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Handke-Haneke-esque exploration of the idea of observation.
I've seen a lot of films in recent years that seem to come from the Michael Haneke School of detached, forensic, precise observation of the lives of the characters. In a few cases, this style is married with an off-beat, slightly surreal comedy, something I associate with Haneke's fellow Austrian, Peter Handke. I'm thinking of this film, and of DOGTOOTH, by Lanthimos. Both DOGTOOTH and the EXCHANGE have a wry, ironic but very original way of looking at the world. In the EXCHANGE, the lead character undergoes some kind of breakdown that is also a transformation; he can no longer look at life in a "normal" way, he begins to see unusual patterns in things, he begins to observe things differently, and to be aware of himself observing things, observing the observer; something that surely echoes with his work as a physicist, where it is now clear that the fact of observing phenomena actually changes their state. Although Kolirin doesn't seem to know where to go with this idea (the ending is good, but not exciting) this provides a fascinating, funny and weird cinema experience... thought-provoking and odd.
V tumane (2012)
Elegant, dark and involving
Loznitsa's MY JOY was one of the very best films of 2010, and so I was very much looking forward to seeing this. Whilst it is not as ground- breaking and arresting as the earlier film, it is still a fine entry in the long-standing tradition of the (ex-)Soviet war film... The setting is Belarus under German control, calling Klimov's COME AND SEE to mind, but this is a much more low-key, sober, elegant film concerning the muddy morality and conflicted ethical choices of war-time. Its quasi Jesus-like central figure recalls Shepitko's THE ASCENT, but whilst Shepitko's Jesus is sacrificed, Loznitsa's finds that suicide can be the only solution to the ethical dilemma of how to be Good in an internecine war. In a situation where to do nothing is collusion, where to be spared death is seen as collaboration with the enemy, where betrayal and suspicion are stronger than loyalty and solidarity, there is no room for virtue. This bleak world-view echoes the darkness of MY JOY, but in this film, Oleg Mutu's typically brilliant cinematography is bright and sharp, luminous. Beautiful forests surround the sinful and sinning characters; the irony of the beautiful world in which human ugliness takes centre stage.
A torinói ló (2011)
Extraordinary and haunting film about the apocalypse...
For most of the film's length we watch a father and daughter's sparse and bleak existence in a remote farmhouse, blasted by an eternal wind. Only a couple of visitors come to break the near-silent existence of this couple and their ageing horse. Out of this silence and the wind and the darkness, an apocalyptic vision of a fallen, corrupt world emerges.
It's a unique and haunting film, like a filming of a near-wordless play of Beckett, stained with an indelible sadness and regret that our world cannot be saved from darkness. Along with SATANTANGO and WERCKMEISTER HARMONIES, this is another masterpiece from Bela Tarr and his regular band of collaborators.
Brighton Rock (2010)
Despite apparent substantial expense (60s period trappings et. al.) and impressively glossy cinematography, this is a drab, incompetent and unconvincing film. I'm no huge fan of the Boulting movie, but this remake/ new version suffers poorly in comparison. Joffe seems to have little clue in directing actors(there are some great actors here giving cringe-inducing performances), and the plot mechanics are amateurishly worked out (a car stalls conveniently allowing time for a character to get inside it, whereupon it starts working again... there are several such moments in which credibility is sacrificed for the sake of convenience). Mostly, however, it's an embarrassing experience. Lots of histrionics and glossy lighting, but no-one seems to know what they're doing in this directionless mess.
Schaste moe (2010)
Brilliant, bleak film
Certainly one of the best films of the year, MY JOY depicts the journey of a truck driver through contemporary Russia. The journey is full of detours, some of which take in scenes from the past, from 60 years or so ago, in the time of World War Two. In beautiful, lyrical mise-en-scene, the director shows scenes of brutality, rudeness, corruption and violence; this is a poetical portrayal of ugliness... Whether it is intended as a depiction of the brutality of conditions in contemporary Russia, or whether it is intended more as a general portrait of the human condition is not entirely clear to me, but, whatever it is, this is strong, haunting film-making, skillfully depicting a disjointed world of violence and degradation.
