Just got in from the screening of Green Room, perfectly ending the #AFF2015 on a note of white-knuckle tension.
Written and Directed by Jeremy Saulnier | 94 min.
I fucking love this filmmaker. His Blue Ruin from last year really impressed, and this is a hell of a follow-up, a powerful thrill-ride that frequently crosses over into pure bloody horror.
As with many low-budget features I’ve been seeing of late, 80% of the story takes place in a single location. In this case, that location is an out-of-the-way venue, a cinder block in the woods near Portland.
That’s where a punk band from DC—Anton Yelchin, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, and Callum Turner—get a gig, playing for a bunch of skinheads. In the bar’s green room, Yelchin’s character sees a girl get stabbed. The staff circle the wagons, trapping the band in the room with a bouncer, a gun, and a friend of the stabbed girl, played by Imogen Poots. Then things get really bad, especially when the venue’s owner, Patrick Stewart, the leader of these grim little Oregon Nazis, shows up.
Saulnier’s gift for suspense is off the charts. It’s in the way the camera moves, the way he brings in sound and score, and, of course, a script that finds a way to incorporate humour and grace notes in this incredibly bleak scenario. When it gets violent, Green Room doesn’t flinch: guts are unzipped with a boxcutter, shotguns blast to the face, and pit-bulls tear out throats. Even the beloved Patrick Stewart plays a hardcore racist asshole, providing real cognitive dissonance.
But if gore was all the film was about, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it nearly as much as I did. This is a thriller at its core, and one of the year’s best. Green Room confirms Saulnier as a genre filmmaker of the highest order.
The day started with an interview with David Bezmozgis, writer-director of Natasha, his second feature and one based on a collection of his short stories. This guy has a very successful Giller-nominated literary career, plus he directs. I wonder where he finds the time. I guess I sort of asked him the question. He says he doesn’t write novels when he’s directing. OK.
Then I caught the NextGen shorts encore program. That was fun, with plenty of work from the NSCC Screen Arts Program, and a sweet doc about a man learning about Halifax from riding the transit, directed by my friend Hillary Titley.
I spoke with Deepa Mehta, who brought her new film, Beeba Boys, to the fest as a closer. It was a real treat to chat with her, and I appreciated her introduction to the film. She indicated she’s getting tired of having to defend it, a gangster drama, to those who feel she’s showing the Indo-Canadian community in a bad light. “I just wanted to make a movie that kicks ass!” she said.
Knowing that Beeba Boys will be opening locally soon, I instead took a chance on the late addition to the fest by distributor Mongrel, who must be pleased their film was a runner-up for the audience award at TIFF:
Angry Indian Goddesses
Directed by Pan Nalin | Written by Nalin, Subhadra Mahajan, Dilip Shankar, Arsala Qureishi | 115 min.
Here’s a thing I admire about the cinema of India: A fearlessness with tone. They get away with stuff you’d never see in a movie in North America, where a movie has to be all one thing or another in order to successfully market. Indian audiences allow for crazy changes.
Angry Indian Goddesses starts with the seven lead women, most of them friends, brought together in Goa for a wedding by the bride-to-be. If you’re thinking this is going to be an Indian Bridesmaids, you’re not far off, at least in the first act. Nalin shoots and edits with great music cues, paced a little like an action movie.
In the second act, the film starts to delve into the various personal and interpersonal dramas in the women’s lives. There’s room for discussions of a woman’s place in Indian society, the inequity, chauvinism, and abuse they’ve all felt, along with class issues and a character’s homosexuality, all of this set against the soft background and the sun-dappled light of Goa, with plenty of laughs, dancing, and the like.
But, the movie you enter into isn’t the one you’ll leave. Late in the running there’s a sharp turn into dark drama and thriller territory, and the real themes underlying the film are brought to the forefront. It’s really an indictment of a society that devalues women, and a call to arms to fight that inequity and injustice. A refreshingly strident issue movie masquerading as a comedy.
And that wraps up another AFF for me. It’s been a blast. Many thanks to the organizers, the volunteers, and the programmers. And a big shout out to publicist Wendy Phillips. She and her people do such great work coordinating interviews with the visiting filmmakers, it makes my job a breeze.
As usual, I missed a few movies that I’ll just have to find in the months to come, including The Lobster, Cemetery of Splendour, The Keeping Room, Grandma, Iris, Born To Be Blue, Rams, and Natasha. I also wish I’d seen more shorts, damn it.
Highlights for me include Green Room, Room, Al Purdy Was Here, and Experimenter. If you missed any of my posts, you read them by clicking here.
Thanks for reading my AFF coverage on the blog. See you at the movies.