Flick Chick | Flick Chick | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

Published February 20, 2002 at 4:00 a.m.

What is it about dysfunctional families? Perhaps seeking insights into my own legacy of madness, I can rarely resist a film that shines a spotlight on neurotic parents and their confused offspring. The Royal Tenenbaums, starring Gene Hackman as an estranged father trying to reunite with his damaged brood, is an absurdist take on the dynamics of blood ties. Aberdeen, screening in Montpelier this weekend at the Savoy Theater’s World Cinema Series, offers a more realistic dud of a dad reluctantly dragged back to fleeting domesticity by a daughter consumed with resentment.

Kaisa, played by the radiant Lena Headey, is beautiful and bitter. Whatever happiness she once enjoyed in childhood was shattered when Tomas, her beloved father, left home for a life of alcoholism. Although gainfully employed in a posh London law firm, she’s overly fond of cocaine and unlikely to forge meaningful relationships with men. This joyless hedonism is interrupted by a telephone call from her mother, Helen (Charlotte Rampling), asking Kaisa to pick up Tomas in Norway and bring him to Scotland for an experimental rehab program.

Helen is in the hospital with a terminal illness — the real reason for luring her kin to Aberdeen. But Tomas (Stellan Skarsgard) has no interest in treatment, and Kaisa would rather be snorting coke. Nonetheless, they begin what proves to be an awkward, painful, sometimes cathartic journey together, each relying on substance abuse to get through another dreadful day.

Director Hans Peter Moland, who co-wrote the script, makes sure his characters face one mishap after another. Not allowed to board a plane because Tomas is falling-down drunk, father and daughter hit the highway, making this a classic road movie with a thoroughly unsentimental streak. The twosome presents an inviting target for trouble, which comes their way in the form of humiliation and beatings by a gang of thugs. The always-amazing Ian Hart appears as Clive, an Edinburgh truck driver who is the one decent soul they meet along the way — though Kaisa is too busy wallowing in self-pity to notice how sweet he is.

Skarsgard — here an oil-rig worker, as he was in Breaking the Waves — is skilled enough to make Tomas both repugnant and compelling at the same time. His relationship with Kaisa feverishly shifts from suspicion to fury to tenderness to fear. Headey’s a marvel to watch as a tough cookie with a deep, unspoken ache that becomes something of a cinematic primal scream.

Aberdeen never veers too close to easy answers, yet somehow finds a way to give its downbeat resolution a subtly sanguine twist. Anyone with family issues will recognize the desire, however impossible it may seem, for a healing.

if it ain’t barukh... Being Jewish in Burlington can be lonely. Walk down Church Street during Christmas season and hear carols blasting from loudspeakers. Check out the wreath — symbolizing the crown of thorns — displayed on the front door of City Hall, despite the supposed secular status of government buildings.

But in The Rabbi’s Dilemma, Harvey Edwards imagines how truly isolated a Brooklyn holy man might feel after being transplanted to the rural reaches of the Green Mountain State. The 17-minute film, which Vermont Public Television will broadcast on February 22 as part of its “Reel Independents” series, hosted by Ken Peck, is a comic fable about the search for cultural and religious identity in an unlikely place.

Edwards, a journalist who spent about 20 years in France, is now based in Eagle Bridge, New York. He’s made some two dozen documentaries and narrative shorts.

After receiving a very specific message from God, the Hassidic rabbi (Michael Schwartz) and his wife (Tracey Silver) resettle in the frozen north. These city slickers want to live a simpler lifestyle, but it ain’t easy. He goes to great lengths — even joining the local chainsaw society — to find enough fellow Jews for worship.

Vermont actor George Woodard shows up as a chainsaw enthusiast. He also stars in The Greening of Vermont, an even briefer Edwards work about a couple that counterfeits money when agriculture doesn’t pan out — part of a TV double bill with The Rabbi’s Dilemma. In both films, the Waterbury thespian-farmer plays banjo and sings in a Woody Guthrie-like voice. This land is your land, by the Jeezum.