Friday, September 18, 2009

TIFF 2009 Reviews: Timetrip - The Curse of the Viking Witch

Emerged from the AMC and what little overcast sky there had been had completely dissipated, so I walked back north under a flawless blue, dammit. I really miss the Varsity, I realized; only two of my screenings were there this year, as opposed to 2007 when pretty much half were. Bloody AMC siphoning off screenings. I was standing in line when Arsinée Khanjian appeared at the top of the escalator, and I would have gone over to express my fandom to one of the great screen goddesses of our time but she headed downstairs before I could duck under the ropes. Oh well.

Down the line a bunch of kids were, for no reason I can explain, singing Abba songs. Right, this was my first-ever Sprockets Family Zone screening, so my first TIFF experience where under-eighteens were both allowed and encouraged. I was a bit worried about this; early in the festival I’d heard from someone in line next to me that she’d gone to a Sprockets show in a previous year, and the festival had stationed someone with a microphone in the theatre to read aloud the subtitles for the benefit of the wee ones. This lead to a pre-emptive investigation on my part, I managed to stump a few people at The Tent but eventually got a phone call saying that, no, there wouldn’t be simultaneous English translation and I wouldn’t need to trade in my ticket. Still, the projector bulb did get switched off for a minute or so after one reel change, so Thespis wasn’t entirely thwarted.

Despite all that, Timetrip: The Curse of the Viking Witch (VØlvens Forbandelse) turned out to be, though not necessarily the best movie I saw at TIFF this year, certainly the most enjoyable time I spent in a darkened theatre since opening night eight days ago. I guess I see my fair share of current children’s movies...I always check out the latest Pixar, and I sorta liked Monsters vs. Aliens, plus I’ll usually take my little brother to a flick when I visit Ottawa. My own take on it is that H’wood churns out three kinds of movies for pre-teens these days: the computer-animated stuff that’s geared just as much for the parents and at its best operates on a few different levels of thematic understanding; pandering and obvious life-lesson slapstick (you couldn’t drag me to the upcoming Old Dogs if you shoved hooks through my eyelids and yanked); and Troublemaker Studios’ filming of Racer Rodriguez’ bedtime stories. This wonderfully fun film from Denmark, on the other hand, is something I haven’t seen in a while: a solid SF/fantasy tale that assumes the audience is as smart as its characters and delivers its entertaining thrills and spills without a trace of condescension.

It also bears mentioning that religious history plays a key role in the plot, and the way it’s handled pretty much guarantees that Timetrip will never see the inside of an American movie theatre. The story is kicked off by a tenth-century Danish soldier refusing to reject his conversion to Christianity and thus being cursed by his former lover, a witch who bears an uncanny resemblance to Nina Hagen circa “Get Your Body,” to immortality. To actually tackle the demise of pre-Christian pagan beliefs in a children’s movie and not treat it evangelically seems, in a year where the Darwin biopic Creation reportedly can’t secure a U.S. distributor because nobody wants to risk releasing it in flyover country, and a couple of years after The Golden Compass was run out of town on a rail for daring to be written by an avowed atheist, even a seriously demented dubbing job can’t save this one from the inevitable knives. A sixteen year-old and his younger sister chase a magical crucifix through Danish history, yet their faith is never even an issue, no belief system is ever proclaimed by the filmmaker to be superior to another, and the villainess acts out of a sense of jilted injury rather than theological inflexibility. The religious story points are there, but the beliefs of the audience have no bearing on one’s level of engagement with the story. Like I said: respect for the audience. (***1/2)

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