Sunday, April 05, 2009

SFIFF52: HOOKED—Critical Overview

Boasting its World Premiere at the 2008 Venice International, Romanian director Adrian Sitaru's first feature Hooked (aka Angling, Picnic and Pescuit sportive)—I've never seen a film so unsure of its own title—was well-received (according to Cineuropa) by its Lido crowds. Hooked then had its North American Premiere in Toronto International's Discovery Program, where it caught the attention of Alan Bacchus at Daily Film Dose who encouraged patience with the film's "rough amateurish technical exterior" (i.e., a camera that "whips and swishes around with the technical skill on the level of America's Funniest Home Videos") in order to reap the film's "fascinating dialogue." The capsule for the 2009 Palm Springs International Film Festival (where Hooked won the juried New Voices New Visions award) claims the same: "Hooked's naturalistic, handheld visual style complements the psychological complexity of the screenplay." At Variety, Jay Weissberg begs to differ: "Taking a page from Knife in the Water but giving it a new visual spin, Sitaru makes form the king, but the relentless quality of the subjective lensing, shifting among the characters' perspectives, offers only a modicum of insight." At The Hollywood Reporter, Ray Bennett characterizes this pov style as "claustrophobic" but cryptically offers: "Couples will find lots to identify with in Sitaru's examination of romance, especially as he plants the notion that Ana may not actually exist."

"Don't panic, it's just a picnic," runs the film's tagline. It's precisely a Sunday picnic that seems like the best way for Mihai and Sweetie to spend some quality time together and take their relationship to a new level. But a series of odd and unexpected events—namely running over prostitute Ana lying in the road—quickly turn this idyllic weekend getaway into the strangest day of their lives. As Steve Seid quips in his SFIFF52 capsule, Hooked is an "accidental hit." In his own words, Sitaru states: "I've always been interested in human behavior. Unlike other species, our behavior is often absurd, governed by an innate sense of self-destruction. From the time when I began writing the script for Picnic, I always 'saw' the story from the point of view of each of the characters, hence my choice for a subjective camera. This helped me to show, without necessarily 'telling', that everything that was happening was the result of the point of view of someone on the outside: this presence could be called God, [an angel], the director or any other presence looking on…." Sitaru was likewise interviewed by P.O.V.'s Anca Mitroi for his earlier short Waves at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival as well as by indieWIRE at TIFF08. His next film is For Love With Best Intentions.

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