Sunday, June 28, 2009

Drugs & Love: Xiaoshuai Wang & Kristian Levring add novelty & zest to tired themes

If I tell you that Kristian Levring's new film FEAR ME NOT is about a man on a drug, while Xiaoshuai Wang's IN LOVE WE TRUST deals with how far a woman will go for love, will your brain hit its cliché button, sending your fingers clicking onward to another blog? Stay a moment, dear reader, because both films take oft-used themes to which their writer/directors add a story full of urgency and surprise -- plus a good deal of film-making skill.

With IN LOVE WE TRUST (Zuo you), Shanghai-born Chinese filmmaker Xiaoshuai Wang (shown below, who gave us Shanghai Dreams and Beijing Bicycle) tells an unusual tale whose ramifications are such that it could probably only happen in the China of today, where laws and culture would seem to work against what is the necessary and humane way to handle the particular problem posed here. The love in question is from a mother (below center, played with steel force by newcomer Weiwei Liu) toward her daughter (below, right: another newcomer, the sweetly pliable Zhang Chuqian).

What is so wonderful about the movie is that this love finally seeps into all the other characters (such as the stepfather -- shown below, left -- played by Taishen Cheng, who brings a sad reticence to his noble character), despite their having quite different agenda than does our loving mother. The "why" and "how" you will have to learn while watching this extremely moving film, which is full of fascinating and highly specific details of life in today's China, as well as excellent performances all 'round. The film is a little long, and I think it would have really devastated me at a slightly shorter running time. Yet it did its job well enough. I shall always remember this mother and what her love for her daughter leads her to demand of herself and those around her. (In case you're wondering, this is no Stella Dallas: the stakes are much higher here.)

Out this month on DVD from Film Movement (for purchase -- or you can join this DVD-of-the-month club, whose taste level is surprisingly and consistently high), In Love We Trust is also available for rental from Netflix and other sources who stock foreign language films.

FEAR ME NOT (Den du frygter) is the latest film from Danish director and co-writer (with Anders Thomas Jensen) Kristian Levring, shown at left, who earlier gave us The King Is Alive and The Intended.
This new film, the best of his that I have seen, is certainly worth your time and trouble. (Right now, it's available only from your local TV-reception provider -- On Demand -- as part of IFC's Festival Direct. Eventually, it should appear on DVD.)

In the film, we meet businessman Mikael, played by Ulrich Thomsen, the Danish go-to guy for any role requiring a sexy and very competent middle-aged actor (Brothers, Adam's Apples and Allegro in his home country; Hitman, The International and Duplicity abroad). Thomsen (shown above, right, and below, left) is always good and just different enough from role to role that he probably is not recognized that much here in the US. In Fear Me Not, he plays a somewhat depressed fellow with a wife (Paprika Steen, below, right) and daughter (Emma Sehested Høeg, above, left) he loves, who has taken a leave of absence from his job to try to recoup... well, something. When he learns of a study involving a new anti-depressant, he comes aboard -- with results that, along with the movie itself, continue to change, surprise and challenge both the character and us viewers.

That's all I'll say, plot-wise, for fear of saying too much. The acting is first-rate, and Levring continues to improve as a director, I think. With this film, he is able to modulate some pretty heavy-duty emotional scenes without falling over into melodrama. The film is definitely worth seeing -- either now, On Demand, or later (one hopes) on DVD.

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