A coming of age story that it so far off the beaten path that it may not even be a coming of age story.
“…a writer or painter cannot change the world. But they can keep an essential margin of nonconformity alive… The final sense of my films is this: to repeat, over and over again, in case anyone forgets it or believes to the contrary, that we do not live in the best of all possible worlds.”–Luis Buñuel, 1973
DIRECTED BY: Luis Buñuel
PLOT: Two well-to-do couples arrive at the home of a third for dinner, but find there has been a misunderstanding on the date, and their hostess has not prepared a meal. The sextet tries to reschedule dinner over and over, but meets with increasingly absurd obstacles: dead restaurateurs, a platoon of soldiers who intrude on the evening, police officers who burst in and arrest the entire party before the first course. Complicating the scenario further is a bishop who imposes himself on their party, flashback ghost stories told by minor characters, a subplot about an ambassador smuggling cocaine and being hunted by a female terrorist assassin, and scenes that turn out to be dreams.
- Buñuel had announced that he would retire after Tristana (1971), but was inspired to make this movie by a story his producer Serge Silberman told him about having dinner guests show up unexpectedly due to a calendar mix-up.
- Co-written by Surrealist screenwriting specialist
- Among other honors, Discreet Charm won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film (an indifferent Buñuel did not bother to show up to accept the award) and is included in Steven Schneider’s “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.”
- Stephen Sondheim has a musical based on both The Exterminating Angel and Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie in the works.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Shots of the six bourgeois friends, walking down an isolated country road, inserted at random between scenes. Their stride is purposeful, their destination… nowhere.
THREE WEIRD THINGS: Dinner theater; bishop with a shotgun; electrified piano cockroach torture
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: exercise in bourgeois frustration begins simply, with a canceled dinner appointment, but quickly spirals out of control with a cocaine smuggling subplot, a foxy female terrorist, a vengeful bishop, and dreams inside of dreams. They never do get to that dinner party, although Fernando Rey does get to sneak in a slice of lamb and a midnight snack.
Original trailer for The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
COMMENTS: Luis Buñuel is cinema’s poet of frustration, of eternal Continue reading 273. THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE (1972)
La città delle donne
“It’s the viewpoint of a man who has always looked at woman as a total mystery.… Through the ages, from the beginning of time, I’m certain man has covered woman’s face with masks. They are, however, his masks, not hers.”–Federico Fellini defending City of Women
DIRECTED BY: Federico Fellini
FEATURING: Marcello Mastroianni, , Ettore Manni, Bernice Stegers, Donatella Damiani
PLOT: Waking on a train across from a seductive woman, Snàporaz pursues her into the carriage’s wash-room. Abruptly, the train stops and the woman de-embarks, heading across a field with Snàporaz in close pursuit. During his long journey he explores an hotel teeming with Feminists, hitches a ride with a crew of drugged-out teenage motorists, and meets a doctor whose “manly” villa contravenes local law.
- A massive re-work of the story was required when the second male lead (Ettore Manni, who played “Dr. Katzone”) died from a fatal, self-inflicted gunshot wound to the groin.
- Before returning to his reliable proxy Marcello Mastroianni, Fellini offered the role to Dustin Hoffman. Hoffman declined, as he was concerned about the post-dubbing process being detrimental to his performance.
- Though it received largely positive reviews on its general release, it fared poorly at Cannes. Nostalghia, dismissed City of Women in his diary, saying “…it’s true, his film is worthless.” , in Rome at the time working on
- Production designer Dante Ferretti was kept on his toes while making of the film, as Fellini would constantly request that new, elaborate sets be whipped up in a small amount of time. Farretti invariably obliged the director’s requests, and his success allowed him sole billing as “Production Designer,” a title usually nabbed by Fellini himself in the movie’s credits.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: After the brief introduction of the train ride turning into a romp across a field, virtually everything that follows in Fellini’s City of Women starts globbing on to the memory. From a long list of choices (addled Feminists fomenting in an hotel, drugged-out [?] minors driving the middle-aged protagonist to a haunting techno-pop tune, and an aged Lothario blowing out 10,000 candles among them), perhaps the best choice is the joy-filled sequence in the museum of women at Katzone’s villa. Snàporaz darts back and forth with an innocently lecherous glee as he flicks on the photographs’ illumination and hears a snippet from that woman’s sexual history. The visual and sonic overload goes up to eleven when Snàporaz’s ex-wife appears at the end of the corridor and turns on all of the displays. Women, women everywhere—in sound and vision.
THREE WEIRD THINGS: The hall of sexual conquests; memory lane slide; ideal woman escape balloon
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Traipsing along for two and one-half hours, City of Women somehow combines the sugary charm of a light-weight musical with the non-stop adventure of an epic film. Beginning with a tone bordering on the mundane (the tediousness of travel), Fellini quickly pushes things from believable, to somewhat believable (the feminist convention), then onwards and upwards to a literal and metaphorical peak of disbelief as our hero escapes an arena full of spectators by clinging to a hot-air balloon. Between the jostling in the train car and the flight into the unknown, it would be faster to answer the question, what isn’t weird about it?
Original Italian trailer for City of Women
COMMENTS: Obsession can be a dangerous thing, but it can also be Continue reading 272. CITY OF WOMEN (1980)
Sanatorium pod Klepsydra; AKA The Sandglass
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. “–Hamlet, Act III, Sc. 1
PLOT: As the film opens, Józef is on a train headed to a sanatorium where his dead father is being kept. When he arrives, the grounds are deserted and decrepit, but eventually he finds a doctor who leads him to his now-sleeping father’s room and explains the patient’s comatose-but-alive status: “the trick is that we moved back time… we reactivate past time with all its possibilities.” Józef then wanders through the sanatorium’s grounds, meeting his mother, a collector of automatons, a parade of men dressed in bird costumes, the Three Wise Men, and other strange characters.
- The film was primarily based on Polish Surrealist author Bruno Schultz’s short-story collection “Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass,” although it included ideas from some of the author’s other short stories. (A Schulz story was also the inspiration for the
- The Hourglass Sanatorium did not receive the blessing of the Polish censors and was banned. Has had copies smuggled to the Cannes Film Festival, where it tied for the jury prize (at that time, essentially third place). In apparent retaliation for his insubordination, the Communist Party did not approve any of Has’ new film projects for the next ten years.
- In Poland, an hourglass is a symbol of death.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Oddly enough, especially given how visually sumptuous The Hourglass Sanatorium is, the image which best evokes the movie isn’t even in it. I speak of the famous theatrical release poster by Polish artist Franciszek Starowieyski, which depicts a giant orange eyeball perched on a jawbone, with a grill of teeth through which a worm crawls (a limbless woman’s torso is also stuck between its molars), while numbers and arrows illustrate features of bone anatomy like occult footnotes. The poster seizes upon the film’s major theme of death; Starowieyski was also picking up on the repeated motif of eyeballs which occurs throughout the Sanatorium, from the train conductor’s blind stare to the cobweb-covered eyeball collection Józef finds under the bed. To illustrate the film, we ultimately chose the image of a toppled wax automaton with his eye-socket popped open to reveal the gears inside—but when I think of The Hourglass Sanatorium, I always think of that poster first.
THREE WEIRD THINGS: Crow frozen in flight; Józef spying on Józef; eyeballs under the bed
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The Hourglass Sanatorium is a rare work of genuine Surrealism. Seldom has any film ever captured the free-falling feeling of being lost in a dream so well: the portentous but inexplicable visions; the tenuous, tantalizing connections between ideas; the smooth and continuous shifting of realities. Let a blind conductor be your guide inside a crumbling hospital whose rooms hold wonder after wonder.
Brief clip from The Hourglass Sanatorium (in Polish)
COMMENTS: Sanatorium pod Klepsydra opens on the silhouette of a Continue reading 271. THE HOURGLASS SANATORIUM (1973)
Tenemos la Carne
DIRECTED BY: Emiliano Rocha Minter
FEATURING: Noé Hernández, María Evoli, Diego Gamaliel
PLOT: A teenage brother and sister find their way to the lair of a hermit, who seduces them into acting out increasingly depraved, increasingly hallucinatory scenarios.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: The overall project may seem to lack much purpose, but it’s intense and uncompromising—and weird—enough to merit a look.
COMMENTS: The new year is only a few weeks old, and already we have a contender for Weirdest Movie of 2017. A demonic hermit uses two disciples—one reluctant, one willing—to transform his habitat into a womblike space where he enacts bizarre, perverse fantasies eventually incorporating sadism, rape, orgies, murder, cannibalism, and more. As the ringmaster in this cavalcade of perversions, Noé Hernández is believably crazy. He looks like he stinks, and rants like a guy you’d cross the street to avoid meeting. He projects a very specific form of charisma: like a Mexican Manson, he has a gravity capable of capturing those irretrievably lost to themselves in his orbit. “People shy from certain thoughts. Their lives are a continuous distraction from their own perversion,” the wild-eyed messiah preaches to an improbably intrigued teenage girl, while flapping his arms like a bird in the void. “Solitude drags you, forces you to come face to face with your darkest fantasies. And when nothing happens, you stop being afraid of your most grotesque thoughts.”
