Philly Fest Report: Oldboy, Stratosphere Girl, Quiet As A Mouse

Todd Brown, Founder and Editor

So the count now stands at three days, eleven films. Thus far I'm having a ridiculously high success rate with ten solid films against only one dog. Not bad. Rounding up today's viewing after this morning's viewing of Off Beat was Chan Wook Park's Oldboy - first time seeing it projected and with an audience - plus a pair of German films in Stratosphere Girl and Quiet as a Mouse.

Oldboy we've talked about a fair bit around here so I don't see a lot of point in rehashing what has been said in the past. What I will say is that it stands up to repeat viewing very well and the crowd I saw it with generally left in stunned silence. I did, however, find the print notably dark with a lot of the colors washed out. Canfield was with me at this one and he saw it projected in Chicago and said he noticed the same thing there, so it looks as though Tartan may have messed up the color balance on their prints a la what Magnolia did with Ong Bak. It's not quite as dark as Ong Bak but it gets pretty close in spots and it definitely affects the experience as it shadows facial expressions in close up shots and generally makes the film look a lot cheaper than it really is. More than being a great film Oldboy looks great and it's a shame that people aren't able to experience the full effect here. I hope these dingy prints aren't the beginning of a trend ...

Upon leaving Oldboy we immediately turned around and rejoined the line to catch Stratosphere Girl, which was playing on the same screen. M.X. Oberg's story of a Belgian girl travelling to Japan on a whim to work in a hostess bar is beautifully shot and carefully constructed. Having the story narrated by its main character while she is in the process of turning it into a manga is a nice touch and one that certainly suits the content and locale.

The girl in question is Angela, an eihgteen year old Belgian living in Germany who meets a Japanese DJ at her graduation party and, seemingly on a whim, decides to pursue her dream of travelling and seeing the world rather than staying home to work in an uncle's office when the DJ tells her of a friend he has working in a hostess bar. Telling no one where she's going or why Angela packs up and leaves in the middle of the night and, upon arrival in Japan, moves in with a group of hostess girls and commences work at their club where her young looks make her a hit with the customers and a target for jealous retribution from the other girls who feel she is cutting into their clientele. As time passes Angela learns of a fellow worker who went missing sometime earlier and, from everyone's silence on the matter, decides that something suspicious is at work and sets out to learns the truth.

Though it does deal frankly with some of the seamier aspects of Japanese night life - a group of girls are put to work packaging used panties for sale to 'enthusiasts' at one point - the film is surprisingly non-exploitative, choosing to focus on the mystery aspect far moreso than the sex. Canfield came out of this one positively gushing about how great it was - I enjoyed it quite a lot but felt it had a couple of significant weaknesses. Some plot elements fall together far too neatly and having a cast made almost entirely of non-native English speakers performing entirely in English makes for some slightly stilted and wooden dialogue, though not painfully so. Chloe Winkel is quite strong as Angela and Pink Panther fans - like Canfield - will recognize Burt Kwouk as the manager of the hostess bar.

The final film of the day was screenwriter / actor Jan Henrik Stahlberg's Quiet As A Mouse. Oh. My. This is the mother of all mock-docs, a savagely dark and hysterically funny satire of social activism. Stahlberg stars as Mux, a seemingly quiet, straightlaced man who, convinced that Germany is on a road to moral ruin, sets out to teach the country about responsibility and honor through a program of armed vigilantism. Driving too fast? He'll fine you and take away your steering wheel. Let your dog defecate on the sidewalk? You'd best be prepared to have your nose rubbed in it. And don't think you can get away with peeing in the pool.

The film begins on a very basic level, simply poking fun at the over-earnestness of those who run around trying to save the world, but it quickly crosses into much harder edged and more deeply thought out satire as Mux comes into contact with more serious issues. We begin with speeders and fare-dodgers on public transit but we end with pedophiles, child pornographers and murderers all of whom Mux pursues with dogged determination while showing no signs whatsoever that he recognizes the irresponsibility of his own actions. As Mux's relationship with a young country girl whom he idolizes develops and Mux becomes an increasingly popular media figure it quickly becomes clear that Stahlberg's satire is far less South Park than it is Swift. He's on to something here and he'll go to great lengths to make his point.

Luckily for us Stahlberg also happens to be an outrageously funny man. This is no dry rant against activism's self-blindness, not at all. The film is shot in such a low budget documentary style that there's virtually nothing to focus on in terms of visual imagery, there is only Stahlberg's performance as Mux and he is flat out brilliant. From his monologue describing how he hired his assistant Gerd because Gerd reminded him of his dead dog, to his informing an overweight teen that if he ate less fries that he would lose weight and thus have a better shot with the ladies thus meaning that he wouldn't need to masturbate quite so much to his absolutely outrageous take downs of the criminal element Stahlberg is pure gold from start to finish. Quiet As A Mouse may not be much to look at but there is no denying that it is a flat out fantastic piece of work.

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