As If I Am Not There (2010)

4 STARS

General Information:

Information below is taken from the following link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1456477/

 Director

Juanita Wilson

Stars

Natasa Petrovic; Fedja Stukan; Jelena Jovanova

Plot:

As If I'm Not There (2010)

As If I’m Not There (2010)

Samira (Petrovic), a teacher from Sarajevo moves into a new village as a replacement teacher. Suddenly, the town is infiltrated and its inhabitants are made prisoners of war and are sent to a camp.

Review:

As If I Am Not There is a perfectly-titled and deeply human film which looks at its central female character, Samira, not as a fictional construct that follows stage-directions and speaks dialogue but as an actual human being. Perhaps this is because of the script, or lack thereof. The film contains minimal dialogue, which is very fitting to its emotional effect. We become more astute to subtle noises in the film. The most uncomfortable being that of a table shaking and creaking whilst Samir is being raped with her head forced down onto the surface. 

Following scenes of psychological and sexual abuse, our central character simply stares into the distance and tries to busy herself with something else. Due to this, she is, in a sense, a deeply relatable character – experiencing the most instinctual of emotions which we have all felt: fear, rebellion, submission, escape, anger and upset. Yet, she is also simultaneously ambiguous. Throughout we ask ourselves: what is she thinking? What lies behind that look in her eyes? Is her expression true or fake? Does she feel like she’ll ever get out? Can she even experience emotion? Does she have any friends or family? Her face is a puzzle in itself.

The eyes are the window to the soul...but what are they saying?

The eyes are the window to the soul…but what are they saying?

The film follows the narrative conventions firmly rooted in Arthouse cinema. There isn’t a plot as such, in the sense that characters don’t strive to get from A to B. Instead, there are lots of subtle events which follow on after the next – like life. The film’s main theme and idea is about human atrocity: the mass committing of sexual abuse against women in the Bosnian Civil War. The way in which the film deals with issues of rape is understated considering the amount of times it hints at or depicts it. The most memorable scene is the first time Samira is raped by three men, and then urinated on afterwards. Following this, the film presents sexual abuse by showing female characters enter the rooms looking down, and hardly able to walk. The film is more about the effects of sexual abuse than the sexual abuse itself.

 This is probably because – in my own personal opinion – the scenes are underplayed. Women slowly get undressed, looking down. There is no sign of struggle. They bend over the desk and simply wait. Once it happens, they cry and there is intense uncomfort. They then go back to their room as if nothing had happened. The latter part is the point. Although the film does focus on the horrifying acts themselves, that isn’t its prior concern. It is concerned with the aftermath: how it leaves the women. Initially, frightened. But then eventually, they feel nothing, it is part of their day to day lives. Rape has become a routine – this is why the understatement is used.

Eventually, the rape has made our central character incapable of feeling. She is brought up by the captain. He is never rough, but instead, soft and gentle She is more unsettled by this as when she is touched, it is usually in violence as opposed to caring. She has now been so desensitised that she has become incapable of love.

Although the film is dark in content, it isn’t as dark in its style. It is more moving and powerful than it is disturbing or frightening. Yet, is this a weakness? For a film which concerns that of sexual abuse quite frequently, surely it should be less dampened down and more horrific? If the film wants to be honest, the rape scenes shouldn’t be unsettling, they should be fist-clenchingly terrifying. Should rape reallybe understated?

Verdict:

Powerful drama with an interesting central performance. The minimal dialogue and the overt suggestion makes an intriguing film which will slightly unsettle and move.

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GREAT MOVIES ESSAY: Lost Highway (1997)

***CONTAINS SPOILERS***

Lost Highway (1997)

Lost Highway (1997)

Lost Highway is a film constantly on the verge of exploding. Characters react through instinct: shouting, swearing, having sex whenever the opportunity arises, committing brutal violence, sobbing, shaking and being forever paranoid. The narrative coils in on itself until past becomes future, and memory twists into reality. It at once makes perfect sense whilst simultaneously being absolutely incomprehensibly mad. It is style over substance, yet paradoxically the substance is the style – and when you re-watch it, you realise that beneath the style is actually some degree of substance – there might not even be substance, I don’t know if the word ‘substance’ can be applied to such a film, what the bloody-hell is ‘substance’ anyway?

