TIFF Report: Undertow, Automne Reviews

Reviews of David Gordon Green’s Southern fable and Ra’up McGee’s directorial debut.
David Gordon Green’s Undertow

Just walked in the door after catching the North American premier of David Gordon Green’s latest, Undertow. I decided against joining the rush line for the Midnight Madness screening of Creep, which might have been a mistake seeing as how that might’ve been the only chance I’ll have in this lifetime to be in the same room as Franka Potente. Oh well… this weekend is shaping up to be pretty packed so I can use all of the sleep I can get.

I’ll admit that my love for David Gordon Green’s first film, the acclaimed George Washington, is probably matched by my bafflement. And the same goes for Undertow. Once again, Green sets his movie in the American South, and once again, he somehow manages to combine the grittiness and rusticness of that region with a deep sense of mythology and fantasy. It’s not the South that exists, but one that might exist inside the mind of someone raised on tall tales and fire and brimstone sermons. As such, it’s an incredibly vivid place.

Undertow does differ from George Washington in that its plot is quite a bit more “conventional”, for lack of a better term. It’s essentially a thriller — two young brothers (one of which is played by Billy Elliot’s Jamie Bell) are forced to go on the run after their villainous uncle, fresh from jail, returns to the family farm in search of some treasure their grandfather stole long ago (which evokes shades of Night of the Hunter in my mind).

As the boys travel, they come across a series of unique individuals — a grieving black couple yearning to have a family, a commune of runaways hiding out in the overgrown ruins of a warehouse — but must ultimately rely on eachother.

Visually, the film takes its cues from 1970s cinema (the credits even have a certain 70s television look to them), and in the Q&A following the film, Green confessed that he was also inspired by the covers of Hard Boys novels and the like. The film is also aided by Phillip Glass’ score, which oftentimes becomes a bit over the top, what with the childrens’ choirs et al (Green explained that he wanted to really heighten the sense of fantasy, as if you were seeing a fairy tale a la “Hansel And Gretel” come to life).

On a sidenote, Green was quite personable throughout the Q&A session, and not at all the artiste one might expect from his films. Some interesting tales told about the film’s production, casting the characters, scouting the locations, etc.

Automne - Ra'up Mcgee
Irène Jacob in Ra’up Mcgee’s Automne

Earlier in the day, I caught the world premier of Ra’up McGee’s Automne, his ode to the classic French noir films of Melville and the like. Almost as interesting as the movie itself is McGee’s long struggle to get the film made. McGee, an American who spoke no French, decided to go to France and personally call several hundred studios and production companies, do casting, etc. All because he wanted to make his film right.

Automne is all you’d probably expect: stoic characters exuding cool who find themselves getting caught up in ever-increasing layers of intrigue and danger, femme fatales, and oodles of atmosphere. McGee hits all of the technical marks, especially when it comes to the atmosphere — much like the season from which the movie gets its name, Automne is cool and haunting, and tinged with regret as its characters keep finding things growing more and more out of hand.

However, I must confess that when it came to the story, I found myself less interested than I felt I should’ve been. All of the elements are there, but the twists never feel as gutwrenching as they could’ve been, the noir-ness never as black as it should’ve been. Even so, it’s still an incredible first-time debut, and I expect McGee’s films to get only better from here on out.

This entry was originally published on ScreenAnarchy on .

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