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Neth-Den. 2011. 81mins Director Urszula Antoniak Production companies IDTV Film, Family Affair Films Producers Frans van Gestel, Arnold Heslenfeld, Floor Onrust International sales Bavaria Film International, Screenplay Urszula Antoniak, based on short story Woods by Jacek ‘Luter’ Lenartowicz Cinematography Jasper Wolf Editor Nathalie Alonso Casale Production designer Vincent de Pater Music Ethan Rose Main cast Bien de Moor, Lars Eidinger, Annemarie Prins, Sophie van Winden, Christine Byvanck, Hans Kesting


In Urszula Antoniak’s promising debut Nothing Personal, a cou- ple of solitary people find solace in each other’s company, on the windswept coast of Ireland. For her second effort, Antoniak turned to a Polish short story, Woods, whose topic is still lone- liness but this time there is no solace or relief in sight. The main character, Marian (de Moor), sinks gradually over

the course of the film into the most abject solitude, by the end of which even self-immolation is suggested as preferable to her kind of existence. It is difficult to imagine what kind of audience would willingly submit itself to this kind of cheerless punishment, unfolding on screen at an incredibly slow pace and unflinchingly turning its screws just a bit more with every passing minute. Marian, an ascetic fortysomething hospital nurse, is fully

dedicated to her patients who appear to be, without exception, terminal cases, so much so that at times she even helps put an end to their miseries. As long as she is in the hospital, dressed in her white uniform, gently floating from one patient to another, she looks and acts like an angel of mercy. Yearning for human companionship and terrified of it at the

same time, she invents a lover and later a daughter, to populate the emptiness around her for the benefit of those who might threaten to invade her privacy. She walks around desolately in her spotlessly clean flat which no-one enters, occasionally watches a film on television or masturbates out of desperation. One night she watches, almost enviously, a woman being raped under her window and later retrieves the semen-filled condom to spread its contents between her legs. Dragged almost unwillingly to a party, she makes the

acquaintance of a male neighbour and takes him home, but the predictable love scene which was supposed to ensue turns into a brutal encounter which sums up their mutual frustration at being unable to reach into each other’s loneliness. The title, Code Blue, refers to a hospital code indicating a

patient is in immediate need of reanimation. Which is most cer- tainly the case of Marian, a kind of walking dead eventually capa- ble of helping others but unable to resuscitate herself. Bien de Moor plays her with tremendously soulful sympathy, compas- sion and hopelessness etched deeply into her facial expressions. Even her emaciated physique, revealed in the last scene in all

its nakedness, a skeletal, tortured body, fits in with her part. The dark, foreboding, steely images provided by Jasper Wolf ’s cam- era, Vincent de Pater’s sparse, economical sets and the slow, insistent, often repetitive montage generate a brooding, doomed atmosphere, out of which the viewer has no reprieve. If there is a religious message in all this, and there probably

is, not much of it will find its way to an audience pushed into such excesses of depression that they might not care any longer whether Marian represents some kind of unredeemable redeemer or is just a flawed human being, deeply hurt because of her incapacity to establish any kind of contact with her own kind. The second option makes much more sense.


US. 2011. 116mins Director-screenplay Jeff Nichols Production company Low Spark Films International sales Film Nation, www. Domestic distribution Sony Pictures Classics Producer Tyler Davidson Cinematography Adam Stone Production designer Chad Keith Editor Parke Gregg Music David Wingo Main cast Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Tova Stewart, Shea Whigham


Inner and outer storms combine to impressive effect in Jeff Nichols’ second feature, which plays in Critics’ Week at Cannes after its well-received Sundance premiere. Ostensibly about a mid-western family man’s descent into schizophrenia, this darkly compelling psychological thriller carries a deeper mes- sage about the state of mind in middle America, post-9/11, post- Guantanamo and post-financial meltdown. Picked up by Sony Pictures Classics just before Sundance,

and pegged for an October domestic release, the film has a much slicker widescreen feel than the director’s debut feature, the gritty indie drama Shotgun Stories, though its slow pace will alienate the video-game generation. Emotionally authentic, and often moving, even while it flirts

with thriller, horror and disaster-movie genre traits, the film fea- tures a riveting lead performance by Michael Shannon as a man struggling to come to terms with the realisation that of the imminent threats to his family that he sees all around him, the biggest may be himself. Awards action for Shannon is not unthinkable; Nichols’ fine original script and David Wingo’s sombre, ominous orchestral score also deserve nods. The success of Black Swan has proved there is a renewed

appetite for well-made, intelligent dark films — and Take Shelter will play to a more limited version of the same audience at home and abroad. Shannon plays Curtis, a solid, taciturn construction worker

who lives in a typical blue-collar suburban home somewhere in the Ohio tornado belt. With his pretty wife Sam (Chastain) and young deaf-mute daughter Hannah (Stewart), he lives the kind of contended eggs-for-breakfast existence that disaster movies always kick off with, and when Curtis sees a twister on the hori- zon we initially expect the film to head in this direction. But Curtis’ storms, it is soon revealed, are all in his mind, on a

par with the increasingly real nightmares he suffers (when the family dog bites him in a dream, his arm hurts all day). As the visions get worse, Curtis becomes obsessed with the

old underground storm shelter in the garden, taking out a risky bank loan to have it extended with the reluctant help of work buddy Dewart (Whigham). At the same time, he is aware his mind is playing tricks on him and in his lumbering, inarticulate way he begins to seek medical help. A growing sense of dread accumulates, propelled by Curtis’

FX-generated visions of stormclouds, lightning and bird swarms, and underlined by the ominous chords and bass surges of the soundtrack. Even the widescreen format does its bit, seeming not so much a wide-open space as the narrow letterbox through which Curtis views the world. Perhaps the film’s greatest strength, though, is the way it com-

bines hints that we are watching a parable of the new US climate of anxiety with an unflinching dedication to the reality of its characters’ plights. Chastain is the film’s emotional touchstone, a mother striving to protect her child but also help the man she loves to separate hallucination from reality. But it is Shannon as a man desperate to keep a grip, yet unable to rewire his mind, who really stands out. Rarely has a descent into madness been presented with such disturbing and affecting empathy.

May 18, 2011 Screen International at the Cannes Film Festival 17 n

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