From Passion to Obsession – Danny Boyle’s Trance

Shocking surprises and high voltage tension: Boyle’s new thriller is not the usual art heist movie but a journey inside the subconscious, where the dark and hazardous realm of our two most basic drives, sexuality and aggression lies.

Boyle may be best known for his Oscar-winning movie Slumdog Millionaire (and for directing the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics), although his debut movie, Shallow Grave, followed by Trainspotting, A Life Less Ordinary and The Beach are far more complex and darker stories I very much recommend to watch. Boyle has exceptional skills in storytelling and timing, he makes his actors walk across fire for him, and I also like his original taste in music, his soundtracks easily go from electro to chansons in one movie.

We receive a pleasantly sarcastic introduction by Simon (James McAvoy), a London auction house employee preparing to sell a famous Goya painting, Witches in the Air, when a gang led by a French thug (Vincent Cassel) performs a heist. The painting disappears in the chaos, only Simon knows where it is, but he has amnesia due to a concussion he suffered during the heist. Before we start to think this will be a classic British gangster comedy, Boyle turns his absurdly funny story into a sinister nightmare.

The gang hires dashing psychiatrist, dr. Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson) specialized in hypnotherapy to search Simon’s mind for the whereabouts of the painting. Elizabeth is so radiant and alluring she could seduce anyone in no time, and an exciting love triangle emerges between her and the two leading men.

Ladies, if you’d been asked, which would you go for, the calm, brooding, cute ‘safe’ guy (McAvoy) or the arrogant, shady, but hot and passionate bad boy (Cassel), who would be your choice? Apart from the personal sympathy for one or the other, in truth most women face this decision between the two male archetypes at least a few times in their lives.

Before quickly ruling out one, let’s meddle with the dilemma a bit. With the latter at least you know what you get. There might be a chance for a few pleasant surprises, but a man who is bluntly a son of a bitch won’t really disappoint you on this. And of course the attraction is huge and irresistible – what risks we don’t take for the chemistry… 😉

But our survival instinct starts screaming when it comes to the point of imagining a life with them (sorry guys, we usually do that assessment after the first-second kiss). So either we quickly jump off the train, which hardly ever happens, more often it’s too late and it’s going too fast already and then comes endless hoping and lots of suffering. Women spend an enormous amount of energy on trying to make bad boys better and never giving up on them. Still, they tend to win every time. Usually this is the moment when a woman cuts her losses (or she is already fully exploited and gets exchanged for the next one) and runs to the safe base.

The ‘safe guy’ on the other hand might have some surprises up in his sleeves. The problem with them is ticking like a bomb: too safe, too calm, too brooding on the long run, and women get to lose their interest and appetite for them. Then comes the conflict of looking for the (occasional) adrenaline rush outside the relationship. Some women feel fine with just the thrill of it, some don’t have a problem with leading parallel lives, and some just need to break free, and never look back. What to do if the man won’t agree with that? What if he thinks if you can’t be his, you shouldn’t be anyone else’s?

And here is the point that Boyle, or rather his scriptwriters, Joe Ahearne and John Hodge caught so well: when passion becomes an obsession, and the sexual desire gets heavily tainted by the other drive, aggression. If one is desperate enough, seized by the fear of losing the other and stays on the edge for some time, it’s pretty easy to step over the line. They might not even recognize how and when their affection turned into a rage and keep bargaining, begging for forgiveness, and threatening in the same sentence. Anger rises high, and you get to see a side of a person you didn’t even imagine it was there. The methods become rougher and rougher, from stalking to harassment, life threats or even assaults. Is there a way out of this? What is left to do when you know the other one is unstoppable by you or anybody else?

No spoilers here, but the turning point of the movie is how Elizabeth tries to solve the conflict.

The dramaturgy uses the method of hypnosis to take us into the mind of the characters, so the action happens on different levels like in the popular sci-fi Inception, but this time in the subconscious, not in a dream. Research already proved that our brain is incapable of telling apart real and imagined experiences, and the scriptwriters even played that trick on the audience, who couldn’t always tell for sure if they see a ‘real’ event or ideas projected by the subconscious.

Each one of the three main characters is suggestive and vivid, and acted out very well.

Dawson and McAvoy play the more complex characters whose motivations and aims are mysterious, for the audience and for the other protagonists as well. Though at first they appear to be the least likely couple, an exceptionally strong, and it is no exaggeration to say, fatal attraction develops between them. Dramatic twists and turns follow one another in a fast pace, and the tension is so high that one can’t really nibble their popcorn peacefully.

The usually reckless poker face Cassel shows even some delicate feelings and a quirky sense of humor. Still it was a slight turn off that he was kissing like a vacuum cleaner hose ran wild. Hopefully he only does this on screen, otherwise we’d feel bad for his gorgeous wife, Monica Bellucci.

White lotus grows inside Audrey Tautou – Mood Indigo preview

After this week’s premiere of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (review here) follows another promising adaptation next week: Mood Indigo was based on French avantgarde artist Boris Vian’s absurdly funny and heartbreaking novel, Foam of the Daze or Froth of the Daydream (in French, L’Écume des Jours).

