With Mandy, a wild and hallucinatory revenge pic goes all out to give Nicolas Cage the comeback he deserves
Starring Nicolas Cage. Rated 18A
Is it hyperbole to describe Mandy as a towering 2 work of genius? Whatever the case, here’s a movie so committed to its own outlandish vision that it deserves something commensurately bonkers in return, which is what it’s received, universally, from critics and fans who have caught the film at festival screenings. If you’re of a particular mindset, then expect to love Mandy to death. It’s a condition you’ll share with Red Miller, the soulful hunk of lumberjack who, in the shape of Nicolas Cage, occupies the other side of the screen.
It’s 1983, and Red nests in a mossy Pacific Northwest idyll called the Shadow Mountains with the androgynous, Black-sabbath-t-shirt-wearing creature of the title (shape-shifting Death of Stalin–ite Andrea Riseborough). While he’s felling trees and listening to King Crimson’s “Starless”, which has never sounded better in any context, she busies herself at home rendering their starlit union into Frank Frazetta–esque illustrations or sinking into fantasy novels. At night they snuggle in front of Don Dohler movies like 1982’s Nightbeast and softly discuss their favourite planets.
It’s understandable, then, that vengeance-crazed Red hits the road to hell and back when Mandy is murdered, in broadly the worst way imaginable, by a cult of Jesus freaks on super-acid led by a third-rate faerie folkie called Jeremiah Sand (Priest-ly Linus Roache). They shouldn’t have left Red for dead, and they definitely shouldn’t have made him watch, but that’s psychotic, messianic hubris for you.
Vancouver-based filmmaker Panos Cosmatos has done this before, pinning our eyes in 2010 with his debut, Beyond the Black Rainbow. Like that film, Mandy borrows from a (Panos) cosmology of profane influences—stoner metal, ’80s trash cinema, bad drugs—and fashions them into something that feels sacred. This solemnity of purpose is abetted by all involved, among them cowriter Aaron Stewartahn, cinematographer Benjamin Loeb, and the late composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, and then spiked with blunt intrusions of gonzo humour. (Rainbow had the driest of punch lines; this has a bunch of them.)
But Mandy possesses all the warmth Rainbow lacked, thanks to the thrillingly otherworldly Riseborough and the madman at its centre, the fallen, late-stage Nic Cage, who pours his heart into the role with such gusto that even the ostentatious design of this most obsessively composed of films finds an equal in his intensity.
There’s so much more—including a quasi-human berserker impaled on his own boner, Heavy Metal– style animation, and a spectral tiger—but here’s a film to be experienced, not read about. Some fiction is so affecting that its world becomes sublimely real to us (Tolkien comes to mind), and in that spirit, by the time Mandy arrives at its final, heroically insane image, all we desire is a return to the Shadow Mountains, or whatever fugue-state Möbius landscape we’ve landed in, so we can do it all over again. > ADRIAN MACK
Starring Tim Kalkhof. In
German, and Hebrew, with English subtitles. Rating unavailable
Can a relationship be 2
based on lies, lust, and apple strudel? According to this tenderly constructed new movie, that depends on the quality of the baking.
A first feature for writer-director Ofir Raul Grazier, born in Israel and based in Germany, The Cakemaker concentrates on kitchen as portal to the hearts of men and women, regardless of religion, geography, or gender roles. It begins when a suave Israeli called Oren (Roy Miller) wanders into a Berlin café and is struck by the quality of its pastries, and then by their maker, the taciturn Thomas (Tim Kalkhof). Oren finishes off his dessert with another afternoon delight. And pretty soon he’s staying at Thomas’s place on frequent business trips to the German capital.
The man is married and has a little boy back in Jerusalem, so there’s that. But then Oren suddenly disappears from the story (in the first few minutes) and the baker decides to investigate the life he left behind. The dude must have really loved cafés, because his wife, Anat (Foxtrot’s excellent Sarah Adler), runs one too. We don’t know why she hires a non-hebrew-speaking German as a dishwasher for her failing enterprise (would that even be legal?), but of course it’s not long before his baking skills, if not his own story, are exposed.
Thomas’s creations soon make the place a hit. Well, with everyone but Anat’s Orthodox brother-in-law (don’t mess with Zohar Shtrauss), who knows something’s not kosher. Literally. Anat isn’t herself that observant; indeed, it takes a while for her to spot obvious evidence that the newcomer has some history with her late husband. Anyway, a combination of grief, curiosity, and the fact that Thomas bonds so well with other family members eventually has her swooning like Demi Moore in Ghost—only with a living, highly ambiguous figure in the Patrick Swayze part.
The movie is good at (very) slowly turning up the heat, but a lot of it comes out half-baked. Even aside from logical questions left unanswered, it doesn’t really explore issues raised by the notion of an imposter taking someone’s place, or of the connections between religious strictures and those placed on sexual identity. Perhaps this is because Thomas’s character, who never explores Jerusalem outside of this one Jewish enclave, is passive to the point of being almost absent himself—an effect heightened by Kalkhof and Adler both sounding more stilted in English, the characters’ only language in common. The Cakemaker is very tasteful indeed, but does it satisfy? > KEN EISNER
UNDER THE TREE
Starring Steinþór Hróar Steinþórsson. In Icelandic, with English subtitles. Rated 14A
There aren’t many trees left in Iceland. So 2
it’s alarming on several levels when suburban neighbours come to blows over a small chunk of arbour that provides unwanted shade on one party’s patio.
Immaculately designed geometric houses and well-organized shelving units can’t hide the chaotic rot happening with the people in those homes. Middle-agers Konrad and Eybjorg (Þorsteinn Bachmann and Selma Björnsdóttir) are trying for a baby; their slightly older nabes seem jealous of the other couple’s relative youthfulness and peeved by their insistence on cross-border tree-trimming. Meekly retired Baldvin (Sigurður Sigurjónsson was the fearsomely bearded lead in Rams) is content to sing with an all-male Vikinglite choir, while chain-smoking Inga (Edda Björgvinsdóttir) makes things worse with every insult she hurls across the hedge.
The older couple are already burdened by the disappearance of their older son, and Inga seems less than delighted when his younger sibling, Atli (Steinþór Hróar Steinþórsson), turns up on their Danish-modern couch. His wife, Agnes (Lára Jóhanna Jónsdóttir), caught him watching a sex tape he made with a previous partner and has thrown him out with no further explanation. It doesn’t take Atli long to realize that his parents’ home life is even nuttier than his own— not that this helps him when he does one truly dumb thing after another in bids to get back with his wife and their small daughter.
In his sophomore outing, writer-director Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson finds few redeeming qualities in the humans catalogued here. Every bad situation is escalated by weird behaviour, underlined by gloomy lighting and ominous medieval music. For a lot of the movie’s neatly constructed 90 minutes, this plays as dark comedy, with bleak punch lines arriving as characters fight over increasingly important things—garden gnomes, pets, children— without understanding what’s really at stake.
There are a couple of breakthroughs, in which someone gives a sympathetic inch or demonstrates some smidgen of self-knowledge. But the director isn’t really interested in forgiveness, and heads doggedly toward a deterministic ending that feels more cynical than illuminating. He basically makes his point early on, by showing that some people with island fever have come to think of an IKEA parkinglot lawn as a nature preserve—the kind that someone else will water and trim. > KEN EISNER