It's a mystery how Peter Schonau Fog manages to combine child abuse, a study of a rural community, affecting tragedy and black comedy into a satisfying whole, but in "The Art of Crying" he pulls it off. A gently offbeat study of a Jutland family in the early 1970s as seen through the merciless, innocent gaze of an 11 year-old boy, this refreshingly unconventional pic tackles its taboos with
compassion, grace and wit.
Jonathan Holland, Variety

Emotionally devastating and astonishingly mature, this is a unique feature debut. Steve Gravestock, Toronto International Filmfestival

A young Scandinavian genius tackles Bergmanesque themes of family taboos and relationships with pathos, humor, and a loving eye. Chiseko Tanaka, Tokyo International Film Festival

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Kunsten at Græde i Kor - Seattle Review

The Art of Crying - Review

Screened at the 33rd Annual Seattle International Film Festival

THE ART OF CRYING, which is making it’s North American debut at SIFF, shows us how one can learn very hard lessons very young, without ever leaving home. This well made, difficult film starts with its dark themes clearly visible, but skewed by the perspective of young Allan, an 11 year old trying to figure out how to fix the things that aren’t working in his home life. Allan’s sincere efforts, his misunderstandings, and his wobbly but developing value hierarchy offer quite a few moments of grim comedy in the first half of what develops into something of a tour de force of dysfunctional consequences. He’s a tough, independent kid whose frail looks and owl-like glasses belie a steely gaze. The power of his determination alone is adequate to quell the violent nature of even a put-upon local grocer. His loyalty and strength make him a useful ally in an ongoing familial battle of ‘who’s more worthy of sympathy.’

The filmmakers do very smart things with the tone of the movie. We follow willingly through the first measures, trusting our instinct that Allan’s voice wouldn’t lead us into anything too terrible. He’s a child though; he’s not seeing some important things. It’s an impressive feat of the movie to make his perspective so persuasive that we don’t really pay attention to them either. We continue to laugh along, well after things happen that demonstrate the inadequacy of his vision. The filmmakers manage this tension between what we know is happening (and how we would react to it outside the theater) and what Allan tells us is happening extremely well.

Other movies in recent memory have employed a child’s perspective to move the audience willingly into territory they certainly wouldn’t travel on their own. It has to be done without the audience feeling that their expectations have been betrayed. We’re not exactly surprised when things get difficult. We understand how the things we’ve accepted previously have landed us here, with Allan. It’s one of the gifts of the film that we are able to see Allan begin to understand it as well. In fact, among the numerous fine perfomances, Jannik Lorenzen’s turn as Allan is particularly outstanding. It’s a performance that is as courageous as the character he plays.

There are lots of individual lives at stake in this film, and a few souls. (In the sense of ‘what kind of person am I’ rather than ‘will I live forever after death.’) As the film progresses, we learn that some souls have already been lost. The question of whether loved ones can avoid a similar fate while attempting to help is central to the film. Tragically, the question is asked by a child—as in life it probably too often is.

There’s a lot to like in this film, but don’t believe any description that makes it sound anything less than heartbreaking—not in the Hollywood, tear jerker sense, but in the sense of ‘breaking your heart.’ It’s as painful as it sounds. The audience will rise slowly when the credits start to roll, and then leave the theater quietly. It’s so well made though—from script, to direction, to cinematography, sound, and the excellent performances throughout. For those able to stomach the kind of journey into the dark places of human experience that good cinema is able to deliver, this movie is well worth the time and the price of admission.

--Steve Toutonghi

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Director Peter Schønau Fog on "The Art of Crying"

11-year-old Allan’s life is dictated by his father’s tears. Mom oversleeps, so the only one who can truly comfort dad is Allan’s sister Sanne. Director Peter Schønau Fog ably strafes the horror/humor divide, and with irony and ample respect brings to the forefront the tabooed horror of child abuse. The Art of Crying is a beautifully shot film by a very capable new filmmaker.

Read Jon's interview here!

