Tag Archives: Guilt

77. SONGS FROM THE SECOND FLOOR [Sånger från andra våningen] (2000)

“Beloved be those who sit down.”
–César Vallejo

“People have wondered how to classify my film. Absurdism or surrealism? What the hell is it?… This film introduces a style that I’d like to call ‘trivialism.’ Life is portrayed as a series of trivial components. My intention is to touch on bigger, more philosophical issues at the same time.”–Roy Andersson, DVD commentary to Songs from the Second Floor

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Roy Andersson

FEATURING: Lars Nordh, Stefan Larsson

PLOT:  Set at the dawn of the millennium in a nameless city that seems to be undergoing an apocalyptic panic—traffic is at a standstill as people try to leave all at once, parades of flagellants march down the street, and the Church considers returning to human sacrifice—Songs unfolds as a series of brief, seemingly unrelated, vaguely surreal scenes.  Eventually a main thread emerges involving a family: the father’s furniture business has just burnt down, one son has gone insane from writing poetry, and the other son is a melancholy cab driver.  The father enters the retail crucifix business and begins seeing ghosts.

Still from Songs from the Second Floor (2000)

BACKGROUND:

  • The film was inspired by the verse of the relatively obscure avant-garde Peruvian poet César Vallejo (1892-1938), whose poem “Stumble between to stars” is quoted in the film.  Anyone who thinks Andersson is obscure would do well to avoid Vallejo, whose work—with its invented words and grammar and difficult symbolism—recalls James Joyce at his most impenetrable.
  • Songs  from the Second Floor was Andersson’s third feature film, and his first since 1975’s Giliap.  He spent most of the intervening time directing commercials, although he did complete two highly regarded short films.
  • Andersson discovered Lars Nordh shopping for furniture at an IKEA.
  • Many of the exterior shots were actually shot inside Andersson’s studio with trompe l’oeil paintings or three-dimensional models as backgrounds .
  • All scenes are completed in one take.  The camera only moves once (a calm tracking shot in the railway station).
  • At the time of the film’s release reviewers consistently marveled that none of the scenes had been scripted or storyboarded beforehand.  The method here shouldn’t suggest that Andersson simply made up the film as he went along, however, as unused footage shows that each scene was meticulously rehearsed and refined dozens of times, often on incomplete sets with stand-ins for the actors, over what must have been a period of weeks or months.  Andersson says they sometimes shot twenty to twenty five takes per scene to achieve the perfect performance.
  • The film took four years to complete.
  • Songs from the Second Floor tied for the jury prize at Cannes in 2000 (the jury prize is the third most prestigious award after the Palme D’Or and the Grand Prix).
  • Andersson followed up Songs with You, the Living [Du Levande] (2007) (also Certified Weird). The two movies are extremely similar both thematically (the comically apocalyptic mood) and stylistically (made up of intricately composed, brief vignettes). Andersson has said he intends to create a trilogy; however, he has suggested that the third film may not follow the same style as the first two.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Fat Kalle standing at a deserted crossroads by the pile of discarded crucifixes, gazing at the figures approaching on the horizon, is an image worthy of European arthouse greats like Buñuel or Fellini.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: There are a few moments of magical realism in Songs from the Second Floor, involving subway commuters bursting into classical verse and the matter-of-fact appearance of ghosts, but even if these interludes hadn’t been included, the movie would feel strange because of the high artificiality of Andersson’s style: the static camera, the constant crowds of expressionless figurants gazing dispassionately at the action in the foreground, the carefully controlled compositions filled with background detail. Adding deadpan absurd black humor, bleak existentialism, and a sense of looming catastrophe into the mix produces a singular concoction, one that captured Sweden’s—and the West’s—mood of anxious despair as the new millennium dawned.


Scene from Songs from the Second Floor

COMMENTS: Songs from the Second Floor uses deep focus—the photographic technique Continue reading 77. SONGS FROM THE SECOND FLOOR [Sånger från andra våningen] (2000)

CAPSULE: INCEPTION (2010)

Must See

DIRECTED BY: Christopher Nolan

FEATURING: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy, Marion Cotillard, Dileep Rao

PLOT: Cobb (DiCaprio), a mercenary with a unique skill set—he breaks into targets’ subconsciouses as they dream in order to steal business secrets—assembles a team to enter the mind of an heir to a billionaire’s fortune; but will his preoccupation with his lost wife, which is poisoning his own subconscious, destroy the mission?

Still from Inception (2010)

WILL IT MAKE THE LIST?: There’s a rule around here: no movie officially makes the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies of all time until it’s released on DVD, so that we can pore over individual scenes at our leisure. That said, Inception is probably on the borderline. That’s not to suggest it’s a bad movie; in fact, Inception may well be the best movie released so far in 2010, and has surely already nailed down an Oscar nomination and a spot on most critics 2010 top 10 lists. The question is, is it weird? By Hollywood standards, a psychologically thriller about professional dream infiltrators is damn weird; so out there, in fact, that only someone with the clout of a Christopher Nolan could get it made and released as a summer blockbuster. (Though to be honest, the subject matter is not as weird, to a studio executive, as is the concept of purposefully releasing an movie with a script that’s so complicated and tricky it throws viewers into a state of total bafflement within the first ten minutes). Nolan’s latest is pop-weird; it creates just a little bit of pleasant confusion that viewers trust will be substantially resolved by the end. It’s not a movie that will risk leaving us stranded in a psychological limbo. Nolan’s dreamscapes are surprisingly based in realism, carefully constructed from cinematically familiar parts—mainly old heist movies, film noirs and spy flicks—rather than from abstruse symbols, Jungian archetypes, and monsters from the id. With its focus on action and self-contained narrative rather than mysticism and mystery, Inception has more in common with crowd-pleasers like The Matrix or Total Recall than it does with 2001: A Space Odyssey or Stalker. (Although, if we were forced to select the weirdest movie of 2010 in July, we’d be forced to go with this one; thankfully we have five more months of movies to select from).

COMMENTS:  I wondered going into Inception: if I was making a thriller about dreams, one Continue reading CAPSULE: INCEPTION (2010)

57. GOZU (2003)

AKA Gokudô kyôfu dai-gekijô: Gozu (full Japanese title)

INDIEWIRE INTERVIEWER: Are there any themes or images you find too upsetting or disturbing to show?

MIIKE: Normal things.”

RecommendedWeirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Takashi Miike

FEATURING: Yûta Sone, , Kimika Yoshino

PLOT:  Minami is a journeyman yakuza whose boss Ozaki is going insane, and who has been ordered by higher-ups to see to it that he is killed.  Since Ozaki once saved his life, Minami is conflicted about the assignment; but fortunately, an accident seems to take care of the problem for him.  That is, until the presumptive corpse disappears while he is stopped in a strange town outside of Nagoya, and Minami launches a desperate search for his boss that leads him into a surreal labyrinth of malleable identities.

Still from Gozu (2003)

BACKGROUND:

  • Gozu was one of five movies the prolific Miike made in 2003.
  • “Gozu” means cow’s head, and the full Japanese title translates literally as Grand Theatre of Perversion and Fear: Cow’s Head (sometimes translated as Yakuza Horror Theater).
  • Like many of Miike’s films, Gozu was originally intended as a direct-to-video release.  A successful Cannes screening got the movie noticed, and it was able to get wider theatrical distribution.
  • Harumi Sone, who plays the small role of the Inkeepers Brother, is the father of star Yûta Sone, and the executive producer of the film.  He brought the idea of casting his son in a yakuza film to Miike, though it’s reasonable to suspect he had a more traditional film in mind.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: In a film full of shocking imagery, the obscenely drooling cow-headed man who slowly approaches Minami to lick his face stands out.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRDGozu may be the culmination of Miike’s “weird and perverted”

English language trailer for Gozu

phase, loaded with his particular fetishes and combining the two genres he works best in: horror and the yakuza (mobster) film.  With its Eraserhead-like aura of personal alienation and fearsome psycho-sexual nightmares, bizarre identity shifts, and a cow-headed man as a mascot, Gozu‘s weirdness is never in doubt.

