Tuesday, August 14, 2012

MIFF: Pure

Dir. Lisa Langseth 

"Mesmerising" is an adjective I've been known to use often. Or at the very least, I find that I use it on a regular basis, to describe a variety of things. Performances, long takes, certain ridiculous gifs found in the dark underbelly of the internet. However, while watching Pure late last week I found myself truly mesmerised by the film's young lead, Alicia Vikander. I say that I was truly mesmerised because I actually COULD NOT tear my eyes away from her. Her eyes, her face, and the myriad emotions bubbling just beneath the surface.

In fact, I was so busy scribbling gushing notes on the tram going home that I managed to get on the wrong tram. True story, and testament to the extent of Pure having whisked away with my thoughts.

Alicia Vikander is Katarina, a twenty-year-old former prostitute, who lives with her boyfriend in the scummy part of Sweden (I guess). A troubled youth who despises her alcoholic mother, she's constantly dealing with social services, and constantly getting fired. She's prone to bursts of rage, in between long stretches of quiet, bottled up emotion. After stumbling upon a piece of music by Mozart on Youtube, Katarina is immediately and deeply affected by it. To her, the music represents (and sends her to) a place where even those she hates can't reach her.

After Katarina somewhat accidentally lands herself a job as a receptionist at a concert hall where she'd previously attended a performance, she promptly sets about burning all of her bridges and becomes involved with the egotistical resident conductor. The conductor (Samuel Fröler) is a pompous, arrogant, selfish ass, but it's easy to see why Katarina would become enamoured of him. Which she does, immediately. It's immediately after this, that Katarina's sojourn into the world of the upper class and classical music begins to take a turn for the dire.

The recurring use of Mozart's Requiem - a performance of which Katarina attends - is incredibly effective. It imbues Pure with a sense of impending doom, with the overriding feeling that this is all going to end badly for at least someone involved. Indeed, as Katarina's life spirals further and further out of her control Requiem seems to represent all of the boiling rage and despair sitting just underneath Katarina's beautiful yet increasingly haggard exterior.

Pure is made by Vikander's performance. It's an incredibly natural, nuanced, graceful performance. Every small victory, every instance in which Adam the conductor slights her, they're all reflected with a subtlety and maturity. It's at times somewhat painful viewing, as Katarina is pushed further and further to her limits. "Courage is life's only measure" Adam tells her, and one can't help but wonder how far Katarina might be able to get before she or her world snaps.

Pure is my surprise hit of the festival so far, and is well worth a look, if only to become absorbed with Alicia Vikander's superb portrayal of a young woman pushed to her edge.


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