Wednesday 10 September 2008

TIFF 2008 - Country Wedding

Shot over 7 days using 4 handheld cameras and a mostly improvised script by a core of 15-16 actors, Valdis Oskarsdottir's "Country Wedding" is somewhat like an Icelandic Dogme 95 film done by Christopher Guest. Only somewhat though, because it stands on its own as a unique and incredibly entertaining trip.

On the day of their wedding, Bardi and Ingibjorg are attempting to get themselves, their family and their guests (both the invited and uninvited) to a small country chapel for what they hope to be a simple lovely ceremony. Even though the entire wedding party is less than 20 people, they've rented two large buses to bring them to their destination. One bus has the bride, her best friend (and date), her brother, her divorced parents, her Mom's boyfriend and her friend's absent-minded grandmother. The other bus has the groom, his parents, his sister, his buddy and an old family friend (and his guest). Each of the characters seems to be hiding something and as each secret is revealed, further confusion and dismay is added to the proceedings.

Since the bride and groom aren't suppose to see each other until the ceremony, walkie talkies are used between the buses to convey messages. At one point, the groom tells the other bus that his claustrophobia won't allow him to take the highway through a long tunnel - so it's off the beaten track using gravel roads to get to the chapel. Along the way they stop at small village stores, get lost, visit several wrong chapels, lose the grandmother and fight. It's all handled quite brillantly...Oskarsdottir is an experienced editor (a number of Dogme and other Scandinavian films, with Gus Van Sant, Michel Gondry, Harmony Korine, etc.) before tackling this as her first directorial effort. Her editor's sense allows for terrific pacing throughout and along the way there is a gradual release of little bits of information. As more details come out, tempers begin to flare and a domino effect occurs where even more secrets come out. Alcoholism, infidelity, sickness, jealousy, obsession...Good thing there's a psychologist on the bus that people can turn to. Except that he isn't really a psychologist...

Along with the surprises are the many smaller character moments. The actors have really studied their roles (and apparently rehearsed their back stories) and deliver finely tuned consistent behaviour. Of course this can only strengthen the funny business - the little asides, the one on one discussions, the throw away lines in the background - and make it more relatable. Even the one-off characters encountered along the way deliver some great moments. One example is a young woman behind the counter at a puny little convenience store:

Groom: "Is there a church around here?"
Young woman: "Church? No. There is a schoolhouse...The schoolhouse has a pool. But it's been closed since the schoolmaster's wife drowned herself in it."

Just for a second you completely forget about the wedding party's predicament and wonder what that poor schoolmaster's wife's life must've been like in order for her to drown herself. I feel bad about it, but it gave me the biggest laugh of the film. Other parts of the movie seemed to give other audience members their own big laughs, so it just shows how richly talented the cast was in creating those moments. There's a wealth of them.

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