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How? Why? REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965

How? Why?
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965

It didn’t quite make him a household name, but Roman Polanski’s low-budget psychological thriller, Repulsion, would spark a fracture in cinema that inspired countless film artists. Three years later he would permanently place himself in both popular and high art culture with the release of Rosemary’s Baby. But it was in 1962 that Polanski made a very deep mark with his razor sharp psychological thriller, Knife in the Water.

Armed with a some basic handheld cameras, a very small budget, one sailboat and three actors — Polanski and his cinematographer, Jerzy Lipman, managed to create an unforgettable film. Capturing characters, space, eroticism, tension and suspense in some of the most elegantly simplistic ways, Knife in the Water sears into the mind’s eye.

Playing at The Beekman! Knife in the Water Roman Polanski, 1962

Playing at The Beekman!
Knife in the Water
Roman Polanski, 1962

 

*** These shots vary in quality as the newly remastered version has yet to be released to Blu-Ray, but it will be available in the near future.

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Knife in the Water

Roman Polanski, 1962

Cinematography, Jerzy Lipman

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“Give me back my knife.”

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” So, you do know how to swim.”

 

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“You’re just like him… only half his age, and twice as dumb.”

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” Sailors get mast-headed for that…”

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“You’ve drowned a boy.”

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Matty Stanfield, 5.3.2016

 

At this moment, it was still very much style over substance. But this would soon change. Performance Donald Cammell / Nicolas Roeg, 1970 Cinematography | Nicolas Roeg

At this moment, it was still very much style over substance. But this would soon change.
Performance
Donald Cammell / Nicolas Roeg, 1970
Cinematography | Nicolas Roeg

Having the opportunity to interview or chat with a filmmaker is always interesting, but once in a while it can be somewhat magical. From time to time a highly respected and successful film artist manages to escape the limitations of celebrity. Not all celebrated filmmakers live in bubbles.

And while it often feels a thing of the past, there are still filmmakers who are more concerned with filmmaking as an art form than as the opportunity for the wealth of a franchise. No artist desires creating work that fails to connect with an audience, but there are some who are far more concerned with a personal vision than worrying about selling tickets. While this can create limitations for the filmmaker, it also presents a great level of freedom.

Nicolas Roeg BBC Arena Portrait Photograph | David Thompson, 2015

Nicolas Roeg
BBC Arena Portrait
Photograph | David Thompson, 2015

One such filmmaker is Nicolas Cage. If you’ve ever watched or read an interview with eccentric auteur you will be aware that his style of conversing is at once intellectual and rather free-form. His style of discussing his work, history and ideas often ramble, but they never miss their mark.

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to Nicolas Roeg speak, you will note a highly intelligent and genuine man. It is impossible to miss the fact that he is so filled with ideas that he tends talk in meandering and circular logic sentences. Last year, after overcoming more than a few challenges, The Criterion Collection re-mastered and re-issued Don’t Look Now. It features a discussion filmed in 2003 at London’s Ciné Lumière. It is an entertaining discussion and fully captures the way in which Roeg communicates. More importantly, it lets us see how he thinks and more than a little insight into how he makes films. He has always stretched cinematography and film editing to the limits to mimic the ways the human mind works. It may not always appear logical if we can slow down long enough to notice the jumbled order of our thoughts, but we are able to connect the dots of our odd assortment of ideas to lead us to the ways in which we operate.

If there is one element that shines through when listening to Mr. Roeg is the constant desire to find ways for film to connect with the human brain. When he made his debut as a film director it was a collaboration with writer/director, Donald Cammell.

There is a great deal more going on behind James Fox's "Johnny's" violent actions than simple thuggery. James Fox Performance Donald Cammell / Nicolas Roeg, 1970 Cinematography | Nicolas Roeg

There is a great deal more going on behind James Fox’s “Johnny’s” violent actions than simple thuggery.
James Fox
Performance
Donald Cammell / Nicolas Roeg, 1970
Cinematography | Nicolas Roeg

That debut film was Performance. Essentially a thriller in which a thug makes the mistake of hiding out in the home of rock star and his two groupies. The “thrill” aspect of the film takes a long fall as the film quickly evolves into a surrealistic study of a drug-fueled, hallucinogenic trip into identity. The film remains firmly seated as a dated but groundbreaking film of its time featuring Mick Jagger playing the odd rock star who pulls James Fox into a great deal more than his own isolated world.

“Nothing is true, everything is permitted.”

There only appears to be no rules... Mick Jagger Performance Donald Cammell / Nicolas Roeg, 1970 Cinematography | Nicolas Roeg

There only appears to be no rules…
Mick Jagger
Performance
Donald Cammell / Nicolas Roeg, 1970
Cinematography | Nicolas Roeg

It is an iconic film. It is also offers a key insight into what would soon become Nic Roeg’s life long pursuit toward a whole new kind of cinematic language. The idea of filming and editing a film to reflect the inner-workings of the human mind is forming. As Performance was a collaborative effort and firmly rooted in the culture of late 1960’s Swinging London world of fashion, rock and drugs — the uses of this idea never fully form. Instead the film often employs stylistic choices of jittery fast cuts and odd perspectives that are as ornamental as they are meaningful. Even still Roeg’s approach human thought as a method of plot projection is there.

Even the smallest creatures fight to survive. A picnic in the outback turns into a journey of cruel awakening, self-discovery and survival. A Cinematographer becomes an Auteur. Walkabout Nicolas Roeg, 1971

Even the smallest creatures fight to survive. A picnic in the outback turns into a journey of cruel awakening, self-discovery and survival. A Cinematographer becomes an Auteur.
Walkabout
Nicolas Roeg, 1971

Nicolas Roeg’s true directorial debut is filled with ideas and unique perceptions. A brother and sister escape the insanity of their troubled father to find themselves in the wilds of The Australian Outback. The title of the film comes from the Aboriginal concept of a male’s journey to adulthood. And with the assistance of a young man in the middle of his tribal ritual “walkabout” — the siblings journey through adversity and mystery toward their own adulthood.

What constantly threatens danger springs forward into a celebration of life's possibilities... Jenny Agutter Walkabout Nicolas Roeg, 1971

What constantly threatens danger springs forward into a celebration of life’s possibilities…
Jenny Agutter
Walkabout
Nicolas Roeg, 1971

Along the way cultural differences cause confusion and alarm. It is a film about survival thanks to human kindness. But more than anything it is a startling view of how racism and cultural differences are so engrained, no amount of human kindness can make them go away.  Roeg’s camera captures reality through a sort of surrealistic lens. The careful use of Antony Gibbs and Alan Pattillos’ editing allow us to view the realities and revelations from the perspective of two young adults and a child. It is here that we get a glimpse of identity perspective through the way the characters’ minds take in and view individual perceptions of experience.

A beautiful and tragic experimental film about both the strengths and flaws of the human condition. Another idea is put forward that hints that as our society applies more and more pressures, the concept of a walkabout could become a new sort of ritual for human beings contained within a society that only appears to offer safety and protection.

A young man takes a look at the land of his future and a shot becomes an iconic image. David Gulpilil Walkabout Nicolas Roeg, 1971

A young man takes a look at the land of his future and a shot becomes an iconic image.
David Gulpilil
Walkabout
Nicolas Roeg, 1971

When one watches Roeg’s 1980’s Bad Timing, a story of lust turned to obsession that not only pushes both individuals to the limits — it pulls one of them into the darkest corners of insanity. Bad Timing is graphic in the use of nudity, but the story it tells is not all that unusual. What makes this film standout as a work of cinematic art is the blending and discordant use of plot points into a fluid labyrinthine of perspectives that is often almost impossible to follow. The concept of flashback story-telling takes an almost hysterical detour into uncharted territories.

What often feels like a murder mystery is really far more complex in what it attempts to do. Bad Timing dares to toss a number of film genres our way, but the goal here is not suspense or even mystery. This film charts the deterioration of both the human mind and psyche after the requirements of desire, lust and sexual obsession have overtaken the rational.

"I'll be dead in a minute; just wanted to say good-bye." Who is in control? Who is being seduced? And in what order are these experiences happening?  Art Garfunkel / Theresa Russell Bad Timing Nicolas Roeg, 1980 Cinematography | Anthony B. Richmond

“I’ll be dead in a minute; just wanted to say good-bye.”
Who is in control? Who is being seduced? And in what order are these experiences happening?
Art Garfunkel / Theresa Russell
Bad Timing
Nicolas Roeg, 1980
Cinematography | Anthony B. Richmond

Tony Lawson’s editing of Anthony B. Richmond’s oddly framed cinematography shifts the viewer perspective into a strange flow that is challenging to grasp. The majority of film critics and audiences at the time tended to dismiss the film. Art Garfunkel’s low-key performance mixing with Harvey Keitel’s intensity and Theresa Russell’s unhinged demonstration of carnal obsession often feels like a cinematic experiment with celluloid as rubber band. Bad Timing was so strange at the time it was released that it would take a good decade before it would be reconsidered and re-evaluated for the exceptional film it is. This film remains strange and refuses to give in.

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“You tell the truth about a lie so beautifully.” Art Garfunkel / Theresa Russell Bad Timing Nicolas Roeg, 1980 Cinematography | Anthony B. Richmond

Don’t Look Now takes us to a Venice steeped in decay, sadness and uncertain dangers. We are led through a series of seemingly endless loop of dark tunnels. We pass over aged bridges in a fog of mystery. Hope can become deadly. Grief can become a release. Like life, nothing is at it appears. Constantly shifting back and forth in time which only becomes obvious upon a second screening. Everything is viewed with disconnected logic and paranormal hindsight. There is a constant confusion of “real-time” with conscious and subconscious perceptions. An unrelenting sense of déjà vu that our protagonist refuses to own or fully evaluate.

Nothing is what it appears... Julie Christie Don't Look Now Nicolas Roeg, 1973 Cinematography | Anthony B. Richmond

Nothing is what it appears…
Julie Christie
Don’t Look Now
Nicolas Roeg, 1973
Cinematography | Anthony B. Richmond

A cinematic masterwork that captures a young couple trying to re-connect and support each other in order to survive the worst experience life can offer.  It is a truly horrific film that somehow manages to be both beautiful and hauntingly sad. This is a surreal horror film about love, guilt, connections and grief.

"This one who's blind. She's the one that can see." Don't Look Now Nicolas Roeg, 1973

“This one who’s blind. She’s the one that can see.”
Don’t Look Now
Nicolas Roeg, 1973

This controversial 1973 film remains Roeg’s most successful film. Don’t Look Now is perhaps the best example of how Nicolas Roeg’s films work.

These films are about a whole lot more than seeingthese films are about how we think.

Matty Stanfield, 2.8.2016

 

Barbet Schroeder has always been interested in human obsessions and the dynamic of relationships, but when he got the idea to make Maîtresse he added something rather strange: Comedy. If you have never seen his infamous 1975 film, you should be aware of several things prior to watching it. The first of which is that this is essentially a very dark comedy about an unlikely love between a professional Dominatrix and a somewhat dim-witted would-be-thug.  The second is that it is probably the closest a film has come to capturing the true idea of BDSM as something more than a simple desire — for Ariane (Bulle Ogier) and her clients, it is a true obsession. While she might attempt to keep her professional life hidden in the strange world isolated in a cloistered series of rooms beneath her apartment, it becomes clear that this world is more than a way to earn money. Elements of her sadism have already worked their way into her sunny world.

Stylish lady with some secrets... Bulle Ogier Maîtresse Barbet Schroeder, 1975 Cinematography | Néstor Almendros

Stylish lady with some secrets…
Bulle Ogier
Maîtresse
Barbet Schroeder, 1975
Cinematography | Néstor Almendros

Like her clients, this is an obsession meant to be hidden from the rest of the world to see. The third is that Maîtresse is a very graphic film. This is not a movie for the faint of heart. The final and most important general statement about Maîtresse is that it is a highly artistic and well-crafted film. While it does not deserve to be listed or thought of as Shock Cinema, it is a most certainly highly provocative work. Schroeder is an intellectually restrained artist, but he is most certainly putting himself in the role of provocateur when it comes to this unforgettable and odd movie.

When Barbet Schroeder began production of Maîtresse in 1974 he knew he was creating a provocative film, but he had no idea just how difficult it would be to secure distribution in 1975. It would be more than a couple of years before this infamous film would be seen much at all. The film was essentially banned and censored for over six years after the initial debut. The UK would prove the toughest nut to crack. Interestingly it was not so much due to the exploration into the world of a French Dominatrix which included graphic depictions of BDSM activities, nor was it actually due to anything tied up in fetish and kink and it certainly wasn’t the horrific visit to a Paris horse meat slaughterhouse. The bottomline reason Schroeder’s film was refused release into the UK was because it featured the back view of a vulva.

Maîtresse Barbet Schroeder, 1975

Maîtresse
Barbet Schroeder, 1975

To give the British Board of Film Classification their due — they were smart enough to actually state that the film’s refusal was related to the “excessive” degrees of fetishism. The real reason BBFC denied release to the film was not because a person was being whipped, it was because the audience could see her vulva. The board did not mind that the audience could see a penis being severely mistreated. They were upset that the man seemed to enjoy having his genitals mistreated.

Maîtresse was screened and received a limited release in the US. The distributor assigned the film an X-rating on its own. So limited was the release that very few film critics actually reviewed it. The New York Times quite liked it. But the film became notorious with relatively few people having ever actually seen it. That all changed when The Criterion Collection remastered and released it to DVD in 2004.

Maîtresse Barbet Schroeder, 1975 Criterion Collection, 2004

Maîtresse
Barbet Schroeder, 1975
Criterion Collection, 2004

While the uncensored theatrical cut of Maîtresse had been released to the UK via DVD starting in 2003, the transfers were not solid. Under their Flipside Editions, The British Film Institute released it to Blu-ray in 2012. Blu quality enhanced, the BFI release is actually superior to the Criterion Collection pressing. There has been some very loose rumors that Criterion may give the film another image/sound boost to re-issue to Blu-ray, but it is rather unlikely. The film’s graphic scene filmed in an actual horse slaughterhouse is truly horrific to watch. This scene is most likely intended to act as a sort of metaphor for a powerful beast being reduced to a powerless victim ultimately utilized as food. The scene arrives in the story when the leading man is feeling powerless and emasculated.

Even playing "footsie" takes a turn... Gerard Depardieu / Bulle Ogier Maîtresse Barbet Schroeder, 1975 Cinematography | Néstor Almendros

Even playing “footsie” takes a turn…
Gerard Depardieu / Bulle Ogier
Maîtresse
Barbet Schroeder, 1975
Cinematography | Néstor Almendros

Note: Even by 1975 horse meat had already become a taboo form of food in more than a couple of countries. However it should be noted that while it has dramatically shifted away from favor, there are still butcher shops in France specifically reserved for the sale of this meat. All the same this is an alarming scene that will most likely put off a good number of people. As an FYI, Schroeder’s use of the footage is almost tame when compared to Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s use of Goethe recitation as the audience is led through the horrors of a slaughterhouse in 1978’s In a Year of 13 Moons. Fassbinder employed this form of human brutality to create a metaphor for fascism and despair. Unlike Schroeder’s movie,  Fassbinder’s film is not even remotely a comedy. Still both films carry a repugnant reputation for screening graphic screening of animal slaughter. Consider yourself warned.

