söndag 22 februari 2015

Nothing personal

How did this guy...

... become this guy?

An actor's job is to change his appearance. I understand that, and that is also part of the marvels that actors can do, and why we watch them. But sometimes they do things to themselves that go beyond the believable and that is really scary. Christan Bale lost so much weight he looked like he would disappear in The Machinist. Now Jake Gyllenhaal has managed to do something just as amazing - and horrible: The sympathetic cartoonist turned detective, the father who got hooked on The Zodiac and couldn't stop looking for the most dangerous man... The man whose eyes seemed to mirror all the pain and sadness in the world where evil lurks in so many forms... 

Now he has turned himself into Lou Bloom, a hollow man, a cartoon of a man, a man masquerading as a man, repeating slogans and HR-jiberish as if they really meant something, but with only one real purpose: to get you. It's a tour de force in acting, but I doubt very much that Jake Gyllenhaal will win any Oscar for his part in the film Nightcrawler. It is just too scary -  and too true.

The film critic Anthony Lane pointed it out before I saw the movie. This is from Lane's review in The New Yorker:
"The scariest thing about the new Jake Gyllenhaal film, “Nightcrawler,” is Jake Gyllenhaal. Or, to be precise, Jake Gyllenhaal’s eyes. They are sunk in their sockets. They have dispensed with blinking, and you can understand why; it would mean missing something important. They glare and they gleam, like the eyes of a man who is minutes away from death, furious with fever, and refusing to slip away in peace." 
Yes, those eyes. But not only the eyes. It's the cheeks, the forehead, the way his nose looks bigger and the smile... It is scary enough when he holds his mouth closed, but when he opens it, he looks like a predator getting ready for the kill. 

In Dan Gilroy's film, the nightcrawler is a parasite living on the misery of his fellow human beings. His name is Lou Bloom, but he has no human attachments, he lives alone in a tiny apartment, he has no family, no friends, no human contact outside his work. In the beginning of the film, we see him as a petty thief, stealing copper wires and beating a guard who asks him for his credentials - and then he steals tha guard's watch. By chance, he witnesses an accident, and how a camera crew for tv news films the accident, for a profit.

Lou Bloom decides that this should be his career. 

At first, one could take Lou Bloom for one of those outsiders in society who has been unlucky on the battle grounds of career building and success. When he goes to a tv station and sells his first piece, he mentions a class he's been to, where he has learned how to get motivated when job searching. Actually he talks a lot like a text book for people getting started in their careers. But the talk becomes  more and more scary because Lou Bloom doesn't use talk to get close to people. Verbal interaction for Lou Bloom (we never see him touch anyone physically, except for the guard in the beginning) is just a weapon in the fight for success. Lou Bloom talks to people only in order to gain control. 

Lou Bloom made me first think of Travis Bickle, the disturbed taxi driver in Martin Scorsese's film. Obviously because of his incessant nightly cruising and antisocial beaviour. Or Norman Bates, the obsessive murderer with the sweet, boyish smile as Anthony Perkins played him in Hitchcock's Psycho. But these characters are very different from Lou Bloom in two vital aspects: they both have a back story that explains who they are, and they end up being caught in their own violent actions.

We know very little of Lou Bloom. He might have more in common with Patrick Bateman, the beastly yuppie of Bret Easton Ellis' famous novel American Psycho, and the film by Mary Harron - with Christian Bale. 

Lou Bloom and Patrick Bateman both share a make believe personality. They are humans turned into robots, devoid of heart and feelings and normal, human reactions. To follow them around in their daily business is a horror experience in itself. These men don't react to other people unless there is a proper use in view - for them. They don't feel pain, shame, concern, guilt or anguish, and they don't know how to love or care for anyone else than themselves. The only feelings they do have, which has been pointed out by my husband, is greed and aggression.

In one particular scene in American Psycho, when Bateman is getting himself groomed for the day in his bathroom, he says one revealing line: "I am not here". Lou Bloom has a similar moment when he comments on the grisly material of violent death that he has just delivered to the tv station: "It looks more real on tv."

This refusal to be part of the world where the rest of us lives, with our sorrows and worries and loves and losses, is what makes Bloom and Bateman so scary.

They don't want any of this. But still, what they want makes them very dangerous to all of us. They will pursue their goal and let nothing stop them. They will kill you if you get in their way. Lou Bloom does it in a more subtle way, but he is just as dangerous as Bateman. 

The horror of it all is that these people exist and live among us. And this is where Dan Gilroy's film becomes an urgent critic of our times, with his cleareyed view of our society where media feed on our blood lust and hyenas become heroes. 

I am still in shock after seeing Nightcrawler, certainly one of the most important films made in recent years. I just hope Jake Gyllenhaal will find a way to get away from Lou Bloom.

söndag 8 februari 2015

Why do I love this film so much?

