Thursday, July 22, 2010

Enter the Void (2009, Noé)

Rating: ***

Dumbfounded, awe-struck and annoyed, the viewer of Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void (2009) is constantly dared not to admire the film’s bold concept and stupefying ambition. The director most openly infatuated with the idea of turning the subliminal into the sublime, unleashes his stroboscope-throbbing ego to a degree that’s both embarrassing and commands respect. His interests never less than elemental, Noé didn’t have many stops left for pulling out after the father-daughter incest of I Stand Alone (1998) and the Irreversible (2002) rape scene. Enter the Void concludes his trilogy of culturally forbidden sex, adding a brother-sister semi-incestuous relationship to the collection.

The movie, quite hefty at its 154 minutes, is separated into a series of sequences that are fairly linear, with one clearly indicated big flashback and one dream sequence. It’s shot almost entirely from the point of view of the main character, and for the most part from the p.o.v. of his soul, floating around Tokyo after it escaped the killed body of the protagonist. That results in a whole lot of overhead shots that make the hotel scene from DePalma’s Snake Eyes (1998) look like TV hack job.

That compels the actors to deliver physically difficult performances, almost devoid of any chance for facial expressions caught in close-ups. After the sensual assault of the opening credits (which happen to be the end credits as well) is over, the film takes on a steady – if occasionally grueling – pace, sometimes broken by a violent visual or sonic slap, delivered mostly for visceral kicks.

It wasn’t until the famed shot of an erect penis thrusting at the camera and releasing a flow of CGI-semen (which quite literally brings our hero back to life), that some members of the Wrocławian audience walked out. In fact, this is the gentlest and most heartfelt scene in the movie. Earlier on, we see the woman character placing her positive pregnancy test on top of the cover of “The Tibetan Book of Dying”, which harkens back to Monica Bellucci’s joyous pee in the finale (?) of Irreversible, when the news of the baby coming was deemed ominous by the 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) poster hovering above her.

This post mortem odyssey – not entirely unlike The Lovely Bones (2009) in its premise – is as ridiculous and moving as the huge fluorescent “Love Hotel” in the final sequence: an establishment where the penises and vaginas glow in the dark and life itself is actually created: all caught in the relentless, insane swirl of Noé’s floating camera.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Kimberly Reed Interview

Here’s my interview with the director of the great Prodigal Sons (2010), Kimberly Reed, conducted when she was visiting Cracow LBGT Film Festival earlier that year. Thanks to Keith Uhlich of "The House Next Door", it has now a chance to reach a wider readership.

Here’s my original post on the movie.

Dogtooth (2009, Lanthimos)

Rating: ****

In its goals and methods, Doogtooth is not entirely unlike Haneke’s White Ribbon (2009) – the big difference being that Lanthimos doesn’t conceal the fact that the world he’s depicting is an entirely ingenious and self-contained artifact. The movie, which tells a story of a family run by an über-controlling father bent on redacting his kids’ reality so that it doesn’t include any unwanted “stimuli”, is so offhand in its ways that it’s quite astonishing how Lanthimos manages to deliver complex narrative feedback (in spades!), and yet never lose the tone of an entirely episodic, seemingly casual family chronicle.

Its biggest virtue is how it doesn’t succumb to a temptation of being merely a carbon-copy parable of a totalitarian state, but instead plunges into the flexed mindsets of all the players involved. A movie about the inner workings of a reality borne out of fantasy can easily become overtly metaphorical (the case of Saura’s The Garden of Delights [1970]), or generic (Shyamalan’s The Village [2004]). Instead, Lanthimos chooses the path of an investigative role-play, in which the audience is given bits and pieces of information, and has to glue them all together as the movie goes.

What cracks the father’s perfect family-unit-bubble asunder is precisely what he was fearing – that is, mass culture. (One terrific scene has him translating – and doctoring – Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon” to the point of it becoming a family-values anthem). Video rentals of Rocky (1976) and Jaws (1975) suddenly widen the verbal scope of one of the kids to the point of a wild quasi-prophetic outburst, and nothing is ever the same again. That way, it’s the language itself that takes the form of the Terence Stamp-like sex-Massiah in this exquisite new take on Pasolini’s Teorema (1968).

A great movie, and a major talent to be heralded by all.