All the same, it is annoying that the Criterion transfer is inferior to the one released by BFI Flipside Edition.

Wig and make-up perfected as well as an enhanced transfer. Maîtresse Barbet Schroeder, 1975 BFI Flipside, 2012

Wig and make-up perfected as well as an enhanced transfer.
Maîtresse
Barbet Schroeder, 1975
BFI Flipside, 2012

While one might expect a 1975 French film to be dated, it really isn’t. Even the clothing is not particularly 1970’s tacky. Let’s not forget that Karl Lagerfeld was in charge of costume design. …And the line between S&M to Lagerfeld is fairly short in distance.

And speaking of Sadomasochism, Maîtresse is one of the few films to actually craft a realistic depiction of this subculture. While many speak of Sadomasochism, the reality is that a true Sadist is not going to derive much pleasure from role-play. And while one might think of a Masochist as passive or willing victim, the true master of S&M role-play is always the Masochist. In other words, there is a very dark side to the games that many adults play. In Maîtresse the role playing is most definitely in action, but the games are being played with the rules loose and usually hidden. During the first half of the film it would appear that  Ariane takes no particular pleasure in what she does in the lair beneath her bright apartment, but Schroeder slowly begins to reveal aspects of her true nature as the film moves forward.

Going down below to a domestic torture garden... Bulle Ogier Maîtresse Barbet Schroeder, 1975 Cinematography | Néstor Almendros

Going down below to a domestic torture garden…
Bulle Ogier
Maîtresse
Barbet Schroeder, 1975
Cinematography | Néstor Almendros

Ariane seems to take true delight in feeding a collection of venus fly trap plants. Her high-scale bathtub has been crafted to include a bottom chamber that she has filled with water snakes or eels who feed off small fish which she her maid/assistant pours into the mix. And of course as the battle of the sexes ensues we see examples of her need to remain firmly in the position of dominance.

Tighten up the gimp... Bulle Ogier & Client Maîtresse Barbet Schroeder, 1975 Cinematography | Néstor Almendros

Tighten up the gimp…
Bulle Ogier & Client
Maîtresse
Barbet Schroeder, 1975
Cinematography | Néstor Almendros

The film’s perspective belongs to leading man of the story. Gérard Depardieu’s Olivier appears to be a harmless sort of guy, but it only takes a small opportunity and he is ready to take up the grift as burglar. And it only takes another moment or two before we realize that this burly young man is a criminal. The film’s plot begins as Olivier and a pal break into what they think is an empty Parisian apartment. Like voyeurs, we follow these knuckleheads into a creepy dark space. With only a flashlight to provide limited perspective, we understand within a few seconds that this is no ordinary apartment. The small light reveals gimp masks, gas masks, latex & rubber suits, a hanging noose, a sinister looking dental chair, something like a torture rack, loads of odd surgical type equipment, dildos, baby bottles, diapers, a wide variety of torture tools and a terrified naked man shivering in a dog pen.  This might all read a bit funnier than it is. I first saw this movie in Cambridge back in the 1990’s and it was and remains a genuinely creepy opening sequence. Soon these two thugs find themselves handcuffed together and to a radiator as Bulle Ogier’s Ariane tends to her clients.

Sexual attraction, crime, money and a battle for control is about to begin... Gerard Depardieu / Bulle Ogier Maîtresse Barbet Schroeder, 1975 Cinematography | Néstor Almendros

Sexual attraction, crime, money and a battle for control is about to begin…
Gerard Depardieu / Bulle Ogier
Maîtresse
Barbet Schroeder, 1975
Cinematography | Néstor Almendros

This is a filmmaker’s movie. Gerard Depardieu is well cast in the type of role for which he was best known in his youth — a sort of primally sexy gentle giant. It is really through Olivier‘s eyes that the audience sees the film. While this man is far from innocent, he clearly has no understanding of the world to which he has entered. But it is both comical and interesting that he finds himself deeply attracted to Ariane. His desire for her begins as she one-up’s both he and his pal by managing to cuff them together with no hope of escape. His attraction only builds as she offers him a chance to make some money and leads him further into the dark corners of her domestic torture garden. As they approach a man dressed in female bondage gear, she demands that the client get on all fours. She straddles him and positions Olivier directly in front of the masochist’s face. Olivier looks more curious than shocked. She unzips her burglar’s fly, pulls out his penis and demands that he urinate in the client’s face. Olivier‘s eyes never leave those of Ariane. As we hear the urine release he shares a passionate kiss with her. Suddenly this brute of a man is in love.

And now we begin your punishment... A Masochist Client & Bulle Ogier Maîtresse Barbet Schroeder, 1975 Cinematography | Néstor Almendros

And now we begin your punishment…
A Masochist Client & Bulle Ogier
Maîtresse
Barbet Schroeder, 1975
Cinematography | Néstor Almendros

After a night of what appears to be romance funded by Ariane, the two lie in bed. There are no professions of love, but it is clear it is there. Schroeder’s screenplay and Bulle Ogier’s careful performance require no words for the audience to understand that much of her attraction / fondness for Olivier is grounded in his mix of dull intellect, brutish but placid assertions of dominance. Of course the deal-sealer for Ariane is that this man is unabashedly almost worshiping in his adoration. There is also no need for discussion regarding Olivier‘s confusion regarding the downstairs world of his love’s professional life. All Depardieu need to do is offer a glance and we know that he is even more confused than those of us in the audience.

And this must be the naughty girl in need of punishment...

And this must be the naughty girl in need of punishment… Bulls Ogier / Wealthy Clients / Gerard Depardieu Maîtresse Barbet Schroeder, 1975 Cinematography | Néstor Almendros

When Ariane essentially tricks him into visiting a friend in the country, he has no idea that she is leading him into a Dominatrix scenario involving a group of wealthy devotees. Confused, unsure and fearful of being judged as less than a man Olivier agreed to remove his belt and whip the pretty and only female player in the chateau. It is clear that he simply does not understand why a tough whipping would provide pleasure. Eager to demonstrate his abilities to his new lover, he opts to softly tease the masochist’s vulva. Of course this only demonstrates his misunderstanding of this type of desire. The wealthy clients are amused as is Ariane. But Olivier and the audience are confused and worried that he is being used and reduced to some sort of walking joke.

When I saw Maîtresse for the first time back in the 1990’s I had been informed that it was a dark comedy. At this time it was hard for me to accept it as comedy. It seemed to me that the film was aiming far deeper than one anticipates from the genre. Despite my own desire to interpret the movie in a different way there were elements that simply did not seem to fit the action on the screen.

Meet the Whore-Madonna concept personified...

Néstor Almendros captures our Mistress in perfect frame to emerge with a halo for the man who will become obsessed. Meet the Whore-Madonna concept personified… Bulls Ogier Maîtresse Barbet Schroeder, 1975 Cinematography | Néstor Almendros

Carlos D’Alessio’s musical score seemed odd. It is a rather charming bit of work that never fits into the world we and Olivier are exploring. In addition some of the darkest moments contained within the movie have no musical accompaniment. Seeing the film again after it had been added to The Criterion Collection, the comedy of Maîtresse hit me. Certainly not a comic experience that generates laughs as much as amusement — this is more a sense of bemusement. This is, of course, a French film. I love French cinema, but no one else presents comedy quite like the French. This level of dark comedy or comédie de l’ cruels has become more familiar outside of French cinema in the past decade. John Magary’s recent brilliant independent American film, The Mend, presents an incisive and rage-filled study of two brothers as the sort of dark comedy one might expect from France. Serious studies of humanity taking a turn toward the comical is not so odd to most of us anymore. Despite all of the transgressions and darker elements of identity, Maîtresse is most certainly a comedy.

Watching love's persona and identity change presents more than a little confusion for the boyfriend.

Watching love’s persona and identity change presents more than a little confusion for the boyfriend. Bulle Ogier / Gerard Depardieu Maîtresse Barbet Schroeder, 1975 Cinematography | Néstor Almendros

A key to understanding Maîtresse is to know that nothing we see is eroticized. This is not an erotic film.

When we are given glimpses into the Maitresse’s world of punishment and humiliation it is either directly related to Olivier‘s sneaking around peaking or listening. Schroeder spent a good deal of time researching the subject matter of the film as he felt no connection to the world of S&M. Much of Bulle Ogier’s character is based on an actual dominatrix. He gained her trust and she agreed to allow she and several of her clients to be used in the film itself. Long before the idea of digital effects existed, Schroeder carefully placed the actual dominatrix in relation to his actress/wife’s positions. The actual members of the 1970’s Parisian BDSM Underground wear masks to protect their identity, but they are willfully accepting their mistresses’ punishments. All is filmed to make it look as if Ogier is the one applying nails, needles and other manipulations. Filmed without typical movie lighting or other stylings, these transgressive acts are presented with only the sounds that were occurring at the time of filming. The result is often jarring and more than a little shocking, but never eroticized.

Nothing is ever explained beyond the most limited of discussion. Like Olivier, we are left with only what we see and might already understand separate from the film. Unlike Olivier, we are hopefully not quite so simple in our thinking and reasoning. And let’s hope we are not male chauvinist pigs. Olivier has a deep-seated need to dominate his woman. Having grown into a world of cruelty and crime, he has no trouble formulating the idea that his girl is a prostitute in need of a strong pimp. He wants the role of her pimp. And he wants to find a way to help her earn even more money. Because it is all about money. Right?!? 

One simple bully who has met his match without even fully realizing it... Gerard Depardieu Maîtresse Barbet Schroeder, 1975 Cinematography | Néstor Almendros

One simple bully who has met his match without even fully realizing it…
Gerard Depardieu Maîtresse Barbet Schroeder, 1975 Cinematography | Néstor Almendros

Tragically for Olivier, he is unable to grasp that Ariane needs no protecting and certainly no pimp. Ariane never states an opinion, but it is clear that she does not identify as a prostitute and would never even consider the idea of pimp in her existence. As Olivier becomes more and more obsessed with understanding what Ariane does and why people pay her to do it — he becomes even more determined to know all of her secrets. The identity of a certain person constantly being mentioned in relation to money either with her maid or on one of her two phones consumes Olivier.

It is at this point of the story that we fully begin to understand the depth of Ariane‘s own perverse sadistic urges. It would not take much for her to simply explain it all to Olivier, but she has far too much fun watching him struggle for his grounding and fret over the details of her life.

Even when Olivier’s tendencies toward domestic abuse begin to flare up, she maintains her sense of control.

He's just royally screwed a lot up, but there is simply too much joy to be found in his desperate need for her love and forgiveness. Who has the power now?

He’s just royally screwed a lot up, but there is simply too much joy to be found in his desperate need for her love and forgiveness. Who has the power now? Bulle Ogier / Gerard Depardieu Maîtresse Barbet Schroeder, 1975 Cinematography | Néstor Almendros

When he puts his huge hands around her slender throat she plays it off as if a game. Poor Olivier doesn’t even pick up that he has failed to scare her. Later when he finally pushes things too far and our Maîtresse has had enough, she head-butts Olivier so hard blood begins to pour from his nose. Clearly shocked by her strength, his reaction is to attempt to warn Ariane that she too has been harmed. He is concerned. Ariane is unbothered by the self-damage inflicted by her head-butting. She is seething with anger.

It is the dim-witted Olivier who is emotionally crushed. This is not the first time we have seen this rough and huge man fall to pieces over his girl.  Control and cruelty are needs and that refuse to stay in that dark cave of torture secretly adjoined to her private home. These needs are not being fully satisfied by respecting most of her clients’ wishes and safe words. A Sadist wants real control and a victim. She is happy to play along with Olivier‘s limited view of women for the pleasure his pain provides.

She may look the part of angel, but this aspect is in appearance only.

Another key scene involves some personal and rather rough role-play between Ariane and Olivier. Schroeder wisely shoots this scene in a particularly ambiguous way. It looks like a violent public fight between the two characters as reality with the looming threat of rape. When the two end up in a garden shed of an elderly woman we hear Ariane‘s screams. As the poor old woman rushes to come to the aide of the petit blond woman, Olivier emerges with a switchblade pointed to kill. When Ariane walks out of the shed she is still pulling up her skirt. We might expect that she would feel empathy for the elder woman, but instead she merely leans into Olivier and mockingly suggests he leave the poor “old dear” alone. She skips away without even waiting to see what Olivier might do.

We never actually  know if this was a bit of role-playing or a real scenario that Ariane has manifested / navigated for some sadistic fun.

Punishing a key client, this is not a woman who needs or wants the protection of a man. Bulle Ogier  Maîtresse  Barbet Schroeder, 1975  Cinematography | Néstor Almendros

Punishing a key client, this is not a woman who needs or wants the protection of a man.
Bulle Ogier
Maîtresse
Barbet Schroeder, 1975
Cinematography | Néstor Almendros

Despite the dark elements of the on-screen actions, this is a story about the battle of the sexes. It is also an odd 1970’s twist on Feminisim. The key word here is “odd.” In many ways it almost seems a mistake that Barbet Schroeder opted to sculpt a very twisted romantic comedy from the BDSM clay of his story. There are so many aspects of Bulle Ogier’s Ariane it seems a bit of a waste of a great actress that she is unable to explore them. As I’ve stated several times, not much is ever explained about the title character.

Forever lingering with mystery...

Forever lingering with mystery… Bulle Ogier Maîtresse Barbet Schroeder, 1975 Cinematography | Néstor Almendros

The subplot of Ariane‘s situation is only mentioned in passing. I’m not sure I even fully noticed it upon my first viewing some 20 years ago, but it is wrought with dramatic potential. La Maîtresse is the mother of an elementary school age child.  An older gentleman (who may or may not be the child’s father) appears to have taken custody of the child. We may not know the full story here, but it would appear that Ariane is fine with this arrangement and most likely has intended it to be this way. When we see her with her child she clearly feels a stronger bond to her Doberman Pinscher. A beloved pet she has named Texas and claims to have trained to kill upon demand. We do not know if this is true, but it seems likely to be an accurate claim. Her young son appears to attempt to gain his mother’s attention, but Ariane is far more interested with Texas. When the boy walks off with his guardian/father, Ariane appears bored, but fixated on the dog. We never learn the name of her son, but she is more than happy to sneak away and join Olivier on a very strange drive in which the battle for power takes a surprising turn.

Orgasm without brakes! Hey, who is really driving this car anyway?!?!

