SXSW 2022: Distinctive Filmmaking Styles In ‘The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic’ And ‘Chee$e’

Both films internalise the perspectives of their protagonists, such that one is a blurry, disorienting thriller featuring a blind lead, and the other is a frenetic, rapidly edited comedy caper that matches the energy of its central character
SXSW 2022: Distinctive Filmmaking Styles In ‘The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic’ And ‘Chee$e’

The entirety of The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic unfolds as a series of extreme closeups of its lead's face, his hands and the objects he's holding, with the rest of the shot blurry and out of focus. This filmmaking choice goes beyond gimmick — protagonist Jaakko (Petri Poikolainen) is visually impaired and though the shallow focus doesn't enable viewers to experience life squarely from his point of view, the constant blur of shapes in the background go a long way in conveying his disorientation and feeling of being unmoored. Multiple sclerosis, the film reveals, has not only robbed Jaakko of his sight over time, but also left him paralysed below the waist. The tight frames emphasise his feeling of being boxed in, trapped in an apartment he can't leave alone. Isolation is a recurring theme in Teemu Nikki's film, in which it develops not only as the result of a disability but is a natural consequence of life in a big city.

Jaakko's cinephilia isn't just a narrative quirk. That he nicknames his legs Rocky and Rambo, symbols of strength, speak to his feelings of uselessness now that he can no longer use them. His dry sense of humour is established when he talks about how the last movie he watched was The Thing (1982), his fading eyesight making it hard to distinguish between Kurt Russell and the husky. Sirpa (Marjaana Maijala), a woman he met online, affectionately refers to him as 'Groundhog' because of his unchanging schedule. The two have an affectionately teasing relationship, which Nikki establishes with great care. In one scene, he immerses viewers fully into Jaakko's headspace as he talks to Sirpa on the phone, imagining her with him. His eyes shut, he imagines the tender caress of his palm on his face as hers. The song they're listening to plays softly before it abruptly stops and he's yanked out of the fantasy. Left with only the robotic voice of his phone assistant for conversation, Poikolainen skillfully conveys his character's loneliness and deep-seated craving for affection.

Sirpa is ill too, and news of a recent diagnosis prompts Jaakko to try and visit her alone, a trip that the film captures in vivid sensory detail. At one public spot, the camera swirls around his head rapidly, capturing his overstimulation. Seeking a tender moment of human connection, he must contend with the worst of human nature, at which point the film takes on the tone of a taut thriller. Can Jaakko, who's spent years learning exactly how people perceive him, weaponise those perceptions in his favour? The film, which unravels with an assured hand, shapeshifting across moods and genres, doesn't waste a moment of its lean 82-minute runtime getting to the satisfying answer.


Mood takes precedence over plot in the stylish, cheeky Chee$e, which bursts at the seams with a frenetic energy that can hardly keep pace with the lofty ambitions of its protagonist, Skimma (Akil Gerard Williams). Shot in highly saturated, vibrant colours, the film switches aspect ratios and even mediums from live-action to animation with a consistently heightened sense of drama. Its busy editing just stops short of being distracting, with no shot lasting longer than a few seconds and each vignette jumping to the next without any smooth transitions in between. Characters deliver their lines with a melodic cadence, as though recollecting lyrics instead of reciting dialogue. Even the subtitles match their bustling energy, flitting in and out, bouncing around and crumbling into pieces. 

Director Damian Marcano takes his time setting up the idyll of village life before showcasing its pitfalls. Set at an unidentified Caribbean island described as "behind God's back…even God must have forgotten about it," the camera lingers on the lush natural beauty, leisurely pace of life and assortment of charming neighbours. Trips to the barber, the local grocery store or the restaurant become opportunities to convey a wealth of cultural nuances, as do scenes depicting cockfighting rings and voodoo rituals. The initial stretches make the lives of the islanders appear so attractive, it's hard to understand why Skimma yearns to leave. A cheesemaker's apprentice, his desire for wealth drives him to stealthily harvest the marijuana growing from a nearby plot and set up a distribution network by concealing it in the cheese he mass produces. As the popularity of his product increases, so do his problems.

Marcano handles these with a light touch throughout. Skimma's nightmares have the exaggerated comedic quality of a telenovela. Revelations are delivered in slow-mo for maximum effect. Even scenes in which he comes close to being caught are more amusing than tense. Gradually, however, he emerges as someone who doesn't know who he is or where he fits in, which explains why his dreams of leaving are tied to his desire to be somebody. Under the film's engaging humour is a strand of loneliness. Skimma, who never knew his father, isn't in love with a woman he got pregnant during a one night stand, and is unsure of being a good father himself. By the end, his two major worries — the cops and his jilted lover — smartly intersect to create a sense of the walls closing in. That Chee$e is the first part of a planned trilogy should tell you that it doesn't deliver all the answers by the end. What it does well is thrillingly set up the next installment. In finally leaving the island, Skimma does what he's always wanted to do. Where he's headed, however, is nowhere good.

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