Day 1 of film-going at Miami International Film Fest: a test of the preposterous

March 8, 2015

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Depending on the movie, the word “preposterous” could either prop up a narrative or allow it to collapse. I saw two rather preposterous movies at Miami Dade College’s Miami International Film Festival yesterday. One was absurd in many bad ways, the other in mostly good ways. I’m talking about Susanne Bier’s new film, A Second Chance and the second feature by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, a horror/romance called Spring (pictured above).

It’s utterly silly not to address the problems of A Second Chance, which had its U.S. premiere at the fest, without bringing up plot spoilers, so skip this if you do not want know how Bier and writer Anders Thomas Jensen stumble with their return to filmmaking in their native Denmark after winning the foreign language Oscar for the much more compelling, if flawed film In a Better World (2010). The stumble, however, is epic, so if train wrecks are your thing, here you go: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau plays a cop and new father who makes one of the most ridiculous decisions you could imagine a law enforcement officer doing: he kidnaps an infant from a couple of junkies who seem to have no idea how to change a diaper. Even more insane:  He tries to pull a fast one by leaving behind the body of his and his wife’s baby, who has died in his crib. At least he has the wits to swap clothes, including soiled diaper.

This film is gruesome, and the issues are manifold. The film does not only defy logic and rationale, it’s just a sloppy idea that makes you wonder what kind of well-meaning father is OK with leaving the corpse of his baby in a drug den to bring back a surrogate that maybe kinda looks like his former son? The film sets this man up as a happy new father who is sickened when he first responds to the destitute couple’s apartment, to find this baby in a closet (with an ear-shattering music sting). All of this happens very early in the film, and with music, close-ups, tone and pacing, you can almost anticipate what is going to happen but thinking, no way the filmmakers would go to there, but they do. Over-the-top and mishandled, A Second Chance ha plenty more to offer in ludicrous story developments driven by convenient plot twists that never ring with any convincing sense of honesty for its characters.

Trying to tell a convincing story in reality is one thing, but when you enter the supernatural world, filmmakers have some license to break the rules. In their Florida premiere film, Spring, Benson (also the film’s writer) and Moorhead (also the film’s cinematographer) still need a bit of convincing to do about some of the details but generally pull off a fine bit of genre entertainment. In their film, a young man (Lou Taylor Pucci) goes to Italy to get over the loss of his mother and falls in love with a beautiful woman (Nadia Hilker) struggling with a mysterious disease that literally turns her into a monster.

Moorhead does wonderful work as cinematographer, from drone work capturing the seaside Italian village where our hero decides to settle for a nice amount of time, taking up farm work for lodging. The effects are a balanced mixture of digital and old school animatronics, lighting and makeup. The digital leaps are always harder to swallow than the visceral moments that owe so much to horror greats like Rick Baker. The film stumbles a bit in the connection between the couple, as nothing between them points to a strong romantic bond, despite an attempt in imitating Richard Linklater’s chemistry between a U.S. tourist and local from his “Before” series of movies. Still, there’s a brisk balance of humor and pathos that permeates the script, even if it lingers too long on the journey to get to the village where most of the film’s interesting developments unfold. Drafthouse Films recently picked up this movie, so many will have a chance to see it for themselves, and it’s worth looking out for.

This day also featured the international premiere of The Pilgrim: The Best Story of Paulo Coelho. I previewed it ahead of this interview. Now will be a good time to share an opinion. It follows the story of famed Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho (The Alchemist). As appropriate to the author, the film offers an almost mystical journey of self-discovery for the author, from his suicide attempt as a teen (Ravel Andrade) to his more raucous years as a young man (Júlio Andrade) experimenting with black magic, rock ‘n’ roll and ufology before a trip on the Camino de Santiago inspired his world-famous book.

It’s a big subject for first-time feature filmmaker Daniel Augusto to take on. His previous experience is in documentaries, and his approach is the bold, all-encompassing biopic. The film skips between modern times and a transparently made-up Andrade to look like the aged, living writer to his younger self and an even younger version played by the actor’s little brother in his feature debut. There some heavy-handed narrative moments, some of it bloated with the weight of the mysticism Coelho fans might easily be swept away in. The film is heavy on sentiment but unfortunately superficial and uninvested in character development. Augusto and his first-time feature screenplay writer (Carolina Kotscho) lean to much on fact but forget humanity in a story that should be filled with it.

I’m hoping today, the first day as a juror for the Jordan Alexander Ressler Screenwriter Award, will bring the strongest writing the festival has to offer. We will also look to catch Voice Over, by the director of this terrific film. It will have it’s U.S. premiere at the festival simultaneously presented as part of the Film Comment Selects series in New York City. Here’s the trailer:

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

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