Quick takes from the 60th London Film Festival, with public screenings from October 5th-16th, 2016.
Set against a backdrop of real-life race riots that occurred in the Sydney suburbs in 2005, this Australian black comedy may take place a decade ago, but it couldn’t feel more of-the-moment with its withering takedown of bigotry as, obviously, ignorant and insular, and — perhaps less obviously — as a brand of tribalism that it can be difficult for even those who are not ignorant and insular to extricate themselves from. Two bands of idiots, one white-supremacist and one Middle Eastern immigrants, head out of an evening to make trouble and “defend” and “protect” their own: they will, inevitably, run into one another, with bitter, ironic results. (If only bigotry always backfired on bigots in reality the way it does here.) Reminiscent of the brilliant 2010 British film Four Lions, about four moron wannabe jihadis in Sheffield, Down Under mocks the hypocrisy of those who decry diversity while enjoying it — even white supremacists love a good takeaway kebab — and dings the toxic masculinity that drives men to prove themselves with rage and violence. It’s all almost too dark to be outright hilarious, but it certainly is bleakly droll.
Crossing genres is a wonderful idea, but it’s tough to pull off, as this admirably ambitious Italian film demonstrates: it doesn’t give us enough of a taste of any of the flavors it samples — including family dramedy, religious satire, and freak-show horror — before it has moved on to another one. Eighteen-year-old sisters Daisy and Viola sing beautifully, which their manager father is happy to take advantage of, and if the rubes believe there is good luck and healing powers in the miraculous girls, all the better. Daisy and Viola are conjoined twins, you see, although they are joined in such a way — along the thigh — that it seems as if it should have been easy to separate them as babies… and, indeed, this is the case, as they learn. They could be easily separated now, in fact, and Daisy insists upon it: she wants her own life. But dad doesn’t want to lose his meal ticket, Viola doesn’t want to lose her sister, and the local priest doesn’t want to lose his living icons. Real-life twins (of the more ordinary unconjoined variety) Angela and Marianna Fontana as the sisters are delightful, but the movie swings wildly from pathos to sentiment to shock along the girls’ shared path to adulthood and independence, and the metaphor for growing up becomes strained and somewhat dissatisfying.
I described this film to a friend before I saw it as the story of a woman and her strange relationship with a wolf. And my friend said, “Ew, like, not sexual, right?” And I said, “Oh, of course not.” Turns out I was wrong about that: it’s the scene in which 20something Ania (Lilith Stangenberg) enjoys a steamy fantasy about the wolf that Wild lost whatever sympathy it had created in me (which was, to be fair, not much). Trudging home from her miserable IT job one day in a dreary German town, Ania spies the animal in the park near her apartment, and becomes obsessed with it. Yet what is, I suspect, intended as an awakening of something untamed and unconstrained in Ania comes across instead as the unleashing of a disturbing cruelty: her scheme to capture and imprison the animal is like something out of the story of a serial killer, not a triumph of feminist discovery. We are meant to sympathize with Ania breaking free of, I dunno, the condescending misogyny of her boss or the drudgery of modern life, but all she is breaking free of is decency, and there’s nothing to sympathize with in that. Nor is there anything enlightening in it. I am astonished to learn that this was written and directed by a woman — filmmaker Nicolette Krebitz — because it reeks of a lurid male invention of a “wild” woman, and it drips with a stereotypical male gaze. (I find it difficult to believe that Ania visualizes herself in her underwear, from behind, eyes conveniently at ass level.) This is, ultimately, a completely ridiculous film that mistakes salacious savagery for sovereignty.