The Man From London (2007)

5 STARS

“A londoni férfi”

General Information:

All information below is taken from the following link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0415127/?ref_=nv_sr_1

15     139 min  –  Crime | Drama | Mystery  –  31 January 2008(Hungary)

Director

Béla Tarr; Ágnes Hranitzky

Writer

Béla Tarr; László Krasznahorkai

Stars

Miroslav Krobot; Tilda Swinton; Ági Szirtes

Plot:

Maloin observes a large quantity of money thrown into the sea and a man being killed. Following this he experiences a profoundly intense existential crisis.

Review:

How can I describe The Man From London? It seems almost impossible. It is an extraordinary film, which is, because it shows us everything, but ultimately tells us nothing. It works as a suspense film without any suspense. A suspense film is a film that shows us all the events of the film – Bela Tarr takes this conceit and twists it to his own style of filmmaking. The film uses its camera as if it were God, purveying the scene: we move from one character to the next, we see their faces, their reactions and hear all lines of dialogue. Yet we know nothing about the characters. We don’t know who they are, we don’t know their motivations. Ultimately, we see all the events of the film, but we know nothing about why they are committed. Thus, the film is the purest form of mystery. However, the characters transcend ‘character’ into being humans. It is as if we are watching them live. Bela Tarr has a way of filming actors which accentuates and naturalises their performances – he draws out the intensities of the character’s inner turmoil as well as making what we are seeing feel totally convincing and completely real.

The film essentially opens with the main character, Maloin (Miroslav Krobot) see a suitcase thrown over the board of the ship, and a man murdered by being pushed into the icy black water. The murderer walks away, and the camera pans round watching him walk off, the seconds pass and we just gaze at Maloin’s unsettled facial expressions. He has just witnessed a life being taken…yet everyday life continues, time refuses to stop and the world is nonplussed and utterly indifferent. Later on, Maloin steals the suitcase. Perhaps this has been the only thrill in his life. Who knows? We don’t even know what he’s thinking, we can only guess by his facial expressions.

In a sense, Maloin is the perfect character for an existential drama such as this. He is a railway signalman. His job simply consists of sitting there for hours on end, occasionally pulling levers and staring out of his window, watching strangers who he’ll only ever see once walk past and get into the train and then leave. He quite literally sees life go by, and nobody recognises his existence. He is a voyeur which nobody sees. Yet he was also the voyeur of a crime. At first the crime almost seems like a normal event to Maloin. He appears to be distressed, but mainly nonchalant to what he has witnessed. Yet the film has progressed, and the strange guilt (for simply seeing an event) stirs up and builds inside of him. He takes it out on the rest of the world. The world that does not care for his sheer existence, not even his wife and daughter.

Have I also emphasised how just incomprehensibly mad the film is. In usual circumstances, how the character’s react to situations and the sheer situations themselves, you’d be sitting up at the screen tutting due to its sheer implausible madness. Not here though. The film takes itself so seriously, and the glacial pacing just makes all the madness seem normal. It’s as if the sheer absurdity of life becomes some kind of theatrical satire, but with the laughs and irony replaced with sheer misery and trudging droll organ-music. The film involves a sequence in a pub involving a strange dance with a snooker ball and a chair. The film aesthetically, looks as if it should be set in the 30s or 40s, but hang on, aren’t those modern day £20 and isn’t the an LCD cash-machine being used? The film involves a sequence where Maloin and his wife have an argument over Maloin buying, out of all the things to buy, a grotesquely ridiculous mink stole. Although, perhaps Tarr has struck on something here: if the madness of the events is supposed to be taken seriously, is Tarr making a comment on how the most disturbing act of everyday existence being the notion that nothing of consequence is ever done, nothing meaningful. I believe the existentialists would have called this an “inauthentic existence”.

On a technical level, the film is perfection. Like most Bela Tarr films, it is shot with exquisite precision. The camera glacially moves smoothly past structures of buildings and around characters, observing everything. The lighting is stark, using sharp contrasts between dark and light creating interesting effects and powerful shadows. And then there’s Tilda Swinton. She gives an excellent performance. She is able to convey intense emotions (such as rage, despair and grief) yet making them feel utterly convincing as opposed to melodramatic. But then again, all of the performances in this film are of the highest standards. The actors for the most part simply stare into the distance. All of the emotions is conveyed in their eyes, and the feelings simply seep through slowly, yet intensely. They don’t act, they are.

Conclusion:

Who knows what the film means? Ultimately it is all down to interpretation. But what can be said is what we are left with is not only technically excellent, but atmospherically genius. Unsettling, challenging and profound, this film will stay with you well after viewing.

Damnation (1988)

5 STARS

“Kárhozat”

General Information:

All information below is taken from the following link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0095475/

15                       120 min  –  Crime | Drama | Romance  –  30 March 2001(UK)

Director

Béla Tarr

Writer

László Krasznahorkai; Béla Tarr

Stars

Gábor Balogh; János Balogh; Péter Breznyik Berg

Plot:

A man with no reason to live spends his days falling in love with a singer and doing absolutely nothing.

Review:

Behold the sheer eviscerating misery that is Bela Tarr. Just look into those eyes...

Behold the sheer eviscerating misery that is Bela Tarr. Just look into those eyes…

There are some films which drain your emotions so much that by the end you quite literally have no energy. These kinds of films are my favourite films as they are the most intense of cinematic experiences and will always stay with me.

By the end of Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible, I felt brain-shatteringly disturbed. By the end of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, I felt intense awe at the universe. By the end of Bela Tarr’s Damnation, I felt assaulted, insulted and depressed. This is not hyperbole. I’ve never actually felt insulted by a film before, but then again there’s a first time for everything. It’s as if the entire film is sticking two fingers directly up at the audience whilst repeatedly drolling in pure deadpan monotone: “I don’t care if you like this”. The film is pure sadist – it depresses you for your own “entertainment”. Yay. The film quite literally takes all of the dopamine you have in your brain, ties it up, beats it to the ground and then has the cheek to steal all of the wallets for later. It is an affront to sheer social acceptance, but Christ I think it’s genius.

In essence, Damnation is one great big existential crisis. In fact never has the clichéd phrase “To be or not to be” perhaps meant so much; even though it is never mentioned, you wonder why none of the characters in this film never bother with suicide. Again, this is not hyperbole.

I haven’t actually described the plot as of such, but this would be meaningless. This is Bela Tarr. A director who has stated his dislike for narrative filmmaking and instead focuses on mood and character’s inner turmoil. Think of the film as a series of meaningless events which continuously go on and on and on…and on….a bit like life in that respect, one unconnected second after the next, and yes this is presumably the message of the film. The film’s point is that it doesn’t have one.

In fact, it is even pointless to name ‘the events’ in the film, as they’re so mundane, I’m not going to even bother stating them. What I will say however is that Bela Tarr should deserve a trophy for directing the most depressing sex scene I have ever seen.

See that face she's pulling? It doesn't change, it is deadpan throughout. There is hardly any movement. There is no heavy breathing.  There are no moans. Barely any movement. Behold, the worst erotic scene in cinema history.

See that face she’s pulling? It doesn’t change, it is deadpan throughout. There is hardly any movement. There is no heavy breathing. There are no moans. Barely any movement. Behold, the worst erotic scene in cinema history.

They look so miserable about copulating, that they might as well decapitate their own toes and prod each other in the stomachs repeatedly. In fact, I bet if they did that, they might even smile. This image I have conjured sounds macabre and barbaric, but you haven’t had to sit through a two-hour film where the climactic scene involves the main character barking at a dog for five minutes (because, yes that’s right, his life has become so meaningless and pointless that he doesn’t even communicate with his own species).

Woof. Bark. Growl.

Woof. Bark. Growl.

I am reminded of Bela Tarr’s final film, The Turin Horse. The two main characters in The Turin Horse repeat the same daily tasks over and over again: eating potatoes and fetching water from the well. The difference between The Turin Horse and this film is that in this film, the actions performed by the characters are not repeated again and again, instead it is just endless mundanities. In other words, The Turin Horse is high on non-naturalistic metaphor to express the pointlessness of existence (or to be more precise, the repetitiveness of day-to-day living), whereas this film mainly uses realism (to the point of tedious brilliance) to express it’s ideas. I use the phrase “tedious brilliance”. How can I explain this? There are numerous points where you expect the film to end, but it doesn’t, instead it goes on and on and on. Usually this would be a negative thing. So why a positive? The only way I can explain this is by comparing it to stand-up comedy. A stand-up comedian will say a joke, and then later on in the act, they’ll repeat it to good effect. They’ll then call-back the joke again later on to even more great effect. However, the next time they call-back the joke, it feels tired and ridiculous. You don’t expect them to call-back the joke again. Accept they do, and because of this, the routine feels so ridiculous that it becomes funnier. Damnation drags on for so long, that it borders on parody. The longer it goes on for, the more strangely entertaining it gets. This is difficult to explain. But if a film involves a sex-scene where the characters look like they’re inmates at Abu Ghraib, and consists of a character barking at a dog, you have to somehow understand that this film is strangely self-aware to the point of narcissism.

What else happens? Well, the main character falls in love with a bar singer. The only thing keeping him alive is the possibility of love. The main character stares out of a window observing the rain, and observing people walk past and dogs trot along. Also, just to point out on a stylistic of the film, Bela Tarr goes to extraordinary lengths to emphasise the mundanity of every day existence.

Gazing through the window

Gazing through the window

Not only will he use exceptionally long takes (we’re talking more than five minutes) to show the scene unfold and drag on in real time; but the takes will be longer than necessary. A scene will usually end with the characters walking out of shot, but we won’t cut to the next shot/scene. That’s right. The camera will simply linger on the location for ten seconds, whilst we see the wind push leaves away, or random pedestrians across the street. Life continues when the characters walk out of shot. The universe surrounding them is one hat keeps on perpetuating. As the other pedestrians walk into shot, you have to contemplate the notion that each of their day-to-day routines is presumably the exact same as the main characters in this film. (No, that is not an excuse for a sequel). All the while (like all of Tarr’s other films), it is shot in expressionistic high-contrast black-and-white – just to make every simpering frame more bleak. Think of it as 24 frames per second of sheer self-loathing.

The film spirals on like this for two whole hours.But the interesting thing is that it is strangely never boring. Bela Tarr is such a skilled filmmaker that he can make a film actually about every day mundanities and characters bored with their very existence seem strangely engaging. But not engaging in the sense that your eyes are bulging wide waiting for what will happen next. But more of a paradoxed form of engaging…the scenes are so dull, and filled with so much melancholy and dreariness and sheer depression, that they become engaging due to how ridiculously pointless and bleak they are. Hence why the film is a sadomasochistic experience. It insults you for merely wanting to watch it’s self-aware pointless narrative. Whether this is a positive or a negative thing I am unsure. But what I am certainly sure of is that Bela Tarr desperately needs to see a therapist. As do I after seeing this.

Conclusion:

Almost as depressing as The Turin Horse, but less metaphysical and focused more on realism. The film makes the everyday become a philosophical focus point, and makes your own damned existence seem so pointless that you might as well not bother. To be or not to be indeed. Go on Hamlet, shoot yourself. But before you do that, watch some rain dripping down a window for entertainment and bark at a dog because you’ve lost all sense of social convention and sanity.

Rashomon (1950)

3.5 STARS

General Information:

Information below is taken from the following link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0056193/

15     88 min                          –  Crime  | Drama                 –              25 August 1950(Japan)

Director

Akira Kurosawa

Writer

Akira Kurosawa; Shinobu Hashimoto; Ryûnosuke Akutagawa

Stars

Toshirô MifuneMachiko KyôMasayuki Mori

Plot:

Following the murder of a man, multiple people retell their version of the events.

Review:

Rashomon (1950)

Rashomon (1950)

It’s interesting how some films are so concerned with their narratives, that in a sense, they’re almost about the notion of a narrative itself. Such is the case with Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon: an interesting film, which is also visually gorgeous as well. The film retells the same timeframe but from multiple perspectives.

The film is interesting at first, because its ideas are very much enhanced by its style. The style is strange – you could go as far as to say: ‘quirky’ – maybe even – ‘eccentric’. The music is at once light, and then occasionally over-dramatic (the almost apocalyptic thudding of drums), the dialogue – at times – feels forced and stilted, and then there’s the acting style, which reminds me of silent-film acting, due to its eccentricities and exaggeration.

Exaggerated acting style of Rashomon

Exaggerated acting style of Rashomon

All of these aspects made me rather warm to the film, but not to its characters. I think this is the point. The style engaged me with the narrative events, but rejected me from forming an intimate bond with the people involved in the events – I think this is Akira Kurosawa’s way of making us become detectives. By pulling us in yet distancing us from any bias towards the characters, we’re made to contemplate what the real truth actually is: do any of the retellings match up? Or is this impossible because they’re all lying? Are they even lying? Or are there some sections which involve lie and then involve truth? What is truth? Can it even be measured? Or is it all so abstract, that it is ultimately, meaningless?

At once we have a rather intriguing critique of truth and perception, and how humans can ultimately never be trusted due to their bias towards the subjective as opposed to the objective.

Yet, in my own personal opinion – the effect of this film wore off at the end of the second third of the film. As the film progresses, I became quickly used to its methods and ideas: the notion of retelling a story, and jumping back between the character’s telling their version of events, into their subconscious minds (the filmed events designed by Akira Kurosawa to show their subjective perspectives of the events in an ironically, objective way: by using wide-shots quite frequently as opposed to Point of View Shots). Once I got ‘used’ to the film, the thought-provoking aspects dimmed away, and I began to contemplate how ludicrous it all was.

Now, I agree with the notion that different people have different perceptions of events, but Rashomon takes this notion to the extreme. For example: two of the characters in each story engage in sexual activities – in one story, they make love, in the other, it is rape – bearing in mind: same characters, same timeframe. This is – in my mind – one of the least  ludicrous differences between the stories.

Making love or rape?

Making love or rape?

Then we come to the dialogue. At first, it’s rather charming and amusing. But, at points it does feel like Akira Kurosawa is forcing the themes of perception, truth, reality, memory and the human condition into our eye-sockets. Take for example, when we cut back to the sequence when we have a ‘Commoner’, a ‘Priest’ and a ‘Woodcutter’ – again – retelling and discussing the retellings of the characters involved in the main event. (The fact that it’s a retelling of a retelling surely emphasises the accentuation of the themes by Kurosawa). Here is some of their dialogue:

Priest: If men don’t trust each other, this earth might as well be hell.
Commoner: Right. The world’s a kind of hell.
Priest: No! I don’t want to believe that!
Commoner: No one will hear you, no matter how loud you shout. Just think. Which one of these stories do you believe?
Woodcutter: None makes any sense.
Commoner: Don’t worry about it. It isn’t as if men were reasonable.

Writers often ensure that their characters discuss themes of humanity by saying “men” or “mankind”, in an attempt to emphasise a philosophical point. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But more to the point – the worst part is when the Commoner says: “Which one of these stories do you believe?”, it’s as if Kurosawa himself has leaped out of the screen, pointed to all of us, and then rubbed his beard in such a manner as if to say: what do YOU think?

Am I being too harsh? Perhaps. But then again, isn’t all criticism about perception?

Verdict:

Some interesting ideas to start off with – but plays off of them repeatedly, so that I ultimately felt like the element of surprise in the movie diminished. A great shame.

Lolita (1962)

3 STARS

General Information:

Information below is taken from the following link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0056193/

15   135 min  –  Drama | Romance  –  September 1962 (UK)

Director

Stanley Kubrick

Writer

Vladimir Nabokov; Stanley Kubrick

Stars

James Mason; Shelley Winters; Sue Lyon

Plot:

Humbert Humbert (James Mason), intellectual, professor, middle-aged man, a paedophile lusts after 15 year old Dolores Haze (Sue Lyon), eloquently nick-named: ‘Lolita’.

Review:

Lolita (1962)

Lolita (1962)

The films of Stanley Kubrick are oft criticised for being ‘emotionally cold’. Personally, I have always found these claims to be ridiculous. Objective they certainly are, but cold? 2001 is one of the most awe-inspiring works I’ve ever seen, A Clockwork Orange twisted my emotions throughout, and Eyes Wide Shut stayed with me for a good two months after viewing. Even Barry Lyndon, which is quite clearly the most distancing of his films has emotions oozing throughout it.

Kubrick shoots films as if he were shooting stills of a crime-scene: he puts the camera at a distance so all the characters are in view amongst a meticulously lit and scrupulously composed backdrop.

Classic use of distancing being used in Barry Lyndon (1975)

Classic use of distancing being used in Barry Lyndon (1975)

More distancing methods used in Kubrick's Barry Lyndon (1975)

More distancing methods used in Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (1975)

We are thus forced to question the characters, but the emotion comes from the fact that we view them like ‘bugs under a microscope’ (as one critic excellently put it). The ironies, hypocrisies, stupidities, obsessions, angst, paranoia and rage of every character always seeps through. The best example of this is in that long and pivotal scene in Eyes Wide Shut where Bill is told that Alice has contemplated sleeping with another man. By being distanced, I learned more about the character of Bill, and thus, I felt emotion. Bill fails to see that it’s not just men that have an intense desire for sex lurking inside of them.

Silly Bill.

Like Eyes Wide Shut, Lolita is about male sexual obsession, and presents it with great sympathy and snide sarcasm. Though doubt, probably more sarcasm than Eyes Wide Shut. Kubrick shows the lustful emotions of the humorously named, ‘Humbert Humbert’ with moments of such obvious subtlety that it borders on self-parody and mocking the religious and right-wing censors of the time – like he’s bluntly trying to get away with as much as possible without crossing the line. It’s not just suggestive, it’s very suggestive. Take the opening shot (similar to that of The Graduate), consisting only of a teenager’s soft, shining foot. A middle-aged hand delicately applies nail varnish to it, subtly rubbing its fingers against the skin as much as humanly possible. Or the shot where Humbert Humbert kisses his wife, about to make love to her, whilst all the time looking at a photograph of his wife’s daughter, Lolita, in view. The joke being that during sex, he’s not concentrating on his wife, but instead what his imagination can do. And what about the first time we see the title character? Laying in the sun, clothed in a bikini, a sun-hat, and of course, wearing those heart-shaped glasses, whilst, licking a lollipop. Oh, Kubrick you.

Sue Lyon in Lolita

Sue Lyon in Lolita

There’s a great shot in this scene, where the camera is placed behind Lolita so that Lolita’s mother and Humbert Humbert (blocked behind her) are in view. If you look closely, you can see Humbert Humbert’s eyes twitch with nervousness and sexual tension – all at a self-knowingly slutty 15 year-old girl. I think the point being that Lolita is the sexual-predator here as opposed to Humbert Humbert – who merely comes across as pathetic, and idiotically possessive. Throughout the movie, Humbert Humbert seems to care more about love and relationships, whilst Lolita seems to be driven by sex – aided by that sly allure she has.

I’m reminded of the reasons why Chris Morris made the television special of Brass Eye named ‘Paedogeddon’ – an episode mocking how paedophilia is sensationalised by the media and how children are presented as being objects of such glowing innocence and naivety, that you’d expect them to grow angel wings, a halo and make Jesus Christ look like a sinner.

Chris Morris' sharp satire on the way paedophilia was sensationalised in the media

Chris Morris’ sharp satire on the way paedophilia was sensationalised in the media

The film slowly unravels, charting Humbert Humbert’s paranoia and obsessions building. It’s surprising how throughout the film, you forget that one of the main themes of it and the book is paedophilia itself. What’s unsettling here isn’t the age gap but the power-play between the couple. Humbert Humbert wants everything his way and Lolita would gladly disagree. Is the point here being that the notion of age-gaps in relationships being something predatorial is a ludicrous idea, and what is more sexually sinister are 1950s gender-roles? I am unsure. Kubrick films have to be watched multiple times.

I think the fatal flaw of the film is the time in which it was made. Censorship is such a pointless affair. People know of paedophilia, so why prevent presenting it? Throughout, you’d probably consider Lolita to be of 18 years old, if it wasn’t for the fact that on the DVD box, the internet and the film’s taglines we are told that she is 15? Yes, the film is suggestive throughout, but implying something can only go so far. I think the film could have played out like A Clockwork Orange, simultaneously unsettling and hilarious: the film would have been more interesting if Humbert Humbert’s sexual desires appeared to be more sinister. On screen we would have had two sexual predators as opposed to one, and the question surrounding the morality of age-gaps would have been more forceful, intense and dilemma-inducing. The novel is told from first person perspective, Humbert Humbert hypnotises the reader throughout – I think the same would have worked well in the film. We never seem to understand Humbert Humbert’s motives – I think the film would have been interesting if we got inside his head via the use of voice-over. Again, A Clockwork Orange springs and leaps to mind.

Also, the film is too slow in some areas. This is typical of Kubrick: Barry Lyndon and Eyes Wide Shut are above the two-and-a-half hour mark, but this is because they have a lot of story to tell. Would the humour have been intensified if the film was more rigorously speedy in its pacing?

I feel that the film does come across as cold because it isn’t as emotionally complex for the audience as it could have been. Thus the objective direction doesn’t present us with intriguing characters to contemplate but instead ironic situations which lack the depth of Kubrick’s later work.

I think it’s also interesting to watch this, whilst knowing that some of his later films are my favourites. I can see the beginnings of a directorial style, a seed being planted, knowing throughout that something great lurks within. 37 years later, Kubrick made a masterpiece.

Kubrick's last and final film is a masterpiece: Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Kubrick’s last and final film is a masterpiece: Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Verdict:

Not nearly as complex as it should have been. I’m left with the thought that the film should produce a moral-dilemma, similar to that of A Clockwork Orange. However, watch this for the beginnings of a great-director’s talent slowly churning: the compositions, the choice of music, the meticulously slow-pacing (although this doesn’t always work here), and of course the great performances from James Mason, Peter Sellers and Sue Lyon.

This Is The End (2013)

3.5 STARS

General Information:

Information below is taken from the following link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1245492/

Director

Evan GoldbergSeth Rogen

Writers

Evan GoldbergSeth Rogen

Stars

James FrancoJonah HillSeth Rogen

Plot

This Is The End (2013)

This Is The End (2013)

A group of celebrities and glamorous people head to a party at James Franco’s house – yes, James Franco’s. However, their anarchic fun, endless drinking and drug-consuming is violently stopped when the apocalypse begins.

Review

Rihanna slapping Michael Cera in the face for fondling her bottom. Michael Cera being impaled on a sign post. Jona Hill being possessed by the devil. Seth Rogen’s house setting on fire. Emma Watson with a pick-axe. Danny McBride masturbating over an issue of Penthouse. Do I need to say more?

This Is The End is the movie where you see celebrities playing themselves, and then dying in ludicrous ways or arguing over who’s going to have a Mars Bar. It’s great entertainment and contains set-piece after set-piece, self-referential gag after self-referential gag. Half of the fun is in guessing the movie references. It’s an excellent send-up of celebrities – and also a fine genre-parody as well: taking heavy influence from apocalyptic dramas, psychological thrillers, and of course, The Exorcist. The movie takes the conventions, amps them up to 11, and ridicules them. Take the opening apocalypse sequence: cars crash into buildings, bodies fly in the air like weightless boxes being left on a see-saw; furthermore to this: random items of furniture (or bits of wall and ceiling) crush people to death. Heads and body parts fly. All of this with celebrities playing themselves. The actors are in the movie, as opposed to the characters they portray.

This Is The End doesn’t just enjoy being a self-referential parody, it relishes in it as well.

The ‘characters’ are stripped down to the bare-bones stereotypes – more importantly, the way they are portrayed in the media/in their films. Remember how in Being John Malkovich, John Malkovich is sarcastic and incredulously angry – the same here, but in a less intelligent, and more anarchical and silly kind of way. Characters don’t just refer to each other by first names or nicknames – but by full names: “It’s Seth Rogen!”, “It’s Emma Watson!”, “It’s Channing Tatum!”

However, unlike Being John Malkovich, or most recently – Cabin in The Woods, the film doesn’t concern making a statement about the film industry. Which is fine. It’s just silly camp fun. But, could it have been sillier? Could there have been more cameos. As much as I liked it, I can’t help but think that I wanted more.

This Is The End is the kind of film where after it having ended an hour ago, you realise it wasn’t as good as you originally thought it was.

Conclusion

Ridiculously silly fun, with bonkers post-modern humour. However, it’s not nearly as memorable or as impactful as it should have been.

Dogville (2003)

5 STARS

General Information:

The information from below is taken from the following link: http://www.imdb.co.uk/title/tt0276919/

15  178 min  –  Drama  –  13 February 2004 (UK)

Director

Lars von Trier

Writer

Lars von Trier

Stars

Nicole Kidman; Paul Bettany; Lauren Bacall

Plot:

Dogville (2003)

Dogville (2003)

A woman called Grace (Nicole Kidman) is on the run from a group of dangerous gangsters. She runs into a village called ‘Dogville’ and has to bargain with the people in the village to see if they will hide her from them. However, as the plot unfolds, the residents of Dogville are just as malicious and evil as the gangsters looking for Grace are…

Review:

You’d have to be absolutely insane to come up with the style in which this film involves, and completely daring to see it through. Fortunately for controversial and always experimental, Lars von Trier, it works. Really well.

Dogville is less of a film but rather a piece of filmed theatre. The setting itself is in a small village called ‘Dogville’. In the centre of the village is a road and either side of it are buildings and houses. Apparently there is a beautiful view surrounding the area. I use the word ‘apparently’ because we cannot see it. Dogville is shot inside a soundstage, and the walls surrounding this ‘village’ are black. None of the houses have walls, instead there are lines drawn onto the floor. Characters have to mime knocking on a door or opening it because there are no doors. There are some gooseberry bushes, which we cannot see, but rather it is drawn onto the floor, and characters interract with air itself pretending that they are there. There is a dog, who again, is simply drawn onto the floor, occassionally we hear a sound-effect of a dog – but we are very much aware that this is a sound-effect. When it is day-time, the walls of the soundstage are white, when it is night-time they are black. Other elements of light are created by spotlights.

Dogville (1)

Dogville (1)

Dogville (2)

Dogville (2)

The film is heavily influenced by the theatre practitioner, Bertolt Brecht – a man who believed that theatre should not emotionally draw the audience in, but rather distance them, alienate them, so as the audience questions constantly what they are seeing and thus are intellectually challenged throughout. Why, Brecht was so anti-emotion I do not know. I like the idea of showing him a Steven Spielberg film and watching his face twitch until finally his his brain turns into goo and slowly drips out of his ears and nose, simultaneously. Or something. Either way, this is an absolutely fantastic film in terms of audience-response. We are constantly reminded that none of this is real: that the characters are played by actors, that the world created is actually merely props inside a soundstage, that all the lines have been written – due to this, it is partly an investigation of the elements that make of narrative art forms, mainly: theatre and film. But this is merely subtextual reasons of how the style aids the messages of the film.

Bertolt Brecht (1898 - 1956)

Bertolt Brecht (1898 – 1956)

The film is a critique on right-wing America, a burningly vicious satire about the American dream which would quite happily rampage and trample on the white picket fence itself. Grace, a brittle innocent blonde-haired girl, excellently played by Nicole Kidman, arrives in the village running away from gangsters. There is a sense of unnerve already, do the villagers want her there or not? Is she a risk to them? I would say ‘yes’ to both, but some audience members may say ‘no’ – after all, the Brechtian influences on this film make the viewing experience very objective. In a sense, there is perhaps no definitive message, as whilst watching, we are forced to come to our own conclusions. I get a sense that because this is all filmed it is more distancing – it is often a technique to mime certain elements in theatre, and thus the audience is used to it (and perhaps even expects it). But it is so effective here, because we do not even imagine this technique being used in film. It subverts all expectations.

Later on, the police arrive, and they pin up wanted posters. Tom the moral voice thus far of the film calls a meeting, Grace leaves, and they all vote on whether Grace should stay or not. What we have here is a sharp dissection of democracy itself, delving into how political spin and personal gain are all part of the decision itself. There is a sneering hypocrisy to it all. Can a real democratic society exist? Or will it always be hindered by matters of selfishness and pride?

Either way, she is allowed to stay.

Later on in the play, more threats occur, and the tension within the community builds up again. There are more meetings, more effortless dissections on society. Now the people of Dogville want Grace to stay, but for a price. She has to work longer hours, work harder, and perform more helpful tasks for more people. Following this, she is essentially forced to stay by brutal means which I will not give away. What we have here is an excellent examination of the human condition: of how humans are essentially greedy, selfish and will progressively do anything to get what they want – of course, society mimics this harsh nature, because society is essentially a group of people. Dogville knows this, and this is what makes it a masterpiece.

Also of note is Nicole Kidman’s astonishing performance. She is an actress that I have always admired for her impecabble subtleties. As I have said countless times before, the best actors are those that do not try to act. There are moments when she will stand and stare into the distance. By acting with her eyes, she becomes a real person. This is something I admire in Lars Von Trier, ensuring that the acting is that of the utmost believability. He blends emotion with coldness. Intimacy with distancy. By combining depth of the acting with the brechtian conceit, we have a film which is emotionally engaging as well as intellectually challenging.

Nicole Kidman's subtle, but intense performance in Dogville (2003)

Nicole Kidman’s subtle, but intense performance in Dogville (2003)

As the play progresses, Grace is not only psychologically abused but also sexually abused. There is a scene where she is raped on the floor. Lars von trier shoots this at a distance, from the other end of the ‘street’. Of course, in Von Trier’s world, the audience can see everything that occurs. The message being, on the outside things appear to be innocent and normal, but dig deeper, go through the walls is a world of oppression, abuse, hypocrisy, and absolute evil. People may not believe that this sort of thing would occur – but then again, in the real world, the walls aren’t stripped away for us to see what really occurs behind closed doors.

Lars von Trier makes this message so utterly clear that it is impossible not to leave the viewing utterly depressed, but more importantly: questioning the society that we live in. Has anything really changed?

Verdict:

A masterpiece of invention and originality. Here is a film which style aids its substance to great effect; and blimey, this film has substance. It is about society, the human condition, and Art itself. Dogville will greatly benefit repeated viewings: there will be more taken from it after each watch, and this makes it even more the masterpiece.

Solaris (1972)

“Solyaris”

5 STARS

General Information

The information below is taken from the following link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0069293/

15    167 min  –  Sci-Fi  –  20 March 1972(Soviet Union)

DirectorAndrei TarkovskyWritors

Stanislaw Lem (novel); Fridrikh Gorenshtein; Andrei Tarkovsky

Stars

Natalya Bondarchuk; Donatas Banionis; Jüri Järvet 

Solaris (1972)

Solaris (1972)

Plot:

Kris Kelvin goes aboard a space station. Whilst there he discovers that his ex-wife, Hari is on there to. However, he later realises, that this isn’t a real person, but a phyicalised memory, an impression of her…

Review:

Solaris is a film so emotionally complex and dare I use the critic-cliche, ‘layered’, that it essentially urinates all over the majority of films which attempt to be ‘deep’ and ‘rich in meaning’. It is about everything and nothing – and I am fully aware that this statement makes no comprehensible sense at all. The only way that statement will ever be justified is when you watch Solaris. Of course, this statement applies with most of Tarkovsky’s work. His films are intentionally slow, and unfold like a droplet of water dripping glacially down a glass pane. Even though he is a careful and slow director, it all builds up to something significantly powerful; because his films are long, he can go into more depth than a shorter film. The power of a short film is that it can make its points with a quickening force. The power of a longer film is that it can make more points and in more depth. I find that longer films have the power to immerse you more in their universe. As you spend more time with a film, you geet used to the tempo or the rhythym of it, and thus get progressively more obsorbed into it.

It is bizarre that this film is oft compared to Kubrick’s 2001. Perhaps it’s because they’re both philosophical and set in space. Or something. I don’t know. To me, they couldn’t be more opposite. Paradoxical to Kubrick’s nature, 2001 is very optimistic; whilst Solaris is rather cynical. 2001 goes on a journey to the outer edges of space itself whilst Solaris goes to the edges of the human psyche, right into the subconscious, and beyond. And Solaris doesn’t even have any monkeys in it, to my rather large disappointment.

Tarkovsky vs Kubrick: Solaris and 2001 are often compared to one another

Tarkovsky vs Kubrick: Solaris and 2001 are often compared to one another

Solaris is a film about memory and perception, and how what we experience is related to what is actually happening. It is also about how the metaphysical concepts of truth and reality may not even exist. Our memories are evidence that we have lived in this world – yet humans are unreliable, and our perceived notion of what might have happened is naturally warped, made sentimental and romanticised.

Kelvin, a psychologist is sent on a mission to a space station. This space station is studying the eluvious planet, Solaris. The gases on this planet somehow effect the human psyche and memory itself. Kelvin then sees his ex-wife, Hari, on board the ship. This is a bizarre occurrence, as a year ago she committed suicide. However he falls in love with her again. What is stranger is that the other crew members see her as well. Kelvin is not hallucinating: his memory has taken a physicalised form. He doesn’t necessarily fall in love with his ex-wife again: he falls in love with the memory of her, the idea of her. If your partner has died, all you will be left with is the time which you sent with them.

Perhaps falling in love with a person and the idea of that person are the same thing. We cherish our experiences of people that we love, and this is how our thoughts and memories are shaped. The genius of Solaris is that it knows these many factors. Tarkovsky is a subtle director. He does not need dialogue to put across these complex notions, but merely images and sounds – which once made, he puts forward for us to interpret.

Beautiful imagery in Solaris #1

Beautiful imagery in Solaris #1

 

Beautiful imagery in Solaris #2

Beautiful imagery in Solaris #2

Complications arise. Hari begins to believe that Kelvin does not love her anymore. She becomes irratic and attempts suicide. Of course, she cannot die. Human beings can die, but memories transcend this notion, memories can never die, they live on inside the mind. Yet what makes this notion more haunting is that his memories can be seen. The presence of his memory haunts him more because she has the appearance of being real. Of course, this poses the question: is reality as real as our perception of it?

Tarkovsky takes this fantastic singular idea of a memory having a physical presence and develops it to such complex levels that it forces us to engage with the piece and engage it with our own lives.

The character of Kelvin’s memory of Hari also develops the central idea to the film. She does not know where she comes from. She has no parents or friends. The only memories she has are those with Kelvin. In this sense, she is incomplete, and she is aware of this. She of course, never tells us these things, but Tarkovsky is such a masterful director that we can interpret the look in her eyes, or the way she moves, or simply how we’d react in the situation that she’s in to understand her position. It must be horrible to think that your lover isn’t in love with you, but must be even more horrific if you know that this is because you are not even a real person, just a fictionalised construct of their imagination. Khari is a complete mystery: what she thinks, feels, and even means is unknown – she is the human form of the memory that is created after watching Solaris.

Verdict:

So mysterious in what it could mean that numerous interpretations could be drawn. Perhaps the entire film is a dream, a memory – who knows? Either way what we’re left with is a challenging film filled with beautiful shots and a haunting score, a film so organic and complex that it defies categorisation.