Catching up is so hard to do...
The Robber (2010)
Marathon runners take note: if you want to give your heart rate monitor a run for its money and put a little spark in your training regiment, try robbing banks. Benjamin Heisenberg new film is a tense thriller that rides a wave perpetuated by a true story. Based on an Austrian man who had a taste for robbing banks and a talent for running marathons, The Robber capitalizes on this unique character study with a little dramatic magic. We first meet Johann as he is finishing up his prison sentence. Running circles around a small prison yard, he is ordered inside along with the rest of the inmates only to continue running on a treadmill he has in his cell. From this scene and the rows of running shoes he has, we realize that he is serious about running. He is released from prison, continues to train and wins the Vienna Marathon. It seems he has turned his back on his criminal ways. But what we eventually find out is that Johann is something of an adrenaline junkie, and an extremely fit one at that. Working a bank robbery (or two) into his schedule gives him a physical and emotional test that satiates his compulsion. As one might expect, The Robber has a couple fantastic chase scenes: one a heart-pounding escape in the heart of Vienna and another a more measure hunt in the woods. Johann is played with palpable tautness by Andreas Lust (who played the policeman in Revanche.) But Johann's pathological path is treated as a sort of fate that he can't break free from which I had a hard time chewing on. Needless to say, it is a fate he can't run from or run with for long. The Robber is extremely poised and efficient in making an argument on Johann's behalf, but it's only half effective if your not buying the sympathy that he's trying to sell.
sampaguita, National Flower (2010)
Francis X Pasion
Another film that blurs the boundaries between fact and fiction, sampaguita, National Flower does so with a documentarians lens. Sampaguita turns a tender eye on the stories of Manila street children who scrape by selling garlands of the sweetly scented sampaguitas. Francis X Pasion (can that be his real name?) started by interviewing a half dozen kids and then used the kids to act out their own situations and scenarios. The result is an amalgamation: the bold interviews are woven between the heartbreaking street-wandering milieu. The film doesn't offer answers or resolutions, but instead presents an honest and fortuitous portrayal of the resilience of these young kids.
You know those tile games where one space is open and you have to slide the tiles around in the frame to get all the tiles in place to make a picture? This is how Cristi Puiu's plot is constructed in Aurora: each sequence is slightly out of place, but not so much that you can't see the entire picture. The catch is that Puiu's tile game is 3 hours long and the images he uses to build a story are incredibly ambiguous. It's only in the last 20 minutes that you start understanding how you should shuffle the pieces, and when the film ends you are still shuffling. Aurora is a knock out followup to The Death of Mr. Lazarescu that contains the same uncanny sense of detail but is infused with a huge dose of abstraction. The film follows the very peculiar coming-and-goings of Viorel (astonishingly played by Puiu himself) as he obviously prepares for something. But the timeline is askew and the character and his intentions are a mystery. Eventually these things come together, but despite the explanatory finale (a procedural that would have made Mr. Lazarescu either tired or agitated), much is left in a fog of obscurity. Gritty and complex, Aurora is a film that I can't wait to revisit.