Orgasm without brakes! Hey, who is really driving this car anyway?!?! Gerard Depardieu / Bulle Ogier Maîtresse Barbet Schroeder, 1975 Cinematography | Néstor Almendros

Barbet Schroeder’s Maîtresse is an uncomplicated film about some very complicated people. The choice to keep it unexplained and unexplored is intentional. And as it turns out this was a very clever and wise decision. Maîtresse pulls us in just deep enough to make us squirm but never so far out that we need to grasp for air. It also prevents the film from slipping into a psychological realm that would ultimately prove disappointing.

Why?

Well sometimes life’s complications and the obsessions to which it leads are too murky to actually articulate.

Matty Stanfield, 1.28.2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

Laura Dern as a woman in deep trouble... INLAND EMPIRE David Lynch, 2006

Laura Dern as a woman in deep trouble…
INLAND EMPIRE
David Lynch, 2006

There is an early key scene in David Lynch’s Inland Empire. It is between one of several characters played by Laura Dern and another played by the great Grace Zabriskie. A neighbor has dropped in to introduce herself to her movie star neighbor. A bit uncomfortable, but friendly — Nikki invites the woman in for a cup of coffee. After the neighbor sips a bit, she begins to enquire about Nikki’s next movie role. A role that the neighbor feels Nikki has most certainly secured Though it is clear that Nikki is unaware she has been cast.

It only takes a few minutes before Ms. Zabriskie gets to the actual reason for her unannounced visit:

“Is there a murder in your film?”
“Uh, no. It’s not part of the story.”
“No, I think you are wrong about that.”
“No.”
Brutal fucking murder!
“I don’t like this kind of talk; the things you’ve been saying. I think you should go now.”
“Yes. Me, I… I can’t seem to remember if it’s today, two days from now, or yesterday. I suppose if it was 9:45, I’d think it was after midnight! For instance, if today was tomorrow, you wouldn’t even remember that you owed on an unpaid bill. Actions do have consequences. And yet, there is the magic. If it was tomorrow, you would be sitting over there.”

Her finger points across the room. Laura Dern’s Nikki’s eyes turn following the direction of her neighbor’s finger.  And with a turning pan of the cheap digital camera we and Nikki are transported to a different time. Maybe even a different side of reality. Maybe…

Grace Zabriskie points toward the unknown brutality... INLAND EMPIRE David Lynch, 2006

Grace Zabriskie points toward the unknown brutality…
INLAND EMPIRE
David Lynch, 2006

Way back in 2006 after experiencing David Lynch’s Inland Empire for the first time I wrote this:

Well, kids — I saw the new David Lynch movie today. Yes, INLAND EMPIRE is almost a full 3 hours of Lynchian assault.

Did I like it? Yes, I think I did. Actually, I may love it. I think I am still processing the experience. Trust me. This is a cinematic experience.

While I did find it a bit long, I was never bored.  My eyes, ears and mind were stuck to the screen the entire duration. There were more than a few people in the audience who had seen it twice already. I have to agree with those audience members — this is a film which seems to require multiple viewings. 

I am still trying to figure it all out in my head. What did all those symbols mean? Most importantly, what does it symbolize to have Nastassja Kinski sit on a sofa while Suicide Girl types dance and lip sync to the late/great Nina Simone? I guess she and them could symbolize a lot of things.  And, why the Beck song?

Word to the wise: if you do see it — stay thru the final credits.

I love that the cinema in which I saw the movie was playing selections from the new Tom Waits compilation CD, Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards. This turned out to be quite right for setting the tiny San Francisco cinema’s atmosphere.

Hypnotic, oddly gorgeous, without linear thought/plot and featuring a brilliant performance from Laura Dern — INLAND EMPIRE is horrific, beautiful, confusing, perverse, sad, funny, lost and ultimately a brilliant cinematic slight of hand.  If you like David Lynch you will not want to miss it. I plan on seeing it again with a couple of my pals.

 

"Come on, baby Jump up Jump back Well, now, I think you've got the knack Wow, wow!" Laura Dern & Friends(?) INLAND EMPIRE David Lynch, 2006

“Come on, baby
Jump up
Jump back
Well, now, I think you’ve got the knack
Wow, wow!”
Laura Dern & Friends(?)
INLAND EMPIRE
David Lynch, 2006

Three years later, I wrote this:

David Lynch at his very best. This is the first film he has made which rivals the brilliance of Blue Velvet. Tho quite long, the movie is NOT dull.

Blessed with an incredible acting turn by Laura Dern who seems to be wandering through the consciousness of an actor in way over her head and possibly sharing that space with a demented film maker, INLAND EMPIRE is almost impossible to describe.

This experimental film shows how much a filmmaker can do with equipment available to all of us. It also serves as a reminder that just because we have access to the equipment — no one without such untethered genius can use it as well.

Sound and image have seldom merged better.

INLAND EMPIRE is a puzzle of a film that will be pulling in viewers for decades to come. Without question, this is an important film.

"Ye-ye-ye-yeah Move around the floor in a Loco-motion!" INLAND EMPIRE David Lynch, 2006

“Ye-ye-ye-yeah
Move around the floor in a Loco-motion!”
INLAND EMPIRE
David Lynch, 2006

Not too long ago on Letterboxd I wrote:

One of my all-time favorite films is also one of the most experimental I’ve ever seen. This is a brilliant motion picture experience captured with cheap video cameras.

Interpretation is certainly open-ended. Even still, I’ve always viewed this as an actor who has lost her identity in a role.

But even more unsettling is the proposition that manipulation of “identity” could potential lead one into some horrific alternate realities. Are they real or are they each operating in some sort of parallel universe?

Best to just pretend you’re seated in dark cinema.

Turn out the lights. Turn up the volume. Just watch and listen.  Allow Inland Empire to wash over you. As it does, you are probably going to discover some vague connection that is as surreal as the film itself.

If you are not someone who does not appreciates David Lynch, experimental art or if you’re afraid of the dark — do not even attempt to watch it.

Laura Dern On the run and lost... INLAND EMPIRE David Lynch, 2006

Laura Dern
On the run and lost…
INLAND EMPIRE
David Lynch, 2006

 

Having recently watched Inland Empire the other night on a pristine German-imported blu-ray, the film remains fresh, disturbing and enigmatic as ever.

The film floods over me like some sort of brilliant wave of sound, paint and amplified humanity. I find it difficult to articulate what grabs me. But it grabs me every time I see it.

As someone who has dealt with panic attacks and disorientation, there is a spastic sort of resonation. However, this would be me, a member of the audience, projecting myself onto David Lynch’s carefully crafted and often grubby Epic of Surreal Cinematic Masterpiece.

Yes, that is what I wrote. I used the “masterpiece” word. For me, Inland Empire is a cinematic masterpiece.

I refuse to be swayed.

It is filled with odd sort of “clues” that seem to dangle and blow like thin strings refusing to tie together.

The logic is circular and filled with menace.

There is more symbology going on than one can ever hope to rattle even with the sturdiest of sticks.

A meta-film to beat all meta. A cinematic experiment without a clearly stated thesis beyond the posters tagline: “A Woman In Trouble.”

"What the fuck happened here?" I say: "He come to a reapin' what he had been sowin', that's what." They say: "Fucker been sowing some kind of heavy shit..." Laura Dern INLAND EMPIRE David Lynch, 2006

“What the fuck happened here?” I say: “He come to a reapin’ what he had been sowin’, that’s what.” They say: “Fucker been sowing some kind of heavy shit…”
Laura Dern
INLAND EMPIRE
David Lynch, 2006

As the woman (or women) in trouble, Laura Dern was given an amazing task as an actor. A task that she not only managed to achieve — Laura Dern rose above any sort of expectation. The lines between acting and reality are simultaneously drawn, twisted, subverted and blurred beyond recognition. Dern seems to literally become entwined with digital signals that form the movie itself. By stating this, I mean to write that this actress is not simply the focus of most of the film’s images —  Laura Dern’s performance and presence folds into digital images that David Lynch’s cameras capture.

This performance even amps itself beyond Dennis Hopper’s brilliant turn in Blue Velvet. The only reason it has never been given similar credit is because of the often exasperating “lengths” to which Inland Empire stretches, bends, loops and merges to form and invert itself.

For various reasons, I’ve found myself spending time with this particular movie.

I have to confess I was relieved when viewings were no longer required. But with the arrival of this blu-ray, I jumped back into the surreal madness of Lynchian Vision. I did so without request or hesitation.

"So, you have a new role to play, I hear?" Laura Dern INLAND EMPIRE David Lynch, 2006

“So, you have a new role to play, I hear?”
Laura Dern
INLAND EMPIRE
David Lynch, 2006

In the end, for me Inland Empire is a complex exploration of human identity. The identity of an artist who finds her non-professional actor’s life begins to morph, twitch, mingle and merge with those of her roles. So vested in her performance, the complexity of a new film’s character splinters into creation of multiple versions and films. The ultimate artistic nightmare.

Forever chasing her selves through horrific and dismal set-ups. Just as she might be about to latch on to the core of herself she is sent running after another lost figment. A rambling psychological, visceral, emotional and dangerous trap. Her identity becomes so fragmented and polarized that the audience shares in her existential conundrum.

"This is a story that happened yesterday. But I know it's tomorrow." Laura Dern INLAND EMPIRE David Lynch, 2006

“This is a story that happened yesterday. But I know it’s tomorrow.”
Laura Dern
INLAND EMPIRE
David Lynch, 2006

I could not help but feel slightly alarmed when a person on Twitter, known as The Movie Shrink,  sent me a link to a new viewpoint regarding a movie. The movie happened to be Inland Empire. @Plisskenboon’s translation of David Lynch’s strange epic is precise and self-assured.

I can’t state that I’m in full agreement, but it is an impressive deconstruction and evaluation of this Lynchian World that forever runs about within the confines of The Inland Empire. Um, yeah, it is a real place.

(You would be surprised how many people do not realize this.)

Splintered, fragmented and distorted... Laura Dern INLAND EMPIRE David Lynch, 2006

Splintered, fragmented and distorted…
Laura Dern
INLAND EMPIRE
David Lynch, 2006

Check it out. …if you dare:

http://plisskensmovies.blogspot.co.nz/2015/03/inland-empire.html

A person, a woman, an actor, her character(s) and shared identities are forever trapped... Laura Dern INLAND EMPIRE David Lynch, 2006

A person, a woman, an actor, her character(s) and shared identities are forever trapped…
Laura Dern
INLAND EMPIRE
David Lynch, 2006

This is a story that happened yesterday. But I know it’s tomorrow.”

Matty Stanfield, 11.20.15

 

 

I have been reading and hearing about Marco Ferreri’s notorious 1973 film, La Grande Bouffe,  since adulthood.

Le Grande Bouffe Marco Ferreri, 1973

Le Grande Bouffe
Marco Ferreri, 1973

Yet I had never had the opportunity to see it until the folks at Arrow Films saw fit to restore and release the film. Even well over 42 years since it debuted at The Cannes Film Festival, this film is still notorious. A simple “google” reveals that Ingrid Bergman tossed her cookies trying to watch it when she was sitting on The Cannes Jury. Marcello Mastroianni’s then lover, Catherine Deneuve, did not speak to him for two weeks after she saw the film. Despite some controversy, the movie was received well be most critics. In fact, Marco Ferreri tied with Jean Eustache and won Cannes’ FIPRESCI Prize. It was also nominated for The Palme d’Or. However, nearly all the positive reviews acted as a warning to the film’s admittedly grotesque use of food, bodily functions and sexuality. There was also an on-going argument in France and among cinephiles as to whether or not this film was bombastic provocation or bold metaphorical satire. Another argument centered on whether the film could be labeled as “Surrealism” or “Absurdism.”

There can be no denying that Le Grande Bouffe strikes a off-key chords of disgust and repulsion.  At the same time, a viewer would be hard-pressed to argue that this strange movie fails to entertain. Most importantly, it does have something to say about the state of society that remains incredibly valid all these years later.

Marcello Mastroianni, Ugo Tognazzi, Philippe Noiret and Michel Piccoli play friends who have grown bored with life, but they have a plan! La Grande Bouffe Marco Ferreri, 1973 Cinematography | Mario Vulpiani

Marcello Mastroianni, Ugo Tognazzi, Philippe Noiret and Michel Piccoli play friends who have grown bored with life, but they have a plan!
La Grande Bouffe
Marco Ferreri, 1973
Cinematography | Mario Vulpiani

Gathering a spectacular cast of mid-1970’s actors (Marcello Mastroianni, Michel Piccoli, Philippe Noiret and Ugo Tognhzzi) together as a group of wealthy men who have lost the desire to live. More to the point, wealthy men who have allowed respective desires to form the focal point of life. And desire alone is certainly not a healthy or sustaining “diet.” This of course ties into the metaphor of consumerism.

As a successful and renowned chef, Ugo Tognhzzi, has spent his life perfecting his dishes to the point that he no longer finds joy in the making or the eating of food. Michel Piccoli is a successful television producer and journalist who seems to have lost interest in what he does. Philippe Noiret may be a respected and powerful judge, but his life has been spent interpreting law and handing out verdicts. Any hope for something deeper appears to have been sapped by an on-going inappropriate sexual relationship with his childhood nanny. It becomes clear that this nanny has been sexually abusing him since he was a child. Sexuality and intimacy clearly lead Philippe to muted place of discomfort. Most explored is the dilemma facing Marcello Mastroianni’s character.

It is Marcello who insists on hiring some prostitutes to join the friends for "the fun." With a hooker's panty as an eye patch -- Let the eating and fornication begin! Marcello Mastroianni La Grande Bouffe Marco Ferreri, 1973 Cinematography | Mario Vulpiani

It is Marcello who insists on hiring some prostitutes to join the friends for “the fun.” With a hooker’s panty as an eye patch — Let the eating and fornication begin!
Marcello Mastroianni
La Grande Bouffe
Marco Ferreri, 1973
Cinematography | Mario Vulpiani

A successful airline pilot, this man focuses all energy on pursuing sexual conquests and resulting pleasures. Sex is of utmost importance to Marcello, but it has become a hallow experience which seems to be heading the way of impotence.

These four friends gather with the plan to fully indulge in a hedonistic series of feasts with the goal of literally eating themselves to death. Enter an idea of “Surrealism” which is not really accurate. While it might be very hard, in theory an individual could eat him/herself to death. Yes, it might be very difficult but it can be done. The film’s core plot is less Surreal and more Absurdist. Le Grande Bouffe is also satire at it’s most dark and revolting. The film is very focused on the human body and digestion.

