“I was really surprised at the success of Blue Movie. It was a film that should have startled all sexy film lovers because it was an anti-establishment film.” -Director Alberto Cavallone (commentary from the documentary included as bonus material on the DVD).
DIRECTED BY: Alberto Cavallone
FEATURING: Danielle Dugas, Claude Maran, Joseph Dickson, Dirce Funari, Leda Simonetti
PLOT: A photographer’s exposure to the images of war leaves him with a warped sense of reality. What others consider beauty enrages him and provokes him to abuse a trio of women in his life.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Numerous hallucination scenes, grainy war footage and the overall fragmented film style provide Blue Movie with a nightmare/dream logic. Its softcore sex, scat, urination and heavily misogynist vibe will make it unsavory for many viewers. It is not without some weirdness, but Blue Movie is more unsettling than weird.
COMMENTS: Blue Movie opens with a woman fleeing an attempted rape. The woman is Sylvia who is picked up by photographer Claudio and taken to his home. Sylvia’s recollection of her assault does not match the visuals we are shown. Claudio questions her story, which Sylvia admits is not completely truthful; despite this he gives her shelter. While Sylvia’s story may not have been accurate there is no doubt she has been traumatized. She has flashbacks and hallucinations of being attacked. (One hallucination, of an arm reaching for her from a blood-filled bathtub, is too similar to a scene from William Castle‘s The Tingler to be ignored).
We are then introduced to model Daniela. Claudio is verbally abusive to Daniela, who barely reacts to the ill-treatment. She tells Claudio “Every time I look myself in the mirror, I see that you were right. My face isn’t worth anything. I can no longer put up with myself. I’m fed up with what I am, Claudio, please, help me.”
The photographer meets a third woman, Leda, in a cafe. Leda has no money to pay for the coffee she has been drinking and offers the barista sex in exchange for payment. Claudio settles her bill and brings her back to his place. The town Leda is from was destroyed by an earthquake, and she offers to do work for Claudio, who makes her his secretary.
With the exception of a male character who is never named (IMDB credits him as “il negro”), these are the only people who inhabit Blue Movie‘s world. Claudio, the film’s antagonist, has clearly been affected by the images of war he has been exposed to. This is visualized by a barrage of grainy war footage scattered throughout the film. In the DVD commentary Claude Maran (the actor who plays Claudio) states his character had returned from Vietnam. Claudio possesses a collection of slides. He explains: “I began being a photographer when I was working as a printer for a war reporter. Those photos of mangled people, I could have snapped them. It was then that I became interested in cans.” This comment seems to indicate he had not actually been to Vietnam; either way, Claudio is one messed up cat.
The trio of women are a damaged group also. Daniela in particular consents to her abuse, believing she deserves it. Her imprisonment and subsequent humiliation is a hard watch. It is difficult to relay Blue Movie‘s story because it is somewhat plotless. We basically watch Claudio interact with the three women, always individually, like a dirty reality TV show. Cavallone includes a number of interesting and creative shots I found quite pleasing. Blue Movie has a very nice nightmarish, almost surreal feeling about it. The attractive cast, well-chosen props, sets and locations along with a soundtrack consisting of Bach and Scott Joplin added to the film’s watchability. I was especially fond of the finale. Although Blue Movie is downright illogical at times, I felt it was Cavallone’s intention to allow the viewer a peek at the perceived events of a fragmented mind. Be warned that Blue Movie is as trashy as it is artful: its perversion, madness, trauma, bodily fluids and softcore sex will be unpalatable for many. The scat scenes will be the most likely to engrave themselves into the memory. Daniela, kept locked in a room where she is treated like an animal, is asked to leave “an offering” in exchange for food. She defecates in a litter box and then scrapes her feces into empty cigarette packages. She is later photographed by Claudio while covering herself in her own feces.
Blue Movie was made on a low-budget and shot over seven days with non-professional actors who had no script to follow. Most of it was filmed in the home of producer Marial Boschero in Via Dei Giubbonari, Italy ,with location shoots in Santa Maria Di Galeria, “The Dead City,” a photographer’s studio in Via Della Camilluccia, and Lungo Tevere Tor Di Nona. Two prints of the film exist: a 16mm Italian theatrical release and a pirated 8mm version. Hardcore sex scenes were removed from the film for the theatrical release but exist on the pirated version. These scenes are included as bonus material on the DVD. This is the third DVD I have purchased from Raro Video and I have been suitably impressed, particularly considering the low price. The Blue Movie DVD comes with an eleven page booklet, “Blue Extreme,” a thorough 44-minute documentary on the making of the film, and deleted scenes taken from a 8mm pirated print. The picture quality transferred from the 16mm print is above average.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“… a truly unique, albeit bizarre viewing experience.”–Michael Den Boer, 10,000 Bullets (DVD)
See GOREGIRL’S DUNGEON ON TUMBLR for more (not-safe-for-work) stills from the film
DIRECTED BY: Lars von Trier
FEATURING: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård, Stacy Martin, Uma Thurman, Willem Dafoe
PLOT: A sex addict tells the story of her troubled life to an older man as he tends wounds left from a violent assault.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Although horrific, there is nothing here that stretches too far beyond the extremes of real-life addiction. It’s shocking, even grotesque, but not all that strange.
COMMENTS: Despite his reputation for pushing boundaries and drawing attention, I often found myself wondering what all the fuss was over the movies made by Lars Von Trier. I felt that he too often focused on raw, sometimes unbearable footage—female genital mutilation just isn’t all that fun for me to watch on screen—to get the desired effect from audiences, and that his use of weighty concepts (the death penalty, Christ allegories) to balance shock with substance was contrived. It seemed cheap to me to play on the emotions of a person simply for the sake of effect or to make the movie more memorable. This particular perception of Von Trier as an artist changed for me after watching Nymphomaniac, and I began to become more engaged with his stylistic techniques, as well as become fascinated by his (and the casts and crews that he works with) sheer bravery. I suddenly became hooked on this man’s work and his unusual talent for getting his audience to connect with characters in his films. I paid closer attention to the psychological terrorism of Antichrist and got in touch with why Von Trier chooses to be so shamelessly relentless: for sheer effectiveness I believe. He respects us by refusing to censor the human experience in any way.
Nymphomaniac is Von Trier’s longest (considering parts I and II as the same movie), most polished, brutal, and memorable film to date. I would rank it among the all-time epically foul sex sagas. It really is a horror film that presents itself in the form of an intense relationship-based drama. The horrifying elements of the film stay true to form for a von Trier outing; they are deeply psychological. Instead of gasping at Joe’s (the protagonist, played by Gainsbourg and Stacy Martin) lack of self-control (which is depicted in fully pornographic sex scenes of varying intensity), the audience is rather pulled towards terror by witnessing the sheer destruction that comes forth from the actions committed by all of the film’s characters. It is a labyrinth of hurt. A noteworthy example would be when Joe inadvertently convinces a man to leave his wife (played by a nearly unrecognizable Uma Thurman) and kids to come live with her. What follows is a mental breakdown by the Mrs. in front of her young children, all while Joe stares indifferently at the whole scene, totally unaffected and in the darkness of the void of addiction. It’s disturbing to watch.
The entire movie unfolds as a single conversation held between an older, seemingly asexual man named Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard, in his best performance yet) and Joe. We then watch and listen to the story of Joe’s life as an active sexual addict, including the horrors of her decisions and the abuse that circles through and around her. Skarsgard’s Seligman gives the movie an academic, non-sexual grounding that counters the brutality on display. He is nearly a saint to her throughout the film, a kind of hope that exists in the murk of brutality. We watch him show compassion and understanding while he comforts her, never judging, frequently quite forthcoming and innocently curious. The dynamic development and conclusion of this central relationship is one of the most interesting (and surprising) parts of the film, serving as a kind of base from which Joe’s story can grow its ugly, gnarling branches.
The depraved behavior that we see these characters engage in is ghastly and cruel, but it’s all so beautifully shot and presented that the pornographic elements become more like a reflection of reality than a means of cheaply shocking viewers. It all remains fairly wacky and demented, with a gradual progression into complete despair that left this reviewer dumbfounded. It is perhaps too grounded in reality, too obsessed with raw humanity to be considered “weird,” but it in no way lacks edge. It’s filled to the brim with raw, brutal violence, actual porn, and consistently amoral characters. It is often mean-spirited, in a comic way. Von Trier is still a prankster, and he pulls the rug out from under us more than once here. In some ways, Nymphomaniac is like a four-hour long, beautifully disgusting joke. It’s a sexy void. I have only seen it once, and I don’t really plan on watching it again, but I’m absolutely positive I will never forget it.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“It’s very weird, given, but it’s also effective.”–Tom Long, The Detroit News (Vol. II, contemporaneous)
We’ll be starting off next week sexy, as Ryan Aarset considers Lars von Trier‘s explicit Nymphomaniac and Terri McSorely gives us the score on 1978′s sado-perverse Blue Movie. Meanwhile, G. Smalley hopes to stake out a position on Jim Jarmusch‘s much-anticipated take on the vampire genre, Only Lovers Left Alive, while Alfred Eaker continues his 25th anniversary mini-series with a “fond” look back at Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (the one where the Enterprise goes looking for God in space).
Sometimes a single, innocuous word can change a kinda weird search term into a contender for our Weirdest Search Term of the Week. Such is the case with “free video of blowfly lavera being removed from human flesh,” because it implies that videos of blowfly larvae being removed from human flesh is normally something people would expect to have to pay to see. More straightforward in its weirdness is the search for “trash movie with duck zilla and noah,” which is something we’d probably pay to see. And we’d definitely pay to see the official winner of our Weirdest Search Term of the Week contest: “asian kids show with strange creature that shoots blood from rear end.” But then, we’re weird.
Here’s how the ridiculously-long-and-ever-growing reader-suggested review queue stands: Nymphomaniac (next week!); Abnormal: The Sinema of Nick Zedd; Rubin & Ed; The Real McCoy; Themroc; Candy (1968); The Fox Family; Angelus; Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs; Yokai Monsters, Vol. 1: Continue reading WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE
Rattle is a gruesome illustration of the darker side of human nature. With each image stronger than the last, it’s one that won’t be easy to forget.
CONTENT WARNING: This film contains strong scenes of violence.
Our weekly look at what’s weird in theaters, on hot-off-the-presses DVDs, and on more distant horizons…
Trailers of new release movies are generally available on the official site links.
IN THEATERS (WIDE RELEASE):
Lucy (2014): Luc Besson directs Scarlett Johansson as a woman who develops nearly omnipotent psychic powers after being accidentally dosed with an experimental drug. The trailer makes this movie look particularly stupid, and we would have avoided mentioning it if not for early reviews proclaiming that it “ends as a bad LSD trip” (Rolling Stone) and talking up “the sheer weirdness of Lucy‘s imagery…” (A.V. Club). Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, “Lucy” is a slang term for LSD. Lucy official site.
SCREENINGS – (Cinefamily, Los Angeles, July 25-27):
“Sexperiments: A Collection of Turned-on Cinema”: Three nights of libidinous cinematic excess at the venerable Tinseltown institution. Friday night is “a collection of turned-on shorts” featuring obscene experimental movies of the 196os and 1970s, headlined by Warhol/Velvet Underground associate Barbara Rubin’s pre-hippy body painting/orgy film Christmas on Earth (1963), with live musical accompaniment. Saturday and Sunday’s features turn to the X-rated work of Stephen Sayadian, with the post-apocalyptic sex tale Cafe Flesh screening Saturday night (with Sayadian and writing collaborator Jerry Stahl in attendance), followed by the Surrealist porn flick Nightdreams on Sunday. Altogether, it promises to be an erotically exhausting weekend of bizarro sexiness for lusty Los Angelinos. Promo for Sexperiments: “A Collection of Turned-on Cinema at Cinefamily” (warning: trailers are NSFW).
Overlook Hotel (est. 2015): Mark Romanek is in negotiations to helm a prequel to The Shining, showing how evil took root at the Overlook Hotel. Fans of both Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick are already expressing emotions ranging from nervous skepticism to premature outrage. Variety has the scoop.
NEW ON DVD:
“The Essential Jacques Demy”: The Criterion Collection releases a 13-disc (!) DVD?Blu-ray combo set of the works of the famed French musical director. The only film of particular interest to us is the 1970 fairy tale adaptation Donkey Skin, wherein a princess (Demy muse Catherine Deneuve) magically disguises herself as a donkey to avoid marrying her father (!!). Also includes the five features Lola, Bay of Angels, Umbrellas of Cherbourg, The Young Girls of Rochefort, and Une Chambre en Ville, along with four Demy short films, three documentaries, and all the usual Criterion bibelots. Buy “The Essential Jacques Demy” [Criterion Collection Blu-ray + DVD].
