This is the first of (hopefully) several dispatches from Press Play Editor Kevin B. Lee at the Rotterdam Film Festival. A full festival wrap-up with highlights will appear at RogerEbert.com.
In my previous Rotterdam dispatch I employed a ten minute drill to sift through the competition lineup for the five titles with the most potential. A draconian measure to be sure, and judging by how most of the select few played out, a not entirely successful one either. Only two of the five films I continued watching lived up to their intriguing openings.
The most accomplished is L, writer-director Babis Makridis’s first feature, which premiered at Sundance and by appearances fits snugly within the Greek posse who brought us Dogtooth, Attenberg and ALPS. These films amount to a bona fide Greek micro-movement that deserves its own nomenclature: Athenscore? The Haos School (named after queen bee Athina Rachel Tsangari’s production company responsible for the first three films)? L plays as if that gang had made a parody of Drive to mock Ryan Gosling’s car-obsessed chivalry. Here, a nameless chauffeur is so in love with his job that he practically lives in his car, each night fanatically reciting the silly instructions of his narcoleptic boss, only to have his boss betray him by hiring a smarter replacement. Employing the same writer and cinematographer of Dogtooth, the dogtoothmarks are everywhere: deadpan performances, flat compositions and a predilection for teasing out the casual cruelty and absurd power plays behind language and social relations.
At the same time L is the most overtly comic of the bunch, both in script and style, with confrontational close ups out of Segio Leone by way of Napoleon Dynamite, and a lovably hubristic protagonist a la Ron Jeremy or Ricky Bobby that could have been played by Will Ferrell on downers. (The driver’s motorbike riding buddy even looks like John C. Reilly). The film has an Anchorman-like plasticity in its free associational riffs on an automotive scenario: after the driver’s firing, he falls in with a rogue motorbike gang who detest cars so much that when they come upon a roadside hit and run victim, they declare "even the ambulance that is arriving any minute is dangerous because it is a car." Sometimes the deliberately inane dialogues get too cute for their own good, and the jury is still out on the ending, though its obstinate commitment to its own strange music cannot be denied.
Kevin B. Lee is editor-in-chief of IndieWire Press Play, and a contributor to Roger Ebert's Demanders and Fandor Keyframe. Follow him on Twitter.
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