DIRECTED BY: Jean-Pierre Mocky
FEATURING: Marie-José Nat, Jean-Pierre Mocky, Nino Ferrer, Marysa Mocky, Roger Lumont
PLOT: While staying in the small town of Litan, where the annual festival of the dead is underway, Nora has prophetic dreams about her boyfriend Jock’s death.
COMMENTS: Nora’s dreams are bad. Coffins float down streams. Bodies fall from great heights. And worst of all, she sees her beloved Jock covered in blood, seemingly murdered. It doesn’t make for a restful night. Well, it’s not going to get any better. Upon waking, we see that Nora’s barely dreaming at all. An annual festival has taken over the town of Litan, with strange people in strange costumes behaving in strange ways. If you believe that the things that happen to you during your day will affect your dreams at night, it’s clear that she’s one of the most literal sleepers around.
For you see, Litan is one of those towns where everyone is weird. You know the kind, like The Wicker Man or Midsommar or The Third Day. Residents saunter about with featureless masks, or with uncovered faces that are equally blank. Doctors perform inexplicable experiments that involve flashing lights and beeping machines. Men in pig masks loot and murder without fear, bodies dissolve and turn into glowing blue worms, and a marching band made up to look like mannequins in red tailcoats conducts impromptu concerts. You know, one of those towns. It’s painfully obvious that There’s Something Funny Going On, and that Nora and Jock need to Get Out Of There.
It’s to Litan’s credit as a weird movie and to its debit as a watchable movie that this tension, this sense that trouble is only steps away, is present from the very start and never lets up. It doesn’t get more tense, mind you. It just maintains that worrisome threat from start to finish. That gets the heart rate elevated, but the relentlessness of it gets dull after a while.
Where director/star Jean-Pierre Mocky succeeds is creating an ominous atmosphere through startling imagery. Every exterior is next to a rushing river or amongst sharp, craggly mountains (the film was shot in the commune of Annonay in southeastern France), while every interior seems to be set in a room carved out of a cave. Bold blasts of color break the monotony of the gray settings, particularly the bright crimson blood and the electric blue spermatozoa that seem to be the result of falling into the water. Strongest of all is the very creepy vibe he gets from his zombified actors, whose stillness is so effective that they immediately grab your attention when they snap out of it. A scene where a returning patient terrifies his family is an effective set-piece.
But while Litan is unquestionably weird, it’s also a mess. There are barely any characters to speak of; Nora does little but scream and fret, while Jock is a little too ignorant at first and a little too studly as the story progresses. Everyone else seems designed to be inexplicable, such as Jock’s colleague Bohr, who goes from assaulting Nora to worrying about his own son to becoming a victim in the space of 15 minutes. Meanwhile, there’s a possible candidate for a villain whose connection to the plot is vague until the closing minutes, culminating in a comically anemic fight scene. And there’s a very off-putting musical score (from star Nino Ferrer) that shifts wildly from atmospheric synthesizer noodlings to action tracks that sound like a strange melange of Bill Conti’s For Your Eyes Only score and the Swingle Singers, with some Shostakovich woven in for seasoning.
There’s no doubt that Litan is odd, but it isn’t actually compelling. With anxiety but no suspense, with momentum but no destination, Litan is just a series of surprising things that happen. Dreams are weird, but not every dream is worth sharing.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“One-of-a-kind bizarre French sci-fi. It’s like some scenes from a variety of thriller, crime and sci-fi movies were stripped of their back-stories and plots, jumbled together, and then transported to this weird town of Litan that looks like something out of The Prisoner.” – Zev Toledano, The Worldwide Celluloid Massacre
(This movie was nominated for review by shawn. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)