A young man goes to a school for servants run by a brother and sister. In the dreamlike and surreal world that he enters, how will his presence impact the people there and possibly even the school itself?
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Part documentary, part personal essay, this experimental film combines archive imagery with the striking wintry landscapes of Alaska to tell the story of immigrant experience coming into the UK from 1960 onwards.
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Jakob arrives at the Institute Benjamenta (run by brother and sister Johannes and Lisa Benjamenta) to learn to become a servant. With seven other men, he studies under Lisa: absurd lessons of movement, drawing circles, and servility. He asks for a better room. No other students arrive and none leave for employment. Johannes is unhappy, imperious, and detached from the school's operation. Lisa is beautiful, at first tightly controlled, then on the verge of breakdown. There's a whiff of incest. Jakob is drawn to Lisa, and perhaps she to him. As winter sets in, she becomes catatonic. Things get worse; Johannes notes that all this has happened since Jakob came. Is there any cause and effect?Written by
Spoken at beginning of movie: Who dares it, has no courage. To whom it is missing, feels well. Who owns it, is bitterly poor. Who is successful, is damaged. Who gives it, is hard as hard as stone. Who loves it, stays alone. See more »
Not for all tastes, Institute Benjamenta is like David Lynch's The Elephant Man via the works of Bergman and silent expressionism. Every single frame in the bizarre odyssey is tightly composed and beautifully printed in black and white. The use of shifts in focus and depth, and the wild juxtapositions of the most mundane actions, allowing them to take on any number of connotations only heightens the floating dream like atmosphere, as we are dumped into this world with no idea of what is going on, or what is going to happen. But this film is terribly slow (this is were the Bergman element comes into play), and it's a test of the viewer's concentration to see the film through. But unlike Bergman, Institute Benjamenta does not pay off at the end, nor does it leave the viewer puzzled, conflicted and desperate to experience the film again (ala Persona).
Instead Institute Benjamenta just ends, and personally I have no desire to watch the film again, I felt I got everything I could and wanted to gain from the experience. The acting was good, suitably distant and with the right level of cold detachment, but there was a constant feeling the actors were plating second fiddle to the sumptuous visuals put on show by the famed animators the brothers Quay. It's sad that they have yet to make another live action film, as the wealth of great ideas and knowledge of film-making displayed in Institute Benjamenta is one-hundred times better than most of the recent films I've seen, if the Brothers had put a little more time into the depth of the narrative, they could have backed up those haunting images with some much needed substance.
This is not a film for everyone, as I have already stated. The nonsensical narrative and bursts of surrealism will undoubtedly put off some viewers, but this is a film that should have a wider audience. In a cinematic world of conventions and formulas the brothers Quay made a film that, although by no means great, showed originality and definite promise, that makes Institute Benjamenta a film worthy of cult classic status.
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