Day 4 of Fantastic Fest was a heaping teaspoon of films that directly play to the name of the festival. It was chockfull of imagination, magic, illusions, wonder, and even a living, breathing wooden baby. It was one of the more satisfying days of film at this year’s fest overall, and was capped off by one of the most eagerly anticipated films of the year for genre fans.
Continue to check back for pieces on the second half of the fest which provided 2 of the best films I’ve seen this year, as well as a reunion between Jean Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren; and no, that wasn’t one of the best films I’ve seen this year, but was amongst the most surprising.
A young boy, Krabat, is trying to survive in 16th Century plague-ravaged Europe. Krabat is found starving by a mill owner who offers the boy an apprenticeship in the mill, food, and shelter in exchange for grueling physical labor required to run the mill. Krabat accepts the offer, is introduced to other young men that work in the mill, and becomes a part of the mill team whose activities behind closed doors delves into a territory that is far more secretive, dangerous, and darkly magical than its honest man’s labor exterior showcases.
“Krabat” was one of the more welcome surprises of the festival. It stars a couple of actors that are recognizable even to American audiences, though probably not via immediate recognition, and had better production values than I anticipated. As far as the cinematography and set pieces are concerned this was one of the better looking films at the festival. It’s appropriately as fantastic in its feel as it is historic in its look. The 16th century European landscape is open, fresh, and gorgeous while the mill interiors are brooding, and cold.
Despite its visual presence, though, “Krabat” has a tendency to feel slow with the development of its mysteries. At times it appears that the film aims to be a part 1 of a continuuing series leading up to the final act, only to have that final act come and everything gets resolved; perhaps unsatisfyingly. It’s meticulously paced, but it does well to keep your interest as character developments and plot elements are introduced a little at a time so as to not just tread water. It’s always moving forward, even if it’s at a turtle’s pace.
On the surface there’s little complain about regarding “Krabat”. It’s wonderfully shot with exteriors that evoke similar landscape beauty to period pieces like “Braveheart”, and the acting is pretty strong across the board. It may suffer for some by not being the most exciting dark fantasy, it is still a relatively interesting tale about dark arts and the sacrifices that accompany it for a group of boys that will do almost anything to feel a smidgen of power.
BURATINO, SON OF PINOCCHIO
At the risk of making this film appear more interesting than it really is I’m going to try and not refer to it with a word that accurately describes what it is; whic is ‘weird’. However, the broad applicability of a word like that covers too much ground, and I fear that the most common perception of that word as it relates to a movie is that it’s darkly weird. David Lynch films are darkly weird, and they’re so overwhelmingly weird and unique that they’ve almost taken an ownership of the word; at least in terms of being the first thing that comes to mind when someone says that a movie is weird.
“Buratino, Son of Pinocchio” is incredibly weird, but not darkly weird. It’s sort of joyously, and playfully imaginative like Tim Burton’s take on “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”. It’s about a woman that longs to have a child, and with that desire arrives a flying pixie-like seed that aims to impregnate her, and succeeds. The woman gets pregnant, and a few minutes later she’s in labor and giving birth to a nice healthy block of wood that’s shaped like an infant. For a few days the baby is immobile, when all of a sudden the stiff oak shell starts to break apart and unveils a soft, pink-skinned little baby.
From that point on your guess is as good as mine in regards to what the film is about, and I’ve seen the movie. I think I recall something of corporate intrigue regarding wanting the wooden boy for some genetic purpose. I’m pretty sure there was also a perceived kidnapping of the head of the corporation’s daughter. I know there was music. Something in between and around the corners involved anarchy, leaf pimples, a love story, and a ton of goof.
I can’t say the experience of “Buratino” was unpleasant, just sort of indefinable. It’s a bit too energetic in the vein of a Baz Luhrman musical to say that it isn’t at least slightly interesting. It’s a shade too tame to be completely memorable, but just fun enough to near recommendable for the right audience.
IMAGINARIUM OF DR. PARNASSUS
It’s been a while since Gilliam fans have got their favorite kind of Gilliam fix. It seemed like the days of good Gilliam were waning with his last two efforts “The Brothers Grimm” and “Tideland” being one too un-Gilliam, and the latter way too Gilliam. It’s as if he had some studio demons to rid himself of after “Grimm” that he had to unleash the most uncomfortably vile film he possibly could just to balance himself back to zero. I wouldn’t have said it then, but I’m now saying ‘thank god’ for “Tideland” because “Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus” is as level-headed and reminscent of classic Terry Gilliam as we’ve been privy to since the 90s.
In an attempt to pack a Gilliam story into a nutshell “Parnassus” chronicles an historic battle of wits and wages between an immortal sideshow soothsayer, and the devil. The sideshow artist Dr. Parnassus (played by Christopher Plummer) and his accompanying showmen, one of which is his lovely teenage daughter, are traveling the streets of Europe looking for intrigued individuals willing to hear the doctor’s tales, and are allowed entry through a mirror that puts them into their own imaginative world. Along their way from city to city Parnassus gets roped in to another gamble with the devil in a race to see which of the two can attain five souls the fastest while in their alternate reality on the other side of the mirror. Once the wager is made the group comes across a man hanging from beneath a bridge, and Parnassus thinks that the man may be the sign of assistance he needs to defeat the devil.
“Parnassus” has already garnered much talk, specifically because it contains the last role of Heath Ledger’s tragically short life. It was always intended that Ledger would play the hanging man in every scene of the film. However, due to his untimely death Gilliam never got the opportunity to film all of Ledger’s scenes, and so he sought the help of some of his and Heath’s acting friends (namely Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, and Jude Law) to take on the role of the character for the scenes where he enters the mirror, and into an alternate reality. The aesthetic is unique to Ledger’s character, however it does add to the already flavorful visual creativity on display throughout the production; as well as being a very fitting tribute. On top of that, it may even possibly be one of the more impressive aspects of the film if you consider that each actor plays the role in such a way that is certainly representative of themselves while never making the character feel at all different. They took the pieces provided by Heath Ledger and ran with them in his way, but with their feet.
If you’re a fan of Gilliam it’s hard to fathom not watching “Parnassus” and feeling a tad nostalgiac. It shares some of the visual and thematic elements of “Adventures of Baron Munchausen”, as well as pieces of “The Fisher King”. It’s the film that Gilliam fans have waited over a decade for, and is probably the most fitting good-bye an actor has ever received from an on-screen production.