Human Capital is one of the better films of the year. Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter, not necessarily a favorite, but one that stuck under my skin a bit. A few thoughts on Spring and Slow West at the end, too.
Human Capital isn’t the kind of film that I usually like. It’s a convergent narrative, divided into segments by character names. It’s got a look that I’m not interested in, which alternates between the cool, starkness of a financial office-
-and the similarly styled coolness of a wealthy home:
There’s an annoyingly angsty teenage relationship that isn’t very believable and seems stuck in the ’90s:
But despite these (relatively innocuous) nitpicks, Human Capital really works. A film about the Italian financial collapse, sometimes that aesthetic is deserved because, well, that’s the way some of these places look (I still don’t like the last image above. That one just feels like someone’s imagination of what a troubled teen’s room looks like).
But I’m not really doing the movie justice. It’s got different looks, too-
-and as almost all of the images suggest, favors 2-shots with a great depth of field.
The acting is great, particularly that of the lead, Dino (Fabrizio Bentivoglio), a weaselly man, more concerned with social status and making a buck than his family, which has many problems of its own.
There’s a sense of ineluctability that I suppose the structure immediately lends itself to – we know the strands will converge, and so often if the first strand is pessimistic (as it is here), then the foregone conclusion is one of the same mood.
But Human Capital is timely, and even when predictable, still has plenty of real-world emotion. There’s one issue I have with the script: it’s one of those moments that just rings false and feels contrived alongside other writing that’s fluid. Dino finds a crucial clue on his daughter’s computer, which has been left open. The information on-screen is so important that I just don’t believe the moment. No one leaves that simply lying around. For a film so often about coincidence this seems one that’s not ironic, but convenient.
Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter
The premise of Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter sounds dumb. Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi) is depressed and anti-social. She finds an old VHS of Fargo and, leaving her life in Japan behind, travels to the US to find the treasure hidden by Steve Buscemi in the Coen brothers’ classic film.
Kumiko is basically a nightmarish descent into despair. It’s got the strange humor that recalls early Polish brothers or some of Twin Peaks in it (and it’s very much about the suburbia/midwest that those filmmakers, and of course, the Coen brothers, feature).
The strongest part of the film is the sound design, by Rene Jones-Jones, which is eerie, close, and tangible. The score by The Octopus Project is magnificently overdone. It works. There’s a great sequence where Kumiko enters a harmless diner and the music blares histrionically, upping the mood from something totally innocent to palpable danger.
Kumiko isn’t really a likable protagonist, but that doesn’t seem to be the Zellner brothers’ goal. She’s possibly a bit paranoid – she seems to distrust a lot of people she shouldn’t and the midwest kindness she experiences frightens her – and she’s definitely delusional. The end reminded me of the same trajectory, just updated, that Murnau was forced to use in The Last Laugh.
When it’s all over, Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter is a film that sticks with me for its mood and unnerving ambiguity, not necessarily for plot and character. But those former traits stick.
A Few Other Films, Quickly:
Spring (Benson, Moorhead, 2014)
A Night Tide-like horror-comedy that features a pretty damn heartbreaking opening scene. The film is sometimes annoying, but ultimately a really refreshing play on genre. It’s indebted to An American Werewolf in London, but also just moody and romantic
Though the last act is pretty corny – the filmmakers keep playing the same gag (if you’ve seen it: she’s turning into something else!) – over and over, but still, there’s a nice ending. The conclusion is inevitable, but it’s well played with some great off-screen sound (foley artist Matthew Rogers probably had a lot of fun).
Slow West (Maclean, 2015)
An uneven modern Western with some sorely underdeveloped characters (and not in the “too cool for school, I’m a taciturn man on the great plains, I carry a gun so I don’t need to talk” kind of underdevelopment. This is just: I don’t know who these people are), John Maclean’s Slow West features some pretty stagy flashbacks and a lot of odd humor (if you’ve seen it: the salt in the wound, the Indians in the spirit forest…).
Michael Fassbender does his best here, but Maclean’s style doesn’t quite match the mood he’s after, which seems to be philosophical + morosely humorous + casually violent. The stilted dialogue doesn’t help.