Saturday, February 7, 2009

Human Zoo

Slicing nothing more interesting than apples yesterday morning, I cut deep enough into my thumb to give that shivery reminder that I'm just flesh and blood. The blood stained several slices pink, before I was able to staunch the flow. I bandaged it up and traipsed off to my first two films of the Berlinale yesterday. Today were numbers 3 and 4, and though I'm not accustomed to weighing in so early in the process, I'm going to stick my neck out and say I attended my best film of the Berlinale this afternoon. The film was not perfect, with a couple of confused plot twists that may have been due to either over-writing, over-editing or a combination of the two. But when I see this sort of energy in a director's first feature film, that's something to which I play close attention.

Not for the faint at heart, Human Zoo takes up the sociopathy of betrayal, in the context of love and war. Writer/director Rie Rasmussen also plays the main character, a woman of mixed Serbian-Albanian parentage narrowly saved from rape or worse in 1999 Kosovo by a man who is, aside from a quirky feminist streak, strictly psychopathic. During her subsequent time with him in the anarchic mafiadom of Belgrade, the camera returns to her wrist wounds from the war. She worries them open again and again; we see quiet drops of blood, richly red, artistic, fall onto an etched glass bowl in one scene, contrasting with some of the more effective portrayals of violence I've seen in recent years in the cinema. We observe the betrayal of nearly every norm of decent society as Rasmussen rages at this world of ours. It's a particularly female form of rage, and I, for one, think it's about time the world take note.

Lead actor Vojin Cetkovic from Serbia dominates the half of the film that takes place in Kosovo and Serbia. He played a bit role in my to-date, all-time Berlinale favorite, which you undoubtedly all tire of hearing me mention.... KLOPKA! He's a thinking-woman's psychopath whose ruminations on the societal constructions intended to make us "human" are the strongest and most startling part of Rasmussen's work. Any actor capable of making me believe someone out there could truly find it more justifiable to kill children ["after all, what do they have: at most, maybe 5, 6, 7 friends?!"] is, strictly speaking, a cinematic genius.

The post-film environment smacked of conspiracy, into which the audience sank with palpable satisfaction. Prior to the screening, Berlinale staff indicated it wouldn't be followed by a Q&A as they didn't believe the director was present. Afterward, however, the supporting male actor, Nick Correy, jumped on stage and angrily denounced Luc Bresson, much of the time without a microphone, until one belatedly surfaced, the Berlinale crew all the while indicating that scheduling didn't allow for a Q&A. He talked about obstacles to the film's financing and production, then Rasmussen showed up very briefly on stage, after which they both took it outside the theater. Their message was that, short days before the Berlinale, a non-disclosure agreement had been signed and Bresson's name had, from complete absence, been elevated to a prominent place on the credits, this being the first time a film with his involvement had been chosen to open the Berlinale Panorama. Interestingly, IMDB has nothing linking him with this film as of this writing. Outside, the press swirled around (see here how Variety panned it) and I thought to myself, this film will be a hit. We'll see, but with a beautiful, angry and talented actress/ex-model-cum-director/writer at the center of an artistic controversy, it has all the elements. Run, don't walk, to see this film. The screening today was not even sold out; the final one is next Saturday evening and I can't think of a better way to spend Valentine's Day.

Before the film I'd gone swimming and removed the bandage from my thumb, as the wound seemed to have closed up nicely. It wasn't until I stood up to leave the theater that I sensed a sticky, cool wetness between my thumb and forefinger. Somehow it had reopened, but I felt nothing. As I walked out, I closed my hand into a fist to keep from dripping blood onto the carpet of the theater below.

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