NEW ON BLU-RAY:
“The Essential Jacques Demy”: See description in DVD above. Buy “The Essential Jacques Demy” [Criterion Collection Blu-ray + DVD].
FREE (LEGITIMATE RELEASE) MOVIES ON THE WEB:
Evil Brain from Outer Space (1964): Undercover alien superhero Starman fights an evil brain and its band of mutant henchmen. Edited together from three different Japanese films, with about half the original footage removed and furious voiceovers racing to explain why new characters keep popping up all the time, this is the most incoherent of the four Starman features unleashed on unsuspecting American kids in the early 1960s. Given the strangeness of Attack from Space, that’s quite a feat!
What are you looking forward to? If you have any weird movie leads that I have overlooked, feel free to leave them in the COMMENTS section.
A quarter century after its debut, Tim Burton‘s Batman (1989) is still among the brightest of the comic book genre films; an odd thing, given how dark it is. However, Burton’s Batman has a glamorous darkness. Burton was young, energetic, and at the top of his game in 1989. His interpretation of the caped crusader remains groundbreaking and is more astute than Christopher Nolan‘s The Dark Knight (2008). Nolan went the mile to distance the avenger from his comic book origins. Burton embraces the source material.
Upon Batman‘s monstrously hyped release, many critics lamented the dominant personality of Jack Nicholson‘s Joker as compared to the title character. In hindsight, Nicholson’s killer clown seems less innovative than Heath Ledger’s radically different interpretation. Today, it is easier to recognize Michael Keaton’s Bruce Wayne as the eye of Tim Burton’s hurricane: he inhabits the quintessential capitalist fantasy. In a case of shrewd casting, Keaton’s Batman has no extraterrestrial powers, nor does he even look like he has spent his life in the gym. Rather, Wayne is fabulously wealthy and it is all those “wonderful toys,” bought by all that wonderful money, that makes him an all-American noir Superman, free to wreck vengeance upon a fascistic Gotham’s lower criminal element. Like Humphrey Bogart and Gary Cooper before him, Keaton went through the script, pruning his dialogue down to the bare essentials, making this an internalized performance.
Burton’s casting inspired controversy among unimaginative comic book fanatics, who only saw Keaton in his previous comic roles. The actor and director proved them wrong. Christian Bale‘s Wayne, in the Nolan films, resorts to a dull playboy act. Keaton’s Wayne can’t help revealing that he has as many screws loose as his alter ego. Burton says in less than ten minutes what Nolan takes an entire film to tell: Vicky Vale (Kim Basinger) and Alexander Knox (Robert Wuhl) stumble upon a hidden Wayne manor room of armor and weaponry, explaining the inspiration for the costumed alter ego.
From Boss Grissom’s mafioso penthouse to the Axis chemical plant and a quack surgeon’s back alley office, Anton Furst’s set design is among his best (in an impressive career that unfortunately ended with the artist’s suicide in 1991). Also noteworthy are Roger Pratt’s cinematography, Bob Ringwood’s costuming and Danny Elfman’s resonant, Wagnerian score, all done under the guidance of Burton, elevating pulp into anarchic poetry. Like the Burton-helmed sequel, Batman consistently surprises enough to nearly render its flaws secondary.
Nicholson’s Jack Napier shines most when he wrecks havoc upon pop culture, sabotaging consumer products and brooding over popular media’s not so subliminal sales tactics. The chief flaw of the film lies in a lack of a substantial female character, which Batman Returns (1992) remedied in spades. Vale is merely there as a decoration for Bruce Wayne’s arm. A second noticeable flaw is in the intrusive music by Prince (otherwise, a very good artist during his youthful prime). However, the related MTV videos were considerably better, and a wonderful example of how big a pop phenomenon Batman was.
Homages to Fritz Lang‘s Metropolis (1927), Alfred Hitchcock‘s Vertigo (1958), and The Wizard of Oz (1939) are prominent, but, for the most part, Burton keeps cinematic references down to a minimum, something he would not do in Batman Returns (1992). Naturally, Tim Burton’s Batman is not as much guilty pleasure fun as “Scooby Do Meets Batman” or “Superfriends,” and it certainly isn’t the delicious morsel that Adam West gave in his legendary camp take on the character. Yet, Burton manages to make a tale of two sociopaths, spawned from the gutter, into highly stylized entertainment.
