Tag Archives: Whimsical

237. SITA SINGS THE BLUES (2008)

Have you had any interest from distributors?

The sales rep is talking to distributors. He’s saying, ‘Be patient.’ The distributors are afraid of the film because the film is weird. If you noticed.

You’d think that weird might be good.

Yes, weird should definitely be good, especially among these distributors who talk about how they’re into fresh, new original stuff. But they’re not. They’re the most cowardly creatures on the planet. I just got this big wave of good press, so that will make them realize it’s safer.”–Nina Paley, early Sita interview with Studio Daily

Must See

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Voices of Reena Shah, Debargo Sanyal, Sanjiv Jhaveri, Nina Paley, Aseem Chhabra, Bhavana Nagulapally, Manish Acharya

PLOT: The relationship between artists Nina and Dave is strained when Dave relocates to India for a job. Meanwhile, three shadow puppets discuss the legend of Sita (the avatar of the god Lakshmi) and Rama (Vishnu’s reincarnation) from the Hindu epic “The Ramayana,” introducing animated recreations of the story of the love affair between the two demigods. Portions of the story are further illustrated by musical numbers where a flapper version of Sita sings the ballads of 1930s torch singer Annette Hanshaw.

Still from Sita Sings the Blues (2008)

BACKGROUND:

  • The Ramayana, attributed to the poet Valmiki, tells the story of Lord Rama, the seventh human incarnation of the god Vishnu. Rama’s wife, Sita, is abducted by a demon-king; he rescues her but then rejects her, unable to cure himself of the suspicion that she was unfaithful during her captivity. The epic Sanskrit poem is composed of 24,000 couplets, was written centuries before the birth of Christ, and is considered one of the key works of Hindu literature.
  • Paley was inspired to create Sita Sings the Blues by noting parallels between the dissolution of her own marriage and the failed relationship of Sita and Rama as told in “The Ramayana.” After her breakup, she discovered the music of Annette Hanshaw while staying at a friend’s house, and incorporated the songs into the narrative.
  • Paley animated the movie almost entirely by herself on home computers (much of it in Adobe Flash); the process took three years. Although she was a working cartoonist before making Sita, she had no professional training as an animator.
  • Although universally praised in the west, Paley reported receiving criticisms from India from both the right (that the film was irreverent) and the left (that it represented a neocolonialist appropriation of Indian culture).
  • Paley originally released the movie under a liberal Creative Commons license, but later took the unusual decision to remove all restrictions and make the work a true public domain release. However, Annette Hanshaw’s music is still under copyright to its owners, so the film is not truly free and clear of restrictions (although no litigation has yet resulted from its continued distribution).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Selecting a single image from this visual smorgasbord is an impossible task. It’s likely that the characters from the Hanshaw musical numbers, with their undulating Flash graphics and comic book coloring, will stick in your memory the most: curvy, -ish Sita and her broad swiveling hips; buff, Hanna-Barbera-blue demigod Rama; and the many-headed, multi-limbed gods and demons who float through the story.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Hindu big bang; flapper goddess; flying eyeball stalks

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Paley is on record as suspecting that her homemade Hindu jazz epic was too “weird” to get a distribution contract. After Roger Ebert championed the film as “astonishingly original“, and it received overwhelming praise at festival screenings, the “weird” talk died down. It shouldn’t have. Sita is weird. It’s a proud, purposeful, defiant re-connection with humanity’s weird mythological roots, with primordial legends of hybrid god-monsters whose bizarre appearances only serve to magnify their very human foibles. Add in psychedelic animation, torch song musical numbers, and a chorus of unassuming non-omniscient shadow puppets, and you’ve got one strange and spicy stew of a home-cooked movie.


Theatrical release trailer for Sita Sings the Blues

COMMENTS: Sita Sings the Blues is a masterpiece. It’s an incredible Continue reading 237. SITA SINGS THE BLUES (2008)

CAPSULE: LOVE ME IF YOU DARE (2003)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Yann Samuell

FEATURING:  Guillaume Canet, , Thibault Verhaeghe, Joséphine Lebas-Joly

PLOT: A boy and girl carry on their childhood contest of dares into adulthood, when the game escalates into life-wrecking catastrophes.

Still from Love Me If You Dare (2003)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s not weird enough to make the List, although it is offbeat enough to earn a mild recommendation—especially as non-treacly alt-Valentine’s Day viewing.

