Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Kraftverk 3714

Kraftverk 3714
Directed by: Markus Widegren
Sweden, 2005
Drama/Sci-fi/Horror, 136min

Independent filmmaking is probably the last stand of the true self-governing artist, a sphere where no holds are barred, no studio producer lingering over the shoulder to make sure that nothing stands out too much or offends the wrong people, and no executive’s that sit on their arses making “You should have done it like that” or “Do it this way” remarks which you know will tear the soul out of your production. The only inhabitations are the filmmaker’s own enthusiasm, and making a film independently the sky is the limit to that same enthusiasm.

It’s easy to watch independent filmmaking and laugh it off as naive, pretentious and cheap trash. In some cases that’s true, as many shorts don’t really take the time to think things though. To stop for a moment and question just what they want with their movie. It’s valuable time that they actually can afford as they are making the movie independently, and just simply jump in head first to show how clever they are at one thing or another, be it special effects, witty scripts with nods to high end art and literature or some other trick that they want to showcase. I’ve been down this road before in my writings, and like I said previously, I do like watching indie shorts, film school exam flicks and general artfuck, but they always walk a thin line between making an imprint and getting lost in their own posing – and I really hate posers, because they have no stories to tell.

I’ve always had the idea that art and emotion is in the eye of the beholder. I don’t need anyone else to tell me if a piece is great or not, it’s the impression that it makes on me that is the most important one. As an old film studies student and a life long lover of movies I’ve seen way too much stuff that’s supposed to be masterpieces and stuff that’s supposed to be shite, and in many cases the tables have definitely been turned in my opinion. But movies that some think are crap and others think are masterpieces have no real relevance until the individual watches it, digests it and interprets it. It’s all in the individual’s interpretation, not anyone else’s. I think this is why I don’t’ have any problem talking about the symbolism in Peter Greenaway or Andrej Tarkovsky's movies in the same sentence as I talk about the aesthetics of Lucio Fulci, Jean Rollin, Jess Franco or any other director that is commonly referred to as a hack. They all basically work with the same fundamental tools and the rest is just icing on the cake. Some prefer exotic fruits and long shots of billowing crops, others rotting fruit and close-ups of billowing crotches.

The main thing that makes any movie, and I mean any movie at all work is that simple little thing that I refer to as investment. If I can invest my time, the most precious thing we have to give, our own personal time, into a movie, then that movie works. Nobody in his or her right mind will stay and watch a movie that they don’t like, and with a simple flick of a switch you can reclaim your time and go do something else instead. Movies are simply made to be watched. I can take what I want with me from them and that is what makes the movie live on in my mind after viewing it. Good or bad it made me evaluate it, as I watched it. And when I watch, I see, read, interpret and invest, that is what makes the movie. And the secret to getting that important investment is storytelling. Tell me a story that draws me in and I’m there, I’m investing my time in the story, I’m digesting and interpreting as I watch, and that’s the power of storytelling.

Now with that geek manifest out of the way, let’s direct our attention to the movie I thought would be a short film in the usual school of Swedish short productions, but turned out to be an impressive and extremely potent full length feature film. I see a lot of really shitty productions that are made on ten-fifty times the budget that these guys probably had on the telly, and through my work, and this film is with out a doubt way much better than most the stuff that gets financed by the film institute and the national TV.

Markus Widegren and Fred Andersson who have written the script for Kraftverk 3714 (produced by Andersson and directed/shot/edited by Widegren) both obviously know the secrets; they know the tricks of how to make an audience invest their time in their story.

After a rather eclectic and frenzied opening hat definitely will grab your attention, Kraftverk 3714 starts to lay out its narrative. The main part of the film takes place in a small community somewhere up the north of Sweden. Johanna [Maria Bergquist] comes back to the village to visit her mother, Elisabeth [Sandy Mansson] after a few years in absence. After a brief establishing of characters and supporting cast William, [Emil Jonsson], Linn [Anna-Sara Kennedy], Tommy [Anders Östlund – also co-producer] and their daughter Maja [Lina Östlund] it’s time for the movie to get under go. Soon it appears that the death of William’s grandfather Vladimir [Michael Mansson] wasn’t simply an accident a previously told and some really bizarre shit starts happening in the basement of his house.

