Tag Archives: 1999

IT CAME FROM THE READER-SUGGESTED QUEUE: CRIMINAL LOVERS (1999)

Les amants criminels

DIRECTED BY: François Ozon

FEATURING: Natacha Régnier, Jérémie Renier, Miki Manojlovic, Salim Kechiouche

PLOT: High schooler Alice seduces shy Luc into a plot to kill her ex-boyfriend; they get lost in the woods while burying the body and stumble upon a cabin, whose lone occupant captures them for his own ends.

Still from Criminal Lovers (1999)

COMMENTS: Let’s begin at the end, with two men in custody and a young woman gunned down by the police. Criminal Lovers dabbles in the language of fairy tales, so it would be natural to expect some kind of a moral here at the end of the journey. But writer-director François Ozon is much more interested in the morally compromised, and arguably all three of these people have done something to earn their fate. So the closest thing to a life lesson might be: those who do bad things will ultimately pay the price.

The most commonly referenced fairy tale in reviews of Criminal Lovers is “Hansel and Gretel” (a tale we have encountered here a few times before). At face value, the comparison is apt: a boy and girl get lost in the woods, and encounter a malevolent force who plans to eat them. But fairy tales are dependent upon a clear division of good and evil, and Criminal Lovers has not a good soul in sight. This is most evident in the personage of Alice, the amoral teen who leads on her erstwhile paramour Saïd, and then persuades the feckless Luc to join in her murder plot. The film believes it is revealing the depth of Alice’s monstrousness as we go, as it flashes back to her repeated machinations with Luc, as well as to a literature class where she reads the poetry of Rimbaud with a clearly sinister interpretation. But Ozon establishes her unscrupulous nature in the very first scene, as she lies to Saïd while teasing him. Even more than the world of fairy tales, we seem to be deep in the realm of the murderous femme fatale, a genre populated by such films as The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Honeymoon Killers, and most especially Double Indemnity.

That’s where the movie’s biggest twist comes into play, in which a nameless Woodsman captures the couple and proceeds to lavish his attentions not on Alice, but on the guileless Luc. Ozon seems intent on subverting the traditional male gaze, as Luc becomes the subject of the Woodsman’s carnal urges. This, even as the tensions are kept high by the suggestions that both teens are likely to end up on the grizzled man’s dinner plate. Ozon doesn’t focus on the anticipated violence; it’s your expectations for the romantic partnerships that he wants to disrupt. This was shocking 25 years ago, and it’s still a decent surprise today.

The way that Alice is kept around to act as an ugly counterpart to the ongoing gay seduction hints at the film’s sensibilities. Despite being trapped in the crawlspace beneath the Woodsman’s cabin, she still seizes upon every opportunity to rattle Luc’s cage, patronizingly complimenting him on finally achieving arousal during one of the hermit’s assaults, or laughing bitterly as she clues him in to the source of the meat he has just consumed. The film suggests that Luc is a more innocent soul, having done Alice’s bidding despite not really being into her (or, possibly, to women at all). Alice, even when she is in the most peril, is still a bad, bad lady.

Criminal Lovers makes a final strange turn in the final scenes, when Luc and Alice make their escape and the film turns into a full-on parody, as the pair frolic in a pool beneath a waterfall and finally consummate their union in the forest while woodland creatures cavort around their intertwined bodies and lush music plays. It’s played for laughs and eye rolls, and seems to be mocking the audience’s expectations as much as the conventions of fairy tale romance. It’s a solid joke, but coming on the heels of the tense thriller, the forbidden romance, and the dark character study, it becomes just one-too-many shifts in tone for a film that never settles on any one. So that final scene, with the violent end to one character and the probable lifelong incarceration of the other two, doesn’t pack a punch on its own. It’s been too inconsistent to make an impression at the end. Criminal Lovers always keeps you guessing, but never seems to have a final answer.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“At times, the film’s mordant absurdity plays with poetry, but of the most self-conscious brand… It’s one of those cases where the director trips over his own brains; he’s too smart for his own good.” – Elvis Mitchell, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Motyka, whose assesses the film as “definitely weird, if a little pretentious [well, it’s French.]” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

WEIRD VIEW CREW: THE ITEM (1999)

In The Item, the chick, the fat guy, the mustache guy, and Dan Clark pick up a mysterious briefcase in a scenario that was intended to evoke Pulp Fiction as made by . The result, instead, is a 2.7 IMDb rating. Pete soldiers on gamely, with some herbal assistance.

(This movie was nominated for review by Val Santos. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

WEIRD VIEW CREW: ROCK N’ ROLL FRANKENSTEIN (1999)

Beware

This review isn’t too NSFW (we’d rate it PG-13 for penile synonyms), but the movie sure is. Kids shouldn’t watch Rock n’ Roll Frankenstein. Other people who shouldn’t watch Rock n’ Roll Frankenstein: people who care about movies or about being entertained.

(This movie was nominated for review by Brian O’Hara, director of Rock n’ Roll Frankenstein. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

IT CAME FROM THE READER-SUGGESTED QUEUE: ONE SOLDIER (1999)

DIRECTED BY: Steven Wright

FEATURING: Steven Wright, Sandi Carroll

PLOT: A Civil War soldier looks back upon his life and contemplates the nature of human existence in the days leading up to his execution for murder.

Still from One Soldier (1999)

COMMENTS: For years, Steven Wright built his comedy empire on peerless one-liners that required 5 seconds to fully sink in and another 30 to stop laughing. Long before successors like Mitch Hedberg and Demetri Martin picked up the torch, Wright was unspooling hour-long sets built out of dozens upon dozens of jokes that lay like unexploded mines waiting to go off. It’s frankly all I can do to resist the temptation to just spend the whole review quoting him. (I’ll allow myself this one famous joke for the unacquainted: “I spilled spot remover on my dog… and now he’s gone.”) This earned him many opportunities to apply his hangdog stare and drier-than-the-Sahara monotone to a variety of projects as a supporting actor and voice artist, but there have been fewer opportunities to try to translate his voice as a writer to the screen. In 1988, he wrote, produced, and starred in “The Appointments of Dennis Jennings,” the tale of a hapless psychiatric patient that earned Wright that year’s Academy Award for live-action short. That success under his belt, he then waited 11 years to make another short, this time assuming the director’s mantle as well.

The initial joke is that, even though his milieu is now the American Civil War, Steven Wright in a Union uniform is still Steven Wright. The elements are in place for a “Drunk History”-style collision of history and comedy, as mournful violins accompany Wright’s walks through an empty New England landscape. But when he launches into his narration in his classic disaffected drone, the subject matter is immediately more philosophical, touching on the inscrutability of life and the inevitability of death. Soon enough, his wife Becky joins in with her own reflection, and each hints that his fate may already be sealed. Essentially, “One Soldier” is like if “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” were a comedy sketch.

Of course, Steven Wright can’t not be funny, or at least not indulge his quirkier side. Particularly as regards his fate, which he anticipates by plucking petals off a flower. Even his deepest musings are tinged with silliness, like his recollections of his job in the war, playing the concertina to soothe the nerves of the top brass. A heartwarming reunion with his wife is tempered somewhat by his insistence on wearing a harmonica, even during intimate moments. And there’s a comedian’s love of the absurd, best typified by this line of dialogue which is no less bizarre when heard in context: “When she said the number 25 in German, it drove me wild.”

Wright’s soldier is a philosopher who hasn’t done the work and doesn’t have the language to describe the uncertainties he feels. That makes “One Soldier” a most unusual vanity project: it can’t carry the burden of the weighty issues it confronts, so it leans into that weakness. But there’s still something haunting that comes through, perhaps best exemplified by the film’s final thoughts: “First you don’t exist, then you exist, then you don’t exist. So this whole thing is just an interruption from not existing.” Steven Wright finds the comedy in the tragic notion that a person’s last thought on this earth is that he’s been thinking too much about the meaning of life.

“One Soldier” is available as a bonus feature on “When the Leaves Blow Away,” a recording of a one-hour Wright stand-up set from 2007.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It is a fine blend of deep theological ponderings, modern Zen koans, and comic schtick. Like Wright’s live stand-up, the film’s slow pace and ponderous subject matter have a rather hypnotic effect, drawing one into the skewed reality of Wright’s brilliant mind.” – J. C. Shakespeare, Austin Chronicle (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by RobinHoodsun, who mused “it was very very weird and it left me with a starnge feeling lol.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: MEMENTO MORI (1999)

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DIRECTED BY: Kim Tae-yong, Min Kyu-dong

FEATURING: Kim Gyu-ri, Park Ye-jin, Lee Young-jin, Gong Hyo-jin, Baek Jong-hak

PLOT: When Min-ah finds a diary written by two of her classmates, she is pulled into their story of romance, rejection, and retribution.

Still from Memento Mori (1999)

COMMENTS: From the first frame of the Korean horror/romance Memento Mori, we are immersed in girls’ school culture: imagine Lord of the Flies in a Michaels arts and crafts store. The entire film is embedded in this world on the brink between childhood and adulthood, equal parts bedazzled pink hearts and vicious social game play.

Within this microcosm, there are best friend duos and trios. Best friends are affectionate and vulnerable with each other, and these connections mean everything. For one pair—Hyo-shin and Shi-eun—this relationship goes further, and they become a romantic couple.

Even today, South Koreais not LGBTQ-tolerant. In 1999, having a lesbian relationship in a movie—especially a movie aimed at young people—led to government censorship. And made Memento Mori an instant cult classic.

Hyo-shin and Shi-eun create an ornate diary together, evidently something taken from real-life girl school culture. It is highly decorated, has hidden pockets, and possibly has the ability to cause hallucinations, or at the very least flashbacks. But mostly, the diary is full of confessions of their love for one another.

Min-ah, another student, finds the diary, and from that moment on, it will not let her leave it behind. She becomes possessed with it, if not by it, and the diary becomes the central storytelling device.

All does not go smoothly in Hyo-shin and Shi-eun’s relationship, not least because of their rejection by their peers, and Hyo-shin takes the breakup hard. She also might be pregnant by one of the teachers. Unable to bear one iniquity or the other, or both, she kills herself. Hyo-shin then comes back to haunt the school. Her supernatural view of her classmates is portrayed through a washed-out and yellowed film technique might have called “Ghost-O-Vision.”

Ghost Hyo-shin kills a couple people who were mean to her. Terror ensues. Mayhem follows. The cinematography and editing go a little nuts toward the end, and there are a few delightfully surreal moments. But all of this excitement is squashed into the last third of the movie.

Memento Mori has plenty of qualities besides government censorship that explain why it’s a Korean cult classic. It goes to great lengths to accurately portray a realistic courtship between teenage girls, and it doesn’t shy away from the terrible things that happen in adolescence (e.g., bullying and being groomed by a trusted adult). It also shows a teenage girl’s unhinged vengeance.

This is a fair-to-middling girls’ school horror movie with a few neat film tricks, a story told out of sequence, and a couple hallucinatory scenes. Beyond that, it is an early (especially in Korean cinema) and sensitive portrayal of a queer adolescent relationship, and for that it is important.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“On a horror/cult movie level, it combines the hallucinatory horro[r]s of Repulsion with Lynch-ian flourishes that reside in a Pandora’s Box where the past and the present are as one.”–Steve Langton, The Spinning Image (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by Micah, who said he was “oddly fond of [this] very very flawed movie” that is ” similar to Donnie Darko in feel and content…” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)