Thursday, August 8, 2019

Bob' s Cinema Diary: 8/9/19 -- Luz and Piranhas

If you see Luz -- and I can't say there's any pressing reason that you should -- you will be exposed to German director Tilman Singer's evocative idea of a genre that has been dubbed art-house horror. That's another way of saying that the movie -- long on atmosphere, suggestion, and even blasphemy -- unfolds in ways that defy easy understanding, or maybe even more complex forms of comprehension. In brief: Luz (Luana Velis) is a Chilean taxi driver who spends most of the movie in a German police station. Earlier, Nora (Julia Riedler) meets a psychiatrist (Jan Bluthardt) in a bar. She tells him about Luz, who she met while attending a Catholic school in Chile and with whom she's had a recent chance meeting in Germany. Luz's story hinges on a long-ago, transformative event in Chile in which she supposedly convinced another student that she was pregnant. Much of the "story" is revealed during Luz's stay at the police station. Did I mention the devil? Well, the devil wends his way through the movie and its characters, but Singer hasn't made an Exorcist clone. Although various cinematic influences can be found, Luz exists largely in a world of its own and many will find that world impenetrable. I did, although from time-to-time I was caught by an eerie image or a weirdly committed performance. Still, filmmakers who create their own worlds risk a lot; i.e., they may wind up talking only to themselves.


As far as I could tell, the major distinguishing feature about Piranhas, another mob movie set in Naples, involves the age of the movie's protagonists. Director Claudio Giovannesi works from a screenplay based on a Roberto Saviano novel that may remind some of Gomorrah, a book Saviano wrote and on which a hard-boiled movie of the same name was based. The story centers on the criminal evolution of 15-year-old Nicola (Franceso di Napoli). Initially a genial teen-ager, Nicola becomes a coke-snorting big-wig who takes over mob chores in his neighborhood. Nicola and his young associates inevitably encounter trouble that threatens their spot as top-dogs in the gangster world. Much of what transpires in Giovannesi's mob-mashup feels a trifle old hat, even its unblinking rawness. Nicola's slide into a life of crime seems so matter of fact, we wonder why we should take it seriously. I suppose that could be the point. These kids are so warped by their surroundings that they plunge into the gangster life without giving it much thought. It's just what they do. In what may be a bow to Brian DePalma's Scarface, Nicol uses some of his ill-gotten gains to refurbish his mother's apartment, complete with a white cabinet that has been made to look like a bass fiddle. The kid has epic bad taste, choices determined by garishness and price. The older mobsters Nicola encounters seem more interesting than their youthful counterparts. But, hey, we've seen that movie before, too.

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