Eskil Vogt’s Blind plays tricks on the viewer. Ingrid has adult-onset blindness, the result of a congenital defect, and has to continuously adapt to a world she can no longer see. Her visual imagination retains images of what she imagines things to be, but she even comes clean to being an unreliable narrator. An early scene of the movie has Ingrid lying next to her husband in bed, but she cannot see his expressions. She hears him typing on the computer, but cannot see the screen. She imagines him sexting with an online girl. But, then she says that he probably wouldn’t do that, so he’s back to e-mailing. But, what if he was sexting? Vogt, in turn, realizes Ingrid’s free-flowing fantasies and insecurities, constructing a reality that isn’t necessarily real.
In turn, Blind is asking the viewer to notice what eyesight brings to the table. When Ingrid opens the dishwasher for loading, her microwave finishes. She grabs the food, turns to get a fork, and bumps into the open dishwasher door spilling the food onto the floor and doors. As a result, she has to feel around the floor in order to properly clean the mess. This type of common visual confirmation is constantly repeated as she thinks her husband, or maybe its her ex, silently enters her apartment during the day to watch her. And, if he’s watching, maybe the pervert in the building across the street is too. And, he’s probably watching a different woman, a younger and prettier one, as well. Or, is this all fictional?
Vogt’s meta-narrative eventually settles into a wickedly funny straight-forward narrative, one that humanizes Ingrid by giving her flaws, insecurities and doubts as well as strengths and power. Vogt also uses the structure to critique the visual medium itself, challenging the viewer’s unchecked obedience to the images that directors present. By challenging our obedience, Vogt also challenges the one-true-side-to-a-story concept, giving credence to both fantasy and critical thought, while simultaneously telling us how important visual confirmation is. With such complex and conflicting ideas, it’s a wonder that Blind doesn’t fall down like a house of cards, especially for a first time director, but Vogt’s film is sure-handed and powerful straight out of the gate.
Erika Frankel’s documentary King Georges suffers from being too singular of vision. Frankel follows French chef Georges Perrier, whose restaurant Le Beq-Fin was once a globally-reknowned high-end French restaurant in Philadelphia, as he struggles with the oncoming train of modernization and old age. When Le Beq-Fin opened in 1970, Georges Perrier decked it out with rococo decor and a full fledged multi-course dinner experience of traditional food. 40 years later, and Perrier hasn’t updated the restaurant one bit, with everything seeming a little more run down. Pipes burst, gas leaks, and other sorts of falling apart emergencies plague the restaurant as Perrier struggles to keep it afloat.
Behind the scenes, Perrier is a monster of Gordon Ramsay proportions. He wakes up at 4am to go to the markets and buy fresh food. He runs his kitchen with a bipolar iron fist, where one minute he’s sweet and nice, and the next he’s screaming, swearing, and throwing plates of burnt food on the floor. Perrier’s protege head chef, then-future Top Chef: New Orleans‘s Nicholas Elmi, takes it all with a viewpoint of awe and “Yes Chef” subservience. After all, he’s being trained to follow in Perrier’s footsteps if Perrier ever retired. Meanwhile, all of the servers and other sub-chefs are emotionally taxed, drained, and otherwise fit to be tied.
Perrier’s monstrous demeanor, complete with the trauma showing in his employees’ faces, recall last year’s Academy Award – Best Picture nominee Whiplash, where an abusive mentor trains a student to fight for his best in the face of traumatizing adversity. Frankel’s doc states that the behavior of an angry French chef was considered cute and exotic in the 1970s, but today seems raw and abusive. Meanwhile, food critics say that all of Philadelphia’s best chefs have trained under Perrier’s tutelage. Frankel takes caution never to be too damning of Perrier’s behavior while still showing the full force of his aggression.
All of this almost takes a backseat to Frankel’s construction which features a lot of bad documentary cinematography and some amazing sound. The structure has a few innate twists that happen naturally to the doc and aren’t lies to the audience. Still, King Georges could have used one more polish in the editing room. It’s just a little too raw for a documentary this unsubstantial and inconsequential.
Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary The Look of Silence, the companion (or follow-up or sequel) documentary to The Act of Killing, takes a far more intimate look at the Indonesian genocide leading to the rise of power. Oppenheimer frames the movie through the eyes of Adi, an optometrist who fits villagers with new glasses. Adi is also the brother of Ramli, a victim of the massive genocide against Communists in Indonesia. Ramli’s death is one of the more vicious and famous of the murders whose death was celebrated in books created by some of the killers. 45 years after Ramli’s death, Adi rakes up the muck by interviewing other villagers, and then the killers.