Kunsten at græde i kor review by FIPRESCI jury member

The Art of Crying Never Runs Dry
By Miguel Somsen
(FIPRESCI jury member in Istanbul 2007)

The parents are having a discussion in the background, preventing the two kids, a boy and a girl, from going to sleep. Then, abruptly, the mother rushes back to the room, leaving the dad alone in the ground floor, whining loudly: "OK, I cannot take it anymore! If you want me to kill myself, I will kill myself!" But there's always a bigger reason for the father not to commit suicide every night: he is too weak to really go for it. So, instead, he just lies in the couch and cries. He cries all night long. Unless someone — please — will do something to help. Eventually, someone will.

This is just the opening scene for The Art of Crying (Kunsten at Graede I Kor), a stunning debut by 35-year old Danish director Peter Schonau Fog. The rest of the movie, however, will go further and deeper into the soul and guts of a straight-forward small town family from Denmark. But not so "straight forward" as it may seem: the movie was shot in such a remote part of Denmark that the copies shown in Copenhagen will require Danish subtitles.

Later on, as the older brother returns home for the weekend, the reality bites. Although he may be studying architecture in the big city, he knows nothing about keeping this small "foundation" standing. In his abscence, his younger siblings alone will have to create (or recreate) their own structure for the time being — on a daily and nightly basis. In fact, they have been doing it for ages: every time the dad starts crying, the kid calls on her sister to go downstairs and comfort the father, so that "he won't kill himself again". When the girl refuses, the boy will have to comply. Eventually, as time fades and the movie shines, we will learn the true meaning of "comforting" to this family.

Like the child-protagonist Allan (the actor Jannik Lorenzen, fragile and outstanding), in the beginning of The Art of Crying we are also the innocent. Yes, we haven't seen nothing yet. But rapidly, as adults, we will draw our own conclusions; or recoil easily into our safety cocoons, with our eyes and minds closed. The kid, on the other hand, is alone and helpless, too busy trying to save this family to know any other way. Innocence, in this case, means a total inability to judge the characters and their actions, to separate the wrong-doing from the moral virtue, the alcohol from the syrup. This ostensive lack of responsibility enables the movie to shift gracefully from tragedy to comedy, from the hardcore to the gentle. In a lighthearted sequence, the director introduces us to some minor characters (the grocer, the aunt, the boyfriend) whose development only slightly serves the purpose of the main storyline. I recall a brilliant scene where the kid informs the local clergyman that his sobbing father will say a eulogy for the funeral of the grocer's son (which happens to be his rival too). The speech is a huge success, provoking the tears of anyone present in the ceremony. Finally, the kid finds a purpose to his father's sadness. But the result is a comic relief, a juxtaposition of black-humoured wit and sorrow, of misery and joy. The sequence defines the tone of The Art of Crying, the icing on the cake, a tragedy laughing out loud, with self-pity never turning into self-indulgence. This is what I call a movie to cry for.

Miguel Somsen© FIPRESCI 2007

Miguel Somsen has been a Portuguese film critic for over 15 years, having published material in magazines such as "Vogue", "Premiere", "Elle", and in national papers such as "O Independente". He is currently a full-time employee for the most successful Portuguese TV channel TVI but mostly enjoys writing the columns he delivers weekly for the daily paper "Metro". He has been a member of FIPRESCI for three years.

And here is a bit on the international Competition in Istanbul by another Fipresci jury member, Katharina Dockhorn: Here!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Special mention in Trondheim

Peter Schønau Fog and 'Kunsten at græde i kor' receives a

Special Mention

The Jury's motivation(in norwegian):

Dette er en film av en modig og begavet regissør som har behandlet et tema som både er ubehagelig og sjelsettende. Dette klarer han blant annet ved å integrere et humoristisk blikk på den på alle måter tragiske fortellingen - en fortelling som griper tak og holder på en lenge etter at sluttekstene er ferdig. Vi ønsker å gi en særlig oppmerksomhet til den danske regissøren Peter Schønau Fog og hans film Kunsten å gråte i kor.