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WORLD CINEMA REPORT: Time for "Time Out"; Von Trier, Vinterberg Lead Another Danish Charge

WORLD CINEMA REPORT: Time for "Time Out"; Von Trier, Vinterberg Lead Another Danish Charge



by Anthony Kaufman




(indieWIRE: 04.16.02) -- Sex and violence sells, even in the high-minded realm of the foreign art film. How else to explain why the year's best, most relevant movie, Laurent Cantet's "Time Out," which has neither sex nor violence, has had less than stellar attendance since ThinkFilm opened it in New York on March 29? Praised universally by nearly every critic on the planet ("a small-scale masterpiece," "timely and wrenching," "comparable to the classic films of Jean Renoir"), "Time Out" shows the excruciating lengths to which one recently downsized corporate suit goes to keeping his joblessness a secret from his family, from his friends, and from himself.


Cantet, known for his working-class-conscious family melodrama "Human Resources," has crafted a devastating portrait of careerism and unemployment that should feel palpably relevant to today's American audiences, fearful for their job and family securities. And yet, since the film's debut, business has been slower than expected.
Mark Urman, head of distribution for ThinkFilm, which is releasing "Time
Out," said that ticket sales had been "Okay, at times, even respectable, but
certainly a bit of a disappointment." In addition to New York's Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, widely considered to be the best venues to open such a movie, the company booked the film into additional venues in Los Angeles and the New York City area last weekend. "Given the reviews and publicity, our opening in Manhattan should have been stronger," Urman noted last week, adding that the suburban venues were "not as strong as we would have hoped."


By comparison, "The Piano Teacher," Michael Haneke's sadomasochistic character study starring Isabelle Huppert, opened on the same day in New York as "Time Out" and has done better for small distributor Kino International. Despite opening at somewhat less auspicious Manhattan venues (Cinema Village and City Cinemas), "The Piano Teacher" has grossed about one and a half times as much at the box office as "Time Out" (with roughly double the per screen average). Critical praise for "The Piano Teacher" has been strong, but opposed to the sort of unequivocal accolades bestowed upon Cantet's film, most of the "The Piano Teacher's" attention is deservingly going to French star Isabelle Huppert ("Huppert gives one of her greatest screen performances as Erika Kohut"; "Watching Huppert, a great actress tearing into a landmark role, is riveting"; "a tour de force by Isabelle Huppert").


All this seems to prove the box office truth (even among fans of French intellectual cinema): a film with a beautiful woman is always the bigger draw, and especially a film with a little sex in it (and especially, as the press like to point out, a film with a memorable sex scene in a bathroom). While magazine and newspaper critics continue to tout the artistry of "Time Out," monthly magazines, syndicated newspaper columnists, and the majority of weeklies have given more space, unsurprisingly, to Huppert.


"'Time Out' is neither sexy nor funny, so it will not break out like 'Y Tu Mama,' nor flare up quickly, like 'The Piano Teacher' amid a wave of controversy," Urman says. But the distributor still has strong hopes for the film. "There is no risk of it falling off the face of the earth. It will be present in New York City for weeks to come," he noted. After opening in Los Angeles last weekend (along with "The Piano Teacher's" simultaneous West Coast expansion), "Time Out" will see another roughly 70 subsequent theaters, according to Urman. "We've had no trouble whatsoever with booking the film and always at the finest art houses per market." So perhaps the situation isn't so dire: There's still time for "Time Out."


* * *


"Time Out" and "The Piano Teacher" were the talk of the festival circuit last year (with the former winning in Venice, and the latter gathering top awards at Cannes). With that Cannes just around the corner, the whispering has already begun around the 2002 lineup, with a bevy of British entries looking to make a comeback after last year's absence.


There may be another comeback in the works, with a collection of new Danish films lurking on the horizon. Cannes '98 will forever be remembered, for better or for worse, as the unveiling of the Danish Dogme movement's first two films, Lars von Trier's "Idiots" and Thomas Vinterberg's "Celebration." This year may not have the same lasting Danish impact, but over the next year, the presence of films from the small Northern European country will be impossible to ignore: the four founding Dogme brothers will all finish new movies this year, in addition to some other high profile returns.


Vinterberg's new film "It's All About Love" is a possible contender for Cannes 2002. The multi-million dollar apocalyptic love story stars Claire Danes as an international skating star and Joaquin Phoenix as an academic. With their marriage on the verge of collapse, the couple must come to terms as the world is thrown into turmoil by a cosmic catastrophe. Also possibly tapped for Cannes is "The King is Alive" director Kristian Levring's new digital film, tentatively titled "Innocence." Starring Levring collaborator Janet McTeer, the film is a period piece set in Borneo that follows a middle-aged woman and her younger lover en route to an ivory trading post deep in the jungle. There, according to notes, "they find a web of greed, murder, and madness."


Currently earmarked for a Berlin or Cannes premiere in 2003, "Dogville," Lars von Trier's innovative follow-up to "Dancer in the Dark," finished its six-week shoot in early March at von Trier's military barracks-cum-studios outside Copenhagen. Set in a 1930s Rocky Mountains town, the drama chronicles, according to notes, "a claustrophobic community that changes forever when the beautiful Grace [Nicole Kidman] appears." In addition to Kidman, the cast includes U.S. actors Lauren Bacall, Philip Baker Hall, Patricia Clarkson, Ben Gazzara, Chloe Sevigny, and Jeremy Davies. Von Trier regular Stellan Skarsgard and U.K. actor Paul Bettany will also star. Von Trier shot the film with two Hi-Def digital video cameras on an empty soundstage, with the set marked in chalk on the floor.


Rounding out the Dogme quartet, "Mifune" director Soren Kragh-Jacobsen tackles another possible Berlin 2003 entry, an English-language romantic comedy about a young Danish woman who becomes a surrogate mother for a wealthy Scottish Earl. Not to be outdone by the Danish boys club, "Italian for Beginners" director Lone Scherfig is also in production on her latest film, "Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself," a glossy 35mm dark comedy currently shooting in Scotland. And in post-production at the military barracks is a new Dogme film by successful Danish director Susanne Bier ("The One and Only"), the tentatively titled "'Til Life Do Us Part."


Another highly anticipated English-language Danish production is renegade Nicholas Winding Refn's third feature "Fear X," a thriller co-written by Hubert Selby Jr. ("Last Exit to Brooklyn," "Requiem for a Dream") and starring John Turturro as a Midwestern security guard who sets out to investigate his wife's murder. Refn's first movie "Pusher" was virtually ignored in the U.S., but declarations of a dark, new visionary director were heard all across Europe. "Fear X" could be his North American breakthrough -- just as long as there's a little sex and violence.

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