Festivals

LIFF – Day 6 (or, how I learned to stop worrying and love killing hedgehogs)

After the mad rush of the past few days, it came with welcome relief to find that I only had two films on the itinerary for the sixth day of the festival, both within a minute’s walk of my house. The first of the two offerings was an agreeable treat; The Two in Tracksuits (Yoshihiro Nakamura, Japan, 2009) was made in the same country as the film that preceeded it on the schedule, the horrendous Departures, but thankfully it is a far cry;  both the drama and comedy onscreen is understated, mellow and quietly affecting.

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A father and his son head out to their holiday cabin in the mountains to escape the complexities of life and the painful heatwave of the city. Once there, they don their trademark tracksuits, eat way too many tomatoes and – a common problem for all of us – try in vain to achieve phone signal, all the while contemplating their relationships. The strength of the film lies in the basic human interaction, which between each player feels natural enough. All significant moments are delivered with subtle, yet potent staying power, and the camera calmly lingers unobtrusively in extended wide shots, capturing the goings on inside and outside the holiday cabin. The film’s pace is as slow and relaxing as a vacation in the mountains ought to be, with the subtle quirkiness never irking or grating, simply because it never gets too loud for its own good. After surviving Departures, I was relieved to find that this particular offering actually succeeded in painting a modest picture of familial relationships and communication that had a character all of its own; simply put, it didn’t feel as though it had borrowed from the Hollywood rulebook.

Following that passable, pleasant experience came its harrowing antithesis; the stark, bleak darkness of Wolfy (Vasili Sigarev, Russia, 2009) was overwhelming and tough to watch in places. Here is a tale of child abuse and neglect, shown from the perspective of the child, that pulls you into a dark place and has you bear witness to everything. Given an insight  into the child’s tormented psychological state, we see her talk to the dead, kill a hedgehog and commit other confusing acts as a result of the way she is treated; these instances are presented through impeccable imagery that conveys her vulnerability and insignifcance under the care of her whore mother.

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When taken into the house and forced to spend time with this callous woman, we find the lighting becomes the star of the show, as the surroundings evoke an environment of morbidity and repugnance, with rooms bathed in a shadow that plays on the psyche on each of the characters. Mirrors are used effectively to distort a sense of place inside the rooms of the house. As we endure with the young girl the malevolent existence spent with her mother, the tension continues to build quietly under the surface, and when the difficult catharsis finally arrives, it comes as almost  a relief, and yet, at the same time regrettably unfortunate. With a highly capable child performance at its core, coupled with striking cinematography that competently expresses the pains of an inescapable quagmire, Wolfy proves to be an emotionally draining yet visually exquisite tragedy.

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