Ah, delicious! Michel Piccoli examines the head of a newly butchered hog. La Grande Bouffe Marco Ferreri, 1973 Cinematography | Mario Vulpiani

Ah, delicious!
Michel Piccoli examines the head of a newly butchered hog.
La Grande Bouffe
Marco Ferreri, 1973
Cinematography | Mario Vulpiani

Quite literal in its use of The Scatacological, The Big Feast is filled with fart sound effects, swelling bellies, burbs, vomiting, exploding toilets, plumbing and colon ruptures. Uncontrolled defecation and farting are less funny when presented so graphically and for so long. In many ways Ferreri is testing his audiences’ patience and will to make it through his movie.

Mastroianni’s character’s life focus is sex. As soon as the men settle in to the ornate house where they plan to kill themselves, he decides he must have sex or the “fun” of gorging themselves to death will not be as rewarding. Enter the prostitutes and the friends’ mutually shared view of women as objects.

Appreciating the nude art on the grounds... La Grande Bouffe Marco Ferreri, 1973 Cinematography | Mario Vulpiani

Appreciating the nude art on the grounds…
La Grande Bouffe
Marco Ferreri, 1973
Cinematography | Mario Vulpiani

These men have essentially no real healthy connection to women. They are playthings with very little else to offer. Marco Ferreri has cast some truly beautiful actresses as the film’s prostitutes. It is hard to know if any of these actors can act because they are given very little to do other than to offer their bodies to the men. Of course, we are never allowed to forget that this is not “fun” for the women. They are there for the money. It is interesting to note that it the prostitutes who quickly grasp what is going on amongst these friends. These women have no concern regarding their clients’ macabre plan. They just want to be paid.

Late 1960’s/Early 1970’s Euro-Sex Symbol, Solange Blondeau, is given the most to do and she does it well. Disgusted by the amount of food she sees, she voices complaint at the lunacy because she is almost ill just watching the eating not out of any concern. She and another prostitute briefly discuss the unimportance of men. Solange goes along for the ride.

"What is that?" Marcello seems more interested in the manifold as phallus and food than Solange's beauty. Mastroianni, Blondeau and intrusive manifold... Le Grande Bouffe Marco Ferreri, 1973 Cinematography | Mario Vulpiani

“What is that?”
Marcello seems more interested in the manifold as phallus and food than Solange’s beauty.
Mastroianni, Blondeau and intrusive manifold…
Le Grande Bouffe
Marco Ferreri, 1973
Cinematography | Mario Vulpiani

When Marcello brings her into the garage to show her a beautiful antique car, she is less annoyed by his use of a manifold as phallus than she is by the food he forces her to eat. The scene is intentionally gross. There is nothing erotic here. But there is another invited guest to these friends’ Nihilistic big feasts, a seemingly “proper” elementary school teacher. This was Andrea Ferreol’s film debut. She is positively brilliant in this film and offers an interestingly odd twist to the tale.

It may not be clear if the teacher understands, but there is nothing “appropriate” or remotely innocent about her. She quickly seduces Philippe’s judge. She cleverly morphs from sweet school teacher to zaftig Sex Kitten. Not only eager to have sex with the judge, she is more than willing to serve as erotic object for all four men. Andrea Ferreol is stunningly beautiful, but not in the conventional way of the prostitutes. Interestingly, it is Andrea who Marco Ferreri attaches cinematic eroticism. It is actually only with her that he indulges in 1970’s Euro-Eroticism.

Andrea Ferreol gladly offers up her lovely body to Marcello Mastroianni. Despite her beauty and willingness to play his games, he has lost the ability to participate. The film is very clear that this is not her fault. Andrea Ferreol & Mastroianni La Grande Bouffe Marco Ferreri, 1973 Cinematography | Mario Vulpiani

Andrea Ferreol gladly offers up her lovely body to Marcello Mastroianni. Despite her beauty and willingness to play his games, he has lost the ability to participate. The film is very clear that this is not her fault.
Andrea Ferreol & Mastroianni
La Grande Bouffe
Marco Ferreri, 1973
Cinematography | Mario Vulpiani

A pale, curvaceous and inviting bounty of flesh, Andrea is the true sexual feast for these men. Ever game for anything each man wants to try or do, Andrea is also craving the food and the sex. In one of the more darkly comic and equally disgusting scenes, Andrea forces herself on an ailing Michel. As Michel moans in pain Andrea rides hard and fast. As he submits so do his bowels. It is deeply repulsive but inexplicably funny. Later she will allow Ugo to use her shapely buttocks to form a huge tart. She also attempts to satisfy Marcello’s erotic needs with little luck. As inappropriate as everything is, there is something to be said about the fact that Ferreri celebrates Andrea’s body rather than make fun of it.

However, there is something sinister about Andrea. Aside from the fact that she is not bothered by the sight, sounds, smells of stomach-churning bodily functions — she is ever eating though never to the point of the extreme as her hosts. She is also forever wanting to sex it up. Most disturbingly, she seems to take great joy in assisting these men in their pursuit of death by gluttony.  She begins to take a sort of psychopathic joy in it. Andrea is fully committed to assisting these men on their mission. Andrea Ferreol is easily the best performance in the film. And it is completely fearless.

Look! More food! EAT THIS! La Grande Bouffe Marco Ferreri, 1973 Cinematography | Mario Vulpiani

Look! More food! EAT THIS!
La Grande Bouffe
Marco Ferreri, 1973
Cinematography | Mario Vulpiani

Suffice to say, this is a very strange movie. It is also almost epic in length. It runs over two hours. This is a long film. It is certainly not for everyone. However, there is a great deal that is worthy here.

While there is most certainly a societal commentary being expressed, in the end friendship and shared sadness seem to be almost as essential as the societal aspects. Amidst all the folly and nauseating actions, the filmmaker succeeds in demonstrating the love shared by these four men. Ultimately, they stand united. A very wrong and warped idea emerges that despite all of their faults, these four men have each other. It is an unexpected bit of human tenderness that manages to surface. No matter how one wants to find meaning, this film is well made, provocative, energetic and crudely funny.

Somehow Marco Ferreri film makes us actually care about these sad men. That in of itself is a major feat.

Uh, oh. A colon rupture! Um, yes. It is shown. La Grande Bouffe Marco Ferreri, 1973 Cinematography | Mario Vulpiani

Uh, oh. A colon rupture! Um, yes. It is shown.
La Grande Bouffe
Marco Ferreri, 1973
Cinematography | Mario Vulpiani

If I had to offer an easy summary of this early 1970’s film it would be to imagine Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover as an obvious comedy and minus vengeance.  Actually, I’d be willing to bet that Greenaway’s film would not exist had Ferreri’s film never been made. There are a number of similarities. Greenaway had already cast Andrea Ferreol in his earlier brilliant film, A Zed and Two Noughts. Interestingly, Greenaway’s NC-17 film had an easier time in the late 1980’s than Ferreri’s film in the early 1970’s. The film was heavily censored and even banned. Locating a full cut of this film has been difficult until Arrow Films’ recent restoration.

Food, Sex & Human Cruelty The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover Peter Greenaway, 1989 Cinematography | Sacha Vierny

Food, Sex & Human Cruelty
The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover
Peter Greenaway, 1989
Cinematography | Sacha Vierny

Of course, Greenaway had a far more crucial political satire in mind at the time he made The Cook. While Marco Ferreri’s societal commentary is aimed at consumerism and the vacancy of wealthy men, Peter Greenaway was intellectually crafting a gut-punching critique of Thatcher’s England the human cruelty that resulted within it. It is the better film, but in many ways it is even harder to watch.

Michael Nyman’s iconic musical score for this infamous 1989 film. It is a major player in Greenaway’s film. La Grande Bouffe also offers a surprising importance on it’s musical score. And the score is totally mis-matched to our perceptions of what we anticipate in the way of a musical film score. Philippe Sarde composed a truly lovely score for the twisted La Grande Bouffe. It is music of bittersweet lush romanticism.

Interestingly, Sarde’s score makes sense.

"Why eat when there is no hunger?" Michel Piccoli & Solange Blondeau La Grande Bouffe Marco Ferreri, 1973 Cinematography | Mario Vulpiani

“Why eat when there is no hunger?”
Michel Piccoli & Solange Blondeau
La Grande Bouffe
Marco Ferreri, 1973
Cinematography | Mario Vulpiani

And here lies the major challenge of La Grande Bouffe: Is the ‘pay-off‘ worth the investment of time to watch it?

Yes and no. I think the answer to this question can only be answered on an individual basis. Despite the unpleasantness, I think this is a well-crafted and important film. That being stated, approach with caution. It is rare that I agree with the MPAA, but La Grande Bouffe is deserving of the “NC-17” rating that it has been assigned.

And a tip of the hat to Arrow Films of the UK as they continue to raise their bar on restoration and distribution beyond region restrictions.

La Grande Bouffe Marco Ferreri, 1973

La Grande Bouffe
Marco Ferreri, 1973

Their job is every bit on par with The Criterion Collection. I suspect that we are going to see an interesting turn in the world of Art House Boutique Labels as Arrow Films continues to have a more current perspective on Film Art while The Criterion Collection seems to be continuing to lose touch with their younger audiences’ cinematic interests. Do not mis-read me. TCC is going nowhere, but their recent choices for film restoration/distribution have been more than a little off. Arrow Films seems to be taking appropriate aim at Film Art that appeals to a growing population of younger cinephiles who have interest beyond the Film Masters.

Matty Stanfield, 11.5.15

 

 

 

“I was wondering if you could do me a favor and write a think piece on Polanski’s Repulsion? Perhaps you could post it on your blog. I’d really appreciate it.”

"The nightmare world of a virgin's dreams becomes the screen's shocking reality!" REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965

“The nightmare world of a virgin’s dreams becomes the screen’s shocking reality!”
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965

This request brought me back to my college daze. An English Major, during my sophomore year a professor challenged me to form my semester thesis on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter. The challenge was not the thesis, but the actual assignment:

Create a thesis “with something new” to offer about the Scarlet Letter.

An odd and somewhat cruel way to make or break my grade. I wanted to bang my then-stoner-head into a wall. I took a real leap into my deconstruction of Hawthorne’s novel. And, I pulled out all the stops.

On her way up to the flat she shares with her sister, Carol bites her nails. I was doing something similar as I tried to find something "new" in "The Scarlet Letter" Catherine Deneuve REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

On her way up to the flat she shares with her sister, Carol bites her nails. I was doing something similar as I tried to find something “new” in “The Scarlet Letter”
Catherine Deneuve
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

My thesis argued that the book was an account of actual demonic possession. As I made my presentation to a class full of actual adults, I was met with snickering and eye-rolling. However, I had strange supporting information for every question designed to make me look the idiot. In the end, the professor gave me a “B.”

Not a horrible grade, but this was an advanced course in which I was the only student not yet working on their Masters. It was the lowest grade I ever received in a literature course. A year later I asked this professor why he gave me such a task. His answer? The conversation went something like this:

I wanted to take you down a peg or two. I didn’t feel a Sophomore should have been in that class.

So you wanted to humiliate me by having me read a book normally studied in Freshman year?

Yes and I wanted to give you an impossible assignment. I had no intention of failing you. My plan was to give you a “C” no matter what you presented.”

You gave me a ‘B.‘”

Yes. Your thesis was absurd, but you supported it well. I almost gave you an ‘A-‘ but your ridiculous rebellion against grammar would not allow me that opportunity.”

The following semester I discussed this with another professor who would become my university mentor and friend until her death in the mid-1990’s. She indicated that my experience was actually a surprising compliment from that professor.

So when an individual of some note asked me to write a piece about Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, I had to laugh. What can one possibly write about that infamous film that hasn’t been written about six million times before? I thought about it and politely declined. But as it turns out there is a strangely valid reason for this person’s request.

And so I now ask for your indulgence as I attempt to take another exploration into Repulsion.

Catching her reflection in a vase, Carol seems transfixed by the contour's warped perspective. Catherine Deneuve REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

Catching her reflection in a vase, Carol seems transfixed by the contour’s warped perspective.
Catherine Deneuve
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

It speaks volumes that 50 years after it first screened, Repulsion continues to not only entertain, but unnerve audiences. Roman Polanski’s first English-speaking film is at simultaneously experimental and resoundingly accessible. It also happens to be one of the most intimately disturbing films ever made. The intimacy of this film emanates not only from the style in which it is crafted but also from a universally shared fear of losing grasp with our own perception of reality. The film gradually pulls us into the protagonist’s hysteria leaving the viewer disoriented and distressed. I do not care for the term “hysteria” but I think it is perfectly suited here. By the time Polanski’s grim little movie comes to its ambiguous ending and circular cinematic “logic,” it is impossible to not relate to Catherine Deneuve’s character.

This resonation is the film’s most horrific element: deep down we all worry that sanity is just a few pegs away from leaving us alone, isolated and afraid beyond recognition.

Roman Polanski has always refused to answer direct questions about what we are seeing or how we are to interpret what is shown. While this is a smart move for any filmmaker, I suspect Polanski’s refusal is actually deeply valid. Certainly the movie is about a young woman going insane, but questions about “reality” vs. “hallucination” or simply “Surrealism” continue to form Repulsion‘s Film Theory discussion. However, the idea that Polanski himself was not entirely sure of what he was striving to present fails to hold water. Roman Polanski is far too intelligent a filmmaker and Repulsion is far too acutely acted, set-up and edited to have come from an unsure footing.

Moving closer is the vase's distortion somehow more aligned with Carol's perceptions? Catherine Deneuve REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

Moving closer is the vase’s distortion somehow more aligned with Carol’s perceptions?
Catherine Deneuve
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

I’ve read so many essays on this film. I would not know how to reference all of the different theories. These range from “Feminist Statement” to “It all really happens!” to “Childhood Rape Survivor / PTSD” all the way down to Cinematic Metaphor on a wide range of topics. One of the many metaphors tied to the film is the Counter-Cultural Impact of the 1960’s. Another ties the film to Sexual Revolutionary Reaction. Going even further beneath the surface of the film’s simple complexity have been theories about the actual meaning of the protagonist’s name. I must admit that even the most far-out theories interest me. The way we deconstruct artwork is always interesting and revealing.

Perhaps the most valid of the many theories is grounded in three Polanski films that are often referred to as The Apartment Horror Trilogy. One would have a hard time arguing against the connections between Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant. All three of these films play with senses of perception, claustrophobic induced fears, paranoia and insanity. Then of course there is the knee-jerk tendency to connect Polanski’s profoundly horrific childhood, the devastating tragedy he endured in the late 1960’s and his personal sexual transgressions of the 1970’s which led him into exile. Certainly an artist’s life experience will color his/her work, but unless the artist is willing to discuss the connection — it really feels inappropriate to read the personal into the work. And yet can we just dismiss the facts that two of the characters are immigrants, deal with sexual confusion, are put in the position of outsiders and all fall prey to paranoia.