COMMENTS: When Love Me If You Dare came out in 2003, most critics pegged it as a flawed and unpleasant attempt to cash in on Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulains international success. With distance, Love Me If You Dare doesn’t seem derivative so much as part of an ongoing tradition of whimsical French romantic fantasies. Writer/director Yann Samuell’s twist on the formula is to cut the sweetness, not with the usual melancholy bitter, but with sharper flavors of black comedy that many found too pungent. While is indeed the main stylistic touchstone here—both the French and American distributors were clearly hoping Marion Cotillard would melt international hearts the way had two years earlier—Dare both recalls and anticipates other Gallic romances, while forging its own path. The mix of brightly colored childhood nostalgia and salty adult sensibilities is indebted to , the unsung père of modern French whimsy. Some fantasy sequences play out on cutified versions of Georges Méliès sets—as  when young Julien goes sailing through a sky of cardboard cutout clouds, or the children find themselves as Adam and Eve with a prop apple serving as their lapsiarian music box—while anticipating the crafty handmade worlds of .

The Amélie comparisons were more of a marketing ploy than an accurate aesthetic description, but many reviewers took them to heart. Samuell’s movie got hit from both sides, simultaneously criticized for being too derivative of the hit fantasy, and for failing to warm hearts the way the previous film had. Critics who hated the film because the two main characters were too cruel failed to give credence to the underlying metaphor—that passion often involves an undercurrent of childish competition—but there is psychological merit in the notion. The increasing stakes of the dares—which move from mere humiliations (like wearing your underwear outside your clothes) to acute psychological cruelty to actual physical peril—take the movie into War of the Roses territory. They provide danger and give us a reason to keep watching, rather than the limp “will they or won’t they?” formalities of typical romantic comedies. Yet, for all the sadism inherent in their bantering, there is no doubt Julien and Sophie share a real bond, a hybrid of all-consuming love and hate that is, in a way, admirable for its purity and fidelity. They may not be a likable couple, but they are strangely believable one. Samuell’s script and direction are very impressive for a debut, and the acting by the four principals (young Julien and Sophie are portrayed by cute and expressive couple of kids) is above standard. Marion Cotillard may have been no Audrey Tautou when it came to launching a million crushes, but she ultimately proved the more versatile actress.

One negative note, though: sad to say, you will be sick to death of “La Vie en Rose” before the final credits roll.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The dreamlike amber washes and comic visual asides stress the otherness of the pair’s reality, but seem to offer a limp excuse for their deluded exemption from empathy.”–Gianni Truzzi, Seattle Post-Intelligencer (contemporaneous)

[This movie was nominated for review by “tsross13,” who confessed “I realize this movie might not be weird enough (but the greatness of it, in my humble opinion, cancels that factor out)….” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.]

217. ZAZIE DANS LE METRO (1960)

“The fact that the film is a failure means nothing. Didn’t God create a failure, too?”–Jonas Mekas on Zazie dans le Metro

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Catherine Demongeot, , Vittorio Caprioli, Carla Marlier, Annie Fratellini, Yvonne Clech, Antoine Roblot, Jacques Dufilho, Hubert Deschamps

PLOT: When 10-year-old Zazie’s mother leaves her in the care of her exotic dancer uncle for the weekend , the only thing the sassy little girl wants to see is the Metro, but it’s closed due to a strike.  So she sneaks out of her uncle’s apartment and encounters a dirty old man, who is also a policeman, among her many adventures. Her weekend ends when the many friends and adversaries she’s accumulated—including a cobbler, an amorous widow, and a polar bear—find themselves involved in a drunken food fight while the worn-out tyke nods off into dreamland.

Still from Zazie dans le Metro (1970)

BACKGROUND:

  • Zazie dans le Metro is based on the hit 1959 comic novel of the same title by Raymond Queneau (a repentant former member of the Surrealist circle). The book relied heavily on wordplay and was widely thought to be unadaptable to film.
  • Although the film generated a small cult in France, Zazie was Louis Malle’s first flop after beginning his career with two hits (Elevator to the Gallows and The Lovers).
  • Some parents were angry at Malle’s film, believing that the sexuality made it inappropriate for children. Zazie originally received an “X” rating (16 and over) from the British Board of Film Classification.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Surely, it must be Zazie’s impish, gap-toothed smile, which she breaks into whenever she imagines growing up to be a schoolteacher who torments her students by making them eat chalk.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Eiffel Tower polar bear; wet dog in a parrot cage; high-heeled six shoe-ter

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: As Zazie’s transvestite uncle says, “Paris is a dream, Zazie is a reverie, and all this is a reverie within a dream!” If a mad scientist found a way to cross-breed and , Zazie dans le Metro is the movie the mutant hybrid would direct.


The Criterion Collection’s “3 Reasons” video for Zazie dans le Metro

COMMENTS: There’s nothing in Louis Malle’s oeuvre that’s remotely like Zazie dans le Metro. There’s nothing else in the rest of the Continue reading 217. ZAZIE DANS LE METRO (1960)

186. MOOD INDIGO (2013)

L’écume des jours

“I like this way of seeing the world, the fact that everything is re-created and everything is possible in this world. It’s not from our time, it’s not the past or the future, it’s just sort of a science fiction of present day.”–Michel Gondry on Mood Indigo

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Roamin Duris, Audrey Tautou, Omar Sy, Gad Elmaleh, Aïssa Maïga

PLOT: Colin, an independently wealthy inventor of gadgets like a piano that mixes a cocktail based on the tune played on it, meets the enchanting Chloe at a poodle’s birthday party, and the couple soon marry. His best friend Chick, meanwhile, is pursuing a romance of his own with his cook’s sister, while simultaneously battling an addiction to the work of celebrity philosopher Jean-Sol Partre. When Chloe falls victim to an unlikely infection—a water-lily grows in her lung—her medical bills bankrupt the couple, and Colin must take a job to pay for her treatment.

Still from Mood Indigo (2013)
BACKGROUND:

  • Mood Indigo is an adaptation of polymath Boris Vian’s 1947 novel “L’Écume des jours” (translated as “Froth on the Daydream,” “The Foam of Days,” or “Foam of the Daze“). The novel was adapted for film in the 1968 French effort Spray of the Days and 2001’s Chloe (from Japan).
  • Among other talents, Vian was a musician and jazz critic, and Duke Ellington was godfather to Vian’s daughter. The movie’s English title, “Mood Indigo,” comes from a famous Ellington number. Although Duke appears on the soundtrack and his ballad “Chloe” actually plays a part in the story, the song “Mood Indigo” is never heard or referenced in the film.
  • Jean-Sol Partre, the writer to whose works Chick is addicted, is, of course, a reference to existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. Sartre was a personal friend of Vian’s. (You have to be awed by anyone who counted both Duke Ellington and Jean-Paul Sartre among their close confidants).
  • The original version of the film released in France ran 130 minutes. In the United States and Australia, the film was re-cut to run only 90 minutes.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Trying to disguise the movie’s off-putting surrealism, Mood Indigo‘s U.S. marketers favored generic romantic comedy images of Tautou and Duris making lovey-eyes at each other (including one weirdish scene of them kissing underwater) to make it look like a quirky date movie. In fact, while Mood Indigo is sentimental at the beginning, it’s far more focused on handmade oddities (including a doorbell that scurries about like a beetle) and nonsense gimmicks than it is on romance, which is an afterthought and an excuse to root around in the director’s toy box. We think the most representative image is the inhaled spore that settles inside Chloe’s lung as she sleeps, covering her handmade heart with a coat of stop-motion frost.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Whimsical but weird, set in a peculiar Paris that could exists only in the dreaming mind, Mood Indigo is like Amelie on surrealistic steroids. If had suddenly gone soft-hearted and been given millions of dollars to make a romantic comedy, he might have come up with something like this.


U.S. trailer for Mood Indigo

COMMENTS: Unless you have a high tolerance for whimsical surrealistic excess, you may find yourself overstimulated by Mood Indigo Continue reading 186. MOOD INDIGO (2013)

LIST CANDIDATE: AMELIE (2001)

Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Mathieu Kassovitz, Dominique Pinon, Rufus

PLOT: An introverted and imaginative Parisian girl devotes herself to secretly helping those around her, but is it only because she’s afraid to go after love herself?

Still from Amelie (2011)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: If Amélie makes the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies, it will thanks to the “sliding scale” rule: the better a movie is, the less weird it needs to be to qualify. While Amélie has more than its share of literally magical moments, it’s a little hard to swallow that something this universally beloved could qualify as “weird.” Describing it, fans will often resort to such “weird-lite” adjectives as “peculiar/odd/quirky.” Still, it is a much-adored movie, and it may be a worthwhile addition to the List to represent the more whimsical side of the weird.

