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Ten Great Movies That Aren’t Afraid To Push the Boundaries!

A Controversial Filmmaker’s Career and Motives Re-Examined

Lars von Trier’s ANTICHRIST: Why I Think It’s Not Pretentious Garbage

Review: Storytelling (2001)

The follow-up to the controversial and acclaimed Happiness is a film which also caused controversy, earning the useless NC-17 rating. This annoyed director Todd Solondz that he decided to shove a big fat middle finger in the MPAA’s faces by calling their bluff. The scene in question that earned the rating, an anal rape scene, was covered by Solondz with a big red rectangle. This appeased the MPAA, who were unaware that the rectangle was Solondz’ way of criticising their twisted view of censorship.

I watched Storytelling last night, and was shocked to discover that my Region 4 DVD contained no such red rectangle, and the scene was left bare and untouched for me to see, and now, before I jump into the review, I’m going to tell you why the NC-17 rating was completely unnecessary.

For one, the scene was graphic, yes, but certainly not pornographic and no genitalia was visible. Secondly, the scene was not a closeup or anything like that, the camera was actually noticeably distance, although static. And finally, I have seen sex scenes much more graphic than this that didn’t bother the MPAA in the slightest. They either have a real bone to pick with Solondz after Happiness, or the other, more likely reason they were so insistent, was the context of the scene.

Storytelling is a film split into two parts: the first is thirty minutes, and the second is the remainder of the film, closer to an hour. The first part is definitely more compelling and meaningful than the second part, and if it had been produced alone as a short film, it would be brilliant, but part of the impact is taken away by the second story.

The first story, and the one which contains the aforementioned scene, tells of a young woman (Selma Blair), who, along with her boyfriend who suffers from cerebral palsy, is a budding writer. But her writing teacher, a black man (Robert Wisdom), criticises both of their respective works mercilessly. He gives the boyfriend’s story such a thrashing that he takes it out on Blair, whose character is Vi. She promptly dumps him, and goes to drown the sorrow of her mixed emotions at a bar. Distraught and sexually confused, she meets her teacher there. He says a few, unkind words, but she is drawn to him as his silence is both repulsive and attractive. In a scene that is pure Solondz, we see them walking slowly back to his apartment on the footpath, wordless, staring away from each other, while cooling music plays. Then they get to the apartment, and she asks to go and freshen herself up in the bathroom. While in there, she sees a series of extremely graphic pornographic photos (the MPAA had no problem with this, then, did they?) and realises he may be perverted. She whispers to herself over and over “don’t be a racist, don’t be a racist,” before exiting the bathroom. He lays on the bed and tells her to strip, turn around and face the wall. She reluctantly obliges, convinced that if she didn’t do as he said, she’d be a racist. Then the graphic sex scene takes place, and turns quickly into a sort of sick rape. He forces her to say “N***er, fuck me hard!” and she does so, disgusted with herself but doing as she says only so she is not a racist.

This is Solondz dealing with the subject of racism in a cleverly brilliant manner. Vi has no choice here; she feels she has to say and do these things because if she doesn’t, society deems it prejudiced. This shows how often, racism is overcooked and people become oversensitive, and how people can use this to force us to do things against their will. Just the other day, I reviewed a film that tackled racism in an awful, disgustingly insulting manner, Crash, directed by Paul Haggis, and I think he could learn a thing or two from that scene.

The second story in the film deals with different themes, most notably our obsession with being gratified for our hard work. Paul Giamatti plays a loser, who is trying to reconnect with a girl from high school, and thinks he can impress her by making a documentary film about schoolkids in a post-Columbine society. He decides to focus his documentary on Scooby, a dope-smoking, unintelligent failure whose parents (including John Goodman in somewhat of a Walter Sobchak reprisal) are at their wits end. The documentary starts out as a heartfelt analysis of the crushing high school society but unwisely turns into a critical embarrassment which makes fun of Scooby’s stupidity and false hope.

Solondz is stubborn and tough here, as unflinching as we have come to rely on from him, and Storytelling is yet another accurate, concise, and somewhat brilliant analysis of society’s ills. If you liked Happiness, and generally approve of Solondz’ ideals and works, Storytelling is a must-see. But in general, it’s not particularly outstanding, although it is worth renting from Netflix just for the excellent first story.

My Rating:

3.5/5

Is It Worth Adding To Your Netflix Queue?

