Monday, February 3, 2014

Film Review: Big Bad Wolves

Copyright: Magnet Releasing
Here we have a thriller that was most definitely created outside of Hollywood. More importantly, it’s created outside of regular sphere of Western artistic thought. This Israeli film set in the same country and dealing with child serial killings is something that is quite different.

Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado who directed Big Bad Wolves first set their movie apart by using black humor and restricting information to the audience. The first point presents itself as a really offbeat, quirky tone that the film carries in its roots. The humor Keshales and Papushado use is almost vaudevillian: some scenes are followed by weirdly calming music, like the tunes in the old cartoons. In other, bleak deeds are stopped and interrupted by funny, childish ringtones that are followed by odd conversations on cell phones that involve worried mothers and soups.

Similarly, the flow of information that comes from the characters is also unorthodox. From the beginning, the audience is presented with the facts, as they are seen by the police detective Micki, who is working on a case of a missing girl. Micki is certain that Dror, a reclusive teacher, is responsible for her disappearance. After a failed attempt to beat a confession out of him, Dror is released, while Micki’s brutality is caught on video and released on YouTube. Also soon after, the same girl is found decapitated. At that moment, her father Gidi, a former military police officer, enters the case. Both Gidi and Miki intend to get to Dror. They differ, however on what exactly to do with him, but are on the same page how to do it: by extreme violence. No mention of their prior knowledge is shown or explained.

Big Bad Wolves is a thriller that easily gets your attention, but its motivations remained unclear to me. Because of the way it treats information, Dror remains a shadowy figure. We don’t get to see what made the detective or Gidi certain that he is their guy, so we can’t play the “who had done it” game, or judge for ourselves does Dror seem guilty or innocent. Gidi, who is the biggest cog in the machine of the story also isn’t emotionally clear. He gives explanations that prove his commitment, but these stay on the cognitive level, while his feelings stay distant and detached.

This is also underlined by the choice of the actor who plays Gidi, Tzahi Grad, who is in his fifties, and who presents a man who should be younger. This is even more clear when Gidi’s father appears, who seems only a decade older than Grad. This odd choice may be intentional, but I failed to see its meaning or purpose. 

Unlike the hard to digest story, the cinematography of the film flows perfectly. Camera movements are effortless and punctuate the strong-willed, but murky characters. The colors and the space in the frames blends in a way that makes Big Bad Wolves clear as a mountain stream, and every object, from different guns, mobile phones, poisoned cakes and torture tools, blends with the grander picture. Even when the action becomes more intense, this visual harmony is never dispersed.

As a story of the human condition in its darkest corners, I feel that Big Bad Wolves left me uninterested. From the beginning to the end, I failed to see how the actions of the characters affected them or changed their moral judgment. As a minimalistic thriller, the film is burdened by passing social commentary and goofball humor. But, in spite of that, I enjoyed it on a much more basic level, more as a fantastic series of short, high-intensity situations than a complete work of art that brought any emotional or intellectual closure after it ended.

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