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Essentially what we are shown here is not the classical American court
drama. When our 'Mr. Deeds' goes to town, the town is Beijing, and his case
becomes a show-trial in the cockpit of a new Chinese revolution that is
taking place between the old-guard Maoists and the modernisers.
Richard Gere's American is an alienated, rootless 'Rick' caught in the cultural cross-fire between two power blocs. It is his enforced engagement with the reality of another world-view and the struggle of an intelligent Chinese woman to redeem the revolutionary excesses of her culture that lead directly to the Casablanca-esque ending, where love is sublimated beyond the personal to an ideal understanding and identification - 'You have a family here' - with the historical plight of a people.
This explains Richard Gere's unusually selfless performance, where he has had the taste and intelligence to let the women, particularly his Chinese defence lawyer, dominate every situation and every scene. Indeed, this feminist tendency in the film is also reflected in the consistently hostile view taken of the militaristic structure of Chinese state power as so much authoritarian posturing. As symbol of a new China the young woman lawyer is most effective: The ancient Greeks also saw the spirit of unbiased law as female, and Shakespeare's Portia is another such paradigm. And the actress portraying her illuminates the screen with her passionate intellectual intensity.
There is an effective parallelism to the revolutionary acts which destroyed the young lawyer's father during the time of the Cultural Revolution, leaving her with crippling and unresolved guilt, and the barrel of a gun in the hands of the murdered girl's father which alone can resolve the historical tensions at work in the courtroom, and reverse all the political lies in a new revolutionary act, additionally realising the great potential of a young China, by freeing that stirring Chinese conscience from its historical contradictions.
So this is an intelligent political thriller, although those of a more Costas-Gavrian or Godardian intellectual purity do seem to resent seeing a crisis of the Left viewed even from a very disengaged American viewpoint, disliking the humanist American strain of populist appeal in a political context, and resenting the smooth professionalism of the presentation as a mere circus. Even stranger are the objectors to Gere's Buddhism, who seemingly take fright at the intrusion of other perspectives into their own blinkered focus! In any case, Buddhism seems clearly not to be an issue to the scriptwriter.
This film in no way presents itself as the last word on its subject - but it is an intelligent and engaging movie, which, far from slandering the Chinese in the manner some vintage Korean-War tub-thumper about the 'Yellow Peril', goes out of its way not to identify the Chinese people with their masters. Curiously, this is exactly what the film's detractors do!
There is a sly reference to the Boxer Rebellion that began China's long road to modernisation, in the person of the trusty who was sent to beat up or even kill the American, but who comes to see that the real foreign devils in this instance are the corrupted Chinese officials who have sold out to the worst foreign traits of cynicism and greed by doing back-door deals with an unscrupulous Western communications company, and who finally confesses his error with true selfless revolutionary earnestness.
The fact that this Boxer Rebellion is played out in the blockbuster film equivalent of Madison Square Gardens, and is mightily entertaining throughout, has led many critics to assume that all they have been presented with is a superficial entertainment unworthy of such a serious subject. Actually, the film is fully engaged with the tragedy and passion of the Chinese people as they try to work out their destiny, and the proof of this is that, to any unbiased observer, the film leaves one with a new respect for the Chinese people, caught up in the complexities of their own history, and struggling for a better life. There is nothing patronising; there is emphatically no United States Cavalry riding to the rescue.
And I should have thought the contempt shown throughout towards official American diplomacy and state policy would have appealed to the most anti-American leftist. But are the critics just taking fashionable left jabs at their own right-wing bogies? - and I do mean Humphrey! Let us leave these obsessives to their futile shadow-boxing, forever engaged with an opponent entirely constructed from the straw which evidently bulks out their own brain-pans.
Anyone who has been moved - or who has at least conscientiously taken the
trouble - to research 'Le Nouvelle Vague' must, quite simply, be forever in
debt to Bertolucci's wonderful nostalgia-trip for the way films were, and
the way film culture was for an historical moment.