COMMENTS: Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children, the two early 1990s collaborations between Jean-Pierre Jeunet and , were spicy-sweet concoctions. Each was at heart a romantic fantasy, whether the story was about lovers rescued from cannibals or fairy tale orphans adopted by circus strong men, but a note of piquant surrealism always added bite to the sentimental overtones. When the pair split, it became clear which one was the romantic and which the weirdo; without Caro’s dark humor grounding him, Jeunet was, for better or worse, set free to soar into the stratosphere of whimsy. So comes Amélie, a life-affirming trifle which is about twice as tickly and almost as substantial as the bubbles rising off a glass of Dom Perignon. In Audrey Tautou, Jeunet found the perfect actress to embody his pixie girl who secretly enters the lives of others to bring joy or justice. Tautou has huge, liquid brown eyes that look like cross between a six-year old girl’s and a puppy dog’s. She’s incredibly beautiful, but so cute and girlish that it’s impossible to lust after her; it’s almost impossible to think of her as a sexual creature at all. And for most of the movie, she isn’t; her amiable frigidity is the source of altruistic superpowers, and overcoming her lack of sexual selfishness constitutes her heroine’s journey. Amélie’s childhood background is delivered breezily, complete with animated crocodiles and suicidal pet fish. She grows up as a sheltered introvert with an imagination that brings her skies full of bunnies and teddy bears; as a new adult, she shyly enters into a squeaky clean movie version of Paris that comes dangerously close to kitsch (you half expect to see characters walking around in those berets and striped shirts actors wore in Benny Hill sketches to indicate they were tres French). Fortunately, there are interesting, conflicted people sitting around in cafés with thorny problems for her to solve, including rejected lovers, hypochondriac tobacconists, abandoned wives, and cruel street grocers. She secretly and shyly manipulates their lives, largely as a way of avoiding her own attraction to a man whose hobby is collecting pictures discarded at photo booths; she eventually succumbs to her desires, but putters about with oblique stratagems for meeting her beau that involve various disguises, puzzles and scavenger hunts as she delays her own happiness as long as possible. It may sound insufferably cute, like a diabolical plot by some French  to turn Americans into a bunch of Francophilic wimps, but it really is legitimately charming, grandly cinematic, and amusing. Wonderfully unreal, magical diversions abound, such as glowing hearts, talking photographs, and people spontaneously dissolving into puddles. The TV channel that’s beamed into Amélie’s Montparnasse flat features nothing but the bizarrest programming: one despondent night, she watches her own funeral parade on the tube. Frothy, funny, and French almost to a fault, it’s easy to see why this uplifting movie has won so many hearts over the years; the film is harder to resist than Tautou’s smile. Still, I note that, despite its overall exceptional quality, Amélie doesn’t feature that one tour de force scene, like the bedspring symphony in Delicatessen or the incredible teardrop sequence from City of Lost Children, to hang its hat on. Jeunet without Caro, to me, is like McCartney without Lennon; and although I appreciate Amélie for what it is, part of me will always think the script would have been punchier if one of Caro’s cannibal butchers has popped up to thin out the cast.

After they ended their partnership, Jeunet went on to unprecedented success with Amélie; his film school friend Marc Caro’s directorial career did not take off so well. After 1995’s City of Lost Children, Caro did not direct a solo feature until 2008’s sci-fi flop Dante o1. He has found work as an art director, however, including designing sets for ‘s spectacular Enter the Void, the third Certified Weird project he was involved in.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…very peculiar but utterly captivating… it takes awhile to get used to the loopy sensibilities and biting, sometimes dark humor.”–Jeff Vice, Deseret News (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by “Nobody,” who called it “a beautiful and unique movie.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: RICKY (2009)

DIRECTED BY: François Ozon

FEATURING: Alexandra Lamy, Mélusine Mayance, Sergi López

PLOT:  A single mom factory worker gives birth to a very special baby; of course, every mother

Still from Ricky (2009)

thinks her baby is miraculous, but in this case the press thinks so, too.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  A minor but sometimes effective meditation on motherhood, Ricky might not be good enough to make this exclusive list even if it were extremely bizarre.  Its “what if” premise and strange, vacillating tone is just off-normal enough to place the movie within the weird genre, but it in no way pushes the boundaries of the bizarre.

