Palatable: The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser

The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (A.K.A. Every Man for Himself and God Against All) (1974)
Directed by Werner Herzog
Written by Werner Herzog, Jakob Wassermann
Produced by Werner Herzog
Starring Bruno Schleinstein, Walter Ladengast, Michael Kroecher, Brigitte Mira, Enno Patalas, Hans Musäus, Gloria Doer, Volker Prechtel, Volker Elis Pilgrim, Clemens Scheitz, Henry van Lyck, Willy Semmelrogge

“[W]e shall never succeed entirely in extirpating from the heart of man this original credulity which is a principle of his nature, a radical condition of his existence, so much so that we could consider it a characteristic of the human species, and say: credulity is one of the attributes that distinguishes Man from the animals.”

–Dr. Benjamin Verdo, Charlatanry and Charlatans in Medicine: A Psychological Study, 1867

Whoever would now imagine him the princely foundling, victimized naif, tortured wunderkind against crushing odds would’ve surely been as gulled by the mysterious teenager as so many in Nuremberg were for five years in the early 19th century, after he arrived suddenly to fascinate its locals, then deplete the charity of his several benefactors. Picayune, pretentiously paranoid persona, schizoid scammer, querulent, mythomaniac, pampered brat all probably described him accurately, yet this assessment is tangential to his characterization in the dreamily, alternately soothingly and shakingly speculative fairy tale that Herzog educed from the storied oddball’s pseudobiographic lies. Here, Hauser’s lifelong confinement in a cellar is concluded when a gruff stranger (Musäus) frees him, teaches him how to walk, leads him to Nuremberg, and abandons him. The inelegant innocent is housed first by one of his jailers (Prechtel), then by a kindly schoolmaster and philosopher (Ladengast) after a stint in an exploitative circus’s sideshow. Thenceforth he strives to read, write, play music and comprehend the worlds within and beyond him, succored by his caretaker, local clergy (Patalas, Pilgrim), and a milord (Kroecher) whose custody of him is prompted by the intrigue that his charge inspires among townsfolk and high society alike, and which ends when his inscrutably bizarre behavior and provocatively peculiar perspectives embarrass his patron. As genteel characters, the entire supporting cast are fine foils for goggling Schleinstein, whose droll, piteous, exceptional creation of the frustrated aberrant conveys arduous articulation by his haltingly intense delivery. His age was well over twice Hauser’s, but the autodidactic musician and painter proved a strikingly suitable lead, perhaps because the many ordeals that he suffered in his much longer life so often paralleled those that Hauser likely fabricated, fictionalized by Herzog in his discerningly, interchangeably intimate and observational style. Beautifully crafted and replete with allusions and auguries, never does this fiction moot nearly everyone’s first, forever unanswered question: who was he?

Recommended for a double feature paired with The Marquise of O.

Palatable: Escorts

Escorts (A.K.A. High Class Call Girls)
Directed by Dan Reed
Produced by Dan Reed, Tom Costello
Starring Emily Banfield, Cookie Jane
No realm of commerce has been unaffected by online interaction; for the obsolescence of pimps and madams, and its suppled transactional dynamics, prostitution is no exception. Two tart trulls (Banfield, Jane) residing together with their cute dogs in one of London’s richest districts command considerable compensation from a carefully selected clientele as fond of their personable ribaldry as their artificially augmented anatomy and lineaments. Obnoxiously likable and oversexed, they could be easily misappraised as mere dingbats, but their entrepreneurial acumen and ambitions would belie such a facile estimation. These cocottes receive trustworthy tricks, only accept cash, and leave very little to chance. Banfield narrates a crucial, collapsed relationship and addiction to cocaine spanning from her late teens through her mid-twenties, whence she rebounded into the relative comfort and security of pornographic and meretricious careers, while Jane’s metier apparently attends her insatiable libido and aversion to conventionally respectable labor. Interviews with the latter bawd’s parents disbosom their discomfort with their daughter’s chosen profession, as well as a contrast between that quiet desperation of Albion’s past and graying generations, and the histrionic, often hysterical effusions that have come to typify the urban British ethos over the past forty years. Some scenes are instructive for the uninitiated, depicting online discourse between the trollops and their potential and frequent customers, or a house call when they’re administered injections of Botox. As Jane launches her own online agency whereby her circle of escorts can negotiate libidinous encounters, Banfield saves and seeks a permanent partner as her career winds down. Despite Chad Hobson’s largely direful music, Reed’s strictly observational portrait of these cyprians is usually as amusing as its subjects. It also instantiates how molls and johns alike are mutually exploited in their engagements, and explodes the delusion advanced by some feminists that empowerment neutralizes exploitation; here, technology manifestly conduces a harlot’s market of which exploitation’s immanent.

