Monday, November 30, 2009

LOOT opens at IFC and a World War II treasure trove of jewels proves elusive

Two young soldiers in Germany during WWII discover a cache of jewels and and samurai swords then hide them prior to leaving for home back in the USA. Sixty years later the hunt is on to find these treasures, even though the soldiers are aged and decrepit and can't quite remember where in hell they are. If the scenario of LOOT sounds enticing, the finished documentary made from it turns out -- something on the order of the treasures themselves -- to be paste.

Director/editor/co-producer Darius Marder (above, right, who also handles part of the cinematography) has a fascinating story to tell, and does so for the most part in fits and starts. He must first bring us the stories (or a good part of them) not just of the two soldiers involved but also of a family man named Lance Larson (at left, below and top), into whose hands comes this odd tale, and his troubled son -- and then make sense of it all. Shot on three continents (one of which isn't terribly important to the tale) over nearly three years, the movie fills us in fleetingly on the problems between Lance and his son, and of the soldiers (one of whom us now blind, while the other has turned into a kind of crazy pack rat who hordes not just objects but secrets: see photo at bottom).

Nothing quite co-
heres here, yet all of it holds inter-
est. In a post-
viewing discussion of the film with a friend who accom-
panied me to the screening, it turned out we had divergent opinions on two impor-
tant points. While my friend was right about one of these and I the other, the amount of confusion generated by our misunderstanding of the film was unsettling. Who is it who dies at film's end? Is Lance's father ever visible here? How did director Marder become involved in the project? How did he connect with Lance? It's not that these questions are as important as the ones raised by the search for war-crime loot, but the fact that they keep surfacing while watching the movie does not bode well.
As much as we get to know about the two old soldiers and about Lance and his son, what we're left with at the finale seems paltry. As much time as we spend with the characters on view, we really don't get to know them much at all. While they and their story provide enough information to slightly engross and/or concern us, basically we're kept at such a remove from the whole twisty, multi-character tale that everything -- looting, lies, death and even murder -- takes on equal importance and finally proves so lightweight that the whole movie simply blows away with the wind. The scene in the field in Germany toward the end is undeniably moving -- but more for the big picture of reconciliation it provides than for the specific characters we are watching.

Loot, which opens at NYC's IFC Center on Friday, December 4, does not appear to be available from IFC On-Demand. Perhaps the HBO logo I noticed at the film's beginning means that it will eventually be (or has been) shown on one of that company's cable channels.

(All photos are courtesy of the film itself, except that
of Mr. Marder, which is cribbed from his Facebook page.)

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