Tag: matthias schoenaerts

The Command


The Command (2018)
★★★ / ★★★★

On the surface, “The Command,” inspired by the biggest submarine disaster in history and based on Robert Moore’s book “A Time to Die,” is a disaster film: a Russian Navy exercise turns deadly when one of the torpedoes, due to a hydrogen peroxide leak from within, overheats and causes a series of explosions which renders the “unsinkable” submarine utterly destroyed in the bottom of the Barents Sea. The surviving sailors must wait for rescue as water levels rise and temperature continues to drop. But those who choose to look closely will realize that the film is not a popcorn flick. It filled with sadness and anger. It is a condemnation of politics and bureaucracy when a life-or-death situation demands that these petty things be set aside.

The work is written for the screen by Robert Rodat and directed by Thomas Vinterberg. It is a fruitful partnership because the screenplay is filled with nonverbal cues that communicate plenty about the characters, especially when they are trapped in their own thoughts and are forced to wrestle with grim possibilities. To support this, the direction is patient and precise; notice the framing of how hands tremble when terrible news is heard for the first time, how eyes search the room for answers regarding loved ones, how a person breathes while facing an impossible situation. By providing images filled with rich, haunting, and useful information, the filmmakers engage the audience—not because of the disaster itself but because of the people affected by it.

But this isn’t to suggest that the picture lacks tense moments. A standout involves Captain-Lieutenant Mikhail Averin (Matthias Schoenaerts) and a fellow sailor having to dive into a lower level of the flooded submarine in order to acquire adaptors for an oxygen generator. The first attempt of rescue by the Russians has failed; the trapped sailors know that the next attempt will not occur for several hours. The task itself is seemingly insurmountable because the compartment where the adaptors are stored is quite a distance away. In order to hasten their swim time, the volunteers must remove their clothing with the exception of shorts and cloth wrapped around their biceps which serves to hold a flashlight in place. By providing pertinent details and taking the time to present these details, it allows us to imagine how cold the two must get with every second they must spend in that water. We are already worried for them even before the dive.

Events outside the submarine gather tension, too. Mikhail’s pregnant wife (Léa Seydoux), their firstborn in tow (Artemiy Spiridonov), along with other Navy wives, demand answers from officials. They are constantly denied by fancy men in uniform with their roundabout way of speaking. These women are not to be taken as fools. Out on the ocean, Admiral Grudzinsky (Peter Simonischek) is wise enough consider the possibility that Russia might need help from other nations after two failed rescue attempts despite the fact that his superiors demand that the circumstances be kept secret. You see, officials like Vladimir Petrenko (Max von Sydow) would rather protect their Naval secrets from foreigners than the men in the submarine—technology over human lives. Meanwhile, Commodore Russell (Colin Firth), a Brit, extends a helping hand to the Russians from the moment explosions are detected under the sea.

“Kursk” is a high quality dramatic thriller because it understands the importance of details. Although the final act is a bit rushed—it ends just when anger is at its peak—I admired that every step is presented in a clear and intelligent manner. We always have an answer to what is happening, why it is happening, and how it is happening. And despite having at least half a dozen key characters, we have an understanding of each one even though we may not always agree with his or her choices. Choices decided the fate these sailors.

The Mustang


The Mustang (2019)
★★★ / ★★★★

Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre’s elegant and affecting “The Mustang” tells the story of an inmate on his twelfth year in prison who joins a rehabilitation program wherein participants must train wild horses for twelve weeks. The mustangs will then be auctioned off to various government agencies and the proceeds go to the preservation of the horses that roam free. Viewers looking for a poignant and intimate character study should look no further. The picture is quiet, but the emotions it stirs create a memorable experience.

Equine lovers will appreciate the photography. Scenes shot outdoors often drenched in natural light, it is clear that the director has great respect for these creatures as he underlines their effortless beauty, whether they are at peace in their natural habitat or as they grow nervous and angry inside cramped cages. We are given time to observe these creatures simply taking up space, eating, galloping about. There is no hurry to further the plot. Words between horse and trainer need not always be expressed. Sometimes a hand gesture or a raising of arms is enough to show the relationship between the two.

We learn a few things about the work required to train a horse. I wondered how I would fare given I am not always patient. Neither is the main character, Roman, wonderfully played by Matthias Schoenaerts, who has a habit of turning angry and violent when things do not go his way. There is a horrifying scene early on when his horse refuses to listen to his directions. He gets so enraged that he begins to attack the innocent animal as if it were punching bag. This is not a straight story about a horse and its trainer. Nor is it a story that leads to Roman being released before the credits. This picture is about the journey toward rehabilitation, not freedom.

Schoenaerts delivers further proof that he is one of the most effective but underrated performers working today. He tends to embody his roles so completely that at times he becomes unrecognizable. This role is no exception. His approach to the character is domination. His fearsome sense of being makes you want to look away at times. Myles (Bruce Dern), a rancher who leads the Wild Horse Inmate Program, advises Roman not to make eye contact with the wild mustang during his first time training it. The same can be applied to Roman. To look him in the eye is, at the very least, an act of inviting a kind of mental disruption—ironic because this is a man who wishes to be seen as more than a violent thug who turned his wife into a vegetable.

Particularly moving are the exchanges between Roman and his pregnant daughter. Martha (Gideon Adlon) wishes to be emancipated from her father so she could sell the house and provide for her child. There is deep anger—and regret—between these two. Co-writers Brock Norman Brock and Mona Fastvold are smart in limiting their dialogue. So much more is communicated in the unsaid. But not once do we feel that genuine reconnection is hopeless—highly unlikely but not impossible. I imagined being in Martha’s shoes, having to care for her mother for years after her father was sent to prison. I don’t think it would be easy for me to forgive either, if at all.

