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Sardu, master of the Theatre of the Macabre, and his assistant Ralphus run a show in which, under the guise of 'magic', they torture and murder people in front of their audience. But what the spectators see as a trick is actually real.
Felisberto Fernandez is a piano tuner of exceptional skill, hired by Dr. Emmanuel Droz to come to a remote clinic to clean and refurbish Droz's seven automatons, elaborate mechanical constructs. Droz wants the work done quickly, in time for an opera he's staging for himself. Fernandez's attentions are captured by two women at the clinic, Assumpta, the clinic's manager, and Malvina van Stille, a patient who is also a superb singer. Fernandez works on the machines and is drawn to the women while Droz may be manipulating more than the automatons. Do emotions and choice play any part, or it is all opera?Written by
Its a matter of abstraction. Always has been, in everything I suppose. But especially in film. The business is one of sharpening some edges and making others recede so as to cut us in some way. Its a dangerous business for all concerned and if it ever seems too competent, you know the blood is fake.
The Quays, like Madden and Greenaway go into forbidden visual zones. They do let me down sometimes when I sense fear, but never when they stumble because stumbling is what shows the risk.
These guys already have earned a place on my short list of films you really must see before you die. I only allow two in any year, so it is something that their incredibly short "Are We Still Married?" is there. But there it is, something that is so rich and open, yet haunting, it will change your dreams permanently.
That short is entirely animated in their preferred style. They are Victorian in nature, both in the junk they assemble to create their worlds, but also in the cosmology they lean on. Its one where explicable means are all broken. Humanity escapes logic. Its the other side of the Holmes syndrome. Its where most of us live.
That's that and this is this, something more ambitious, the long form. That means you must support the long arc, a stretch across the cosmology longer than we can retain in our short memory. What they've done is rely on something we've seen before: a man-god who captures life in a life within life fold. We are sometimes in and sometimes out. The "in" is one of seven "automata," complex mechanical devices that sing life.
The tuner believes himself to be assisting in the maintenance of the machines from the outside but finds himself to be part of the mechanism. The existence of the machines allows the Quays to insert animated sequences that are supposed to merge with the live action. That live action is mostly dream space and when not, is a pseudodream world of Victorian frames and hues.
Its all just too lovely and risky and dangerous to be denied a place in your soul. Sure, it comes dangerously close to the banal. Sure, you can see a few seams and we all wish the budget for the final "performance" was bigger. But if you allow yourself to be swept in this as you routinely do for other science fiction worlds, you will find a sort of psychic sexual release in some long sequences.
In reading about this, some cite Svankmejer as an influence. You need to understand this. Svankmeyer is a Czech animator, a good one. He's an influence in just being there and surviving. But his world is organic and bleak. It is the stuff that comes from repeatedly beaten innocents. The Quays are more mechanical in their images, more episodic in the small. And leagues more optimistic. Their world is one where the sun shines, but just over the edge of a place in which we are stuck.
It makes all the difference. One you would bring children to, in hopes that they would remain children in the edges and so make you wise. The Czech, no. That's where you go to die or try.
I'm putting this as a four for the time being. It may be bumped. 2005 was a very bad year for film. But I haven't yet seen "Cache" or "History of Violence."
Ted's Evaluation -- 4 of 3: Every cineliterate person should experience this.
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