Big day. Due to my lack of commitment on Day 5, I had some catching up to do. So today my journey took in suicidal Belgian alcoholics (not as depressing as it sounds), Tarzan III as played by a Catalan oddity, a surprise Jennifer Lawrence appearance and a whole new side to Vietnam vets....
I'm not really sure where to start with Ne me quitte pas (Don't Leave Me). On the face of it, it should be a mortifyingly dark experience but the charm of the main two characters shines through enough to dispel the bleakness. Sabine Lubbe Bakker's documentary follows two Belgian misfits, Bob and Marcel. The pair spend their days sat at Bob's kitchen table, drinking way too much and chewing the fat about their existence. And their vague plots of mutual suicide. When their big plan (it's never clear if this is a real plan or just them spouting off) is scuppered by the loss of Bob's favourite suicide tree, Marcel is forced to face his booze demons.
Set in the bleak Belgian countryside, the movie begins with Marcel's plaintive pleas to his soon to be ex-wife for one last shag after sixteen years and three children. She completely rejects this and moves out of the family house in the middle of the night. Marcel responds by getting so smashed he collapses in the empty bedroom (hilariously missing bed) and is awoken by Bob literally throwing a bucket of water over him.
It's difficult to get across the spirit of Ne me quitte pas in words because that misses the relationship that Marcel and Bob have. I was going to write 'the relationship they enjoy' but I don't think that really covers it. Clearly dependent on each other and enabling each other's alcoholism (Bob refuses to admit his, citing a six week period when he went hiking and didn't drink as proof that he is not addicted), they have a weirdly supportive relationship that the director captures well. NMQP is darkly hilarious but ultimately, if not uplifting, then at least captivating without you wanting to turn to booze yourself.
Continuing my Day 6 obsession with fascinating characters in documentaries (three out of four movies), we come to The Creator of the Jungle. Filmed by three separate people, over a number of years, we get to witness the incredible architectural feats of Garrell or Tarzan as he prefers to be called.
Initially filmed by a 14 year old boy in the Jungle's first incarnation (the structures here are very definitely the second character behind Garrell), then by a North American art historian years later (the boy having grown up and moved on) before finally being picked up and pieced together by Jordi Morato, Garrell's structures go through a seemingly endless cycle of building, modification, trauma and finally destruction, usually at his hands.
Over these images of a adult size playground of infinite detail and artistic genius, Morato talks of Garrell's constant battle with the forces of civilisation. Seemingly a man with an endless amount of time to play, it's easy to smirk at his loincloth clad adventures with a variety of people through his creation but Garrell is such an astonishing individual, to belittle his work because of his childish glee in it would be a waste. The Creator of the Jungle is a fascinating look at a man who sits aside civilisation (and a huge freeway) and not only longs to do his own thing but actually achieves it. Not once, but three times over the space of 45 years. Impressive.
And so to my token fictional movie of the day, Serena. Pairing, for the third time, Brad and Jennifer (though they were approached to do this prior to Silver Linings), this dark, brooding piece from Danish director Susanne Bier follows Cooper's logging baron as he falls in love with the titular Serena and introducers her to the joys of North Carolina logging. Fortunately for him (at least initially) she's from good logging stock and is soon running rings around his male employees. Obviously this isn't going to end well..
Bier's movie is impressively shot, making great use of the Czech countryside to double as North Carolina's Smoky Mountains. Production design is likewise immaculate with Pemberton's camp perfectly rendered in splendid isolation. But it's the conniving, damaged characters that make this an interesting piece. Determinedly pitched somewhere on the more shiny side of Altman and a more film noir feel, everyone involved here has an ulterior motive or a tragic past to taint their present.
It would be easy to spoil the twists and turns in this movie with too much detail but suffice to say that Pemberton's world soon starts to look as fragile as the forest he so wilfully decimates in order to secure his own future in virgin Brazil. Lawrence is on great form as the most damaged character of all, displaying a steely determination to do what is right by her and her man, irrespective of the consequences. One or two clunky lines of dialogue aside, Serena is a greatly entertaining piece of work.
And finally we have probably my favourite movie from Day 6, Stray Dog. Debra Granik's first foray into documentary making after her superb work with Winter's Bone (Oscar damn you!), this follows the titular Ronnie 'Stray Dog' Hall. Probably the most interesting character you've seen on screen for some time. A Vietnam 'vet, biker, patriot, father, grandfather, multiple dog owner, who still struggles with his war-tinged past.
This all could so easily have confirmed all your worst fears about the biker brotherhood in the USA. After all, it is all here. Fluttering flags, endless talk of war, patriotism, honouring the dead, cookouts, trailer parks, you name an American cliche, it's here. But that's where the cliches end. Ronnie is not that man. Having spent eleven years in Korea, marrying a Korean women and having her children, Ronnie is a man of the world. Now returned to the US and eeking his way out renting lots in a trailer park, he is now working on getting his new Mexican wife's kids over the border to be with her.
Stray Dog does exactly what you want a good documentary to do. It presents you with a world you thought you knew, then brilliantly picks it apart in front of your eyes. It helps that, in Ronnie, Granik has found a genuine character. Her movie is touching, down right hilarious, genuinely affecting and it will make you think.