Origin (Bieffekterna)


Some things just shouldn't be meddled with.

Some things just shouldn’t be meddled with.

(2016) Science Fiction (108 Media) Emelia Hansson, Rikard Bjȏrk, Sandra Redlaff, Rafael Pettersson. Directed by Andreas Climent and André Hedetoft

Sometimes you find really good movies unexpectedly. This Swedish film has played a handful of international film festivals and is just now making its VOD debut in North America. While researching the film, I found almost no reviews (except of its trailer) and one interview with the filmmakers.

A trio of biomedical students at a Swedish university works with Professor Robert Bergmann (Pettersson) who is trying to find a way to control human DNA, specifically the aging process of cells. This would help eradicate sickness, stop disabilities and birth defects and extend life dramatically. They are meeting with failure after failure. Julia (Hansson) has some ideas of how to approach this but Bergmann refuses to consider them. He is getting frustrated because their lack of results may end up getting their grant pulled.

To complicate matters further, Erik (Bjȏrk) – who along with being a computer analyst is also Julia’s boyfriend – has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and months or maybe only weeks to live. Julia has figured out a way to attack the problem so without Bergmann’s knowledge she tests it and the students discover to their amazement that Julia’s solution worked. Erik and Julia, along with Rebecca (Redlaff) who has been working with them on Professor Bergmann’s team secretly set up a lab in Julia’s apartment. Meanwhile Erik is at death’s door and Julia is unwilling to wait for the months of testing before human trials can begin. So she injects her lover with the serum and hopes for the best.

The best is just what they get. Erik appears to make a full recovery and more. The serum seems to have heightened his senses and strength, turning him almost superhuman. At first it’s all fun and games but then as Erik’s behavior grows more aggressive and he becomes prone to fits of rage, Julia begins to worry that Erik is being changed in a fundamental way. Rebecca, who has been feeling like the odd person out in the trio, secretly injects herself with the serum.

That’s when the other shoe drops. It becomes apparent that Erik’s body is fighting the new genomes which will end up with his body destroying itself. The race against time begins to find away to beat Erik’s own immune system…but are they meddling with things that human beings shouldn’t?

The publicity of the film uses the term “biohacking” which apparently is a thing. They even thoughtfully provide a definition on the movie’s poster which is “the act of exploiting genetic material without regard to acceptable ethical standards, or for criminal purposes.” I call it the “Frankenstein syndrome’ – a film concerned with the ethics of science. As Ian Malcolm once put it, “you were so preoccupied with whether or not you could that you didn’t stop to think if you should.” That’s the crux of the matter here.

Like Arrival, the movie is more about the concepts than the special effects and quite frankly there really isn’t very much here if any. All the effects as far as I could tell were practical and most of the science fiction was concept. While not quite up to the multi-layered story that was told there, this is still a truly remarkable film that comes right out of left field and tells a solid story without trying to reinvent the wheel.

The acting is pretty much solid although there are tendencies to over-exaggerate hysteria when the script calls for it. You might be surprised because she doesn’t get a ton of screen time but I found Redlaff to be one of the better performers here. She has tons of potential and I wouldn’t be surprised if she becomes a big star in Sweden, or even crosses the pond to become a player in Hollywood. If Alicia Vikander can do it, it certainly can be done again.

There are a lot of pop culture references here, from Game of Thrones to certain other films and while that might end up dating the movie a little bit, they actually make for clever touchstones that Millennials would identify with and refer to. In other words, these university students act like university students, albeit post-grads.

I was thoroughly entertained and both my mind and heart stimulated. That’s a pretty good accomplishment for any film and especially one which has arrived with almost no fanfare or buzz. I’ve provided links to their current VOD streaming locations and I strongly urge you to take a chance on this one, particularly if you like good science fiction. No space battles or weird monsters here but a well-told tale nonetheless that gives insight into the line between human and something else.

REASONS TO SEE: Climent and Hedetoft are master storytellers. Makes use of pop culture references effectively.
REASONS TO MISS: Some of the acting is a bit over-the-top.
FAMILY VALUES:  Some language, violence, sexual situations and adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  This is the feature film debut of Climent and Hedetoft who have previously collaborated on short films and commercials for such companies as Alfa Romeo and Cadbury.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Google Play, iTunes
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/14/16: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Flatliners
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Blood on the Mountain

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Sophie Scholl: The Final Days


Sophie Scholl: The Final Days

Sophie Scholl's trial was stacked slightly against her.