Palatable: The Acid House

The Acid House (1998)
Directed by Paul McGuigan
Written by Irvine Welsh
Produced by David Muir, Alex Usborne, Carolynne Sinclair Kidd, Colin Pons
Starring Stephen McCole, Maurice Roëves, Alex Howden, Annie Louise Ross, Garry Sweeney, Jenny McCrindle, John Gardner, Stewart Preston, Simon Weir; Kevin McKidd, Michelle Gomez, Gary McCormack, Tam Dean Burn; Ewen Bremner, Arlene Cockburn, Martin Clunes, Jemma Redgrave
Perhaps because he scripted this raunchy, riotous, revolting adaptation of three among twenty-two stories from his eponymous anthology, it’s likely the best picture based on Welsh’s fiction. During his life’s last, worst day, a footballing loser (McCole) is cut from his carousing league, by his deviant dad (Howden) dislodged, nubile girlfriend (McCrindle) jilted, manager (Preston) axed and a police sergeant (Gardner) brutalized, then confronted in a pub by cantankerous God (Roëves), who transmogrifies the swilling dud in disgust for his shortfall of ambition. Newly mutated, the bitter flop of The Granton Star Cause exacts petty vengeance with newfound stealth, but not with impunity. If he wasn’t such A Soft Touch, a gutless, married father (McKidd) wouldn’t suffer repeated humiliations by his slatternly wife (Gomez), or the loutish, lascivious lunatic (McCormack) with whom she’s clamantly cuckolding him, whose varied, parasitic impingements aren’t possible without a perfect poltroon. A tab of potent LSD and bolts of lightning swap the minds of a doltish football hooligan (Bremner) and a hideous, vinyl neonate at the moment of exchange born to an insufferable, upscale married couple (Clunes, Redgrave). Reveling in this supernatural infantilization, his devoted girlfriend (Cockburn) designs to remold him into a better person, but a casual encounter between the commuted clods intervenes in The Acid House. Consistently comical and leavened with psychedelic fantasy, this felicifically foul time capsule from Scotland’s late ’90s dramatizes Welsh’s navel-gazing prime with fine, funny, filthy performances against squalid locations in Glasgow and Edinburgh, and good musical selections by The Pastels, Glen Campbell, The Chemical Brothers, Nick Cave, The Verve, etc. Viewers unaccustomed to nearly unintelligible Glaswegian accents will need subtitles.

Recommended for a double feature paired with Trainspotting.

Palatable: The Party

The Party (1968)
Directed by Blake Edwards
Written by Blake Edwards, Tom Waldman, Frank Waldman
Produced by Blake Edwards, Ken Wales, Walter Mirisch
Starring Peter Sellers, Claudine Longet, Gavin MacLeod, J. Edward McKinley, Denny Miller, Steve Franken, Fay McKenzie, Kathe Green, Allen Jung, Danielle De Metz, Linda Gaye Scott, Herbert Ellis, Sharron Kimberly, Frances Davis, Timothy Scott, Jean Carson
Tati meets the Marx Brothers meets Mad Magazine, then bombs after its opening night, which concurred with Martin Luther King’s assassination! Between Pink Panthers, Edwards and Sellers contrived this experimental extravaganza starring the comic genius in brownface as a cordial, calamitously clumsy Indian actor inadvertently invited to a soiree at the swankily hideous mansion of a studio executive (McKinley) whose war epic he’s accidentally wrecked, where he repeatedly makes an ass of himself and a shambles of nearly everything he touches. Goofy revelry and mishaps ensue his encounters with the stuffy harbinger and his wife (McKenzie), a progressively drunken cater waiter (Franken), one friendly, French actress (Longet) accompanying a lecherous producer (MacLeod), a raucous star of Westerns (Miller) flirting with a juicy Italian actress (De Metz), and a painted elephant adopted by the hosts’ sprightly daughter (Green), whose clamorous coterie further enlivens the party, as does a jazz band and a rumbustious, Russian ballet troupe. In wide static shots and drifting pans, slapstick stupidities partially improvised from Edwards’ and the Waldmans’ skeletal screenplay bump, bumble, stagger, stumble and crash in plotless luxury, as the gentle, inelegant Hindu and deliberately disorderly guests carouse with rising ruction to a riotously, redundantly sudsy culmination. Sensible viewers can safely ignore ludicrous leftists who liken Sellers’ silly yet sensitive creation of his lovably mansuete goofball to minstrel shows. A victim of critical misevaluation and unfortunate coincidence, this commercial washout deserves reappraisal as a tarnished comedic gem of late Old Hollywood and Edwards’ and Sellers’ most daring collaboration, shot observationally with understated craft on a stupendous set populated by character actors who don’t miss a beat. For such quality, and its commentary on the predatory predispositions of Tinseltown’s loathsome elites and the culture shock that redounds to half of its protagonists’ follies, this farce is a few cuts above.

Recommended for a double feature paired with A Shot in the Dark or Playtime.

Palatable: The Founder

The Founder (2017)
Directed by John Lee Hancock
Written by Robert Siegel
Produced by Jeremy Renner, Don Handfield, Aaron Ryder, Michael Sledd, Parry Creedon, Glen Basner, Holly Brown, Alison Cohen, David Glasser, David S. Greathouse, William D. Johnson, Christos V. Konstantakopoulos, Karen Lunder, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein
Starring Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, B.J. Novak, Laura Dern, Linda Cardellini, Kate Kneeland, Patrick Wilson, Justin Randell Brooke, Griff Furst, Wilbur Fitzgerald, David de Vries, Andrew Benator, Cara Mantella

“The definition of salesmanship is the gentle art of letting the customer have it your way.”

–Ray Kroc

In his own words: “I was 52 years old. I had diabetes and incipient arthritis. I had lost my gall bladder and most of my thyroid gland in earlier campaigns, but I was convinced the best was ahead of me.” In the mid-’50s, aging salesman Ray Kroc (Keaton) itinerated interstate, struggling with sporadic success to peddle Prince Castle’s deluxe milkshake mixers to proprietors of drive-ins, whose sloppy refections and shoddy service courtesy of pretty, rollerskating carhops were insults added to every unsold injury. To satisfy a seemingly impossible order for eight such units in San Bernardino, he happened upon a modern miracle of a little eatery that prepared for lengthy queues cheap, savory, instantaneously prepared burgers, French fries and milkshakes by skilled, sanguine, sanitary staff indoors. A tour of this facility by its owners, designers and managers, Richard (Offerman) and Maurice (Lynch) McDonald, fascinates Kroc, as does their alacritous account over dinner of their career in the food service industry: thirty years of presentational and logistical trial and error developed with Mac’s procedural and mechanical inventions, Dick’s showmanship and their shared, reductive intent to eliminate troublesome conventions that resulted in a sedulously subtilized system that optimized both quality of service and product, and a quantity sufficient to satisfy every customer. The loquacious pitchman’s consequently obsessed with a vision to franchise this local invention of fast food; after selling himself and their own business recontextualized as a boldly branded national chain to the circumspect siblings, he contracts with them as a franchiser to succeed where they failed to maintain the cibarious homogeneity and competence of extraneous outlets. Forays into new markets prove remunerative, but frustrating for that recurrent qualitative slide and their menus’ regional drift, so the energetic Kroc replaces their managers with hungry, capable employees with whom he identifies, such as a hawker of Bibles (Benator) and a veteran of the Korean War (Franco Castan) who sells vacuum cleaners door to door. Despite his booming eastward growth, burgeoning eminence and obligation of his mortgaged house for capital, Kroc finds himself at a midwestern impasse and knee-deep in arrears for a deficit of revenue imputable to the restrictions of his contract, but a fortuitous encounter with financier Harry J. Sonneborn (Novak) introduces him to his shrewdest business partner, who convinces him to preveniently purchase prospective plots of his outlets and lease them to his franchisees via a corporation, to which he’s eventually appointed by Kroc as its first president and CEO. By virtue of this M.O., the franchise’s profits and expansion magnified twentyfold, but Kroc’s failing marriage to his neglected wife (Dern), invited designs on the spouse (Cardellini) of a successful restaurateur and multiple franchisee (Wilson) and loggerheads with the brothers McDonald reveal the chatty oligopolist’s amoral avaritia for limitless commerce.
Its intricate period detail and perfectly picked players sell Hancock’s congenially conventional biopic, which is faithful enough to substantially portray a personage who’s as much its antagonist as protagonist. Ever-squirrely Keaton mimics with slight amplification Kroc’s accent and mannerisms, enacting the roguish devil with fidelity to his characteristic brio and glimpses of his elusive sensitivity. Everyone else serves as his foil with buttoned-down bearings true to this staid era. Warhorses of many quirkily mundane roles, Offerman and Lynch look and feel genuine as the ingenuously principled craftsmen who pioneered the revolutionary model arrogated by their franchiser, and Novak’s icily mesmerizing as Sonneborn. Most fictive and biographic features are muddled by exposition and cutbacks, but thanks to Siegel’s accessible dialogue, Hancock’s demonstrative composition and Robert Frazen’s measured editing, these are the picture’s highlights: at a tennis court, Dick and Mac train their staff and gradually devise an ideal layout for their restaurant’s production line with chalked, commensurate diagrams; Sonneborn enkindles in the audience a glimmer of the same excitement and relief that Kroc must’ve felt when elaborating on the potential of the chain’s most significant single strategy; Kroc petitions synagogues, Shriners’ Halls and Masonic Lodges for investment with an exhaustively rehearsed sales talk eulogizing familial values. Siegel’s script often deviates from accuracy for dramatic purposes: neither was Kroc’s divorce from his first wife so suddenly announced, nor his feuds with the McDonalds quite so wroth, and Cardellini seems sexier behind a piano than an organ when she first entrances her future husband. Ultimately, both Kroc and the McDonalds personify phases of postwar prosperity — the former is an avatar of the tenacity and ambition that advanced the United States’ extraordinary industries in the twentieth century, and the latter typical of so many innovators whose creations facilitated it. Bombs are still as American as apple pie.