Rebecca Smart in Ann Turner's film Celia (1989)
I was a film critic in the eighties, or rather, I wanted to be one. In 1989, I went to the Gothenburg Film Festival, representing a small leftish weekly paper called Arbetaren. I saw a film called Celia, by Ann Turner. She was just a few years older than me, a film director living in Australia, and this was her first major feature film.  

I was totally awe struck by Celia. I came home to Stockholm and told everyone I knew about it. I wrote two articles, and I waited impatiently for its Swedish release. I harrassed the buyer at the Swedish distributor Folkets Bio so much that he gave me a video copy of the film, which I cherished until it disappeared. I probably lent to someone. 

Then, in 1993, Celia opened in Sweden, quietly and with not much success. At best it was seen as just one of those Indie films, made by one of those remarkable women directors from down under. I was very much surprised that the film did not rock anybody's world, at least not as much as it had mine. I also saw Ann Turner's second feature, a much bigger film with movie stars like Charlotte Rampling and a very young Russell Crowe. It was called Hammer over the Anvil, and I was a little disappointed. That film didn't leave me with any strong memories.
But Celia did.
Why did I love this film so much? The strange thing is that now, in these days, I could get it on dvd, or see it on Netflix or Youtube. I could probably see it whenever I want, just like all those other favorites that I keep close at hand. But Celia became a movie memory from the past. It was a film I loved very much - and forgot.

Then, suddenly, there is a new opportunity. Tomorrow I will see Celia again, at the Swedish Filminstitute where the Cinemathèque is reviving a series of films on the theme of childhood. I will go of course, happily sit back in the beautiful big cinema named after lengendary film director Victor Sjöström, and let myself be sunk into the film. But will I still love Celia? Will I see it with the same eyes that saw the film over 25 years ago, or have they changed, making me discover just another fraud, or simply, a case of changing taste?
So today - before I meet Celia again - I have to ask the question again: Why did I love this film so much?

The story is simple enough: Celia is a young girl with a very vivid imagination, living in south Australia in the late fifties. She is mourning her granny, who has recently died, and has nightmares about a monster called Hobiyah, that comes crawling out of a children's book to haunt her. Her parents give her a white rabbit which she names Murgatroyd. At the same time, a new family moves in next door to Celia's family. Then three things happen: the neighbours turn out to be communists - like Celias grandma, Celia's father has an affair with the neighbour's wife, and rabbits are declared vermine. Celia is forced to turn in Murgatroyd, who will be killed. Everything falls apart in Celia's world, and she turns on the local police man, killing him with her father's shot gun.

At imdb I read, quite astonished, that Celia was marketed as a horror film in the States. The writer comments on the absurdity of this choice too, and proposes another way to show Ann Turner's Celia off: in a double bill together with Heavenly Creatures, Peter Jackson's equally marvellous film about girls using fantasy to escape from an intolerant and narrowminded society - and ending up in violence.

Both these films could serve as ways to understand children becoming violent offenders. They could also be used as criticism of the weirdly British ways of people living on the other side of the planet - and the violence such attitudes and the denial of the real world around them entail. But why do I love this film Celia, having no experience at all of living in Australia in the fifties, being a child who has committed a crime, or even being denied a rabbit?

I guess what struck me was a string of themes that are at the chore of this film: It's about the fakery of civilization, about parents who pretend to be "normal" while they are scared stiff to be exposed - in this case as communists. It's about betrayal and escape, Celia's escape into fantasy and getting caught in her worst nightmares. It's about being a child in a hostile world and being deprived of the only being with a promise of unconditional love: the rabbit.

Those themes are envisioned in the story of the girl who loses her friend, and they grow strong and unforgettable in the magical scenery of the hot Australian summer, the dark nights when the Hobyahs come, and the fascinating face of a very small actress Rebecca Smart.

Of course, what really happened was that I saw myself. I saw my own struggle to survive as a child surrounded by strange grown ups and mysterious, threatening mechanisms that I could only hope to grasp once I myself became a grown up. And to experience that, the film as mirror and dark alley back to my own memories, left a mark strong enough to stand out through the years. Not many films, books, songs or pictures have that kind of impact.

What I also remembered were places, sounds and perfumes, the blue sky and strong sunlight over white, dusty buildings, balconies and open windows, the taste of tomatoes and garlic on fresh bread, cold orange juice and the taste of salt water on my body and my hair, the cold stone floors and houses painted in pastel flowers, the madonnas looking at me from their places above the doors, the mimosas in bloom, the sound of traffic outside our bedroom windows, the magic of these places and the fear of being left behind, of not finding my way, of being lost in paradise...

Celia became a memory. someone I knew and loved, and someone who had also left me. I remember her fondly as I think of her from time to time. I am still a bit shaken about meeting her. I hope we will still be friends.