Ride The Wave And Take The Fall
Posted on Tuesday June 24, 2008, 15:42 by Damon Wise in Edinburgh International Film Festival
I saw one of my Dans yesterday – if you remember, he was the first of two Empire readers who'd recognised me from the Cannes blogs – but by that time I'd learned a valuable lesson. Until that very morning, I'd thought it would rather cool to have my own private army of Dans, who would do my bidding and carry me shoulder high wherever I went, but then I saw The Wave, a cautionary German tale in which a well-meaning school project, led by a charismatic teacher who becomes the figurehead of an underground movement, goes spiralling out of control. As Bender once said in Futurama, who'd have thought that playing God could have such terrible consequences?
I was taken with it from the outset, as teacher Rainer Wenger (Jurgen Vogel) arrives at school to the strains of The Ramones' 'Rock'n'roll High School'. Wenger's an old punk who wants to teach the kids about anarchy, but he's beaten to it by a stuffy co-worker and has to teach them about autocracy instead. His kids – jocks, hipsters, preppies and stoners alike – are blasé about the subject and simply roll their eyes when the Third Reich is mentioned. “Germany is so far beyond that now,” says one of them. “It could never happen here again.” Well, couldn't it? Exploring their apathy, Wenger embarks on a project that sees his class transform from a shouty shower of rebellious teens into a uniformed, self-preserving mob, with their own social codes and even a secret hand sign.
All the while, I couldn't help thinking the great American teen movie that could be (re)made out of this, but then I did some research and realised that it was inspired by a social experiment (not the Stanford one, explored in Das Experiment) that took place in California in 1967. Now, if one were to really study the film, it's a) unlikely that so much mental rewiring could happen in less than a week, and b) perhaps more effective as a study of how the cliques of modern high-school life correspond to the social divides that enabled fascism in the early 20th century than a blueprint for how it may return. But director Dennis Gansel has done a good job of transplanting an American story to Germany, even making Mr Wenger a former squatter, tapping into modern German controversies about former violent radicals taking respectable positions in their government.
I think at this point it's worth pointing out some films you may still have a chance to get tickets for if you're in the area. The Wave is on on Thursday, I think, but one of tomorrow night's films is definitely worth a look. Called Let the Right One In, it's a stately, slow-burn arthouse vampire movie, set in Sweden, about a bullied schoolboy named Oskar who makes friends with Eli, the strange little girl next door. Describing herself as 12 (“more or less”), Eli becomes good friends with the kid, but when her bloodsucking father is arrested after the attempted murder of a local, Eli finds her (un)life in danger. This film, too, could work in remade form, but Tomas Alfredson's movie is deserving of attention in its own right. Like The Wave, it also touches on school-year angst, but it's also a rather affecting young love story. Be warned, however, there are some supreme shock moments within, and the delirious, gory final showdown is not for the faint-hearted. For young goths, however, it may be the most romantic show of affection since Harold met Maude.
A film that needs a nudge along too is Tarsem's The Fall, which premiered in Toronto two years ago and was pilloried in the trade press as a vanity project. Ignore those reviews, though: they're wrong. If you enjoyed The Fountain, this could very well be for you, a stunning but funny and surprisingly emotional epic fantasy that mixes elements of The Princess Bride (it's a story about storytelling) with flashes of Matthew Barney-style surrealism and Bollywood-hued staging (albeit without the singing). The Fall literally opens with a fall, and stuntman Roy (Lee Pace) is recuperating in a California sanatarium. Trying to impress his actress girlfriend, he has jumped from a high bridge while riding a horse, but instead of winning her affections he has not only lost her to the star, he has also lost the use of his legs. Befriending a little Spanish girl (Catinca Untaru) with a broken arm, Roy concocts a story to draw her into his confidence, a lavish, continent-crossing saga involving a troop of bandits, an evil villain and a beautiful damsel in distress. In reality, though, Roy is a suicidal screw-up who simply wants the girl to bring him morphine pills, so he can OD and die.
If that sounds dark, it is, and the story's final strait is incredibly bleak at times, with the once colourful and exciting story of good versus evil seeming to turn into an almost nihilistic parable about the terrible inevitability of life. It's not giving too much away, however, to say that it rallies for a less harrowing finale, and as the closing credits crawl, it's fair to say that The Fall will send you out giddy with the visual possibilities of cinema and drunk on Beethoven. True, it's not really an actor's movie – although they all give their best – but, suitably for a film about enchantment, it's the non-professional newcomer who stands out. Having learned her lines phonetically, Romanian-born Untaru is just adorable as the little girl, and her performance is more than simply acting: she actually seems to cry and laugh with the story, badgering Roy with a tenacity that is both fascinating to watch and touching in its naïve honesty. You're probably still wondering if this could possibly be the work of the same Tarsem that made The Cell, the awful serial-killer fantasy with Jennifer Lopez full of useless tosh about reading comatose people's minds, and, astonishingly, it is. But don't let that put you off. After all, this film is brought to you by David Fincher and Spike Jonze, taking special exec producer roles, and if it's good enough for them, it should be good enough for you...