COMMENTS:  If you’ve read other reviews of Ricky, you might have already discovered what it is that makes this baby special; only a few critics have managed to keep the film’s turning point a secret.  I don’t think it’s necessary to give away the surprise to discuss the film, but you might be able to figure it out anyway from context.  It’s less important precisely what it is that makes Ricky a special baby, which is mainly a matter of concern for the special effects crew, then it is to consider the role Ricky’s “specialness” plays in the story: a metaphor for the wonder with which a mother views her own offspring.  The wizardry that brings the baby to life is inconsistent—the analog elements are neat looking, if unconvincing, while the digital realizations are just unconvincing—but that’s not what most people will find unsatisfactory about the film.  Ricky begins life as a dreary domestic drama, then shifts gears about halfway through and tries to be a whimsical semi-comedy before gliding into a mystical, suspiciously happy ending.  As the movie gets weirder the tone gets lighter, but the hard realities of the earlier drama still weigh it down.  The two hemispheres of the movie work against each other; the part of the movie that’s well done is kind of boring, while the more intriguing portion often seems thrown together on the fly.  As stressed lower-middle class parents Katie and Paco, Alexandra Lamy and Sergi López are believably flawed: they bicker and accuse each other, they sometimes neglect Katie’s older child Lisa, and they can be irresponsible parents (no pediatrician for Ricky?), but in the end they fight through their own limitations to do the right thing for their offspring.  Lamy sells the film’s potentially ridiculous emotional climax and makes it affecting; a poor performance would have turned it into pure camp.   It’s a serious and thoughtful movie with points to praise (particularly Lamy’s performance); but, even as an experiment in deliberately inconsistent tone, it’s hard to say the film works on the whole.  In the end, Ricky never really gets off the ground.

The movie begins with an out-of-sequence prologue that’s incompatible with the rest of the story.  Although the scene frustrates and confuses some viewers, it’s a great tear-jerking moment for Lamy; and, more importantly, by it contrasting the grim reality of single parenthood with the fantasy that follows, it’s the key to the film’s psychology.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The film is bewildering. I don’t know what its terms are, and it doesn’t match any of mine. I found myself regarding it more and more as an inexplicable curiosity.”–Roger Ebert, The Chicago Sun Times (contemporaneous)

LIST CANDIDATE: THE FILMS OF SUZAN PITT (1979/1995/2006)

RecommendedWeirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Suzan Pitt

FEATURING: Jose Luis Rodriguez Avalos (“El Doctor”)

PLOT: A collection of three surreal animated shorts.  In “El Doctor”, a Mexican doctor visits odd patients while dreaming of a long dead love.  “Joy Street” contrasts a the life of a whimsical anthropomorphic ashtray with its suicidally depressed owner.  “Asparagus” is a totally abstract surrealist film featuring a faceless woman and obscene iterations of the titular vegetable.

Still from Asparagus (1979)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST:  It’s a question of classification, not of weirdness or quality.  Counting these three short films, made decades apart, as one “movie” for List purposes would clearly be cheating.  That means that we’re really only considering the compilation’s main event, “Asparagus,” for inclusion on the List, which raises the metaphysical question: how good/weird does a short have to be take away a spot from a deserving feature length presentation?  Some shorts will eventually make the List.  “The Heart of the World,” though a “must see” weird film, was eliminated from consideration for being too slim at just over three minutes long.  Pitt’s impressive work clocks in at 18 minutes—should that be enough to put it on equal footing with films that run four or five times as long?

COMMENTS:  Considering the shorts included in The Films of Suzan Pitt from most recent to oldest, and coincidentally from least favorite to most highly recommended:

“El Doctor” sports the crudest animation of the three shorts; deliberately, because the style means to evoke Mexican folk art.  We find the title character slumped at a bar, dreaming of riding into the sunset on horseback with a señorita, but soon the world-weary médico is called away to his strange and melancholy rounds.  These appointments—which take the form of miracles—don’t do too much for the main narrative; mainly, they supply Pitt with the opportunity to take mini-flights of fancy.  There’s not much to the story other than these surreal digressions.  One patient is pocked with holes from which flowers grow, giving Pitt the opportunity to film a field of flowers as if they were a rainforest (an image which pervades all Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: THE FILMS OF SUZAN PITT (1979/1995/2006)