Sunday, 30 September 2018

HIFF review: #takemeanywhere (LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner, 2018)

The artist collective turned their good concept of a social media performance into a film full of white noise.

In 2016, artist collective LaBeouf, Rönkkö and Turner was commissioned a Twitter performance. They created #takemeanywhere: they went on a roadtrip, posting their coordinates online and inviting anyone to pick them up. The drivers could take them anywhere - show their homes, tell them what they thought was important. They filmed 100 hours of footage, and edited it into a 44 minute film - the film is on the website, free for anyone to watch. I saw the film at Helsinki International Film Festival, with the collective present for a Q&A afterwards.

Before even talking about the movie, it is important to note who LaBeouf, Rönkkö and Turner are. Nastja Säde Rönkkö is a Finnish artist with long history of art studies. She's been elected as the Young Finnish Artist of 2019. Luke Turner is a British artist, also graduated from prestigious schools and has worked with Rönkkö for years. Shia LaBeouf is... well, Shia LaBeouf. I think he is the key to understanding the trio - and also the key to why I do not understand the trio. I would want to be supportive of celebrities pursuing different interests and so on, but his presence in the trio overpowers the others and makes a lot of what is said sound meaningless and pretentious. They do not hide from his fame even after one of their first performances "I am not famous anymore" (image below), and that is one of the problems of the film.

In the Q&A, the trio talked about a lot of big things. Philosophy behind the film. Connection with strangers. Politics. While Rönkkö seemed shy and did not say much, and Turner was very collected, Shia LaBeouf stole the show with his passionate way of talking. All of them said that 2016 was a different time - they were naive, and America/world was balancing on the edge. Just as Spike Lee said as the main guest of the festival, they repeated; it's different now, time for action.

LaBeouf stated that Kendrick Lamar needs to take a stand, which seemed ironic after seeing the film - the politics and meanings they later mentioned are hidden under feel-good-roadtrip video. How can you talk about specific people needing to take action, when your own film is not that at the exact same time? The explanation of the project taking place in 2016 seemed lazy; the film is out now, and in no way 2016 was that innocent of a time as they said. Things do not happen at once; Trump did not ruin our world by being elected, people chose him after all. Brexit vote happened to be on the last day of their roadtrip.

I do not doubt that the trip was meaningful for the group; I believe they made connections, and learned. But I believe it because they told so - the moments of real connection on the screen are rare, even when they are the one highlight of the film. Rather, many people are treated as characters, stereotypes, through editing. For example jump cuts suggested humour at comments made by people, and the whole audience was laughing. I was not amused; the people are telling their story, not telling jokes. Are we not supposed to connect with them as viewers? The people flashed by, without names. We only hear snippets of their stories because of the fast pace of the film. Only consistent thing was the presence of the filmmakers - mostly Shia LaBeouf. So many of the participants seemed to be there for him; and the change from excitement about meeting a celebrity to familiarity and friendship was never really explored. In the film, it creates a distancing effect between the artists and the participants.

Handheld camera work reminds more of travel vlogs - someone I talked with compared it to a honeymoon video by a friend with no experience on filmmaking. Editing however was what made watching the film so difficult - I already mentioned the jump cuts but overall the film indeed lacked any structure. There was no story - it was just feel-good-emotion for 44 minutes, which felt very lacking especially afterwards as we heard the big statements in the Q&A.

Personally, the film made me just really frustrated. You may have big ideas but when making a film, you need to know the craft and how to bring the ideas to the surface. When the project was supposedly about connection, I was looking forward to that feeling myself, and never felt it.

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Review: Nasty Baby (Silva, 2015)

The premise of Sebastián Silva's 2015 film Nasty Baby makes you expect a feel-good-movie about Brooklyn hipsters in their attempt of starting a non-traditional family. Freddy (played by Silva himself) is an artist who wants to start a family with his partner Mo (the absolutely handsome Tunde Adebimpe). Freddy's friend Polly (Kristen Wiig) is set out to be the biological mother; but when Freddy´s semen does not do the trick, Mo is hesitant to take up the role. Does the tension come from the fact that Freddy is the one who really wants the child - so much that his current work is all about babies? Or is it about the close relationship between Freddy and Polly, that Mo does not share?

Freddy' and Mo's apartment is the most central to the events of the film; it is stylish and spacious enough for Freddy's studio, Mo's countless house plants and their cat. The light fades through the leaves, and friends and family come and go in the open flat. Their only worry seems to be Polly not getting pregnant yet - and the unbalanced outsider appearing on their street and calling himself the Bishop (Reg E. Cathey). Contrasting to their light living room, the street becomes a scary place; but what really bugs Freddy off, is the Bishop leaf-blowing in the mornings.

In the very end of the slow paced film, the tone gets a complete makeover; Moze Halperin calls the ending "kinda Shakespearean" in his Flavorwire review. It's almost brilliant, but stumbles on the steep change of pacing - as well as the events not seeming to naturally progress into this ending. However, when it does not 100% work, it still offers enjoyment with the surprise, as well as underlines thematic richness.

The shock of the ending has a danger to overpower the more nuanced - and in my opinion more interesting - ways the movie works with its themes even earlier in the film. The three main characters are sympathetic with the actors doing great job with their naturalistic performance; but they are not likable at all. Freddy is cranky and thinks his art project "nasty baby" is genius, when it so obviously flops. Mo is distant. Polly is so invested in the pregnancy, that she forgets the feelings of others. They smoke weed while talking about starting a family, they are irresponsible and self-centered. While trying to make Mo - who's black - to agree to be the donor, Polly takes a picture of Freddy with a stranger's black child to make Mo agree how cute a mixed race baby would be - the most cringey scene I have seen in a long while. For the trio, the idea of a child is just an extension of their own ego.

And when the Bishop appears on their street, they are more concerned about their own comfort than the people who have lost all security. Not part of their world, the likes of the Bishop can be forgotten. And where Nasty Baby brilliantly delivers subtle commentary on modern society, it sadly will not leave a lasting effect.