For one of those not fortunate to have been in any sense intellectually or emotionally 'there' during the sixties, this meditation by one of those who were part of that ferment on the formative experiences of their early life (one must notice the injunction to the Matthew/Bertolucci character to recognise Mao Tze-tung as a great film director, and reflect how this would issue many years later in 'The last Emperor') acts like an implanted memory: Retrospectively, we find ourselves protesting at Henri Langlois' politically-motivated sacking from the Cinematheque, and see the image of the young Truffaut flickering from Jean Pierre Leaud's face to Truffaut's documented own and back again in a seamless transformation between the actor of Truffaut's alter ego, Antoine Doinel, and his great directorial and life mentor.
From then on, the New Wave rolls again as the film unfolds. It is a document of the spirit, and a love letter to the cinema which ignited the young Bertolucci. That there is such a commanding talent still working in film in today's shallow culture is a miracle. This is a film to convince audiences that statements of freedom should still be possible, and even to inspire honest and wholly original careers.
The complexity of this at once fresh and passionate and intensely intellectual experience is exhilerating, and not to be briefly summed-up: First one feels one must immediately renew one's acquaintance with so many great films of this movement - or get to know them for the first time, indeed.
It seems the New Wave is forever young! It is obviously designed to inspire a whole new generation of filmgoers with just the idealism that so entranced the young of the sixties, and led them to see the life-affirming, life-changing possibilities of film.
Here was an age when the mercurial surface of film seemed a portal to our innermost desires ...
'Titus': The cold style of revenge as primitive therapy for all the unquiet
spirits of a cruel age. The ritual purging, or exorcism, of horror, grief,
and rage. The inevitable meeting, in this Arena of Cruelty, of sadistic
cynicism - represented by the Moor - with malicious seductiveness -
represented by the Goth Queen - has for its equally inevitable issue the
Child of Darkness and of Blood: This child is Man, of course, surviving
alone in a damaged Universe, and about to be penetrated by the first shafts
of daylight's painful disillusionment. But life that lacks an illusionistic
carapace is far too tender to exist, as this drama relentlessly
For the ritual, stylized, excess, of what is presented to us as the nightmare obsession of a psychologically damaged child, will conduct us through the dream-like anaesthesia of self-defensive shock - just the degree of brutalization that enables our humanity to survive the hallucinatory trauma of being in a mad world.
No accident (surely) that the film's visual experience is grounded in the ancient Roman ruins of the former Yugoslavia's dismembered body-politic; nor that it is also grounded in the terminally Roman decadence of Mussolini's operatically-gesturing Fascist fantasies, but as those already overblown fantasies were subsequently replayed in the sinister parodies thereof provided in Antonioni's, or in Fellini's work.
The disembodied phantoms who finally appear to have been silently attending to all that (seemingly) has passed before our own eyes, in the insistent image of the Stadium of Death, which is the Arena of Taymore's Shakespeare-mediated Senecan spectacle, are themselves - like their representative, Lavinia, - mute witnesses to the scenes relentlessly paraded before us in that Circus of Horror, which signifies nothing less than the very Orbit that circumscribes this World of Suffering.
Having discovered so much contemporary - that is to say, eternal, - sense in the ancient spectacle of Senecan tragedy - the smallest symbolic details of the poetic language of which are brilliantly transferred into the film's visual imagery, and consistently re-worked in the retro-modern, comic-book pastiche of the Savagery that was Ancient Rome - , Julie Taymor achieves the unnervingly sublime poetry of excess and horror better than perhaps any creative intelligence since Thomas Lovell Beddoes, or Ken Russell - even proving a match for old Seneca himself.
Indeed, thanks to this film, at last a modern audience can understand the disturbing Senecan vision. The ostensibly wooden characters of this grand-guignol type of tragedy provide that reductio-ad-absurdum of human beings who are abruptly shorn of all that signifies their humanity: Lavinia's truncated gestures are eked out in wooden trimmings, her hands a puppet's dumb-show, her tongue a stick scratching in the dirt's dusty eloquence like an epigraphy of some ancient grievance, long since past remedy.
Sick humour comes as the final parodic relief: Titus has a splendid jest with Death, indulging to the full the satisfying conceit of making the murderous mother of such murdering and murdered offspring of her womb the grave of these her own children. Thus all partake of the ultimate communion with Death.
Such sinister hospitality provides the totally negative resolution of the tragedy - at least, as Shakespeare wrote it, having opened this dark Senecan vein, - for it brings no saving reconciliation whatever, but only the savagely cathartic perversion and total annhilation of all that was human.