But my personal concept of this strangely timeless film is tied to perception. A deeply warped and disassociated perception that has been manifesting within the mind that when faced dead-on with confrontation, loneliness and isolation triggers a spasm into the darkest corners of insanity. The most telling signals Polanski delivers, with a great deal of assistance from Gilbert Taylor’s cinematography, are the ways in which he starts and ends the film. The first thing we see on the screen is Carol’s eye in extreme close-up. As the camera pulls back we realize that we are seeing Deneuve’s “Carol” staring out into space. She is clearly not looking at anything, yet there is something “off” about her expression. It hints that she might be looking at something which is not visible to us. In reality, she has sort of spaced-out during application of a manicure in the beauty salon that employees her.

The opening shot... REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

The opening shot…
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

Her client, her co-worker and her boss all seem to think she is caught in the dewy haze of love. The pretty manicurist is daydreaming of her Prince Charming. If only they knew. Carol is an immigrant and she lives with her sister, Helene, in a fairly spacious and charming apartment. It is important to note that Carol’s apartment is simple and it appears spacious. However, after we enter the apartment with Carol it is clear that it is not all that large. Upon entering this home which will soon morph into a sort of self-imposed prison of horrors, we note that the entry way is short. The living room is off to the immediate left, the kitchen off to the immediate right. The hallway leads to the modern bathroom. The bedrooms appear at first to be opposite each other at the end of the hall.

Carol's "safe place" quickly transforms into a living, breathing, shape-shifting space of horrors. REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

Carol’s “safe place” quickly transforms into a living, breathing, shape-shifting space of horrors.
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

It is also interesting to note that the apartment is appointed with furniture that would have most likely been accumulated from various sources. Only Carol’s elder sister seems to have taken the time to actually fashion a look for her bedroom. Both young women still have remnants of childhood in their respective rooms. However, there is an important difference between Carol and Helenes’ rooms: Helen has a couple of stuffed animals, but a sexy feminine atmosphere. Carol’s room is oddly void of personality. Yet there a few things of note: a child’s night lamp and a sense of untidiness. The living room has a cluttered collection of items which we can safely assume have all been placed by Helene. LifeMarie-Claire and gossip magazines lay near a simple turntable/radio with some 45’s and a couple of record albums. Judging by the way we will later see Carol rummage through the items in the living room — none of these things are hers and none seem to interest her. Except for one item.

It is Polanski’s repeated return to this item that it is clear that is great meaning here. An old childhood family photograph which we will later learn was taken in Brussels. This photograph seems draw Carol’s attention. She clearly wants to look it, but it seems to hold a threat within the borders of the frame.

A childhood family portrait taken in Brussels... REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

A childhood family portrait taken in Brussels…
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

Early in the film Helene points out that Carol needs to be more social. She needs to get out more and meet people. As Helene begins to prepare a meal with a freshly skinned rabbit as the core component, Carol seems to only be interested in two things: Helene’s boyfriend who has begun to leave his personal items in Carol’s bathroom glass and a crack springing out from what appears to be some sort of kitchen ventilation screen. Helene has little patience for Carol’s dislike of her boyfriend. An impatience which we later will understand comes from the fact that Helene is dating a married man.

When Carol studies the crack in the kitchen wall she mutters, “I must get this crack mended.” Helene only briefly appears to be concerned by the comment. It is only with hindsight that the viewer wonders if that initial crack was ever there in the first place.  Helene’s boyfriend is loud, jovial and more than a bit of a flirt. He clearly disgusts Carol. When he dismisses the idea of eating a rabbit dinner, he promises to take Helene out on the town for a grand meal. Helene quickly places the skinned and seasoned rabbit in the tiny kitchen refrigerator. Carol is clearly upset that Helene is leaving her alone in the apartment but refuses to admit it. As Helene and her man step into the elevator to leave for some fun he points out that “something” is wrong with Carol and she should see someone. It is the first time we see Helene become upset. Perhaps a little too upset. She seems furious that he would insinuate that anything is wrong with her little sister.

Auto-pilot at the salon... Catherine Deneuve REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

Auto-pilot at the salon…
Catherine Deneuve
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

We have already witnessed Carol’s strange manner of falling into her thoughts. She has drifted away while applying nail polish causing the client to ask if she is asleep. Despite this sort of behavior she is able to communicate well with her boss explaining that the salon is out of a particular shade of polish, she is polite and she never appears hostile. If anything, she appears shy but friendly. When we follow her on her lunch break it is clear she is on a sort of auto-pilot as she walks. The only things that cause her to snap out of her “daydreaming” are the sexual catcalls that greet her as she passes a street construction crew.

A quiet walk seems to be an open invitation to sexual advances... Catherine Deneuve faces the catcalls. REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

A quiet walk seems to be an open invitation to sexual advances…
Catherine Deneuve faces the catcalls.
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

The initial shot shows Carol’s back and working class construction men. But after the catcalling begins, Carol can’t help but glance. Suddenly the camera perspective on the loudest of the crew presents a somewhat distorted shot of the man. The camera’s perspective makes him appear slightly distorted and evil. Of course, anyone would feel uncomfortable in this situation. This male public assertion of sexuality and sexual intent displaces the identity of women. They become nothing more than an object for sex. It is threatening. However, there is something about that camera angle and the way in which Carol reacts that seems to be not quite right.

Cracks in the walls and the pavement. Catherine Deneuve REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

Cracks in the walls and the pavement.
Catherine Deneuve
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

The other thing that snaps Carol out of “daydreaming” or zombie-like walking are a couple of cracks in the pavement. These cracks upon the cement ground which Carol treads cause her to halt and study them. It is as if the cracks in the pavement have pulled Carol into another type of “daydream.” So intense is her interest in these cracks, she calmly takes a seat on a public bench and stares at them. This is far more than “daydreaming.” This is at the very least OCD behavior only without any level of energy. Once again with hindsight, one can’t help but wonder what Carol is actually seeing as she stares at the cracks.

What does Carol see in the cracks? Catherine Deneuve REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

What does Carol see in the cracks?
Catherine Deneuve
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

Perception and Gilbert Taylor’s cinematography is key to understanding Repulsion. Returning to the film’s opening shot, if one thinks about the way in which Polanski chose to displays the film’s credits — it is clear that was far more than a “creepy” method to indicate a genre. Initially the title and words appear to be coming out from behind the iris of the eyeball, but very quickly any logic to the way the words appear on the screen are not limited to the eye itself. The letters and names float about without any level of logical editing. The credits present themselves in a visually discordant manner. And as the words scroll about the screen, the eyeball and eye socket seem to be twitching, blinking and gaze out and around but not at all in coordination with the words. Actually, if a person only sees this film once there is a feeling that Polanski’s budget has caused the credits to be done in a ramshackle messy manner that might have been intended to be a harmoniously clever horror-genre opener that has failed and simply looks like a poor but ambitious choice. After viewing the film even only once, it clear that these credits and the way in which Deneuve’s eye is reacting is all intentional. There is no connection between the eye and the credits that roll about it.

Throughout the film’s first act, we see Carol’s limited interactions in only a few spaces. Actually, the spaces in which we see Carol interact are essentially limited to three places: The beauty salon, the streets on which she walks and her shared apartment. Polanski and Taylor are careful to pace the presentation of Carol’s perceptions of these spaces and interactions slow enough so that our awareness is initially limited. We visit the salon and the streets about three times. Each time a bit more is revealed. The reveals are not so much about the spaces or interactions as they are about the way in which Carol is perceiving them.

"Are you alright?" Catherine Deneuve REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

“Are you alright?”
Catherine Deneuve
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

The busy beauty salon appears small and a bit cramped. The client, the beautician and Carol barely seem to fit into the room where facials, massages and manicures are performed. But when Carol loses her focus, drifts off and cuts the finger of her client — her tray falls to the ground. Suddenly it appears there is far more space in the room than we initially thought. As Carol stares at a spinning nail polish bottle we become disoriented by Gilbert Taylor’s camera. There is an odd expansion of space and shadow. Carol seems almost animalistic as she watches the spinning bottle. A tiny bottle which due to the placement of camera and use of lens looks bigger than it is.

When her boss inquires about what is wrong, we realize that she has missed three full days of work without having ever called the salon. When pushed for an explanation, Carol clumsily mutters that an “Aunt arrived for a visit unexpectedly.” The salon boss automatically assumes that Carol is telling her that she was ill due to menstruation, it is apparent that this was not the meaning Carol was attempting to imply. As a co-worker helps her into her street clothes she encages Carol in a conversation. She suggests that Carol take in a movie. She manages to bring Carol out of her “shell” and gets her to giggle as the girl describes a scene from a Charlie Chaplin movie she has just seen. Carol seems connected, but her laughter becomes to feel like a nervous reaction. As the girl goes to hand Carol her purse, she notices it is open. She looks inside and discovers the head of the rabbit waiting amongst a compact and lipstick.

Walking without focus and ever-increasing ticks. Catherine Deneuve REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

Walking without focus and ever-increasing ticks.
Catherine Deneuve
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

In the beginning of the film we meet a potential suitor for Carol. Played by John Fraser, this would-be suitor seems harmless enough. This is not to say that he isn’t persistent. He follows Carol on her lunch break. Sits himself down at her table and pushes to get a date. Carol is polite, but clearly not interested. Or is she? She never clearly brushes Colin off. As he follows her back to the salon he presses for a date. She seems shy, but not entirely dismissive. She smiles. The second time she encounters the ever-pushy Colin, she is clearly forcing a smile. Despite his humor and flirtation, she never gives a clear signal. However, most men would let it go. She clearly is not going to fully agree to a date, but Colin presses on.

The viewer’s first time in the sisters’ apartment, we discover that Carol can hear her sister having sex. As Helene reaches orgasm, Carol looks forward toward her sister’s room and covers her ears with her pillow. We know she dislikes Helene’s married boyfriend, but it is never clear why. However, she does not hesitate to toss out his things. When Helene asks Carol why she has thrown out his things, Carol gives a strong declaration that she simply does not like him. However she states this in a passive tone. We have already noticed that his straight razor has caught her eye and thoughts. The second time she notices it she picks it up and studies it. Her face and eyes dulled, she is physically mute of thought.

Studying a straight razor. Catherine Deneuve REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

Studying a straight razor.
Catherine Deneuve
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

When Helene and her boyfriend leave for a trip to Italy, Carol seems more than a little panicked. How long will they be gone? 10 or 15 days. Maybe. Carol’s need for more rigidly defined dates is not just for reassurance, it is as if despair and fear demand it. Helene refuses to cater to the silly insecurities of her grown sister. But as the two leave, Carol is clearly concerned. As much as she despises Helene’s boyfriend, she’d rather put up with him than be without her sister.

She is physically repulsed by Helene’s boyfriend. Even the scent of an undershirt makes her vomit. Yet when she pulls out the plate of uncooked rabbit, she stares at it in the same way she has stared at the cracks and the straight razor. There is no clear indication of what she might be thinking, but she is not repulsed. The scent of an undershirt makes her ill, but as the rabbit begins to rot in the living room it causes her no concern. The phone rings and we discover she has the straight razor which she sits on the rabbit’s plate. As we will soon learn, she uses that razor to cut off the rabbits head. A head which she stores in her purse.

Sister's uncooked rabbit does not seem to bother Carol, but something about the bunny's head is of particular interest. The first use of the straight razor. Catherine Deneuve REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

Sister’s uncooked rabbit does not seem to bother Carol, but something about the bunny’s head is of particular interest. The first use of the straight razor.
Catherine Deneuve
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

Looking back earlier in the film after her sister leaves for Italy, Carol walks about the apartment. She looks at the family photograph. She glances through her sister’s record collection. She walks into her sister’s bedroom. She looks around. She approaches her sister’s wardrobe. She opens the door and examines one of Helene’s sexy dresses. Carol seems to study the dress. As she moves the wardrobe’s mirrored door, we catch a quick glimpse of a man’s reflection behind her. It is a jarring moment. Without any sort of musical cue, it is a scene that never fails to make me jump.

It is shortly after this that the audience is put in the position of not knowing if the steps Carol seems to hear in her apartment are actually in her apartment or in one above or below. No, they must be in her apartment. We notice that her wardrobe is blocking a thus far unknown door. A light goes on behind that door. It may not always become obvious to the viewer upon the first viewing of the film, but this door is suspect. Where does it lead? Carol’s bedroom is opposite from Helene’s. Isn’t it? Wait, are the two bedroom now next to each other? Later those steps behind that door will force the door open — pushing Carol’s wardrobe out of the way. The man who emerges rapes Carol.

Sometimes the hall's walls turn into a flesh-like surface. Other times aggressive male arms emerge to ravage and rape Carol. Catherine Deneuve REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

Sometimes the hall’s walls turn into a flesh-like surface. Other times aggressive male arms emerge to ravage and rape Carol.
Catherine Deneuve
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

There is no question that these are rapes. But there no confusing the fact that Carol has imagined them. There is a bit of confusion regarding her reactions to these sexual violations. She seems at once horrified and aroused. We know these rapes are rape fantasies. We know this because we have seen Carol rush from her sister’s bedroom into the hall. She touches the hall wall and it appears to be a soft porous surface in which her hands leave an impression. Wait. Is the hall suddenly a wall of flesh? Soon arms will emerge from the wall body and seemingly sexual violate Carol. Once again, her reaction is a mix of shock, horror and possibly sexual pleasure. Later she will walk down the hallway which fills with outreaching, grabbing male arms.

A walk down the hall becomes a sexual threat that offers no escape. Catherine Deneuve REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

A walk down the hall becomes a sexual threat that offers no escape.
Catherine Deneuve
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

During one particularly brutal rape, the screen fades to black. When we return we find Carol laying nude on the floor of the hall. She does not look traumatized. It is actually the only time in the film that Carol looks relaxed. A jarring phone ring will snap her back into a state of frenzied paranoia and fear. The cracks are getting worse. They are no longer limited to just the two in the kitchen. At one point Carol cautiously approaches the childhood family photograph. As we see discomfort and fear grip her eyes and body, the wall behind the photograph cracks apart threatening to crumble to pieces. Carol flips on a light only to see the entire wall crack apart.

She had planned on getting the crack in the kitchen mended, but new cracks are emerging everywhere. Catherine Deneuve REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

She had planned on getting the crack in the kitchen mended, but new cracks are emerging everywhere.
Catherine Deneuve
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

As Carol descends into insanity her perspective has taken over every aspect of the apartment’s space. After her desperate suitor has attempted to call her over and over again, he has a few drinks and works up the nerve to show up at her front door. The once pushy, but somehow nice guy suddenly takes on a threatening aspect. Carol looks through her front door peep hole and so does Gilbert Taylor’s camera. Distorted and furious, Colin demands that Carol open the door or he will bust it down.

Turns out this is not an idle threat. He lunges at the door. Carol backs away from the door. She reaches for a heavy metal candle stick. Her once kindly suitor breaks through the front door’s lock and busts into Carol’s warped space. Even though he tries to apologize for his behavior and expresses his love and desire for Carol, it is too late. He is a threat. He is danger. The small entry way no longer appears small. It seems very dark and long. The camera’s perspective reveals a nosy elderly neighbor looking in as Colin tries to defend his actions.

