A city with no name, a young woman with no history, a house apart - a strange island in a sea of trees. I like the lack of references to anything external to this system. The world of this movie is airtight. I'm reminded of the famous story retold by W. Somerset Maugham, "Appointment in Samarra", where a man, upon bumping into Death in the streets of Baghdad, flees to Samarra to avoid his wrath, but instead runs into Death who is waiting for him in Samarra, and whose anger at the jostling in Baghdad is revealed to have been mere surprise, as he had been expecting to see the man in Samarra later in the day. The sealed nature of this film demands a focus on inevitability.
A young woman, Iris, wanders alone in the port area of the city, along superannuated towpaths, past the gigantic hulks of international shipping; outside of work the closest she comes to really being with others is staring at prostitutes behind plate glass, or contemplating entering a bar. There's something brutal about the isolation of Iris by the filmmaker. When I reviewed In The City of Sylvia, similarly a beautiful movie with an isolated character, I said that the filmmaker should either have won the Golden Lion at Venice or have been brutally murdered; I've similar feelings here.
Today is Sunday and I've been sat in a deserted office building writing this review, ostensibly here to study for exams, but procrastinating somewhat. The morning streets are almost empty, a white contrail hints at faraway adventures that I'll never be part of, the river is full of empty boats. There is nothing good about being alone; the beauty of it is only a subtle form of cruelty.
The soundtrack of the movie is done by Beth Gibbons of Portishead; its fractured entropised lilt is just right; you only ever catch fragments of lyrics.
Iris gets work as the sole employee in the strange set aside laboratory. The laboratory offers a simple service whereby people may come and, for a fee, have items preserved and stored away. This seems quite a perverse thing to do. Memory, which it seems this film is about, IS perverse. Recently I wrote three poems to a woman I love, who I later learnt has no desire to be with me, I never gave them to her. A colleague tells me I should burn them, and that is perhaps the best thing to do, but perversity wills me to preserve them, to torture myself. Memory becomes viscous ooze in which you are trapped, finally it solidifies and turns into amber. People (mostly children) who can live in the moment, truly do not know how lucky they are.
Some have called the film erotic, however the erotic whilst present, is as intangible as a passing cloud on a sunny day. Marc Barbé's conserver remains inscrutable and devoid of passion during sex scenes. Sex scenes with him are no more or less sensual than seeing a spider cocooning a fly, trapped for inclusion in its larder. One quite disturbing picture from above shows us an image of his head on Iris' body, he is merely consuming her.
Other aspects of the erotic are fetishistic, the focus on the shoes that Iris is made to wear for her work, her clothing, which the sailor who sleeps in her room in the morning feels and smells in her absence. The movie brought to mind for me Magritte's two famous fetishistic paintings, The Red Model, and Philosophy in the Boudoir, both of which show clothing suggesting the female form. (Philosophy in the Boudoir also came to mind during In The City of Sylvia).
Mahjong came into play as it does in all good surreal movies (cross-reference to Robbe-Grillet's The Blue Villa). You could if you want see Iris as a flower tile, and the laboratory door as the white dragon tile (which is a blank tile in Mahjong, or blankness with a rectangular border). These are symbolic, but I don't want to spoil the movie by mentioning how.
Do not watch this movie, arrange to have all copies burnt!
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