Tag Archives: Chilean

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: THE WOLF HOUSE (2018)

La casa lobo

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DIRECTED BY: Joaquín Cociña, Cristóbal León

FEATURING: Voices of Amalia Kassai, Rainer Krause

PLOT: Maria flees her community to avoid punishment and finds an abandoned house; fearing the wolf outside, she sequesters herself with two pigs which she raises as her children.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA LIST: As an experimental stop-motion animation, The Wolf House already has a leg-up against most competition. It becomes a lock for candidacy through its sinister storytelling framework, sociopolitical overtones, and the fact that you watch its settings and inhabitants literally being built up and broken down right before your eyes as its story unfolds.

COMMENTS: Everyone knows that idle hands are the Devil’s workshop; Joaquín Cociña’s and Cristóbal León’s are, on the other hand, a two-man workshop revealing the Devil’s evil. Stop-motion is undoubtedly the most time-consuming filmmaking method; but sometimes, as in The Wolf House, it is the most appropriate. Lacking both real-time film’s quick capture of reality and the infinite malleability of “pure” animation’s ink and lines, stop-motion is a demanding mistress, but one that allows for the uncanniest uncanny valleys and the most “other” other-worldliness. Cociña and León hand-assemble, hand-craft, and hand-paint a dark fairy tale amalgam that itself masks a far darker period in history.

After World War II, a number of prominent German officials fled Europe and cropped up in various points South American. One of those places was the “Colonia Dignidad,” a religious cult compound in Chile. For years, tales of hardship and child abuse drifted through its fortified walls, and the framing of The Wolf House is taken from this period. Presented as a counter-propaganda piece to dispel rumors of a “horrible secret” about this truly “isolated and pure” colony of agrarians, The Wolf House informs the viewer that the film they are about to see was found in the society’s vaults (lovingly “restored” by none other than Cociña and León). The story it tells, in its morphing and cryptic way, concerns a young woman fleeing a harsh punishment meted out by her village’s elders, but eventually learning that the parents know best.

The framing “documentary” is creepily reassuring, easing tonally into the movie proper. For that, it harnesses a variety of stop-motion techniques. Beyond the simplest form (move figure, shoot camera), there’s also “live-painting” animation. A young woman, Maria, seeks shelter in an abandoned house. Upon entering, the walls form in front of the camera, and decorations—bookshelves, clocks, framed pictures—appear and move toward their designated positions as Maria looks around. A woman’s figure eventually appears in a doorway (or mirror?) before branching from the walls in the form of a papier mâché figurine, who eventually finds two pigs—which, through a game she narrates, eventually morph into human children.

The Wolf House is only seventy-five minutes, about ten of which are credits, with ten more being the “documentary” bookends. But it contains countless chilling allusions. As a paneled window is painted on the wall, it ever so briefly appears as a swastika before the rest of the lines are filled in. There’s a mystical honey that causes children who consume it to change from mestizos into blonde Teutonic ideals (the surrounding documentary advertises the German commune’s prized honey). Maria’s fairy tale within the fairy tale concerns animals fleeing into the ground to escape “the wolf”, and a magical tree thanking her for leading them there; in reality, this alludes to the mass graves on the Colonia Dignidad’s grounds. With stop-motion, Cociña and León find that perfect abutment between reality and nightmare; with The Wolf House, they find the perfect abutment between parable and horror.

The Wolf House is currently streamable from distributor KimStim’s website at first-run rental prices ($12 for 26 hours); we’ll update this review when the availability changes.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“If an Orwellian fable were to be visualized by a surrealist in the vein of Salvador Dali, the result would look and feel something like ‘The Wolf House’… this shape-shifting, trippy nightmare from filmmakers Cristóbal León and Joaquín Cociña startles and terrifies in equal measure, while putting forth an uncompromising examination of fascism in a way that only animation can do.”–Tomris Laffly, Variety (contemporaneous)

LIST CANDIDATE: NIGHT ACROSS THE STREET (2012)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Sergio Hernández, Santiago Figueroa, Christian Vadim, Valentina Vargad, Chamila Rodriguez, Pedro Villagra, Sergio Schmied

PLOT: An old man recalls his childhood, when he used to carry on conversations with Long John Silver and Ludwig van Beethoven, as he waits in a boarding house for the man who will kill him to arrive.

Still from Night Across the Street (2012)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: It’s a fine, absurd death movie. We suspect Ruiz has fielded better candidates to make the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies of all time, but this one carries an extra poignancy due to the fact that we are watching an artist sail into the sunset under his own power. Night Across the Street is Ruiz’ posthumous jibe at mortality.

COMMENTS: “Time seems to stumble here,” muses a character (amusingly, the line is delivered immediately following a jump cut). “The hours don’t follow one another.” Our main character, Don Celso, is talking to Jean Giono, a somewhat obscure French writer who died in 1970 but whom he meets in a translation seminar, presumably in the present day. Celso is used to chatting with such apparitions; as a child, he used to hold conversations with Beethoven (whom he takes to see a cowboy movie) and the fictional pirate Long John Silver (who predicts that someone close to the boy will die, only to find that every victim he suggests is already dead).

Night Across the Street‘s sense of being lost in a sea of memory where the distant past shares equal billing with the present should be familiar to anyone who has ever observed grandpa recalling his first kiss in the seventh grade as if it happened yesterday, while simultaneously forgetting where he put his keys and how to operate the remote control. The first forty minutes of the movie are full of flashbacks to Celso’s boyhood, leading us to fear that Night will one of those dull, reverential movies full of the bittersweet reminiscences of an old man reflecting back on a life speckled with triumphs and tragedies; but the last two-thirds of the film, dealing with the approach of death and its aftermath, prove far more interesting than the setup. The forcibly retired Celso is waiting for the man who will kill him to arrive, you see, and when the boarding house matron’s nephew, a poet, comes to stay, he thinks his killer has finally arrived. In a convoluted parody of drawing room murder mysteries and noirish twists, the nephew is planning to kill the old man for his money, while romancing his own aunt and a dancer/prostitute who also lives at the home. Meanwhile, Don Celso is trying to talk an assassin, who is a client of the dancer, out of killing the nephew.

It gets stranger from there, as rumors of murder start to fly and the movie’s dream sequences start having their own dream sequences. In the world of this movie, no distinction could be less important than the one between fantasy and reality (unless it is perhaps the one between past and present). Only the difference between life and death truly matters, but even that line proves difficult to draw. Different permutations of the story coexist, overlapped onscreen: it’s a surreally garbled tale of murder, a young boy’s ominous premonitions of the future, an old man’s dying dream, a self-conscious metafiction, and the memoirs of a ghost, all at the same time. It ends as a haunted house tale set in a cursed boarding house, a place where the ghosts are haunted by their own meta-ghosts. The movie sports a delightful sense of intellectual play, especially wordplay (the lectures on translation, poetry recitations, a running gag about a crossword clue, and the main character’s obsession with the word “rhododendron”). Nothing could be more absurd than death. With his extremely odd and dry sense of humor intact until the end, Ruiz laughs at death—not defiantly, but with genuine befuddled amusement.

Raoul Ruiz made over 100 movies in his lifetime, some in his native Chile and many in France where he lived in exile during the Pinochet regime. In 2010 he was diagnosed with cancer and received a successful liver transplant. He shot Night Across the Street in March of April of 2011; in August of that same year he died of a lung infection. He did preparatory work on one final movie, Linhas de Wellington (Lines of Wellington), a historical drama set in the Napoleonic Wars, which was completed by his widow Valeria Sarmiento.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…suffused with the contrast between experience and memory, reality and surreality.”–Elizabeth Weitzman, New York Daily News (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Dwarf Oscar, who called it “a splendid and utterly weird movie, released after the filmmaker’s death, which brings a poignant resonance with the subjects tackled in the film.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: MAGIC MAGIC (2013)

DIRECTED BY: Sebastián Silva

FEATURING: , , Agustín Silva, Catalina Sandino Moreno,

PLOT: An emotionally fragile American girl is trapped with four strangers in a vacation home in Chile when her friend ditches her to deal with personal issues.

Still from Magic Magic (2013)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The movie is good at creating a subtly unnerving atmosphere, but it doesn’t quite push far enough into eldritch realms earn a single Magic in its title, much less two.

COMMENTS: Magic Magic‘s scenario is a little like Repulsion-lite. Juno Temple plays the repressed girl with the disintegrating mind, with the major difference being that it is other people, not solitude, that makes her crack up. It’s also not clear that Temple’s Alicia fears men in general, although she certainly shudders at the touch of Michael Cera’s Brink (which is actually pretty rational behavior, given Brink’s awkwardly sleazy passes at her). Abandoned among strangers in a foreign country, Alicia comes off as merely shy, at first; but, she seems to be having difficulty sleeping, as well as relating to her fellows. She loves animals, but they don’t reciprocate, unless it’s to hump her leg. As the vacation goes on her paranoid behavior gets worse. She begins recalling conversations others don’t remember. The camera sometimes inhabits her subjectivity; when out of focus, her companions’ faces seem to be staring at her, studying her, but a more objective view shows them to be minding their own business. Most of the movie consists of a string of scenes that are very good at creating a subtle, unsettling atmosphere of social and sexual anxiety. The individual pieces are carefully detailed and observed, but the movie as a whole lacks the narrative hooks to draw you into the story, either emotionally, or as a psychological mystery play. The roots of Alicia’s problems, even her basic backstory, are barely hinted at, leaving this unsatisfying as a character study. The movie’s climax invokes Chilean voodoo, a left-field gambit that’s fairly intense and spooky on its own; but, like a potentially interesting and emotionally resonant subplot involving Browning’s character, it doesn’t seem to belong to the main narrative in a meaningful way. The overall result is a slightly unsatisfying movie with parts that are better than the whole. On the plus side, the performances by Temple and Cera are very good. Cera’s character is the socially inept inversion of Temple; overcompensating for his inadequacies with obnoxiousness, he talks a big game, but he may be even more repressed than Alicia.

Michael Cera made two movies back-to-back with director Silva while on a visit to Chile. In Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus, the somewhat better of the two films, he plays a neurotic American drug tourist foiled by a free-spirited hippie girl.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“To be sure, the movie isn’t much more than its atmosphere of clammy discomfort and a gonzo performance from Juno Temple, but those open to the experience will enjoy its gleeful strangeness.”–Tim Grierson, Screen Daily (contemporaneous)