Sunday, May 9, 2010

Beyond the Film Festival

Just when you thought I was done commenting on films … I saw one final entry on Thursday night, a Norwegian film called North. It’s a comedy-drama about an ex-skier named Jomar who suffers from anxiety attacks and also has the bad habit of inadvertently setting buildings on fire. His girlfriend left him four years ago and moved to the far north (and in Norway, that's almost all the way.) When he learns from the rival who took his place that he now has a four-year-old son, he summons the courage (armed with an ample supply of pills but not quite enough booze) to jump on a snowmobile and head for the Arctic Circle.

Jomar is an enigmatic and not especially likable hulk, though he has one signal virtue—no matter how much he drinks, he never gets drunk. Yet this quality can take us only so far, and much of the film’s interest derives from the people he meets along the way. During an attack of snow-blindness he’s taken in by a young girl named Lotte and her grandma, and some of the film’s most charming scenes take place during this episode, which is reminiscent of parts of Wim Wenders’ early film Alice in the Cities (1974)—and that’s high praise indeed. Jomar also meets up with several other odd characters, including a ninety-year-old Sami who’s ice-fishing from a teepee in the middle of a frozen lake—chained to a snowmobile.

The mountainous, snow-covered landscapes are stunning, and when Jomar finally reaches his destination… But the ending is not the point. The point is: here are people and arctic landscapes like you’ve never seen before (though they’re strangely familiar) in a film that will never be widely released because it’s too short and doesn’t have enough plot twists to satisfy a fourteen-year-old boy.

Another point—a point of contrast. The Ghostwriter. A taut and stylish little thriller by Roman Polanski, expertly crafted from start to finish. Quite entertaining, though there is not a single character in it who’s outside the common mold. Every scene furthers the plot. And what do we learn? That the CIA controls the world. I find that hard to believe, but in any case, it’s hard to prove. (And even if you do, so what?) I’m a Polanski fan and I liked The Ghostwriter quite a bit, but I’d rather spend some time fishing in the arctic.

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