Batman was birthed by the then new graphic novel trend, most notable Frank Miller’s “Dark Knight.” The script was written by Sam Hamm and Warren Skaaren, based on Bob Kane’s original characters. The violence in Batman is comic bookish and stately: the Joker fries a mafioso with a hidden hand buzzer, and the murder of boss Grissom is devoid of blood. At times, the film seems to be enveloped in a Tex Avery ‘toon: after mating with his girlfriend, Wayne hangs upside like a bat, the Batplane soars upward to the moon (creating a bat signal), a joker card is flipped over with Carl Stalling-like sound effects foreshadowing Napier’s fate, the Joker’s hand melodramatically emerges from acid, the silhouetted Caped Crusader moves like wet ink atop a roof, and the Joker shoots down the Batplane with a gun that looks like it might have been ordered from Acme supplies. The henchmen are really not too far removed from Cesar Romero’s sycophants. Batman is crepuscular, and, thankfully, it’s never realistic.
Apart from Heath Ledger, Nolan’s believed-to-be superior Dark Knight is devoid of humorous touch and is so utilitarian, with one plot too many, that it is doubtful the film would have worked without the late actor’s turn as a pathological clown.
Unfortunately, neither Burton nor Keaton went beyond their two entries in the series. Perhaps a man dressed up like a bat might revitalize both artists.
DIRECTED BY: Crispian Mills, Chris Hopewell
FEATURING: Simon Pegg, Alan Drake, Amara Karan, Paul Freeman
PLOT: A neurotic writer researching a book on serial killers develops a fear of everything (but especially of laundrettes); when he has an important meeting he decides to face his fear and wash his socks.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s a bit weird, sure, but in a random, disjointed way, as if the co-directors weren’t sure what to do with the material and kept spinning the film off in a new direction, hoping this next one would lead somewhere.
COMMENTS: As we begin Everything, Jack (the redoubtable Simon Pegg) is a shaggy-headed shut-in who carries a butcher knife everywhere with him to defend against imaginary murderers. A former children’s author, Jack decided to stretch his talents by writing a teleplay about Victorian serial killers; his obsessive research into the insidious poisoning techniques of the Hendon Ogre and his ilk shattered his naturally sensitive temperament and sent him into a seething pit of paranoia. If this sounds like tough subject matter to milk for comedy to you, you’d be right; although, utilizing a combination of superglue and dirty socks, the offbeat script does manage to dredge up some farce from the pit of despair. Two lip-sync dance numbers—a gangsta rap performed by Pegg and an ironic boombox version of Europe’s “The Final Countdown”—cut through the depressive gloom with welcome wackiness, but in general the movie struggles to find a comic tone. Although Pegg’s performance hits the right notes of hysteria, his Jack is so riddled by anxieties that it’s hard to laugh at him. Pegg also spends about a third of the movie in filthy underwear, which is more pathetic and upsetting than funny. Fortunately, there is a lot of extraneous stuff going on to distract us from the movie’s nerve-wracking protagonist—eyeball hallucinations, self-aware Psycho references, paper doll reenactments of famous murders, creepy anthropomorphic stop-animated children’s stories, guided meditation with a pirate psychologist—and thus Everything manages to remain watchable by keeping itself busy.
Everything writer/director Crispian Mills is better known as a musician; he brought in music video specialist and animator Chris Hopewell to help out as a co-director. The uncommonly literary script (full of self-deprecating jokes about the foibles of writers and their similarity to serial killers) is an adaptation of a Bruce Robinson novella. Pegg seems to have been drawn into the project as part of a push by Pinewood studios to promote low-budget British filmmaking. The hodge-podge of talents and influences here never really coheres, nor is it incoherent in a particularly fascinating way. The movie gets by on bursts of creativity, but never develops the consistently crazy energy it needs. Simon Pegg’s personal draw aside, Everything isn’t much of anything: it’s too strange to be a mainstream success, but not eccentric enough to work as a weird film. It’s a misfit even among would-be cult films.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…a singularly bizarre new horror comedy, both exhilarating and frustrating: it allows for Pegg to stretch as an actor, going to some pretty whacked out places, but the film itself ultimately stalls out, leaving a great performance at the heart of a movie most won’t particularly care for.”–Drew Taylor, Indiewire (contemporaneous)
DIRECTED BY: Peter Mettler
FEATURING: Peter Mettler (narration)
PLOT: Documentarian Peter Mettler interviews people from various walks of life about their thoughts on time, using poetic footage of lava flows, particle accelerators, and digital mandalas as visual backgrounds.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: While The End of Time is way, way outside the average filmgoer’s wheelhouse, despite a few acid flashback moments, it’s not really weird per se. It is also somewhat overshadowed by similar visionary non-narrative documentaries like Samsara and the Koyaanisqatsi trilogy, more expensive productions that achieve more spectacular vistas.
