PIFF 2017: Take 3


40th Portland International Film Festival/February 9-25, 2017

One Week and a Day (Israel) dir. Aspah Polonsky (98 mins) Trailer

One Week and a Day is an improbably funny and quite moving film about a couple mourning the loss of their 25-year-old son, Ronnie, who died from cancer. Both are devastated, their grief a tangible presence. Vicky carries on, taking care of the household and returning to her job as a schoolteacher, while Eyal comes unmoored. Vicky's anguish runs every bit as deep as her husband's, but she deals, or fails to deal, with it in different fashion.

Eyal is something of a crank and a hothead by nature. His behavior is bizarre as he feuds with the neighbors, gets into disputes wtih cab drivers, and forgets depsite Vicky's reminders to reserve two plots in the cemetery so they can be buried next to Ronnie when the time comes.

And he takes up smoking pot after he happens on a bag labeled "Medical Cannabis" with Ronnie's name on it at the hospice while looking for a blanket that was left behind. The search for the blanket leads to an endearing little girl who hangs out at the hospice because her mother is there. Encountering Eyal in the hall and seeing that he is trying to make off with the pot, she advises him to stick it down his pants because that is what her cousin does when he takes things.

Eyal returns home and sets up shop at the kitchen table where he proceeds to attempt to roll a joint. Unable to get the papers to hold together, he enlists the aid of young Zooler, the 28-year-old son of his neighbors who lives at home with his parents and works at a sushi place delivering phone orders on his scooter. Zooler is pretty much Zonker from Doonesbury. His dream is to compete in the world air guitar championships. He and Eyal slowly bond over pot and assorted escapades, among them a touching sequence with the little girl at the hospice that features a pantomime "air surgery" to remove her mother's tumor.

The mix of mishaps, hijinks, and pathos holds together quite nicely to make for an altogether enjoyable film.

The Commune (Denmark/Sweden/Netherlands) dir. Thomas Vinterberg (112 mins) Trailer

I saw The Commune at a press screening two weeks ago. A scribbler more on top of his game would have written about it immediately afterward while it was fresh in his mind. The Commune is my favorite among the films I have seen at this year's festival, but I fear my commentary is sketchier and less insightful than I would like. I heartily recommend this one.

The scene is Copenhagen, early 1970s, a middle-class family, parents with professional careers, a daughter age fourteen left much to her own devices. Erik is a somewhat dour architecture professor, frustrated because he has ambitions to design buildings instead of just teaching about it. Anna has a more upbeat personality. She is poised, bright, self-assured, a TV news journalist who covers serious stories. She is respected in her profession and something of a local celebrity.

The movie opens with a visit to the spacious, beautiful house where Erik grew up, which he inherited after the recent death of his father. It appears that this is first time Anna and Freja the daughter have laid eyes on the place. This seems a bit odd, as the house is not in some remote or distant location. At any rate it is a grand house. Anna and Freja are instantly taken with it. Erik though deems it much too big for three people. He is all for selling it for a tidy sum. Anna and Freja dissent.

Given the time and place, the zeitgeist and all that, the solution is in the air. Anna proposes they form a commune. They should live with fantastic people, she says. It will be stimulating. Erik is dubious but goes along, a trait of his personality and part of the dynamic of their relationship.

They set about interviewing prospective members. Freja participates in this and has an equal vote. For the most part she remains a silent observer during the interviews and much that follows, not exactly detached because she is deeply affected by events, sometimes bemused, sometimes troubled, all too cognizant of absurdities to which the adults are oblivious.

The people invited to join the commune may be quirky and a bit eccentric but not one of them is not particularly fascinating or stimulating. First on board is an old friend brought in at Anna's insistence. He is a carefree sort who arrives at the house with all his belongings in two plastic bags and no money or source of income. He thinks it will be great fun to live with Erik and Anna and soon assumes the role of de facto chair at commune meetings. Among other idiosyncrasies is the habit of gathering up personal belongings left lying about and tossing them onto a bonfire without deigning to consult the owner.

The remaining communards are a couple with a six-year-old son not expected to live beyond nine due to a heart condition, a single woman with an uninhibited sex life, and the single outsider, an East European immigrant who weeps at his interview when the others become angry with him, explaining that people always get angry with him. It's his personality. He is a second member with no money and no source of income beyond odd jobs he takes on. Nonetheless, Erik intercepts the weeping Slav as he makes for the door and throws his hand into the air to vote him into the commune, whereupon the others unanimously follow suit.

The story is Anna, Erik, and Freja's story. The rest of the group form a sort of extended family that serves as a backdrop of bickering, pettiness, and sometimes comic relief against which the family drama plays out. There is camaraderie too and a kind of bonding that develops over time.

Anna, Erik, and Freja's story turns on Erik's infidelity, Anna's response to it, and Freja's coming of age. At first Anna holds to her principles of open-mindedness when Erik tells her he is in a relationship with a student and it is serious. She tells him he should invite Emma to join the commune. Anna will move to another room. There is no reason they cannot share their lives.

Erik, who is I think a more sympathetic character than he may sound in my brief description here, goes along because he still cares for Anna, perhaps even loves her. Their fifteen years together are not to be lightly cast aside. A less charitable interpretation is that he wants to have it both ways and resists having to choose.

Things are not so simple as Anna would have them. They may live in the same house and dine with the others at the communal table, and Anna may get along with Emma, but she does not share Erik, and it gets to her. Her breakdown comes by degrees in a manner that is believable, wrenching, and compelling. At the very end it is young Freja who comes off as the adult voice in the room, telling Anna, you can do what you must. I thought of Ingmar Bergman.

Memo from the Editorial Desk

This piece endured minor stylistic edits after it was initially published.

#Cinema

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