Three Colours: Blue (1993)

Trois couleurs: Bleu

3 STARS

General Information:

Information below is taken from the following link: http://www.imdb.co.uk/title/tt0108394/

15    98 min  –  Drama | Music | Mystery  –  15 October 1993 (UK)

Director

Krzysztof Kieslowski

Writer

Krzysztof Kieslowski; Krzysztof Piesiewicz;

Stars

Juliette Binoche; Zbigniew Zamachowski; Julie Delpy

Plot:

First film in Krzystof Kieslowski’s Three Colours Trilogy.

Julie and her family have a car-crash. She wakes up in hospital to discover that her husband and son have died.

Review:

Three Colours: Blue (1993)

Three Colours: Blue (1993)

Sometimes I just feel utterly rejected by art-films where nothing particularly happens, whilst everyone else is ‘deeply’, ‘profoundly’ and ‘mesmerizingly’ moved by them – such is the case with Three Colours Blue. Here we have a film perhaps influenced by Italian Neo-Realism: all of the events after the car-crash happen through chance, are random and feel slightly disconnected – like life. There is no sense – like in a Classical Hollywood Narrative – of one event leading to the next, leading to the next, then leading to an explosion and a sex scene shot with orangey mood-lighting. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and one of the reasons why I liked Blue very much.

Following the car-crash, everything is mundane and horrifically normal. There are frequent amounts of moments where there are long unsettling silences. When Julie does talk, it is only ever in small sentences, sometimes inaudible mumbles. Juliette Binoche, who plays Julie is deeply and profoundly mesmirizing in this film – and I am not being sarcastic. She does that rare thing, when she is no longer ‘a character’, but a real person. She can stare into the camera, not moving any muscle on her face and seem totally real; she acts with her eyes rather than her face. In fact, she hardly ever acts in this film because we can never see her ‘act’, rather she is being this deeply complex character. Nothing in her performance ever feels ‘forced’. This is a difficult thing to do. Most actors given the chance, would plunge straight in and start externalising all of these emotions, Binoche does the opposite and internalises them – a smart move and I commend her for it.

Juliette Binoche's wonderfully understated performance in Three Colours: Blue

Juliette Binoche’s wonderfully understated performance in Three Colours: Blue

After the car-crash, Julie drifts in and out of coffee-shops, street-corners, houses and gardens, and occasionally meets someone, converses with them, and will never talk to them again in the film. Perhaps she does, but only briefly. They are insignificant to the plot in the same way that they are too her life. The film really concerns her and is about her reactions, how her views on the world change, and how she expresses this by interacting with objects and other people. It is an interesting and excellent case study. I cried three times in the opening 45 minutes.

The director, Krzystof Kieslowski is a director who understands the relevance of actors in films. Too often is it the case, that I am never moved by a performance – not necessarily because it is a bad one, but because the director shoots it in such a way, that it is never in full focus, as if the actors are just another set of cogs and wheels in the whole mechanics of the film. Kieslowski dispenses with this despicable construct, and he incorporates as many close-ups on Binoche’s face as possible to ensure that the viewer is engaged with what is occurring in her thoughts. There is one striking moment, when Binoche’s character wakes up in hospital, after the car-crash, at the beginning of the film. It is an extreme-close-up of her eye. Never has the phrase ‘the eyes are the windows to the soul’ been exploited as much as this since that horrifically unsettling shot in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Following this, she leaves the ward, breaks a window as a distraction and then sneaks into the medical cupboard. She finds a box of pills, unloads multiple pills into her hand, and puts them in her mouth. But she cannot swallow. This moment feels utterly real as opposed to melodramatic – the camera focuses completely on the reactions of Julie’s character, to the extent that we can almost attempt to guess at why she did not kill herself.

Woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown portrayed with sincerity and brutally honest realism

Woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown portrayed with sincerity and brutally honest realism

Julie tries to recover from what has happened in the most unexpected of ways. She calls an old friend over, they have sex. This, however, never feels out of place. It feels perfectly normal. The scene isn’t meant to shock, but rather to make a point about Julie’s character. She doesn’t enjoy sex, she has lost all feeling.

She abandons her mansion and goes to a flat in town so that nobody can find her. She wants to completely reinvent her life. However, she can’t erase the thoughts from her head. There is a moment when she is in a swimming pool, and suddenly a group of children enter – she puts her head against the sides of the pool, and the thoughts of her dead child come rushing back.

I have said all of this praise, and you would have expected that this film would have been five stars. But, I find that the film never particularly went anywhere. Not necessarily in plot, but in character. I have nothing wrong with films where its plot(s) meander into a black hole. I like Slacker. But Slacker doesn’t have such an interesting central character. Julie is so mysterious and quite clearly complex. We want to know her more and no more about her, but Kieslowski puts a hand against our shoulder so we can’t get closer towards her. It felt more of an annoyance that we are presented with such a unique and well-portrayed character, but are prevented to know more about her. We are presented with what she shows the world as opposed to what she thinks. Perhaps this is the point, but if so it’s damned irritating.

After 45 minutes, the films tone never changed and it stayed constant: all of these shots of this ambiguous character living normally, but knowing that she is unlike anybody else. The film plodded on like this constantly and constantly. I wasn’t bored, but rather I became progressively uninterested. I knew that the film would hold onto itself and never let me get closer to the inner-workings of this character’s deeply troubled mind. If anything, the fact that I knew that the film would stay the same, was more of an inconvenience.

Verdict:

Contains one of the most fascinating characters ever in cinema. Julie is up there with Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. Yet, we’re never allowed to get inside her mind. Sometimes, the mystery of a character’s thoughts and personality is an advantage, but here, I don’t think it worked, and I really wanted to know and understand her more.

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Cannibal Holocaust: UNCUT (1980)

4 STARS

General Information:

The information from below is taken from the following link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0078935/?ref_=sr_2

18  95 min  –  Adventure | Drama | Horror  –  7 February 1980 (Italy)

Director

Ruggero Deodato

Writer

Gianfranco Clerici (story)

Stars

Robert Kerman; Francesca Ciardi; Perry Pirkanen

Plot:

Subversive 80s video-nasty cult-classic. Filmmakers who went to shoot a documentary concerning Amazonian cannibals have been missing for over two months. A professor then discovers that they are dead, but more importantly finds the footage that they made.

Review:

Cannibal Holocaust (1980): The film's tagline was "Can a movie go too far?" - was this describing the film within Cannibal Holocaust or Cannibal Holocaust itself?

Cannibal Holocaust (1980): The film’s tagline was “Can a movie go too far?” – was this describing the film within Cannibal Holocaust or Cannibal Holocaust itself?

There has been much written about Cannibal Holocaust’s behind-the-scenes mal-practice. Specifically the shots where we see a real live turtle’s head and feet cut off, and watch as its entrails are disembowled. This review will not focus or be influenced by the horrific mal-practices of the film. Yet this does not mean that I condone what occurred on the set of this film – far from it. However I firmly believe that rating the quality of a film should be about the film itself: the images, sounds, editing, narrative devices (etc), not  when it was made or what occurred on the set itself. To use the cliché to accentuate this point: “Let the film speak for itself.” There has been extensive analysis on the morals of the filmmakers and how their anti-sensationalist message collides with their practice, however, in this review, I seek to decipher whether the film is of quality, and what elements construct to shape my rating of it.

Cannibal Holocaust is a surprisingly intelligent horror-film about the dangers and morals of sensationalism, and what struck me more about the film was how it was less about the gorey found-footage of the filmmakers being beaten, raped and eaten alive – but more about how the television producers want to get the footage put on screen – and obviously, the makers of the footage. Who are the real savages? The cannibals, or the people who provoke them to the extent that they are able to make the most shocking documentary ever made? The film is excellently structured as we jump backwards and forwards from the found footage to the story concerning whether the producers will or won’t release its contents. But what is even more surprising is that we don’t even see the found footage until around forty minutes in. Judging by the reaction to this film, you’d imagine that the film would be a ninety minute gore-fest, filled to the brim with legs being hacked off, stones being used as raping implements, and brain-meat being chewed on. Far from it. Instead we start off with news that the filmmakers have been missing for over two months. The film doesn’t start in the jungle of Amazonia but rather in the concrete jungle of New York, and we cut backwards and forwards between these two locations.

A professor and various soldiers then go into the Amazon to find the filmmakers. They then meet the tribes themselves. Later on, they then discover various skulls and bones propped onto a tree, with one of the skeletons still holding a camera. (I hate it when that happens).

Awkward.

Awkward.

Between them arriving and this infamous shock-shot, we have prolonged scenes of them interacting with the cannibals, and we observe their way of life: from the charmingly innocent (naked girls throwing water at one of the men in a river), to the gruesome: a brutal scene of a girl being dragged from a boat, covered in mud, and then raped with a large stone.

After collecting the footage, the professor is now famous and is interviewed live on TV. He then meets up with a producer who wants to release the footage to ‘educate’ the public. We now see what really happened to the filmmakers and how they ended up as skeletons, one of them holding a camera.

The leader of the crew is Alan Yates, and we discover that he is the prime reason for the film-crew’s impending doom. His practice is to use set-ups to provoke a reaction from the cannibals: burning down one of their huts with the tribes-members still inside is the most horrific. He is as savage as they are. We are shown a previous film that he has made. It involves numerous executions of children, mothers and fathers for highly political reasons. Some of these executions were faked in order to provoke a reaction from the viewer.

The iconic shot of the film: Are the filmmakers as savage as the savages themselves?

The iconic shot of the film: Are the filmmakers as savage as the savages themselves?

Ironically, the footage we see of Alan and his crew is not fake. Their deaths are not staged. Eventually the cannibals surround him and his crew. I imagine you can figure out what happens next. The rest is then shot with heavy use of shaky hand-held camera to miraculous effect. I usually despise shaky-camera techniques, but here it is the best I have ever seen. It adds to the documentary-realism of the film: this is happening, this is not fake. They are being pinned down, tortured, mutilated, raped, killed and then eaten. More to the point though, the film exploits the viewer as a voyeur. It knows its effect on us. It knows that we want to look away, but can’t, because we are so curious, and when they are finally killed and cannibalised, we are made to feel horrible for feeling curious. Some people watch horror-films to see how far they can be pushed and to see how shocking the film is. This is why people went to see The Human Centipede and A Serbian Film. There are moments in those films where you want to look away, but can’t. But what if the deaths were real? What if it was no longer a horror film, but actual live footage? Cannibal Holocaust exploits this issue, and it knows that we (and the producers of the found-footage) will find it irresistable to look away, even if it may be real. We buy into shocking news-stories, we are just as bastardised and curious as the journalists themselves.

The footage no longer becomes sensationalistic footage that will make a good news story, but instead harrowingly brutal scenes of humans being killed and the killers who have already lost their humanity – and TV executives wanted to make money out of this.

Of course, the fatal flaw of Cannibal Holocaust is the concept that it appears to revel in shocking us. It does shock, in certain sequences my mouth formed a prominently large ‘O’ shape. Yet simultaneously it attacks shock-tactics. Is this the point? Perhaps so. I am in no doubt that the film’s aims were to shock the audience – the title itself can be mere proof of this. But it feels like two films: one which is to simply shock the audience, and the other which opposes this concept. Sometimes these two films conjoin and work, sometimes they clash. Can a film shock the viewer and simultaneously attack shock-tactics? I’m not quite sure. What is clear however is that Cannibal Holocaust is exceptionally good at shocking and criticising those who shock. The shocking scenes of cannibalism are so realistic that you could easily mistake this for a full-blown snuff film. The satirical scenes against shock-tactics and media-sensationalism are so effective that they critique the producers, the filmmakers and our reactions right down to the bone.

Verdict:

Perhaps the most hypocritical film ever made due to the fact that Ruggero Deodato was a sensationalist pig and used mal-practice, but if you ignore that and just look at the film itself we have one of the greatest horror films ever made. Here we have a brutal, blunt satire on how the media will go too far to shock, and how we are just as savage as the journalists for getting sucked into it.

N.B. Just to clarify, no humans were killed or cannibalised in this film – the deaths presented are just incredibly realistic.