For some reason the inhabitants of the village are going missing – even Caspar the Magician [the great Fred Andersson from Martin Munthe's Camp Slaughter 2004 and Kenny Begins 2009], and at times they are returning but seemingly not aware that they are in our world. At the same time several sub plots start coming into action as mysterious beings start appearing on desolate back roads, and Maja’s grandmother has some strange creature, or “the others” as she refers to them as living in her attic. She warns Maja that they will stay safe as long as they keep the door locked.

And this is pretty much the way this little indie power flick rolls, slowly, slowly taking it’s time to present a gallery of characters and strange events and subplots that all, well most of them, neatly come together in a great big slug-it-out at the end of the movie.

Clocking in just under two and a half hours the movie takes its audience on a strange and surreal science fiction / horror journey which slowly builds depth characters and understanding as the narrative moves forth. The film takes its time to set up the ordinary world before it unleashes the powers and threats of the other worlds. This is most likely a deliberate move by the two filmmakers and I’m sure that they at one point in time sat and said “Yeah! Let’s go to midpoint before we let it all break loose!” and I feel that this was a great choice as it does give me enough time to get close to the characters and evoke some emotions for them. It’s something that commonly ruins independent films, but Widegren and Andersson stay clear of those pitfalls, and they keep me engaged throughout the entire movie.

Although I do have a problem that there are too many main characters, I would have lost half of them as to focus on lesser characters and build out their arcs more efficiently. I never really get the feeling that one character is the main protagonist; sure I’m all for multiple protagonists, but in Kraftverk 3714 I feel that there are too many. I would have narrowed it down to say Johanna, William and Elisabeth.

But with that said, there is a certain logic to multiple odd characters, and if you are a fan of Twin Peaks – which Widegren say that he is - there’s certainly an understanding for them bringing in a gallery of weird characters to deliver a certain level of confusion, because there are two levels of confusion; good confusion and bad confusion. One such character is Johanna’s grandmother who resides in the old folks home. We never really get an explanation to her peculiar behaviour, we understand that she can see stuff that we – or Johanna – can’t and that she also has some of the strange powers that the beings utilise – perhaps she’s one of them… that’s were good confusion comes to aid the storyteller, scenes that an audience can make sense of after the truth is revealed. The movie is riddled with these kinds of small oddities and quirks, which in many cases work in favour of the movie. And all scenes with Maja and her Grandma Vera [Åsa Siika] are brilliant. This is why I feel that this 136min movie easily could be fleshed out and shot as three, maybe four episodes that would make a great little TV serial.

Perhaps I’d have liked to see more focus on Elisabeth as she ends up holding a key to the climax, and also goes head first using all the elements to fight off the creatures that have entered through the portal, and I still feel that I have to point out that several characters either get too little time on screen or too much to actually make a mark. I get confused into who I should identify with, who is fighting the battle, who is my protagonist. In the deleted scenes on the DVD there’s a few scenes with Elisabeth and her art. If this was to be reshot as a TV serial, I’d start the whole thing with her painting those creepy painting, and cross cut it with Erik hearing Vladimir on the radio. Use that as the starting point, the gate is open and Elisabeth plugs right into it. This would give a logic reason to return to the paintings and keep her sensitive artist side alive too. A side thought, but I’ll throw it in here anyways.

I still think that it’s a great piece, it’s impressive, pretty well paced at times, daring in it’s form as it jump cuts through certain scenes to rid them of tediousness, uses rapid movement to add to the uncanny aura of the film, and for an indie flick it really uses some awesome set locations. Weaving in horror traits, sci-fi elements, a love story and a very realistic postmodern comment on life in small communities with an ever thinning population into a drama setting is a very bold thing to take on. But Widegren and Andersson pull it off and sell the magic of their vision, because they obviously know their storytelling and it’s a darned entertaining ride for sure.