That is why we recognise nothing living or human in such a completely unreal spectacle.
That is why we are forced to recognise ourselves for the surreal spectacle to which we have been reduced by our insane history.
This is how the outraged sensibility is healed: By madness - by a term in Hell. Such nightmares are the pain of the mind as it tries to heal itself.
This process of purgative disillusion is what Taymor is about, here. The ending is another birth - in terms of personal symbolism, a re-birth. And this is, very particularly, a female artist's determined resistance to the general mayhem of a largely male-dominated world: Incomprehensibly far beyond all the destructive logic of the unending abuse of nature, She continues to entrust her innocent flesh and blood to another incalculable day.
This remarkably profound and intelligent film is also graced by astonishing technical finesse in every department, from costumes to cinematography.
Next to 'Titus', the splendidly macho 'Gladiator' seems like just another Hollywood action movie (which of course it is).
Pretentious self-indulgence. An incomprehensible, rambling doodle that was
based - for some inexplicable reason! - on a thriller scenario (for
goodness' sake!). The thriller is definitely not a wise choice for the
naturally discursive Wenders. Not here the mercurial brilliance of the
French New Wave, re-imagining the quick-fire cynicism that plays over the
sharp, obsidian surface of Hollywood noir. The film that suited Wenders'
talent was his later 'Wings of desire,' the dreamlike stream-of-consciousness
of which conjured the eccentric poetry of a certain place and
Please take just one look at any of the often crazy but always disciplined, focused, films of Werner Herzog, and see exactly the cinematic intensity that is missing from Wim Wenders' meandering bore of a film. Or look at Dassin (Rififi) - or Melville (Le Doulos) - Godard (A Bout de Souffle) - or even Truffaut (Tirez sur la pianiste) - or such sharp modern naturalisations to a French ambience of the American gangster genre as Leon (Luc Besson) - and then, watch that wildly futuristic-looking re-invention of the legendary father of the Surete, Vidocq: In these wonderful movies the intellectual and cynically playful Gallic intelligence creates genuine originals out of the radical re-invention of their hommages, whether the hommage be to an alien cinema genre, or to an exotic broadside entertainment from the streets of a vanished Paris.
Wenders' fellow countryman Herzog can still do darkness and nastiness with real style; Wenders admits to having considerable trouble portraying baddies. The whole project was doomed from the start.
This deeply humane film is the first that I, as a child of a British
generation who once faced the real and imminent possibility of life under
Nazi dictatorship, have ever seen that allows me to understand just what a
nightmare it was, to actually live in the collaborationist state of Vichy.
How could the human soul survive such radical compromises as were required
of the French every day of their war-time existence? How, except by a unique
form of cultural prostitution, could people negotiate for the temporary
return of their own lives, which was the best accommodation for which they
Without the obvious and utterly stylized heroism beloved of the Hollywood dream-factory, and of communist ideological fantasists, alike, this film reveals and communicates more of the agony of ordinary lives under Vichy - largely through the microcosm of the 'film family' - than any other I know. The gains in such directorial and authorial humility are in the honesty this permits in the observation of the shifts people are put to to survive: Such as the dog-end scam of a floor sweeper, who encourages harried fumeurs to stub out barely-smoked cigarettes on their way to the air-raid shelter; or the retrieval of river fish, stunned by the repercussions of British bombs, detonated nearby, and their free distribution to the film crew. This process of adaptation to extreme situations comes over as deeply sympathetic. Indeed, the whole business of earning your living (for that is what it amounts to when the means of life are so scarce and so insecure) by making films to pander to your conqueror's debased notions of your culture - which films yet contrive to be, in some residual sense, an expression of your innate and irreducible Frenchness - seems to me to be all of a piece with such simple, even seedy, everyday strategies for survival, that also, and despite appearances to the contrary, permit a conquered nation to retain some semblance of its pride and integrity. Thus a captive people secretly harbours dreams of what it once was, and must be again. 'The wind must change one day' says one of the lesser characters who teem through this film.
The insistence on sheer craftsmanship as a value in itself, despite the malign vagaries of German-sourced film-stock, material, and equipment, is a most eloquent rebuttal of Truffaut's somewhat facile and intemperate post-war Cahiers du Cinema rejection of most of the ill-starred war-generation of French film-makers. The fact remains that he was the talented if disturbed son of these tragic fathers, whether he chose to acknowledge them or not. (And he did have a lurking affection for some of them - Guitry, par exemple.) Of course, his rebellion has value - as who can possibly deny who appreciates the fruits of the Nouvelle Vague? We should make the effort to understand this paternity, albeit it is one that appeared only negatively influential in terms of cinema history. Indeed, Tavernier sees that it is time that justice was done to this lost generation of film makers. Further, he divines that their metier was a microcosm of a France effectively governed by Germany.
Therefore, it is with a shock, that, towards the end of the film, we are introduced, during Devaivre's unexpected debriefing session in England, to a proud and still independent people who are clearly managing to hold their own against Hitler; a people whose straightforwardness - even bluntness - grates unavoidably against the psychologically complex reality of the Occupation, which the Frenchman despairs of communicating to them. This wonderful scene, which is full of a balanced, good-natured satire, and is reminiscent of the style of Powell and Pressburger's great wartime films, has been carefully cast with English actors, and reveals Tavernier as an artist of international stature. The complexity of the course of the obscure affairs of ordinary flawed mortals towards an illumination of all that is best about human beings is almost miraculously realised. Out of the very particular, even embarrassingly private, troubles of his country in those dark days, he has fashioned both a detailed account of the experience for his fellow-countrymen (and francophiles!), and a moving drama of the human spirit under adversity, that should rank this work amongst the greatest films of war-time.
To understand is (indeed) to forgive. This film allows us to comprehend a very dark chapter in the history of France. This is how most British people would have lived, I'm sure, if the whole of Britain had gone the way of the Channel Islands. I really don't see any reason for the French to be embarrassed by such a film: It explains them to the world, in terms of their own experience.
Clearly, collaboration was no cake-walk - more a Purgatory for an entire nation.
Stagily whispered narration, more like idle gossip than full-blown
Non-sequiturial loose-ends of non-communication between the characters, and conversations between the actors and the director which we are not allowed to follow.
Uncommunicative and unengaged philosophico-political maunderings of citizens who are floundering conceptually in a system that cannot sustain them, either morally or intellectually.
A view of Parisian building-sites as a social upheaval which yet represents the antithesis of any structural or constructivist manifestation of social progress.
A film that is, like the capitalist society that has the eye of the camera hypnotised, a profoundly blank and alienating surface, whose technique is only occasionally relieved by gratuitous scenes of meaning:
A woman trapped in a sink estate and yearning to be free, who is compelled by the desparation of her dream to entrap and enslave herself even further through prostitution;
The intrusion of a pimp-like meter-reader into the pure nakedness of private space;
A creche in a brothel;
A secular catechesis - The simple, non-sexual, non-manipulative dialectic of honest exploration that makes us human;
The still-birth of revolutionary thought as the spiral galaxy in a coffee-cup ...
All-in-all, the representation of a society which is profoundly inhospitable to the human beings who should constitute it, and which consequently does not permit the realisation of any aspect of humanity.
All we get are fugitive glimpses of life in the process of moral and intellectual decay. Thought and character remains unrealised, and the film is therefore also inchoate as the necessary reflection of this social unreality.
Here is a wan world, haemmoraging meaning as we watch. Here before us are the helpless ghosts of an industrial medium. They dance fitfully in the unchanging wind, the fantastic commercial simulacra in which we bind our free nature.
Strips of film, strung out like human fly-paper, where fluttering images stick only as they die. In place of creative pressure, an air of ennui, of carelessness: A drop-out film - a film of drop-outs, plot-holes in the threadbare social fabric, - neglectful of all appearances. The face of the film gazes basilisk-like out upon the viewer, resentful of our settled habits of non-involvement. Two frozen gazes cancel, the mutual incomprehension only verging on hostile irritation. No reaction. No drama. The light dies.
The hypnotic mirror of reproach whose conscience we yearn to assuage, that traps our humanity in the voyeur's dream, as it is projected back upon us in the Gorgon's gaze.
