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Irreversible begins with an old man sat in a room (Philippe Nahon of Seul Contre Tous) telling another man that "time destroys all things" and that he slept with his daughter, while outside we can hear a commotion. This is the start of the back-to-front story, which goes from frenzy, chaos, violence, then finally concludes with peace and tranquillity. The main three characters are Marcus (Vincent Cassel), his partner, Alex (Monica Bellucci), and her ex, Pierre (Albert Dupontel). The first time we see Marcus and Pierre they are frantically searching a gay club called The Rectum for a man called Le Tenia, who they believe raped and badly beat Alex. They come across two men in a doorway in the club, one of whom Marcus thinks is Le Tenia. He fights one of the men, who then breaks Marcus' arm and is about to rape him. The next sequence is an amazing attack, and one of the most realistic killings I have ever seen in a film. Pierre intervenes with a fire-extinguisher and proceeds to the ram the butt of the object into the man's face no less than twenty-three times. It is very effective. What is also ironic is the man who is killed isn't the man who raped Alex - it was the other man in the doorway. But the most controversial scene is the vicious rape and assault of Alex. She is trying to cross the road and is ironically told by a woman to use the underpass because it's safer. It is a distressing scene and it is more traumatic for the spectator than the ones in Straw Dogs and I Spit on Your Grave because the camera never moves. It is perched very low on a tripod and stays there. We can't escape the ordeal on screen. After this we witness the events leading up to a party, sexual talk between the trio, and the love between Marcus and Alex. It is a skillfully made film. I also liked the music. I'm glad I watched it.
A worthy exploration of multimedia
The Moab Story is a fascinating cinematic experiment - it really is an encyclopedic CD-ROM-like film - it reminded me of The Pillow Book and A TV Dante in its presentation. The screen is predominantly busy with informative movement. I watched the film on DVD and the text on screen is small, but I was constantly zooming in on the picture to read it so it wasn't a problem. But the viewing would be enhanced watching it on as large a screen as possible, but having said that it is appropriate for DVD with its interactivity. The project as a whole begs for interactivity with the individual user.
The film begins with showing us actors auditioning for roles, which is also used later. Tulse is a young boy with his friend Martino Knockavelli in the back yard of his house in Newport, Wales. A red brick wall collapses on Tulse and then we progress through history, with war footage in the background. Tulse travels to Moab where he is abused and jailed, and then later travels to Antwerp and faces the sinister Red Fox fascists. Throughout the film a small box with the head of a talking expert inside appears (like A TV Dante) describing the background of what is happening. Characters are noted on screen with name and number when they appear. It was fun reading all of Luper's Lost Films that scrolled down the screen, as well as seeing the other suitcases (suitcases 1 - 21 are featured in this film). It was good to see former Greenaway films - Vertical Features Remake, Water Wrackets, A Zed & Two Noughts, and The Belly of an Architect - referenced and appear. Greenaway is really experimenting here with image and sound, using repetitive sound at times giving an echoing effect. He plays with connecting numbers to draw shapes on screen when Percy strikes Tulse. Sometimes the screenplay is shown on screen after the characters have said it. The cinematography by Reinier Van Brummelen is good. The music by Borut Krzisnik is superb and feels appropriate. In the acting stakes Caroline Dhavernas is the stand out, and J.J. Feild does a capable job as Tulse. It's a film that (like all Greenaway films) needs to be watched several times. I look forward to seeing Vaux to the Sea.
Zorns Lemma (1970)
This is an amazing experimental film from American avant-garde filmmaker Hollis Frampton. It begins with a dark screen and a woman narrating from The Bay State Primer, an early American grammar textbook that teaches the letters of the alphabet by using them in sentences derived from the Bible, then the rest of the film is mostly silent. It presents us with a recurring structure that perpetually moves throughout a 24-letter alphabet via various signs in New York with words that propel the film along. Gradually other images are added to the loop, some of them themselves slowly developing as we arrive at them the next time around. It concludes with a man, woman and dog crossing a snowy field, while several narrators each narrate one word at a time read from an 11th century treatise, "On Light, or the Ingression of Forms", by Robert Grosseteste. Ambiguous, metaphorical and fascinating. A veritable masterpiece of structural filmmaking.
The film is also a major influence on Peter Greenaway - it is one of the films he most admires.
Greaser's Palace (1972)
Surreal, absurd, unique
Greaser's Palace is a comical, chaotic, absurdist and surreal religious parody. It's like El Topo meets The Life of Brian. Alan Arrbus plays a strange messiah-like zoot-suited actor/singer/dancer called Jessy, who one day parachutes into a field close to a Western town where a host of odd characters hang out, the main one being a constipated chap called Seaweedhead Greaser, who runs the titular saloon. Jessy has some miraculous traits - he can walk on water and heals some of the locals by telling them: "If you feel, you heal". One of the most memorable scenes (and my favourite) is when Jessy approaches a group of people praying and says to them: "I bring you a message. Exactly six miles north of Skagg Mountain in the Valley of Pain, there lives an evil devil-monster. His name is Bingo Gas Station Motel Cheeseburger With A Side Of Aircraft Noise And You'll Be Gary Indiana. And he loves to hurt people. The last time I saw Bingo Gas Station Motel Cheeseburger With A Side Of Aircraft Noise And You'll Be Gary Indiana, he told me what he wants to do. He wants to come down here and kill each and every one of you. But I said to him: 'Bingo, wait a minute!'. And the reason I said that is because I believe in you people. I believe you can do the job. I believe you can help each other. I believe you can make this world a better place to live in. That's it".
If you haven't seen this film then it must go on your must-see list of films, category surrealism. Chaotic cineastes will approve.
J'irai comme un cheval fou (1973)
Another masterly piece of cinematic surrealism from Arrabal
Three years after Viva la Muerte, Fernando Arrabal created J'Irai Comme Un Cheval Fou (I Will Walk Like a Crazy Horse), another masterly piece of cinematic surrealism. It follows two men, Aden and Marvel. Aden is sought by the police and on the run after the death of his mother, when he meets the appropriately named Marvel, a mystical loner who lives in the desert with his goat. One of his Marvel's skills is turning day immediately into night (and vice versa) with the click off his thumbs. Aden falls in love with Marvel, and decides to show him the big city. This is where Arrabal shows us the chaos of humanity. Many memorable images ensue. This is imperative viewing for any people interested in surrealism in film. I can't recommend it enough.
Mix-Up ou Meli-melo (1986)
An innovative, inventive and unique documentary
The premise for a 60-minute documentary: Two female babies were mixed-up at birth by mistake in England in 1936, and we are told the story through all the people involved. That description could sound like a dullish BBC documentary from the 70s, but this example is far from dull. The film begins with two old ladies introducing themselves to us - the first one is Margaret Wheeler, the natural mother of Peggy and the foster-mother of Valerie, who were born in Nottingham, England 48 years previously. The other is Blanche Rylatt, the natural mother of Valerie and the foster-mother of Peggy. They tell us the circumstances of how the babies were mistakenly mixed-up. Then Margaret's eccentric husband, Charles, introduces himself to us through an open window, telling us about the 8mm films he's made. Each of these scenes is carefully set up with people walking into shot and out again and then in the background. Indeed, most of the scenes in this unorthodox gem of a film are structured in different ways. It's unusual that an all-French crew made a documentary film about English people in England. The end credits are appropriately playful, with each of the crew entering the frame from below onto some scales and smiling and waving, then returning from where they came.
Mix-up ou Meli-Melo is a peculiar film that is innovative, inventive and intriguing, and turns a possibly dour documentary film into something unique.
Les convoyeurs attendent (1999)
Surreal and charming dark comedy
This is an absurdist dark comedy from Belgium. Shot perfectly in crisp black and white, Benoît Poelvoorde (Man Bites Dog) is on fine form as Roger, the angry, obsessive father of a family in a small, sullen Belgian mining town. Roger is a photographer who, along with his young daughter Luise, visits road accidents to take photos. He is also obsessed with winning a car by entering a competition where the contestant has to break a record - and he decides that his son, Michel, must attempt to break the record of perpetually walking through a door - he even hires an overweight coach to train him. Michel dresses as Elvis and has a spot on a radio show called 'Cinema Lies', where he describes mistakes in films. Luise is friendly with near neighbour Felix, a pigeon fancier. Roger is a callous figure as he pushes Michel right over the limit during the record attempt, which almost results in his death. Interspersed throughout the film are Magritte-like surreal images. It's undeniably charming and well worth your time.
Viva la muerte (1971)
Essential viewing for surrealist cineastes
Viva la Muerte begins with the credits over a view of surreal Roland Topor images while a pleasant tune plays. The film's central figure is a young boy named Fando, who lives with his mother. His father has been arrested during the Spanish Civil War. Fando later finds a letter and discovers his mother turned his father in to the authorities. This triggers off the many fantasy sequences of Fando. Arrabal uses grainy filtered footage during these sequences and gives them several different colours. The film is full of frenzy. It was created by someone with a furious imagination. The bull slaughter scene is a masterful surrealist sequence. It is a remarkable film and essential viewing for anyone interested in surrealism.
The Bed Sitting Room (1969)
An absurdist classic
This is a wonderful surreal comedy based on the play by Spike Milligan and John Antrobus. You know that it is going to be an odd film right at the beginning, when the opening credits list the cast in order of their height. The film begins with the BBC (Frank Thornton) telling us through the facade of an old television that this is the third, or is it the fourth?, anniversary of the shortest war in history, lasting 2 hours and 28 minutes. England is now a barren landscape, littered with derelict cars and buildings, hills of old boots, broken crockery, and other debris. Forty million people perished and there are only 20 known survivors. The Queen did not survive, and of the 20 known survivors the next in line for the throne is a Mrs Ethel Schroake of 393a High Street, Leytonstone. Among the other survivors are Ralph Richardson (O Lucky Man!) as Lord Fortnum of Alamein, who isn't looking forward to his impending mutation into a bed sitting room. Michael Hordern is Bules Martin, who wears a 18-carat Hovis bread ring. Spike Milligan is a postman who wanders around and delivers some memorable dialogue, for example: "And in come the three bears - the daddy bear said, 'Who's been sleeping in my porridge?' - and the mummy bear said, 'that's no porridge, that was my wife' ". Arthur Lowe is slowly turning into a parrot (which is then eaten by Spike Milligan), while his wife, the owner of her own death certificate, turns into a wardrobe. His daughter is pregnant with a strange creature, which she has held inside her for seventeen months. Peter Cook and Dudley Moore are a pair of policemen who perpetually tell the others to "keep moving!". Moore growls a lot and turns into a dog at the end. Marty Feldman is a wellington-boot-wearing nurse. It's a hilarious, absurdist treat, and one of my treasured filmic pleasures.
The Sea in Their Blood (1983)
This is an astounding documentary film showing (and describing to us) what it is like to be beside the sea in Britain. The film was started in 1976 and shelved for a while, then completed in 1983. Greenaway offers us an eclectic array of images related to the sea - boats, slides of fish, photographs, huge waves crashing against the rocks, piers, Blackpool Tower, lighthouses - while a narrator describes a mind-boggling set of statistics and information of the British Coastline.