Friday, January 17, 2014

Woooo-eeee! Let's hear it for Israel -- as the Keshales/Papushado BIG BAD WOLVES opens...

Hey, Quentin Tarantino thinks it's the Best Film of the Year. (That'll send some cinephiles, particularly those who love uber-violence, to the theater.) But I wonder what the Israeli powers-that-be, cultural and otherwise, have to say about the new movie BIG BAD WOLVES, which, of all the films to come out of Israel that I have so far seen, including Rabies (Kalevet), paints by far the nastiest picture of the place. Granted, this is a genre movie, of the type which, if we are to believe the very good article by John Anderson that appeared in the The New York Times of January 10, those cultural/political powers-that-be would prefer not be made by talented Israeli filmmakers.

As much as I found Big Bad Wolves to be mostly a crock of ugly and very smelly faux shit, the men who made it are without doubt quite talented. The film-making team here is comprised of Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado (shown above, with Mr. Papushado on the right), who also gave us the crazily enjoyable, if awfully bloody, 2009 Rabies. Their new one is so much more accomplished in most ways that I am guessing their budget may have doubled (or better).

The film's opening, which offers in gorgeous slo-mo three kids playing hide-and-seek, in which the camera covers so much so beautifully that when, soon after, we see a pair of shoes emptied of their owner, our heart skips a beat. What happens to the little girl who was wearing these we see only sidelong, in bits and pieces, but it's horrible enough. Soon after we're treated to a point-by-point, blow by blow description of her torture, mutilation and demise. This isn't simply strong stuff: Because Big Bad Wolves is, first and foremost, an entertainment, it is also disgusting stuff. You'll want to stop the film to bathe or maybe wash the filmmakers' mouths out with soap, or their eyes with acid.

Well, hey, this sort of torture/mutilation/murder of children does go on. Even, I expect, in Israel. Further, Big Bad Wolves, turns out to be a (very) black comedy of sorts. Really. Occasionally, you'll imagine it's the blackest you've seen. And, yes, I did guffaw a few times. The give-and-take between the fellow with the shovel, above, and his mother is choice indeed, as is what happens to and with a certain birthday cake.

After this beginning, the movie is mostly then devoted to the capture and torture of a young man (Rotem Keinan, above) whom someone sort of suspects of doing this horrible deed, without -- from what I could tell -- having more than the very slightest circumstantial evidence with which to convict him. Involved in all this is a policeman (the fine Lior Ashkenazi, below, right) and his underlings; his boss (Menashe Noy, below, left); the father of the child victim (himself a former military man) played by Tzahi Grad, two photos above and in the penultimate one; and finally the father's own father. All the men in the movie turn out to be thugs of one sort or another (hence the title) -- except perhaps for our poor, put-upon victim, who teaches in a religious school (oh, yes: and an Arab who rides by on a horse from time to time).

Though it makes more sense on the surface than did Rabies, the movie has some rather gaping holes. Israeli cities have always struck me as rather heavily inhabited places, yet Big Bad Wolves exists in the kind of movie la-la-land in which a man can be chased in broad daylight down a perfectly respectable middle-to-upper-class street, then tasered and dragged back a block or two to a car and then kidnapped -- with absolute-ly nobody around to notice any of this. Yet, earlier, when the police are illegally interrogating their suspect in what is supposedly a totally deserted and abandoned building (below), all this is conveniently videotaped by a school-kid and then streamed out to YouTube-style to Israel and the world. (I can understand and sympathize with budgetary restrictions, but surely someone could have sprung for a few extras now and then, not to mention a little more logic?!)

If you can buy into crap like the above, then I am guessing that you'll buy most anything in order to get your rocks off via some super violence. Along the way the movie says a mouthful, if is to be believed, about the grossly incompetent Israeli police force and the mindset of the military. And while it is difficult not to see these scarily macho males and what they do as mirroring what Israel is doing to its in-state, Arab neighbors (and has been ever since the new state was first created), we'd best not go there. (After all, those god-damned Arabs have plenty to answer for, too!) In any case, this film can be viewed from all sorts of aspects -- social, political, or Dada-esque.

While I will not give even a hint as to what happens in the end, I will say this: Because the filmmakers clearly want to make this the darkest of dark comedy/horror/torture films (it really does achieve the level of torture porn, by the way), I simply suggest that, before it's all over, you try to imagine the very darkest outcome that you can. Depending on your own capacity for ugliness, you'll either be near correct or right-on.

Big Bad Wolves, from Magnet Releasing and running a too-long 110 minutes, opens today in New York City at the Cinema Village and the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center. Simultanesouly it will open in Chicago at the Music Box, and across Canada in Ottawa, Toronto and Victoria. In the weeks to come, look for it to open in another 20 cities (click here to see all playdates) across the USA, though oddly enough I don't see Los Angeles or Hollywood listed among them. I wonder why?

The photos of the two filmmakers, second from top, 
is by Rina Castelnuovo and comes courtesy 

No comments: