22
Aug 07

Peas In A Pod: Eagle vs Shark & 12:08 East Of Bucharest

Do You See + FTPost a comment • 727 views

Its really really lazy to compare two films from completely different traditions, different funding and different production histories just because they have come out in the UK at the same time and because they vaguely have something in common. It would be really lazy, for example, to take the low-key deadpan Romanian political satire 12:08 East Of Bucharest and compare it with the New Zealand indie deadpan rom-com Eagle vs Shark: just because they both use a very dry style to tease the humour out of their scenarios. Perhaps one could use the similarities to have a greater discussion about the use of straight, unironic delivery in these two films with very different aims. But that is an accident of chance, and neither could be said as the best exponents of this kind of dry delivery.
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That said, it might be lazy but I’m going to do it. Because both I also saw both films within two days of each other and it kills two birds with one stone. So both film use the comedy of embarrassment, the comedy of slight manners to make their points. Difference is that the aims and objectives of both films vary massively. 12:08 East Of Bucharest asks the question about the political history of Romania. A Bucharest suburb celebrates its own version of the uprising against Chaucescu, the question posited by the TV journalist in the film is if this uprising was before or after the main taking of the TV station in Bucharest. Its a film about historiography, about pomposity and deflates all of this in a bravura 45 minutes studio bound sequence where we see people involved arguing and being disagreed with on a phone in show of shoestring proportions. The gags in this section are those about television, distracting us from small people asserting their own importance. The style deflates any claims they have to importance, as a version of the truth is slowly teased out. The secondary point, that the little Chaucescu’s and collaborators just shift their position to continue to have power is implicit, and nicely understated. Problem is with the film that this segment is only half of the film. The other half being scene setting to show our lead characters own hypocrisies and petty problems. Unfortunately the sequence in the TV studio (which would have made an excellent TV Play) is so good, it does not need this quite tedious prologue. So half a good film shows the power of deadpan absurdism in political satire.
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Eagle Vs Shark on the other hand ploughs a furrow closer to Napoleon Dynamite. It takes a bunch of social outcasts and derives its humour from us cruelly laughing at their behaviour outside societal norms. Problem with playing with grotesques is that it puts the viewer in the place of bully, the very thing that the film at the heart seems to be against. In 12:08 East of Bucharest the style allows us to laugh at characters who are in their own way pompous. In Eagle Vs Shark most of the characters are ridiculous, but the film lacks the empathy to pass on to its audience. The hero, Jarrod, who is determined to get revenge on his high school nemesis is a social misfit riddled with 1980’s catchphrases and actually deeply unpleasant. This may be due to his mother leaving and the suicide of his brother, but our patience soon leaves him. Lily, who is unfathomably in love with him, is just a bit shy (and suffers from The Truth About Cats & Dogs syndrome*). But the film isn’t romantic, despite its twee indie stylings, and its happy ending seems unlike to lead to real happiness. Partially because these characters don’t feel real, partially becaus they haven’t really grown. Animations of two apple cores getting it on are no substitute for characterisation.

That said: Eagle vs Shark is probably the better film, just because it is at least follows its somewhat depressing storyline through to the end. 12:08 is two films, one uninteresting, one a terrific TV play. And 12:08 is about something, beyond social misfits being social misfits. 12:08 may hint to greater political truths about Romania, but Eagle Vs Shark reveals in the audience our own potential as bullys. Problem is, Eagle Vs Shark also suggests that they deserve bullying. Though if it means to is hard to tell through its deadpan gloss.

*The film constant tells us that Lily is thoroughly unattractive, via giving her a slightly embarrassing mole, and her pulling a bit of a face. There is more to ugliness than pretending to have a wonky mouth.

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