Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Jeffrey Dahmer & Emperor Hirohito

In the four days between the end of Cinequest and the beginning of CAAMFest, I saw the following films.

The Jeffrey Dahmer Files starring Andrew Swant; directed by Chris James Thompson; documentary with reenactments; (2012) - Official Website
Emperor starring Matthew Fox, Eriko Hatsune & Tommy Lee Jones; directed by Peter Webber; Japanese & English with subtitles; (2012) - Official Website
Persécution starring Romain Duris & Charlotte Gainsbourg; directed by Patrice Chéreau; French with subtitles; (2009) - Official Website
Me, You and Us starring Lou Doillon, Samuel Benchetrit & Malik Zidi; directed by Jacques Doillon; French with subtitles; (2012)

I saw The Jeffrey Dahmer Files at the Roxie, Emperor at the Landmark Embarcadero Center and the other two films at the Vogue as part of Rendez-Vous With French Cinema, a traveling series of French films which also played at the Camera 3 during March.  Me, You and Us is also titled You, Me and Us.

The Jeffrey Dahmer Files uses interviews with the medical examiner and lead detective on the Dahmer case to provide background information.  However, it is Dahmer's neighbor Pam Bass who interested me.  Recounting her visits to Dahmer's apartment, I wonder how she didn't notice any of the signs including the 57 gallon drum full of body parts.  Towards the end of the film, she makes a statement loaded with possibilities.  She said that she had to been to Dahmer's apartment many times and he made sandwiches for them.  Bass wondered what sort of meat was used in the sandwiches - a chilling suggestion given Dahmer's cannibalism and the fact he kept human body parts in his refrigerator.  As delivered by Bass, the line comes out as black humor.  She is surprisingly sanguine for a woman who associated with the notorious serial killer.

The talking head interviews were more interesting than the reenactments which featured Andrew Swant as Dahmer going about tasks which are chilling in hindsight.  My favorite scene involves Dahmer transporting that 57 gallon drum on a public bus.

At just over 70 minutes, the film had the feel of cable TV documentary.  I came in with higher expectations.

Emperor tells the fascinating story of how Japanese Emperor Hirohito was not tried for war crimes.  Familiar with the story and some of the participants, I appreciated parts of the film.  The main character in the film is General Bonner Fellers (Matthew Fox), a real person who served in the US Army in the capacity depicted in the film.  Fellers was instrumental in deciding Hirohito's fate or as the film hints, giving MacArthur legitimate reasons for sparing Hirohito the indignity of a war crimes trial and possible execution.

However, the film would have us believe that Fellers had a deep and long lost love for a Japanese woman he met 30 years earlier when she was an exchange student in the US.  During the post WWII occupation of Japan, the movie would have us believe he spent considerable effort in tracking this woman and her family down.  I particularly like the scene where Fellers goes into a ramshackle Japanese bar and gets into a fistfight with a couple Japanese men.

Putting aside any historical inaccuracies or liberties, the film lets Fox shine as Fellers.  He is martinet to his staff but bends to MacArthur's will.  He is also quite romantic as he spends crucial time during the investigation searching for Aya, his long lost love (Eriko Hatsune).  Not only is he fighting the Japanese government officials' mistrust and reticence to speak to him but he is increasingly involved in vicious infighting among MacArthur's staff.  The combined effect is to ratchet up the tension as the dual plot lines (Hirohito's and Aya's fates) reach conclusion.  Of course, anyone with a basic knowledge of history knows Hirohito's fate so it's Aya's outcome which must hold the audience's attention.

Emperor is a decent film.  Tommy Lee Jones sounds nothing MacArthur.  Jones cannot seem to fully lose his Texas drawl but he does capture some of the real general's imperious manner.  For those unfamiliar with the real MacArthur, Jones' performance must seem inventive.  Emperor is Matthew Fox's film and he turns in solid performance.

Persécution and Me, You and Us were lightly attended.  I didn't like either film.

The main character in Persécution is Daniel (Romain Duris), an antagonizing type who seems to purposely isolate himself.  Despite his off-putting nature, he has a girlfriend (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and something of a stalker/admirer (Jean-Hugues Anglade).  We follow Daniel through a series of encounter each diminishing the audience's empathy for Daniel.  In a nutshell, I found Persécution to be unwatchable.

Me, You and Us was a little better but at nearly 2.5 hours, it was interminable.  Director Jacques Doillon's daughter Lou plays the lead role of Aya.  Aya is divorced from Louis (Samuel Benchetri) and they share custody of their daughter.  Aya is now living with her boyfriend Victor (Malik Zidi).  The three form a love triangle as Aya and Louis alternately pursue a renewal of their relationship.  All the while, Victor is aware and Louis' current girlfriend seems unconcerned.  Scenes with pretentious dialogue, a rambling plot and a misguided sense of self-importance sink this film.  Only towards the end when the three converge on a beach front resort does the film become interesting.  By then, we are 2 hours into the film and for me, an hour past caring.

No comments: