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'Two Raging Grannies' ('Opprørske Oldemødre'): SIFF Review

Two Raging Grannies Film Still - H 2014
Courtesy of SIFF

The Bottom Line

The staged-feeling documentary does a lousy job of communicating with anyone who doesn't already know its subjects.

Venue

Seattle International Film Festival

Director

Havard Bustnes

Director Havard Bustnes follows two elderly Seattle women who question conventional wisdom about economic policy.

SEATTLE — A quasi-doc following two senior citizens who aren't satisfied by mainstream discourse about the economy, Havard Bustnes' Two Raging Grannies is, consciously or not, aimed solely at the small community of viewers who already know Seattle residents Hinda Kipnis and Shirley Morrison. Outsiders get not a shred of background on these two women, and from what we're shown here are left to conclude that they're likeable bumblers at best, pawns of a mocking filmmaker at worst. Though it tries to address an issue that is well worth raising, the film's prospects outside Seattle are negligible.

Although outside research suggests these women have a long history of political protest, the film behaves as if Morrison's eyes are coincidentally being opened to economic issues at the moment a filmmaker drops into her life. She acts puzzled for Bustnes' camera about news items in which politicians and pundits insist that economic growth is the only way out of Great Recession misery. Is increased consumer spending really the answer, she wonders?

We see her call up the University of Washington and arrange to sit in on an Econ class. There, a gruff professor kicks her out of class for asking questions. The scene is presented as if it were unfolding in real time, but we observe it from at least a dozen different camera angles, meaning it cannot have happened as we see it. Is Bustnes recreating something that happened earlier? Condensing and manipulating a scene he was witness to? Or, most likely, inventing a silly fiction in order to dramatize something he's unwilling to present in a more honest fashion?

The movie continues in faux-verite style, watching as the two women futz over Google and pull out a phone book to cold-call any number that seems to be related to business or economics. As they ask puzzled receptionists for someone who will explain growth to them, Bustnes makes the pair look like oldsters who know next to nothing about the subject and aren't much good at figuring out how to educate themselves.

Somehow, they connect with a couple of people who are familiar with macroeconomic models and are willing to talk to them. We hear fragments, but only fragments, of an argument challenging the assumption that nations can and must increase GDP every year into infinity.

But a straightforward exploration of this issue would bore the filmmaker, who is more interested in staging a dumb, sub-Michael Moore stunt at a gathering of finance bigwigs in New York City. Whatever the truth is behind this sequence, it looks like an ill-conceived, badly executed prank that achieves nothing beyond getting a thuggish security guy to whisper shockingly foul insults at Morrison when he thinks nobody else can hear.

When not observing their self-education campaign, the film presents snippets of daily life that are enjoyable on their own terms. Kipnis, more cynical and worldly than her friend, gets some laughs as she banters with Morrison; slow-motion slapstick ensues as they inch through stores and down sidewalks in low-power mobility scooters. But these chuckles do nothing to further the discussion the women want to encourage, and is a waste of 78 minutes viewers might have spent, say, reading Thomas Piketty and learning whose interests are really served by present government policies.

Production company: Faction Film

Director: Havard Bustnes

Screenwriters: Havard Bustnes, Lars Andersen

Producers: Haverd Bustnes, Christian Falch

Executive producer: Line Halvorsen

Director of photography: Viggo Knudsen

Editor: Anders Teigen

Music: Ola Kvernberg

No rating, 78 minutes