I’m not a huge fan of film festivals. At least, I’m not partial to that habit some of my fellow movie buffs have of going on ten-day cinematic binges, spending day and night in darkened theaters. I’ve done this once or twice when I was easing into becoming a professional critic, but I always wound up exhausted and the films started merging with one another and becoming one big blur. Not the best way to appreciate art! Still, what I do love about fests is how they allow you to truly make discoveries. Face it, when you go to see the latest Hollywood blockbuster, or even a buzzed about arthouse title, you often know way too much about it ahead of time, and it takes an effort not to have expectations. But these last few days covering the Festival des Films du Monde de Montréal, while I’m sometimes not too hot about taking in two or three movies a day, I do enjoy not having any preconception about most of what I’m about to see.
Tonight was the perfect example. I was looking at the schedule and only saw this title “Bang Bang Orangutang” and that sounded fun. So I sit down, the lights go out, I have no idea what I’m about to see – for all I knew, it could have been a Brazilian sex comedy about a chick fucking monkeys! I certainly didn’t expect to stumble into an absolutely breathtaking picture which does feature occasional bits of twisted humor, but is mostly a heartbreaking tale of loss and obsession.
It revolves around Åke (Mikael Persbrandt), a workaholic who never spends enough time with his wife Nina (Lena Olin, Sydney’s mom in Alias) and their young son and daughter. And before you know it, in the opening minutes in fact, he’s rolling into his driveway while talking on his cell-phone and he knocks his son down. Down, and dead. Unsurprisingly, this tears him drastically further apart from Nina, who holds him responsible for killing their child and wants him out of their life. Harsh, but that’s not it: next thing you know, the poor bastard gets fired from his job, as his boss decides to outsource most of the business to India.
The way director Simon Staho piles up the humiliations on his protagonist, paired with the sometimes Dogme-like look and the fact that it’s a Scandinavian production couldn’t help but bring to mind one of my favorite filmmakers, Lars von Trier. It figures that Staho’s co-writer, Peter Asmussen, also penned “Breaking the Waves”. Yet von Trier’s never quite made a pic like this. It’s kind of a cross between his visually stunning early films (practically every shot in “Bang Bang” uses color filters – more on that later) and his more raw, emotionally merciless later work. Except that unlike Bess, Karen and Selma, the female martyrs of von Trier’s Golden Heart trilogy, Åke sorta deserves all that abuse, having long been pretty rotten to his family and the people he worked with.
Desperate and having lost everything, Åke goes and becomes a taxi driver. He drives around at night, picks up unpleasant fares, sleeps in his car outside his ex-wife’s house… He gets to secretly meet with his daughter a couple of times and they have silly, sweet little conversations, which makes it even more excruciating when Nina finds out and threatens to call the cops if he keeps coming around.
And then, out of the blue, he meets Linda (Tuva “Slim Susie” Novotny), a gorgeous 22 year old who actually seems to understand him and agrees to go have coffee with him. Based on what came before, we’re already filled with dread. The dude must be given hope only to fall back harder, right?
Åke – “I love you.”
Linda – “Okay.” (beat) “Off you go now.”
Called it! Instant heartbreak and rejection after one date, like Travis with Betsy. And the parallels with Martin Scorsese‘s masterpiece don’t end there. Our Swedish taxi driver not only grows obsessed with the object of his unrequited love, he also feels this misguided need to save a little girl. She’s not a random hooker though, she’s his own daughter, which adds this whole fucked-up “Fathers 4 Justice” level… I won’t go into any more detail, but we go to disturbing places. I will say that I’m not sure about the ending, it’s kind of a cop out, but at least it’s ambiguous, like Taxi Driver‘s.
“Bang Bang Orangutang” is a deeply intimate story, insightfully written and brilliantly acted, but it’s also a great exercise in style. There is a strong emphasis on contrasting colours à la Sébastien Gauthier, with overwhelmingly blue (or even b&w) landscapes pierced through by bright reds, yellows and oranges. A few sequences even go for green night-cam, increasing the stalker feel. And then there’s the totally badass and infectiously effective soundtrack that recurrently blasts punk songs by The Clash (London Calling, Straight to Hell, etc.) and The Stooges (I Wanna Be Your Dog, Dirt), but also Kool and the Gang‘s Get Down on It! This is a thoroughly rewarding picture, everything one could want when going to the movies. Festivals can be a pain in the ass, but stumbling upon unexpected genius like this makes it all worthwhile.
BANG BANG ORANGUTANG shows again at the FFM September 3rd, 10AM and 7PM, at the Quartier Latin. Not to be missed.
Also, I found this Director Statement that nicely sums up the heart of the film:
“Bang Bang Orangutang” is a film about love. “Romeo and Juliet” meets “King Kong”.
Love smites someone who isn’t ready for it. Who is unfamiliar with it. Who doesn’t know how to handle it.
In a similar fashion we all resemble “King Kong”. When we fall in love we behave more like a tragicomic “King Kong” than a heroic “Romeo or Juliet”.
“Bang Bang Orangutang” is also a film about a love that is too much. Too demanding, too overwhelming, too right and far too wrong. So the film is also a bulimic love film: a love film that is too much – about a love that is too much.
A love film like Liberace might have made it – which is both too much and too little, has too much good taste and is far too tasteless.
Just like love!