Recommended for a double feature paired with Sometimes a Great Notion.

Palatable: Faults

Faults (2014)
Directed and written by Riley Stearns
Produced by Keith Calder, Jessica Calder, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Roxanne Benjamin, Chris Harding, Brian Joe
Starring Leland Orser, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Chris Ellis, Beth Grant, Jon Gries, Lance Reddick
Few are so vulnerable or amenable than during a forlorn nadir, as that suffered by a disgraced expert (Orser) of cultic phenomena posterior to his career’s collapse: divorced, indebted, indigent, homeless and sleeping as often as not in his godforsaken AMC Pacer, the whilom celebrity hawks a piffling hardback feebly redolent of his prior bestseller when hosting lectures of waning attendance worsened by his peckishly petty personality. After one such seminar, an aging suburban couple (Ellis, Grant) approach him to abduct, sequestrate and deprogram their daughter, an ardent cultist (Winstead). What first seems an opportunity to reverse his fortunes by settling a debt to his brutish, onetime manager (Gries) spirals suddenly into an uncontrollable nightmare: the infamous doctor’s quietly beguiled as much by the resolve and allure of his kidnapped patient as her faith’s intrigue, while her father’s aggression intimates a paternal impropriety, destabilizing their apparent progress no less than a series of mystifying occurrences, all compounded by the pressuring presence of his creditor’s dire, dapper deputy (Reddick), who duns the bedeviled psychotherapist with veiled threats. Optimally static shots and slow zooms constitute most of Stearns’ first feature, which prepossesses at a leisurely pace wherein scarcely a penetrating, amusing or disconcerting moment’s wasted. Orser’s a seasoned character actor who deserves a lead now and again, and creates his shrewd, shallow, ruined pop psychologist at the brink of caricature, but pulls back for glimpses of insight and affirmations of his frailties and humanity. His exchanges with Winstead are as perfectly played as sharply scripted; clinician and subject gradually interchange, she leading by expounding her metaphysical convictions and aspirations, and emitting a sex appeal nearly imperceptible for its nicety. Most of the supporting players are as colorfully outstanding as costumes, sets and cars selected to lend this microproduction a fashion evocative of the early ’80s. Gries is especially memorable as the creepily effeminate professional photographer of domestic portraits, whose squeaky-clean idiolect, replete with minced oaths, contrasts with his violent temperament. A cameo whereby A.J. Bowen uncharacteristically overplays an aggrieved relative who confronts Orser’s fallen specialist at one of his pissant events should’ve been reshot entirely, and some humor during the picture’s first fifteen minutes falls flat. Otherwise, the Texan photographer turned filmmaker adroitly juggles comedy and drama with dashes of arcana all scrupulously shot, and tautly cut by one Sarah Beth Shapiro. Ironically, Stearns lost his leading ladylove to the Anglosphere’s greatest cult after Winstead divorced him in starkly hypergamous favor of a dimwitted, Scottish leading man, with whom she stridently signals her virtue to promote horrendous independent and studio productions to which she’s now committed. That’s a subject for another review or twelve; this penultimate picture in which her histrionic potential was tapped after transitioning to serious roles suggests what might’ve been, and potently portrays how privation of wealth, society and self-respect lays the mind supine to suggestion.

