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The main image that this film brings to mind is from a documentary I saw some time ago where an elderly gentleman lacking funds and consigned to a Russian care home was carpenting his own coffin. In this film, Jean-René, chatelain of a decoratively fortified country pile, finds out that he is dying. As one final splurge he arranges for a company of actors to put on a production on the theme of the myth of Dionysus. Ultimately they are incompetent and he is forced to stage his own scenario, for which the troupe are merely required to spectate, a pared down duty which they nonetheless manage to fail at. There is perhaps a message here that you get out of life what you put in, you must come to terms with the world and pen your own epitaph, clairvoyant in the knowledge that you are the only one qualified to do so (and even to read it).
In this regard, I was also reminded of the Rivette film "Love on the Ground", a film about directing (amongst other things), where the auteur character (Clémont Roquemaure) is the only one with a true overview of his creation. The final play he puts on in that particular film, is a true self expression, which meets with total rejection by the select audience, showing similarly that not only must you fabricate your own creation, you must also act as the only real audience. There is a curious reflexive quality to this rumination as I sit here writing a review that, in all likelihood, only a very few people will ever read, and in the circumstance that most that happen here will be hostile to this movie.
It was commented on in the liner notes for the UK DVD release that the film had a sense of humour that was similar to Monty Python. For me this film was not funny, in the sense that it rarely made me laugh. However there are quotations in this film, and situations, which most people will find ludicrous enough to laugh at: for example Yves says, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger", after seeing a whole film that suggests perhaps the opposite, you can easily start laughing.
The film lacks aesthetic grandeur (note particularly the introduction of jarring fluorescent pink and yellow at points in the film), and yet another quote is perhaps responsible for explaining this, Jean-René quotes Angelus Silesius, "The rose knows no why, blooming because she blooms, caring nothing for herself, nor desiring to be seen". That is a quote which I believe means two things, firstly it has been taken as a thumb-in-the-eye to aesthetics, secondly Angelus Silesius was known to understand the rose as a symbol of a human soul, and so he is perhaps referring to our general limited awareness as humans. Indeed the characters in the movie are pretty unaware folk, whose pastimes range from character assassination to bed-hopping via petty bickering. Apart from ludicrous, presumptive, often misogynistic backbiting, ("She'll either be wed or hanged by year's end.") most of the film consists of scenes of the "spassing" of these characters, of their simple joys. At one point I'm quite convinced this references Fassbinder's movie Chinese Roulette, which contained elements of "spassing" and indeed both movies have women rollerskating in doors for the sake of spassing. Another key source of inspiration must surely have been Bunuel's Viridiana (the beggars feast), although others have mentioned The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (which I have not seen).
Going back to the Russian reference, amongst the many seeming influences of this film one would be Chekhov, who comes up at one point when a character mentions that all Chekhov plays end with a pistol shot. Indeed there is a rather Chekhovian feel with the characters in this movie. The following Chekhov quote chimes well with the film, "Life does not agree with philosophy: There is no happiness that is not idleness, and only what is useless is pleasurable." Instances of these useless idle pleasures include troupe director Yves conversing with a cat, "s'il te plaît, aide-moi!" ("help me please"); the financial director smashing fine Napoleon china; and Jean-René gibberish jamming with piano playing.
Strangely perhaps what will stay with me the longest is a strangely framed and shot dream sequence where an actress floats over the countryside in a hot air balloon, or where we see the simple art of watching the sky whilst led on one's back rendered in POV.
If this film doesn't sound strange enough, know this, after watching it, all of a sudden I started to hatch plans for the construction of my Tomb Niveous on a small icebound Antarctic island.
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