Five Fingers for Marseilles (2017)

Impression: This film felt like a South African mixture of old school Mad Max, a western and a kung fu flick. Not that there is any actual kung fu, but it just felt like a lot of plot lines were left not completely explained, which is how I always feel with kung fu movies. In a dusty small town a bunch of kids play war games amongst each other. When the white police shows up and uses unnecessary force, confrontation ensues, and one of the cops is killed. The kid who was the leader of the group, Tau,  is responsible and runs off, never to be seen in town again.  We next see him years later, buff, and a hardened criminal with a posse. He decides to return to his home town, a loner, where there are different political forces at play fighting for control, and the population is mostly scared. No one recognizes him and his childhood friends have all grown up to have prominent roles in the life of the town.  I feel like there must be a lot of political commentary, and the whole film is some kind of allegory for something going on in South Africa, but I just don’t know enough about it to quite figure out what it’s trying to say.  The friend’s roles all seem like caricatures: the fat kid becomes the Mayor, the girl runs the only bar in town, one  is in cahoots with the military, and one is dead, but his son is trying to avenge him. The dark force in all this is a hired band of thugs headed by a very creepy one-eyed Sepoko (ghost) who comes with his very own creepy theme music.  His role is overplayed in dramatic style. As is to be expected from the set up, it all ends in a very bloody and very long shoot out. The pacing sometimes felt like it dragged, the acting sometimes felt over the top, but one thing this film had going for it is unbelievably beautiful cinematography. And how often do you get to see an African western?
Facts: A South African winter western, centers on a guy who runs away as a kid and comes back to his dusty hometown years later, to find it run by bad guys.
Extra: I saw this film at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival.

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.