Two things struck me when the opening credits of Black Out came on: 1) there was a lot of style and flash in a good way, and 2) the festival’s digital copy was low res. As the text appeared, so did fuzzy squares and breaks in the image. This would happen throughout the film, and at times it reminded me of watching a low-quality full screen YouTube video.
I was afraid this visual noise would be too distracting, but it’s a testament to director Arne Toonen that Black Out held my interest despite this. Even though it’s filled with nods to Quentin Tarantino and early Guy Ritchie, Black Out has an energetic, madcap personality of its own that’s defined by a goofy comic velocity.
[For the next two weeks, we will be covering the 2013 Brooklyn Film Festival, which runs from May 31st to June 9th. Check back with us for reviews of features, documentaries, and shorts playing at the fest. For more information and a full schedule, visit brooklynfilmfestival.org.]
Director: Arne Toonen
Country: The Netherlands
Release Date: TBD
On the day before his wedding, Jos (Raymond Thiry) wakes up in bed next to someone else: a corpse with a bullet in his face. Jos has apparently shot the man, and has somehow lost 20 kilos of cocaine, but he can’t remember how any of this happened. “There’s a hole in my memory,” he explains to his friend Bobbie (Bas Keijzer) while trying to dispose of the body. “That guy’s also got a hole in his memory,” Bobbie replies. Somehow Jos has to get the coke back and get married tomorrow, but obviously it’s more complicated than that.
Black Out follows Jos for the next 24 hours or so, and the film packs that time with strange characters and twisty convolutions of plot. There’s a former Russian ballet dancer turned gangster who now manages a bowling alley played by Simon Armstrong, who reminded me of Hans Landa from Inglorious Basterds mixed with Henry Gibson’s pissy old gay man from Magnolia. There’s Alex van Warmerdam as the inadvertently racist cop on Jos’s tail, and Edmond Classen as Charles, an elderly gangster who pretends to be senile and to hide his criminal doings. Charles is still able to headbutt people into submissiveness, and has two movie-savvy sexpot enforcers named Charity and Petra (Katja & Birgit Schuurman) who carry a cricket bat and an axe decorated with the tasteful flair of WWII fighter planes.
Somehow Black Out also folds in two hapless dog groomers trying to make a quick buck, another gangster who’s new on the scene, Jos’s old criminal associates, Jos’s soon-to-be father-in-law, and, of course, Jos’s fiancee Caroline (Kim van Kooten).
Van Kooten wrote the first few script pages for Paul Verhoeven’s Tricked, a movie where the crowdsourced screenplay was written by hundreds of others. It was an interesting experiment, though the film wasn’t as unpredictable as I would’ve imagined — more controlled than controlled-chaos. To be honest, I thought Tricked would have the same kind of energetic weirdness of a film like Black Out. Whereas Tricked was carefully pieced together, in Black Out stuff will pop into frame and smack people in the face.
It’s fascinating what happens when filmmakers riff on other filmmakers. Later in the week I’ll be reviewing another movie that’s also a pastiche of Tarantino and Ritchie, but I don’t think that one worked. What makes Black Out different is that it’s not content to just play with references as a crutch or as a sign of cleverness. Using the familiar style of Tarantino and Ritchie, Toonen and screenwriter Melle Runderkamp are basically upending a toy box and playing with anything that would make sense in the bends of the story. Black Out stitches together different action play sets and joins different action figures — it feels like playtime rather than just pastiche; less like adults winking as if to say “Are you clever enough to get this reference?” and more like kids maniacally laughing.
A big part of the appeal to Black Out is the pervasive cartoon logic. There’s the requisite Mexican stand-off scene, and the payoff is nicely done and treated like a well-constructed joke. (The scene actually begins with a badly told joke that’s funny nonetheless.) There are set-ups and punchlines throughout the movie, and they’re done with style and speed — it’s a story that’s constantly moving, looks good doing it, and knows what it’s doing. All the while, Jos is clueless and propelled by either good fortune or bad fortune. Just when everything seems to be going all right, another complication means more playtime, and more of that childlike maniacal laughter.
So far Black Out has no US distribution, but it’ll probably happen since there’s a lot to enjoy about it. I’d actually like to watch it again, if only to see it without the digital noise and really enjoy the lush colors and visual gags. Black Out is not a movie that re-invents the wheel or deconstructs the wheel, but it doesn’t have to. Sometimes just rolling a wheel along is fun enough, especially down a bumpy, winding road.
Black Out screens Monday, June 3rd. For tickets and more information, click here.