Meanwhile, Adi is intimately close with his possibly-95-year-old mother who cares for his dementia-ridden 103-year-old father who can barely tell what’s coming and going. Much like the surreal fantasy sequences in The Act of Killing, Oppenheimer uses Adi’s home life, and more especially that of his father, as a framing device/metaphor for the pain of forgotten memories. Since viewing the film, I have been struggling with whether or not candid scenes with a dementia-ridden old man is beautifully painful or exploitative. On the one side, it’s an image of reality rarely depicted with such rawness and pain. On the other, it’s almost overdone even as a metaphor and provoked uncomfortable laughter in the audience.
Aside from his father, Adi’s story is perfectly confrontational and answers about as many questions as it leaves open. The people he confronts don’t provide the answers he needs or wants, but whether they provide insight into his worldview, or he theirs, is compelling and vital. While The Act of Killing floated the idea that the killers were wrong in their egotism, one of the most compelling interviews in The Look of Silence asserts that it was a revolution and all revolutions are going to have death. Perhaps The Look of Silence is great in that it challenges our own thought processes, but it possesses a different challenge from The Act of Killing, one more challenging and nuanced.
Contrasting to all that deep thought, Chris Evans’ Before We Go is the definition of a vanity project. Evans produced, financed, directed, and starred in this rip-off of Before Midnight as an excuse to kiss and hug Alice Eve in a few different New York locales. Credited to four different screenwriters, Before We Go doesn’t have a single great line or thought in its head. Worse still, neither Chris Evans nor Alice Eve appear less than fully dressed. Before We Go, you had one job, to show Chris Evans shirtless, and you failed.
Chris Evans is Nick, a down-on-his-luck trumpet player who is avoiding a friend’s reception because an ex is hanging out at the party with a significant date. Alice Eve is Brooke, an art dealer who misses the last train out of Grand Central Station to Boston. When Brooke runs to miss her train, she drops and breaks her phone in front of panhandling Nick, who picks up the pieces and hands them to her where they confirm the phone is broken. Metaphor. She has to make it home before her husband returns from his trip at 8am, but she lost her purse and Nick is broke as a joke. So, they go walking and try a variety of things while telling each other about their lives.
Worse than the screenplay is the acting. Chris Evans is a terrible actor, and he has no chemistry with Alice Eve whatsoever. The biggest feeling I had for Brooke was sadness that she (and, by proxy Alice Eve) had to walk around all night in high heeled boots. Ow, her feet. They’re both emotional messes but neither of them reflect it because Evans the director wants the audience to fall in love with them. As a result, the couple is nowhere near as compelling as Delpy and Hawke were in Before Sunrise. Besides, the goal-orientation plotting constantly neuters any development of characterization, as both Brooke and Nick are compelled to tell us what they just did, that we also saw. Just, no.
The second week of midnight screenings kicks off with The Nightmare, a documentary about sleep paralysis by Rodney Ascher, director of Room 237. Ascher interviewed a variety of English-speaking individuals from around the country and globe who have all experienced sleep paralysis, and splices them into a narrative of repetition and re-enactments. Ascher compares and contrasts the variety of dreams, which can include 3D shadow men, red-eyed demons and feelings of dread, while recreating the nightmares in a manner most commonly attributed to mid-90s tv newsmagazine shows.
What you think of The Nightmare may depend on what you want out of The Nightmare. People looking for more information into the phenomenon, either crazy insight or sober scientific analysis, are left high and dry. Is it aliens? Demons? Ghosts? Brain chemistry? Ascher doesn’t dive deeply into any of these ideas, leaving them as unexplored as possible. If you enjoy listening to people ramble on about their dreams, you’re going to have a much easier time with this movie.
The big question is: Is The Nightmare scary? And, to be fairly honest, I cannot answer that question. I wasn’t remotely scared, in part due to the annoying reaction of the very scared girl behind me. My friends, in a different part of the theater, also said they weren’t scared but also had annoying talkative people behind them. The girl behind me kept mumbling/talking at the screen, very worriedly, “Oh yeah,” “Da fuq,” “No way,” and “yuhhuh.” She seemed freaked out, despite the chintziness of the re-enactments. So, your mileage may vary. A lot.
Next Entry: A lot of James Franco and a lot of Death