The Square

And so here we are. Another year, another film festival. This one’s got heaps of goodies to explore – screenings of Nikita, some exciting looking horror, the who-knows-what-it-will-be-like craziness of Dave Made A Maze… And once again, pass in hand, I’m going to as many as possible. And writing up as many as possible here. Will I make it to the end? Will I give up writing reviews halfway through? Will I fall asleep in the comfy seats at the Everyman (again)? Who knows?

So without further ado, onto the first film of the year!

The Square won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. This makes it serious cinema. Not a serious film, you understand, but serious cinema. A proper film. A film that people-who-know-about-film think is a really good film.

I didn’t much like it.

We follow museum curator Christian (Claes Bang) in his descent from suave media-savvy middle class chic to broken man, rummaging through the bins. Via daylight robbery, one-night stands, threatening letters, showdowns with children, and a monkey impersonator. So far, so good.

But the film sacrifices what little it has by way of narrative for a series of spectacular set-pieces. I can be as negative as I like about this film but I could never deny that it has some truly memorable (and toe-curling!) scenes. Similarly, there’s no escaping that its a beautiful film: some of the shots are absolutely stunning.

The strength of these elements only serves to throw the things it lacks into stronger contrast though. Put simply: I don’t care. Every other character in the film only really serves as a backdrop against which Christian’s flaws can be demonstrated – we scarcely see a conversation in which he is not involved. And at the end of the day that means I spent two and a half hours watching a man make some crummy decisions, employ a PR agency straight out of Nathan Barley, alienate everyone he should be close to, etc. etc. etc.

It looks amazing. Bits of it are fantastic. But as a film it just doesn’t hit the right notes. (But I’m not the Cannes jury…)

Here Is Harold

I’ve not seen a lot of Scandinavian comedies but it does seem that most of the ones I have seen tend to find comedic events born out of very bleak times. This may well reflect the programmers of the Leeds Film Festival more than it does Scandinavian comedy. I don’t know. Either way, the really very funny Here is Harold starts from a premise that couldn’t get much bleaker.

Harold and Marny run a furniture shop in a town in Norway. They have a happy life and all seems well. And then IKEA builds a store next door. Cue downward spiral of loss of earnings, Margot’s loss of mind and other sadness. Its not a cheery start. And it doesn’t get much better when Harold shares his plan to revenge-kidnap the founder of IKEA to his divorced, jobless, alcoholic son. Happily, things do perk up from there. Sort of.

We get whisked off to Sweden for a madcap adventure to kidnap Kamprad, the IKEA founder, and possibly ransom or blackmail him. Unexpectedly, he finds the whole affair a lot more exciting than threatening and the adventure rocks back and forth between plot and farce. It’s fabulous stuff.

Drinks
Anspach and Hobday Smoked Brown Beer – I’ve not heard of these guys before. They’re a London based brewery and their brown ale, it turns out, is great.

Schneider Vs Bax

This is something pretty refreshing. Schneider Vs. Bax treads a weirdly delicate balance between being a black comedy and a genuine, straight-faced thriller. Amidst contract killers, drug abuse, fractured family relationships and whole bunch of swamp and reeds we find ourselves in a Finnish drama that veers between being a bit silly and being very serious.

I’ve no idea what I’d expected – the Liff programme had it billed as a kind of farce and – in parts – that’s more or less accurate. Elsewhere it’s as tense a drama as you could ask for as tooled-up killers hunt their prey in the swampland. The master stroke of the film is its neutral position. You’re rarely less than sympathetic with either side of the Schneider Vs Bax conflict and it makes for a weird viewing. Usually when someone on screen is looking to shoot someone else you’re viewing it from a firmly partisan perspective: you want one of them to win. Here though, it’s just fascinating to watch it all unfold.

Truly solid film. I’d happily watch this one again.

Drinks
A can of Rooster’s Baby Faced Assassin for this one. It’s a punchy, strong IPA that you could easily drink far too much of. And Assassin is clearly a very fitting beer for the film!