Learn Hatred The Black Metal Way.
Where I live, September brings autumn, frosh week, and film festivals, each terribly annoying in their own way. The fall provides glimpses of a depressingly long winter on the horizon, frosh floods the streets with the charming stench of partially digested pub fare and bile, and the film festivals kick off with The Montreal World Film Festival, a great idea executed almost incompetently. Every year I attend, throwing good money away at a schedule so mammoth in scope that Deep Blue allegedly took three bathroom breaks while processing the program guide. To say that quantity trumps quality would be an understatement akin to saying that this site gets a little snippy sometimes; the line-up feels like they fired a load of birdshot at a world map and picked twenty films from every pissant, fly-speck country that got hit by a pellet. I’m as worldly as an Illico-addicted shut-in can be, but as thrilled as I am that Turkmenistan has an film industry now, I really don’t need to see a two hour epic about how the death of Babur’s goat has deprived his home village of both a food source and a eligible bachelorette.
And a fine wife she'll make, Babur
That said, this year I took a slightly different tack. Instead of picking twenty films by pouring over the overpriced program until I couldn’t focus on the words praising the effects the discovery of electricity has had on the studio system of Burkina-Faso, I just picked a bunch of movies at random based around my free time. The result, amazingly, was an evening of two surprisingly good movies. The first film was En Folkenfiende, roughly translated as Enemy of the People. It's the latest film from Erik Skjoldbjaerg, The Muppet Show’s Swedish chef, whose original version of Insomnia is one of my favourite films. En Folkenfiende is an adaptation of a Henrik Ibsen play, and it helped to shatter some illusions I had about theatre. Despite have attended more than my share of theatre performances, I’m still stuck with a conception of theatre as a claustrophobic, overacted bore, a conceptual mix between one of those live murder mystery evenings and women in corsets tittering at 16th century double-entendres while a busload of high school students falls asleep in Stratford, Ontario. Most film adaptations, like the otherwise interesting Closer, keep that awkward, stagebound feel, but En Folkenfiende is such a loose adaptation that it frees itself from its stagey shackles. Another misconception destroyed by this film was my perception of Norway. Having learned everything I know about the country from Scandinavian Black Metal, a genre of music that sounds something like rain falling on a corrugated tin rough crossed with an industrial sander, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Norwegians are not all 9 foot behemoths clad in corpse paint and bondage gear, coming off as the bastard love children of Gene Simmons and dominatrix Lady Heather. The rivers do not run red with Christian blood, nor does fire rain from a blazing northern sky. There is, however, a lot of standing around and talking in a language that sounds like a bad mockery of German. I’ve picked up a little bit of Norwegian, thanks to Black Metal, but it was confined to knowing how to say ‘black castle’ (dimmu borgir, if you’re interested), and a phonetically-learned tirade against Jewish music critics (thank you, Darkthrone), who apparently are rather hard on the frequently anti-Semitic genre . Having heard a lot more of Norwegian now, I can safely say that it’s the funniest language I’ve ever heard, barring whatever the hell that guy from The Gods Must Be Crazy speaks.
The movie itself follows an anti-corporate activist, a nutritionist named Tomas Stockmann. Stockmann is not played by Stellan Skarsgaard, but for the purposes of clarity in this review, we’ll pretend that he is. The character is not the sort of anti-capitalist North American audiences are familiar with, in that he doesn’t have a bandana wrapped around anything like a jackass nor does he look like he smells like a sweaty dumpster. A crusader for consumer rights, Stockmann hosts a Michael Moore-style TV show where he confronts corporate criminals in video-taped ambushes, only one would imagine he doesn’t make quite as much stuff up as Moore. Quitting the show after too much interference, Stockmann moves back to his hometown, along with his wife, a pinch-faced woman who looks like Franke Potente after eating a lemon, and her father, who appears to be Orson Welles. Once there, they start up a bottled water company using a rejuvenative local spring. Stockmann soon finds himself on the wrong end of a scandal, however, once he discovers that the water may be contaminated with pesticides. Things go from bad to worse as his crusade to take down the company threatens to destroy his marriage, the town, and his very expensive-looking suits. The film is an interesting look at a character who at first seems straightforward and noble, but is gradually revealed to be a troubled and flawed man, which is the reverse of your standard narrative arc, sort of like if you made a movie about Mother Theresa and ended it with her trading handjobs for black tar opium in a Calcutta smokehouse. Skarsgaard’s performance is striking, and the direction from Skjoldbjaerg is confident, making this a strong entry among the 48000 other films at the Montreal World Film Festival. Hopefully, the film critics will agree. As long as they’re not Jewish.