Palatable: XXY

XXY (2007)
Directed by Lucía Puenzo
Written by Sergio Bizzio, Lucía Puenzo
Produced by Luis Puenzo, José María Morales, Carla Pelligra, Fernando Sirianni, Fabienne Vonier
Starring Inés Efron, Ricardo Darín, Martín Piroyansky, Valeria Bertuccelli, Germán Palacios, Carolina Pelleritti, Guillermo Angelelli, Ailín Salas, Luciano Nóbile
Had this movie been produced but six or seven years ulterior, at the advent of a transmania aggressively propagandized by mass media outlets in the western hemisphere, it might not have enjoyed global distribution, for Puenzo’s straight, sympathetic treatment of the gynandromorphic condition belies every delusional jeremiad loudly publicized via social media by pre-op lunatics and a minority of legitimately transsexual exhibitionists fomented by this wholly calculated craze. At their home on the Uruguayan seashore, the family of a froward, adolescent androgyne (Efron) is, for an invitation by her mother (Bertuccelli), visited by an imperious, accomplished cosmetic surgeon (Palacios) with his wife (Pelleritti) and sensitive son (Piroyansky), whose fleeting friendship with the huffy hermaphrodite enables an unusual exploration of their inchoate sexuality. Otherwise, this visitation broaches the ineludible question of whether she’ll submit to sexual assignment after abjuring antiandrogens for weeks, an option that her father (Darín), a marine biologist, opposes in concern for her welfare. As directorial forays come, this adaptation of Bizzio’s short story finds Argentine cinema’s most fortunate daughter living up to her father’s reputation by capably balancing subjective compassion with the indisputable medical and social consequences of a fascinating chromosomal anomaly. Dialogue’s nearly as minimal here as in her future pictures, and tyros Efron and Piroyansky were as histrionically consummate as old stagers Darín, Palacios, Pelleritti, Bertuccelli, et al., all subtly expressive in complete characterizations, especially during gazing and glancing caesurae. Her composition and continuity are as professional as Puenzo’s direction of her cast; alas, Natasha Braier’s cinematography, which includes sweeping vistas of the southern cone’s seacoast and offing, is uglified by the applications of green and blue filters. Satisfyingly, Bizzio’s conclusion affirms biological primacy and deliberated discretion over suspect medical trends. Maybe nature’s irregularities aren’t always errors.

Efron and Salas were effectively recast in Puenzo’s second feature, The Fish Child.

Palatable: Bluebeard

Bluebeard (2009)
Directed by Catherine Breillat
Written by Charles Perrault, Catherine Breillat
Produced by Sylvette Frydman, Jean-François Lepetit
Starring Lola Créton, Dominique Thomas, Daphné Baiwir, Marilou Lopes-Benites, Lola Giovannetti, Farida Khelfa, Isabelle Lapouge, Suzanne Foulquier, Laure Lapeyre

“Adolescence begins when children stop asking questions — because they know all the answers.”

