How Heavy This Hammer
Follows a middle-aged married man who finds his only outlet is online gaming.
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★★★★ review by Eli Hayes on Letterboxd
motions making way for
massive monotony; manic
(and maddening) masculinity.
★★★½ review by Patrick Devitt on Letterboxd
Kazik Radwanski’s How Heavy This Hammer is definitely one to look out for this year at the Toronto International Film Festival. Clocking in at just over an hour, Toronto-filmmaker Kazik Radwanski does a wonderful of depicting a married man that is grappling with the concept of acting like an adult. Erwin Van Cotthem does a marvelous job of playing our lead character, who also shares the same name. His character showcases all of the things our parents taught us not to do as a child. He incessantly plays video games to the point where his wife has to force him to step away from the game to come and have dinner with them. This is certainly not one to miss.
★★★★ review by 🌱socialqueues🌾 on Letterboxd
Makes me want to eat vegetables and do responsible things.
This movie peers closely at its subject without sacrificing ambiguity, picking up on his flaws without expressing judgment. The fact that this only just got theatrical distribution stateside is a damn shame, and I hope this movie finds the champion it deserves.
★★★½ review by preston on Letterboxd
Opening shot is misleading, classical music playing over a close-up of a sad-sack, middle-aged, obviously (or stereotypically) working-class bloke. Clearly going to be a case of the dignity reclaimed in everyday lives, Ken Loach-style - but it turns out the jowly, sad-looking bloke isn't staring soulfully into space after a hard day at the plant or whatever (it's not clear that he even has a job) but playing a video game, and it also turns out he's emotionally immature, prone to lashing out and neglecting his responsibilities, living a grossly unhealthy life (is he counting down to a heart attack? is that the movie?). Eventually, almost by process of elimination, the film's true subject bubbles to the surface - which is his foreignness, glimpsed in the foreign (Flemish) songs with which he sings along in the car, though they're otherwise unremarked-upon, and the foreign sport (rugby) he stubbornly plays on weekends, though he's obviously unfit; and of course it's also foreignness from his family, the culture, human relationships in general. Good stuff, constantly testing our investment in the lead character, and the stylized claustrophobia helps (the film is almost entirely in close-up, in the style of the Dardennes in The Son only more so) though the low budget shows e.g. in the casting of the boys, good little Canadians who seem unacquainted with their dad, let alone related to him. But maybe that's the point.
★★★½ review by Rakestraw on Letterboxd
Erwin (Erwin Van Cotthem) is a simple man with hints of complexities that could be nothing more than illusions. He spends much of his time, blank-faced, either completely immersed or deadened playing a Viking computer game while occasionally squeezing in some recreational rugby and Old Speckled Hen consumption. Much of his family, with his wife and two sons, could be perceived as distractions to the aforementioned activities and he treats them accordingly, as an afterthought. He only appears to be present in one world – his hobby world, his world of leisurely pursuits.
This is the man at the center of Canadian writer/director Kazik Radwanski’s film, How Heavy This Hammer.
Erwin is not only the focus but he seems to overwhelm the frame at every turn; the repertoire of his three expressions always extending out past the confines. One being the computer-gaming trance of glazed-over eyes, pixelated Vikings hacking and slashing reflected in his glasses; the other, an exasperated long-face of frustration and, finally, the resting inactivity of slumber. The presentation of these personal states of Erwin, in claustrophobic close-up, point to the possibility of two perspectives; one from the viewer and one from Erwin himself.
The insistence on limiting the camera to Erwin and the space he occupies speaks to his selfishness. The majority of what we see is Erwin because in his world he is the center of attention; at least, that is how he is presented. His field of thought appears narrow, focused and exhausted by the inconsequential – the computer game, the beer, and the rugby. He’s in a suspended state of adolescence, shirking responsibilities that do not fit within his hierarchy of importance; all while his incredibly patient wife, Kate (Kate Ashley), is left parenting and caring for their two sons, plus Erwin.
When his decisions and actions are questioned or inquiries into his wellness are suggested, they are met with combative rebukes or silence. The only in-between being the solemn, fatigued utterances of not wanting to talk about it. Because of his reactions, the cinematography also hints at the way in which Erwin perceives the situation: a feeling that he is being crowded, that he is being suffocated with unwanted responsibilities time and time again. As if everyone around him is unloading their problems atop his shoulders when in fact, they are merely expecting some sort of reciprocation or cooperation.
His cagey disposition his defensiveness, could be connected to a midlife crisis or he could be simply coming to the realization that his current life is not the life he wanted; thus, rejecting at every opportunity and, at times, ignoring it completely in the hopes that it will disappear. There could be an underlying medical condition to explain all of this behavior, but again, Erwin does not want to hear about that or talk about that. He just wants to withdraw from select aspects of adulthood, to retreat to his computerized battle-world, to fixate on the colored numbers floating away from the mini-warriors.
Radwanski does a good job of remaining neutral with How Heavy this Hammer; there are no detectable traces of judgment within the film, just a presentation of events. Radwanski and Nikolay Michaylov utilize the camera as more of a conduit between the narrative actions and the audience, their presence self-relegated to the margins as a constant connection between the two. The genuine and truthful performances from all involved – especially Van Cotthem – are highly beneficial in cultivating the cinema-verite style name is looking to accomplish – which, coupled with the cinematography, make the non-judgmental tone of the film possible. A perception that any and all personal inferences are between the audience and the film.
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