With siblings and a perverted Svengali, the story goes exactly where you think it will; but, incest is only the beginning. Once they indulge that taboo, all the walls come crashing down—and the plot immediately hops onto whatever crazy train it can catch, going to places you can’t possibly predict. In fact, after the strangely beautiful incest montage, shot in psychedelic thermal imaging and scored to a romantic Spanish ballad, there can hardly be said to be a plot at all, only a series of deranged, escalating provocations. (One presumes that in Catholic Mexico, the movie’s blasphemous parody of Christ—both the resurrection and the Eucharist—is the most shocking element). On a literal level, you might try to explain it all as the result of an all-purpose drug the hermit keeps in an eyedropper, which is capable of producing intoxication, serving as an antidote to his own homebrewed poisons, and possibly preserving the brains of those he’s lobotomized. More likely, the hermit simply personifies perverse desire, and the movie is a representation of the nightmare of a narcissistic world of pure desire without taboos or boundaries. The tumbling of moral walls allows the irrational to flood in.
As shock cinema goes, Flesh displays far more artistry than most. The lighting is extraordinary—purple-lit faces in front of glowing yellow portals that serve to block, rather than lead to, the opaque outside world. These touches elevate the minimalist set into a true dream space. The music is also well-deployed, with horror-standard rumblings alternating with ironically beautiful ballads and a Bach concerto. Flesh shows the imagination of Salo., mixed with the despairing nihilism of , in a scenario reminiscent of
As for misgivings: I wonder if Flesh has enough substance to compensate us for its unpleasantness. Late in the film, it takes a stab at social relevance, with a subversive recital of the Mexican national anthem and a paradigm-shifting final scene. But these digressions come off as afterthoughts to a movie whose main interest is to indulge its own most grotesque thoughts. And there, I wonder if the film doesn’t pull its own perverse punch. A Clockwork Orange‘s Alex was deeply chilling because he made you feel the appeal and charm of evil; the hermit here does not. He’s too clearly insane, too cartoonish in his fleshy villainy. The ominous music and horror movie atmosphere also instruct you to be repulsed rather than aroused. Despite the madman’s advice, this movie does want you to be afraid of its most grotesque thoughts. But fans of extremity cinema will—pardon the pun—eat it up.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
El àngel exterminador
“The best explanation of this film is that, from the standpoint of pure reason, there is no explanation.”–Opening epigram to The Exterminating Angel
FEATURING: Enrique Rambal, , , Lucy Gallardo, Augusto Benedico
PLOT: After an elaborate dinner, the many guests of Edmundo Nobile find themselves trapped inside a single room of the mansion; at first they stay under reasonable pretenses, but after sleeping over they become physically unable to pass the room’s threshold. As their high society ways break down from the proximity and lack of provisions, concerned police and citizens on the outside find it impossible to enter to help them. Things degenerate until they attempt a desperate gambit relying on a vision of one of the guests. Meanwhile, sheep and a bear wander around the house.
- After briefly returning to his native Spain from his Mexican exile to direct Viridiana, Buñuel went back to Mexico to make The Exterminating Angel after the Vatican denounced the previous film and the Spanish banned it.
- Buñuel borrowed the title from a poet friend (José Bergamín) ostensibly for marketing purposes, remarking in his biography, “If I saw ‘The Exterminating Angel‘ on a marquee, I’d go see it on the spot.”
- Despite its acclaim (both contemporaneous and otherwise), Buñuel often said he considered The Exterminating Angel a failure. Mostly, he regretted not being able to proceed along a more “cannibalistic” trajectory.
- The dozens of repetitions found in the film greatly worried the cinematographer, Gabriel Figueroa, when he saw the final cut. It took Buñuel to calm him down, assuring Figueroa that it was a creative choice.
- Won a “FIPRESCI” award at Cannes on its release.
- While Russia at the time banned any number of films for any number of reasons, ironically, this Marxist movie rubbed Soviet officials the wrong way because the theme—not being able to leave a party—was considered anti-government.
