Opening Gala for this year’s Festival, Michael Sarnoski’s beautifully filmed feature coaxes a performance from Nicolas Cage that is a masterful depiction of restrained passion.
Cage is Robin, once the most revered chef in Portland but now, after the death of his wife, living in the Oregon forest and surviving by trading the truffles he and his pig find for the supplies he needs to get by. But one night his peaceful existence is shattered when he is attacked and his pig stolen.
Persuading Amir (Alex Wolff) the trader who is his only contact with the outside world, to help, he sets off back into Portland and into the life he used to know. Searching out old contacts both friendly and unfriendly, this dishevelled, implacable man leaves no-one in doubt that he’s not about to stop until he finds his pig. This pig is not just any pig, it’s his pig – not a pet, not just a means to find the truffles, but his companion.
This could easily have turned into another revenge thriller, with Cage shooting up the town and blowing the bad guys away, but this is most definitely not that kind of film. Instead, Cage moves towards his goal as a glacier moves down a mountain, slow and unstoppable.
Cage, Wolff and Adam Arkin form an impeccable centre to a film that ponders the nature of friendship, companionship and loss. Add to that the point that however much you give up, however little you have in your life, the chances are that someone is going to grudge you what you have and try to take it from you. An air of melancholy infuses everything and hangs in the air throughout, seeping both from the woods and the darkened streets of Portland.
The central characters may be difficult to like, but easy to empathise with and Cage’s performance draws you in to a man whose choice it was to withdraw from the world. Sadly, the world won’t leave him alone.
(A word, too, for Brandy the pig, who came across as a likeable and personable creature. I would like to have seen more of Brandy, but Mr Cage might not agree – I understand the pig did not take to him, and he suffered a few bites in the cause of his art. What was that about not working with children or animals…?)
The Bright Side / Europa
Can I also commend these two films from the Festival’s programme. Ruth Meehan’s The Bright Side centres on a group of very different women brought together while receiving chemotherapy in a Dublin hospital and the coping mechanisms they adopt to get through as best they can.
Europa is Haider Rachid’s story of a young Iraqi refugee’s attempts to enter Europe by way of the Turkey/Bulgaria border in the face of corruption and armed migrant hunters. Shot in close up that allows us to feel his constant uncertainty and confusion, it’s a powerful piece of film making.