Monday, January 7, 2013

The Deep and Kon Tiki at Lincoln Center's And the Winner is....

Lincoln Center's series of foreign Oscar hopefuls lucked out with two of the short listed titles playing back to back Saturday night. I and a good number of other New York film people were there.

The evening was thematic in that both stories had to do with true stories set on the ocean, one on the waters around Iceland and the other the vast expanse between South America and Polynesia.

THE DEEP completely flummoxed me. The write up talked about the story being based upon the true life story of how one man survived the sinking of a fishing boat. It made it sound like it was an epic survival tale. I then watched the trailer on You Tube and was completely confused because the film looks like a heavy personal drama with survivor guilt and questions about why did he survive and everyone else die. The actual film has elements of both of those ways of looking at it but it's something else instead, it's more a character study of the man, Gullie, who survived.

Beginning the night before the ship sails the film quickly introduces us to all of the characters. The ship then sets off on it's doomed voyage. We watch as the ship goes down and we see what happens. We also see the reaction to everyone back home, which is at first that Gullie was mistaken, but then they realize he was telling the truth and he quietly becomes a hero, and the object of study since doctors want to know why he survived.

This is a quietly powerful film. It doesn't amp up the story, it just tells it matter of factly. These are just a bunch of guys doing their job until it all goes wrong in an instant. When the ship sinks, the sequence is so matter of fact that we can't really believe that this is how it ends. Its a tragic error that quickly ends the lives of five men, and it's scary because of the simplicity and lack of freaky camera angles or over done sound tracks. This is just the way some people die.

Once the film gets back on land the film remains matter of fact showing the grieving process and how Gullie tries to recover from his own injuries and tries to help the researchers trying to see why he survived.

Its a solid little film that is completely opposite something like The Perfect Storm, with the result that we have a film that moves us with the tale of simple folk who meet tragedy in their lives and just seem to go on. Its real life and not high priced actors in death porn. This really is about the characters and the life they lead.

I really like the film a great deal, and while I understand why it made the short list of possible Oscar nominees, I really don't expect it to make the final cut. I do however heartily and highly recommend the film.

And DO see this in a theater if you can. The scale of the landscape and the smallness of the figures in it are best reveled on a screen as big as possible.

The second film screened Saturday was Kon-Tiki about Thor Heyerdahl's obsessive drive to prove that Polynesia was populated from the East, and South America in particular.

Best described as a big Hollywood epic by way of Norway, this is as an exciting a film as I've seen in a while. It's the exactly the sort of film that makes you forget that you've read the story and instead has you sitting on the edge of your seat waiting to see how it comes out. (A reviewer sitting behind me was loudly reacting to each twist and turn in the story as if it were a life and death matter)

A beautiful condensation of the events, this is on many levels a grand adventure that not only we don't get in the movies any more, but it's an adventure  that people don't do any more. If  Heyerdahl tried this today there would have been six follow boats and numerous precautions, not a bunch of guys on a boat completely unable to be rescued.

One of the things that I like about the film is the unexpected complexity. Heyerdahl is a seemingly simple character, but as time goes on we see lots of shading. Sure he's obsessive, but it's a mania that will cost him in unexpected ways. I also like how the complexity carries over to the other characters in small ways that say great things. Even Liv, Heyerdahl's far away wife, and a seemingly throw away character is revealed to have more going on than we might think.

Easily the the first film I've seen in 2013 that I know I'll be talking about it at years end. A must see on a BIG screen.

I do have to point out that the film screened in an English language version at Lincoln Center. It didn't looked dubbed, which confuses me since I think this is a shoe in for one of the five best Foreign Language Film nominations.

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