- The Exterminating Angel is a staple of “top films ever made” lists, including The New York Times‘ Best 1000 Movies Ever Made and Steven Jay Schneider’s 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.
- Stephen Sondheim has a musical based on both The Exterminating Angel and Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie in the works. British composer Thomas Adès recently adapted the movie into an opera.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Throughout The Exterminating Angel, the household’s domesticated (pet) bear herds a small clutch of sheep. Wandering around the place with impunity, a shot where the demi-flock scoot up the grand stairway, with the bear taking up the rear, sticks in the mind. The guests’ doom is mirrored by the sheep’s mindless wandering toward the great prison room, ensuring their barbaric destruction.
THREE WEIRD THINGS: Dead man’s hand; symbolic tasty sheep; a sacrificial host
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: A gaggle of bourgeois personages spend more and more time in close quarters with each other—they simply cannot leave the room. The strangeness of their prison is matched by the strangeness found outside: a society that at first doesn’t notice their absence, and then is unable to help them. Time skips like a scratched record, servants are uncannily eager to jump ship, a disembodied hand appears, and animal friends romp around a mansion, adding up to a fine Buñuelian omelet of social commentary and Surrealist comedy.
COMMENTS: Between his genre-establishing Un Chien Andalou up Continue reading 261. THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL (1962)
pictured this surreal and silent short (paid for by Prada) as a cinema poem. Several characters have a very similar experience, but slight differences tarnish reality with ambiguity.
AKA The Night the Screaming Stops
“…Viktor Shklovsky wrote about how the job of the artist was to come up with a device that made the familiar seem strange. The ‘strangeness’ sets our brain a challenge, and the process of dealing with it is engaging – not just on an intellectual level, but an emotional one too… In Possession, Żuławski made a marital breakdown ‘strange’ by showing ‘the horror’ – this was not Scenes from a Marriage – it was something else.”–Daniel Bird
“Nothing wants to bite anymore – they want to lick.”– Andrzej Zulawski, from the Possession commentary track.
FEATURING: , , Heinz Bennent, Margit Carstensen, Carl Duering, Shaun Lawton
PLOT: Mark, an agent for some unspecified agency, returns home to his wife, Anna, and son in Berlin only to find that Anna has taken a lover. She splits her time between her home and her lover; however, Mark still wants her, causing extensive conflict between them. He uncovers a previous affair with a man named Heinrich, but she also left him for another—and finding the identity of her current lover leads to mayhem and a rising body count.
- The Most Important Thing Is To Love, and the subsequent production and shutdown of On The Silver Globe and his second exile from Poland. conceived Possession in the wake of several events—the collapse of his marriage to actress Małgorzata Braunek after being allowed to return to Poland from exile after the international success of 1975’s
- Zulawski originally pitched the film to Paramount Studio head Charlie Bluhdorn, calling it “a movie about a woman who f**ks an octopus.” They passed.
- The film played at Cannes and
- The final film was chopped up by distributors. The U.S. release was notorious for being a total misrepresentation of the movie: the distributor removed about 40 minutes, reshuffled scenes, and added optical effects to play up and sell it as a horror movie. The Australian version made similar cuts. It wasn’t until 2000 that the original version was available to be seen in the U.S.
- Possession was briefly released in the UK, but on videotape it was later banned as a “video nasty,” a classification intended for extreme horror films with no artistic merit.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: In a film with many memorable images, mainly close-ups of the characters in various stages of mania, the one that sticks is of Adjani’s Anna being serviced by something coiled around her… and writhing.
THREE WEIRD THINGS: Pink socks; subway miscarriage; Anna’s lover
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: It starts out as a domestic drama turned up to 11, which then goes up to 15. The intensity is compelling, especially when most other relationship films at the time went for quiet decorum. Possession throws all that right out the window. And then at the midway point, it drops the bottom out of expectations with the introduction of the Creature.
