One of the themes the LCIFF has been concerned with since the beginning is this notion of place. Local films and filmmakers reflecting something unique about our area is a primary reason why the festival was formed in the first place. And at the same time, the festival (through its very nature as an international film festival) also focuses on films from around the world. So, not only are we concerned with our neck of the woods in upstate New York, but also exploring “place” globally.
Friday March 4th gave us the opportunity to traverse the globe from a theatre seat with LCIFF’s “A Night of International Film”. Six films. Six countries. Or seven. It depends on how you count it. Through the international aspect of the evening, viewers were treated to humor, drama, and social commentary particular to different corners of the world—a chance to not only reflect on our similarities with these nations but also ponder the differences.
A particularly interesting example of this is MOUSSE, the final film of the evening. Directed by John Hellberg and starring Stéphane Bertola as Mousse, a French robber who holds up an off-track betting establishment in some Swedish town, MOUSSE grapples with the notion of national distinctiveness in the very story it tells. Through its setup, the film uses the brash and bold character of Mousse to say something about Sweden. The character of Mousse speaks no Swedish, so has to rely on one of his hostages to translate what the police say. The standoff between the police and the Frenchman plays on the notions of each side’s character. Compared to the fiery and passionate Mousse, the easy-going and amenable Swedish police seem to embody their national character. The captain of the police seems matter-of-fact and almost unconcerned about the situation, but when he pulls the gun on the French robber at a moment of opportunity, he is efficient and dead on.
The captain also has long hair. When watching the film I kept wondering about that detail. It seemed so perfect. The type of person who would become a police captain in the United States wouldn’t typically have the long hair of MOUSSE’s captain of police. It seems very Scandinavian. Very Swedish.
MOUSSE exists in a similar world to another Swedish filmmaker’s: Roy Andersson. Flirting with deadpan humor and absurdist situations (how many armed standoffs have you seen that are punctuated with policemen blurting jokes over a megaphone?), Hellberg’s film works in a somewhat similar way to Andersson’s. Another national echo?
With a dash of French intensity, MOUSSE paints a portrait of a people. And as an American viewer, an American viewer in upstate New York, one is encouraged by MOUSSE to regard Swedishness just as the character of Mousse regards Swedishness through his dramatic plight. And as American viewers we can sympathize with our French anti-hero: Mousse’s assertion of his own self-worth and his bold if misguided course of action speak to the American sensibility. And at the same time, the policemen’s attitude and humor feel similar to our own upstate New York personality. MOUSSE plays and resonates masterfully. Funny as hell.
And as this past screening looked abroad, in May we shall look around our own area. In our journey through the theme of “place”, “home” is the other half of that sojourn. LCIFF presents another evening of film, this time local, at the historic Strand Theatre. Stay tuned for more news.