Archive for the ‘3x’ Category

Der siebente Kontinent (The Seventh Continent, 1989), directed by Michael Haneke

It is a major spoiler in itself to include this film into a trilogy of suicide, but this is the ultimate suicide film, so it is a must. Haneke’s early works are cruder, more direct and simple than his later complex meditations on the nature of violence. This is a film that hits you in the face, leaving you breathless, precisely through its direct simplicity which manages to convey complex existential Angst and suffocating compulsion to escape, no matter how.

The Virgin Suicides (1999), directed by Sofia Coppola

The gentle, calm, sunny yet threatening style of this film is its best feature. It is like a beautiful lake surface that manages to suggest the monsters that live beyond just by being so unbearably pretty. The story seems simple. Parents are trying to protect their young girls form what they think is the most eminent danger: sexuality. But the girls naturally resist and revolt against parental care in the most tragic and definite way imaginable.

Wristcutters (2006), directed by Goran Dukic

This film is the ultimate suicide nightmare. As it turns out, when you commit suicide you don’t just die. You end up in a place/world that is just like the one you tried to escape from, only worst. You have an even shittier job, even less things to look forward to and even less prospects of getting laid. And now it’s obvious that you cannot even kill yourself to end this, as it would presumably lead to an even worst … well, life. But as it happens, since this is still Hollywood, the possibility of love emerges anywhere. The premise of the film promises a lot but ultimately fails because it falls into the cliché of “life is still worth living after all”.

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Khadak (2006) by Peter Brosens and Jessica Hope Woodworth.

This is a strange co-production filmed in Mongolia during wintertime, a mixture of magic realism and environmental and social activism. The story is of an epileptic teenage boy who is a shepherd and lives with his grandparents out in the steppe. He has to move to the city and work in a coalmine because an alleged epidemic forces the authorities to take strict measures against the family’s sheep. His move is from home to strange surroundings, from shamans to doctors, from childhood to adult life, from a natural way of life to industrial settings, and so on, a long line of potentially devastating changes and challenges which he will face by learning to “use” his epileptic visions to become wiser and, of course, by falling in love with the girl who makes the most strange and powerful music ever. But in the meantime, the mental institutions are full of shepherds and our hero can still hear the voices of the animals that supposedly were all exterminated.
In order to describe the unique mood of this film, I would have to go on and on about the landscapes. If you don’t share my enthusiasm for vast, barren land of no particular color that melts into the sky without a perceivable horizon, then skip my ramblings about it. Despite of almost everything being dominated by shades of white (if white has shades at all) I do want to say the colors are the most amazing features of the landscapes here … all of them and none of them. Colors are hiding in plain sight. Except for the obviously symbolic sky blue ribbon, which appears as the symbol of openness and freedom first on the hero, then on the horse he wants to free in the desert, then on the freed sheep, then even on a solitary (and wondering tree). Khadak apparently means sky in Mongolian. Or maybe sky blue. If anyone knows for sure, live a note.
Colors also convey contrasting emotions. While at the beginning, on the wide open, almost empty landscape the colors felt like freedom and fresh air, the same colors that also dominate the urban landscape change into claustrophobic and mechanic and to some extent, they become dull. Sure, the closed spaces and dirty coalmines also contribute to create a contrast and set up the basic problem and conflict of the film, but the colors can remain the same and still feel more dull and suffocating. It is as if the colors themselves are displaces together with the main character any many other newcomers to the city, they are present as fake copies of themselves.
Scenes of magic realism first appear as epileptic visions then they gradually seem to take over the film.
Just as the other, later film, Altiplano (2009), this one also strongly contrasts traditional ways of life that are closer and in harmony with nature to industrial and environmental catastrophe and social injustice lurking around and disrupting the balance.
While not so prominent in this film, a tendency that was to become full-blown in Altiplano slightly disrupts the excellence of this film too. It portrays its central themes in clear-cut, black and white opposition. This feature will aggravate in Altiplano, set in the Peruvian Andes, which practically collapses in the end into sentimental tearjerker cliché symbolism. I like magic realism as much as the next guy (assuming the next guy likes it a lot) but without the preaching exaggerations that just seem to insist on putting already chewed food in the viewer’s mouth. Khadak does not yet do that, but almost. Nevertheless, it is a definite must see.

