FilmWatch Weekly: Denmark’s spot with animated feature ‘Flee’ and food drama ‘A Taste of Hunger’
In recent decades, Danish cinema has been known for several things: formal experimentation in the vein of Lars von Trier, and, especially going back to the Oscar for best foreign film in 1988, Babette’s Feast, food porn. It might be a stretch, but it’s not every week that two Danish movies open in town on the same weekend, and each of them fills a range in that statement.
The title and poster of To flee make the film, in my opinion, a disservice. The poster features several dozen illustrations of various individuals on a white background. Coupled with its downright universal title, this led me to expect some sort of anthology of stories about the immigrant and/or refugee experience. In fact, the reality is much more precise and efficient.
When director Jonas Poher Rasmussen decided to make a documentary about the experiences of his longtime friend, the pseudonym Amin, an Afghan immigrant, there was one obstacle: Amin could only tell his story safely if he stayed anonymous. So Rasmussen ended up using a combination of animation and stock footage to tell the very particular, yet painfully universal, story of just one of countless victims of war and upheaval around the world.
Amin’s story begins with his childhood in 1980s Kabul, during the Soviet invasion and occupation of the country. Eventually, he and his family members eventually escape to Moscow, where they continue to work on emigration to Western Europe. Details are heartbreaking, rendered like a two-dimensional rotoscope, except during the extreme moments when the visuals morph into chalky black-and-white abstract images.
The narrative occasionally jumps to present-day Copenhagen, revealing that Amin is, today, a successful, albeit haunted, academic with a handsome and devoted husband. I wish the film had explained a little better why Amin remains, despite his clear acculturation and assimilation, reluctant to share his backstory. But the bottom line is that, like so many others who have gone through war, dislocation, tragedy and deprivation, to finally arrive at some stability, he dares not do anything to upset it.
Using animation for documentary or memoir purposes is not particularly new. 2008 Waltz with Bashir explored the experiences of an Israeli soldier in the Lebanon War; The avant-garde of Marjane Satrapi Persepolis, released the previous year, did the same for the life of a child in revolutionary Iran. Even more relevant are Portlander Joe Sacco’s graphic novel portrayals of the refugee experience, including Palestine and Safety zone: Gorazde are clear precursors to Rasmussen’s effort here. The added impact comes from the incorporation of archival news footage covering some of the (often tragic) events that Amin’s family experienced during their exodus.
Which give To flee its power is its particularity. The fact that Amin is Muslim, or Afghan, or gay, all of which have an impact on his fate and the threats he faces, is nevertheless less than the fact that he is a child, randomly thrust (at least from his point of view) in a maelstrom of random events. cruelty, constant fear and relentless determination. He is not supposed to represent all the victims of war, revolution and intolerance, but he is one of them, even if he managed to build a life despite everything. (Opens Friday, January 28 at Cinema 21 and Cinema Salem.)
AMONG THE EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS of To flee (that is, the people who lent their names to the project to improve its visibility) are Oscar-nominated actor Riz Ahmed and Danish film star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, best known on these shores and the most others as Jamie Lannister in game of thrones. By a coincidence perhaps less impressive considering the population of Denmark, Coster-Waldau stars in the other Danish film discussed today, as a hyper-motivated chef in the melodramatic A taste of hunger.
Carsten (Coster-Waldau) is a charismatic but demanding kitchen god, who, along with his wife, Maggie (Katrine Greis-Rosenthal), wants nothing more than to win the singular honor of a Michelin star for their provincial restaurant. . As word spreads of a Michelin reviewer’s possible arrival in town, stress levels reach a fever pitch and the mysterious arrival of a message alluding to Maggie’s extramarital indiscretions only stokes the fire. .
Unfortunately, director Christoffer Boe can’t decide whether The taste of hunger is a Bergmanian exploration of marital discord and discontent or an exposition of high-end restaurant culture in all its glorious excess. If the many scenes of precision food preparation are enough to whet the appetite of even the least greedy, we don’t really know what drives people to this kind of taste monomania. And the emotional conflicts between Carsten and Maggie never go beyond the predictably tendentious, despite a nice surprise reveal at the end. (Opens Friday, January 28 at Living Room Theatres.)
It’s an especially fertile week for repertoire screenings in Portland, an occasion that underscores how fortunate we are to be in a city that continues to provide a diverse range of big-screen offerings that create a film community of a way that residential streaming simply can’t. It may not be considered a representative title, but the Hollywood Theater is screening the 2021 black and white version alley of nightmares (the 1947 version was already monochrome) for only three sessions this weekend. the noir the atmosphere of Guillermo Del Toro’s latest should only be enhanced in this format, and we probably have co-writer Kim Morgan’s Portland roots to thank for the opportunity to enjoy them.
Otherwise, in addition to Hollywood, the Clinton Street Theater and the Cinemagic Theater (recently under new ownership) also strut their stuff. Here is a day-to-day view:
Friday 28/01: Jim Jarmusch’s cult western Dead man and the Dutch thriller Disappearance, both at the Clinton; At Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim and schlock 1980s sci-fi slicers at Cinemagic.
Saturday 1/29: Professor Elliot Lavine presents 1957’s The sweet scent of success at Cinema 21; a double feature by Christopher Nolan Creation and Dunkirk takes place at Cinemagic; Jean-Pierre Melville’s Existential French Gangster Film the Samurai is at the Clinton; and the Prince’s magnum opus, purple rainis in Hollywood.
sunday 1/30: A triple feature (separate admissions) that has probably never happened before The iron giant, Stupid and dumberand My own private Idaho at Cinemagic; the timeless concert documentary Monterey pop at the Clintons.
Monday 31/01: A tribute to the late filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich with moon paper at Hollywood ; Argentinian director Lucretia Martel’s feature debut La Cienaga at the Clinton; and the sublime fable of the serial killer by David Fincher Seven at Cinemagic.
tuesday 2/1: The first feature film by Yugoslav anarchist Dusan Makavejev, 1966 man is not a bird, at the Clinton; 1988 ‘B-Movie Bingo’ entry The Night of the Kickfighters (with an appearance by Adam West!) in Hollywood. Now there is a contrast.
Wednesday 2/2: the elegiac of Robert Altman, masterly anti-Western of 1971 McCabe and Mrs. Miller at Cinemagic (see this one on the big screen if you can!); 1982 Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan turns 40and birthday in Hollywood; and a new documentary about British feminist punk icon Poly Styrene, told through her daughter’s eyes, titled Poly Styrene: I’m a clichéat the Clintons.
Thursday 2/3: Time to kick back, grab a pitcher or two of martinis, and head to Hollywood for a 1934 screening The thin man.
I’ve always said that if you can’t find something interesting to see at a Portland area theater on a given night, then you probably don’t try. And I’m glad to see theaters starting to make that statement true again, week after week.