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There is an old Sufi saying that goes "Man is asleep in a nightmare of unfulfilled desires". Never has a film been made that better captured this sentiment.
To say much more would detract from the experience of appreciating the movie, except perhaps pointing out the following: This film is listed in "1001 Movies you must see before you die". Like many of the more obscure films that make the list, this one is saturated in mood. This particularly unique mood is exuded from the first frame to the very last. It draws you in and will likely stick with you long after the viewing.
Fast, Cheap & Out of Control (1997)
The answer to big questions from the odd details of everyday existence
As you watch this film, you go through three phases: 1) What the heck is this? 2) Fascination 3) Synthesis - What does it all mean? Here's where I came out after a couple days of reflecting on the last question: These four guys have jobs that are quirky and about as different from one another as they could be. None the less, each man is fully absorbed in what he does and uses his job, over the course of a life time, as a meditation on two questions; Who am I? and What is the nature of the world? By the end, they all come to consistent conclusions about themselves, and because of the way their dialogue and images are interspersed, they blur and seem to merge into one single person. That one person then is absorbed by the world of their own mutual conception.
The film is ambitious in undertaking these big questions and I think ultimately successful.
Le carrosse d'or (1952)
A Golden Ending
For the first 102 minutes, I saw this film much as MATTHEWSCOTT8: a pleasant movie that was charming and colorful, but otherwise ordinary. The final minute, however, is transcendent and elevates the entire work to something else. (The only other example of this I can think of is John Huston's "The Dead" where the final voice over forces you to reevaluate everything that have come before in a new light).
Here is one interpretation of the the events of the last minute and their meaning:A player steps to the edge of the stage, beyond the curtain. He reveals the cosmological structure of this play within a play within a film. The first play is the "real world" where ordinary events occur and characters interact. Most pursue some narrow selfish objective, but on rare occasions one overcomes their greed and achieves a degree of liberation and fulfillment (in this case Camilla).
The second play is the stage on which the our narrator stands; a kind of Bardo between the fist play and our audience. The audience is a sea of human souls - all those who have passed away as their personal play has ended.
The narrator tells us that Camilla is missing. In the background we see her pale ghostly image as she bids farewell to remaining cast members.
The narrator then gives us his philosophy of life, "Don't waste your time on the so called real life. You belong to us"..." the only way to find happiness is on any stage"... "during those two little hours when you become another person; your true self." Thus, even a fairly standard story offers the potential to transcend our plight and experience something eternal. Renoir is describing the essence of pure eastern mysticism, here in a deeply western European context.
"Filipe, Ramon and the Viscount have disappeared. Gone." says Camilla, "Don't they exist anymore?".
"Now they are part of the audience. Do you miss them ?" asks our narrator.
Overall, this ending is so quick and unexpected that is feels like a rabbit punch to awaken the spirit. We are left, like Camilla, to contemplate the play, the nature of all plays and our own existence.
The metaphysics of Don Quixote and Escher meet in the Twilight Zone
Perhaps more than any other film, Saragossa Manuscript begs for multiple viewings. A fascinating way to watch this movie is to simply see it as space unfolding. At the highest level the structure is a set of interconnected stories which loop back on one another. Each story is a separate, nested world with a narrator who serves as a portal. This is not unlike current theories in physics about the multiverse, with separate worlds that wormhole into and out of one another, connected by black holes.
Also, the frame by frame construction of the film is deeply spacial. The setting of the Sierra Morena seems to have not a single flat surface and the camera is often askew to accentuate this. Elaborately constructed sets are filled with boundaries and connections. Characters interact thru barred windows and seem to constantly flow into and out of doorways and windows. There are many long narrow corridors and alley ways. The camera captures ascending and descending stairways and shots are wide angle to create a feeling of great depth. Often action is focused on a figure in the foreground while another character secretly slips into or out of the room thru a doorway in some distant corner.
This unsettling and masterful manipulation of space is in large part what propel the story so convincingly, since the many boundaries and connections determine which relationships are consummated and which things remain forever out of reach.
Tarantino is the Stravinsky of Movies
Tarantino's critics do not seem to fully understand what he is up to. More than "making movies" he "makes movies about movies", in this case the B-movie genre.
