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AFI Fest 2010: Aardvark, Rubber, & The Human Resources Manager

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AFI Fest 2010: <em>Aardvark</em>, <em>Rubber</em>, & <em>The Human Resources Manager</em>

Aardvark (Kitao Sakurai, 2010). “You don’t bow to me. I’m your friend, not your master.” Young jiu jitsu teacher Darren (Darren Branch) speaks this particularly telling line to his new disciple, an older blind man named Larry (Larry Lewis), after a lengthy display of physical prowess and patience. This exchange roots the opening third of Kitao Sakurai’s Aardvark in a place of earnest expression, a tonally diverse crossroads where trauma and compassion converge. This unlikely bond between fringe characters is a friendship based on touch, initiated by the grappling battles of martial arts and expanded through prolonged gestures of camaraderie. Sakurai’s use of layered sound design and roving camera shots establishes Aardvark as a film about watching characters drift, with Larry and Darren gliding through the frame in slow, pronounced long takes. It’s as if everyone in Aardvark, blind or not, is feeling their way through the world in completely different ways.

Yet Aardvark can’t drift forever in this place of sublime interaction, and Sakurai inserts a clumsy noirish narrative to circumvent his hero’s journey. A third and fourth wheel are introduced in the form of an evocative stripper and a thick-accented cop, but these additions only put more pressure on the crumbling narrative foundation. Many of the fascinating moral punctuations about humanity and composure issued early in the film are lost, unused when Larry is pressed into action by a moment of violence. The John Carpenter-like score seems to grow enraged along with Larry, and the booming tones offer a fascinating audible parallel to his interior struggle. Aardvark doesn’t necessarily have enough push to make the final act a believable or even fulfilling conclusion, especially considering the beautiful place it began. And while the ambiguous ending is a welcome fade to black, even daring in its moral uncertainty, Larry’s transition from innocent to avenger ultimately feels like a cheap trick, a devolution of character in the strangest sense. The calm pacing, the resonant humanity, and the lyricism of regional space is given a familiar genre stamp, a label linking Aardvark with an already crowded field of non-starters.

Rubber (Quentin Dupieux, 2010). More a brutish film theory course than horror film, Rubber poisons the spectators of Plato’s Cave and turns the whole idea upside down. The projection in question is the tale of a tire coming to life, realizing its telekinetic powers, and lashing out at whatever inanimate and living objects cross its path. An opening sequence of pure surrealism in the desert sets the bar high, with an absurd monologue about the lack of reason in every great film. Director Quentin Dupieux spends the rest of the film attempting to top this invigorating credo, rolling alongside his titular killing machine as it goes through various slasher film realizations (voyeurism, control, torture). Like the primordial cavemen in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, the tire in Rubber spends most of the film trying out its mental weaponry, experimenting in carnage until its power is fully connected with the barren landscape. But this process can’t possibly hold up, and repetition and exhaustion set in after countless victims suffer the exact same fate. Finally, like a last shot across the audience’s bow, the one surviving member of Dupieux’s Greek chorus, who earlier powerfully resisted temptation and proclaimed, “I want my show,” crosses the barrier between spectator and player, and joins the ridiculous fracas. That he becomes just another victim of the tire’s “no reason” slaughter doesn’t seem to matter by this point. Dupieux has already set his sights on larger game, like the heathens of a wasteful Hollywood just down the road.

The Human Resources Manager (Eran Riklis, 2010). Eran Riklis’s road film pushes an apathetic corporate manager into action, forcing him to return the body of a worker to her home town in rural Romania in order to save face after a devastating public relations hit. As much about different modes of transportation as it is about moral death, the film moves from the streets of Jerusalem to the snowy mountains of the old Eastern bloc, gathering kooky characters and steam while propelling toward a singular narrative goal. It’s titular unnamed hero (played by Mark Ivanir), under attack at work and at home, follows an incredibly familiar hero’s journey, but his expected realizations are never forced or too sentimental. His frustration with the system he serves comes to a head in an achingly cold underground nuclear silo. “I’m in charge of a body I can’t bury,” the man says, touching on both the human face of institutional suffering and the stifling uncertainty it breeds in this type of social landscape. The Human Resources Manager takes a tragicomic stand against the inhumanity of bureaucracy, but also inverts genre conventions to prolong the character’s time together. While predictably precious during its finale, the film still evokes a tenderness and patience often lacking in Western films.

AFI FEST 2010 runs from November 4 – 11. For more information, click here.