Desire is petrified - one's petty film-going expectations of this penetration of dark places disappointed. One escapes from the deathly spell of cinema into the real world.
Godard's lesson is that there is nothing meaningful in this cave of artificial shadows, and that he will bitterly wean us from our facile consumerist dreams, that we may the better engage with the harsh political realities of life.
The radically disillusioned auteur deconstructs himself. Le derniere vague flops exhausted on that endless strip where empty sprocket-holes run on aimlessly towards a dying sun.
The mechanism of dreams runs down.
We are not automata - we are made up by life. To live is the story we enact, without intermediary, and unmediated. The immediate and the authentic are alien to art. Art is a whispering empty shell left high and dry. Life is not the element of dead things: Do not listen to the shallow siren voice of le faux vague! Plunge back into humanity's proper medium.
Thus does a revolution in seeing strip out the gelatinous scales of our burned-out eyes, and there is no more interference with the wavelengths of light being broadcast from the nearest star.
Thus do the sighing bones of life articulate the bounds of existence.
We are the tides that wax and wane - the ocean that overwhelms itself, drowning its own waves in one flood of being.
Godard's film and films are under the influence of this larger movement. With his work, we are cast adrift from all anchors and familiar landmarks. We are 'all at sea'. There is a transition - a movement that is perhaps nearer to momentum than inertia - from whence we cannot recall to whither we cannot see. His is the ultimate cinema of flux.
I know that Almodovar is practically a god of cinema to many people, but I
just don't 'get' this film.
Of course, it is very obviously a farce with a rather bitter satirical, and feminist, edge. But I find it impossible to identify with characters whose portrayal seems so completely rooted in something opaquely Spanish and - to me at least - untranslatable. The subtitles convey only the flattest of dialogue; the acting - whatever may be its qualities for a Spanish audience - is largely impenetrable, without any detectable tone beyond the intermittently neurotic; and - possibly the greatest drawback of all - every single woman looks like a grotesque transvestite in drag!
Not being familiar with the reality of Spanish culture, I'm afraid that the tone of this film, whereby it - presumably - seeks to present its own incongruous but knowing distortion of an everyday reality, remains a complete mystery to me: I've no idea how to 'read' it, and it consequently leaves me cold.
Curiously, the director himself seems to have intuited that his film might not travel well: Although on one level the introductory studio scenes of voice-dubbing seem to be a (quite clever) comment on the 'out-of-synch' relationship at the centre of the movie, I can't help thinking they also serve as an admission and a warning that universal incomprehension might prevail amongst a foreign audience, to an even greater degree than the motivating farcical misunderstandings of the plot prevail in the drama!
I don't normally like or see the need of re-makes of foreign films, but in this instance I know I'd really benefit from a skilful transposition of the drama into a culture that I can actually comprehend.
But having said this, I must admit that seemingly the entire known world is far more intimate with the subtleties of modern Spanish culture than I am, despite what certain reviewers on this site consider to be the untranslateable 'Spanishness' of it all!
Perhaps I'm just being stupid, but 'Women on the verge of a nervous breakdown' doesn't really make a lot of sense to me. That is not really to criticise the film. It was obviously intended first-and-foremost for a Spanish audience, not an international one. This is perfectly fine by me, and is at least a healthy sign that Spanish cinema is resisting that dreaded international, Anglo-American homogenisation, which so dilutes local cultures.
Naturally, the downside of such a successfully 'national' cinema can be that it won't 'play' everywhere abroad. But it must certainly cheer the Spanish film industry, as much as it disappoints me, that apparently the only place in the known universe where Almodovar's early movie won't 'play' is my front room!
(One serious piece of carping, however: Though I hope I do not by any means demand a mere superficial perfection of form as any actor's qualification to appear, did the 'mujeres' really have to be so aggressively repugnant of aspect?!!)
