Thursday, May 29, 2014

Brezhnev and Reagan, Fuck Off!

We are the Best! (2013) - Moodysson
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Two 13-year old tomboys, Bobo and Klara listen to punk, hate their sports loving classmates and think their parents are super lame. After seeing some rude old geezers practicing yucky rock songs at a local youth center (thank goodness for socialist country), they spontaneously set out to form a punk band out of spite. But they don't know how to play any instrument and still want to maintain the time slots they signed up for so the old geezers won't get to play.

Then they see Hedvig, a blonde, christian good girl who has been playing classical guitar at the school talent show to unresponsive, downright rude audiences, year after year. Hedvig doesn't have any friends. Bobo and Klara decides to forcibly make her join the group. She is an awesome guitarist and teaches them how to play bass and drums. They cut Hedvig's hair off despite her mom's protest. But Hedvig comes around voluntarily. Despite her strict Christian upbringing, she likes being in a punk band. Together, they compose a song with catchy lyrics like "Hate the sport, hate the sport!", "Brezhnev and Reagan, fuck off!"

Now they need money for an electric guitar. But after begging for change on the street with some corny "my parents are drunks and we are starving," sob stories, they decide to spend the collected money on candies and ice cream instead.

Then there is the first crush. There is this punk band they like. More extroverted Klara calls them up and arrange a meeting. Elis, the lead singer of the band is very cute. Just like any other music band dynamics, they go through jealous fits and leadership conflicts and bring the group to the inevitable brink of breakup. All things come down to a chance to perform at some lame school gym concert in the suburbs. Would it be a total riot or total riot?

Lukas Moodysson, after plunging into hard-hitting downers like Lilya 4ever and A Hole in My Heart, goes back to what he knows and does the best - truthful, tender depiction of (pre)teen world. Just like his amazing debut, Fucking Åmål and based on a graphic novel Never Goodnight by his wife Coco, Moodysson showcases his penchant for naturalistic dialog and capturing the concerns of the world of pre-adolescent girls and the spirit of punk so acutely. It's the feel good movie of the year.

We Are the Best! opens May 30 in New York and LA. Visit Magnolia Pictures website for more information.

Impressionistic Tribute to Memories

Elena (2012) - Costa
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 It's a difficult job to create a documentary with a subject that is so close to its maker without coming across as a little too precious. Indeed, there are many moments in Elena that could be regarded as self-indulgent. But no one can deny that Elena is breathtakingly beautiful, one of a kind documentary.

Elena tells a story about 20 year old Brazilian actress who comes to New York to pursue her acting career. She leaves behind her younger sister Petra and mom. She falls into hard times. More than twenty years later, Petra, now an actress herself, a filmmaker and a dead ringer for her sister, traces her big sister's footsteps in NY, trying to reconstruct who Elena was and also to find herself along the way.

While watching the film, one can really feel the tough decisions the director had to make: should Elena be a straightforward chronicle of the young woman's life or should it be fleeting, abstract expression of preserving one's memories. Even with loads of home video footage, voice recordings and voice overs, Elena doesn't quite work as a fact based documentary. Instead, Costa aims for an impressionistic tribute to the memories of her sister whose absence made a great impact on her life. The combination is a mixed bag.

Costa keeps everything dream-like and fleeting. It's the poetic images - twirling bodies, sundresses flowing under water, green grass and cherry blossoms in the summer that takes the center stage. And the images are often breathtaking. It would've worked better as a short performance video art called, "Memories Dissolving into Water: a Tribute to My Sister Elena". I really hope Costa gets to make some more films, there is no denying that she is a bright new talent to keep an eye on.

Elena is distributed by Variance Films. It opens on Friday May 30 at IFC Center. Roll out to other cities will follow.