The Argentine end of the world drama Phase 7 had it’s moments, but some odd shiftsin tone meant I couldn’t enjoy it as much as I would have liked. As society collapses under the onslaught of a deadly virus, a young couple hole up in their apartment block while their neighbours take up arms against each other.
The scenario is played mostly straight, but with occasional jarring lurches into black comedy and slapstick that do little more than diffuse tension. Worse, the central couple are quite annoying – he guy is petulant and unreliable, while the woman spends most of her time complaining (often with some cause, but still). I was also distracted by the score, which is a homage (or rip off, if you’re feeling less charitable) of John Carpenter’s back catalogue. I’ve seen worse, but it’s not a total success.
Much better is Tomboy, a tween variant on Boy’s Don’t Cry, from Water Lillies director Celine Sciamma. Lead character, a 10 year old girl called Laure, moves house and impulsively pretends to the local kids that she’s a boy. It’s very plausible at first – lead Zoe Heran is remarkable, and the film actually conceals her gender for the first 10 minutes – but the illusion proves harder and harder to maintain, and you’re soon dreading the inevitable. A moving, believable film with a collection of superb child performances.
The Hungarian auteur Bela Tarr makes films for people who find the works of Ingmar Bergman to be on the frenetic side. Turin Horse, which may apparently be his final work, is described in the programme this: “In Turin in 1889, the philosopher Fredrich Nietzsche stopped a cab driver from whipping his horse and promptly collapsed, spending hs remaining years in more or less demented silence.” Quite what this has to do with the events we seeon screen I’m unclear, though “demented silence” is certainly how the two main characters live. A man and his adult daughter living in an isolated house on a permanently windswept plain, we see then going about their daily routine: feeding the horse, cleaning, cooking (their diet consists of boiled potatoes and nothing else).
Gradually we become aware that something is wrong: a neighbour visits with warnings of doom, the horse become sick and refuses to eat. Just what apocalyptic events are unfolding we never learn: we simply observe the two people descend into silent, baffled despair.
Tarr – who has also programmed some vintage Hungarian cinema for this year’s EIFF – can only be described as an acquired taste. His work makes no concessions to those who enjoy such things as plot and dialogue. You have to be willing to immerse yourself in his bleak, black and white, doom-laden visions to get any kind of pleasure from this film; not everyone will be willing to make that kind of leap.