The explanation for the title of Jiri Menzel's film is that it was
apparently derived from a military designation employed by the Germans who
ran the railways in occupied Czechoslovakia, and would probably have
indicated that the highest level of security was to be observed for the
whole length of the railway system over which a train so designated had to
'Closely Observed Trains' - its title in Britain is probably the better translation - sounds like the rambling memoir of some harmlessly eccentric train-buff: Gauge numbers, timetables, wheel configurations - that sort of thing! In fact, as we are finally shocked to realize, it describes precisely the munitions train which the Czech Resistance successfully target at the film's conclusion. The title is deeply ironic, therefore, since the seemingly innocent observance of ordinary life, that goes on in and around the country Station where the film is set, hides the seething secret of the meek and powerless, which is that, since their natural desire for life and happiness has been thwarted, they must encompass a more violent and final solution to their problems. With his death, the unhappy young trainee VÃ¡clav becomes, not a hero! but the authentic representative of his desparate fellow countrymen, whose virility has become a mere joke - a land whose history has been stopped by occupation, and which therefore has no posterity.
It is, one might say, a land 'without issue' as obituary notices would put it. This adds a curious twist to the bottom-stamping scene: It reveals, behind the charming buffoonery, a society where even relations between the sexes must have an official, bureaucratic imprimatur - where, indeed, the pillars of society are themselves so perverted as to take their only sexual pleasure in feasting their elderly eyes on a young woman's (as it were) officially sanctioned nether regions. The more one thinks about it - as the blast blows VÃ¡clav's hat back down the platform, and simultaneously forces us back into the film we have just seen through the shocking force of such an unexpected denoument - the more the German Occupation's stamps of approval must appear as a form of evirated official rape. Of the land, as of the girl, of course.
The explosion of the sabotaged munitions train wakes us from our comfortable and patronising sojourn in a Never-Never Land where charming and harmless buffoons exist merely for our own amusement, just as its repercussions signal the eventual destruction and extirpation from Czechoslovakia of just such patronising Nazi superiority. The film alerts us to the fact that the gentlest contempt is as cruel and destructive as the most brutal jackbooted hate: A collaborationist gesture is satirized, and the inky soul of bureaucracy is exposed.
The most decent and honest person in the film, apart from the young Conductress (who appears to be a Resistance agent), is VÃ¡clav, largely because of what is conventionally seen as the tragedy of his doomed love-life: He is untainted by the conforming adult world around him - a tormented innocent, like Christ, and similarly destined to be mankind's saviour through suffering.
Perhaps his cap, rolling down the Station platform before the blast, represents the crown of thorns that every Czech had to pick up, before the new Rome of Hitler's Germany could be defeated? Certainly, this is not a sunny film. It is a film that demonstrates the necessity for the performance of the sternest duty: To suffer, and to die if necessary, for one's country. And by reading us this lesson without any of the rhetorical and false heroics of the conventional action-movie, Jiri Menzel refuses to excuse his audience from enlisting for such hard service; by definition, a conquered people have no heroes, so that they have no alternative but to struggle in small ways, accumulating the stature of a Nation organically. This is, after all, the only possible repudiation of the Nazi ideology of the Ubermensch.
Truly, 'the meek shall inherit the earth.'
As in 'The Shining' this film is a journey into the dangerous interior of
one man's soul. There is an overt reference to Kubrick's cerebral shocker
from the outset, as we float above the tiny car and its occupants as it
threads its way through thickly wooded, and oppressive,
The hell of writer's block into which Kubrick's writer, and the failed writer of this film, both descend is an inner space of deeply disturbing psychic distortion. After the introduction to the French family, unhappily travelling through life (as you might well say) in their paradigmatically clapped-out banger of a car, there are no more reality checks in this film. Hence our profound and growing unease at Harry's pat and superficial wish-fulfillment: He is the very incarnation of the irresponsible hedonism which lurks in the heart of a long-suffering family man, who can take no more. Even more inescapably than in 'The Shining' - which offers us the relief and the 'reality' markers of other points-of-view - we are trapped as viewers in the solipsisitic nightmare of one man's mental breakdown.
'The Egg' is the un-decodable hermetic prison - insisted upon in a macro-shot of an egg -- an excluding reduction of reality that rebuffs interpretation --- the germ of madness and the surreal --- -- in the French kitchen - whose place in the American movie is taken by pages and pages of neatly typed and stacked verbiage that is as repetitively devoid of meaning as a mantra. The search for meaning becomes a dangerous delusion. The deep-pink womb-like retreat of the parentally-bequeathed bathroom is much like the interior of such an egg in its hard ceramic insecurity. The red dream-arrogance of the off-roader similarly. And the red life-blood of all who come distractingly near is the sacrificial ink necessary to the reductive needs of the self-obsessed ego, for whom primitivism seems ultimately the only authenticity. This is a father who has become impatient of his responsibilities. This is a murderer in the making. This is authenticity as delusion. This is self-discovery as the heart of darkness.
