Saturday, October 23, 2010

Tender Son - The Frankenstein Project (Philadelphia Film Festival)

Kornel Mundruczo's "Tender Son: The Frankenstein Project" is a powerful film, but that for me is largely due to its mise-en-scene. The film is shot as a sort of filmed play (which is befitting since this film apparently started that way). By choosing this style (reminiscent of Tarkovsky's "The Sacrifice"), the film gains a large amount of presence. We are embedded into every scene as a result. The cinematography by Matyas Erdely has earned a lot of praise and it definitely deserves it. He lays down such masterfully oriented compositions that they are at times a little too orchestrated, and a bit of a show-off. But the camera is essential to the film's minor degree of success.

The film feels pretty confused. I was expecting that the narrative would be divided evenly between The Director ("Tender Son's" director Mundruczo, acting pretty mediocre) and Rudolf Nagy (Rudolf Frecska), but Nagy ends up getting the lion's share, Mundruczo keeping himself offscreen. It seemed that The Director was too big of a character to let go of for as long as he is here, but Mundruczo would disagree.

Anyways, The Director is casting the lead actor for a new film that he's making (he also writes plays, so I'd agree with the speculation that this is a semi-autobiographical part for Mundruczo). He's taking a Mike Leigh strategy, perhaps, in auditioning the actors before he has a good idea of what the part is. Or at least that's what I assume, because the candidates for the lead actor include an old widow, two best friends, and some weird guy. His only criteria for the role are that (1) "the camera must be able to make them act" and (2) they must be able to cry. Everyone who auditions seemingly botches (2), including the old lady, who cries so hard that the scene sort of falls apart. Rudolf Nagy, who we see stumbling along, who carries along white "mourning" flowers for no particular reason other than that he likes them, who comes to audition marking only his name on the sheet, impresses the director so much that even though he's awful at (2) and even though he's antagonistic to the casting process, the director continues to test him.

He even tests him with an out-of-work actress, who is told to make advances on Rudolf. He's completely resistant and even violent. I can only deduce that the director is complete idiot from how he deals with this situation, putting the two in a closed room and telling Rudolf to film it. You can guess the result: Rudolf strangles her. However, the way this scene is handled (revealing what happens through the video camera's transmission to a computer monitor) is strangely captivating (perhaps one of a couple references to Michael Haneke's "Cache." Also referenced: "Gerry" by Gus Van Sant, supposedly via Bela Tarr).

After this scene, however, the movie-within-the-movie is abandoned completely, more evidence that Mundruczo threw this movie together with little coherence. The film goes on to see Rudolf through the corners of the house that most of the movie is set in, where he's hiding out from the authorities and where the director is shooting the film. It's Rudolf's mother's house, which explains why he auditioned for the movie there. I found the film from here on out sort of underwhelming (even more so than the beginning), perhaps due to the fact that I saw production shots that were supposedly from the film but make no appearance (maybe this is a different cut than the one from Cannes?). I do admire the foreshadowing in these scenes. The film styles itself so dramatically that see what will happen before it does. It's a nice effect, and, for me, a welcome predictability.

I can see why this film has no distributor: it has very little grip on the viewer beyond the grand aesthetic. That's not to say that it's boring. But it's extremely forgettable and only mildly cathartic. Plus, it has an ending that I doubt anyone will entirely appreciate. Maybe Mundruczo should've spent a little more time revising that part of the project. C

Update (December 17, 2010): I conducted an interview with Mundruczo, which can be found here.


aspergiansarah said...

Wow, that sounds f**ked up. Do you figure it's a commentary on exploitation of the media? Netflix says this movie has an incest angle. Is that true?

By the way, I'm still ridiculously jealous you can go to film festivals I have to wait another year.

Nick Duval said...

It is indeed quite perturbing.

Re: the incest, the main character is set to be married to his stepsister, and he gives his mother a weird kiss.

That one scene with the auditions does have that "exploitation of the media" angle to it, but this movie's narrative is such a mess that (as critics have said) there's really not that much to it.

What festival are you thinking of?