One of the most moving love stories of the past century features adorable Audrey Taoutou (The Fabulous Life of Amelie Poulain) in the role of Chloé, the fragile heroin who figures out she has a white lotus flower growing in her lungs after she marries bohemian musician and inventor Colin, played by Romain Duris.

Probably every Erasmus or any other ex-exchange student in Europe knows Duris from the movie The Spanish Apartment or L’Auberge Espagnole. I am not too fond of his hyperactive acting style,  so I am looking forward this movie with slight tension.

Tautou already made a lovable movie, Priceless with comedian Gad Elmaleh, “the French Woody Allen”, and I am curious to see dashing Omar Sy again, whose breakthrough role was the African caretaker of the rich French paraplegic in The Intouchables, the biggest French box office hit in recent years.

Mood Indigo was directed by French creative mastermind Michel Gondry, who boasts quite an exciting career: he made creepy music videos for Björk, Massive Attack and Chemical Brothers, indie comedies like Be Kind Rewind and a not very successful action movie, The Green Hornet. His most famous work so far is the brilliant love story Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which brought him an Oscar for best original screenplay in 2005, and gives us high hopes regarding the Boris Vian adaptation.

Can’t wait to see how he transmitted all the wonderful surrealistic details of the novel on screen, for example, when Chloé’s condition starts getting worse, the walls of their home begin to shrink… Or Colin’s awesome piano, which mixes drinks according to the mood of the tunes played on it.

Eurovision Grand Finals: Hungarian ByeAlex can win big tonight

ByeAlex’s was the first name called out on Thursday’s ESC Semi Finals to enter today’s Grand Finals. The Hungarian entry may be a big surprise today as well.

The young man with a beard, in huge, black framed glasses, black knit hat and a way too small corduroy suit – with his ankles and goofy socks showing – seemed terribly nervous on stage, and his voice was trembling while he performed his song Kedvesem. No wonder he was scared shitless, he never performed in front of more than maybe a hundred people, apart from the rehearsals. Still, the audience immediately clicked with him, they started clapping the rhythm, humming the catchy tune and giving him a huge ovation.

‘Very cute, but you have to agree he cannot sing’ – commented a viewer on ESC’s Facebook page after the semi finals.  The singer was labelled ‘hot’ and compared to Johnny Depp by some, others wrote he looked ‘broke’ and ‘stole the glasses of the Israeli contestant’.

Only a few complained that they didn’t understand a word of the song, but this wasn’t a problem for the majority – in fact, they liked the weird, but melodic Hungarian language. Others also sang in their mother language, this will not be a decisive factor in the voting loaded with centuries of historical antipathies and neighbour conflicts within the radius of the Baku-Reykjavik circle.  The refrain ‘Alcohol is free’ repeated by the Greek band didn’t resonate with the audience because of its English either.

All my foreign friends were fascinated by the Hungarian entry, and said exactly the same like many people here after the national finals: the song is refreshingly different and of much better quality than the usual Eurovision bubblegum pop, world music techno and retro glam rock acts. He was very lucky that his performance was followed by the high-tech industrial music/dominatrix show of the Norwegian entry so his simple, innocent song stood out even more.

On the press conference after the semi finals, it appeared that the Swedish organizers and international rivals looked at ByeAlex – who murmured a quote from Nietzsche, very unusually for this scene – as a kind, lovable freak, harmless to the competition. But that self-important attitude around him might as well fuel the audience’s defiance which pushed the shy, humble Alex through the Hungarian contest.

He is not a singer with a routine. He had two hits so far played in the radio (one of them is the adorable MILF-song Csókolom about the confessions of a poetic young soul in love with a much older woman), but his songs were so smooth and elaborated that I always assumed he had years of experience in composing and performing music. Until I first saw Alex Márta, the singer who’s being constantly teased for his choice of the stage name ByeAlex (Hello Alex, Why Alex and so on) in the first semi finals of A Dal, the Hungarian Eurovision Song Contest.

I almost fell out of my pants when he said it was his 6th live performance on stage ever. He was competing with professional musicians, with decades of experience, as well as talent show rising stars performing songs written by renowned and expensive songwriters. His delicately simple song has only some easy, allegoric lyrics repeating (his love dancing on top of the clouds, diving into the deep of the oceans and building a carriage of rosemary), a pretty guitar tune, enhanced with an equally simple and pure electronic sample produced by an acknowledged DJ Zoohacker (he was the biggest name behind the production) and a cute animated background made by Alex’s sister, a young graphic artist.

The jury of the Hungarian contest didn’t take him seriously and made nasty remarks teasing him that the kindergarten kids happen to like his song, after cover and karaoke versions by kids started flooding YouTube shortly after his first performance. One jury member swooned, ‘Kids will want to dress up like ByeAlex for the upcoming mardigras in the kindergarten’ – ‘Yeah, because it’s cheap’ – replied another.