That sentence probably didn’t make any sense, neither does Lost Highway – a lurid piece of ‘car-crash cinema’ which constantly performs ‘cinematic gymnastics’ – bending itself into bizarre, awkward positions, but thankfully, never breaking in two.

Möbius strip - where a piece of paper conjoins the beginning and the end together by coiling and twisting on itself. Many have described Lost Highway's narrative similar to this shape

Möbius strip – where a piece of paper conjoins the beginning and the end together by coiling and twisting on itself. Many have described Lost Highway’s narrative similar to this shape

David Lynch’s 1997 film is many things: a horror, a comedy, a thriller, a romance, a gangster-flick, a crime-drama, an exploitation pic, a sexploitation pic, a parody, an erotic dreamscape, a pseudo-porno, a noir, a neo-noir, maybe even a bloody road-movie.

You may watch Lost Highway and wonder why none of the characters are developed, or why the pacing flits around from slow to fast, why two actors are playing the same person, or one actor playing two different people (who simultaneously might actually be the same person), you may think David Lynch is being self-indulgent or being bizarre for bizarreness sake. If you think any of these, you’d be missing the point. Lost Highway is all storytelling, it is about the winding road of the narrative itself. It’s not about the meaning, it’s about the ride. It is confusing, baffling, unsettling, hilarious, bizarre, violent and very very sexy.

The opening shot of the film can only be described as a point-of-view shot from a car itself. In the distance we see absolutely nothing; the headlights light up the road and the yellow road-lines hurtle and spin towards us constantly, as we head towards oblivion. This image has now become iconic with David Lynch’s other infamous images, such as the baby in eraserhead, or Frank Booth breathing heavily into a gas mask.

Following this, we cut to Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) who is living with his wife, Renee Madison (Patricia Arquette). It is interesting how every synopsis of the film states that Fred thinks that his wife is cheating on him, yet this notion is never mentioned in any dialogue in the film. It is all implied through visuals and the physicality of the actors. The dialogue exchanges between Fred and Renee are small and diluted. There are countless awkward silences. There is no passion, no intimacy, and this is bizarrely quite unsettling. Furthermore to this, when they have sex, what we have is an incredibly unsettling and awkward sex scene. It is done in slow-motion, a cliched technique perhaps. Not so here. Each shot is a medium shot – and we see both of their faces in view, extreme close-ups are never used, so what we have is a sex scene done almost objectively, slowing everything down so we can see the emotion on the character’s faces. During this scene, Fred Madison looks physically uncomfortable, as if he is in pain somewhere, there is no pleasure at all, and his wife Renee stares blankly into the distance. Sex scenes are usually always emotional, and if they’re done in slow-motion, the previous statement is further accentuated. Not here. It is unsettling how David Lynch warps one of the most intimate acts into an uncomfortable scene, and then heightens it by using slow-motion so effectively (a technique which I usually despise, but here works). Immediately, with out any trigger events to kick off the film’s narrative, we know that something is not quite right, and this is through Lynch’s genius at creating uncomfortable atmospheres through simple yet inventive ways – like the gas mask in Blue Velvet.

Following this, we begin to get some form of narrative develop, and we think that Lost Highway is turning into an unsettling psychological horror. The couple begin to recieve video-tapes, the footage being of their house, and later on, footage of them sleeping.

Fred and Renee's unsettling relationship is recorded on camera for us and them to see...

Fred and Renee’s unsettling relationship is recorded on camera for us and them to see…

But this is a David Lynch film, what we think the genre may start off as, will definitely warp and change like plastecine. Lost Highway is a film which can be considered to have elements of multiple genres and due to this, it refuses to be categorised.

Later on, we see Fred Madison watch footage of himself screaming pscyhotically in front of his wife’s dead body, whilst covered in blood. The Fred watching the footage looks confused, this never happened, we just saw his wife a few minutes ago, she’s still in the house…or is she? Is it the same house? Is it the same Fred Madison? Did the characters change in the space of one cut? Perhaps they didn’t – it is difficult to work out. And this is the point.

And then before we know it, Fred is sentenced, and put on death-row. But is this the same Fred we know? Are we actually still watching the footage which seconds ago, Fred was watching looking utterly terrified and confused. It is never revealed. and then the film spirals even more out of control. In a sense our interpretations control our opinions on the characters, as they conclude whether one section is dream, reality, and if it happens in a fake or an imagined location. In a sense, the viewer is made to choose directorial decisions.

In his prison cell, Fred starts to develop severe head-aches, the pain begins to extend itself in the outside world, the camera shakes violently, the sound of electricity is heard and blue sparks of energy strike across the cell. The guards then check the cell to reveal two surprises:

1) Fred Madison is not in the prison cell

2) Somebody else has replaced him

We presume that the electricity and the severe head-aches are signifiers to the cause of what has happened – it is hinted that Fred Madison has turned into the new character, Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty). But even this, we are unsure of.

What we now see – in my opinion – is a parallel universe which perhaps exists in another dimension, or arguably, in Fred Madison’s head. In this world, Renee Madison is now Alice Wakefield (performed by the same actress, but in a blonde wig). Eddy – or ‘Dick Laurent’ – suspects that his wife is cheating on him…ironically, with the ‘reincarnation’ (?) of Fred Madison. In the opening world, Fred Madison murders his wife (?), but here, he murders his wife’s lover (who may be an extension of Fred Madison, as they are both married to Patricia Arquette’s characters).

What we have here is a film constantly interracting with the viewer, forcing you to question what has happened and why. Lynch says that he dislikes people asking for meanings to his film, and preferrs viewers to come to their own interpretations. I think Lost Highway is about male anxiety and identity, the longing to be someone else or your situation to occur to another person. Perhaps the second world we see is inside Fred Madison’s head and all of the character’s are an extension of him and the people he has met. Yet this theory contradicts himself. If Fred turns into Pete Dayton, we have a clash of personalities. Pete Dayton has an affair with Alice Wakefield, and the former Fred Madison would disaprove of that. If Fred Madison does turn into Pete Dayton, Fred Madison’s character is ironically more closely connected to Eddy as he suspects his wife of having an affair. What we have here is a blurring of identity, characters turning into other characters who their previous selves would disapprove of. There former friends become their enemies.

Yet through all of these contrasts of motifs and identity, there are some things that stay the same – just about. In both worlds, we have the character only known as ‘The Mystery Man’, a bald painted man who’s weapon is a sinister grin and a camera.

'The Mystery Man' in David Lynch's 1997 film, Lost Highway

‘The Mystery Man’ in David Lynch’s 1997 film, Lost Highway

Perhaps the link to unlocking the film’s mysteries is said in a quote at the beginning by Fred Madison when he states why he does not like cameras: “I like to remember things my own way. How I remembered them, not necessarily the way they happened.” The Mystery Man is the only constant force in the film, and we get the sense that he is the driving force of the movie, the person that controls all of the events, memories, how they happened and how they didn’t happen, and then records them for us to see – he is David Lynch characterised.

This is the first part of David Lynch’s ‘LA Trilogy’, three films that concern Los Angeles, filmaking, and film-watching. We are shown Fred and Renee watching a film, The Mystery Man making one, Alice Wakefield starring in a pornographic film, and then later watching said film being projected. In a sense, the film is almost about itself, and it maintains a form of self-aware brechtian-esque feel to it, and due to this, its difficult and challenging appeal is heightened. Throughout it pays homage to numerous genres. Noir: the image of the femme-fatale, sexually alluring, lips covered in red, and eyes which have a deadly fetishistic appeal. Perhaps even horror: the sequence where a man’s head goes straight through a glass coffee table, his head has a huge piece of glass inserted into it, and blood splatters all over the flaw.  Here, it’s as if David Lynch takes a genre, all of its conventions and amps them up so that they become extremely obvious. It’s a bizarre place betwen self-parody and something quite unsettling. For example, the Mystery Man. When we first see him, his dialogue is ripen with cliches: “We’ve met before haven’t we?, “I’m there right now.” We don’t know whether to laugh at the ludicrousness of the cliches or feel disturbed, because the person who’s speaking these is covered in white paint and has a creepy grin.

In Lost Highway, you don’t know whether to laugh or cry, but you definitely enjoy the ride.

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.

Cinematography

Cinematography. The art of setting an atmosphere via visuals or simply making the frame look visually impressive. Often underrated as aspects  such as screenwriting, directing or acting are more commonly praised. This is bizarre considering the fact that cinematography is at the heart of cinema itself, since it is concerned with expressing an idea, stimulating an emotion or telling an idea simply through visuals.

Rambling aside, here’s a lovely piece of expressionistic cinematography concerned with spring and nature. It is visually dazzling and has awe-inspiring colours and extreme-close-ups. Please watch.

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.

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.