Tag Archives: International cast and crew

CAPSULE: WERNER HERZOG: RADICAL DREAMER (2022)

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Werner Herzog: Radical Dreamer can be rented or purchased on-demand.

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Thomas von Steinaecker

FEATURING: Werner Herzog

PLOT: Talking heads and archival footage come together to explore the career of Werner Herzog.

COMMENTS: I recall reading a review of a Herzog film from some years ago in which the critic dismissed the director as riding his own coattails for a good long while. But here’s the thing: this is Herzog, and he’s allowed to do what he wants. Even if he weren’t allowed, he’d do it anyway—a point made firmly, but gently, in Thomas Von Steinaecker’s Radical Dreamer. Combining the traditional mix of archival footage, eager talking heads, and conversations with the director-subject, this ninety minutes breezes by compellingly and informatively, painting a picture of this pleasantly non-traditional artist detailed enough for nearly any Herzog-habitué.

Steinaecker benefits not only from having a chattily obliging subject—Herzog’s wit, openness, and slightly non-sequitur way of thinking makes him always interesting to observe—but also from those “eager talking heads”, which proved an impressive line-up. , , Carl Weathers, , and , as well as his two brothers (finding that there are in fact three Herzog boys, all alive and well, was a delight): all had intelligent, and impressed-but-not-sycophantic remarks to deliver.  Bale, in particular, provides a font of amusing, unlikely observations; for example, “Look at Werner’s face, right? He’s got a good face. A really fascinating face.” These contemporary conversations, paired with archival footage of most of Herzog’s major projects, provide a thorough summary of the man and his career without overwhelming the viewer with minutiae.

Just before the documentary went to credits, the screen froze at a perfect moment during the wrap-up. Herzog appeared in the first season of “The Mandalorian” as, you might say, an evil version of himself. Seated across from the titular bounty hunter, Herzog’s character is chiding the other, arguing the pointlessness of the revolution. “I see nothing but death and chaos.” And in a way, that sums up Herzog’s view—as perceived by a dark soul. Werner Herzog, as illustrated amply during interviews throughout his life, as testified by countless creatives who have worked with and under him, and as shown, grandly and obliquely, through so much of his work, is not “dark,” however. There is death to life; there is chaos to life. But being intrinsic to these elements, there is also gentleness and wonderment.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The true value of Thomas von Steinaecker’s thorough feature documentary is the ease with which he has Werner on-side. The true test of a biographical documentary of this nature is the depth of investment by its subject. Herzog is at total ease with Steinaecker’s camera.” — Chris Greenwood, A Sliver of Film (contemporaneous)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: IDENTIKIT (1974)

AKA The Driver’s Seat

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DIRECTED BY: Giuseppe Patroni Griffi

FEATURING: Elizabeth Taylor, Gino Giuseppe, , Maxence Mailfort

PLOT: Having been fired from her job after a nervous breakdown, Lise travels to Italy to find the man of her destiny.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: The fractured narrative, which freely jumps back, forth, and freeze-frames, disorients the viewer ceaselessly as we try to figure out just what Lise is up to as she has random and unlikely encounters in a version of Rome which appears to have been cast into the Uncanny Valley by a miffed deity.

COMMENTS: Elizabeth Taylor brings the goods full to the fore as Lise, pivoting between blasé tourist, unhinged pixie woman, and ferocious lioness—all while sporting a rainbow-seared traveling dress. This dress, which is quite the eye-catching sight among many eye-catching sights, somehow manages to get the jump on us. Identikit opens from the neck up, so to speak, as the camera follows Elizabeth Taylor’s famous face gazing around an undefined space filled with aluminum-foil-topped mannequins. Then, a medium shot, and we see the dress, a dress I suspect is one of the more famous in motion picture history. Lise loves it! The German saleswoman tells her it also has been rendered stain resistant. Lise hates it! A fit ensues, a senior clerk is summoned, Lise is calmed with an untreated dress, and so an ambiguous adventure begins.

