SIFF Day 2 – Loneliness and Survival

As it turns-out, Danish film THE EXPERIMENT is not much about science and WRECKED is not about heavy drinking…

Adrien Brody in WRECKED

>>> WRECKED (Canada, 2011, 91′) Dir. Michael Greenspan – Scr. Christopher Dodd – DP. James Liston – Music. Michael Brook – Prod. Kyle Mann [Screening in Focus Canada block]

WRECKED begins not with a bang, but with the slow, fuzzy return of consciousness to Adrien Brody’s unnamed protagonist, who awakes to find himself battered and bloodied in the passenger seat of a mangled Chevrolet. With no memory of his name, his friends or how he came to be the sole survivor of a car wreck deep in the forest, he must not only escape the wreck and make his way back to civilization but he must also figure-out what part he might have played in the bank robbery he hears reported on the radio. Though this mystery is the driving force behind the narrative, the film’s tension lies primarily in whether or not Brody can survive in the wilderness and how. For what feels like it could be the entire film Brody is trapped in the car, his leg wedged under the dashboard and the passenger door stuck shut. Not that there isn’t plenty to do in the car, with a body in the back seat, a gun on the floor, large carnivorous things stalking about outside and a boiled sweet resting just out of reach by the driver door.

Director, Michael Greenspan, makes the most of every moment we spend enclosed with Brody whose compelling performance, along with Christopher Dodd’s excellent screenplay, elevates his character high above the aches and pains factory we meet in the opening scene. By the time we’re out of the car, the stage is expertly set for a tense but oh so painfully arduous crawl back to civilization and, hopefully, closure. (Extra points must be awarded, by the way, for the inclusion of Tiny Tim’s rendition of Tip Toe Through the Tulips in a beautifully judged moment at once light-hearted and pathetic).

WRECKED satisfies both as a survival thriller and a mystery but, contrary to the hook laid-out in the (spoiler-free) trailer, it is primarily a survival piece, preying on the horrors of fatigue, starvation, isolation, becoming a meal for the wildlife and losing one’s sanity in the seemingly endless journey to salvation. Cudos should go to Greenspan for not shying away from the glacial pace inherent in the film’s premise. The days spent in the car pass clearly and visibly, but it is Brody’s slow trek (with one broken leg, no less) over the forest floor that is most painful to watch, knowing as we must that a turn in the wrong direction surely leads to an endless expanse of forest, and not knowing when or how Brody could possibly stumble across any clues as to how he came to endure this struggle in the first place and, perhaps crucially for his sanity, whether or not he deserves the hell he is enduring.

Every element on and off-screen in WRECKED is smartly and intuitively placed. From Michael Brook’s hazy, elating score to the dark corners of the forest certain to reveal something unsettling in one sweep of a flashlight. It’s grim stuff, but a mystery and a story worth every grunt, groan and scream needed to conclude it.


Laura Skaarup Jensen in THE EXPERIMENT

>>> EKSPERIMENTET (THE EXPERIMENT) (Denmark, 2010, 89′) Dir. Louise Friedberg – Scr. Louise Friedberg/Rikka De Fina Licht – DP. Magnus Nordenhof Jønck – Music. Ola Kvernberg – Prod. Signe Jensen/Birgitte Skov [Screening in Spectrum block]

After the second world war Denmark’s officials returned their attention to the communities of Greenland being ravaged by tuberculosis, poverty and deprivation. The Danish government began implementation of a programme to Dane-ify Greenland’s Inuit population, beginning with the forced relocation of 22 Greenlandic children to Danish homes for education in European customs and society so that they might serve as examples of the future, once re-inserted into their native communities. THE EXPERIMENT chronicles the internment of these children in an orphanage in Godthåb (now Nuuk) on their return to Greenland and the attempts of head mistress, Nurse Gert (Ellen Hillingsø), to prepare them for assessment as the products of a successful social experiment.

Karen (Laura Skaarup Jensen, in a riveting debut performance) is a natural leader and outsider within the group of children, resentful of the Danes for the separation from her family but smart enough to know the game she must play with the authority figures in her life. The lone and dutiful Nurse Gert takes a shine to Karen’s unapologetic individuality and apparent academic brilliance and makes the girl her companion and clear favorite. Gert’s favoritism breeds resentment from the other children and sets-up both characters for a hard fall as attempts to educate the children in a Danish classroom prove increasingly misguided.

Based on actual events, THE EXPERIMENT has the feeling of a worthy film tackling a subject resonant in Danish and Greenlandic societies today. Indeed, the subject is a raw nerve for both governments, with a formal apology from Denmark still being awaited by the few survivors of this disasterous social experiment, which saw its subjects alienated at home and too uneducated in either Danish or Greenlandic customs and language to support themselves past adolescence. Many critics and filmmakers hope that this will open the door to more films critical of Denmark’s shocking colonial history but, ultimately, the film is political only in context and not story.

THE EXPERIMENT has many parallels with Phillip Noyce’s RABBIT PROOF FENCE (2002) but lacks that film’s judgement in balancing the emotional journey at the heart of the story with the inevitable political element of ignored colonial history. Whether detailing the sublime joy of Karen’s visits to her family or deepening Gert’s emotional dependency on her favorite child, the film is always too quick to return to the muted, cold atmosphere of the government office or classroom where the characters’ fates are judged and proclaimed. Though director and co-writer, Louise Friedberg, cannot be accused of attempting to do too much with the running time; it seems that she allows the history of events to take equal precedence to the emotional development between the characters and the audience, which causes scenes of subtle but profound connection between Karen and Gert to be cut short just as they begin to slip under the skin of two largely impenetrable personalities.

Despite the handsome cinematography, strong performances and compelling subject, THE EXPERIMENT seems almost directionless until its final, elegantly affecting scene, in which the emotional bond between Gert and Karen is finally sealed. What then becomes clear is that at the heart of the story is a deep connection between two lonely people whose talents and actions do not define them as anyone remarkable.

^ WRECKED trailer (English – no subs)

^ THE EXPERIMENT trailer (Danish – English subs)

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  1. Pingback: Bye Bye SIFF 2011 | FOEC

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