Tuya’s Marriage (Tuya de hun shi, 2006), by Quan’an Wang

This is a story of girl (woman) power at its best, literal sense. In the Mongolian grasslands where desert is fast taking over life depends on access to water. Tuya is a young shepherd woman with two kids whose husband became disabled while trying to dig a well. She is faced with a difficult decision: as the sole sustainer of her family and threatened by illness form overwork and exhaustion, it becomes clear that she needs a new husband. So she gets a divorce. Proposals start pouring in from all over the place, as she is not only young and pretty, but also known for her hard-work and decency. But Tuya has only one condition: whoever wants to marry her has to agree to live with and take care of her ex-husband to.
The film gently shifts between drama and comedy all the time. It is heartbreaking to see people struggle so much for mere existence but it is also heartwarming and full of hope the way their practical way of reasoning rules out all romantic clichés ad sentimentalisms.
Just like in Khadak, the scenery is incredible! It is almost crazy and touristy to find this cruel, empty, cold nothingness beautiful or even sublime, but I for one cannot help it. The sheer magnitude of the horizon and the magnificent contour of rocky mountains still manages to appear alive, just because of the people who struggle with this indifferent nature for survival. One can almost feel the dust in the air and the cold sunshine. Colors are mainly present in clothing, but it is abundantly, strikingly present there. Tuya’s scarves alone would suffice as a source of awe.
Except the beautiful actress who plays Tuya all other characters are local people who play themselves most authentically, especially Tuya’s sad, quiet husband and the neighbor eternally seeking to financially satisfy his eternally cheating wife.

Mongol (2007), by Sergey Bodrov

As the official story line goes: “The film recounts the early life of Genghis Khan who was a slave before going on to conquer half the world including Russia in 1206.” It is in fact a clearly fictitious and invented love-story, a Hollywood one for that matter. You know, “boy meets girl in childhood boy falls in love with girl and they grow up and get married and they cannot live happily ever after because there are lots of obstacles in their way (in this case evil others kidnapping, marrying, raping and impregnating girl over and over again) but they conquer them all because of course love conquers all…” kind of story. But visually stunning nevertheless! I still think most landscapes and colors were made on computers, and I don’t think I can ever be convinced otherwise. Another good feature of the film is Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano.

Japanese writer, photographer and inventor Kōbō Abe has often been compared to Kafka and Camus for his existential explorations of human individuality and freedom. But being a photographer and having an eye for surreal images, his texts are often very visual, detailed and overwhelmingly vivid, basically begging to be made into films. Along comes fellow Japanese renaissance man Hiroshi Teshigahara, a master of avant-garde filmmaking, and makes literary history into film history by retelling Kōbō Abe’s existential stories in such a cinematic language that is rarely equaled, never surpassed. Teshigahara not only understands Abe perfectly, but also seems to have a special sensibility for finding just the right frame, just the right image and just the right face to translate existential anxieties to the screen.
Their first collaboration is also the least known, Otoshiana (Pitfall, 1962). A miner and his young son drift from one workplace to another dreaming of security and earning a place in the world. Contracted for a promising new job, the man walks towards his violent death on an abandoned road, and “wakes up” as a ghost, eager to find out why he was killed. The answers, however, are not comforting and cannot bring peace. And most importantly, his death, just as his life, seems to lack any trace of individuality. The thought of sharing a face and of sharing the life and fate of others emerges here for the first time, but it will come back more elaborately in The Face of Another. Here is the official trailer of the film.
Sunna no onna (Woman in the Dunes, 1964) is the unquestionable masterpiece of the Abe-Teshigahara collaborations. A teacher and amateur entomologist is trapped by some villagers into sharing the endless struggle of a woman living among all-invasive sand dunes. The suffocating atmosphere created by the sand, the seemingly useless work of shoveling it every night and the man’s resistance, revolt and ultimate acceptance all allude strongly to Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus, but with several other layers added to it, such as desperate sexuality, sense of community and endless inventiveness. Here is a video essay instead of a trailer, although you should definitely watch the film first.
Finally, Tanin no kao (The Face of Another, 1966) completes the trilogy with a change of scenery (to the city) that allows for a shift of perspective on previously depicted existential questions, as well as for certain previously untouched issues to emerge (as, for example, that of nuclear war). A man is badly injured in a work accident, his face destroyed and his sense of self shaking. A psychiatrist makes him a mask, copying the face of a random man (incidentally, the actor who played the miner in Pitfall, and who, even in that first film, had his face duplicated) and they start experimenting with the idea of being someone else, free of oneself and of moral standards that come from individuality. This is my favorite of the collaborations, firsts, because the urban context makes the story less allegorical and more easy for me to relate to, second, because of the sheer beauty and complexity of both story and image, and third, because of the much more nuanced female characters who in my opinion sometimes overshadow the male heroes.
Here is the haunting German waltz from the pub scene. All of the three films feature incredibly powerful soundtracks by composer Tôru Takemitsu.

