towards the end is definitely the highlight of the film – it is one of it’s most real, raw and emotional moments, since probably everyone of us knows a person (or two) with the same controlling parents who suffocate their children with high expectations and with making life decisions in their name long into their adult life. And then there’s Žak who doesn’t really speak for the first half of the film. But when he finally starts opening up, when he confides in Lučka about his recent tragic loss, there is no emotional connection with the character whatsoever – he leaves us cold and indifferent.

I already mentioned the similarities with Into the Wild and Before Sunrise – but there is also this one scene (just look at the picture above) that was almost identical to Polanski’s Knife in the Water. I usually don’t mind if the film uses references to other, older films (like Frances Ha did with it’s dancing sequence that was a reference to Denise Lavant’s dancing in Carax’s Mauvais sang) – but I am sure that this particular scene was not meant as a reference. There was also a lot of forced “comic” moments that seemed unnecessary and out of place, as if a film didn’t want to end up being “too serious” and threw a few jokes in to lighten up the mood.

While I have quite a few reservations about the film, there are still some things that stood out. The cinematography was beautiful – there was quite a lot of breathtaking shots of Croatian seaside and Lev Predan Kowarski really did a wonderful job as a director of photography. The soundtrack is also outstanding. But film as a whole lacks something – it has almost no depth and the characters, at least for the most part of the film, seem shallow. This film had every chance to be a deep character study, but ended up being a light drama/romantic comedy, probably because they wanted to please the widest audience possible. As a result, this ended up being a film that will probably have a great commercial success, but it (justifiably) didn’t impress this year’s Jury at the Festival of Slovenian Film. They completely overlooked this crowd-pleaser and chose to give the Film of the Year award to a (political) documentary Boj za by Siniša Gačić for which I loudly applaud them.

The Basics:
Directed by: Blaž Završnik
Written by: Blaž Završnik, Klemen Janežič and Ajda Smrekar
Starring: Klemen Janežič, Ajda Smrekar
Running Time: 80 minutes
Year: 2014
Rating: 6