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When Animals Dream

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**½

No, I’ll do it. I want to do it.

WhenAnimals

This Danish werewolf coming of age story is starkly shot in a beautiful seaside village, filled with small minded people. These people will not leave the protagonist Maria (Sonia Suhl) alone. Mostly because they fear that she will become like her mother. What her mother is seems like a fascinating mystery. In one of the few frightening moments we kind of find out what is wrong with her mother. Without her coma level medication her mother can kill the hell out of people. It turns out that those small minded people were right to fear Maria. Or maybe they brought about their own demise. Pleasantly, the film does not take a side on this issue.

Despite the cool beauty of the film, I became nauseous twice. In fact I missed probably 8-10 minutes because either I was calculating where to go since the bathroom was occupied, or covering my eyes, or standing outside the curtain just listening. And listening is less effective when the film is in a language one does not understand. The effect that really bothered me was her bloody fingernails, like they were bloody and bulging at their quicks. I would show a picture of it, but then I would rate the film even lower.

A Few Cubic Meters of Love

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****

We’ll go sir. We’ll leave your country. We’ll go back to our Afghanistan. 

Maruna (Hasibi Ebrahimi) and  Saber (Saed Soheili) enjoying their few cubic meters of love, Chand metre moka'ab eshgh, © 2014  Aseman Parvaz Film.

Maruna (Hasibi Ebrahimi) and Saber (Saed Soheili) enjoying their few cubic meters of love, Chand metre moka’ab eshgh, © 2014 Aseman Parvaz Film.

Imagine Romeo & Juliet.

What place popped into your head? Was it Verona, Italy? Was it your high school gymnasium? The set for Shakespeare in the park? I bet that wherever you imagined, it was nicer than the slums outside of Tehran, Iran. Technically the area is a suburb, in the way that the favelas of Rio de Janeiro are suburbs, or how Soweto is to Johannesburg. Anywhere you imagine has to be nicer than an empty cargo container in a junkyard in those slums, which is where our Romeo and Juliet meet up.

While this film might have a couple Capulets here, the Romeo is an orphan whose relatives do not really object to the proposed union. The facts probably make more sense than any parallel, so here we go: outside of Tehran there are undocumented Afghan refugees living and working at a metal yard, alongside Iranians. Outside forces affect our young loves¹, specifically by the police catching the Afghanis and those Afghanis agreeing to leave by the end of the week.

Look at those vibrant colors!

Abdol-Salah (Nader Fallah) taking a well deserved rest in that junkyard they called home. A Few Cubic Meters of Love, © 2014 Aseman Parvaz Film.

The elder in the Afghani community is Abdol-Salah (portrayed with an ominous, haunting cough by Nader Fallah). He is the one who comes out of hiding to speak with the Iranian authorities. He is his community’s de facto chief. His teenage daughter is named Maruna—Hasibi Ebrahimi in her cinematic debut—and she is the Juliet. Maruna’s Romeo is Iranian twenty-something Saber (Saed Soheili). They are the bright spots in each other’s drab, difficult lives. 16th Century Catholicism seems approximately equally disrespectful to a woman’s autonomy as Afghanis’ 21st century Islam. As a result their budding romance is doomed. That is my American view, a more appropriate analysis probably should center on the way Afghan refugees are treated, even by those who mean no disrespect.

The film is Afghan and the language spoken is Persian. The story is super depressing. But it is also a spoiler proof film, which lends itself more readily to reviews in a way that movies that have surprises, like The Lego Movie, which shackle the reviewer. Although the film does not actually show their deaths, so maybe they did not die… But other than Taylor Swift, everyone knows Romeo and Juliet die in the end. My only frustration with the haunting picture was that the writer/directors Jamshid Mahmoudi and Navid Mahmoudi did not tell me what the point was. As I left the theater I wanted to know what was the point of making me feel such strong emotions. As frustrating as that thought was, I am impressed that the film made me think so much, made me think about the purposes of art.

¹ I say “loves” because it was not clear whether or not they had been physically intimate, or not. I believe they had not been.

A Second Chance

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****½

He’s not dead. I’d know if he were dead.

A Second Chance, © Zentropa 2015.

A Second Chance, © Zentropa 2015.

Susanne Bier directed this dark child swap movie, titled “En chance til” in the original Danish/Swedish. The stage is set for five main adult characters and two babies.The first family is comprised of a police officer named Andreas (“Game of Thrones'” Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), his wife Anna (Maria Bonnevie, Olga in The 13th Warrior), and their baby Alexander. We meet the next family when Andreas is on duty and responds to a noise complaint at the new home of a dangerous ex-convict, whom he recognizes from Stockholm, named Tristan (Nikolaj Lie Kaas, the assassin in Angels and Demons), who lives with his baby mama Sanne (May Andersen in her cinematic debut), and their son Sofus. Along with Andreas is his partner Simon (Ulrich Thomsen, the bad guy Mikhail from Hitman).

Without exception, every actor above was great. The movie challenged me with difficult questions, in a way that I doubt Hollywood would have. For instance, Sanne passes her drug test and Sofus is not undernourished, despite our glimpses at the detritus that is Tristan. Also, the default position of middle class attentive parents as superior to the poor drug addicts get challenged, but not in a sanctimonious way.

The movie also hit close to home for me because of Andreas’ agony regarding not being able to understand what his baby was trying to tell him by crying. A couple months ago I lost a rabbit and I did not know the signs of the gastrointestinal condition that took her life. Thinking about how I visited her and checked on her without realizing the true gravity of the situation really bothers me. To go from happy and healthy to gone in 24 hours shook me. I cringe even wondering what Coster-Waldau had to imagine to convincingly manifest his sense of loss and guilt.

To part on a less depressing note, I enjoyed the cinematography. Michael Snyman gets the credit, but who knows if he or Bier deserves it more. It is like David Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, but with more extreme facial closeups. All told this is a beautifully shot, well acted and thought provoking movie.