Miami Offerings from Northern Europe

After a lovely day at the beach, Monday night found us exploring cooler climes first in Sweden, then in the Netherlands. MIFF is truly international, and Monday night was certainly the strongest night of the week.

YOU, THE LIVING (Sweden/Germany/France/Denmark/Norway; 95 min.)
director: Roy Andersson

Swedish director Roy Andersson follows-up his delightfully surreal SONGS FROM THE SECOND FLOOR with an exploration of humankind in all its subdued glory. YOU, THE LIVING, subtitled, a film about the grandeur of existing, is constructed as a series of vignettes, many hilarious in their deadpan absurdity. In an opening sequence, a woman repeatedly shouts at her lover and her dog, telling them to leave her. When they finally, reluctantly leave, she breaks into song. It's surprising and delightfully funny. Members of a marching band show up repeatedly, particularly a tuba player who annoys both his wife and his neighbors when he practices at home. A young woman meets a rock star she admires and later dreams of their wedding night with him. Another man dreams of facing the electric chair after attempting (and failing) to perform the old pulling a tablecloth out from under place settings at a dinner party.

YOU, THE LIVING took three years to shoot, because nearly all of the sets, including the outdoor scenes, were constructed for the film. There's an amazing sequence when the young girl and her rock star, dream husband are in their new apartment which slowly begins to move like a train across the city. Andersson's washed out palette of grays, browns, light blues and whites are enhanced by the whitened faces of the actors. Andersson's films are experiences that might not be for everyone, but they are unique and delightful for me. 4 cats.

BLIND (Netherlands/Belgium/Bulgaria; 98 min.)
director: Tamar van den Doop

BLIND is your basic, tragically doomed romance, yet it's one that writer/director Tamar van den Doop handles with such beauty and originality that it becomes elevated to something much more. Ruben Rietlander is a young man perhaps barely out of his teens, who lost his eyesight during childhood. His elderly mother Catherine cannot properly care for him on her own, and the women she hires to read to him are driven away by his violent tantrums. Enter Marie a scarred, albino woman in her 30s who is shunned by the villagers. For some reason, perhaps out of desperation, Catherine hires Marie to read to her son. Perhaps because she is an outcast herself, Marie will not put up with Ruben's outbursts and she physically manhandles him rather than flees shrieking as is the norm with the hired help. Gradually, the two fall in love, but in Ruben's mind, Marie is a beautiful young woman with fiery red hair and blue eyes. As is the case in tragic romances, Ruben's doctor discovers a way to restores Ruben's eyesight. Marie knows if this happens, their love is doomed, so she leaves and manages to stay hidden from the heart-broken Ruben... until the inevitable happens.

BLIND is gorgeously shot. Tamar van der Doop has a terrific eye, and the incorporation of Ruben's visual fantasies of how things might appear are surreal and gorgeous. Halina Reijin is particularly strong as Marie, keeping her rage tightly coiled inside, and watching her slowly unclench as she slowly lets her guard down around Ruben is a real treat. The period costumes, and lush settings add to the visual feast. 4.5 cats.