I love when movies grab me and impress me with simple tricks, and at the start of the movie there’s a fantastic scene where Elisabeth sees Vladimir – who is supposed to be dead – outside her bedroom window. She is startled and shocked, something that the viewer can’t really relate to this early on, but then a cut outside the house reveals that Elisabeth’s bedroom is on the top floor of her house and there’s no way that Vladimir could have been standing outside that window. It sets an eerie tone that really adds to the magic and the old luring in the audience tools are used very efficiently. Great stuff.

I won’t get into the comparison game, because I feel that would be wrong to do, as this movie indeed stands on it’s own two legs, and compared to other garbage that get made here in Sweden, this one was a pleasurable surprise. This movie isn’t justly watched from the angle of a movie made by a few mates running around with cameras shooting footage of their mates over a few weekends, because this movie is for real. It is not a cheap shot to show off a few tricks, it’s a full-fledged production with a well-written script, an engaging narrative and the knowledge behind the camera to back it up.

Not only an extraordinary story, there are also some impressive tricks in the movie too, there’s some CGI that works really well– as long as it stays in the dark, but then again that goes for all monsters doesn’t it, some great special effects, and a series of really awesome stunts during the final battle that see’s Elisabeth using the elements only to peak with her setting him on fire! Burning guy! How often do you see that in an indie feature? And I’m not the only one to be impressed by this feature as it was awarded for Best Special Effects at the Italian International Film Festival: The Return of the Living Shorts in 2007 and best direction and leading male at the Rojo Sangre Festival in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 2006.

Remember what I said in the opening? Well Kraftverk 3714 is a perfect example of that theory; No holds barred, and the sky as the only limit - well Kraftverk 3714 is an impressive feat that proves just that, and I’m quite sure that there weren’t many of their initial ideas that they had to discard, as this movie has a bit of everything in it. That’s the essence of Indie filmmaking - just get it done. Nothing is impossible.

Score wise I like the varied assortment of tunes that they have set to the images. Most of it is experimental Swedish stuff – as both Widegren and Andersson are talented musicians too – but it suits the movie, and brings a level of validity with it that just ripping your favourite tracks from already released scores does. What the heck is it with all these talented people still not working professionally in the cesspools of the industry? Get them now before it’s too late I say.

Finally, I really suggest that Widegren and Andersson tweak a few pages in their script, rethink a few minor details, loose or concentrate more on less characters and get that script sent off to the drama departments of the major production companies (the ones that make movies & TV Drama), the film institute and SVT’s Drama departments, because this stuff is valuable and it by far beats much of the stuff that they have been producing these last years.

I know that these guys are prepping a new flick right now, and with this one in the rear view mirror and with what I’ve heard they want to do, I wish them all the best of luck. This country needs more enthusiastic filmmakers with unique ideas like this one, because there’s too many generic cop flicks and people completely aware of the aesthetics of horror making what they think is horror, getting their poor productions made and it’s time for a new guard to take over and get Sweden back on the map as a country you can depend on for entertaining movies.

16:9 Widescreen

Dolby Digital 2.0, Swedish Dialogue, English or Swedish Subtitles are optional

Deleted scenes, a making of documentary, Caspar’s Magic Show, and the two short films Vi ska till Havet (To the Sea) that sees Andersson give a solid performance, and I korridorerna (In the Corridors) a short that takes place in the Kraftverk 3714 universe. Finally there’s a commentary track that gives further insight and tells some great anecdotes of the production.

1 comment:

Alex B. said...

I really enjoyed Kraftverk 3714, it was one of the less cliched films I'd seen this spring. What amused me was that Elisabeth who you expect as a sort of background character actually becomes the main hero kicking ass - that was a great twist!
Apart from keeping the viewer engaged throughout, I think the major success is that they managed to create an eerie and very believable world in that isolated community. I cannot think of another film recently that succeeded in that regard.

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