(2005) Historical Drama (Zeitgeist) Julia Jentsch, Gerald Alexander Held, Fabian Hinrichs, Johanna Gastdorf, Andre Hennicke, Florian Stetter, Johannes Suhm, Maximillian Bruckner, Jorg Hube, Petra Kelling, Franz Staber, Lilli Jung. Directed by Marc Rothemund

When confronted by absolute evil, people of good conscience are required to act. In reality, we know that’s seldom the case and when it does happen it rarely ends well for the person who acted.

It is Nazi Germany, February 1943. In Munich, a young woman named Sophie Scholl (Jentsch) and her brother Hans (Hinrichs) are distributing anti-Nazi leaflets at the University there. They are members of an underground group called The White Rose who stood against the government and were hoping to urge the students to rise up against the Nazis.

The two are just finishing up their task when Sophie accidentally knocks a pile of the leaflets off a balcony where a janitor sees her. He turns them in to the authorities – not so much because he’s a Nazi toady but because he was irritated at having to clean up the mess.

The two are brought to the police station, where Sophie is interrogated by Robert Mohr (Held), a police inspector who while a member of the Nazi party is also a somewhat compassionate man who views Sophie as more of a misguided youth rather than as a dangerous dissenter. Most of the interrogation is a foregone conclusion; the police know that Sophie and Hans did it.

Justice, or what passes for it, works swiftly in Nazi Germany and their trial takes place within a few days. There an outspoken and shrill judge (Hennicke) tries the two Scholls as well as Christoph Probst (Stetter).Sophie is repeatedly offered chances at clemency if she gives names to the tribunal; she refuses, protecting the other members of The White Rose. The trial soon reaches its inevitable conclusion and Sophie, her brother and Probst would pay the ultimate price for their dissention.

Sophie Scholl is a national heroine in Germany, particularly in Bavaria where she lived and died. The filmmakers used actual transcripts of her interrogation and trial, recently unearthed from the former East Germany, to supply the dialogue. Survivors of the period, including members of The White Rose (few as they are; most of the organization was wiped out by the Nazis) who knew Scholl well, contributed to creating the character of Scholl for the movie.

There is an authenticity to the movie that rings true. Sophie’s interrogation contains few grand gestures, few political statements; for the most part, it’s all police procedural – where were you, why were you carrying a suitcase, are you a member of a subversive organization and so on. The very mundane nature of the interrogation makes it all the more sinister and tragic. Mohr, by all accounts a decent man who was horrified by what happened to Scholl and her co-conspirators, is persistent and certain in the justness of his cause. He can’t understand why Scholl, whom he considers privileged and spoiled, would speak out against a system that was responsible for getting him to a position he might never have obtained otherwise. Held gives a note perfect performance of the role.

Jentsch is astonishing and makes Scholl very human. She is no martyr, no Joan of Arc looking heavenward with soulful eyes (although Scholl, a devout Catholic, prayed regularly) but certain of her beliefs. She is terrified of what is to come but refuses to endanger others no matter what the cost. There is a scene near the end where she is allowed to meet with her parents one final time that is absolutely sparkling. The parents are heartbroken that their children are about to die, but justifiably proud at the same time.

Hinrichs didn’t get the acclaim that Jentsch and Held got but in his own right does a terrific job. Hans Scholl has taken a backseat in the hearts of Germans in many ways but he was as brave and suffered the same fate as his sister. He doesn’t get the kind of screen time that Jentsch gets (we see none of his interrogation) but he makes the most of his.

In an era when young people in Egypt, Libya and Wisconsin are rising up to say “no” to tyranny, the movie is particularly poignant. While perhaps the protesters in Madison face mere jail time for their demonstration, the students elsewhere are confronted by the very real possibility that they may get shot and killed.

This isn’t a movie that’s flashy or histrionic. We do not see Scholl’s execution; we only hear it against a black screen. The movie proceeds at a slow, inexorable pace that some may find off-putting but the effect is powerful nonetheless. The movie received a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2006 Oscars and while it didn’t win, it certainly was good enough to. The movie hasn’t received a good deal of attention over here but if you’re looking for a compelling drama and you’re willing to look outside the box a little, this is a perfect choice for your DVD viewing.

WHY RENT THIS: Captures a little known element of the war (for Americans). Outstanding performances by Jentsch, Held and Hinrichs. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie proceeds at a somewhat slow pace.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a few disturbing images and some smoking.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was shot in chronological order to help the actors feel what Sophie and Hans Scholl felt in their ordeal.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a feature that contains interviews with people who knew Sophie Scholl and members of the White Rose and captures their commentary on how accurate the movie was in depicting her. It offers some amazing insights.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $10.2M on an unreported production budget; the film almost certainly was profitable.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: The Adjustment Bureau