MERMAID, from Russia, and LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, from Sweden, bracketed my Wednesday’s viewing at E.I.F.F. and together form a pretty neat Fever Dream Double Feature. Both deal with childhood/adolescence, both have a fantasy element and a dark side, while ostensibly taking place in the real modern world (MERMAID starts in the ’90s and LTROI is set in the ’80s, for no particularly obvious reason), both are commercial as hell but eschew the Hollywood manner of constructing a script like a Swiss watch (or pretending to do so while leaving colossal gaps and improbabilities, as is generally the case nowadays) and both benefit from a slower cutting rate than is standard in America and increasingly in the U.K.
One has a surprise downbeat ending and the other an upbeat, neither of which I was sure about but neither of which seemed to mar my enjoyment overall.
MERMAID, written and directed by Anna Melikyan, follows an unusual, misfit girl from aged 6, when she stops speaking after a solar eclipse, to aged 18, when first love with a dissolute moon salesman (yes, I believe people do make a living selling lunar real estate) cures her and brings about dramatic developments in her life, all of which she reads in the city of Moscow — it’s billboards and hoardings seem to carry private messages to her throughout. This I dig, as anyone who’s read my “Things I Read Off the Screen” pieces will understand.
It’s kind of an emo AMELIE. An EMOLIE, if you will. By this I mean that it substitutes a darker world-view and a keener sense of heart-ache for the more saccharine aspects of Jeunet’s Parisian romance. Perhaps that’s what you get when you trade Paris for Moscow.
As the Jeunet comparison suggests, the film is a big-budget visual banquet, but it shuns the hyperkinetic frenzy of NIGHT WATCH and even harkens back to this kind of thing:
There’s a recurring, developing, surreal dream-tableau that reminds me simultaneously of old Russian sci-fi, Fellini, and David Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes video.
This was my favourite of the new films I’ve seen at the festival, until I saw LET THE RIGHT ONE IN. I left the Cameo with a spring in my stride and a song in my knee. It restored my faith in green-haired Russian girls.
LTROI is, let’s be frank, a vampire story. Shrewd in its borrowings from legend and in the slow-burn way it allows them to be expressed onscreen, it most closely resembles George Romero’s melancholy MARTIN, but it doesn’t avoid the supernatural — indeed, it takes it quite seriously (which is refreshing) and plunges in feet-first.
Could I describe this film as a romance between two twelve-year-old outcasts? Yes, and it’s beautifully observed. It’s not often you can get a Proustian rush AND a body count. Could I describe it as a romance between a budding serial killer and a vampire? Yes, but you might get the wrong idea. It’s stately, luminous, tender, harsh, it mingles realism with the fantastic in a way that illuminates both. It’s directed by Tomas Alfredson and scripted by John Ajvide Lindqvist, from his novel.
“My script is about being lifted out of the darkness by love.”
Fiona couldn’t make it so hopefully she’ll get to see it tomorrow. I joked that it’s her new favourite film, only she doesn’t know it yet.