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Marina Antunes [Film Festival 02.04.10] review news drama



Year: 2009
Directors: Sook-Yin Lee
Writers: Sook-Yin Lee
IMDB: link
Review by: Marina Antunes
Rating: 6.5 out of 10

It comes as little surprise that Vancouver navite Sook-Yin Lee eventually turned her eye to directing. Her multi faceted career which includes everything from musician to TV personality, has always been one to watch. Her collection of short films (dating back to the early 90s) have, for the most part, told stories of offbeat romances and it’s good to finally see her take that left-field approach to a full length feature. Enter Year of the Carnivore.


Written and directed by Lee, the story is one which has become a sort of Lee trademark: a carefree girl stuck in a holding pattern. In this case, the girl in question is Sammy, a pretty girl who seems uncomfortable in her own skin yet manages to stand apart form everyone else. She has a crush on Eugene, a guitar player with big aspirations. The two seem to have a friendly relationship that is ready, and perhaps in the past already has, move beyond friendship into romance (that aspect of their relationship is a little vague). Eugene, being the asshat that he is, ruins their perfectly, in a very quirky sort of way, romantic interlude by basically stating that Sammy sucks at sex and he’s not interested in her. So what does Sammy do? She sets off to gain experience in order to become a better lover and win Eugene back.

Lee’s film is a great tale of a young woman in search of herself. Sammy is awkward and seemingly afraid of her own femininity and sexuality and as a woman, I can appreciate and even cheer her journey of self discovery; there simply aren’t enough films which support this idea of letting go of insecurities and finding oneself in the world. Sadly, the fact that Sammy’s journey is spawned by male rejection is, quite frankly, infuriating. Lee takes a perfectly good story idea and one with a positive message for girls everywhere and then takes ten steps back by making the catalyst for that change center around a man. It’s a big problem, one that’s not easy to overlook, but the film does a fairly good job of redeeming itself by setting Sammy up in some very humorous, outlandish situations that, none the less, have authentic sentiments and get at what it means to be in love and in a relationship.

It’s particularly difficult to stay angry at a film which features a performance as charming as Cristin Milioti’s in the role of Sammy. Her transformation from shy and meek girl to fearless and finally to woman is marked and her eyes speak volumes (not to mention her smile has the wattage to light up a shopping mall or in this case, a grocery store). It could be a lot of pressure to carry an entire film, particularly one as weighty as this one and to boot, one that approaches female sexuality in such a candid way, but Milioti is fantastic and it’s her charm that pulls the film out of the gutter of sexual politics it so sadly gets itself into early on.

Lee displays talent behind the camera, capturing moments of emotion beautifully and even incorporating a music video aesthetic during a band rehearsal that, rather than feeling forced, feels like a natural part of the story. That entire performance sequence is already so over the top in comparison to the film’s more subtle approach that it screams music video so why not shoot it as one? It’s a bold choice and one that works.

Year of the Carnivore has its problems (the male/female dynamic at play and the way in which it unfolds is simply too big an elephant to overlook) but it’s a charming film which falls somewhere between Juno (without the irritating Cody-speak) and a much, much cleaner though no less evocative, Shortbus. A good first feature and budding bloom to what I hope will be a rich career of films full of women taking charge of their lives.

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