Sunday, February 25, 2018

Review: True Love Ways

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2018
Images from the Internet

True Love Ways
Directed by Mathieu Seiler
Grand Hotel Pictures; Klusfilm Berlin;
ARRI Film and TV Services; Synergetic Distribution; MVD Visual
95 minutes, 2015

Germany is familiar with cinema of the strange in the past few decades. Just look at the likes of the extremely other-there Nekromantic (1987), or even Run Lola Run (1998) as examples.

Anna Hausburg and Kai Michael Muller
For this film, named after a Buddy Holly posthumous rock’n’roll romantic classic from 1960 (which we hear more than once in the film), it opens on the strained relationship between our heroine, Séverine (the lovely Anna Hausburg) and her boyfriend Tom (Kai Michael Müller), with the former telling the latter that she doesn’t love him, but rather has given her heart to someone of whom that she dreamed; to me, his reactions says a lot about why she needs to dump his ass.

Speaking of reactions, the first couple of acts of the film are set at a very languid pace, like being on a rowboat meandering down a river, with little dialog, as Séverine sits in a park watching people, spending the night by herself, or driving down the road chewing both her hair and gum with the camera mainly focused on her face. Within those times, however, there are some disturbing moments of her wondering, “okay, who should I trust?” This paranoia also is placed on the audience by some creepy goings-on that I will very lightly touch on to not give too much away.

Muller and David C. Bunners
At a bar, after Séverine chucks Tom outta da co-joint for a few days, he goes to a bar where he meets Chef (David C. Bunners), who suggests that he will kidnap Séverine and then Tom would come to the rescue and be her “Tarzan.” With other events that happen in the meanwhile, during the ebb and flow of the day mentioned above, the audience can’t help wonder if this is part of a larger event.

About half way through the film, the pieces of some of the events that happened before and why the Chef is so interested in Séverine start to become clearer. And yes, it’s even creepier than you’d expect. We get to figure it out the same time as her, and that’s when the film shifts gears into overdrive. Yet, and this is where I find the film is playing with us, there are still moments of long silence and little movement, that in the heightened state of tension and adrenaline, are nail-biting thriller moments. Again, you know Séverine is feeling the same. It’s really well written that the audience gets to not just sympathize, but empathize, because you’re feeling a bit of what she is experiencing (without us being in real danger).

While definitely a sharp (and occasionally darkly humorous) thriller, some have referred to this as a kunstfilm (art film), and not just because it’s in black-and-white. It’s the pacing, the way the music works with the film beyond jump scares, but it’s not obnoxiously so. In other words, most art films try so hard to be ar-tay, that they become obtuse and confusing. There is none of that here. There are also few weird angles, other than multiple long close-ups of Séverine’s face.

The good news is that Hausburg is talented enough that with the extreme close-ups and lack of dialogue, it still is easy to read the broad emotional range she expresses (i.e., no “Blue Steel” vs. “Magnum”).

As always, the bad guys underestimate Séverine; while she’s no hired assassin like in the predictable and ordinary Final Girl (2015), she is extremely resourceful and works her way through situations (which we get to watch, step by step by facial expression).

The one cliché that is easy to predict in the film regards a tavern owner. I actually said, out loud as soon as she walked into the bar, “Oh, really?! C’mon!” But in a film that’s over 90 minutes, I can forgive it considering how much else is going on.

What really drove me crazy is the Tom character. Hero? Villian? No matter, he’s an asshole, that’s for sure. I’m not going to go into details, but like the male protagonist in Run Lola Run, I have no respect for him.

Sometimes arty films can be especially bloody, such as with Nekromantik, or Miike’s Audition (1999), and while it’s not overly done or in super-graphic detail like many Euro-body horror releases, there is definitely a spurting of the stuff. That being said, there will be a contingent with whom I agree to some level, who will argue that the males are killed pretty quickly, but it’s the women who receive the brunt of the brutality.

Okay, I know I’ve made a couple of complaints, and they seem valid to me, but overall this is quite the stunning picture. Sure, not necessarily a date flick (depending on your companion, of course), but it really is a beautiful piece of cinema, and much of that is directly is in the lap of Hausburg and her mighty-fine acting. My fear is that it will be remade in the Western Hemisphere, and the Séverine character will be played by someone like Chloë Grace Moretz or Abigail Breslin (who’s IMDB’s bio laughingly states is one of the “most sought after actors of her generation”), who cannot really do the heavy lifting acting that would be necessary to match Hausburg.

The only extra on this DVD is the chapters; the captions are imprinted onto the film.

Séverine certainly lives up to her name. Loving her would be severe, and threatening her would be even more so, judging by the actions here. She’s a bit nuts, but borderline enough that you’d have to be intimate with her to see just how around the bend she is. Part of the explanation and what is interesting on a few levels is that the ending is both a WTF and an Ohhhh-I-see moment. You certainly don’t see that occur much anymore.

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