Harmony Korine, the man behind this year’s Spring Breakers, said in a recent Reddit AMA that “tone is key” to his movies. If you’re familiar with his work (Gummo, Julian Donkey Boy) you’d know that stories don’t exactly make his films great. If anything, they’re great because of the scenes his narrative conceits — and characters — make possible.
Who can forget, for instance, the Spring Breakers scene in which James Franco plays Britney Spears on his poolside piano while his harem of armed girlfriends dances in pink ski masks? It’s silly, absurd, and brilliant. And the film’s tone is crucial to making the scene work.
Now to the matter at hand: The Color of the Chameleon. This Bulgarian spy flick has some real strange, stand-out scenes. One of my favorites has the protagonist, a young informant named Batko, dropping a goldfish into the mouth of his snoring landlady. The moment is weird, and a little funny.
The movie’s tone tries to be something similar — something flippant, fast-moving, fun. However, it messes with how you experience the story, which, I must say, is extremely convoluted.
To be fair, Mulholland Drive pulled something like this off. It was both weird as hell and complex. But you cared about those characters; the movie’s tone, combined with the bizarre world, made you feel things. The Color of the Chameleon doesn’t pull that off.
For one thing, the setting — late communist Bulgaria — isn’t quite established. There are so many things — Coke cans, cameras — that don’t look like anything from the early 90s. This might sound picky, but it’s hard to pay attention to a spy story when you’re having considerable trouble grasping, or believing, the historical context.
On top of the spy story, which is all about spying on spies and causing mayhem with the post-communist government, there’s a Cassablanca-obsessed love story. If you think you can keep track of all of it, I challenge you.
Try to hang on, laugh, understand and enjoy The Color of the Chameleon.
The Color of the Chameleon is playing at the St. Anthony Main Theater today at 9:15 p.m.
Other Highlights: Wednesday, April 24
The Weekend. Craving one of those claustrophobic thrillers? The Weekend might be what you’re looking for. It’s about a man who’s just released from prison after spending nearly 20 years locked up. On his first weekend back, he does what anyone would do: hang out with family and friends. But when he meets an old lover, his passions (and demons) are aroused, and for the next 48 hours, things get morally messy and generally nuts. (4:30 p.m.; also playing Saturday, April 27 at 9:30 p.m.)
The Almost Man. How should a man deal with the pressures of a professional job and the imminent responsibilities of fatherhood? By being as childish as possible. At least, that’s how Henrik in The Almost Man does it. This award-winning film, which has touches of Apatow-style comedy, follows a happily married couple as they figure out how to live and love as they turn from raw youths to child-rearing adults. In Norwegian. (9:10 p.m.; also playing Friday, April 26 at 4:45 p.m.)
Too Cold Out There Without You. This American documentary is about how institutions and people react to change. At its core is the Rev. Christopher Fike, who was ordained in the Episcopal Church when he was a married woman, and the mother of two children. The film looks not so much at his transformation as it does those around him, especially the church. (7:15 p.m.)
Throughout the entirety of the 2013 Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival, we’ll be spotlighting one notable movie each day, along with other notable screenings. To see the WCCO Movie Blog’s complete coverage on the MSPIFF, click here.