Does this potential suitor really have good intentions? If so, why did he break the door's lock to secure access to Carol's apartment? A nosy neighbor watches from the hall. John Fraser & Catherine Deneuve REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

Does this potential suitor really have good intentions? If so, why did he break the door’s lock to secure access to Carol’s apartment? A nosy neighbor watches from the hall.
John Fraser & Catherine Deneuve
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

Carol refuses to make eye contact. When Colin notices the old neighbor spying on them, he walks down the once short entry way, the elderly woman rushes into her apartment. As he attempts to close the door, Carol’s fear turns to rage.

He just wants to be "with her." Metal candlestick at the ready... John Fraser & Catherine Deneuve REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

He just wants to be “with her.” Metal candlestick at the ready…
John Fraser & Catherine Deneuve
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

Carol is no longer passive. She brutally attacks her suitor. Putting all her force into it, Carol bludgeons Colin to death. Blood splatters all over the door. Carol does not seem to be concerned that she has just murdered someone, but she is very upset by the sight of blood coming out of his ear and staining the door. She drags Colin down the ever-expanding hallway and manages to get his body into the tub of water that she had drawn earlier and had allowed to overflow. Suddenly full of manic energy, Carol uses the candlestick to hammer a shelf she pulls from the kitchen to act as a barricade for the apartment entryway.

It isn’t long before the landlord shows up. Carol gives us a peep hole view of Patrick Wymark. Like Colin, the landlord must bust his way into the apartment. At first angry at the state of the apartment, he quickly changes his tune as he looks at Carol in her almost sheer night gown. Soon rage gives way to lechery.

Peephole perspective: the unwanted visit from the landlord. Patrick Wymark REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

Peephole perspective: the unwanted visit from the landlord.
Patrick Wymark
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

As he brutishly attempts to mount Carol, she pulls out the straight razor and viciously begins slashing him. Filmed in black and white with Catherine Deneuve’s maniacal slashing, blood spurts everywhere. It only takes a few minutes before it is clear that Carol has hit some vital veins.

"You would not even have to worry about the rent..." Patrick Wymark propositions Catherine Deneuve REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

“You would not even have to worry about the rent…”
Patrick Wymark propositions Catherine Deneuve
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

She has committed her second murder. Once again, she seems more concerned with the mess than the murder. She pushes the sofa over on top of the dead landlord to hid him and his mess from her view.

Insanity has almost completely taken over. As we see Carol sitting in the once small and modern bathroom, we notice that the tub is no longer directly next to the bathroom door. The tiled walls are gone. The bathroom looks old, wet and moldy. It also appears to go deeper than possible. This is not the bathroom we have seen before. Welcome to Carol’s perspective.

Over the course of the film nearly every aspect of Carol’s apartment has been shifted, re-shaped, extended, shortened, architecturally re-arranged and bent to fit within Carol’s skewed perception. It isn’t until Helene and her boyfriend return from their holiday that the apartment’s spacial and visual aspects are fully formed back into the spaces to which we were first introduced. In other words, as Helen enters the wrecked blood stained apartment that “reality” returns to our perspective.

As our realistic perspective returns we discover that Carol has slipped far beneath insanity. Her eyes appear to be frozen open. She almost appears to be dead. But in the most horrifying way, our protagonist has slipped into something far worse than death. She is found under her bed in a catatonic state. While we are given no clear indicators, it feels as if this will be the state she will remain. Can there be anything more terrifying than be shut off from reality and stuck in the darkest and murky waters of a ill mind.

There are more than a few things wrong with this "picture." Catherine Deneuve REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

There are more than a few things wrong with this “picture.”
Catherine Deneuve
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

As brilliant as Roman Polanski’s film and his use of Gilbert Taylor’s cinematography and Seamus Flannery’s art direction, there is another essential element to Repulsion that often is dismissed as “accidental” or “luck.” Catherine Deneuve gives a superb performance as Carol. At the time she was cast in Polanski’s film she was thought to be incredibly beautiful and might possibly have a strong career ahead of her in fashion modeling or light entertainment. Her appearance in the sensational French musical, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. The film and she had garnished a great deal of well deserved attention, but once again — she was hardly more than a beautiful face. Jacques Demy had not required a great deal from her in the female leading role. Her own singing voice was not used. Essentially all she needed to do was look happy, mad and sad while lip synching to another’s voice. (Actually, she and all the actors were dubbed and they were required to sing along with the recordings.)

But her work in Repulsion is not just happy accident. Her presence and being fill the screen and linger in the mind. Her mannerisms, twitches, horror and cautious use of words is never doubted. It should be noted that Polanski and the two others who assisted him in adapting the screenplay knew very little about mental illness.

Catherine Deneuve proves her on-screen value as Carol REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

Catherine Deneuve proves her on-screen value as Carol
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

Deneuve’s stares and facial expressions are never over or under done. Somehow she captured the presence of a fractured mind. And she did so brilliantly. Barely a year would pass before Luis Buñuel pursued her to play the lead in the still controversial and highly regarded experimentation into the Surreal, Bell de jour. His decision to cast her laid not just in her angelic beauty, but in what he saw in Polanski’s film. This might be the other overly examined film from the 1960’s.

I cringe when I hear film scholars or critics dismiss her 1965 portrayal as a lucky use of “icy beauty.” …This is a memorable and valid on-screen performance. In fact there is very little of the “real” Catherine Deneuve present. If one is to fault any aspect of her performance it lies in the hands of the film’s stylist. The only thing about Repulsion that fails is Deneuve’s always flawless hair. Her face covered in sweat and smeared-on lipstick with eyes reflecting sheer terror, her hair is still brilliantly coiffed. Hair aside, I find it hard to believe that any other could have played this role better. And, of course, Deneuve has gone on to build one of the most enduring and important film careers in cinematic history. A year ago Pierre Salvadori managed to convince her to take the female lead in his little seen cinematic gem, In the Courtyard.

Oh no. Not another crack!?!? Catherine Deneuve at 72 plays Mathilde In the Courtyard Pierre Salvadori, 2014 Cinematography | Gilles Henry

Oh no. Not another crack!?!?
Catherine Deneuve at 72 plays Mathilde
In the Courtyard
Pierre Salvadori, 2014
Cinematography | Gilles Henry

This was the first time I’ve ever seen a filmmaker sneak in a nod to her Repulsion performance. In the 2014 French independent film she plays a retired elderly woman who is slipping into a state of depression. Her character becomes obsessed with a crack in her living room.

Returning back to the theory of Repulsion being an examination of insanity’s perspective, as Helene stands back in shock and her boyfriend lifts the now catatonic and mentally absent sister to carry her toward the ambulance and police who are on their way — Polanski has Gilbert Taylor expertly flow through and over the apartment’s wrecked state. As always, Taylor’s camera work is steady and intently focused to slowly capture the film’s closing image. As we move closer to Carol’s childhood picture, Polanski finally allows us to actually see Carol as a child. The whole family is encaged and posing happily. Save Carol. The little girl stands rigid and staring off at something. Many cinephiles like to say that we are meant to think that she is staring at the man (father? uncle?) to her left. The idea being that the child is looking at her victimizer.

This does not hold up. As the camera moves in it is clear that she is not looking at anyone in this photograph. And based on the film’s shared perspective, her gaze has never been focused on anything within the realm of perceived reality. Polanski drives this point even more precisely as the image has been edited slowly to black out the rest of the photo. We can only see a little girl with a disturbing look on her face. The camera never stops it’s slow zoom. Taylor’s camera is aiming directly into young Carol’s right eye. The same eye from which the film’s title slipped out at the beginning of the film. The zoom continues until little Carol’s eye becomes nothing but speaks blurred into darkness.

Repulsion attempts to pull us to a restricted place that has been growing since childhood: the warped psyche of insanity.

And we come back to the childhood photograph of Carol. Polanski chooses to slowly zoom into Carol's eye until it becomes a blur of particles. An isolated stare into horror. REPULSION Roman Polanski, 1965 Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

And we come back to the childhood photograph of Carol. Polanski chooses to slowly zoom into Carol’s eye until it becomes a blur of particles. An isolated stare into horror.
REPULSION
Roman Polanski, 1965
Cinematography | Gilbert Taylor

Matty Stanfield, 10.22.2015

Things are about to get very strange... Valerie and her Week of Wonders Jaromil Jires, 1970 Photograph | Jan Kudela

Things are about to get very strange…
Valerie and her Week of Wonders
Jaromil Jires, 1970
Photograph | Jan Kudela

“The Dreamer awakes.
The shadow goes by.
The tale I have told you, that tale is a lie.
But listen to me, Bright maiden, proud youth.
The tale is a lie; What it tells is the truth.”
— Author Unknown, Traditional folktale ending

When we are children and an adult reads or tells us a story from the realm of “fairy tales” or folklore, a profound logic seeps into our psyche that never leaves. An aspect or a key moment in one of these stories becomes a core foundation of our identity. It seems impossible that some bit of a childhood story has worked its way so deeply into our perception of logic. When given a period of time to “digest” this idea it no longer seems  impossible. It is valid truth. This is not a bad thing. The illogical silliness of some old folklore bears a great deal of truth that is easier for a child to grasp when told in the form of a “Once Upon A Time..” context. Folklore, mythology and fairy tales are grounded in some subversion of truth. It isn’t the fox in Little Red Riding Hood or the witch in Hansel and Gretel that scares us and merges into our logic. It is the deception perpetuated by these character archetypes that grabs our tiny minds and never lets go.This is an important understanding  for every human being: Don’t trust strangers. It is certainly a crucial idea that every child must understand.

On the flip-side of this logic, sometimes those terrifying allegories form such a strong hold within our minds it aids in a perpetuation of illogical paranoia.

Horror is fast approaching... Father Tucker's Play-Time Series Edition of Little Red Riding Hood, c. 1910

Horror is fast approaching…
Father Tucker’s Play-Time
Series Edition of Little Red Riding Hood, c. 1910

Unfounded feelings or suspicions that can linger with us well into our adulthood. While it is absurd to think your Grandmother or anyone upon whom you depend could morph into a fanged sort of demon intent on eating you, it doesn’t mean that in a crisis of an elder’s illness you won’t have a nightmare in which this happens. This is the subconscious creating a metaphor out of the stressors involved in your worries for and about her care. On a conscious level, that a walk in the woods might seem fun but something inside you worries that it could easily become a walk into unspeakable dangers.  A jump into the ocean for a swim can sometimes be met with a fear that somewhere just below us,  John Williams’ musical notes are trying to warn us of that giant shark that is about to attack. We know that the forest and the ocean contain dangers, but these are dangers that are very low from a realistic perspective. This is when those parables, allegories, metaphors and movies come to the surface of our adult identities. It is easy for many to push back these illogical concerns, but for some it gets a bit more murky.

Exploring fairy tales, folklore and mythology is nothing new for filmmakers. They often hold the same sort of spell over us as do the stories that inspire them. Movies have always played a strong role in my life. Partly because I grew up constantly seeing them, but also because I desperately needed to escape my reality. My father was insane. It was mistaken for “eccentricity” at the time. But he was a scary man. He was brilliant at deception. For the first nine years of my life, I viewed him as constant threat. But that is a whole other blog. For now, let’s stick with the fact that my father was insane and he had no clue regarding “appropriate boundaries.” The few boundaries he had were skewed at best.

Interestingly, it would be my greatest source of fear who led me to the power of movies and the escape they offered. This started very early in my life. He seemed to have no idea as to what was acceptable for a child to see. Naturally, as child I didn’t mind this at all. But often I would see images and stories that left me feeling deeply confused and afraid. Children are far aware that culture gives credit. A child may not be able to articulate an understanding, but they understand much more than most think. I can remember my father making a last minute decision that we were going to the movies. My mother was not home. As we walked up the ticket counter he must have requested one adult and one child. I’m not sure, but I the woman behind the ticket counter became quite upset, “Sir, this is not a movie for a child! How old are you, sweetie?” I still remember the shocking way her tough voice suddenly took on a honey-dewed sweetness. Before I could form an answer, I felt the seemingly giant hand of my father firmly clenched my head. “His age is none of your business. How much do I owe you?”

"Do you know what she did, your cunting daughter?" Linda Blair inciting heart attacks and long lines at the box office. The Exorcist William Friedkin, 1973

“Do you know what she did, your cunting daughter?”
Linda Blair inciting heart attacks and long lines at the box office.
The Exorcist
William Friedkin, 1973

The Exorcist did not scare me at that time. To be honest, I was just confused. My biggest concern regarding the movie was trying to understand why people around us seemed so disturbed. When I whispered, “Her voice don’t match her lips.” was greeted with hushes from all corners. It would be years later that the horrific side of this film became apparent to me. As a child, it seemed more silly than scary. I understood I was not tell mom we saw it. Later my father took me to the drive-in. Drive-in’s always showed movies in “double bills.” Pay one price per head and see two movies. The movies were usually older and more obscure than what one would find in a traditional cinema. As my father adjusted the speaker to his window the show began. The first movie was about vampires. Later I realized that this was Roman Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers.  I’m not exactly sure how old I was, but I am thinking I was about 8. Once again, I wasn’t particularly scared. To be honest, I remember being more concerned about this odd dude who walked around my father’s car. My father pulled out his pistol and the odd man quickly vanished.

The second feature would have a much dramatic impact and it intoxicated my tiny brain. It was scary to me, but it seemed to require my attention. I might not have been able to state what the film was about, but I suspect I understood it better than most of the adults sitting in their cars. This girl was in trouble and none of it was her fault. I was worried for her. And the images that were projected on that outdoor screen were searing into my being. I did ask my father about it. He said something to the effect that it was an artsy-fartzy movie. He was bored and wanted to leave, but I begged him to stay and let us watch it. It would be years later that a friend’s older cousin produced a beat-up old VHS tape for us to watch. The images were pretty muddy, but these were the same ones I had seen as child. I was pulled into the screen of my friend’s television. As I watched it all flow out too quickly for my stoned consciousness to read the blurry subtitles my friend kept muttering, “What the fuck? No, Matty! What the fuck? Make it stop!” She rolled around laughing. Occasionally sneaking a peak, she would scream in a sort of mocked horror.

The movie we were watching was  Valerie and Her Week of Wonders. Returning to this film with a clear and adult perspective, it is easy that my childhood reality lent this surreal film a great more power than it intended.

Valerie and her Week of Wonders Jaromil Jires, 1970 Jan Curík | Cinematography

Valerie and her Week of Wonders
Jaromil Jires, 1970
Jan Curík | Cinematography

Shot in 1969 and released in 1970, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders marks the end of The Czech New Wave. No doubt it ended up on a double-billing with another old movie at the drive-in. I’m not sure where my friend’s cousin got his tape. I would be in my 30’s before it was even remotely “restored” and released via DVD. After a good deal of work, Criterion has recently re-issued a pristine version with improved subtitles. Watching Jaromil Jireš’ bizarre movie within the context of the 21st Century is challenging. Based on Vítězslav Nezval 1930’s Surrealist novel, the entire production is almost drenched in Gothica.