COMMENTS: The subjects of The End of Time include a 1960 record-setting skydiving free-fall from over 100,000 above the earth, lava flows on a volcanic island, and a squadron of ants bearing away a grasshopper’s corpse. None of this has much to do in particular with time, and yet it all does, because time is inescapable (despite the documentary’s occasional implication that time is an illusion). Rather than talking about time per se, the narration begins with the words “in the beginning there were no names,” and as the movie slowly flows and curls about like magma it returns periodically to what appears to be that central point: ultimate reality is inexpressible, and language (and abstract concepts like “time”) are our feeble (and possibly counterproductive) attempts to freeze and analyze the endless flux of reality. At least, that’s my view of Mettler’s position; the documentary is ostensibly time-neutral, giving equal weight to all experiences. Speakers are never identified by name or credentialed, and so the doc gives the same weight to the particle physicist’s opinions as those of the guru, the hermit, the artist colony potter, and a woman I’m guessing is the director’s grandma. Some of the earnestly proffered opinions, particularly the New Age-y ruminations from the granola crowd, are easy to mock, but please resist the urge. It is so rare for people to actually discuss grand, abstract concepts in movies in an irony-free way that it’s incredibly refreshing, and I’d hate to discourage future explorers from setting out towards similar territory.
Philosophy aside, the cinematography (by Mettler, Camille Budin, and Nick de Pencier) makes End of Time worth your time. Mettler draws visual parallels between the circular construction of particle accelerators and Hindu mandalas, between a corpse carried on a funeral bier and a meal carried away by ants. In between monologues Mettler throws in pastoral passages of eye poetry: stars dissolve into snowflakes, and we see a cat in a field quietly perceiving time in his own way, then camera draws back to show the same footage on a big screen television in an editing studio. The most remarkable scenes are the mesmerizing flows of magma from an active volcano; it’s amazing how quickly the outside edges cool to a black crust while the inside still glows red hot, and the entire mass creeps along, knocking down trees and incinerating the ferns that grew up since the earth’s mantle last leaked to the surface. The final act is a lysergic digital freakout presumably representing “the end of time,” beginning with the extinction of the sun, which turns into a bunch of glowing green mandalas and segues into a cosmic Malickian montage. The overall result—abstract and meandering, sometimes deep, sometimes pretentious, beautiful but frequently slow as molasses—is definitely not for all tastes. At times the movie gets a little too trippy-hippy-dippy for it’s own good, leaning too far to the “far out, man” end of the profundity spectrum. But you have to give Mettler much credit for his courage in thinking big and tackling deep questions that would terrify less ambitious filmmakers.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“There’s a touch of the acid mindset here, certainly: towards the end, many of Mettler’s images come together in an abstract montaged freak-out that might have made a very effective credits sequence, but feels too trippily ‘heyy-wowww’ when incorporated into the main body of the film. At moments, The End of Time come perilously close to a tone of nebulous new-age amazement, a touch too Koyaanisqatsian for comfort.”–Johnathan Romney, Film Comment
DIRECTED BY: Ari Folman
FEATURING: Robin Wright, Harvey Keitel, John Hamm, Danny Huston, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Sami Gayle, Paul Giamatti
PLOT: Robin Wright has reached the worst time for actresses: middle age. The roles have started to dry up, and her reputation for being particular has not helped at all. She is persuaded to accept a deal from Miramount Studio to have herself digitally scanned and her image, kept young, used by the studio for its projects for 20 years, in exchange for a hefty sum of cash and agreeing to never act again.
