by Walter Chaw
ONE WEEK (2000)
starring Kenny Young, Saadiqa Muhammad, Eric Lane, Milauna Jackson
screenplay by Carl Seaton, Kenny Young
directed by Carl Seaton
One of the pleasures of junior high (towards the end of the year, once teachers have exhausted lesson plans and their patience) was the educational reel, that impossibly dated relic of the Fifties or Sixties that advised against, in the most stultifying terms possible, such sundry indiscretions as driving too fast or wandering around in the desert without extra water and a hat. The armed forces upped the ante with cautionary tales of green grunts succumbing to the wiles of Third-World call girls and the attendant itches of perdition. The only thing that separates Carl Seaton's zero-budget morality tirade One Week and scatological G.I. shock schlock is the fact that it's in colour (though the lighting in many scenes makes that distinction moot), and that it lacks a chiding talking condom.
It's Monday, and Varon (Kenny Thomas) is five days away from marrying Kiya (Saadiqa Muhammad) when a phone call from a VD clinic informs him of a problem. Seems one of Varon's past indiscretions might have been infected with HIV. In quick order, Varon loses his job, loses his best friend (Tyco (Eric Lane)), and loses his future wife before learning, in a bizarre Roman Polanski moment, how to live with the disease. One Week is less an AIDS drama than the kind of ghetto horror/sob story that would be starkly offensive but for the fact that the writer-director is himself black. How else does a film get away with Varon's proud revelation that though he was the child of heroin addicts he kept hope alive by modelling himself after the example set by Cliff Huxtable?
Overlooking the lack of character development and the stunning conveniences of a plot more contrived than an Escher print, One Week is filled with harsh zooms announcing moments of tension and wild shifts in pace that handily undermine credibility and sense. It seems more a satire than a serious exploration, each purported plot twist telegraphed with a hilarious leaden clumsiness. (And while there aren't wacky sound effects punctuating Varon's Biblical misfortune, the perverse soundtrack comes close to simulating the effect. Sproing!)
As malady stacks upon misfortune and Varon and Tyco turn into twin Travis Bickles looking to clean the offending scum off the proverbial streets, the bottom falls out from under One Week; what was inept becomes grim and inexplicable. With an epilogue told through a series of still photographs answering none of the burning questions about the ramifications of testing positive for HIV, One Week fulfills its destiny as a disturbingly unfocused, disquietingly heavy-handed rant that deals in racial pigeonholes when it should be banishing societal taboos. It's not the message that's misguided in One Week but the lack thereof.
starring Stellan Skarsgård, Lena Headey, Ian Hart, Charlotte Rampling
screenplay by Kristin Amundsen, Hans Petter Moland
directed by Hans Petter Moland
Hans Petter Moland's third film (and first in English) is assured, stark, and endlessly beautiful. He evokes the long, lonesome noir tableaux of American painter Edward Hopper, capturing with them that ineffable feeling of remoteness, of human distance existing in the midst of forced intimacy. In this way, his work resembles the later efforts of German director Wim Wenders, although Moland isn't a monumentalist so much as an aggressive humanist, marking the Norwegian director as more closely akin to his Scandinavian counterpart, Ingmar Bergman.
Oddly enough, the contemporary picture of which I was most reminded while watching Aberdeen was Mohsen Makhmalbaf's uneven Kandahar, in that both feature female protagonists journeying into the heart of despair at the behest of an ailing loved one. Makhmalbaf's heroine is a prodigal daughter surreptitiously invading a repressive regime, while Moland's is a prodigal daughter forced to confront the demons of dysfunction.
As a film about triangles, Kaisa (the ethereally beautiful Lena Headey) is the daughter, a successful Scot Londonite; ex-oil rigger and drunkard Tomas (Stellan Skarsgård) is the father; and Helen (Charlotte Rampling) is the terminally ill mother, whose request for a reunion galvanizes the picture. A second triangle forms as Kaisa and Tomas are banned from an airline conveying them from Oslo to Aberdeen, Scotland (he for his drunkenness and she for her belligerence), forcing them to drive across Norway to catch a ferry. A flat tire introduces truck driver Clive (magnificently blue-collar Ian Hart) along with all manner of humiliation--not all of it physical.
Aberdeen is wonderfully, evocatively written and its cast is exquisitely unself-conscious. The difficult terrain travelled by Kaisa and Tomas--literally and psychologically--is honoured by the picture's devotion to an austere emotional veracity. It's a realism made even more impressive for the beauty of Philip Ogaard's cinematography, all sharp lines and Hoagy Carmichael hues. (No accident, then, that its theme song is "I'm Getting Along Just Fine Without You," written by Carmichael and performed by another doomed junkie, Chet Baker.) With a finer-honed edge than that of Moland's already impressive Zero Kelvin, Aberdeen can't carry its inspiration all the way through to its finale (the only portion of the film that caves, however slightly, to convention), but the maxim that it's not the destination but the journey here holds especially true.