Films

Murder and icecold irony

Brian D. Johnson April 1 1996
Films

Murder and icecold irony

Brian D. Johnson April 1 1996

Murder and icecold irony

Films

FARGO Directed by Joel Coen

The Coen brothers have made their about witless characters confounded by weird circumstances—from the adulterer who tries to bury a not-quite-dead body in Blood Simple to the screenwriter whose hotel becomes a living hell in Barton Fink. Director Joel Coen and his brother Ethan (producer and co-writer) create scenarios that are deliberately artificial. But with Fargo, they apply their high-torque irony to a true story, a black comedy of errors that is as wild as any of their fictions.

Changing the names but not the facts, the Coens present the story of Jerry (William H. Macy), a Minneapolis car dealer who hires two thugs (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) to kidnap his own wife. Jerry plans to collect a large ransom from her father while paying a fraction of it to the thugs. Everything goes wrong. And after the kidnappers kill a state trooper and two bystanders, a small-town police chief (Frances McDormand), who is seven months pregnant, calmly starts to investigate.

Much of the film is shot in the snowy wastes of northern Minnesota, a world that could serve as a caricature of Canadiana. It is a world of parkas and ice scrapers

and excessively polite folk with hoser accents who say things like “You’re darn tootin’.” As usual, the Coen brothers cruelly patronize their characters, which seems more disturbing (and contrived) when they are based on real people involved in tragic events. But the story is rivetting, and the film is wickedly funny. Only in the scenes of violence,

which hit with a bald and astonishing bri> tality, does the humor suddenly evaporate Otherwise, with their cheeky omni science—and a score that surges through snow-blown vistas with a bombast am pathos worthy of Lawrence of Arabia—th Coens never let us forget that we an watching a movie, a smart movie about in credibly stupid people committing incredi ble acts.

BRIAN D. JOHNSON

A nice cup of tea with arsenic

THE YOUNG POISONER’S HANDBOOK

Directed by Benjamin Ross

he hobby. It is so English, evokin. the cozy image of a quiet schoolbo; in grey flannel shorts absorbed i¡ model trains or stamps or a chemistry se The hobby is where he learns to be hom alone, safely ensconced in a world of hi own invention. Which is fine—unless th hobby involves testing lethal toxins on hi immediate family. Th Young Poisoner’s Ham book tells the true st( ry of 14-year-old Gr; ham Young (Hug O’Conor), a Londo lad who was convicte of murder in the ear 1960s after conductir demented experimen on his parents an schoolmates. Lace with black humor aí morbidly fascinatin the film marks a stri ing feature debut f British writer-direct Benjamin Ross, wl tells the story unique from the murderer’s point of vie\ Seen through the wide and u blinking eyes of the boy ps chopath, the outside world of far ly and friends seems grotesqi and uncaring. He is the norm one. And as he investigates exo toxins such as antimony and tha urn, it is as if he were distilling s ciety’s poisons into a steal weapon of diabolical retributie And like the poison he uses, his sanity can go undetected. Aft spending eight years in a hospi for the criminally insane, Young officially rehabilitated and fin work in a photo laboratorychemical paradise—where takes on the job of delivering I to his co-workers.

Psychopathic cruelty and bla humored satire seem to go ha

The spell of the camera

THE STAR MAKER

Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore

H

e first explored the romance of movies with 1989’s Cinema Paradiso, the tale of a boy who befriends a projectionist.

It won an Oscar for best foreign film. Now, Italian writer-director Giuseppe Tornatore explores the romance of the movies from a different angle in The Star Maker, which

is up for best foreign film at the Academy Awards on March 25. Like Cinema Paradiso, it is a bittersweet tale of the naïve being enthralled by celluloid glamor in postwar Italy. This time, however, the spell is cast not by the projector but by the camera itself.

The story follows the exploits of Joe (Sergio Castellitto), a huckster who travels the backroads of Sicily selling dreams of stardom. Setting up a movie camera under a tent, he lures the locals to pay for screen tests, which he says will be shipped to a studio in Rome. But in front of the lens, many simply bare their souls with their own stories. And the tent becomes a confessional.

The Star Maker is a beautiful film, and less cloying than Cinema Paradiso. Castellitto’s crafty protagonist is a professional liar who struggles to believe his own hype. Only when a virginal beauty named Beata (ardently played by newcomer Tiziana Lodato) throws herself at his feet does his conscience begin to stir.

The Star Maker offers all the attractions that North Americans used to expect from European films—Old World scenery, poetic morality, peasant ingenues baring their breasts.

B.D.J.

in hand. Like last year’s To Die For and like Fargo, A Young Poisoner’s Handbook declines to pass moral judgment. Murder becomes an absurd quirk of a society in which malevolence is so well camouflaged by the banal evil of ordinary life—as invisible as a drop of death in a nice cup of tea.

B.D.J.