Possession international release trailer
COMMENTS: There seems to be no major disagreement about Possession joining a list of “weird” anything. The fur begins to fly in the Continue reading 252. POSSESSION (1981)
Rokugatsu No Hebi
FEATURING: Asuka Kurosawa,
PLOT: A sexually repressed woman is blackmailed into living out her erotic fantasies by a stalker.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Done in a sleazier and more straightforward style, the script’s voyeuristic hook might have led us into “erotic thriller” territory, resulting in a film destined to play “Cinemax After Dark” at 2:30 AM. But Snake is a fever dream of outsider auteur
COMMENTS: The first half of A Snake of June is fairly conventional (at least, by our standards). Mousy Rinko answers calls at a suicide hotline. Her husband, the older Shigehiko, is a salaryman with a cleaning fetish and little time for romance. Iguchi is a depressed photographer who only takes pictures of household objects: blenders, or waffle irons. When Iguchi calls Rinko and she talks him down off the metaphorical ledge, he decides to reward her by forcing her to live out her sexual fantasies: he stalks her, takes pictures of her masturbating, and then threatens to make them public if she doesn’t dress up in a microskirt with no underwear and wander through a busy marketplace. Although the scenario seems skeevy, it shows character development on Iguchi’s part—he’s shifted his interest from inert objects to people. He is stalking and manipulating the woman but he is not treating Rinko as an object—he fully acknowledges her humanity as he puts her through erotic exercises he genuinely believes will make her into the happier person she deserves to be.
Although we have tagged this movie with “black and white,” it should be noted that it the film is actually tinted a shade of blue-gray that suggests the perpetually overcast skies of Snake‘s rain-soaked Tokyo streets. Dividing the movie into a nearly conventional first half and a surreal second hemisphere that both advances and reconfigures the narrative is an interesting gambit. A Snake of June drags at times, and confuses frequently, but few who see it will forget it, or accuse it of playing it safe.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“This vision includes some freakishly surreal moments… The results, while uneven, do represent a journey for the audience – exhilarating, worthwhile and memorable after the event – even if, along the way, we’re never sure exactly where we’re going to end up.”–Neil Young, Neil Young’s Film Lounge (contemporaneous)
DIRECTED BY: Victor Nieuwenhuijs, Maartje Seyferth
FEATURING: Titus Muizelaar, Nellie Benner
PLOT: An emotionally neutered detective investigates a murder at a butcher shop where all the employees have high libidos.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: There is no question that this is a weird one. But Meat never really matches its mystery to the grand theme or emotional resonance it’s searching for. Its main virtue is that it’s short and sexy, making for a relatively easy watch despite its challenging narrative format.
COMMENTS: Here are some things that happen in Meat: a butcher has sex with a co-worker in a meat locker while another employee secretly videotapes it. A woman plummets to her death. The butcher is found murdered. Here are some things that may or may not happen in Meat: The woman who lives in the room above the shop is a prostitute who meets tricks there during business hours. The prime suspect is raped by a man wearing a skull mask the night of the murder. The murder investigation is conducted by the victim’s doppelganger. Here are some things that don’t happen in Meat, despite the fact that we see them: Three middle-aged customers approach the meat display case, totally nude. The detective watches man being led away from a slaughterhouse, one of them dressed like a chicken, while blood drips down his windshield. Cows, lambs and pigs find their way into the butcher shop at night and urinate on the floor.
It’s that kind of movie. After a set-up that is only marginally odd, focused more on eroticism than surrealism, the last third of the movie surrenders entirely to dream logic. Cryptic shots of a butterfly and a woman submerged in a bathtub, plus elliptical monologues about sheep-slaughtering, are spread through the early sections as harbingers of the all-out weirdness to come. Our dumpy middle-aged butcher has some sort of sexual arrangement with a woman who lives at the shop and whose main duty seems to be to sleep with all the male employees; yet, he naturally fancies the slim blond college-aged part-time worker whose short skirt is half-hidden under her floor-length butcher’s apron. He comes up to her from behind and whispers his dirty old man fantasies into her nubile ears. In the real world, his come-ons would be actionable sexual harassment; here, because they occur while the girl is breathlessly videotaping a dish full of animal organs, it’s mere sexual absurdism.
Later, the phraseology of this scene will be mirrored in the investigator’s language as he interviews the girl, now a suspect: seduction has become interrogation; desire, guilt. Meat‘s strategy is to vacillate between opposites: the body as a sexual canvas, and as a collection of organs to be hacked apart and sold; genitals as organs of pleasure, and portals for the release of bodily waste. Desire goes to war with disgust, as rationality yields to irrationality. Meat explores issues of sex, carnality and guilt—maybe with a side of vegetarianism.
After screening at a handful of European film festivals, Meat spent six years in a post-presentation, pre-distribution netherworld before Artsploitation Films picked it up for belated September 2016 DVD release. With no clear audience besides arthouse curiosity seekers, Meat is an orphan that needs your love.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY: