Tag Archives: Dreamlike

CAPSULE: OZMA (2023)

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

DIRECTED BY: Keith John Adams

FEATURING: Ferdy Roberts, Victoria Moseley, Jun Noh, Gemma Saunders, Alice Margaroli, voice of Éva Magyar

PLOT: An insomniac widower spends the night toting around an on-the-run telepathic jellyfish creature.

Still from Ozma (2023)

COMMENTS: Jeff attributes his only slightly startled reaction to finding telepathic jellyfish Ozma abandoned in his garden to having been “well rehearsed” to accept strangeness through a lifetime of dreaming. If this film had been merely about that telepathic blob with the blinking lights and nothing else, he would have needed less rehearsal. But Ozma is entirely built on dream logic. There’s the pair of squabbling pursuers disguised as cops who use vegetables as truncheons. A woman who illustrates the story of the journey of Cleopatra’s Needle from Alexandria to London through very crude cutout animation. Rifles whose bullets have effects far from what we expect. And that’s not to mention the tiny touches, like Jeff’s unusually large bed.

And there’s one more weird thing. When Jeff begins his opening narration, he’s lying in bed, complaining of insomnia. A walking bass line accompanies his fretting, soon joined by the complaints of a muted trombone. It’s an effective accompaniment, but more noteworthy is the fact that we can see the bassist and trombonist, apparently vamping right there in Jeff’s bedroom as he tosses and turns. Throughout the movie, musicians show up in the frame with the characters, never acknowledged. The use of musicians onscreen—playing nondiegetic accompaniment, yet visible, like materialized ghosts—is unique. It’s a simple idea, but I can’t recall any movie that uses this technique in exactly this way, and none that’s so dedicated to the concept. And it’s a great idea, because the sounds here are outstanding—ranging from multiple jazz combos to a tabla, a dulcimer, and even more exotic instruments like the Ethiopian krar (harp) and the Japanese shakuhachi (bamboo flute).

It’s all pleasantly eccentric, which is much of the appeal. Ozma does, however, also explore a serious topic: the widower’s pathological, insomnia-inducing grief, which has mellowed from traumatic sadness into a permanent personality feature. Jeff’s entire story, frequently told in voiceover, is addressed to his absent wife. His journey to take the telepathic jellyfish to its appointed rendezvous reflects his adoption of a healthier relationship to his memories. Ozma is modest in means—in its household props and London public street locations, in Ferdy Roberts’s calm portrayal of Jeff, in its reliance on monochrome —but ambitious in its ideas. Ozma is musical, original and inventive: it’s not just the same old tired story about an insomniac toting a telepathic jellyfish around London.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… a surreal mission… all at once city symphony, Egyptological noir, oneiric odyssey and heady tale of psychic healing,”–Anton Bitel, SciFiNow (festival screening)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: MARKETA LAZAROVÁ (1967)

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Frantisek Vlácil

FEATURING: Frantisek Velecký, Magda Vásáryová, Ivan Palúch, Josef Kemr, Michal Kozuch, Pavla Polaskova

PLOT: In the early Middle Ages, a pair of brothers rob a caravan under protection of the King, setting off a chain of events that eventually leads to the kidnapping of Marketa, a virgin pledged to the convent.

Still from Marketa Lazarova (1967)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: Dreamy pagan sequences adorn a stylized and hallucinatory landscape in Vlácil’s stark medieval epic.

COMMENTS: Although Marketa Lazarová is almost universally praised, everyone remarks on its confusing narrative. The film, which begins with a highway robbery and kidnapping, starts off with a lack of context, and the remainder of the story is fragmented, peppered with abrupt changes of scene, and with dreams, visions, and flashbacks which are sometimes impressionistic, sometimes indistinguishable from reality. The plot elements are comprehensible—a petty noble goes too far and angers the king, a virtuous maiden is snatched from her home—-but the main problem is keeping track of who is who, and where their loyalties lie. If you are prepared for confusion, you can soldier through it and the parties should sort themselves out within an hour or so. But if you would like some guidance, I’ll start this review with a short overview of the major players to get you oriented.

Despite providing the film’s title, Marketa Lazarová herself is not a prominent character until the film’s second half. The story atually centers on her eventual abductor, Mikoláš, a lanky and handsome man in a tight beard. Mikoláš’ brother and partner in banditry, Adam, is easily identified because he has only one arm (although watch out for flashbacks where he has two). Although they behave like highwaymen, Mikoláš and Adam are pseudo-nobles, the sons of Kozlík, a bald and bearded feudal yeoman who rules the walled town of Roháček. Long-haired temptress Alexandra, a brunette contrast to Marketa’s blond innocence, is their sister. In the first chapter the brothers kidnap Kristián, a German youth of noble blood, intending to ransom him. Meanwhile, Lord Lazar rules Obořiště, Roháček’s rival village; he is Marketa’s doting father. Mikoláš spares Lazar after catching him scavenging the wreckage of the caravan the Kozlík clan intends to loot, but later regrets his mercy when Lazar refuses to provide assistance against the king. In revenge, Mikoláš kidnaps the virginal Marketa, whom the (relatively) pious Lazar has pledged to the nunnery. The relentless Captain “Beer,” the king’s military representative in the region, is easily distinguished by his bushy mustache. These are the major players; many minor characters enter and leave, but if you can keep these straight, you should be able to navigate the main thrust of the tale—though details are often elusive.

The narrative confusion matters less because the film is so beautiful. The black and white vistas show off the wintry Bohemian countryside, bare interiors where scar-faced men in furs and chainmail Continue reading APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: MARKETA LAZAROVÁ (1967)

CAPSULE: BLIND WILLOW, SLEEPING WOMAN (2022)

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Pierre Földes

FEATURING: Voices of Amaury de Crayencour, Arnaud Maillard, Mathilde Auneveux, Pierre Földes; Ryan Bommarito, Marcelo Arroyo, Shoshana Wilder (English dub)

PLOT: A salaryman struggles emotionally when his depressed wife leaves him; meanwhile, his co-worker is approached by a giant talking frog who insists that the timid accountant assist him in forestalling an earthquake set to devastate Tokyo.

Still from Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman (2022)

COMMENTS: The blind willow of the title is a fictional tree; flies bear pollen from its blossoms and deposit it into the ear of a woman, causing her to fall into a deep, fairy-tale sleep. The fable is related from inside a flashback in one of the stories that compromise this semi-anthology film. It’s one of many mysterious strands running through Pierre Földes cinematic debut, adapted from six Haruki Murakami (Drive My Car) short stories. The film follows three main protagonists, and one anthropomorphic Frog, through dismal-but-bearable lives in a post-earthquake Tokyo. The movie marches the trio through bouts of catatonic depression, workplace humiliations, odd vacations, encounters with magical restaurateurs, ambiguous erotic and semi-erotic encounters, a search for a missing cat, dreams, and one epic, hallucinatory quest.

The stories are all suffused with gentle melancholy and a sense of humanity’s search for meaning. No answers are given or purposes uncovered, except, perhaps, in the case of accountant Katagiri, who, with the help of the movie’s breakout character, the loquacious and puissant Frog, finally achieves recognition for his years of long and thankless service. The film’s general tone is more attuned to Komura, who endures abandonment by his wife with quiet and insular stoicism, and Kyoko, whose dissatisfaction remains inexpressible, even to herself. The figurants the main characters sit beside on subways, buses, or cafeterias are all silent and spectral, drawn as translucent overlays. There’s something ghostly about the film’s protagonists, who move about as if they’re bound to the world by some unremembered purpose, so it only makes sense that they inhabit a spectral civilization.

The artwork reinforces the calm, poetic, dreamlike mood. Color palettes are muted, with static backgrounds; in the loveliest composition, two characters stand at a bus stop in front of what looks like a springtime watercolor landscape of cherry blossoms and tall grass, a brown mound of mountain arising in the deep background. At times, especially in scenes with Frog, the art can recall anime, although this is not as much of a stylistic touchstone as the Japanese setting might suggest. The movie takes time out for flights of fancy in several dream sequences—Katagiri finds himself flying through the sky in the belly of a worm who resolves into a train as he wakes—but also in waking daydreams, as when Komura sees the whorls of his nephew’s ear morph into a nude woman, or when a spectral salmon swims above two lovers in bed. These digressions harness the fantasy power of animation in a way that seems more natural than it would in a live-action feature, suggesting that the characters’ interior realities have as much emotional weight as their dialogue. Földes has an odd trademark of drawing his character’s lips unusually wide and dark, but this is a minor distraction.

The multitalented Földes, previously known mainly as a composer, not only adapted Murakami’s stories into the screenplay, directed, and wrote the score, but also voiced Frog in both the French and English versions. Perhaps only his love of Murakami’s prose pulled him into filmmaking, but I hope this isn’t the last we see from him. He’s too skilled at this to sit on the sidelines.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a film that’s lovely, mysterious and also, at times, fittingly odd… the film itself is sync with Murakami’s particular blend of the quotidian and the surreal.”–Sheri Linden, The Hollywood Reporter (contemporaneous)

IT CAME FROM THE READER-SUGGESTED QUEUE: LITAN (1982)

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.

Still from Litan (1982)

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.)

35*. BUFFET FROID (1979)

AKA Cold Cuts

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

“The simplest Surrealist act consists of dashing down the street, pistol in hand, and firing blindly, as fast as you can pull the trigger, into the crowd.”–André Breton

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Bertrand Blier

FEATURING: , Bernard Blier, Jean Carmet, ,

PLOT: Soon after telling a man in the Paris subway about his fantasies of committing murder, Alphonse discovers the man dying with Alphonse’s own switchblade in his chest. Rushing home, he teams up with a police inspector and a hapless criminal who confesses to killing Alphonse’s wife. The trio goes out into the world, confronting both a variety of people who wish to kill them or to be killed by them.

Still from Buffet Froid (1979)

BACKGROUND:

  • Writer-director Bertrand Blier won the César (France’s Oscar) for Best Writing for Buffet Froid. The film was also nominated in the cinematography, editing, and production design categories.
  • Buffet Froid feels very ian, even more so since Blier cast two actresses who had previously worked on Luis Buñuel films: Geneviève Page and Carole Bouquet.
  • Bernard Blier (Inspector Morvandieu) is the director’s father. It was his third appearance in one of his son’s films.
  • The role of the man harassed by Alphonse in the subway is played by an uncredited Michel Serrault, who is probably best known as Albin in the original La cage aux folles.
  • The opening scene is set in the Metro station at La Défense, which now sits directly underneath the monumental La Grande Arche building in the Parisian suburbs.
  • The film was not released in the United States until 1987. American critics were fiercely negative.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: It’s tempting to select the terrific jump cut when the leading trio is informed that they need to relax, and suddenly find themselves convalescing in front of a rustic cottage in the woods. But for a singular image, there’s great spectacle in the moment when a policeman responds to an emergency call only to find that he himself is the victim. His wide-eyed horror at being ushered into his deathbed while a string quintet assembles to serenade him into the great beyond is unforgettably hilarious.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: The widow moves in; assassin gets a head start in the water

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Buffet Froid is epic in its underplaying. Forget consequences; it posits a world where crime doesn’t pay because it doesn’t matter. The body count wouldn’t be out of place in a Hollywood thriller, but a strange combination of fear of dying and reluctance to be caught underlies everything. It’s telling that Alphonse doesn’t lose his cool when he finds his own knife sticking out of a dying man, or even when he discovers his wife’s murder (and murderer). No, it’s only when a man tells him bluntly, “Accept your responsibilities and I’ll be on my way” that he stops dead in his tracks. Buffet Froid depicts a world gone mad, but in the most controlled way possible.

Trailer for Buffet Froid

COMMENTS: Buffet Froid lays out its premise almost immediately. Continue reading 35*. BUFFET FROID (1979)