Capone's final report from Fantasia Festival 2014, with Abel Ferrara's WELCOME TO NEW YORK, JU-ON: THE BEGINNING OF THE END, and THE FAKE!!!
Hey, folks. Capone in Chicago here. Here's the second half of titles I saw at the 18th Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal. Once again, thanks to kind folks like Ted Geoghegan, Director of International Publicity, and Lindsay Peters, Managing Director, Market + Director of Hospitality for allowing me access to the fest. It was another stellar line-up. Enjoy…
WELCOME TO NEW YORK
If this film was made by any other director, I firmly believe that WELCOME TO NEW YORK star Gérard Depardieu would be a serious contender come awards season. But the director in question is the notorious Abel Ferrara, creators of such great works as MS. 45, KINGS OF NEW YORK, BAD LIEUTENANT, THE ADDICTION, NEW ROSE HOTEL, and most recently 4:44 LAST DAY ON EARTH. Now, Ferrera has another film making the festival rounds right now, PASOLINI, starring one of his best go-to actors Willem Dafoe, in a work about the final days in the great Italian filmmaker. By all accounts, it’s a far more accessible and acceptable work, and should have little trouble making its way onto the arthouse circuit eventually.
But WELCOME TO NEW YORK is another monster entirely, and it's one of the finest, most lingering films I've seen in 2014. It’s messy and neutral about an abhorrent lead character, who in any other movie would be considered the villain. Based in everything but name on a 2011 incident involving French economist and possible future president of France Dominique Strauss-Kahn (in the film, his name has been changed to Devereaux) and a female employee at the New York City hotel where he was staying, the film takes much of its dialogue from court transcripts of the Strauss-Kahn case. Devereaux sees himself as a creature of desire and pure decadence, and for the first 30-plus minutes of the film, that would certainly be the case. Depardieu is almost always surrounded by high-priced call girls, having rough, almost violent, sex with them, taking breaks only to eat and drink to excess and shower in preparation for the next round.
And in most situations in his life, women are throwing themselves at him, which of course corrupts his mind into thinking that all women want him, and has led to him getting in trouble with the law before (for reasons we see in flashbacks) regarding attempted sexual assault, but always somehow managing to get out from under the accusations. But in the case in New York, a maid accused him of attempted rape when he basically charged at her naked after just having gotten out of the shower. Obviously he doesn’t think he did anything wrong. At one point, he actually says something to the effect of “The only thing I’m guilty of is trying to be happy.” It’s hard to talk sense into a man who thinks like that, which doesn’t stop people from trying.
After the assault, he goes about his day as if nothing happened. He has breakfast with his grown daughter and her new boyfriend, and talks about their love life with them. The man is a compulsive sex addict, and if he isn’t having sex, he wants to at least be talking about it. After that, he casually heads to the airport, boards his flight, and at the last minute is escorted off the plane and arrested by New York’s finest.
At this point in WELCOME TO NEW YORK, Ferrara switches gears from a profile of sexual predatory excess to a naturalistic procedural that follows Devereaux through his booking at a police precinct through his processing at a detention facility, and it’s clear that in both lengthy sequences, the director has chosen non-actors (in other words, real cops and real prison guards) to play the roles as only they can. My favorite moment is when Devereaux is forced to strip at the prison, and then put his clothes back on. He’s so hopelessly out of shape that he’s gasping for air and sweating just from the act of getting dressed, and one of the guards off handedly says, “That’s quite a workout, isn’t it?”, not giving a shit that this many could buy and sell him a thousand times over.
Devereaux’s arrogance and sense of entitlement is epic. He doesn’t deny doing what he did to the maid; he simply doesn’t think he did anything wrong because he didn’t actually rape her. But he true damage done to him in this case is to his political reputation. And no one feels that more than Devereaux’s disgusted, yet somehow faithful wife Simone (Jacqueline Bisset, also easily an awards candidate in a different world). She has managed to overlook the scandals and affairs of her husband for decades because she knew if she waited it out, she’d be France’s first lady. But this event has likely changed all that, and she knows it. And it has made all that she’s endured and worked for, likely get tossed out the window. Her rage is extraordinary, and Bisset digs deep to make sure that her husband (and the audience) feels every betrayal.
Apparently some critics at Cannes (where the film premiered) were troubled by the fact that this film was made about an incident that was so fresh and new in the public’s mind, but I’m not sure I understand the criticism. WELCOME TO NEW YORK feels immediate and vital and absolutely of the moment. And words can barely express what Depardieu has accomplished here. I’ve seen him play larger-than-life characters many times before, but I’ve never seen him play a person so completely. He’s possessed by demons that are all self-made.
And while he is certainly a kind of monster, Ferrara refuses to let that be a reason he doesn’t dig to understand this man’s impulses. And there will absolutely be some who never accept that portrait of a character like Devereaux; and those people will likely loathe this movie. They’ll see him as a would-be rapist monster, end of story. But to watch him get taken down to his core by his wife, whose opinion of him actually means something to him, or to be treated like the scum that he is by the New York penal system, that’s something you don’t want to miss out on.
