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Thessaloniki, Part 3

Another Thanksgiving in a country without Thanksgiving.

Speaking of family get togethers, fathers are definitely taking a beating at this festival. In addition to the "Hamlet" mentioned before, several other films offer a dark view of paternity and the legacy of inherited evil. In "Vasermil," no dads are present, and good riddance ("Do you want to turn out like your father?). When substitute father  or a stepfather puts in an appearance, he's usually worse than the guy who's gone (except the paternal coach who looks like Bob Lobel). In "Elli Makra - 42277 Wuppertal" the estranged husband/father is an abusive drunk. In "Juno," "dad" is a well-meaning but spineless teenaged tadpole played by Michael Cera.

Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur, however, wins the festival prize for most negative depiction of fatherhood for "Jar City". Also, at least for the first five minutes or so, the most poetic and powerful. A man sings a lullaby to his terminally ill five-year-old daughter. The lullaby is taken up by a chorus of uniformed men as a cut is made to the tiny blue foot of the girl's corpse on a morgue table. Then the burial follows, and an aerial shot of tract housing that looks like a graveyard as well. Moving, if a bit downbeat, and had he kept up in this vein Kormakur's film might have been something else.

 Instead, for one thing, the damned chorus never goes away, sounding off at the drop of a hat for sometimes comic (unintentional, I assume) effect. Plausibility is also a problem. An detective is investigating a murder scene, and let's just say this is not "C.S.I. Reykjavik." In fact, I'd go so far as to say that, Clousseau aside, he is the worst detective in movies. Think we should check the blood stain on the window for DNA? Or the ashtray used to bust the victim's head open for prints? And the creaking floorboard and awful smell everyone keeps complaining about, should we check it out?. Don't distract me, I've got a murder to investigate! Let's track down this desolate graveyard in the photo we found in the desk drawer. And so on.

Anyway, it's a long way around the block to solve a crime that could have been wrapped up with a couple of phone calls. This is detective work as Bergman might have done it, designed to reaffirm the dolorous theme of the inescapability of the sins of fathers. A definite problem especially with a gene pool as inbred as that of Iceland.

But "Jar City" does contain one scene that will stick with me, more horrific than anything in "Saw." The detective is heading home and stops off at the fast food joint for the usual -- a sheeps head with all the fixin's. He settles down to read a fire and brimstone passage from the Good Book (he's looking up the source of a passage written on one of the gravemarkers. He pauses between fulminations, pulls out a pocket knife, scoops out the sheep's eyeball, and pops it in his mouth.

Maybe I'll spend Thanksgiving next year in Reykjavik.

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Peter Keough tosses away all pretenses of objectivity, good taste and sanity and writes what he damn well pleases under the guise of a film blog.

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