“The Mustang” offers an ineffective subplot surrounding the smuggling of horse tranquilizers. Roman shares a cell with Dan (Josh Stewart); the latter threatens the former that if he failed to provide ketamine, his daughter would be harmed. The work would have been leaner had this awkward appendage been removed altogether. Still, however, the rest of the work is so strong, an enthusiastic recommendation is well-deserved.

Rust and Bone


Rust and Bone (2012)
★★★ / ★★★★

Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts), having had experience in boxing and kickboxing, gets a job as a bouncer in a nightclub. A fight breaks out between a man and a woman, the former calling her a whore as the latter ends up on middle of the floor with a bleeding face. Concerned for her safety, Ali drives Stéphanie (Marion Cotillard) to her place, only to be met with a scowling and jealous boyfriend. Ali gives her his phone number just in case she needs someone to talk to. They will meet again some time later when Stéphanie no longer has her legs.

Though not the most tightly constructed drama, “De rouille et d’os,” based on Craig Davidson’s short stories, is loyal to the fact that life is often messy and unbalanced. Sure, the story can be summed up and interpreted as an odd romance between a fighter and an amputee, but the circumstances that surround them demand more urgency on the gut level. It is more accurate to consider the film as a story about two people who happen to meet each other at the right time.

Stéph and Ali are interesting together as when they are apart. Emphasis is placed on Ali’s physicality, not just in the things he does, like pummeling someone’s face into bloody mush or using his limbs to knock an opponent off-balance, but also in his stature, how wide he is even when he is simply standing there. In contrast, Stéph, at least initially, underscores a lack of dominance. There is a frailty about her—an emotional and psychological withering—the anger, frustration, and denial she goes through after learning that both of her legs—and perhaps a chance to live a life of normalcy—are gone.

Because they are so different, when they are within physical reach of each other, it is a most fascinating concoction. It is almost as if they feed off one another’s strengths. The careful screenplay by Jacques Audiard and Thomas Bigegain is key in allowing us to understand the mutualism between the characters without coming off trite. When Ali decides to help Stéph, we do not discover a layer of sensitivity in him but are simply reminded of it due to the early scenes. It is easy to forget someone’s softer side when the person seems most comfortable in violence. Meanwhile, when Stéph is more willing to accept what has happened to her, we are with her in her quiet victory.

The issue of sex is brought up eventually. Stéph wonders if “it,” her plumbing, still works. Naturally, Ali is willing to help out. There is a layer of amusement without touching upon comedy, a welcome change from the heaviness of their circumstances. We have seen Ali engage in sex with other women. He is rough, almost violent (or it seems violent) though in a different arena. Will that approach work for Stéph? Whether if it does or does not, how will their friendship change?

Clearly the point that “Rust and Bone,” directed by Jacques Audiard, wishes to address is that there is a life after losing an important part of us. It may not seem that way for a while but as rust invades metal and broken bone heals, time gives way for an opportunity. The protagonists’ lives are a series of ups and downs, but their story is one that we can choose to believe as hopeful.

Left Bank


Left Bank (2008)
★ / ★★★★

Marie (Eline Kuppens) was a runner who qualified to compete on an international level. But just after she met Bobby (Matthias Schoenaerts), her health began to decline. Doctors claimed it was a simple case of exhaustion and they recommended that she postpone her training until her body recovered. In order to recuperate, she decided to move in with Bobby in Left Bank, a place with a strange history involving missing folks and killings. Directed by Pieter Van Hees, “Linkeroever” took its time to build its atmosphere but its horror elements, mainly its payoffs, left to be desired, an excellent example of rising action overwhelming the material. Instead of delivering horror with potency and urgency, especially toward the end, it relied on quick cuts and darkness to hide specific images that the audiences deserved to see. I emphasize “deserved” because we were asked to sit through extended, sometimes unnecessary, expositions. Not delivering what we deserved to experience on a gut level was like sitting through a joke without any punchline. As a result, the climax was limp so the big picture was incredibly underwhelming. Still, the film wasn’t without good moments. Marie, while out running despite her doctor’s orders, fell and scraped her knee. Over time, the wound became swollen and black. Thick hair started to grow on it as if a creature laid dormant inside. When we were given a chance to be as close to something quite disturbing, I couldn’t help but be intrigued. But the picture never gained proper footing when it came to the consistency of its delivery. While the picture provided some background information about the apartment complex, such as human sacrifice committed years prior by the former residents, it felt too superficial. What I found more interesting was the strand about the girl who suddenly disappeared. Coincidentally, she lived in the very same apartment as Bobby and Marie. Lastly, Marie was not exactly the type of protagonist who we could instinctually root for. She was moody, treated her mother (Marilou Mermans) with disrespect even though she tried her best to be a single parent, and she didn’t have the sense to ask questions when things began to feel really strange. I was frustrated with her lack of common sense. If I had a cut where it obviously looked infected and I started to vomit blood, I would let my doctor know. If my doctor acted like nothing was wrong, I would seek for a second opinion. Her biggest concern was perhaps she was pregnant. I thought she needed to sort out her priorities. I’m not trying to be glib. If I’m asked to sympathize for characters, it would only make sense to allow them to have a certain level of practicality. Marie was supposed to be an athlete but she didn’t seem to know how to look out for herself. How could I be invested in her plight if she was so nonchalant to the strange events happening around her?