Sign up for our newsletters    

Baltimore City Paper home page.

SXSW: Danny Boyle talks up new film Trance

March 12, 2013
By

On Saturday morning, the British filmmaker Danny Boyle was interviewed before a large theater of South by Southwest badge holders. Boyle couldn’t screen his new movie Trance–the tale of a stolen painting, hypnotism and violent revenge—because the producing studio Pathe had the rights to the world premiere later this month. But Boyle did screen the trailer and an extended version of an alternate ending that was ultimately deleted from the final cut. He was introduced by a montage of scenes from all 10 of his pictures, from Shallow Grave through Trance.

It was an impressive body of work, all the more so for being so varied—from the heroin squalor of Trainspotting through the zombie flick 28 Days Later and the sci-fi fantasia Sunshine to the Bollywood spectacular Slumdog Millionaire. After the latter picture won eight Oscars, Boyle followed it up with 127 Hours, the story of one man trapped in a desert canyon, out of “a certain amount of perversity,” he said. It was a film he had wanted to make, and what’s the point of winning eight Oscars if you don’t use them to finance an unlikely movie?

“Basically, you lie to the producers,” he confessed. “You say, ‘It’s an action film.’ You say, ‘That last one worked out pretty well, didn’t it?’” But when the interviewer asked why he never made the same film twice, Boyle demurred. “There’s a theme running through all of them—and I just realized this. They’re all about someone facing impossible odds and overcoming them.” What makes Trance different from the others, he added, was that you don’t know who that someone is until late in the movie.

My favorite Boyle picture is 28 Days Later. Despite its structure as a pulp-genre film, it’s more unsettling than even his early pictures Shallow Grave and Trainspotting, for it persuasively presents the disintegration not of individuals but of a whole society. Replace the zombies with some other reason for the collapse of civilization and you still have the same disturbing fable of how easily civilization can fall apart.

In that same spirit is the new movie The Fifth Season, shown on Sunday. There are no zombies, but a small village in agricultural Belgium descends into anarchy when one year spring doesn’t show up as scheduled. In an annual ritual to “chase away winter,” they pile dead Christmas trees in a giant pyramid of kindling topped by a straw effigy of Old Man Winter, but the bonfire won’t catch. The newly planted seeds won’t sprout; the cows stop giving milk; the bees disappear, and the temperatures never rise. There are no scientists in white smocks on screen to explain what it all means, but in our world of climate anxiety, there’s no need to decode the metaphor.

The directing and screenwriting team of Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth present this fable with so little dialogue that for long stretches we hear less human language than animal language: owls hooting, roosters crowing, cows mooing. Long, horizontal tracking shots slide across white birches in front of a streaked concrete wall or across the landscape of teenage faces, wispy strands of hair waving across their cheeks. Whether it’s the shot of dead silver fish in a brown river or the shot of a tractor going around in useless circles, this bleak, brilliant film’s images will stick with you and remind you how fragile is nature’s support of human society.