Püha Tõnu kiusamine (2009)
dark, absurd, surprising film
A film that follows the travails of a middle management guy through a black-and-white Estonia, leading from funerals to swamps to theatres, from dinner parties to ruined churches and a cannibal cabaret nightclub.
This is an unusual and original film... whilst it has echoes of film-makers such as Roy Andersson or Bela Tarr, it is also clear that Ounpuu has his own original voice to develop. In a few places the surrealism or absurdism seemed, to me, a bit forced or self-conscious,but in many places the film is truly unique, funny, disturbing, odd, dreamlike and poignant. An unhoned, rough talent maybe, but a big one.. I'll look forward to his next film...
Petzold is a very controlled and composed film-maker. In this film, as in GESPENSTER, he uses this almost forensic calm and diurnal realism to explore metaphysical issues. So this film, which ostensibly takes place in the aggressive financial world of mergers and acquisitions, is also a film about death, the soul, and guilt. It is a great challenge to look at these intangible themes through the prism of a very tangible, concrete world - but this Petzold does achieve, with beautifully composed and controlled imagery, and even a nice line in wry, ironic humour. There are some great performances in the film - they draw you part of the way in, but nevertheless there is still some distance between viewer and film. This maybe results in a slightly cold viewing experience, but the film has stayed with me long after its end - it is a complex and highly rewarding work, if mainly in retrospect.
Voici venu le temps (2005)
Originality of voice in this world of dream-logic.
Guiraudie seems to be carving out a very individual niche in French cinema, and this seems to me to be his most consistent film to date, though the others are certainly worth looking at. Here he creates a small, discreet universe with its own rules, currency, economy, political struggles and caste system. To an extent this alternative world reflects our own, but, thankfully, this is not some "clever" allegory about contemporary life, but rather a hermetically sealed dream world. But whereas most cinematic dream worlds concentrate on the bizarre or the nightmarish or the flamboyant, Guiraudie's oneiric space more closely resembles the real world of dreams - at least of those rambling but strangely coherent dreams that leave you tired the next morning (at least I know what I'm talking about... maybe not everyone has this kind of dream, but I do). It is a world that verges on the banale at times, but which also verges on the poetic at others. It's a perplexing but highly stimulating (and often funny) film to watch, and personally I am grateful for any 90 minutes in the cinema which feels completely fresh, original and quite unlike anything else I have seen. There may be "better" films this year, but I treasure this one for being unique: there is complete originality of voice here, and a great ambition to try and achieve something banale but at the same time ineffable - an ambition in which, amazingly, Guiraudie very nearly succeeds.
Ty i ya (1971)
Rambling, but eventually effective.
Shepitko's THE ASCENT is one of my favourite films, so I was really looking forward to this. It didn't surprise me that it's not as good as the ASCENT (few films are!), but it was only really towards the end that I can say that I really appreciated the film. There is a fractured narrative that at times in intriguing, and, at others, merely feels obscurantist and prone to rather uninteresting diversions. However, there are some excellent scenes throughout the film and overall the film has an attractive character to it, so it's no chore to stay with its ramblings, and, in the end the story comes together in an atmospheric and morally forceful conclusion. Like THE ASCENT, YOU AND ME is blessed by a wonderful score by Schnittke.
Zbehovia a pútnici (1968)
Spirited but wearying.
This is a very energetic, very strange, very shrill film about death in a surreal Slovakia. Three episodes cover three different historical periods, two in the past, one in a post-nuclear-apocalypse future. If you take the most strident bits of middle- or late-period Fellini, cross-pollenate that with the obscure, balletic late films of Jancso, add the geese- and gypsy-milieu of Kusturica, and you might have an idea of what this is like to watch; there's a lot of invention and colour, but it's so highly strung and shrilly pitched that the film swiftly becomes a bit grating, and frequently dull. However, a curio, and probably worth seeing once.