COMMENTS:  Sexual repression always makes a good base for a weird movie.  Our libidos Continue reading 57. GOZU (2003)

CAPSULE: TRIANGLE (2009)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Christopher Smith

FEATURING: Melissa George

PLOT: The mother of an autistic son reluctantly goes on a pleasure cruise with five other

Still from Triangle (2009)

young adults; the yacht capsizes in a freak electrical storm and the party is “rescued” by an abandoned ocean liner.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Triangle is weird, and frankly entertaining, but like Stay, it kept reminding me of other, slightly better, movies I’d seen before.

COMMENTSTriangle depends so much on its plot twist—which you will be highly unlikely to see coming until about the midpoint of the movie—that it’s difficult to talk about the film without spoiling it, though I’ll do my best.  Melissa George does a creditable job and was a good casting choice for the lead: she’s easy on the eyes, tough yet vulnerable, anguished in her misplaced guilt over “abandoning” her autistic son to go on the ill-fated pleasure cruise, and generally likable, all of which makes the film’s ultimate revelation about her easier to take.  The rest of the cast does a decent job in supporting roles, but it’s entirely George’s picture.  The direction is good: dramatic, suspense and action scenes are handled well, although there’s no single scene that sticks out quite far enough for the movie to hang a hat on.  The abandoned steamer—it’s never clear whether it’s a commercial ship or a luxury liner, although it does have a theater and a banquet room—makes for an atmospheric location on a mid-sized budget.  As noted, the mystery of the opening builds until about the midpoint, where things begin to get clear; then, it’s mostly a question of details, of following the premise where it will inevitably lead.  Unfortunately, where it leads is to a coda that creates more questions than it resolves.  It’s safe to say that the movie is more satisfying on an emotional level, as a metaphor for the difficulty of escaping a pattern of self-destructive behavior, than it is on a plot level.  Eventually, the script becomes too clever for its own good, gliding casually past the difficult paradoxes it creates, hoping the audience either won’t notice or won’t care.  That’s not always a problem in a movie, and along with the fact that the movie never tries to explain where it’s supernatural rules originate, it certainly adds to the weird factor.  But Triangle gives off the vibe that it wants to provide a satisfying and complete resolution, something that closes the loop, but can’t quite manage it.  When you get to the end, you may wind up asking yourself, where does this story actually begin?  With it’s cyclical structure that appears to wrap the plot up in a self-contained ball but actually falls apart on closer inspection, Triangle reminded me of a poor man’s Donnie Darko.  Compared to that adolescent angst flick, it’s more coherent but less original, less aggressive in its outrageous plot devices, less emotionally affecting, and lacking in star turns and impeccably orchestrated individual scenes.

Triangle is worthy of a recommendation.  But the film compares unfavorably not only to Donnie Darko, but also to the little seen Timecrimes [Los Cronocrímenes] (2007).   (To make things as twisted as one of these psychothriller plots, the original Timecrimes is being remade in English and is scheduled for a 2011 release, meaning soon enough we will see people complaining that Timecrimes is nothing but a Triangle rip-off).  It shares its central plot idea with the low-budget Spanish picture, and maybe even a little more than that: Continue reading CAPSULE: TRIANGLE (2009)

43. INK (2009)

“It was just an extra splash of weird.  We decided it wasn’t weird enough to begin with, so what can we really do to make this weird?”–Kiowa Winans on Ink‘s DVD commentary [explaining why the Incubi staves end in human hands]

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: (as Chris Kelly), Quinn Hunchar, Jessica Duffy, Jeremy Make, Jennifer Batter

PLOTInk introduces us to a world where a race of guardian angels called “Storytellers” guard over humanity and bring pleasant dreams while we sleep, while the evil “Incubi” sneak by our bedsides and send nightmares. One night, a mysterious cowled and chained figure comes into the room of a sleeping girl, defeats the assembled Storytellers, and snatches the child away to a limbo halfway between the waking and dreaming worlds. Meanwhile, in the earthly realm, the girl’s body lapses into a coma, while her estranged, workaholic father refuses to leave a billion dollar contract he’s working on to visit his daughter in the hospital.

ink

BACKGROUND:

  • Jamin Winans not only wrote, edited and directed the film, but also composed the soundtrack. Jamin’s wife Kiowa handled both sound design and art direction as well as serving as producer.
  • The movie was made for only $250,000.
  • Ink won the Best International Feature award at the Cancun Film Festival.
  • Despite faring well on the festival circuit, Ink was not picked up by a distributor; the producers self-distributed the movie to a few cinemas and oversaw the DVD and Blu-ray releases themselves.
  • After its DVD release, Ink was downloaded 400,000 times, becoming one of the ten most pirated features of the week of its release alongside major Hollywood films like Zombieland. On the official website, the filmmakers request voluntary donations from those who watched the movie for free.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The Incubi, demons for the digital age. Unmasked, these shadowy figures with glowing spectacles have become the film’s iconic poster image, but they are even more frightening when they hide their true visages behind happy-face projections flickering on perpetually on-the-fritz LCD monitors affixed to their heads.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Ink taps into the beautifully frightening, often disquieting aesthetic of fairy tales, mixing high-tech nightmare visions with ancient storytelling traditions to create a new mythology that’s simultaneously progressive and connected to the past. It blunts its weirdness by resolving its symbolism completely by the end, although the literal plot resolution remains a paradox. Even though all becomes clear by the end, the early reels can be a wild ride.

Original trailer for Ink

COMMENTS:  “Ink has been compared to cult classics Brazil, Donnie Darko, The Matrix, Continue reading 43. INK (2009)

CAPSULE: INTACTO (2001)

AKA Intact

DIRECTED BY: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo

FEATURING: Leonardo Sbaraglia, Eusebio Poncela, Mónica López, Max von Sydow

PLOT:  In a world where the power of luck is real and spread unequally, fortune’s favorites square off against each other in a series of secret tournaments, sometimes for mortal stakes.

Still from Intacto (2001)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  A weird kernel of an idea at the center of a movie can’t qualify it for the List of the 366 best weird movies of all time, without more. Intacto gives us a little bit more, in the form of the bizarre and unnerving rituals engaged in by luck’s elite, but although it’s a strange ride, it’s not enough.

COMMENTS: Intacto starts from a magical realist premise: an individual’s luck is not random, but quantifiable, like a red blood cell count. Some people have more of it than others, and it can be stolen, and traded. With that as the “what if?” starting point, first time director Fresnadillo constructs a strange world where the lucky carry grudges, face each other in underground tournaments, and use luck as a weapon. Structured as an arty dramatic thriller, the main fun to be had in Intacto comes from watching Fresnadillo slowly reveal the rules the fortunate play by. Particularly intriguing are the secretive games of chance the charmed set up to test their skills against one another; going far beyond five-card draw or craps, the matches are all highly artificial and ritualistic, with the rules not disclosed to the viewer beforehand, lending them a sense of mysterious gravity. The best and weirdest has a glowing green katydid selecting a champion by alighting on the molasses-smeared head of the luckiest blindfolded contestant in a darkened room in a casino basement. There’s a weirdish thrill to these mysterious bouts, but the rest of the thriller plot is not so thrilling. There are two converging plotlines. The primary strand features Federico, a former Chosen One who’s been robbed of his luck, seeking a disciple to square off against “the Jew” (a grave and typically impressive Max von Sydow), the lone survivor of a holocaust concentration camp and the reigning God of Chance. He finds one in Tomas, a bank robber and survivor of a plane crash. The secondary plot features Sara, a scarred female detective herself chosen by fortune, who seeks to bring Tomas to justice. The way the dual storylines play out in the climax is satisfying enough, but don’t expect any startling twists or heart-racing moments.

The major downside is that the film, thematically a metaphor about survivor guilt that’s difficult for the average person to connect with emotionally, is relentlessly downbeat and gloomy. Moody Tomas, backed by a morose Federico and hunted by glum female detective, squares off against the haunted Jew. Between the four of them, they can hardly manage to crack one joke or smile to lighten the mood. Intacto’s themes are weighty, but it also seems that director Fresnadillo is also convinced that an oppressive atmosphere is necessary to make an Important Film.

An inversion of Fresnadillo’s scenario can be found in 2003’s less effective and less weird The Cooler, starring William H. Macy as a mope who’s so ill-starred that a Las Vegas casino hires him to drain away the luck of roulette players and slot-jockeys.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Elegant and lucid, and inflected with its own weird species of drollery, Intacto is a cerebral occult thriller from first-time Spanish director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, unfolding like a dangerously tricky puzzle, teasing and provoking.”–Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian (contemporaneous)