Berlinale 2017 Diary #2
Ildikó Enyedi, Oren Moverman, Jakob Lass.
The premise of Ildikó Enyedi's On Body and Soul is pretty silly. Endre (Géza Morcsányi), the financial director at a slaughterhouse, early to mid-50s, somewhat world-weary but not at all in an off-putting way, and Mária (Alexandra Borbély), the new quality control inspector, early 30s maybe and, as Ted Danson's Hank puts it ever-so-kindly to Kirsten Dunst's Peggy in the second season of Fargo, "a little touched," discover that they've been hanging out together in their dreams—as a handsome buck and skittish doe wandering a snowy forest.
Unsurprisingly, the object of the game is to get these two together in their waking lives. There are, of course, obstacles to be overcome, primarily Mária's "condition," you might say, the nature of which is best left undivulged here—though it can be said that it makes for a couple of amusing scenes with Mária and the child psychologist she's long outgrown.
Enyedi and cinematographer Máté Herbai give the film a Nordic look and feel with one or two frames suggesting Roy Andersson and a few deadpan exchanges hinting at Aki Kaurismäki. The imaginative camerawork and the grim backdrop of the slaughterhouse (and at least one sequence will have some viewers converting to vegetarianism) save this love story from dissolving into mere preciousness—but only just.
Guy Lodge in Variety: "Enyedi remains best known to film audiences for her 1989 debut feature, the lyrical estranged-twins drama My Twentieth Century, which earned her international distribution and the Camera d’Or at Cannes. Though the helmer has kept active in television and documentary since completing her last feature, Simon the Magician, in 1999, On Body and Soul will be warmly embraced as a comeback project." More from Nicholas Bell (Ioncinema, 3.5/5), Thomas Humphrey (ScreenAnarchy), Eric Kohn (IndieWire, B), Jordan Mintzer (Hollywood Reporter), Bénédicte Prot (Cineuropa), Jonathan Romney (Screen) and Zhuo-Ning Su (Film Stage, B).
Because he's written and directed The Messenger (2009), we know that Oren Moverman can tackle both jobs with confidence and finesse. Rampart (2011) suggested a latent tendency to dial it up. That tendency is all doped up and set loose in The Dinner—so much so, that one could imagine Edward Albee, were he still with us, whispering in Moverman's ear, "Dude, take it down a notch. Let it breathe a little."
And actually, I can't help but wonder what Kenneth Lonergan might have done with the screenplay if he were allowed to give it a once-over. The material, after all, is right up his alley. As it stands, The Dinner is a showcase for a superlative cast made frustrating, even maddening at times, by a narrative strategy that's simply too busy.
The dinner itself is the baseline, "real time," from which the story departs with every single dramatic beat to a flashback delivering one more piece in the puzzle that is this ridiculously dysfunctional family. One of these is a road trip to Gettysburg that borders on the psychedelic. Then it's back to the dinner and another harangue, sometimes two or more at once, overlapping as Altman might have staged these scenes if he'd made a film in which every line is drenched in venom.
Our narrator is Paul Lohman (Steve Coogan), who teaches history in a public school and argues in an opening voiceover that civilization has been heading for the pits since its heyday in antiquity. It was the Renaissance that really did us in. His wife, Claire (Laura Linney), stands firmly by his side while he perpetually shadowboxes with his brother, Stan (Richard Gere), a charismatic congressman currently eyeing the governor's mansion. Stan's wife, Katelyn (Rebecca Hall), has replaced Barbara (Chloë Sevigny), seen in a handful of the several dozen or so flashbacks.
Again, strong performances across the board, and the one truly admirable aspect of this screenplay is the way each character ultimately surprises us, flipping our sympathies and sending them ping-ponging between the leads.
More from Nicholas Bell (Ioncinema, 3.5/5), Peter Bradshaw (Guardian, 1/5), Kenji Fujishima (House Next Door), Owen Gleiberman (Variety), Jessica Kiang (Playlist, B/B+), Eric Kohn (IndieWire, B-), Giovanni Marchini Camia (Notebook), Lee Marshall (Screen), Paul O’Callaghan (Exberliner), Rory O'Connor (Film Stage, C-), Michael Pattison (RogerEbert.com), Tim Robey (Telegraph, 3/5) and Boyd van Hoeij (Hollywood Reporter).
The first thing to be said here about Tiger Girl is that it's edited by two extraordinarily talented women, one of them being my daughter, Adrienne Hudson, who worked alongside Gesa Jäger. Big disclaimer, obviously. The second thing to be said is that Tiger Girl is Jakob Lass's followup to Love Steaks (2013), a film that caught the eye of German cinephiles and festival juries and suggested that he might be the bright young star they've been looking for. But Tiger Girl sees Lass still workshopping his methods, not quite yet having hit upon the formula that draws on his many strengths in just the right measure.
Tiger (Ella Rumpf), a vagabond parking lot attendant, leaps into the life of Margarete (Maria Dragus) like a streetwise superhero to teach this security guard-in-training how to stand up for herself and grab life by the balls. What Tiger's actually done is inadvertently woken a beast. Tiger Girl extends the improvisational approach of Love Steaks and adds martial arts, comic book colors, a dash of exploitation sensibility and spurts of music video montage. All these disparate elements make for a promising mix, but the cracks between them ultimately prove to be a bit too wide. Still, the key word here is "promising."