20 years later, on the contract’s expiration, she attends The Congress—a studio convention featuring new technology allowing people to transform themselves into animated avatars. The studio wants to extend their deal with Robin, which would allow anyone to virtually “be” her.
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST:: This is a visual and intellectual feast for the eyes and mind, in a way that is graspable for the average viewer. Plus, there are so many visual references in the animation, it will reward multiple viewings.
COMMENTS: For all of the trippy mind-bending wonderfulness of The Congress —and for those who enjoy weird films, there’s quite a bit to like—it’s the Hollywood satire and visual allusions (to Max Flesicher, Bakshi [in spirit and 'tude], Kubrick, and lots of others) that makes it special. The most arresting visual image is the opening close up of Robin Wright, sans makeup, as her agent (Harvey Keitel, in a notable supporting role) berates her for her previous career choices. It’s probably the bravest performance you’ve seen from an actress in a LONG time.
The movie uses Stanslaw Lem’s 1971 novel “The Futurological Congress” as the starting point to get into the weirdness, but it takes a good half hour to set that up and provide the necessary grounding. Underneath the bitter satire and trippy visuals, The Congress is ultimately about identity, and how it becomes another commodity to be bartered—at first, hesitantly by Robin, and ultimately as a way of life for the populace.
The Congress is now available from Drafthouse Films via Video on Demand starting July 24 and is scheduled for theatrical release August 29.
ALEX KITTLE ADDS: Positioning its characters between the contrasting poles of heartbreaking realism and completely bonkers fantasy, The Congress juggles a multitude of ideas but manages to present a fairly cohesive story. By grounding his tale with a real-life protagonist, the actress Robin Wright, Folman is able to gradually incorporate stranger and stranger concepts, with the final destination barely resembling the starting point. The world he creates is definitely weird, distinguished by its ever-fluctuating landscape and psychedelic colors, populated by people who are limited only by the reach of their imaginations. The animation retains the superficial sheen and flatness of Folman’s previous film, Waltz with Bashir, but the visual style varies, overwhelming the viewer with different aesthetics and effects, conveying the befuddlement felt by Wright when she enters this unfamiliar animated world.
The story is all over the place, jumping across decades at different points to reflect the extreme changes in society, and attempting to simultaneously focus on Wright’s personal experiences of caring for (and later trying to locate) her son as well as the structure of this crazy future. But somehow it all mostly works, with Wright remaining strong as the protagonist whose confused perspective comes to mirror the audience’s. The whole thing is an emotional experience, weird and funny and satirical and honestly rather touching. I would nominate it for the List, primarily for the jarring and imaginative cartoon shift that takes place halfway through.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“So while The Congress might seem a hallucinatory trip through a cityscape of the imagination, it also allegorises our own very real relationship with the mythopoeic worlds of cinema (from which this film quotes with relentless, voracious postmodernism) or of the internet.”–Anton Bitel, Grolcsh Film Works (festival screening)
Next week we’re turning back to new release reviews with looks at Ari (Waltz with Bashir) Folman’s partially-animated sci-fi opus The Congress; the trippy philosophical documentary The End of Time; and Simon Pegg’s bizarro phobia comedy A Fantastic Fear of Everything. Meanwhile, having wrapped up (for now, at least) his reviews of today’s summer blockbusters, Alfred Eaker turns his attention to the hits of yesteryear with a new mini-series of “25th Anniversary” remembrances. First up: Tim Burton‘s Batman (1989).
It’s time once again for our weekly survey of the weirdest search terms used to locate this site, a little feature we like to call “Weirdest Search Terms of the Week.” First up, we’ll mention this strange trio: “strange please,” “being strange,” and “strange much” (we like to think of that last one as a rhetorical question directed at us: “gee, is that 366 Weird Movies strange much?”) Speaking of strange, there was also the person looking for “strange creatures living on woman’s fingers.” But our official selection for Weirdest Search Term of the Week isn’t strange: it’s “sexy voids.” Because nothing turns us on more than Nothing.
Here’s how the ridiculously-long-and-ever-growing reader-suggested review queue stands: Abnormal: The Sinema of Nick Zedd; Rubin & Ed; The Real McCoy; Themroc; Candy (1968); The Fox Family; Angelus; Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs; Yokai Monsters, Vol. 1: Spook Warfare [AKA Big Continue reading WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE