Avalanche drama reinvented

Downhill pic

Odd as it may seem to filmgoers, subtitles for foreign-language movies are the exception rather than the rule.

The recent success of the Korean-made Parasite was unusual as last year, shortly after its win at the Cannes Film Festival, it received only limited release in New Zealand.

In the United States it opened in only three cinemas and at the time prompted news that an English-language remake was on the cards. No more has been heard of that project since the unexpected Oscar win in February pushed Parasite back into prominence, complete with subtitles.

Last year I noted that the Korean film industry, along with most others in Asia, preferred to release films in the local language, whether through remakes or, more commonly, voice dubbing, which is also the dominant practice in Europe.

Public acceptance is just one factor. The other is box office performance. France’s Le Diner de Cons (1998) made $US7 million at the global box office but Dinner for Shmucks (2010), the English-language version starring Steve Carrell, grossed $US87 million.

More recently, Chilean director Sebastian Lelio reworked Gloria (2013) as Gloria Bell (2018) with Julianne Moore in the title role. The latter made $US5.6 million at the American box office against the original at $US2.1 million.

Remakes of two other French movies, Three Men and a Baby (1987), adapted from Trois Hommes et un Couffin (1985), and The Birdcage (1996), based on La Cage Aux Folles (1978), were both huge box office successes, mainly due to the star power of their Hollywood casts.

These may be exceptions to some awful examples, but the the business case remains. The latest to undergo the process is Force Majeure (2014), a Swedish drama about a family holidaying in the French Alps.

It now reappears as Downhill (Searchlight Pictures) starring Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, both of whom initiated the project for 21st Century Fox, now part of Disney. 

The original, by Ruben Ostlund, was a bleak study human motivations and a forerunner to the even darker machinations of The Square (2017), which featured Elisabeth Moss in a critique of modern art.  

Purists generally hate remakes and the reception of Downhill at the Sundance Film Festival wasn’t favourable. Disney also decided to hold it back from Christmas release, denying any chances of its two stars gaining a nomination for a major shift from comedy.

Despite this, Downhill rivals its recent peers such as Netflix’s Marriage Story, Denmark’s Happy Ending, the Kiwi-made Daffodils and Hope Gap (see Clips review).

The basic premise remains – a controlled avalanche swamps a family about to dine at a ski chalet, resulting In the father making a dash to safety while leaving his wife and two children behind.

The switch of setting to the spectacular ski fields of Austria is one improvement while Louis-Dreyfus and Ferrell expand on their familiarity as the quarrelling wife and husband.

The wife, a lawyer, is much the stronger of the two. A scene over a lost glove and a heli-skiing trip highlights the legendary American instinct for litigation and risk aversion.

Ferrell as the failed father is harder act. He under plays the part, presumably to deflect from his image as an over-the-top clown prince. 

Rating: Mature audiences. 86 minutes.

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Nevil Gibson

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