Sunday 26 April 2009

Bloody Mondays & Strawberry Pies

With a few screeners in hand, I'll be trying to get in some early reviews of films playing at this year's Hot Docs Film Festival in Toronto (April 30 - May 10).

"Life could be so wonderful if only we knew what to do with it." - Greta Garbo

This is the kind of film that people describe as "a meditation". In this case, one about the passage of time, the value of boredom and how you view the meaning of your own life. The meditation description is pretty valid here since we aren't really provided with a story arc to follow nor do we really get to know about any of the characters that we meet in fits and starts. It's not even about the different issues and philosophies the talking heads raise.

Using voice over readings from Dostoyevsky's "Notes From The Underground" and Bret Easton Ellis' "American Psycho" to guide us throughout the entire film (as the opening titles say, the voices of the universally bored), director Coco Schrijber bounces us between stockbrokers, desert dwellers, factory workers, artists, WW II spies and a variety of other walks of life. Occasionally overlapping comments mix with overlapping images and the editing cuts between unrelated environments, but we still eventually begin to gather some different perspectives on what people believe we should be doing with our time.

Goran the New York stockbroker, for his part, doesn't see much worth in having nothing to do: "Work, family, friends...What else is there? This is what it is". Lovely young factory worker Lena sees a world of opportunity and beauty: "I have to discover this world in order to be happy. But the world doesn't give you things. You must take them." Her acoustic guitar songs and apartment filled with art books and literary works show she's been trying. There's also the artist who has been painting numbers (starting from '1') for the last 42 years - it wasn't clear exactly where he was, but he passed a million at some point. In his mind, it's been a valuable way to spend his time. In a completely different part of the world, for some who live out near the desert the day of the week has pretty much lost its meaning. They find a sense of irony in seeing tourists who come to experience the silence of their surroundings - and then ruin that silence by behaving as they do at home.

If the whole thing doesn't quite coalesce into a grand unifying thematic work, it certainly provides moments of interest, reflection and certainly visual beauty. Though it is almost experimental in nature at times in its approach to editing scenes with sound and other images, it also manages to take its time to show some quiet and beautiful scenes. I don't think Schrijber is particularly looking for that grand statement anyway. There's too much thrown into the mix here - particularly when you add John Malkovich's narration.

If there is something frustrating about the film, it's the stories that are incomplete. Both Lena and Goran show flashes of deeper stories underneath. The stockbroker job alone would make an interesting film as the glimpses of the young brokers making cold calls and the hard sell tactics they use are as fascinating as they are ugly. Then there's The White Mouse - the 96 year old former WW II female spy who briefly recounts a few memories of being beautiful and so alive. The stories she could tell...

The Bloody Mondays of the film's title refers to Brenda Spencer - the "I Don't Like Mondays" girl who shot 11 people because she thought it would be interesting and a good way to pass the time. She bookends the film as part of footage from her initial arrest to a recent parole board hearing where we learn that she seems quite at ease with her daily existence. The Strawberry Pies are assembled partially by Lena through her very manual and very repetitive daily tasks in the factory. And yet, I find her outlook on life much more optimistic and interesting than the more "successful" stockbroker. For example:

  • Goran: "There's only so much relaxing and reading and absorbing the other things in life that you can do" (a comment my wife described as showing a complete lack of imagination)
  • Lena: "The world is everywhere. It has endless possibilities. It's up to me to spot them."

Here's the trailer:

"Bloody Mondays & Strawberry Pies" screens:

  • Thursday May 7th at 10:00PM (The Royal Cinema)
  • Saturday May 9th 1:30PM (Isabel Bader Theatre)

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