"Dogtooth," "Leaving," "Marwencol"
Mixing the delightfully twisted imagination of Luis Buñuel and delicious black humor of Roald Dahl, this Greek tale takes the premise of overprotective parents to insane lengths. Dad and Mom rule their spacious, high-walled garden estate like crackpot dictators, instructing their young adult daughters and son that the cat is "the most dangerous animal there is" and that the area between one's thighs is called the keyboard. The household code of conduct, especially involving sex, is equally farcical. The kids follow the rules with unquestioning fidelity, never venturing into the outside world. The carefully constructed security bubble cracks when a visitor passes along a couple of Hollywood movies on videocassette; self-expression, rebellion and chaos ensue. The actors are remarkable, especially oldest daughter Aggeliki Papoulia, whose stiff-limbed dance routine for the family slowly goes all "Flashdance." You can read the movie as an anti-authoritarian statement or straight-up surrealism; the subtext is artfully ambiguous. A creepy-funny art movie that holds a cracked mirror to our most cherished beliefs about family.
Ten years ago a group of men beat talented artist and angry drunk Mark Hogancamp in an attack that left him with significant brain damage. His memory of the previous 38 years of his life was gone; he had to relearn to eat, walk, read and write. Unable to pay for psychological therapy, he invented his own. He transformed his back yard into a diorama of a fictional World War II-era Belgian village he named Marwencol. He populated the hyper-detailed town with action-figure soldiers and Barbie femmes fatale, many of them direct stand-ins for real-life family members and friends.
Hogancamp transformed his personal struggles into wartime scenes of SS troops torturing his alter-ego soldier Hogie, and last-minute rescues by fearless mademoiselles. His breathtaking photographs of his make-believe world were discovered and later published in an art magazine. When a New York City gallery organized an exhibition of his work, Hogancamp was dealt a difficult choice: Turn his back on the opportunity or leave the imaginary realm he created for himself and face the real world. Producer/director Jeff Malmberg tells the amazing true story with tenderness and tact. He also portions out his revelations wisely. Hogancamp couldn't remember who he was before the attack, and Malmberg upends our expectations with a major surprise about his identity late in the film.
As Hogancamp says, "Just when you think it can't get any weirder, it does." At once a compelling character study, an exploration of the uses of fantasy and a cautionary tale about the limits of art's ability to heal, "Marwencol" is truly transcendent.
Kristin Scott Thomas is not only one of the best English actresses of her generation, she's one of France's best, too. She's proved that in a recent spate of French films such as "Tell No One" and "I've Loved You So Long"; she reconfirms it in the devastating adultery melodrama "Leaving." A more full-blooded cousin of the recent "I Am Love," the film follows a midlife affair to its tragic conclusion. Scott Thomas plays Suzanne, a British ex-pat in southern France married to Samuel, a prosperous, boring physician.
The pampered, melancholy housewife and mother makes a bid for independence and sexual reawakening with Ivan, the beefy Spanish ex-con handyman hired to clean out a disused shed. Samuel rediscovers his passion, as well, erupting in vindictive jealousy. He uses every legal, economic, emotional and familial angle to hold Suzanne in the marriage, and their battle builds to a destructive finale. The film doesn't caricature any of the triangle's points. The doctor (Yvan Attal) is understandably bitter; his lousy, emotionally guided decisions are no worse than his departing wife's pleasure in deliberately twisting the knife. Exiting a relationship where she felt imprisoned, Suzanne traps the construction man in turn. And he is a well-meaning, naive guy whose emotional openness proves his undoing. Sergi Lopez, so chilling as the fascist villain of "Pan's Labyrinth," radiates tenderness and warmth as Suzanne's lover. The men are fine; Scott Thomas is hypnotic.