Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Fri Jan 13, 2023 11:02 pm 
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ÁSKEL EINAR PÁLMASON, SNORRI RAFN FRIMANNSSON IN BEAUTIFUL BEINGS

"An Icelandic Coming-of-Age tale radiant with violence and tenderness" (Jessica Kiang, at the Berlinale)

Once in a while a movie takes you into world that's ordinary (for the people in it, a group of scruffy boys) yet utterly strange and unfamiliar. Such is the case with Icelandic director Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson's second film about local youth, Beautiful Beings. Strangely, English language reviews have found this a conventional movie that despite nice cinematography and good acting, especiallly by the teen cast members, offers nothing new. The Icelandic title Berdreymi, lost in "Beautiful Beings," means "lucid dreaming" and refers to an ability that is supposed to allow people to foresee non-verbal events in a dream. Critics have also disregarded the film's distinct homoerotic thread, obviously a strong element for the filmmaker, whose 2016 debut film Hjartasteinn (Heartstone)* is about the love between two boys. That comes in here too, significantly.

"Berdreymi" refers to Addi (Birgir Dagur Bjarkason), the "beautiful being" number one, the handsome young narrator and main character, who seems to have an ability to foresee and see, inherited from his psychic mother, though at first he rejects that "stuff" as nonsense.

Addi's little trio of toughs is ostensibly led by the big, violent Konni (Viktor Benóný Benediktsson), with pimply face and red curly hair, and Siggi (Snorri Rafn Frímannsson) is the nerdy, possibly intellectual one Konni is always picking on. First we meet Balli, a nickname for Baldur (Áskell Einar Pálmason), a thin, timid boy bullies at school just love beating up, so much so that he lands in the hospital and it's on TV with him wearing a plastic mask to protect his broken nose. Addi sees him on TV and for whatever reason takes an interest.

Addi, Konni, and Siggi find Balli getting drunk on moonshine and on the verge of slitting his risks and befriend him. Later they start going to his house, an excellent hangout since his stepfather is in jail and his mother often away. Other bullies sent Balli to the hospital; these bullies adopt him. Addi, the peacemaker, convinces Siggi to accept him as a new attraction for Konni's bellying, instead of Siggi.

This outline fails to capture the realism of the film, which is entrancing and sometimes appalling or shocking for its violence, brutality, and sexuality. There is one sequence where Konni breaks into a house full of boys he hates and begins attacking them, like an action hero. The close, sometimes blurry camera coverage of notable Norwegian dp Sturla Brandth Grøvlen (Victoria, Rams, Another Round, The Innocents) is so kinetic you're plunged right into the mayhem and see the absurd danger Konni has thrown himself into.

The action is meandering until the obvious main challenge when Balli's stepdad gets out of jail and his presence at home with the boy, his mother, and his sister is intolerable and the boys, deeply committed to each other, mount an attack on him that climaxes events. What follows is a quiet denouement Bradshaw has condemned, saying "the cliched and consequence-free violence is a flaw," overlooking that consequence would have been conventional. Guðmundsson's concern is the reshuffling: Balli is sent to live elsewhere (but starts dressing better), Siggi spends all his time at home on his computer now, and Konni has taken up with boys Addi doesn't want to be with, so now Addi and Balli are united at the end.

Beautiful Beings is a fresh and unpredictable blend of teenage boy bullying and violence with boys bonding and feeling a remarkable degree of affection and love for each other. There is also a thread of magic realism and the visionary. Balancing the fights are sequences of partying, playing, and getting high. There's a terrific sequence of the boys getting stoned on magic mushrooms that's inventive and memorably organic. The four boys climb a gnarly mountain that's like a big mushroom and feel each other's faces and link fingers. There's a tough, handsome older goy who appears at a party and is caught in a compromising situation with Konni, and Konni tells Addi later not to speak of it, "nothing happened."

More than about fighting this film is about patterns of bonding, and the subtle way people change with different associations and bonds. Notably this is the way Balli starts to bloom when he's part of a posse and has friends. He also alters and becomes more glamorous when his older sister Hófí (Kristín Ísold Jóhannesdóttir), a henna-haired babe, appears at the apartment when the other boys are there.

All this is very far from the conventional "coming of age movie." This is probably the kind of little film full of hidden riches that people will discover later on their own. The mediocre English-language reviews (Jessica Kiang in Variety and Wendy Ide in Screen Daily are insightful exceptions) provide no introduction. Given the festival selection and awards, it appears European reception has been more enthusiastic. Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson is a gifted and special filmmaker and one to watch.

Beautiful Beings/Berdreymi ("Lucid Dreaming"), 123 mins., debuted at the Berlinale (Panorama program) Feb. 11, 2022, showing at about two dozen other international festivals including Istanbul, Taipei, Karlovy Vary, Helsinki, Stockholm and Palm Springs and has won a number of awards. Beautiful Beings is representing Iceland in the Oscar race. Limited US theatrical release began in NYC (Quad Cinema) Jan. 13, 2023. Metacritic rating: 58% (!).

*Heartstone can be watched on YouTube and is just as fresh and unique and moving as Beautiful Beings.

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©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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