Monday, May 21, 2007

MAGNUS is uplifting

MAGNUS explores life and death....

Mart Laisk plays the hedonistic father of the main character in first-time helmer Kadri Kousaar's 'Magnus,' about a suicidal youth.Gently drifting between drollery and moodiness, philosophically minded Estonian pic "Magnus" is a profound emotional experience. "Inspired by true events," this astounding debut from 26-year-old helmer-scripter (photo, l.) Kadri Kousaar is well-mounted and occasionally visually innovative. Frank and funny characters prevent yarn from sliding into a morose malaise while it contemplates life's big questions. Unfortunately, pic drops the ball in final and unnecessary reel. Film is currently suppressed in Estonia due to legal reasons instigated by an "acquaintance of the prototype." Prominent slots at major fests are assured, but international prospects may also pay dividends for brave distribs.

Story begins as handsome youth Magnus (Kristjan Kasearu) (photo, r.) and his dishevelled roly-poly father (Mart Laisk) take a ferry trip to a wilderness reserve for their first real holiday together. Flashbacks reveal a chaotic childhood where a sickly Magnus was present while his father took drugs and recruited women for German pornography. His sluttish hysterical banshee mother (Merle Jaager) (photo, r.) knows her son is headed for trouble, but her admonishments are meaningless.

Aware that his divorced parents didn't expect him to live beyond 16 due to a precarious lung condition, Magnus the child experiments with his power over life and death. Like placing a bet with God, the boy believes that his ability to complete tasks -- like leaving school within a certain time frame -- will ensure his survival through the day.
During his teen years, Magnus takes to "life-affirming" experiences like sex and drugs, but by his early 20s this results in biological indifference and then hospitalisation due to an intentional overdose.
Realizing that he has been remiss in his administration of paternal duties, Magnus' wayward father takes his discharged son home. Co-habitation and the sharing of prostitutes and drugs only emphasizes their differences: Dad's appetites are continuing unabated while Magnus contemplates suicide and spirituality.

Narrative gradually circles back to the opening ferry trip and while on holiday the two men merely co-exist. Pic reaches an unsurprising, but moving conclusion, but is then awkwardly post-scripted by an extended monologue from a principal character for the final reel.
Estonian pop star Kasearu is beatific in the title role and makes for a wonderfully bemused and sad protagonist. Supporting thesps are all strong but pic is completely stolen by Laisk's beguiling portrayal of the shamelessly self-indulgent father. Laisk, who is ambiguously and probably misleadingly credited with playing himself, gives a seamless performance of a man enraptured by his own audacious behavior, providing plenty of laughs in what could have been very dry fare.
Helmer's script and direction takes several creative risks and, except for the final counterproductive post-script device, all pay off handsomely.
Kousaar's talent is enhanced by the good judgment of not being too timid with her creative gambles or overusing them as many first-timers do.
Visually delightful lensing by Polish cinematographer Pawel Sobczyk cleverly underlines film's quasi-mystical dimensions. Music by Set Fire to Flames is evocative and, at times, uncomfortably piercing and hypnotic like a rusted playground swing swaying in the breeze. Tech credits are superb.

Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard), May 18, 2006. Running time: 85 MIN. (Estonian dialogue)
from the Producer....populist synopsis
"Think of any Nordic art-house film and what stereotypes come to mind? 3 hour long, humourless and unremarkable movies about forests, sex and death?'Magnus' is different. It's only 86 minutes. And there is humour as, aided by the liberal use of various drugs, the deeply troubled teenage Magnus and his laidback father play out and eventually resolve their father-son stuff. Ok, there are some forests but trees sink carbon as well as being essential to the storyline, and Estonia's finest are even almost as beautiful on the screen as Magnus himself. There is no sex, only scenes with full frontal nudity, incest, ménage à trois and prostitution. And finally'll need to watch 'Magnus' and make your own judgement".
Donal Fernandes, Executive Producer