Two dramas in unusual settings lead the new offerings at Ogden’s Art House Cinema 502.
Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s meditative films often juxtapose nature and modernity; Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives comments hypnotically on the world’s short attention span. On a remote Thai farm, widower Boonmee (Thanapat Saisaymar) welcomes his late wife’s sister and his nephew to help care for him, just as the ghost of his dead wife and his long-missing son reappear. Surreal plot digressions are indeed part of a languidly paced first half in which Weerasethakul focuses on Boonmee’s farm as a place where people are closer to the quiet borders of other worlds—until the setting shifts to the city, and its constant background lights and noise. The rhythms and purely functional performances of a film like this can be disorienting for viewers accustomed to Hollywood fare. But Weerasethakul provides us with a reminder, however self-serving, of how your perspective can change when things slow down.
Director Anne Sewitsky’s Happy, Happy is a bit more easily accessible than Boonmee, but not quite as effective. In a remote region of Norway, two unhappily married couples meet: perpetually upbeat Kaja (Agnes Kittelsen) and her distant, inattentive husband Eirik (Joachim Rafaelson); and Sigve (Henrik Rafaelson) and Elisabeth (Maibritt Saerens), relocating to rent the house next door to Kaja and Eirik in an attempt to start fresh after Elisabeth’s extramarital affair. The foursome becomes entangled in a variety of ways manifesting their respective dissatisfactions, and there are plenty of opportunities for potent character study. But aside from Kittelsen’s disarming performance as a woman who isn’t sure she deserves any better than she’s got, the plot turns feel somewhat superficial, rarely probing deeply enough into the “why” of what happens. Sewitsky and screenwriter Ragnhild Tronvoll throw a few structural curveballs, including an unsettling subplot with Kaja and Eirik’s son inviting Sigve and Elisabeth’s adopted Ethiopian child to play “slave,” and interstitial performances by a crooning quartet. That level of creativity never quite makes it into the main story.