The name of 'Harry' is one of the familiar names for the Devil. He is the original false friend. He is each person's lurking counsellor of the simplest, most brutal existence. He represents the self-destruction wrought by self-obsession. He is Alienation, the partner of Despair.
This magnificent and troubling film finally straps us into our seats and takes us on a voyage into the void where we had supposed the human soul to reside. I cannot think of anything more horrifying than the ad-man's dream of an ending, with the typical family borne - it seems - aloft on insubstantial and unlikely - unsustainable - dreams of the perfect transformation of life's unendurable imperfections. The difference between the first and the last passages of this family's life, as glimpsed in transit, is measured by the mental journey provided by the film; it is the stark difference between our suffering lives and the imagined perfection which is no more than Death's delusive seduction: The gorgeous Plum - the 'Devil''s wife - is barren. Her kiss in the embarassing bathroom - as is the case with the kiss of the re-animated corpse in the hotel bathroom of 'The Shining' - is the kiss of Death.
This is Cinema. This is the force of Creation at work, as in any art worth bothering with. Anything else is just waste-products. And I don't care who knows it. French cinema reveals here its continuing intellectual vitality, capable of engaging resourcefully with the problem of living - instead of merely making a commercial machine to take us for a ride outside ourselves. Being beside ourselves, as in this fine French psycho-drama,is an infinitely better experience than surrendering to Hollywood's empty amusement-park.
I am amazed at how well an American film has captured the matter-of-fact
surrealism which the mathematician Dodgson(Lewis Carroll)gave to his
dream-child, Alice, as also it recalls the more knowing, and oh-so-polite
deconstruction wrought by the media-saavy British children of the 60's upon
the distressed remnants of England's Imperial aplomb!
Of course, as Oscar Wilde may not have said, Satire revisited is only a lukewarm cup of tea. But then nostalgia - especially when the satire was so gentle anyway - has its own charms. And there was, anyway, a hefty dose of nostalgia amidst the cool insouciance of the original. Its very modernity was made to seem almost an expression of polite insistence on whatever surreal manifestation of tradition was encountered. It was the utterly unruffled mien of the original which prevailed over all lapses from reason and good taste. So, at its best, in the new cinema version.
This is indeed a brave try by Hollywood to draw us back into that black-and-white psychedelia of swinging sixties British commercial television. The sheer madness of the enterprise almost works - if the money-men hadn't had cold feet at the last minute, we might have been enjoying a really remarkable fantasy film. As it is, we must content ourselves with a merely very amusing piece of whimsy. Even through the plot-holes left by a nervous editor we can see some wonderfully mad logic at work: The Escher-inspired architecture of the baddy's stately home, in which Mrs Peel at one point loses her way, encapsulates this whole dream-trip of a movie.
And for those who don't 'get it', I can only say, Humour is like that: Very dependent on individual taste.
But even allowing for taste, it is a sad reflection on public taste that 'The Avengers' overwhelmingly offends filmgoers who are probably quite prepared to accept the ever more overblown superheroes of a more violent tradition, such as 'Batman' or 'The Hulk'. Of course, these two are clearly representative of that particularly adolescent taste for the extreme and crude for which the contemporary Hollywood production-line largely exists. (There is every sign that Eddie Izzard's character was originally intended to satirize mega-buck entertainment and mega-buck villains as being really just spoiled brats with their expensive toys.) The genteel quirks of the English-inspired concept of 'The Avengers' are - in their essence, and however silly - just too irritatingly grown-up for such hyperactive youth ever to endure sitting still for!
A pity the film was not left alone upon release to find its own friends - like a stray cat, that will carefully choose whom it will exercise it's feline charm upon. And what more feline than Uma Thurman in Mrs. Peel's cat-suit?!
This is certainly not the sort of film to toss into an auditorium full of baying first-run morons.
But I suspect that it is a film with more than one life ...
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