Along with a great novelist’s assumed ability to peer into the human soul and all that, Thomas Hardy added two key obsessions: land and time. Hardy knew the soil of his English countryside, knew the trees and animals, and the way a footpath connects farms and destinies. He also knew how the turning of the seasons affected people, and how those same footpaths resonated with the steps of ancestors near and distant.
Thomas Vinterberg’s new version of Far From the Madding Crowd gets just about all of that wrong. And immediately, too: The film throws away the great moment when Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan)—having assured herself that no one could be watching—leans back on her horse in an unladylike manner, a gesture surreptitiously witnessed by salt-of-the-earth farmer Gabriel Oak (Belgian rising star Matthias Schoenaerts). If a movie can’t understand how that gesture shapes the futures of these characters, it won’t get much else right.
Thomas Vinterberg not only spearheaded the Dogme 95 movement with Lars von Trier, he made people pay attention to it with his 1998 feature The Celebration (aka Festen), a searing family drama of raw emotion, primal rage, and healing solidarity strewn with dark humor and discomforting situations. The Hunt is not bound to the self-imposed restrictions of the Dogme movement but otherwise it returns to the same intensity of volatile emotions and social transgressions. It’s uncompromising and uncomfortable, a film that had me knotted up in anxiety yet unable to turn away, and it’s Vinterberg’s best film since The Celebration.
Mads Mikkelsen stars as Lucas, a dedicated teaching assistant at a pre-school in a small town in Denmark, and Annika Wedderkopp is Klara, the pre-school-age girl who adores this gentle man, a family friend whose warm presence is an escape from the tension at home. In a moment of childish pique after he admonishes her for kissing him on the lips (“That’s reserved for Mom and Dad,” he insists), she spits out some angry comments mixed with sexually-suggestive phrases overheard from her brother and his porn-obsessed buddies. She clearly has no idea what these words actually mean and there is no malicious intent, merely a child blowing off steam, but the ambiguous comments quite rightly lead to an investigation of possible child sexual abuse.
Fast & Furious 6 (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD, On Demand) was never meant to be an epitaph for Paul Walker, the lean, blue-eyed lead who, after a couple of misfire sequels, reunited with co-star Vin Diesel and revived the fuel-injected franchise into an international hit machine. But regardless of what happens with the seventh installment, which Walker was in the midst of shooting when he was killed in a car wreck during a break, this will stand as the final film in the series where Walker takes a full lead.
Walker shares those duties with Diesel, his brother-in-law and partner in speed-charged car heists, and Dwayne Johnson, returning as a federal agent who recruits the team to help him shut down an international ring of thieves. It’s all about family and the absurdly contrived plot brings one of their family back from the dead: Michelle Rodriguez has lost her memory but not her bad-ass driving skills as a member of the criminal crew. Not that the script makes much difference beyond providing comic relief between the action set pieces, and even that feels like it’s just padding. Rodriguez commits to her role with such investment in the idea of a person discovering her true identity that her character transcends the silly twist. The rest of the cast are little more than pilots driving their characters through the obstacle course of the plot. Which is pretty much all this busy franchise calls for.
Director Justin Lin, who rejuvenated the franchise with his supercharged approach of precision driving, runaway momentum, and physics bent to the crazed stunts of this gearhead fantasy, embraces the spectacle and lets the performers simply do their thing between the stunts. Jordana Brewster is pretty sidelined here but Tyrese Gibson, Sung Kang, Gal Gadot and Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges are all back, with Gina Carano joining the team as a federal agent and Luke Evans leading the rival crew.
Features commentary by Justin Lin, “The Making of Fast & Furious 6,” a set visit with Vin Diesel, and deleted scenes. Exclusive to the Blu-ray is an extended version of the film and five additional featurettes plus a DVD and UltraViolet Digital HD copies.