This is what Igor Stravinsky did with music. He would take some genre(baroque, 12 tonal or even jazz music), break it down into the essence of its component parts and then put them back together in different ways. What you got was no longer baroque, 12 tonal or jazz. It made you stop to wonder what those styles really were and why they appealed or didn't appeal to you.
In a way, Tarantino is doing the same thing. He's making us question why we go to these movies and what the process of watching a film is all about. As a result it is not fair to criticize him because "the girls should have just stopped the car". In B-movies the girls just don't stop the car! It's like criticizing a serious drama for not having enough good jokes. He has really captured something about why these movies get audiences and are such intense fun to watch.
Now that Tarantino has dabbled with films about B-movies, kung-fu movies,action movies,revenge movies, etc. it will be interesting to see if he can extend into other genres. Will we ever see a Tarantino musical, serious drama, love story or western?
Exceptional comedy, for everyone
Although CCS may not quite measure up to Gaidi's next offering, Diamond Arm, it is still a film that must be seen. Many reviewers have criticized these films as having too many "Russian inside jokes".As a non-Russian, I can't argue with this. But there is something much more universal here. Through the use of extraordinarily crisp dialog, pacing and an absolutely zany musical score, Gaidi has captured the quirky essence of humanity: the way we are fickle, selfish, lovable and blind to our own absurd behavior. These are some of the only movies that I would recommend watching with dubbed voices - it further adds to the wacky quality of the humor.
Finally, it is impossible to watch this movie and not adore Natalya Varley. She has a genuineness that grounds the whole film and makes you care about what's happening.
The Dead (1987)
The big big picture
Writers and directors, by the nature of their craft, stand back a frame from the action in their work to show insights about characters and situations. Here, Huston and Joyce have stepped back a bigger frame yet to show us the ultimate view of what it means to be human. Until it's very end the movie appears to be about nothing much, the kind of typical circumstances that fill every day life. It is not until the end of the very final scene that we realize that it is in fact about everything.
It is not possible to watch this final scene without simultaneously feeling pity, and also deep affection, for oneself and the rest of fellow beings.
Ying xiong (2002)
Haunting beauty and provocative message
Hero is noteworthy on at least two counts.
First, there are scenes of haunting beauty("Duel in the yellow forest" and "Turquoise autumn" to site a couple) that, like the best of impressionist paintings, are so affecting that you will forever see the world in a slightly different way having once beheld them.
Secondly, the overall message of the film is a provocative one. The claim is that a degree of human casualties and suffering may be the optimal path to a better world, especially when the alternative is equally brutal chaos. This is not a popular theme. It has become much more fashionable to be anti-war in all cases. And understandably so, since variations of this logic have often been used in the past to justify atrocities. But the film provides a crisp litmus test for avoiding delusion: action must be taken with a heart void of malice and an unwavering commitment to the broadest possible ultimate outcome of good for all. Can anyone live up to this standard? Several characters in the movie do, each in their own way. If the standard could be met, would the world be a better place? These are questions worth reflecting on that have not been dealt with, to this depth, in any film I'm aware of.
Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004)
Transcending the Genre
In many ways, Kill Bill:Vol.2 is to the Kung Fu genre what Shrek 2 is to fairy tales. Although these are very different films, both spoof all previous movies of their type and are loaded with insider allusions (just look at the length of the IMDb trivia sections for each!). Both use latest technology to create a hyper-real quality which goes beyond their forerunners to create a feel that the viewer is seeing something that has not been seen before. But each also stays true to their genres' conventions of character and plot that, though seemingly worn out, we still love. As a result these movies satisfy, meeting some deep rooted needs but in novel and refreshing ways.
2004 may signal a trend in this kind of treatment of well treaded genres, with Westerns and Film Noir as other potential future candidates.
Shrek 2 (2004)
Transcending the Genre
In many ways, Shrek 2 is to fairy tales, what Kill Bill:Vol.2 is to the Kung Fu genre. Although these are very different movies, both spoof all previous movies of their type and are loaded with insider allusions (just look at the length of the IMDb trivia sections for each!). Both use latest technology to create a hyper-real quality which goes beyond their forerunners to create a feel that the viewer is seeing something that has not been seen before. But each also stays true to their genres' formula conventions of character and plot that, though seemingly worn out, we still love. As a result these movies are satisfying, meeting some deep rooted needs but in novel and refreshing ways.
2004 may signal a trend in this kind of treatment of well treaded genres, with Westerns and Film Noir as two other potential future candidates.