–Evan Esar

Mutual malice differentiates Breillat’s companion to her surpassing, subsequent The Sleeping Beauty from most other portrayals of the gory, Gallic fairy tale. Two little sisters of the Fourth Republic sport with stories while browsing through a cluttered attic, where the bratty junior (Lopes-Benites) frightens her sensitive senior (Giovannetti) with a reading of Perrault’s parable. However, this telling strays significantly from that fabular classic: lovely sororal teens (Créton, Baiwir) boarded as a nunnery’s oblates in the late seventeenth century are dismissed by their abbess (Khelfa) after their father dies by his selfless heroism; his creditors leave they and their mother (Lapouge) in penury as abject as their bereavement, but Créton’s demoiselle leaps at a contiguous opportunity to wed a bloated, barbate count (Thomas) infamous for his suspected uxoricides. Once married, she luxuriates in his opulent castle while becharming her nobleman, until he intrusts to her his castle’s keys ere his leave with a forbiddance not to enter one of its many rooms. Every tableau of this picture and variance from its literary source breathes symbolical significance, and Breillat’s fans will readily recognize her idiomatic emblems in slaughtered fowl and accumbency abed, but the key to its burden resides in the thematic equipollence of its eponymous, crinally converse sisters. For art and awareness, the presumed “porno auteuriste” again succeeds where so many other feminist filmmakers stumble, not least because her acknowledgement of biopsychology negates the fantastic self-aggrandizement and victimization that ruined their movement. Any of Hollywood’s pampered, obese activists would’ve distorted this folktale as an example of thwarted patriarchy, but her barbarous lord and guileful bride instead effectuate gendered modes of rapacity, reflecting an incidental intimacy and attendant regret.

Recommended for a double feature paired with Breillat’s The Sleeping Beauty or those best among numerous adaptations of Bluebeard.

Palatable: Happy People: A Year in the Taiga

Happy People: A Year in the Taiga (2010)
Directed by Dmitry Vasyukov, Werner Herzog
Written by Dmitry Vasyukov, Werner and Rudolph Herzog
Produced by Vladimir Perepelkin, Christoph Fisser, Nick N. Raslan, Charlie Woebcken, Thomas Nickel, Robyn Klein, Werner Herzog, Yanko Damboulev, Timur Bekmambetov, Klaus Badelt
Starring Gennady Soloviev, Anatoly Blume, Anatoly Tarkovsky, Nikolay Nikiforovitch Siniaev, Werner Herzog
Not despite but for their travails do the isolated inhabitants of Siberia’s frigid forests delight in rural survival. Vasyukov’s televised documentary of four seasonal episodes is freshly compressed and concatenated, lushly (if excessively) scored by Klaus Badelt and narrated by Herzog with his usual phlegm as a feature uncovering a challenging, cheerful life of denizens from the village Bakhta in Russia’s Turukhansky district, specifically those of rugged outdoorsmen (Soloviev, Blume, Siniaev, Tarkovsky) therefrom who handily eke out subsistence as trappers, hunters and fishers in the snowy, sylvan sprawl well beyond their little community’s bourne. During this region’s snowed spring, Soloviev cares compassionately for pups, curs, and seasoned hunting dogs alike of his doggery, fells a tree to split wood from it that’ll later be fashioned into skis, contrives by carving and sets from two slender trees a deadfall of cunning design, perorates of his methodology and tools, denounces greedily unethical trappers, and rehearses his first onerous Siberian season forty years antecedent, which he scarcely survived. Blume conterminously shovels towering mounds of snow from the roof of one hut among several outlying a central shack within his designated territory (a configuration typical of all the trappers’ winter dwellings), and collects firewood. While the vast ice floes constituting the surface of the Bakhta River (and Yenisei River of which it’s a tributary) begin to flow north, children of the village skate about on thawing ice before their community first celebrates Maslenitsa by dancing and burning a straw, female effigy of winter, then Victory Day a week later, when wreaths are laid at the headstones of veterans who perished in WWII. One experienced Ket craftsman and an apprentice carve, widen, temper and pay with traditional methods canoes from tree trunks that are then boarded on exordial expeditions to train pups for future hunts, and with submerged toils catch fish, the choicest of which are smoked to be eaten later. Beasts and greenery emerge in profusion come summer, when fishing yields jumbo pike, and hunters collaborate to construct new central and collateral cabins while beset by swarms of mosquitoes, which are repelled by a topical concoction of tar distilled from birch bark and cut by immixture with fish oil. With the aforementioned wood split in the prior season, Soloviev and his son skillfully saw, carve, steep, flex and temper several pairs of skis. Driftwood collected upriver is towed to the shore, where Kets without occupational options chop and load it onto a truck’s bed. Although this Yeniseian minority’s elders struggle to preserve fading traditions, its community is mired in poverty, alcoholism, and resultant mischances. During comparatively warm days spanning twenty hours each, plentiful gardens are cultivated and planted, greenhouses mended, and chipmunks, sables and malleting, grinding, sifting humans all collect pine nuts from cones. Late in the season, an incumbent, regional candidate campaigns by cabotage, arriving at Bakhta’s shore to tempt his largely indifferent constituency with a largesse of wheat and promises of reform before belting out a pop song with a trio of pretty female singers to entertain some congregated children and teenagers. Walls of stacked firewood, a massive harvest of fruits and vegetables planted months afore, and thousands of freshwater fish netted along the shoreline or lured by fire nocturnally to be leistered all portend autumn’s advent. As the great Yenisei River rises for constant rainfall, and before its surface freezes, the hunters load their sleds and snowmobiles, dogs and provisions into canoes to convey them to their shanties; in high water, the rapids’ fluxion often can’t be countered by these boats’ offboard motors, and exact for some such as Soloviev and his son manually arduous navigation. After they part, the elder trapper repairs damage inflicted by bears to one cabana, reposits there comestibles, shoots a woodcock and feeds its neck and feet to his dogs. While the rivers flow, pike are primarily caught to be fed to canines. Forbidding Tarkovsky (a junior cognate of Andrei) hunts and fishes with effectual craft, caches by suspension and elevation bread, grits, sugar and other aliments where neither bears nor mice can reach them, extols the simple pleasures of his lifestyle and sets mechanical slings to catch game. Soloviev expatiates on the ideal lineage, proper rearing, and necessity of dogs to any able hunter before one of his own predates a marten that he expels from a fallen, hollowed trunk. Winter finds the village’s anonymous blacksmith forging a sharp shaft used to pierce the river’s icy surface and enable more subaqueous fishing. During these most trying months of sustained yet stimulating slog, two events showcase the mettle of these woodsmen and their canine companions: fatigued after a day’s labor, Blume retires to an ancillary hut to find its roof marred by a downed tree, which he chops and removes before clearing snow from his roof to repair it with immediate and laborious effort during his dwindling dusk; en route on his snowmobile to Bakhta where he’ll sojourn with his family during its New Year’s and Christmas festivities, he’s chased over 90 miles by his dog to their home — a feat as formidable for the animal’s stamina as poignant for its loyalty. Vasyukov’s subjects represent a rustic society’s admirably hardy traditionalism, ably and objectively pictured here with fine photography and profoundly personal interviews that patefy an independence and integrity too uncommon in the developed world.

