RIFF: “Ludo” (2014): A Cautionary Tale (Review)
Ludo, named after the board game, is interesting for exactly one reason: It’s the first wholly self-produced, feature-length film from the Faroe Islands. That’s it, the rest is awkward, amateurish, bad and, in one facet, personally insulting.
The film follows a family of three, a mother, father and daughter (only ever referred to as such, no names here), through one day and one night. The dynamics of the family are readily apparent, the father and daughter are friendly and spend time together while the mother is mentally unstable, prone to mood swings and seemingly confined to their house, which stands next to a graveyard. There are slim threads of the father-daughter relationship not being entirely healthy but it never goes anywhere and just sort of peters out halfway through. It’s not being subtle, it’s just half-baked, a remnant of a first draft idea never fully realized but used here in its unfinished form seemingly for the hell of it. This much is clear because there’s nothing subtle about Ludo.
Ludo is overly dramatic, overwrought and awkwardly made. Neither the writing nor acting is particularly convincing and the direction feels amateurish, I was actually shocked, more than anything in the film, to discover that the director, Katrin Ottarsdottir, is 57 years old with credits stretching back decades. None of that experience is on display here. Everything is very basic and clichéd. There’s clearly supposed to be a sense of dread or tension or some anxiety, but instead we get nothing. It’s a flat out dud.
Out of the films 70 minute running time, maybe 5 (being very generous) are successful, most of them coming during the opening credits where and air of eeriness is present, mostly due to the Faroe Islands’ desolate looking landscape. After that it slowly oscillates between dull and silly. At a fundamental level the film making is bad, the editing lacks fluidity and almost every edit is stilted and clumsy. It’s like watching someone discover Windows Movie Maker for the first time. By the sixth time (of at least two dozen) the film cuts away to crows or waves splashing, your interest will be so far away that you couldn’t catch it with two intercontinental flights, though the experience would be more enriching than this cavalcade of look-how-deep-and-meaningful-I-am-ness.
The cinematography is generally fine, but it’s frequently obscured and ruined by what should be a capital sin of film making, what I have dubbed, in working title, “ugly slow-mo” and “ugly speed-up”. This should be obvious to any viewer, but it’s when a filmmaker, for some unfathomable reason, slows down or speeds up footage shot at 24 frames per second. It looks like absolute and complete garbage, how any artist could look at something like that and decide that,”yes, this is my artistic vision and this looks good” is beyond the reach of human understanding. There’s no better way to look distractingly cheap and amateur and roughly half of Ludo looks like this. Sometimes both slow down and speed up is used in the same shot, almost as if to intentionally spite me.
At best Ludo is an overlong and middling film school student short film extended to feature length by someone how hasn’t honed their craft but has read a couple of articles on Freud and psychoanalysis in film. Before it ends it throws in some supernatural elements, because hey, why not. A shlockier, B-movie type direction would probably have worked better. At least it wouldn’t have been as much of a slog, which no movie under an hour and a half should ever be. There’s every chance that a great movie could come out of the Faroe Islands, but this sets an exceedingly low bar. One that’s practically underground in fact. Something like this doesn’t belong at a film festival.
The Good: There’s a big stack of nordic pancakes around 45-50 minutes in, an example of delicious craftsmanship that the film never attains encapsulated in a delicious afternoon snack.
The Bad: There were no pancakes at the screening.
The Ugly: Everything else, especially the slow-mo.