Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Fear Me Not. (2008) Kristian Levring

Just a few sentences on a solid DVD I caught between EUFF screenings.

Ulrich Thomsen has nothing to fear except for... fearing himself.

I've been a fan of director Kristian Levring since his knockout desert survivalist film, The King is Alive (Dogme film #3), where passengers on a broken down tour bus present "King Lear" in the sands of a wasteland terrene -- and his Conrad "Heart of Darkness" allusion, The Intended, a trip of a film which I was lucky enough to see on the big screen years ago. (Thanks, Facets!)

I've also loved Ulrich Thomsen in practically everything I've seen him in: Festen (Also known as The Celebration, which was dogme film #1 and a perfect launch to the movement); Per Fly's The Inheritance, another near masterpiece; the original Brothers, long before Tobey Maguire and Natalie Portman even heard of it; and a small unknown film called Adam's Apples, which is a great reference for Fear Me Not. These are just a few of the films I've loved him in, and they're probably the easiest to track down. Seriously, I don't think I've seen Thomsen in a stinker.

I've also often bragged about Paprika Steen (no stranger to the dogme movement, as seen Here), whom I have a date with this weekend (the Danish film Applause -- thanks, EUFF!).

It would seem that the combination of many of my favorite artists teaming up for Fear Me Not would create a film perfectly suited to my tastes.

After seeing it, that assumption about sums it up.

It's an excellent film, though perhaps not perfect. Levring actually held back where I wished for greater tension, something he's certainly not had a problem with in the past. However, the story itself is quite intriguing and applicable today to many floating around in the haze of modern "medicine."

Thomsen plays modern day business man, Mikael, who is sliding backwards on the social scale; a mid-life crisis, perhaps, or a breakdown. He might be dealing with depression, not wanting to admit it, or perhaps he's just feeling more aloof, disconnected from the real world when all he does is work, work, work. He's like the guy from Ecclesiastes with two hands full that needs a third hand to grasp for more.

We catch him at the beginning of a leave of absence from work. His wife, Sigrid (Steen), seems a little worried about his lack of desire to go back. His brother-in-law mentions a clinical trial for a new pill of some sort, an anti-depressant, and without hesitation Mikael signs up for the deal. The rest of the story follows how this drug makes Mikael feel stronger at first, but then brings hallucinations that he often drags into reality, hallucinations that get him into trouble.

For instance, sitting at the doctor's office awaiting an appointment regarding the use of the new med, he believes other patients are getting into a ruckus of sorts, and as he leaps into the fray and punches out a man it's revealed that the ruckus never happened, but his blow to the man's face did. He just punched out an innocent man in the doctor's office. Perhaps that's a reason to discontinue the drug.

The trial is cut short due to some other patient reactions, and Mikael, with a four month supply, tells his brother-in-law he has thrown all the meds in the garbage. Which at one point he even does. Too bad, that like a dog back to his own vomit, he heads out to the garbage truck and picks through the trash to get his pills.

At some point it's no longer hallucinations that are putting Mikael over the edge. We actually see his personality change. And to his own detriment he begins chronicling these changes in a journal on his laptop. He becomes abusive to people in and outside of the family, he becomes evasive to people's concerns and outright confrontational when challenged. He hurts several people with terrible schemes hatched out of his head, and we're curious to know why he can't see how horribly the drug has made him.

There is a reveal in Fear Me Not about twenty minutes toward the end of the film that is mind boggling. It at once reverses everything we've understood to this point, and feels like an entire reboot of the film. From that point on, anything can happen, which is a shot of adrenaline at just the right moment.

For fans of this director or these actors or for fans of Scandinavian cinema in general, it is definitely a film worth tracking down. For those who haven't made inroads into Danish cinema quite yet, I might still recommend something like Festen first. But this is one more film from a part of the world that seems to explode with very great, very real and human stories. It's a film that addresses the situation of successful men today as well as how some make it in this world, enhancing themselves, but sometimes the enhancement is destabilizing.

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