Sunday, February 2, 2014

Girl on the run

ID:A 2011 Denmark (104 minutes) directed by Christian E. Christiansen; screenplay by Tine Krull Petersen, from the novel På knivens æg (Eggs on the knife), by Anne Chaplin Hansen; Ian Hansen, cinematographer; Bodil Kjæhauge, editor; Kristian Eidnes Andersen, composer.

What would you do if awoke a little the worse for wear one morning in wet clothes on a riverbank, had no idea who you are or were, and several million Euros and a handgun in a duffle bag?

The viewer first sees a blurry blue background figure framed by a spider’s web in a forked branch. The web fades out of the shot as the focus finds a supine figure juxtaposed with the spider, beached on rocks along the edge of a running stream.

The focus resolves into a woman’s body. The woman (Tuva Novotny) awakens in a wet blue work shirt and dungarees on a riverbank in the country. She looks like hell warmed over and has a gash on her forehead. The first thing she sees is one of the sneakers she was wearing, lodged on downstream rocks.

She picks up the shoe and a nearby duffle bag and makes her way to a town. The viewer has no idea who this woman is, where she is, where she is going or has come from. We soon find out that she knows as much as we do.

The way the woman lumbers across the stream makes one feel the wet, uncomfortable clothes she is in, and the sharp, rocky bottom she is stepping on in feet unused to walking unshod outdoors. A curious detail of this picture is that it gives viewers a sense of what things feel like, as though there were a sensation track following the narrative.

The woman appears to suffer from a trauma-induced amnesia. Rested and cleaned up, she finds out from a television in a bar that a Dutch politician has been brutally murdered in his villa nearby in the foothills of the French Pyrenees. A bar patron disparages the gay victim. She also sees that there was a big bank heist in Holland. The woman’s French is fluent but marks her as a foreigner. She knows that she has an awful lot of someone else’s money, and that thugly white men close at hand are intensely interested in catching up with her.

We learn eventually that the woman’s name is Ida. Evidently the title ID:A is meant as a stylish trope on an acronym of the Danish phrase ‘identitet anonym’—identity unknown.
Director Christian E. Christiansen and screenwriter Tine Krull Petersen have structured their story by piecing together Ida’s identity and former life in the bits and snatches in which it comes back to her as she struggles through her amnesia to figure out what happened to her and what she is involved in. This makes it a tricky movie to discuss without spoiling the effect of what they have has tried to do.

This also may sound done-before gimmicky, but the story is absorbing and the narrative well-paced and well-edited, which helps the viewer suspend disbelief over some of the iffier details. The film*, based on the work of a Danish romance novelist, would come straight from the Alma Reville playbook. And like the work of Reville and her better known partner and husband Alfred Hitchcock, the ‘action’ is so well oiled that it leaves no loose ends and the only things unexplained are metaphysical.

Christiansen puts together a deceptively easy-looking chase sequence on foot in a Copenhagen mall. Ian Hansen’s camera work is sharp, Bodil Kjæhauge’s editing is crisp, and Kristian Eidnes Andersen’s techno soundtrack makes the viewer’s heart race like Ida’s.

A shot sequence later in the film tells an anecdote in pictures as Hitchcock did so well. A man and a woman on the run need a car. They enter a hotel lobby. A concierge at a car rental counter hands a prosperous-looking older man car keys and a newspaper. The man and woman eye one another. The female fugitive sits down next to the older man on a couch in the lobby. The camera finds the car keys on a folded copy of the older man’s European edition Wall Street Journal on the coffee table in front of him. The male fugitive engages the concierge at the counter. The older man sits back to peruse a tourist guide. The concierge sharply slaps the man at the counter across the face, capturing the attention of everyone in the lobby. His accomplice and the car keys are gone when the camera looks back at the older man on the couch.

The cast includes Flemming Enevold, also a tenor who performs ‘E lucevan le stelle’ from Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca and other numbers. Koen Wouterse and Marie-Louise Wille are Ida’s siblings; John Breijsman and Rogier Philipoom are two of the bad guys; Jens Jørn Spottag is HP, a private eye Ida hires; Finn Nielsen is Roni ‘Rosie’ Hansen, Ida’s transvestite guardian angel, and Arnaud Binard is her love interest.

This story would go among the current genre of feminist action-thrillers, particularly in the manner in which violence, especially violence against women, gets its payback, as in the ‘girl with the dragon tattoo’ series. There is no gratuitous violence or t&a here. Neither does Ida ‘kick ass,’ after the current fashion, though she comes through when she has to. The justice is karmic rather than meted out by any single character.

‘Vi krangler má jo stå sammen,’ the sympathetic transvestite Rosie tells Ida, giving Ida men’s clothes to help her out of a jam—‘We girls must stick together.’
*(The three phrases which appear on the screen in the German trailer are: ‘Wie findet man die Wahrheit/Wenn man nicht weiss/Wem man vertrauen kann?’ How do you find the truth/when you don’t know/whom you can trust?)

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