Suleiman Mountain (2017)

Impression:  How many movies from Kyrgyzstan do you get to see in your lifetime? Not many, I decided. So I made it to the only film in Toronto I didn’t have to wait in a rush line for. It’s a road trip comedy with some interesting characters. Zhipara is a middle age shamanistic healer/swindler (up to you to decide!) who is on a mission to win back her estranged husband, Karabas – a long distance truck driver. She picks up a boy from an orphanage (who may or may not be her son, but has the same name) Uluk, and gets Karabas to half-way buy into her plans and take her and the boy aboard his truck. Since they’ve split up, he has taken on a young wife who travels with him, and she is not too keen on having the two new passengers along for a ride. Many adventures await them on the road, mostly in the form of clever ways of separating unsuspecting people they encounter from some cash. The film moves slowly, but I found it entertaining and an interesting look into a culture not often seen on film. There are some references to actual organized shamanistic rituals on Suleiman Mountain and Ziphara seems to actually believe in the power of its magic, even if she mostly seems to be faking it to make a quick buck.  But money comes and goes fairly easily for the travellers in the film, and they lose it as easily as they earn it.  One of the themes is the importance of things going well, regardless of the reasons. Ultimately, does it really matter if Uluk is really their son if they are happy and they all get along? Some strain between Karabas’ itinerant carefree lifestyle and his parents and extended family is hinted at, and during the Q&A, the director explained that there has been some political issues in real life Kyrgyzstan with the people adhering to traditional beliefs and living outside the mainstream on the mountain and the government. If the movie touched on this in any more depth, it surely went over my head. Scenes of nature are beautifully filmed, while the life in the truck and truck stop is portrayed as fairly grimey. All in all, glad I saw this one.
Facts: A road trip through Kyrgyzstan with a motley crew of swindlers.
Extra: I saw this film at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival.
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Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)

Impression: In the new movie by Yorgos Lanthimos, Collin Farrel’s character (Steven) seems like a continuation of the part he played in the The Lobster. The acting is the exact same deadpan, no emotion with rapidly fired words said in monotone.  But it is more than that, the type of things he says are things that are just not said in society: people might think them, but they don’t say them.  Because they are uncomfortable and go against conventions about what is appropriate and what is not. Things like “Our daughter started menstruating last week,” are not normally said in small talk at a work function. Basically, his character is what would normally be seen as socially awkward. Except that the society which Lanthimos constructs has different rules than ours and there is no reaction to what he says,  just the audience’s laughter at the inappropriateness of the situation. In our world.
In the worlds Lanthimos constructs inside his films, there is actually no concept of inappropriateness. And this is the basis upon which he then builds situations which would otherwise be absurd, like the world in which you have to be coupled up or turned into an animal in the Lobster, or lack of knowledge of the outside world beyond what their parents make up for the kids in Dogtooth, or a teenage boy (Martin) constantly invading Steven’s family life in this film.  The smaller inappropriate behaviors are never questioned, and so the characters keep pushing against each other. But eventually, even in Lanthimos’ world, it does get to the point where it makes his characters uncomfortable. Because even without societal norms, on an individual level, there are lines that can be crossed.
In this movie, Steven is a surgeon with a seemingly perfect family.  He spends a lot of time interacting with Martin, who he introduces to his family. Eventually, the boy demands more and more of his time and attention.  When Farrell awkwardly starts avoiding him, things beyond his control start happening to his family, and the boy’s revenge plot is foisted on him.  Lanthimos’ previous films, just like this one, dealt with rules, and arbitrariness of rules. In Dogtooth, it was the parents who made the rules for the world in which they kept their children, in Lobster, the rebels made rules to rebel against the rules of the mainstream world. Here, Martin makes up his own rules about what is right and what is wrong and has the power to make others conform to his rules. Lanthimos’ films leave me with a sense of unease. Where do rules come from? Are all rules basically arbitrary? Must all human interactions be governed by rules? Even if we acknowledge them as arbitrary?
Facts:  Supernatural events start transpiring to Steven’s family once he refuses to have contact with a teenager who seemingly started out as a friend.
Extra: I saw this film at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival. It was my favorite film I saw at TIFF this year.