Thursday, February 15, 2007

Bothersome Man (Lien, 2006) and Fido (Currie, 2006)

Often it can be enlightening to see two seemingly unrelated films back-to-back because unexpected similarities will emerge, revealing common ideas that are on different artists’ minds, although they are eventually expressed in two different ways. Such was the case yesterday when I took in the dark Norwegian comedy, Bothersome Man, followed by the Canadian zombie film, Fido. In both films, the protagonist is caught in a community where he seems to be the only one who is capable of feeling healthy human emotion.

In Bothersome Man, Andreas finds himself on a bus, traveling by himself to a remote city where he is greeted by a very modest welcoming committee and then ushered off to a new job and apartment that have been pre-arranged for him. Although he has no recollection of how he came to board the bus, all initially seems well. The co-workers are all friendly and it does not take him long to find not one but two beautiful lovers. However, Andreas soon finds that virtually everything about the town is utterly vanilla. Food lacks flavor. Alcohol lacks potency. Sex lacks passion. When Andreas expresses even the slightest displeasure, he is regarded warily. Bothersome Man is at its best when it is laying out the universe into which Andreas has stumbled … or perhaps been birthed. Predictably, Andreas struggles to resist his environment and eventually to escape. His efforts lead to a final shot that is appropriately vague, but lacking in deep metaphorical power. As an audience, we don’t necessarily require more answers; however, we are left with the impression that the filmmakers are throwing up their hands and giving up on how the film should be resolved. Still, there is plenty along the way to make the film worth seeing – enough twists to a somewhat familiar formula to keep us intrigued – with the film’s highlight possibly being one of the most ill-conceived suicide attempts ever committed to film.

In Fido, the protagonist is a young boy named Timmy - his name taken from the TV series Lassie. Fido’s innovation is to merge two separate subgenres into one – the zombie comedy and the 1950’s satire. The result is delicious and surprisingly mainstream in its appeal. We are introduced to the world of the film through a black-and-white instructional film being shown in Timmy’s classroom. (Have we seen this done before? Yes. Is it still funny? Yes.) Instead of a nuclear threat, we learn that radiation has caused the dead to come back to life as zombies. Consequently, old people are feared and people save up for funerals that will ensure that their heads and bodies are buried separately. Fortunately though, an inventor has created a collar which allows zombies to be domesticated and perform various household chores. When we first see Timmy, he is ridiculed in class for asking an expert whether zombies are dead or alive; however, it is this question that is critical to the way the film unfolds. Timmy begins to discover that his family’s zombie, Fido, is capable of far more human emotion than he could ever have expected. Thus, the film touches upon a little bit of political subtext in that these middle class families are benefiting from the labor of a dehumanized workforce. Eventually though, the subtext becomes less important than the comedy. Carrie-Anne Moss is particular is fantastic in role of a typical domestic homemaker who discovers that Fido fulfills needs that her husband can’t – though not necessarily the ones you may be thinking of. Moss proves to be an extraordinary comedic actress, displaying a gear that she was not allowed to access in either Memento or The Matrix. Billy Connelly, Dylan Baker and Tim Blake Nelson round out an excellent cast. Although it won’t make anyone forget Shaun of the Dead and it may displease those who feel the gore is too soft or the humor too precious, Fido is a consistently funny film with just enough social commentary to keep the film from feeling utterly frivolous. Be warned: this is the type of film that reviewers love to review by spoiling four or five of the film’s best jokes. I have consciously attempted to avoid this. Others may not be so kind.

Taken together, the two films seem to reveal a deep concern with the way society continues to barrel ahead in a state of functional insanity. Both films pit society versus the spirit of a sensitive individual who struggles to inject a little compassion into his surrounding. Andreas and Timmy achieve different results, but both experience conflict that is worthy of consideration in our war-torn world.

Bothersome Man ***
Fido ***1/2


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