Saturday, July 18, 2015

Gothic Urban Fantasy

Lost River (2014) - Gosling
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It must be a good thing that I don't follow Hollywood gossip. I know next to nothing about Ryan Gosling other than he was in some movies I've seen over the years. So for me it was a surprise to hear that he directed a film. A first film that is not another Blue Valentine but much more ambitious and grand scale. And it was a double surprise to hear that it was universally panned by critics last year at Cannes. I have to tell you that by no standard Lost River is a bad film. It's better than good. It's a damn near masterpiece. Surely, Lost River reeks of Nicolas Winding Refn's influence in tone and aesthetics. Then again no one can deny Kubrick's influence on Refn. I think it's unfair to dismiss the film because it was directed by a famous actor with more money than an average indie filmmaker. One unforgettable image after another, this dreamlike gothic urban fantasy has more staying power than any other recent films I've seen.

Lost River is a thinly disguised Detroit, equipped with a nearby village flooded by a dam. Billy (Christina Hendricks) and her two young sons, Bones (Iain De Caestecker) and little Franky are some of the last inhabitants living in a dilapidated neighborhood. There are daily demolitions of condemned houses all around. Billy is told by a predatory bank manager (Ben Mendelsohn) that unless she pays up, she needs to vacate the house that she and two boys grew up in. He suggests her to get a job at an exclusive horror burlesque club that he manages.

Bones contributes household earning by stealing copper wire from abandoned, decaying buildings. But merciless Bully (memorable Matt Smith with cropped hair and in a sequin jacket) owns the town and Bones now is on his shit list. He falls for beautiful neighbor Rat (Saoirse Ronan) who lives with her mute grandmother (Barbara Steele) who spends her day in full makeup and garb and in front of TV continually playing her wedding day video. Bones decides to break the spell that is set on his family and Rat's. He needs to resurface what's under the water.

At every turn, the settings of Lost River afford amazing visuals: a decaying grand theater, empty dance hall, underwater monster village, grand guignol theater acts, etc. Gosling keeps his childhood memories close and amps up the fantasy/nightmare aspects with the help of veteran cinematographer Benoît Debie (Gaspar Noé films, The Runaways, Innocence). Gosling also wisely peppers in non-actors from the neighborhood interacting with his actors to give the film's rather simple storyline resonance and subtext of a grand scale urban decay - the evidence of lost American Dream. It's pretty amazing. It's one of those beautiful films I'd love to own.