I feel too exhausted to write something new, so I´ve decided to translate my article on the films in Rotterdam (I also wrote one on the exhibitions, which besides an interesting companion piece to the Pat O'Neill included a cool installation buy Guy Maddin and a way too small, but fascinating tribute to Tati). Films that I also saw and did not have room to mention there include: 3rd World Hero
, a brilliant history-cum-film-satire from the Philippines; Deadly Outlaw: Rekka
by Takashi Miike, which is in the Dead or Alive
-mode very much, but the mixture of pathos and cynicism worked on me for the first time, maybe thanks to the soundtrack - an ingenious blend of Japanese 70s-Heavy Metal-impersonation and Morricone riffs on a cheesy synthesizer; the lyrical 70s Western Monte Walsh
(mint copy); the minimalistic Italian mafia drama Angela
(shades of R 'Xmas
, but decidedly lesser, still small and muscular); many Maddin shorts (and the hilarious doc about him, Waiting for Twilight
; Petter Metler's epic trance-essay Gambling, Gods and LSD
; Les Diables
(I'm not sure it's good - shades of the execrable Lilja 4-ever
, but without its false sentimentality and a few grand Hollywood gestures thrown in instead -, it's certainly enormously powerful at times) - and of course every other Brisseau movie I saw (made all but three). Based on having seen only the middle entry, On the Run
, of Belvaux' La trilogie
, I declare it painstakingly elaborate and depressingly uninteresting craftsmanship. (It was like Melville without a soul, but what makes Melville, of course, is
the soul).So it goes:
A small screening room, filled to the last seat. The film's over. Director Jean-Claude Brisseau, a bear of a man, rises, stumbles to the front. "I haven't seen this movie in 17 years", he says. In English, with heavy French accent, almost moved to tears, "it's a strange film, no?"
The Rotterdam Film festival honors three filmmakers with retrospectives: Indian humanist Girish Kasaravalli, who's been influenced by Satyajit Ray, Canadian silents-lover Guy Maddin whose eclectic and amusing oeuvre can be seen in Vienna this April, and Brisseau - cineastes whose works are too obstinate or remote to stand much of a chance in the hectic everyday operations of distribution (or major festivals).
Brisseau, especially, works in a territory close to madness - but not playful-melodramatic like Maddin, but with the monumental, no-nonsense impact of the obsessed artist:Un jeu brutal
, his official debut from 1983 and above-cited "strange film", for instance explores the draconic education of a paralyzed girl side-to-side with a senseless murder spree of her dad (Bruno Cremer, Brisseaus alter ego in quite a few movies). Not as a thriller, though, rather as a perversly twisted coming-of-age-tale: Only when the girl realizes that her abhorred father is crazy - and she probably all too much like him - the girl becomes docile
Brisseau's new film Choses secrets
daringly walks the line between sexual teasing and operatically enhanced comedy-cum-overheated-melodrama
Here, too, he portrays man in a state beyond grace: A stripper and a barmaid, both young and delicious, embark with relish upon a series of erotic power games with snappy power-manager types. It starts off like gender-reversed, better shot Neil LaBute, but Brisseau drops the masty act on the way and - with paradoxical grandeur - presents the human being as pathetic creature in the throes of desire and addiction.
In the finale it's only a threat of self-immolation from the orgy to a deadly shot. With opera music pitched at maximum volume. And always borderiing on camp. But Brisseau obviously believes in it; he is deeply honest. The defective happy end is just the ultimate perversion, not to mention the precise mise-enscène in the midtst of turmoil.
Brisseau, with his singular mix of classical French cinema d'auteur, formal exactitude and peculiar obsessions, probably only accessible via the entire body of work, is a director made for Rotterdam, a festival that easily brings avantgarde and Hollywood, art and commerce together.
Interestingly enough, there's still room to discover films that might go unnoticed at other festivals: Matteo Garrone's L'Imbalsamatore
, a fascinating psycho-triangle, charting complex emotions in front of deserted Southern Italian holiday resort with an unsettling, unpredictable combination of black comedy and thriller echoes, is a case in point. Even Paul Thomas Anderson, who's here tpo present Punch-Drunk Love
, a charming piece of artifice that has Adam Sandler collide with Emily Watson in the nirvana of modernity, gives the public nerd questions at the Q&A (Sandlerian) short shrift and preferrably resorts to recommending Hukkle
, an almost wordless, amusing sound symphony from Hungary.
A symphony of quite different caliber is to be found in the avantgarde section: #18, Mahagonny
, the mythical last film of legendary experimental filmmaker and folk music anthologist Harry Smith, has been restored.
The screen is separated into four images (originally, this was 4 16mmm-projections at the same time, orchestrated by Smith, the restoration puts all four screens on one 35mm-copy), some of which can be just black for a time. A universal translation of the Brecht-Weill opera was what Smith intended (understandable to Europeans and Eskimos alike). His opus fluctuates between hallucinatory, caleidoscopic effects and hermetic structuralism - and only Smith, who claimed to have listened to his "Mahagonny"-record for 20 years in a row, knew the code for the visual metaphors.
While Lotte Lenya sings as Jenny, toy blocks of all shapes pile up mysteriously or a dump gets recycled via the wonder of film wound backwards, then the film returns into big city symphony mode: New York, the Seventies. Alternatingly unnerving and awe-inspiring, #18, Mahagonny
is as enigmatic as it was before its rediscovery
Not easygoing either, but a lot more accessible is The Decay of Fiction
, a study by Pat O'Neill that manages to be mythological and very concrete at the same time. It consists of fascinating time-lapse shots of the Hotel Ambassador in L.A are being haunted by the phantoms of the past (in real time). The once fabled meeting point of Hollywoods society is empty, degenerated, but transparent figures float through the corridors, re-enacting movie scenes, providing eerie ambience or pointing to historical events (like the assassination of Bobby Kennedy).
O'Neills computer-generated camera moves are breathtaking, the demands of his movie interactive: narrative chunks only partly cohere, the feeling of decay is dominant even in the form. The Decay of Fiction
is possibly the most arresting film in Rotterdam, not only because it keeps its secrets to itself, but also because of its decidedly unique mood: Where no living creatures are left whose hearts could be broken, a purely spiritual melancholy is all that remains.