Sunday, May 6, 2012

Reel Thoughts: Young Love & Death

Fresh from a series of awards across the festival circuit comes Jitters, an Icelandic coming-of-age film about first love now available on DVD. On a Summer trip to study abroad in Manchester, England, Gabriel (Atli Oskar Fjalarsson) meets a supposedly straight boy named Markus (Haraldur Ari Stefánsson) who seems intent on corrupting the introverted Gabriel.

After a night of drinking, the boys share a fantastic kiss that makes Gabriel realize and accept that he’s gay, but then he has to return to the prying attention of his parents, who realize that something is different. Even Gabriel’s friends notice a change, but they are going through a lot of changes themselves. His best friend Stella finds love with Mitrovik, a boy who works with her at a drug store, while his friend Greta is desperate to meet her birth father.

When Gabriel runs into Markus again, sparks fly and he is ready to take their relationship further. Unfortunately, Markus seems to have retreated back into the closet. A number of events force all of the friends to grow up and seek out what is important to them, especially Gabriel.

Jitters is a sweet and moving film, and its Icelandic setting is intriguing. In many ways, it reminded me of Spring Awakening, the Tony Award winning Broadway musical, because it deals with teens who are trying to explore their sexuality amongst controlling or oppressive adults. Not everyone has a happy ending in both pieces, but both end on a hopeful note.

Billed as a twisted Bonnie and Clyde for the new generation, American Translation is a film now on DVD that is sure to disturb many people. Pierre Perrier plays a brooding and sexually voracious wanderer named Chris, who picks up an American girl named Aurore (Sleeping Beauty’s real name) and draws her into an escalating life of sex and serial killings.

Set in France, American Translation depicts the seductive and psychotic Chris as the epitome of an anti-hero. He chooses to be with women sexually, but he is obsessed with having sex with male prostitutes and then murdering them. It isn’t clear why Aurore, played by Brittany Murphy look-alike Lizzie Brochère, doesn’t run screaming when she finds that Chris has strangled a cute young hustler while having sex with him, but the feeling is that she is a lot like Caril Ann Fugate, who helped the infamous Charles Starkweather in the late fifties in what was termed a “spree killing”. Starkweather’s explanation of how freeing it felt to kill someone is echoed in Chris’ explanation to Aurore. The film is an unsettling blend of sexuality and violence, although the murders are not often depicted.

American Translation aims to put you in the mind of a serial killer, but its determination not to give the film a moral makes the story feel like it meanders from murder to murder until something happens to interrupt the killing. There is a lot of frank nudity and sex, and the cast is purposely gorgeous. It is just not certain who will be able to appreciate the film’s mix of sensuality and sadism.

Of course, true crime stories are always popular, and although this is not based on real events, the director finishes the film by telling you that it is inspired by real serial killers. The fact that the killer is a bisexual intent on killing gay men is important to remember before bringing American Translation home for date night.

 Review by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.

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