EIFF 2012 in Retrospect: Either Way

Either_Way_Still1

Finnbogi (Sveinn Ólafur Gunarsson) and Alfred (Hilmar Guojónsson) are tasked with painting the dividing lines on a deserted road in the majestic Icelandic landscape. Isolated from the city, with only each other for company week in, week out, the yellow lines on the road come to represent a point at which two mens’ opposing personalities cause a rift between them, both hilarious and tragic.

Aside from Finnbogi’s relationship with Alfred’s sister, the two men have almost nothing in common, Alfred preferring clubbing and the pursuit of women whereas Finnbogi likes fishing and reading. Minimalist in action and plot, much of the pleasure of Either Way comes from the inevitable humour arising from Finnbogi and Alfred’s very different values.

In one highly droll scene, Alfred gives a detailed chronological account of his two days back in the city spent attempting to party hard and find a woman to sleep with. Finnbogi listens attentively as he (and in turns the audience) live vicariously through Alfred. With so little action set amidst the glorious mountainous terrain, Alfred’s tale of his own ineptitude becomes fascinating, and absurdly funny. At several points in the film, Finnbogi and Alfred are visited by a truck driver who, oddly, plies them with alcohol in a rather insistent and random celebration of their hard work. Deciding they need to cut loose from their repetitive routine, the tow men indulge a little too heavily in their gifted drink, breaking the silence of the valley with their elated cheers and laughter.

Cinematographer Áarni Filippusson (who worked on the Sigur Rós documentary Heima) places the magnificence of the Icelandic country centre stage and the landscape in Either Way becomes the film’s third character. The cinematography, scenery and the brilliantly witty dialogue are just a few of the many pleasures of writer and director Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurosson’s debut feature film.

This piece originally appeared in the EIFF Catalogue 2012. The film is available to watch on the Filmhouse Player

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EIFF 2012 in retrospect: Papirosen

Ostensibly a home-movie portrait, Papirosen (the title refers to a Yiddish song about an orphaned boy who sells cigarettes to survive) becomes so much more than that. Carefully interweaving his own footage covering a ten-year period in the life of his Argentine Jewish family with that of Super 8 recordings stretching back to the 1960’s, Gastón Solnicki’s film reveals the intricacies of familial ties. Beginning with the birth of his nephew, Mateo, and documenting the small and big moments in his family members’ lives, Solnicki trains his camera on his family with so much love we sense that he doesn’t ever want to turn it off.

We are first introduced to the family members while they holiday in Florida: sister Yanina, mother Mirta, and, at the centre of it all, father Victor. A patriarch in every sense of the word, Victor exudes the air of a charismatic protector and stern authoritarian, one who dotes on his grandchildren and doesn’t mind scolding his daughter for her suitcase packing skills. Gradually Gastón’s continued presence (whether welcomed or not by his family) exposes the deep-rooted emotional scars left from the family’s experience as part of the expulsion of Jews from Poland during World War II. Victor’s mother, Pola, provides a voice-over that opens the film and continues at points throughout. At one point she wearily describes the outbreak of war: “After about half a year the Germans gathered people to take to the concentration camps… Treblinka, Auschwitz and many more I can’t remember. I was 16 back then.”

In one of many other arrestingly poignant scenes, a friend of Victor’s father breaks into song during a meal at a diner, provoking instant tears from the otherwise unflappable Victor. At this outpouring of memory and emotion, Mirta declares that her husband needs psychotherapy, if only to help him get over the death of his father, whom he says died of sadness.

Although the family gather for a formal dinner towards the end of the film, this is not the moment of catharsis that a more conventional documentary might build towards. Demonstrating himself as a sensitive and thoughtful director, Solnicki chooses a cyclical route, closing the film with a quiet scene between Victor and Mateo. Seen at the film’s opening in wide shot, and now in close-up on a chairlift heading upwards to snowy peaks, Victor sings to his grandson, just as his father did for him: “He is our Father, He is our King. Our Father Saviour.”

Papirosen was given a special mention by the International Feature Competition Jury at the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2012. The jury was headed by Elliott Gould and also included Lav Diaz and Julietta Sichel.

This text originally appeared in the EIFF Catalogue.

EIFF 2012 in retrospect: Never Too Late

Having worked steadily making music videos, television advertisements and short films, director Ido Fluk here makes his feature film debut in a carefully crafted drama about about a 30-year old man returning to Israel , after eight years spent traveling in South America.

In the opening scenes, we see Herzl (Nony Geffen) applying for a job hanging posters, his hair chopped but hardly tidy. Later, he eats dinner with his mother who berates him for taking employment that will have him on the road so soon after arriving back in the country. Unable to resolve his decision not to attend his father’s funeral, Herzl is emotionally in limbo. Foregoing the usual flashback, Fluk opts to portray Herzl’s paternal memories in the present, having the genial, but assertive patriarch (Ami Weinberg) accompany his son as a passenger on his journey. Visiting old friends, Herzl is withdrawn and awkward , as though unsure of his surroundings. His return to his homeland was born of necessity rather than choice; this is a man out of touch with the world, struggling to accept his current time and place.

The themes of being adrift and unsettled are played out beautifully, not only with literary references (Herzl reads Robinson Crusoe), but also in the long takes shot from the front seat of the car looking out of the windscreen. Framed tightly from Herzl’s perspective, these scenes show the landscape passing him by, putting his past out of sight. Favouring the soft glow of sunrise and dusk, Fluk and cinematographer Itay Marom further accentuate their aimless protagonist’s fragile sense of place by blurring the distinction between sky and earth. Perfectly attuned to Herzl’s melancholy journey, Asher Goldschmidt’s haunting original score conveys the the sadness of his efforts to regain an identity lost, whilst subtly introducing hopeful notes as out protagonist gradually comes to terms with the weight of his father’s judgement and hid own decision to leave.

Never Too Late marks a further exploration of the subject of mourning, following Fluk’s short film Cooking for Richard, which was about a woman hopelessly grasping at the last remnant of her husband who died “of too much liver pâté”. Here, too, Fluk demonstrates enormous sympathy for his central character , and he does so with a confidence and sensitivity as a director that marks him as a talent to watch.

 

This text first appeared in the EIFF catalogue, published in June 2012.