Harmonium is a fantastic film. I knew nothing about it going in, and all the better. This could have been written by the Dardennes in its quiet sense of unease, family dynamics, and bitter, unspoken past.
Asano Tadanobu is awesome as Yasaka, a man recently released from prison who comes to work for his former friend Toshio (Kanji Furutachi). The two men have silently uncomfortable relationship.
Director Kôji Fukada shoots much of the film in pretty wide, high-key, static frames:
That makes the moment of disruption – a shocking sequence around the midway point, shot in dynamic handheld – all the more jarring and effective.
This is a film that relies on small things and things unsaid. It also reminded me a bit of Chang-dong Lee’s films in that it masqueraded as one genre, hid another, and then fully developed into something rather separate from the the first two. I think that’s a rare ability. There’s a patience to that strategy, and patience is certainly what Harmonium has in spades.
I’m also interested in this film on a personal note. The script I’ve been working on for a few years, and that I hope to be my next project, has a character who is (sort of) similar to one in here. There’s a related theme as well, though the treatment of it is quite different. That said, I really enjoyed how Fukada took his time in showing how Toshio’s wife Akié (Mariko Tsutsui) cared for their daughter. It was shot with attention to detail, and in a really loving way.
Hounds of Love
I suppose comparisons to Snowtown Murders are pretty inevitable here. An Australian movie that has a similar mise-en-scene (though rather more active camera), is gritty as hell, features suburban violence from a sociopathically charismatic character.
If I’m nit-picking, then there’s a bit too much slow motion for my liking. But then again, I remember those sequences, so maybe not.
Hounds of Love gets so much from its leads. Stephen Curry is so menacing, without being a looming physical presence, as John White. I really wonder how you direct some of Ashleigh Cummings’ performance. It’s never overwrought, but is pretty consistently (and necessarily) hysterical. It’s a good tightrope that director Ben Young and Cummings walk – keep her believable and sympathetic, never over-the-top, but at a sustained fever pitch. I think that’s hard to do; in a bad case the victim can become unlikeable, which certainly doesn’t happen here.
Hounds of Love is that film that makes you feel a little dirty while watching it. Part of that is the production design and the photography, but I think it’s also in the sound design, which is full of heat, creaks, and the rattles of the neighborhood. It all feels so…domestic, but dangerous at the same time. Like make-you-wonder-what-your-neighbors-are-doing-right-now-dangerous. I like that.
The obsessive parent angle is, I suppose, pretty darn important to the plot, and it leads to a nice, if overdrawn climax. I also realize this is based off of true events. The plotting with the boyfriend is maybe a little easy. Again, all nitpicks. I think the best thing to do with Hounds of Love is just cringe and enjoy.