Discovering Guy Maddin

Posted: December 22, 2010 in 3x, Directors, My Preciuos
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Shame on me for not discovering him before! This Canadian director uses a technique similar to silent films and/or early talking films, adorably sad and strange characters in stories as far from clichés as one can get in storytelling. His films are so unique that once you’ve seen one you will recognize the others and want to see them all. Here are just three recommendation, these are also his most famous and accessible films:

The Saddest Music in the World (2003)

This is the story of a crippled beer factory owner who sets out to find the nation with the saddest music in the world as, but ends up reliving loves and traumas of her past. It features two of the most strangely beautiful women, Maria de Medeiros and Isabella Rosselini and the unforgettable image of glass artificial legs filled with beer. Also, possibly the funniest line in a film: “I am not an American, I am a Nymphomaniac.”

Brand Upon the Brain! A Remembrance in 12 Chapters (2006)

The director returns to his childhood home, a Canadian Island where his parents ran an orphanage, and sets out to repaint the lighthouse while remembering/inventing his tormented and comic-like childhood. No few lines can make justice to the richness and innovativeness of the story. This is also Maddin’s most successful blending of film technique and narrative, as his jumpy, fragmented, blurry images fit perfectly with his stream of consciousness-type memories that mix reality, detective stories, psychosis, sexual awakening, abuse and nostalgia. With the help of this film language it also becomes impossible to tell how much is true and how much is imagination in the hero’s memories.

Cowards Bend the Knee or The Blue Hands (2003)

A truly coward hero thrown around by a few beautiful women, especially the vengeful Meta, who wants her dead father’s hand transplanted onto her lover. Since I found no trailer, here is a short film made by the director about the audition.

3x allegories

Posted: September 14, 2010 in 3x
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Cube, 1997,Vincenzo Natali

This is the ultimate allegory, as it can be interpreted to be political, religious, social, psychological, and so on. Very Kafkaesque.

Punishment Park, 1971, Peter Watkins

An allegory of how some establishments treat difference that threatens their existence.

District 9, 2009, Neil Blomkamp

Aliens representing unwanted immigrants forced into a ghetto. Too bad that the creators couldn’t decide between a powerful social commentary and a boring, conventional action flick.

3x utopias

Posted: September 14, 2010 in 3x
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Metropolis, 1927, Fritz Lang

The classic utopia, this is such an unbelievably great film that there’s basically nothing else to say about it, just that everyone should watch it at least once.

Brazil, 1985, Terry Gilliam

The bureaucratic utopia.

Nineteen Eighty-Four, 1984, Michael Radford

The communist utopia, Orwell’s disturbing warnings made into equally astonishing film images.

+ an animated utopia of life underground after it becomes almost impossible above the ground:

Metropia, 2007, Tarik Saleh.

These are films that are generally referred to under the wrong genre. Not that it’s important to put them in any genre or category…

REWERS, 2009, Borys Lankosz

A great Polish film that starts out as a light comedy: a young woman in Communist Poland is pressured by her mother and grandmother into finding a “good man” and getting married. The atmosphere seems rather nostalgic and warm than threatening and dark. We are led to believe that we are witnessing a banal everyday story, a sort of history from above. So after a few laughable attempts, Agata finally meets mister right, who is charming, mysterious and drop dead gorgeous. But gradually, we realise, along with out heroine that something is not right…The man is not who he seems. And without even noticing how and when it happened, we are in the middle of a drama. Which is to say that under communism, funny or love stories easily turn into tragedies, and there is really no clear-cut line between private and public life, no realm of life left untouched by the regime, and one doesn’t always know where or who the enemy is.

Låt den rätte komma in (LET THE RIGHT ONE IN), 2008, Tomas Alfredson

Why this is always listed as a horror, is beyond me. Just because a film features some vampires, it does not automatically become a horror, not even a vampire movie. This Finnish gem is about that feeling of being utterly different and out of this world that most of us remember well from out adolescence. It is a sensitive, clever and well-written story of parental sacrifice, friendship and love. It’s about facing new urges that come across us like they were monsters possessing us, and about feeling much older than our age.

BLUEBERRY, 2004, Jan Kounen

So people in this film are wearing cowboy hats, and yes, they have those awful boots, and they ride horses and there and Indians on the set…But this is sure not a Western film. it is rather a symbolic tale of conquer and initiation into a different world, full of mysteries that outsiders cannot come to understand, even with the best of intentions. Because of the hallucinogenic content, some have called it an Acid Western. I like that. The unusual visual style also supports that. And Eddie Izzard is in it!