Thursday, August 11, 2011

Loving the Americas

Florian Habicht is a German-New Zealander who spent a year’s residency in the Big Apple in 2009 and, though he was under no obligation to make a film, he did.

What is the film “about”? Well, it concerns this guy who sees a woman walking in the street with a slice of cake on a plate. He becomes obsessed with the Russian-born actress, Masha Yakovenko, and starts filming their “relationship”.

Having no idea for a plot he asks people on the street to help him with it, so Love Story becomes just that about a city, too.

Startling things come to light. One man says he believes we come back as animals after we've died. A black woman gives us a philosophy of joy that is sounder than most philosophy. Another man says he doesn’t like New Zealanders. A tramp tells us about his first love. A muscular transvestite, like most of his/her fellow New Yorkers, has a proclivity for romance. A female stockbroker tells Florian to go real slow – that way he’ll get what he wants.

A lot of people suggest that when the sex scene comes (sorry), he should discover that she’s a he, because he wants it to be a letdown. That scene is one of the funniest and also gives us the biggest fright in the film.

At one stage Florian seems to be truly falling for Masha, but by then we don’t know what is “real” or not. He looks genuinely let down when she tells him that he must realise she’s only acting, and she does it with such naturalness – singing a Russian folk song half naked - that you couldn’t exactly blame him if he really did.

Also there to help him with the plot is his very open-minded and enthusiastic father back in New Zealand or Germany, dispensing encouragement from that cyber country, Skype. His enthusiasm has clearly rubbed off on his lanky, dishevelled son, whose offbeat goodwill keeps the film running through the slow spots, and they are there occasionally.

The whole project is helped along by a wonderfully moody soundtrack from other films and eras, and you do come out of the film feeling much better about most things – including Americans, if New Yorkers are indeed such. 


About a month ago I missed a festival film and thought I’ll see Copacabana with Isabelle Huppert as an alternative. I like her (lots) and the title promised something bright and, well, festive - which I needed.

But I should have known it was a trap. After all, it’s a French movie, directed by Marc Fitoussi.

The film is set mainly in Oostende, a grey harbour city in Belgium, which is as pleasing on the eye as an old wet rag. I felt a little cheated, but the story has stuck with me.

Huppert plays a freewheeling, middle-aged woman who has travelled the world doing odd jobs. The problem is she had a daughter during those wandering years and Esmerelda (played, I think, by Huppert’s real-life daughter, Lolita Chammah) is so embarrassed by her mother that she doesn’t want her at her wedding. Esmerelda’s going to marry an accountant and settle down to a boring little middle-class life.

Mama decides to prove that she can hold a job and ends up trying to sell timeshares in Oostende, one of those places Keith Richards would call the arse end of the world.

Whence the title, one might ask. Well, Mama wants to go to the country and city of samba once she’s made some money, which she proves she can - rather well. And she does go there in the end, kind of.

But her natural deviance, if not humanity, gets in the way, and if ever there was an indictment of capitalist greed then it’s this droll little comedy, which shows us that it can be as grey and nasty (but sexy, in the guise of chief saleslady Aure Atika) as any socialist dystopia.

Try to remember watching it if you ever see it in your specialist video store. It’ll stay with you like that mother or daughter you neglected. 

Neil Sonnekus

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