So what about you folks? Have you seen this little slice at society’s straightwire? If you have, leave a comment below. Thanks.

The Dark Side of Cinema: Irreversible

There's no suitable image from the film I can include in this article, so I'll just stick with the poster.

The Dark Side of Cinema: Episode One: Irreversible

This is the first of a short series examining films that are often booed for their graphic and explicit content, but really have an important tale to tell.

Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible caused an uproar of controversy following its release at the Cannes film festival in 2002. Hundreds of people walked out of the film before it had finished, finding it too shocking, violent and disturbing to watch. I was not at Cannes, but I felt similarly when I did see it. I did not turn it off, however. I continued playing the DVD and when I reached the end I was not relieved that it was over or anything like that. No, rather I put it back to the beginning and watched it again. This is a dangerous thing to say, but I don’t want you to get the right idea. I did not get some kind of sick thrill out of Irreversible, but the reason I watched it twice was, as silly as it may seem, to make sure what I’d just watched was completely real, and that none of it was my exaggerated imagination projecting images on to the screen. Oh, no. I can assure you, this is all very real. To a degree, of course. The film itself is just a film, but it is a brutally honest film. Most brutally honest movies are dramas about suburban life (American Beauty, Blue Velvet, Ghost World, etc.). This does not explore suburban American life. This is the life of two men and a woman living in France. They are happy. They are together.

The woman, Alex (Monica Bellucci) is dating Marcus (Vincent Cassel), ages after breaking up with their mutual friend Pierre (Albert Dupontel). The three of them go to a party, but it does not end well. Marcus is drunk and annoying, and after an argument, Alex leaves the party. She goes to the road and attempts to hail a taxi. A woman standing nearby tells her to take the underpass (“It’s safer.”) She does so, and in a brutal, controversial, terrifying extended sequence, she is raped and beaten to near-death by a shadowy figure named La Tenia (Jo Prestia). Following this, Marcus and Pierre decide to get revenge and hunt down La Tenia, travelling through a dark, shady S&M sex club called The Rectum. They find who they believe to be La Tenia and Pierre smashes his face in with a fire extinguisher. The end.

But, alas, that is not how the story actually goes, and allow me to inform you of what makes this R&R (rape and revenge) story so special and distinct from the other bloody, gratuitous films like it.

For starters, the events I’ve described to you are not told in chronological order. No. Rather, each scene appears in reverse order, so that we are presented with the final bloody vengeance at the beginning of the movie, and the calm before the storm at the end. This technique completely changes the way we look at the film, and makes it even scarier and more effective than if the events were in normal, forward order of time.

It helps us to understand and grasp the horrible nature of the human soul and the amazing lengths to which we would go to avenge the assault and violation of a loved one. Of course, not all of us would go as far as Marcus and Pierre, but it just goes to show that you never really know what you’d do in such a situation until it arises.

If the film were in order, then we would just be presented with a useless TP (torture-porn) movie about rape and revenge. Reversing it changes the aspect. We see this man beaten in with a fire extinguisher toward the beginning, and we ask why? What has he done to deserve this? Then later on we find out and this completely changes the way we look at the scene. This is why I watched the film twice.

The first hour or so is completely different from the last thirty minutes. All the blood, gore and violence is presented, and then we are given a half hour period of calmness, fun and laughing for the viewer to meditate and think about what they’ve seen. We are shown extensive footage of Marcus, Pierre and Alex as good friends, which makes the events they’ve already committed (from our POV, anyway) even more disturbing. It’s a clever effect.

As well as the excellent plot structure and character development, the film also has several other things going for it, namely Gaspar Noe’s awesome cinematography. Throughout the first half hour, the camera swoops and turns all over the place, creating a sense of disorientation and vertigo. He also uses low-frequency sound effects which are inaudible to the human ear, to create an uneasy and sick feeling to make the viewer feel even more affected. These are clever and memorable techniques, and enhance the amazing experience that is this film.

It is extremely ignorant to label this film a violent snuff-fest of rape and murder. It is so much more than that. It is a message about the human mind, and a very well-done one. In the film’s haunting final scene, which takes place before any other events have occured, the camera shows Alex relaxing in the sunshine as the camera swoops around the outdoor landscape and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A Major (also used in The King’s Speech) plays and a series of bright, rapid flashing lights occur on screen and a final title appears: Le Temps Detruit Tout. Translation: Time Destroys Everything.