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ithaca

Posted on November 14, 2015

Men and Chicken (2015): Reviews from #IIFFF

Dawn

104 min   | Anders Thomas Jenson     |   (Denmark)   |   2015

Grade: A

Men and Chicken is written and directed by Anders Thomas Jensen, who also wrote and directed Flickering Lights (2000) and Adam’s Apples (2005). While I liked both of his earlier films, Men and Chicken is vastly better, my favorite film at #IIFFF so far.

It’s hard to categorize this brilliant film: it’s a family drama and a black comedy, as well as a horror film. It’s about a mad scientist (aptly named Evilio Thanatos) and about creating monsters. Men and Chicken inevitably evokes Frankenstein (as all mad scientist films do), but, still more directly, it echoes H. G. Wells’ novel, The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896) and the film based on it, The Island of Lost Souls (Erle C. Kenton, 1932). The Island of Lost Souls, and Wells’ novel, deal particularly with a scientist bent on creating human-animal hybrids—also the project of Thanatos. His name (the word Freud used to signal the death drive) says everything about the success (and the costs) of his experiments.

In the aftermath of their father’s death, two brothers, Gabriel (David Dencik) and Elias (Madds Mikkelsen), discover that he was not in fact their biological father. They travel to the Island of Ork to find their real father, but Evilio Thanatos, it turns out, is dead—which Gabriel discovers in a moment evocative of Lila’s discovery of Norman Bates’ mother in Psycho, another film about the creation of monsters. The three other sons of Thanatos—Franz, Josef, and Gregor (names evocative of Franz Kafka, the protagonist of “The Metamorphosis,” and Josef Mengele)—are still alive, however, and so Gabriel and Elias decide to stay with what’s left of their family, in an abandoned asylum that is also home to chickens, pigs, goats, rabbits, and a massive bull named Isak.

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Posted on November 13, 2015

Sensoria (2015): Reviews from Ithaca Film Festival

Dawn

81 min   |  Christian Hallman |   (Sweden)   |   2015

Grade: B

Synopsis: Caroline Menard (Lanna Ohlsson) moves into a bleak apartment, with some strange neighbors, and it slowly becomes clear that she has suffered devastating losses—her husband left her, a child died (perhaps a miscarriage). She seems utterly alone with the exception of one friend, Emma (Alida Morberg), whose visit is crucially important to Caroline, although it’s clear that Caroline isn’t crucial to Emma, leaving her too early.

Sensoria is shot almost exclusively in Caroline’s ugly, sterile apartment building. The film builds suspense slowly, as Caroline walks in a slow, almost catatonic state through the routine of moving in, her senses and her affect clearly deadened. Strange things start happening—objects move on their own, act on their own; lights, electric toothbrushes, microwaves, turn on by themselves. Strange noises combine with the multitude of sounds of apartment living.

As the tension intensifies, however, its effect is undercut by the fact that we learn very early on that what haunts Caroline’s apartment is unequivocally supernatural. Given how damaged the Caroline is, the lack of ambiguity about what is happening to her seems like a missed opportunity.

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