Sunday, June 30, 2013

The East (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The East

Zal Batmanglij is unquestionably one of the more provocative new filmmakers. He has an adept ability to sympathize with and dissect his iconoclastic subject matter. He is also an expert at conveying a peculiar and claustrophobic otherness, where the modern world is curiously backward and hard to define in time or era. Conventional morals are also posed as riddles as well as the human emotions.

Batmanglij now tries his hand  with a more conventional tale in "The East" which tackles a group of eco-terrorists as they harass a multinational pharmaceutical company.

The entrancing and feline Brit Marling (who co-wrote the film) stars as undercover informant Sarah and she is duly spacey and alluring here again. Ellen Page co-stars as the fierce and idealistic second- in-command Izzy who resembles a anxious woodland animal with a hyperactive brain. Last but not least, the seemingly omnipresent Alexander Skarsgård is here as the silent but driven mastermind. Also playing with an iced verve is Patricia Clarkson who incarnates a kind of Big Sister who oversees all for corporations.

In writing this film, Batmanglij and Marling were inspired by the spy films "Michael Clayton", "The Bourne Identity" and "All The Presidents Men." Both of them also joined counterculture groups for a period and engaged in Freeganism, the practice of living without spending money. They ate discarded foods and slept on rooftops. The realist landscape of this film is clearly in evidence. Most striking are the initial scenes: a furry  Alexander Skarsgård in a straitjacket, as he sits at the table as a Jesus in an apocalyptic Last Supper, whose intent is one part feral and one part Alan Moore, author of "V for Vendetta." As the segment is predominately silent it is quite unnerving. Also of interest is the insidious focus on medical supplies: the danger of encased plastics, IV needles and the like. There is terrific detail throughout. After Sarah's  first time with the group, we see her in a palatial home. Her bland husband Tim (Jason Ritter) sleeps in a big cotton bed while she comfortably reposes on the floor. There is one shocking still of Ellen Page curled on the ground, her black eyes open and questioning. She looks iconically like a slain deer.

Although not as daring or as anxious as Batmanglij's previous "The Sound of My Voice" (2011)  which honed in on cult activity, "The East" does hit you with its visual perspective, most notably with the alien Brit Marling and the Ice Queen Patricia Clarkson. The scenes of motley young people foraging for food in dumpsters or Alexander Skarsgård monotonously intoning a command while bathed in the green grey light of a computer screen are visceral and jarring.

The suspense lies in the question of how far Sarah will push her intent of infiltration and Marling does an excellent job of sustaining the tension.

The other characters are less dynamic however with a Glam-Rock glitter-dude in lipstick and an anemic youth wearing a moo-moo dress. Many tired "tree-hugging" cliches abound. The members dance in a circle and play spin the bottle kissing each other with sincere intent. Certainly all radicals do not wear Birkenstocks.

Despite the silly visual cliches, the singular haunt of Brit Marling coupled with the unique style of a Zal Batmanglij film make "The East" a steady place to go for an arresting sojourn.

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1 comment:

Paula Angelique Hafner said...

This was an interesting twist.