Identikit‘s somewhat odd beginning shifts into full-blown ambiguity during a scene at the  Hamburg airport. Shortly after advising an elderly woman which dime-novel might be “more exciting, more sadomasochistic,” Lise retrieves her boarding pass. The frame freezes on Lise’s face (and wild ‘do, which veers between being free-spirited and crazy), and a voiceover breathlessly communicates an Interpol investigation. Throughout, the director doesn’t shy away from further still shots, as well as copious timeline-ambiguating interviews between those who interact with Lise—airplane passengers, porters, a nobleman played by Andy Warhol, because it’s 1974 and why not?—and even the Italian police, who are also neck-deep in a sub-sub-plot investigation into terrorists, bombings, and a Middle Eastern royal in hiding.

The story isn’t illogical in its progression, but doesn’t make clear its arc until the final scene involving a young, mild-mannered Nova Scotian who wears a size nine shoe. Countless such details are dropped into the dialogue as Lise spends a hectic day in Rome before her assignation at a park pavilion. There, a delightfully chaotic mountain of park chairs graces the otherwise orderly park-scape, mirroring Lise’s coif. And even when the story becomes clear (enough), the purpose remains something of a cipher—mirroring Lise herself.

Elizabeth Taylor’s dedication to this character is apparent: from her wild hair, to her dramatic makeup, and down the length of the psychedelic dress. As an exercise in dramatic storytelling, Identikit keeps the viewer on their toes, with promise of a crime (or crimes) to be unearthed. But it is more a character study, dissecting a single frenetic day in the life of a woman who has obviously been much put-upon, and who has decided to let go of everything in order to determine existence on her own terms.

Indentikit is available as part of the “House of Psychotic Women” box set (reviewed here), or can be rented on-demand separately.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…super-weird narrative… the star-power of Elizabeth Taylor drives this strange, yet fascinating project with remarkable verve.”–Eddie Harrison, film-authority (2023 Blu-ray)

IT CAME FROM THE READER-SUGGESTED QUEUE: LA CICATRICE INTÉRIEURE [THE INNER SCAR] (1972)

DIRECTED BY: Philippe Garrel

FEATURING: Nico, Pierre Clémenti, Philippe Garrel, Christian Aaron Boulogne

PLOT: A man leads a woman through the desert;  abandons her as she pleads for help;  a nude archer arrives; the woman travels with him as well, until she again cries out in despair.

Still from La Cicatrice Interieur [The Inner Scar] (1972)

COMMENTS: The woman sits alone in a desolate landscape. A man approaches, wearing a burnt umber suit that is somehow both 70s and Victorian. He pulls the woman to her feet. They walk, heading toward the horizon as we fade to black. Before we’ve had a chance to fade in on the new scene, we can hear her, sobbing and wailing that she can’t breathe. She keens like a toddler who has been denied dessert, and the silent man finally abandons her, trudging off… in what turns out to be a circle, ending up right back with his bereft traveling companion. She shrieks “I don’t need you!” and staggers off into the distance. 

So passes the first ten minutes of La cicatrice intérieure. There isn’t going to be all that much variation on the theme. A first-time viewer should gird their loins for a lot of walking, a lot of screaming, occasional appearances by fire, and several dramatic songs that might be at home in a Ren Faire, courtesy of Nico. It’s the kind of film that will devote five minutes to despairing cries of“There is no justice!” followed immediately by an extended tracking shot of sheep being herded down a dirt road.

The temptation is to view La cicatrice intérieure as some kind of allegory. No one has a name, no one engages in dialogue, none of this should be taken literally. The locations in Egypt, Iceland, and New Mexico are stunning, but the people are barely even characters, and there are almost no situations to speak of. (The film even starts to parody itself, as more than one lengthy pan across a dramatic vista suddenly reveals Nico, once more shattering the peace with her vocal despair like an inescapable buzzkill.) But it doesn’t really say much in an abstract sense, either. The fire, the sword, the giddy nude toddler lying on a fur amidst a field of ice… they’re metaphorical, but without actually representing anything. 

So what is the goal? The film seems to function in part as a kind of proto-music video for Nico, the German chanteuse best known for her collaboration with the Velvet Underground. This makes it all the more curious that she doesn’t get top billing. Here she is, the actor with the most screen time, the only one to make the journey from the beginning of the film to the end, the ostensible reason the film exists at all, and she’s listed second. Although in fairness, perhaps the top spot is meant as a reward for Clémenti, who shows up as the new male lead roughly halfway through the film and who spends the duration completely naked save for a quiver and bow (which go unused). Clémenti is mostly impassive, although he impressively does things unclothed like ride a horse or sail a boat off an icy coast, inspiring the thought, “That looks really uncomfortable.”

The few moments of speech may be a clue as to the directorial intent. Nico alternates between German and English, while Clémenti and an adolescent boy speak French. Garrel reportedly refused to permit subtitles, meaning the literal incomprehensibility of some of the dialogue is a feature, not a bug. Being opaque is the point. That seems to be an overriding philosophy in La cicatrice intérieure; if you’re going to complain about things not making sense, you’re not the right audience. In that case, you might want to take a walk.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… pretentious artsy indulgence at its worst.” – Zev Toledano, The Worldwide Celluloid Massacre

(This movie was nominated for review by NGboo, who dubbed it one of “the most surreal and weirdest movies I’ve seen this year” back in 2011. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: CONTAINER (2006)

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DIRECTED BY: Lukas Moodysson

FEATURING: The body of Peter Lorentzon and the voice of Jena Malone

PLOT: A male figure wanders around an apartment and derelict areas; a female figure inhabits an hotel room, occasionally interacting with him.

Still from Container (2006)

COMMENTS: This reviewer deleted his original opening to these comments, as it was profane and filled with curses. Perhaps this suggests the power of Lukas Moodysson’s contemplation on modern life, despair, and transgender perception; but, as the director’s namesake painfully suggests, this is a moody, moody piece. It is a litany of nouns and complaints. Some are grand, but most comprise a barrage of irksome sadness, a steady flow of quiet misery delivered in a squeaking near-monotone that forever flirts with outright un-stand-ability.

Occasionally interesting things float to the surface of this collage of tragic mundanity. Moodysson’s metaphor is apt. The film’s subject is not a gay man, she tells us, but a straight woman trapped in a disgusting body (her words, mind you) with a willy. They are alternately tired of lugging this horrible form around—illustrated when the woman figure acts as caretaker to the bloated frame, brushes its teeth, puts it to bed—and tired of carrying this insistent, petulant creature inside—shown through recurring images of the large man carrying the elfin form of the woman on his back. There is no satisfaction here, no relief—not through gossip magazines, drunken soirées, random hook-ups, gallons of lotion, or untold amounts of medication.

Container overstays its welcome for nearly as long as its run time. I felt the pain and confusion, but I felt it within minutes of beginning the ordeal. Moodysson’s dabbling with meta-narration is intriguing: at various points the thoughts of the voice actress, wondering why she was cast, comes through the noise, as do the occasional remarks presumably from the actor Peter Lorentzon. (I’m not actually this depressed, he comments through Jena Malone’s reading, I’m just performing a role here.) And there are even moments of absurd humor—making the line “How the Hell did all of Romania fit inside Britney Spears?” perfectly reasonable in context is quite the coup. However, the director has a lot of the exact same thing to say, and takes the liberty of doing so. I am certain that this is the point: gender dysphoria is a serious beast, sometimes deadly so. I am also certain that the ever-accumulating tedium blunts the impact, making something tragically inspirational into something merely wearying and dispiriting.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Moodysson says he expects his film to find an appreciative audience of seven. He’s probably right. But those seven will doubtlessly think it’s one of the weirdest, most disturbing things they’ve seen in ages.”–Jamie Russell, BBC (contemporaneous)