The Hunt (Magnolia, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital, On Demand) is Thomas Vinterberg’s best film since The Celebration and, no surprise, it mines similar themes and volatile emotions that are churned up the surface. Mads Mikkelsen stars as a dedicated teaching assistant at a pre-school who, through a misunderstanding, is put under investigation for child abuse, a smoldering suspicion that is fanned into a conflagration as the community passes judgment without waiting for the investigation to conclude. It’s a study in rumor and fear fueling self-righteous hysteria as one-time friends not only turn their back on him, they suddenly feel free to treat him like a convicted war criminal somehow free in a technicality. The emotions are raw and primal, not just the townsfolk fueled by a sense of betrayal but Mikkelsen’s abused innocent, fighting back with an equally valid fury of betrayal. But it’s more of a metaphor pushed to extremes than a realistic portrait, ignoring the gross negligence of supposedly serious and responsible officials and suggesting that the entire town turns a blind eye to the vigilante behavior of its citizens. It sure works on our emotions, though, while it reminds us of the power of fear to turn responsible people into very scary creatures.
Danish with English subtitles, with the featurette “The Making of The Hunt,” deleted scenes, and an alternate ending.
You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet (Kino Lorber, DVD) is a reminder that sometime the old dogs have the most creative approaches to modern storytelling. Alain Resnais direct this melding of two plays by Jean Anouilh and he pays tribute to the joys of theater in a marvelously cinematic fashion. A magnificent line-up of French acting greats (among them Mathieu Amalric, Pierre Arditi, Sabine Azéma, Anne Consigny, Hippolyte Girardot, Michel Piccoli, Lambert Wilson and longtime Resnais muse Sabine Azéma) play versions of themselves, performers who watch a new production of a play they once starred in and end up reenacting their own versions in tandem, aging actor reincarnating the young lovers of the Orpheus and Eurydice story. What a magnificent celebration of the transformative magic of theater and performance. French with English subtitles, no supplements.
Mads Mikkelsen plays a serial killer on TV’s Hannibal, but in Thomas Vinterberg’s study of rumors and self-righteous hysteria in a Danish village, he’s a compassionate preschool teacher who falls under wrongful suspicion of child sexual abuse. Adorable little Klara (Annika Wedderkopp) lives under a cloud of anxiety at home, where the verbal scuffles of a troubled marriage makes her shrink in dread. Mikkelsen’s Lucas, a trusted friend of the family, is the most stable and comforting adult in her life, and she clings to him like a lifeline.
When Klara pours out a confused but alarming string of inappropriate phrases she heard spoken by teenage boys, mixed with misguided anger toward Lucas, alarm bells go off. The police investigation is leaked to the public before it’s even begun, then suspicion about Lucas spreads like a virus through the community. Everyone assumes he’s guilty.
Vinterberg works in the same key of personal transgression and raw, inchoate emotion that made his 1998 The Celebration so effective.
Vancouver isn’t the critical/awards bellwether that Toronto or Venice or New York or even Telluride can claim to be, but this year its international line-up offers an interesting contrast in temperaments.
On the one hand, there is the cinema of issues and big statements carried by a dour seriousness and emotional heaviness (one might say manipulation), defined in particular by Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt (Denmark/Sweden) and Michael Haneke’s Amour (France/Germany/Austria). On the other is the serious engagement of cinematic creativity and narrative mystery and surprise in Leos Carax’s Holy Motors (France/Germany) and Raul Ruiz’s Night Across the Street (Chile/France). Here the themes are not hammered into the skulls and skin of the audience but juggled through celebrations of joyous filmmaking and deft play with the possibilities of the medium.
Vinterberg’s The Hunt, a study in rumor and fear fueling self-righteous hysteria, and Haneke’s Amour, an unflinching, almost clinic portrait in the physical deterioration and emotional fallout of old age and debilitating illness), frame their subjects with a mix of objectivity and compassion, and then stack the decks to set out protagonists in opposition to the world. It’s not enough that they face such dire predicaments, but their allies all turn against them. In The Hunt, best friends turns their backs on Mads Mikkelsen, and in Amour, the daughter of the ailing old Emmanuelle Riva repeats clichés instead of educating herself on her condition or offering substantive help in caring for her.