I cannot contest that kids really loved his song. My 5-year-old daughter told me after the first semi final that ByeAlex is going to win, and they agreed on it with her friends in her Little Mole Group – of course I smiled. Even after he got through the second semi final solely with audience votes, nobody thought of him as a possible winner. Except for the kids of course, who were already sporting Alex hats and singing Kedvesem in the bathtub. They must have been the ones too, who sent 20 votes each on him, so he won the finals…

Oh, it was such a public outrage! Celebutants posted suicidal status messages, haters trolled his page, and he became the centre of merciless media attention for weeks. On the other hand, he quickly got over 20 thousand new followers and fans, and for some time he even responded to their messages one by one in person, taking things a bit too seriously.  My colleague, who interviewed him, told me he was really the sincere everyday guy we saw on stage, and he was totally clueless what he was thrown into, but it affected him deeply.

The singer – who previously worked as a part-time journalist for a tattoo magazine after finishing his masters in Philosophy – spoke many times about his hurtful feelings, being unfairly bashed for his win. Finally, a few of the sites and blogs which were at first supportive, also started mocking him and calling him a sissy.

In spite of his success to get to the finals, Hungarian opinions have never been more extreme. His fans consider the ardent philosopher-musician a hero and an oracle, while others will never come to terms with the ‘anti-Hungarian, anarchist looking weirdo’ representing our country in the equally slurred song contest.

Now he is fuelled by the desire to prove – he said in an interview. It would be time he let go of the mission and started singing for himself. Because no matter how tonight will turn out, he will never amaze haters at home. Still, he has a good chance to make a difference in the Eurovision Grand Finals, if he could overcome his anxiety and won’t screw up the performance.

Tonight will be a long night for many Hungarian parents – including me –, with all the small kids staying up to watch their ByeAlex…

Grand Gatsby

Bold, colorful, noisy and thrilling: Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby is the hell of an adaptation of the great American classic, just as expected.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s hero, the iconic Jay Gatsby comes from nothing and climbs to the top of the social ladder by taking advantage of the unlimited possibilities of the 1920ies. He embodies the American dream, with the glamorous surface and the dark downside altogether. However, the Australian director famous for his extravagant style focused more on the timeless love story in one of the finest works of American literature.

His former Romeo, Leonardo DiCaprio still retains his boyish charm, but already has the seductive masculine power for the role of the mysterious millionaire playboy. Gatsby is delicately handsome and athletic, has a penchant for luxurious vintage muscle cars, elegant suits and fine shirts. Contradicting the stereotype, he doesn’t surround himself with women – he has been in love with one girl for five years.

Daisy (Carey Mulligan), however, did not wait until he returned from the World War and could have provided her the lavish lifestyle she was used to. Instead she married a wealthy man from an influential family, the handsome Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton), who soon turned out to be an arrogant womanizer. Gatsby disregards the treason and tries for his life to retrieve his only love. At night, he stands brooding on the pier in front of his castle, reaching his hand out to the dream on the other side of the bay, towards the Buchanan residence, and throws extraordinary opulent parties to attract Daisy’s attention.

The visuals and the soundtrack provide an orgy for the senses, especially if they pour on us in 3D and digital sound quality. Luhrmann and his creative partner, set and costume designer (and wife) Catherine Martin created a luxurious swirl reminiscent of Moulin Rouge. Beyonce, Jay-Z (the soundtrack’s executive producer), Bryan Ferry, Jack White,, Florence + the Machine, Lana del Rey and Sia among others perform the at times wildly rumbling, at times lyrically soft soundtrack blended with elements of jazz. The least appealing are the hip-hop tracks, the most memorable is Lana del Rey’s haunting, melodramatic Young and Beautiful song, which will most likely start playing in your head whenever you think of the movie.

DiCaprio has a classical, magnetic radiation similar to Clark Gable and Cary Grant. Edgerton is pleasantly surprising in the role of the not clearly repugnant Tom Buchanan, and Isla Fisher is entertainingly outrageous as Tom’s vulgar mistress.   On the other hand, Mulligan’s acting may leave us unaffected and Tobey Maguire – playing the narrator and Gatsby’s only companion – tends to be dull and helplessly stumbling.

The film is yet a memorable, grand creation. Luhrmann meticulously timed the ending, just like in Romeo and Juliet, and the masquerade and the famous aquarium scene also recurs (although through a glass window) in one party scene.

He delivers his usual – perhaps even expected – loud squish of kitsch, but there are some touchingly fine details too. For example, dramatically outstretched, breathtaking scenes reminiscent of golden era Hollywood romances, like the one when the two former lovers glimpse each other for the first time after five years.

Although mesmerizing and monumental, the adaptation fails to engage us emotionally. We are not keeping our fingers crossed for the lonely dreamer to defeat the sea of ​​disillusionment and lecherous nihilism, nor does it break our hearts when Daisy betrays him again. Not sure if this is entirely the film’s fault – our time is just as detached and disillusioned as the one that predestined Gatsby to fail.