Recommended for a double feature paired with Encounters at the End of the World.

Palatable: Tricked

Tricked (2012)
Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Written by Kim van Kooten, Paul Verhoeven, Robert Alberdingk Thijm, Anne Karina Westerik, Esther Schmidt, Kenneth Dingens, Tamara Bosma, Renee Van Amerongen, Martijn Daamen, Fleur Jansen, Sander Blom, et alia
Produced by Mardou Jacobs, René Mioch, Justus Verkerk
Starring Peter Blok, Gaite Jansen, Ricky Koole, Robert de Hoog, Jochum ten Haaf, Pieter Tiddens, Sallie Harmsen, Carolien Spoor, Ronald van Elderen

“Few men would be deceived if their conceit of themselves did not help the skill of those that go about it.”

–Marquis of Halifax, Cheats

Viewers of this brief feature’s first few prefatory minutes scripted by Van Kooten submitted thousands of continuative scenarios, from which diegetic devices were garbled, then integrated into the densely, tidily plotted shooting script of Verhoeven’s first good flick in twenty years. The semicentennial birthday of a shaky construction firm’s founder and CEO (Blok) is disrupted by attendances of his scheming partners (Haaf, Tiddens) and erstwhile, evidently enceinte mistress (Harmsen). In its aftermath, their revelations threaten to profitably unravel his professional life and business, but a backstair percontation by his stolid son (Hoog) and the flirty friend (Jansen) of his his dumpy, drunken daughter (Spoor) exposes connivance, though almost everyone involved is peccant for deceit. Staged, shot and acted with polished assurance at a brisk pace, this small production finds Verhoeven back in good form after his wearisome succession of doltish, bloated blockbusters stateside and in his native Netherlands, wasting not one of its sexy, silly fifty-five minutes, even if half of the twists recurring every five are too predictable.