Koen Mortier made a splash with his 2007 debut feature, “Ex Drummer,” an outrageous black comedy that sported impressive punky energy and at times self-consciously overeager shock value. His very different “22nd of May” is a somber fantasy about a security guard confronted by ghosts after he fails to prevent a suicide bombing. What both films share is elaborately thought-out direction that’s stylistically vivid but arguably overwhelms their gimmicky material. Sure to polarize critics and viewers, pic will advance writer-helmer’s rep on the fest circuit and score mostly DVD sales outside Belgium and the Netherlands.
First seen in one very long handheld shot readying himself for yet another dreary workday, balding, scrawny, middle-aged Sam (Sam Louwyck) has barely arrived at his nondescript urban mall before an explosion throws him to the pavement outside. Ears ringing, he stumbles back in, trying to pull customers and staff from the rubble. But the disaster overwhelms him, and in a fog, he wanders off into the strangely empty city — though only in his mind, perhaps. One by one, victims of the event appear to him. Some are accusing, others resigned. When the nameless angry young perp himself finally appears, he’s tauntingly unrepentant about a crime born of self-pitying resentment.
More schematic and flashy than profound — at least, if you really think about its content rather than simply letting the whole thing wash over you — “22nd of May” (billed as “an eyemotional film experience”) nonetheless arrests attention with its myriad accomplished staging and design gambits. It ends in an orgy of slo-mo destruction sure to remind older viewers of the extraordinary climax in Antonioni’s “Zabriskie Point.” Perfs are solid, tech aspects first-rate.
Mortier is clearly a talent in search of the perfect vehicle to equal rather than simply support his flamboyant filmic imagination; he’s currently adapting a novel by “Fight Club” author Chuck Palahniuk.