“Sirin and Alkonost, the Birds of Joy and Sorrow” by Viktor Vasnetsov, 1896 Was thought to have had an impact on Vítězslav Nezval

“Sirin and Alkonost, the Birds of Joy and Sorrow” by Viktor Vasnetsov, 1896
Was thought to have had an impact on Vítězslav Nezval

Nezval was key member of the Czech Surrealist Movement, and Jireš’ utilizes his dialogue and adheres to Nezval’s core aesthetics. Nezval wrote the following in his “Forward” for his book, Valerie and her Week of Wonders:

“I wrote this novel out of a love of the mystique in those ancient tales, superstitions and romances, printed in Gothic script, which used to flit before my eyes and declined to convey to me their content. …If, with this book, I will have given [the readers] an evocation of the rare and tenuous sensations which compelled me to write a story that borders on the ridiculous and trite, I shall be satisfied.”

Nezval’s book still holds interest, but it is far more complex than the movie it would inspire. At times the book seems like it is intended to be comical, but then takes a twisted turn to the grotesque. It is filled with narratives of the Gothica tradition. It is also creepy in the use of eroticism. Unlike the book, the film adaptation forms an immediate tie to the Pohádka. This is the term for the Czechoslovakian concept of “fairy tales” which is more than a little different from our perceptions of parables. The Pohádka holds an important place in Czech culture and is often steeped in religious ideologies. From what I’ve been able to gather, the “Evil” characters are even more cruel and the “good” characters are quickly identified as victims who may or may not take vengeance. The victims may not even survive. I apologize if I offer a weak definition of Pohádka. Please feel free to leave a comment to correct or clarify my description.

Jaroslava Schallerová as Valerie, the dutiful granddaughter practices her piano lessons.  Valerie and her Week of Wonders Jaromil Jires, 1970 Jan Curík | Cinematography

Jaroslava Schallerová as Valerie, the dutiful granddaughter practices her piano lessons.
Valerie and her Week of Wonders
Jaromil Jires, 1970
Jan Curík | Cinematography

The plot is deceptively simple: a beautiful 13 year old orphaned girl has her first period and, as she starts her path toward womanhood, she is confronted with a series of horrify and menacing people and situations.  These individuals and the circumstances in which she meets and experiences them is in a world that may or may not be strictly limited to her imagination. Poor Valerie seems to be living in a sort of disorienting dream state.

The film begins with a beautiful young girl napping in some form of surreal post-hippie gazebo. In the first of many “forms” a thief arrives. Dangling upside down he magically slips Valerie’s earrings off. She awakens just in time to see him running away. She runs after this thief to determine his identity and why he took her earrings. Valerie seems more intrigued than upset. As she roams about her village people began to take a grotesque formations. We have already met her grandmother. Grandma is strange from the first moment she enters our view.  Valerie seems to realize that something is not quite right with Grandma, but she doesn’t let on. Later as she floats in a small pool of water in her village’s fountain. As she prepares to emerge from the water, she becomes entranced by the water’s ripples. The thief returns. This time he magically slips her earrings back on. Seemingly content she begins her walk home.

A First Menses has never appeared this easy or so pretty as Valerie admires her blood drips on the daisies.  Valerie and her Week of Wonders Jaromil Jires, 1970 Jan Curík | Cinematography

A First Menses has never appeared this easy or so pretty as Valerie admires her blood drips on the daisies.
Valerie and her Week of Wonders
Jaromil Jires, 1970
Jan Curík | Cinematography

In what must be the oddest cinematic depiction of a female’s first menstruation, Valerie notices drips of blood falling on the daisies over which she gently glides. She does not appear alarmed or upset. She simply marvels at the beauty of the red blood droplets on the flowers. She then dashes home to the safety of her pristinely white and innocent bedroom. She falls into a deep sleep. It is very hard to know if the rest of what we see is a nightmare or her reality.

 

Valeris is becoming suspect of her Grandmother.  Valerie and her Week of Wonders Jaromil Jires, 1970 Jan Curík | Cinematography

Valeris is becoming suspect of her Grandmother.
Valerie and her Week of Wonders
Jaromil Jires, 1970
Jan Curík | Cinematography

Her ghostly Grandmother begins to form into a sinister threat. Other females enter her world who seem to share her Grandmother’s face. And each new version of Granny offers a new level of terror. Her yearning to know who her parents were takes on an odd level of horror. As she looks through her Grandmother’s dining room window she sees a procession of interesting and happy-looking people. Her Grandmother states that these are the missionaries and that they will be providing sleeping quarters for one of the priests. As Valerie looks at the people she begins to notice a number of things that seem “off” but most noticeably is a horrific looking man hiding his face behind an equally disturbing mask.

Oh, not to worry. He is just a former lover of Grandma's.  Valerie and her Week of Wonders Jaromil Jires, 1970 Cinematography | Jan Curík

Oh, not to worry. He is just a former lover of Grandma’s.
Valerie and her Week of Wonders
Jaromil Jires, 1970
Cinematography | Jan Curík

This “man” looks more like a monster than a person. But Grandma dismisses Valerie’s concerns. There is no need to be alarmed. Granny reveals that this vile creature is just a former lover.

Valerie receives an invitation to a sermon for all of the village virgins. Valerie, being a virgin and a “good girl” goes to the sermon. It isn’t long before Valerie meets the man who took and returned her earrings. He proclaims his love and desire for Valerie. The physicality of this man has changed twice already. Valerie seems hesitant, but she clearly finds this form attractive. He warns that the monster she saw is not some just some former lover of her Grandmother but true Evil in human form.

Before long Valerie discovers that this monster might be her father. And that the boy who seeks her affections might be her brother. Or, her father. Identities change so often that we are more confused than Valerie. When she returns home where she is led to a secret chamber.  She is forced to witness her Grandmother in a series of sadistic and perverse sexual tortures for her “former lover” who now looks like a priest. From Valerie’s perspective it is hard to know if Granny is ‘getting off’ or in jeopardy. This sadistic priest is called Gracian. This vile priest proves to be one of the most cruel of Valerie’s world. When Valerie refuses to give in to his disgusting sexual advances which quickly turn to the threat of rape, he conspires to have the whole village turn against Valerie. He claims she is a witch entrancing everyone with her beauty. They attempt to burn her at the stake! Oh, poor Valerie! What is she to do?

Wait? Is this really my week of wonders or are all my friends and family trying to burn me at the stake??!? Oh, poor Valerie! Valerie and her Week of Wonders Jaromil Jires, 1970 Cinematography | Jan Curík

Wait? Is this really my week of wonders or are all my friends and family trying to burn me at the stake??!? Oh, poor Valerie!
Valerie and her Week of Wonders
Jaromil Jires, 1970
Cinematography | Jan Curík

Fear not, despite the flames and rope — Valerie never seems too concerned with this situation. She makes fun of the priest and spectators who were once her friends and neighbors. She magically escapes the fate of the burning stake only to find more horrific challenges ahead. It would seem that her creepy old Grandma has made a pact with Evil. She will surrender Valerie to him in exchange for the return of her youth and beauty. It all gets quite upsetting for little Valerie. Upon learning of her Grandmother’s cruel pact with Evil, she discovers that her recently wedded neighbor has been assaulted by a vampire! But not before this adult neighbor attempts to seduce Valerie. As with most of Valerie’s interactions, she is just curious enough to allow an erotic opportunity to start, but then she immediately finds a way to break free of the erotic commitment. This is the case regarding what appears to lesbian sex is actually feeble attempt to suck Valeri’s blood for strength. Oddly, once Valerie manages to calm her “friend” they both seem to fall asleep. Or that is what appears to happen.

Oh, Valerie! Trust your instincts! Your Granny wants your youth and beauty! Valerie and her Week of Wonders Jaromil Jires, 1970 Cinematography | Jan Curík

Oh, Valerie! Trust your instincts! Your Granny wants your youth and beauty!
Valerie and her Week of Wonders
Jaromil Jires, 1970
Cinematography | Jan Curík

Valerie’s week of “wonders” is really turned into a week of confusion. She soon learns that her parents are quite alive. When they show up, Valerie notices that her mother looks just like her Grandmother, her father looks just like her would-be suitor who she had originally thought might be her brother. And as for the Evil Monster, like the others who populate her world, he is continually vacillating his intentions.

For Valerie, evil becomes the one constant that is seemingly always wanting to kill, seduce or trap her.  Valerie and her Week of Wonders Jaromil Jires, 1970 Jan Curík | Cinematography

For Valerie, evil becomes the one constant that is seemingly always wanting to kill, seduce or trap her.
Valerie and her Week of Wonders
Jaromil Jires, 1970
Jan Curík | Cinematography

He is clearly some sort of vampire. But just as soon as he seems hellbent on sucking away all of her life’s blood, he is more interested in seducing her. Then, and without warning, he seems intent on raping her. Just when Valerie thinks she know what this Evil Monster wants, he offers to save her. Valerie is amongst every sort of imaginable identity of harm and danger. Possible familial connections turn toward incest, neighbors become enemies in the form of potential lovers or vampires or just plain old ghouls. Every one she encounters is loaded with vile intent.

All while filmmaker, Jaromil Jires, fills her world with symbolic colors, constantly alternating tones and metaphors of all shapes and sizes. From beginning to end the movie is a total trip into stunningly beautiful and ugly oddness. The strange appearances of the actors and Jan Curík’s stunning cinematography make it almost impossible to look away. Is should be noted that Ester Krumbachová served as the film’s Production Designer. Film buffs will note that she was also responsible for the look of Vera Chytilova’s groundbreaking 1966 film, Daisies. Her work here is actually more impressive.

Wow. This is some week alright... Valerie and her Week of Wonders Jaromil Jires, 1970 Cinematography | Jan Curík

Wow. This is some week alright…
Valerie and her Week of Wonders
Jaromil Jires, 1970
Cinematography | Jan Curík

I’ve essentially been making fun of this truly amazing movie. But it is clearly intended to make us laugh as much as it makes us squirm. Valerie and her Week of Wonders is a surreal view of the implications of pending womanhood. The most surprising thing is this film is made by a man based upon the book by another very famous male writer. So is this is a limited male perspective on the challenges of women? Being a male, I’m not qualified to answer. At times the film’s depiction of women is most certainly grounded in a male perspective. However much of what the film explores feels relevant to the all-too-real threats that constantly loom over women.

As soon as the lead character receives the biological sign that “womanhood” is shortly pending, everyone around her seems to shift in motivations and interests regarding Valerie’s identity. Men seem intent on either seducing, molesting or raping her. And if that is not the intended goal, the sexual is over-ruled to hurt, theft, torture or murder. The women in Valerie’s world change as well.  Women now seem to view her as a threat to their own individual identity and worth. Or they desire her in sexual ways that she can’t quite understand. She is an innocent, but those in her world no longer view her as such. She is now essentially “an object” on which they feel free to project love, lust, desire, anger, jealousy, pain, degradation, humiliation and even death. Valerie is no longer a sweet little girl. Valerie is now a potential prize or victim.

Beautiful Innocence is now an object available for the taking. Or so they think... Valerie and her Week of Wonders Jaromil Jires, 1970 Cinematography | Jan Curík

Beautiful Innocence is now an object available for the taking. Or so they think…
Valerie and her Week of Wonders
Jaromil Jires, 1970
Cinematography | Jan Curík

 

It is important to note that Valerie manages to escape and conquer all the challenges that come her way. She is no one’s victim. She sometimes falters as she attempts to understand or is sometimes even partially pulled toward some of the eroticisms — but those are fleeting moments. Valerie is steadfast in protecting herself. Her goal is to survive. And to survive with her dignity in place. Jaromil Jires offers one scene twice in the film: a small group of sensually enraptured women are engaging in an intense but somehow banal level of erotic play in a flowing stream of water. These women seem taken over by sensual delight in every aspect of themselves, each other, the sheer clothing that covers that wet bodies. They tease each other with soft kisses and even attempt to catch the fish swimming by to drop down their “barely-there” dresses and skin. We see Valerie walk past the stream twice from opposing sides of the stream. Our Valerie is clearly amused and passively interested in what these sultry lady-girls are up to. However, when one or more of these women notice Valerie and invite her to join them — Valerie becomes embarrassed or troubled and rushes her way past them. In between her her views of these lusty maidens, she runs across the river. As she crosses she notices the horror of one of the men from her world left for dead in the rapids of the stream that lead to these water vixens. Is there a connection to their perpetual state of wet eroticism and the dead man just a ways up stream?

Uh, oh. What fresh hell is this?  Valerie and her Week of Wonders Jaromil Jires, 1970 Cinematography | Jan Curík

Uh, oh. What fresh hell is this?
Valerie and her Week of Wonders
Jaromil Jires, 1970
Cinematography | Jan Curík

Sadly, Valerie’s “wonders” or “curiosities” is most likely going to be longer than a week.  This surreal dreamscape now might be her fate. It is hard to determine the intention of the film’s ending. As her horrifying and eroticall-fueled week comes to an end, all she wants to do is escape back to the safety of her pristinely innocent bedroom that has been bathed in warm white light. Her bedroom may be small, but it contains all she loves and treasures. True, Valerie awakes in her own bed. The problem is that her bed is now placed in the wilderness of her villages’ forrest. It is here we leave her. Alone in her bed surrounded by the natural elements of the forrest. The ending is as beautiful as it is disturbing.

The dilemma Jaromil Jires’ film presents for modern viewing is almost as challenging as Valerie’s week. The part of “Valerie” was played by a 6th grade girl, Jaroslava Schallerová. The movie has no problem in sexualizing this child. Filmed in what can best be described as “dewey erotic lighting” — the actress is often semi or nude and constantly being pulled into sexual intended kisses and caresses. The film veers into the realm of the inappropriate in the way this child actor was filmed.

Valerie in the privacy of her innocent room strikes an alluring pose.  Valerie and her Week of Wonders Jaromil Jires, 1970 Cinematography | Jan Curík

Valerie in the privacy of her innocent room strikes an alluring pose.
Valerie and her Week of Wonders
Jaromil Jires, 1970
Cinematography | Jan Curík

The current view of Film Scholars is that Jires did not film the girl as a “sex object” but more as a “symbol of innocence” trapped in a world filled with sexual desires and constant threat. This defense is weak. I’m not able to buy-in or agree with this attitude.

In defense, the film never even approaches the level of “pornography” or “soft core adult entertainment,” but it does go too far. The actress now in her early 50’s has always been proud of her fleeting moment of fame. Her mother was present for the entirety of the shoot. A fairly recent interview with the adult woman discusses some of these concerns. Adding to my own conundrum regarding the way a child was filmed is the fact that I still admire Louis Malle’s 1978’s Pretty Baby. Brooke Shields was 13 when she appeared as a prostitute and is filmed nude several times. Pretty Baby is highly regarded in the world of film. Because no male touches her while nude, it falls into the legal realm. Brooke Shields, a highly educated and clearly intelligent woman does not look back on the experience as negative. Both of these women appear to be healthy and unharmed.

Welcome to the adult world in which your earrings as well as your innocence are up for grabs.  Valerie and her Week of Wonders Jaromil Jires, 1970 Cinematography | Jan Curík

Welcome to the adult world in which your earrings as well as your innocence are up for grabs.
Valerie and her Week of Wonders
Jaromil Jires, 1970
Cinematography | Jan Curík

I still wonder if either Ms. Shields or Ms. Schallerová would allow their 12 or 13 year old daughter to be in these films.

Louis Malle's 1978 film, Pretty Baby, created some controversy at the time it was released. But it never generated any legal doubts that Brooke Shields was exploited. It remains a potent film, that feels suspect.

Louis Malle’s 1978 film, Pretty Baby, created some controversy at the time it was released. But it never generated any legal doubts that Brooke Shields was exploited. It remains a potent film, that feels suspect.

 

I would not. I somehow suspect they would not either.  Audiences should be warned that this envelope is pushed. Though no where near to the point that Louis Malle pushed it in 1978.

Despite this ethically concern, I can’t help but love the artistry and the film itself. It is a highly effective surrealist attempt to capture both the human psychological and emotional experience of gaining a mature understanding of the world. A world that will very quickly become her/his own. In many respects the morphing of the familiar into the unknown or monstrous is resonating. Of course this lies at the heart of many fairy tales. And Valerie and her Week of Wonders never strays too far from a world that feels like that of twisted folklore. The film is edited and shot in ways that allow the viewer to constantly find new ideas or points with each viewing. It applies a circular sort of logic which invites multiple interpretations. Valerie and her Week of Wonders is a totally unique cinematic experience.

Now we fast-forward 44 years later and approximately 250 miles away to a modern-day village in Germany. Till Kleinert’s Der Samurai is a newer but equally puzzling re-examination of “identity” within a fairy tale-like world.

Trying to catch a wolf without harming it. But will that satisfy the deceptive wolf?  Der Samurai Till Kleinert, 2014 Cinematography | Martin Hanslmayr

Trying to catch a wolf without harming it. But will that satisfy the deceptive wolf?
Der Samurai
Till Kleinert, 2014
Cinematography | Martin Hanslmayr

In his amazing and  jolting directorial debut, Til Kleinert is exploring deception in a more familiar setting. It also should be noted that there is a growing concern in parts of Germany regarding wolves. For decades the German Wolf was near the point of extinction. In the last decade these wolves have returned to the point of near over-population. This has generated valid concern for the towns that exist near forested areas. While much of our fears regarding wolves is out of proportion to reality, when they start roaming in packs or are hungry — the question of “proportional fear” becomes trivial. We catch a glimpse of the German village in which this story takes place at the beginning. The homes are gathered closely together as if in group formation. The modern windows have metallic-like shades that close from the inside. This is not uncommon in Europe, but to our eyes it seems kind of creepy. This village would appear to be formed out of a shared fear of the woods that surround it.

Der Samurai  Till Kleinert, 2014

Der Samurai
Till Kleinert, 2014

Our innocent hero appears to be a sincere, kind, gentle and lonely man. There are also hints that he hides his intentions very well. He seems almost stubbornly stern when it comes to expressing himself. Jakob may be young but he is a grown man. He is a cop. And he takes his job more than seriously. Jakob seems truly dedicated to protecting the law those who reside in his environment. His village is experiencing a series of minor but annoying mishaps relating to a wolf. It seems the filmmaker’s intent that we notice that this community’s shared fear is aimed at a wolf — there seems to be no clear articulation of the plural version of wolf. This appears to be a fear of one wolf. Jakob does not seem to fear the wolf like his village. He seems more concerned about trying to stop the wolf from bothering the villagers.  We first see him tying up sheer-thin bags of bloody raw meat from low hanging branches to allow easy access. Jakob appears to hope that these bags will satisfy the wolf and prevent it from lurking out into the village.  Or not? We are presented with an unanswered question regarding our hero’s actions. Is this an attempt to keep the wolf out of the village or is this merely an attempt to feed the wolf.

Jakob’s concerns relating to this wolf are very different than his fellow residents. The threat of this wolf is taking on a strange level of horror. Knocking over outdoor trash containers and the alarmed barking of family dogs is resulting in a seemingly illogical reaction. Jakob not only seems perplexed by the level of fear this wolf is causing, he is at a loss at just how concerned everyone seems to be. Michel Diercks plays Jakob with a cautious and thoughtful performance. Diereses’ performance seems to hint at something that the viewer can’t quite understand. His concern for the wolf’s safety seems as odd as the villagers fear. Kleinert frames his story within the context of being afraid of something “out there” that is not only on the prowl but poised for menace.

Something is out there. Just beyond the trees. Is it a wolf? A werewolf or something altogether different?  Der Samuari Till Kleinert, 2014 Cinematography | Martin Hanslmayr

Something is out there. Just beyond the trees. Is it a wolf? A werewolf or something altogether different?
Der Samuari
Till Kleinert, 2014
Cinematography | Martin Hanslmayr

One evening as Jakob starts to leave the sherif office for home,  he discovers a package delivered to his attention.  The package is actually addressed to “Lonely Wolf.” And so the tale begins. Jacob receives a phone call. A whiskey and cigarette damaged female voice advises him of the address to which he needs to deliver the package. It is difficult to articulate why the phone call is so erie. Part of it is in the delivery of what is said and the other part is the way in which Jacob reacts. As we hear the caller’s voice it is clear that she is flirting, but also daring the cop to follow her directions. The package is for her and she strongly urges that he must deliver it to her. There is a tinge of cruelty in her chuckle as she provides her address.

Jacob seems more curious than concerned. It is a disturbing moment in a horror film that very quickly pushes the boundaries of tension to surprising level of creepy horror. As Jakob approaches the dilapidated old cottage occupying carrying the thin long package which he has been “advised” to deliver, a unexpected unease fills us. You don’t want Jacob to go in. You want him to call for ‘back-up.’ The cottage not only looks sinister, it feels sinister. Carrying the box up the seemingly grimly rotted stairs he soon meets the owner of the voice that called him. Sitting crouched in front of an old dresser mirror, her face is hidden. It is clear that she has been applying a great deal of make-up. An abandoned doll hangs by a noose. Pictures from fashion magazines hang around this obviously well muscled person. The pages have been defaced and are fading away. The room is damaged from years of neglect and water damage. It is impossible not to note that what appears to have been yellow wallpaper has been illogically covered with streaks of red. Blood red.

Pit Bukowski is getting ready to really give the villagers something to panic about... Der Samurai Till Kleinert, 2014 Cinematography | Martin Hanslmayr

Pit Bukowski is getting ready to really give the villagers something to panic about…
Der Samurai
Till Kleinert, 2014
Cinematography | Martin Hanslmayr

It is difficult to pin-down what it is about this movie that is so unnerving. The two lead actors are great. The film is incredibly well styled. But Till Kleinert finds a way to really get under our skins. The villagers’ fear is not misplaced. Indeed, there is something waiting in the woods to roam out after sunset to wreck havoc upon their quiet little village. But is it not the wolf they have imagined. This wolf is a man made-up and wearing an elegant sort of long slip. The true object of fear is a homicidal and feral transvestite. As this visage pulls the huge samurai sword from Jakob’s package, we instantly know that this “something” is no longer happy merely causing havoc and generating this mini-societal fears.  This is our wolf and it has a blood-lust of epic proportion. If you are thinking this subversion of fairy tale is mired in what can easily issue a reaction of concern, you are correct. Only the most homophobic of viewers will not feel a pang of “Political Incorrectness” warning flags poking at them from the screen. Before the audience has a chance to become offense, Kleinert’s film literally jumps into a frantic level of strange and undeniably fascinating horror film.

Jakob is fully aware of the potential for danger as this almost feral, androgynous and seductive figure carefully caresses her new weapon. He tries to talk this self-proclaimed Samurai out of jumping out of the house. Jakob attempts to apply logic that somehow feels confused. Der samurai seems to take on a sort of perverse beauty in his elegant white slip as well as a sense of supernatural strength. She has no time or interest in listening to Jakob’s concern and protests. She has an axe to grind with this tiny village cloaked away within the German forests. She is out for vengeance and blood.

Pit Bukowski as Der Samurai who takes no prisoners.  Der Samurai Till Kleinert, 2014 Cinematography | Martin Hanslmayr

Pit Bukowski as Der Samurai who takes no prisoners.
Der Samurai
Till Kleinert, 2014
Cinematography | Martin Hanslmayr

As tensions mounts so do the ever expanding Surrealist stylings. Der Samurai is almost unrelenting in generating our guilt and fear. And while the gore goes to extremes, it is intentionally unreal. Jakob follows this raging “wolf” down deserted streets filled with her violent vengeance. Everything has been slashed and torn up. And Jacob has forgotten his gun. It gradually becomes clear that the kindly Jakob is not as much “hunting” this wolf down, he is starting to encage in a grim sort of dance. This is both figurative and literal.

Facing the werewolf or an identity long repressed? Or maybe not.  Der Samurai Till Kleinert, 2014 Cinematography| Martin Hanslmayr

Facing the werewolf or an identity long repressed? Or maybe not.
Der Samurai
Till Kleinert, 2014
Cinematography| Martin Hanslmayr

As we follow this pursuit or dance, more and more of the the villagers are being laid to brutal waste. It may be silly and even look “unreal” but Der Samurai has entered into a truly disturbing frenzy. To be honest, there were more than a few times I had to ask myself, “Did that just happen?” And just as the audience thinks that it has got the whole thing figured out, Till Kleinert turns it all around again. This demented twist on the “fairy” tale continues to escalate along with our unease and fear. Jakob has no choice. He must stop this dance and slay this maniacal “wolf” in tranny clothing. As he approaches to to take this mythical evil creature down, we discover that Der Samurai has shed the costume. Ravenously eating the contents Jakob’s blood-drenched meat bag, Der Samurai is nude. It is a deliberate choice that Kleinert shows that our nude monster is now packing more than a huge sword. His “excitement” has swelled to form the potential for a whole other type of “swordplay”. This is only one of many darkly comic and inappropriate moments in the movie. Jakob is clearly more afraid of a penis erection than a samurai sword or the muscular threat of this wolf who we now know was only hiding in monster’s clothing. This is a problematically loaded bit of metaphor.

Feeding the wolf or attempting to put out the fire with gasoline. It doesn't matter. Der Samurai is ready to fight our hero. Till Kleinert, 2014 Cinematography | Martin Hanslmayr

Feeding the wolf or attempting to put out the fire with gasoline. It doesn’t matter. Der Samurai is ready to fight our hero.
Till Kleinert, 2014
Cinematography | Martin Hanslmayr

Jakob would at first seem to want to repress or stifle the beast that threatens his village. But in the end he must face the evil and destroy it. Once again a sort of circular logic is displayed. We do not know where this tale has taken us. The final shot of the film is as confusing as it is entertaining. The grande finale is really as surprising as it is awesome. As Jakob appears to go on full attack of the monster terrorizing the quiet village, the musical score gives sway to a silly and  diametrically opposed pop song by The Ark. Suddenly Der Samurai slips into a sort of parody of 1980’s Rambo-like hero anthem. On paper is seems like a truly ludicrous idea, but in practice it is a magical way to relieve the audience tension and remind us that we are seeing a sort of fairy tale. The lessons of which only really reveal themselves after we achieve some distance from the work. Is there actually a wolf at all? Is our “hero” also our “monster?” It is unclear. Once again the Surrealistic circular logic prevents an established answer. However one very realistic idea is formed: When a society oppresses the individual and that individual gives in and represses their own identity — the results can be catastrophic. Eventually the needs of the “self” must be addressed in one way or another. More than likely the self will assert in a skewed ideology that not only matches the societal ideology, but surpasses it.

Slaying the Beast of the Village? Or not?  Der Samurai Till Kleinert, 2014 Cinematography | Martin Hanslmayr

Slaying the Beast of the Village? Or not?
Der Samurai
Till Kleinert, 2014
Cinematography | Martin Hanslmayr

Der Samurai is wide open for interpretation. I’ve heard and read it described as “Queer Surrealist Horror” to a “perverse reworking of ‘The Big Bad Wolf.'” I do not agree with either label. This is a sleek and effective spin on folklore presented in both a Surrealist and Absurdist way. ,While Til Kleinert is willing to risk his metaphor and parable being misunderstood as “self-loathing” or “homophobic” or “misogynistic,” it clearly is not. Kleinert is willing to trust the intelligence of his audience to understand the film. This film is far too smart, polished and subversively rebellious to be considered as inappropriate art or offensive. This is a spin on a fairy tale and folklore is taken to an unexpected place. It is a thrilling and unforgettable film. Kudos to ArtSploitation for releasing it via VOD, DVD and Blu-ray. The Artsploitation label usually restricts itself to gore horror of the lowest denominator, but in this case they have helped secure the release of a valuable work of Art Horror.

One thing is for sure: There is 'something' on both sides of that window. And neither offer a 'happy ever after' Der Samurai Till Kleinert, 2014 Cinematography | Martin Hanslmayr

One thing is for sure: There is ‘something’ on both sides of that window. And neither offer a ‘happy ever after’
Der Samurai
Till Kleinert, 2014
Cinematography | Martin Hanslmayr

Like Valerie and her Week of Wonders, Der Samurai is more of an experience than a typical narrative film. It washes over you.  You are left both exhilarated and confused. Both of these film present themselves with a non verbalized, “Once upon a time…” and bring us to the conclusions that while the world offers us “choices” they are seldom easy to chose. To deny the reality of the deceptions that hide along our life paths is not only problematic — it is dangerous.

And like most fairy tales, these are not for children. In truth, the origins of fairy tales and folklore were really simple ways to explain the complexities of human existence and survival. These parables attempted to explain what is often unexplainable.

At the end of a journey, we may find our way back to bed. But our bed has been moved to a place than can offer no happy ending or safety.  More to the point: there is no such thing as a “happily ever after.”

Fairy tales do not always offer happy endings. When viewed as initially intended, there was never such a thing as Happily Ever After.  Valerie and her Week of Wonders Jaromil Jires, 1970 Cinematography | Jan Curík

Fairy tales do not always offer happy endings. When viewed as initially intended, there was never such a thing as Happily Ever After.
Valerie and her Week of Wonders
Jaromil Jires, 1970
Cinematography | Jan Curík