Monday 20 October 2008

Toronto After Dark 2008 - "Let The Right One In"

If there's one thing I learned pretty early on as a parent it's that boys and girls are different. Not in the obvious stereotypical compartmentalized ways that our culture has defined them, but just in how they approach things. Whether it's tackling a problem, reacting to a situation or just playing with friends, there are some marked disparities between two kids of the opposite gender. That becomes even more pronounced if one of them happens to be a centuries old blood-sucking beast.

Sweden's "Let The Right One In" has won numerous awards at various festivals and has received a great deal of press - many describing it as among the best vampire films ever made. Thing is, it isn't really a vampire film...It's much more the story of a young 12 year old boy learning how to relate to the people around him (his mother who smothers him, his father who wants to be buddies, the bullies at school, etc.) and in particular his new neighbour Eli who is also 12 and a girl. Well, on the outside anyway...

Oskar receives advice from her to fight back against those bullies at school and their relationship grows from there in a gentle, slow and very sweet way. Eli controls the pace of this burgeoning friendship/love between her and Oskar while he just tries to figure her out. Her "issues" just help to further show the differences between them - he lacks the capacity to recognize subtlety or to know when to quite teasing, she shows a greater maturity, etc. These scenes were the heart of the film for me and because of this (and the stillness that many of their scenes together have), when the violence occurs it's given a much bigger impact.

But even with a few scenes of bloodletting and the vampire attacks, it isn't a gorefest...Director Tomas Alfredson uses a very washed out palette of colours on screen and even the red of the blood appears more like dark rust. Brighter reds do appear throughout the film, but mostly as pieces of furniture or even clothing worn by the characters. By not over emphasizing the specifics of the attacks, Alfredson makes the viewer fill in the gaps which allows for even more horrific images to come to mind.

The film was also very effective at pulling the viewer into Oskar's life and predicament. When he first fights back against one of the bullies there was a spontaneous round of applause from the crowd (a sell-out by the way - the first for the After Dark festival) and that's probably a good sign that the audience has developed an emotional tie to the character. Though the vampire element of the story is not the core of the film, I found it incorporated its mythic elements (eternal life, avoiding sunlight, etc.) very well into the characters and the main story.

Wider release of the film is expected in North America and I'll definitely catch this again. It's beautifully realized.

The short film that began the evening was the completely excellent "The Facts In The Case Of Mr. Hollow". In what appears as a single take, a roving camera crosses a single photograph and slowly picks up details about what has happened and gives you an idea about what likely is about to happen as well. As we zoom in and out of the foreground and background, it appears that time hasn't actually stopped in the picture since there are subtle changes to it (a match that wasn't lit at the beginning suddenly appears to have been struck, character expressions change, etc.). Directors Rodrigo Gudino and Vincent Marcone have created an absolute fabulous, not to mention unsettling, example of visual storytelling.


Michael Guillen said...

But the question remains: is Eli really a girl? Anatomically, "she's" more neutered than female.

Bob Turnbull said...

Heh, yeah Oskar's got a tough road ahead...B-)

She "used" to be a girl though and I just found that among all the sweetness of the relationship, there seemed to be a distinction between the sexes.

Michael Guillen said...

I thought she "used" to be a boy and then morphed into the female gender?

Bob Turnbull said...

Michael, I have to say that if that was the case (that she used to be a boy), I missed it completely...I seem to remember her talking about how she's been 12 a very long time, so I assumed that she had been 12 in her current state (as a girl) for all that time.

Let me know if I'm way off base...It certainly wouldn't be the first time.