There’s a brief moment at the end of this stark and steely blue film where Devereaux seems beaten. Perhaps he’s learned his lesson and will cease the philandering and whores and booze and lord knows what else. And then he meets the new maid his wife has hired, a sweet woman with some amount of good looks. And almost without thinking, he starts chatting her up, and we begin to see that spark in his eye and likely some movement in his pants. It doesn’t really go anywhere, but it makes us fear for the future of this character, the people around him, and the world at large. WELCOME TO NEW YORK is a film that has refused to leave my mind since I first saw it. The movie’s very existence is meant to stir up every type of strong emotion and spark heated discussion in its wake. It’s clearly the work of a skilled provocateur like Ferrara, and it’s essential cinema from start to agonizing finish.
JU-ON: THE BEGINNING OF THE END
I’ve also seen this referred to as JU-ON 3, which is confusing because aren’t there like seven of these damn movies? What separates this installment—whatever number we’re on at this point since the 2000 original which sparked the American remake THE GRUDGE—is that it explores the origins of the young ghost boy Toshio (Kai Kobayashi) and his equally creepy ghost mother, Kayoko (Misaki Saisho). And we all know how backstories in horror always make the story better and scarier, right?
From director and co-writer Masayuki Ochiai (INFECTION, SHUTTER, HYPNOSIS), the film is once again told in vignettes, and we’re not always sure if we’re seeing things chronologically or if flashbacks are inserted into scenes of the present day, but in the end, I think this all comes together as coherently as these J-horror works usually do, which is to say about 75 percent. A young teacher Yui (Nozomi Sasaki) is given a new job at a school when another teacher vanishes suddenly. But when one of her students, Toshio, begins missing a great deal of class, Yui goes to his home to investigate, and is met by the boy’s demented mother, and soon after the visit Yui’s life gets downright terrifying.
Rumors that the house may be cursed or haunted tempts a group of schoolgirls, and pretty soon it becomes clear that once you’d taken a single step into the house, you’re going to be tormented with horrible visions and other supernatural occurrences that will likely leave you dead. It’s freaky in so many ways to see this same house being used again for this film. I don’t remember whether I saw JU-ON or RINGU first, but they both had such a lasting impact on me and, in many ways, redefined and added to the list of what scared me in horror films. But seeing those same stairs and same attic and same rooms in Toshio and Kayoko’s house in this JU-ON chapter brought it all back a bit too vividly.
But like many films that scared me as a slightly younger man, Toshio now just looks like a pale kid in his underwear after his first few appearances. And Kayoko, while certainly a bit more demented and creepy, has had so many variations of her ghost form used in other films, her unique properties don’t seem quite as original any longer. And while many ghosts in J-horror films have a genuine reason to be pissed off at somebody, the ones in JU-ON always struck me as a little too broadly vicious, even toward those willing to help them.
Still, when you start to hear that odd clicking sound that precedes each ghost appearance, or when you get a flash of one of them before the truly show themselves, you can’t help get that knife-like chill right down the old spine. And even after the sequel and remakes and rip-offs and parodies, the JU-ON story still has the ability to make you scared of the dark, jump at every noise, and make you dread the idea of walking into an empty house alone, even your own. Capped with a pretty great surprise ending, JU-ON: THE BEGINNING OF THE END is a nice little throwback to a time when creepy Japanese children were all the rage and pretty much any object or place was fatal once you laid a finger upon or foot in it.
I believe I first heard about this bit of animated nastiness at Fantastic Fest last year, and it’s truly something special, if you enjoy films in which there are no truly likable characters and only one or two that might even have a shot of redemption by the end of the story. From South Korea, THE FAKE is set in a village on the verge of being submerged as soon as a nearby dam is completed. As a result, the citizens of the village a flush with relocation cash, which makes them perfect targets for businessman Choi and a pastor Sung to fleece the population by asking them for funds to build a new church that will never be constructed. And these con artists have convinced the people that the more they give, the higher their place in heaven will be.
At the same time, Min-chul returns to the village after a long and well-deserved stint in jail. As much as he’s the closest thing to a hero in THE FAKE, he’s also far from someone you’d want in your corner. He drinks; he’s violent; and he’s generally just a total asshole. Within minutes of returning home, he steals the life savings from his daughter that she was going to use for college and spends it on booze. He beats his simpering wife, and is verbally awful to his daughter. So naturally the film sends Min-chul on a collision course with the pastor and Choi.
THE FAKE pits neighbor against neighbor, family member against family member, and the pastor’s words even inspire some to contemplate suicide while their credit with God is still good. Director Yeon Sang-ho (THE KING OF PIGS) spares no one from being corrupted in some way, and his detail-oriented, extremely realistic animation style adds to the idea that this is no fantasy story. It’s about pure human betrayal, corruption of the soul, brutality, and the rankness of societal deterioration. It’s also a tremendous morality play, in which there are no real winners, where the mission seems to be to save humanity from itself. This is a rough watch at times, but an incredible piece of filmmaking and a righteous bit of animation.
-- Steve Prokopy
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