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.
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:
(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.)