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I Stand Alone (1998) ★★★★1/2

Profile: Gaspar Noé

Five Great Movie Title Sequences You Might Not Remember

Foreign Films You Need To See That You Probably Haven’t!

Forgive me making assumptions in the title of this post, but the following”foreign” films (i.e., films that aren’t in English originally) are six that are not very widely seen. I’m not talking about big Kurosawa blockbusters or Bergman, but lesser known ones. But they all MUST be seen, if you can find them.

1: Dekalog (1988) (dir. Krzysztof Kieslowski)

This Polish masterpiece from the brilliant Krzysztof Kieslowski is probably his best film… if you can call it a film. It’s actually a series of ten hour long movies, totalling almost ten hours. They cover a wide range of emotions and scenarios, and together it is basically a representation of many of the dramas of life itself.

2: Night and Fog (1955) (dir. Alan Resnais)

Thirty minutes of starkly horrific, emotionally (and visually) graphic and extremely disturbing video and images of concentration camps, starvation, death and the discarding of millions of bodies and items might not sound appealing, but not only is this a must-see film, it’s an important film. Though you might feel sick or want to look away, it’s the same as ignoring the awful tragedies of our past as it is to miss out on an opportunity to see this film. It can be found on YouTube, in three parts; the first is below:

3: Shoah (1985) (dir. Claude Lanzmann)

The second Holocaust film on this list is my personal favourite. It is also substantially longer than 30 minutes; it’s 9 and a half hours. But believe me, it is worth every single minute. Unlike Night and Fog, it contains not a shred of imagery from the actual Holocaust times, but the pictures we do see are just as haunting, if not more so. We see where these atrocities happened, and as they look today. Seeing the places, a shiver runs down my spine. It’s a golden rule that so few horror movies (not that this is one) actually take heed of: what is implied is much scarier than what is seen. The more attractive part of the film is that it also contains various interviews with people both indirectly and directly involved in the massacre of the Jews, including a particularly memorable interview with a man who cut the hair of Jewish people. The interview starts off easy enough, but he quickly breaks down and is unable to answer. Shoah is a must-see film for anyone interested in this part of history, and it delivers what it promises in a manner I am forever thankful for.

4: The Hour of the Wolf (1968) (dir. Ingmar Bergman)

The closest to a real, terrifying horror film Ingmar Bergman ever directed is one of the surprisingly less-seen ones. The Hour of the Wolf has proved to be incredibly influential on modern horror (most notably Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island) and remains in itself a constantly intriguing, frightening puzzle. Max von Sydow edges closer to insanity than ever as an imperfect world begins to fracture and sanity splits in half. All those movies about the protagonist with a multiple personality owe a hell of a lot to this one, which really kick-started them all.

5: I Stand Alone (1998) (dir. Gaspar Noé)

 

Most people, when they think of Gaspar Noé, think of Irreversible or Enter the Void, and so do I, I suppose, but a film of his that is often glossed over or disliked because of its darker themes of suicide and incest is actually very interesting and quite good. It takes a look into the soul, mind, and dying heart of a man, known as The Butcher, angry at the world and attempting to reconnect with his estranged daughter while fighting the demons inside him. Might sound clichéd if Hollywood were doing it, but it’s actually a very bleak, disturbing but affecting feature. The Butcher can be seen at the beginning of Irreversible, speaking a mantra that really stands for the suffocating isolation of his life and a mantra for which Noé has become known: “Time Destroys Everything.”

6: The Seventh Continent (1989), dir. Michael Haneke

Michael Haneke’s first cinematic feature film, and the first instalment in his brilliant Glaciation trilogy, is a must-see for any fan of Haneke. And yet, surprisingly, many of the Haneke fans I know have not seen it! His now immediately noticeable style of direction is present here as he chronicles the disturbing story of an entire family who mysteriously committed suicide. This is way up in my Top 5 from Haneke, and remains, like the more popular Caché and The Piano Teacher, a troubling look at the desperate, hidden truths of unhappy people.

So there you have it. Five great movies to add to your watchlist or queue. And I recommend adding them near the top. If you were disappointed with any of these fine movies, then I would be extremely surprised. They’re not all for everyone, but everyone should see them. If that makes sense.

Anything you’d like to say on the matter? Please, leave a comment below. Thanks.

The Big Debate over Enter the Void

Recently I came up with an easy and convenient way to spread the opinions of several of my friends and myself together in one location for one post. I passed around my newly purchased copy of Gaspar Noé’s stunning Enter the Void to my girlfriend and three other friends and asked them to email me a short review of what they thought of the film, followed by a rating out of ten. They were surprisingly compliant, and here are the results. I’ll start with my review first:

Tyler’s Review:

From its earthshattering, explosive opening sequence which passes seemingly in the blink of an eye to the tune of pulsing techno music to explicit sex, nudity and violence colouring the screen like the textures of the hues of drug-induced fantasy that also decorates the frame, the new film from Gaspar Noé is something indeed. I was unsure when it would become available in this country, but, so fantastically impressed with his previous Irreversible, I went ahead and bought it off Amazon anyway, and it blew me away. Visually impressive and quite original, Noé has made a slow-paced film, indeed, but a marvellous one, and one I wouldn’t cut a second from. 9/10.

Ashley’s Review:

I had trouble watching Enter the Void. It wasn’t the same kind of trouble I encountered when I burst out crying at the end of Irreversible, but it was similar. Gaspar Noé seems to be a constantly evolving filmmaker. Tyler convinced me to watch I Stand Alone, Noé’s first movie, and it seems that it was the first of three thematically similar but stylistically different steps. While Noé hasn’t captured the same emotional essence of Irreversible, it definitely looks like it has strived for a more visually wholesome effect. Noé takes his time here, making each move with ridiculous but sensible pace, and manages to create a dubiously artistic piece of work. 7/10.

Stephen’s Review:

Wow. First, can I just say, those credits… fucking amazing. Well done, Gaspar Noé, you’ve made credits as systematically memorable as those of, oh say, Psycho, but as mind-fuckingly unique as Se7en. But it kind of goes downhill from there. I see what he’s getting at and why you like it so much, but he does go just a tiny bit overboard, doncha think? If I wanna see some LSD sequence type shit I’ll watch 2001, I don’t need Noé recreating it for me. The film lacks originality, but thankfully it makes up for it with some fucking awesome cinematography. The whole first-person viewpoint thing… genius! Who’d’ve thought of that? No one else but this guy, obviously. 6/10.

Ryan’s Review:

This needs to be cut. Big time. I like it… it’s just too goddamn long! Gaspar Noé (Irreversible) has called this the best movie he’s ever made. A big overstatement. Irreversible is the best movie he’s made, and even then, it’s only barely great. Enter the Void has the annoying disability of Noé as a director… sure, if he’d sold the script to someone else it would be completely different, but he really sank his teeth too far into this one and went overboard, resulting in an unintentionally boring and unneccessarily explicit movie. I mean, Irreversible had sex and violence, but all of that was warranted and (dare I say it) necessary. None of this is necessary. 4/10.

Andrew’s Review:

I’ll be honest… I watched this twice. Yuh-huh. I liked it that much. I didn’t want to see it twice, I had to. Not to understand it or anything, but just to experience its conditional beauty and simultaneous ugliness once more. I don’t often watch a movie again as soon as I finished it the first time, but I won’t lie, I really enjoyed this, heaps. I might even buy it. I don’t know how Gaspar Noé created some of the sequences in this movie, it must’ve been really tough to get them exactly right, but I’ve never seen a man who can simultaneously make sex look ugly and mechanical as well as strangely erotic and wild… at the same time! Look out for The Butterfly Effect twist in the ending. That knocked my holeproofs off. 8/10.

Alright. So those are the opinions of me and my friends. Now, what’re yours? If you’ve seen this gloriously strange and wacky movie, leave a comment with your own short review, and of the above five, whose review do you think is closest to your own opinion? Humor us.

Thanks for reading.

The Long Weekend Movie Viewing Plans

Where I am in New Zealand, it is as I write this, 5pm on a Friday afternoon, and I am hurtling myself into a bottomless abyss of great movies to keep me occupied for this three-day weekend! So despite the awful weather here at the moment, it’s good to have a decent selection of movies to watch with friends or alone.

My Choices:

Persona (1966) Re-Watch:

About three or four months ago I watched Ingmar Bergman’s film Persona which was a complete epiphany for the way I perceived cinema. I pray to Persona like the Bible and treat its scenes as gospel (well, not really). It’s Bergman’s most creative and–dare I say it?–best picture. I’ve just received my copy from Amazon so I’m pleased to revisit this classic.

Smiles of a Summer Night (1955)

The next movie is ANOTHER Bergman movie, but I haven’t seen this one quite yet. It looks promising, and I’m interested to see how Bergman will treat it as a comedy. Apparently he’s done a few comedies, but not all of them fully launched. This one is supposed to be the one that made him famous overseas, so it’s sure to be a cracker of a watch.

Jules et Jim (1962)

Francois Truffaut’s classic of French cinema The 400 Blows is very well known. I managed to see his follow-up Shoot the Piano Player just a couple of nights ago, and I’m about ready to dive in head first into the more popular Jules et Jim. A love story spanning a timeline, it sounds extra sizzly sweet and full of that great French New Wave taste!

Synecdoche, New York (2009)

Though there’s a fair bit of mixed opinion on this one, and the presence of Philip Seymour Hoffman is doubtful not in a P.T. Anderson movie, we must also take into account that this is WRITTEN and DIRECTED by CHARLIE KAUFMAN! Even if it’s not the best movie of it’s kind, at least we know it will feel very original and have some decent plot twists… right?

Enter the Void (2010) Re-Watch:

Though I haven’t mentioned it that much (if at all), I am a huge fan of Gaspar Noé. I became attracted to his style from the memorable Irreversible and was surprisingly impressed at an earlier film of his, I Stand Alone. Noé is not afraid to push the boundaries and I like that in a person. Anyway, I first saw this movie only about a month ago when it came out here, and LOVED it. I’ve been wanting to watch it again for a while so this time I’ve bought it. It’s a must-see, in many, many ways.

A History of Violence (2007)

I only recently began to tap in and start to understand David Cronenberg’s unique world view and filmmaking philosophy, and after reading a ton of good reviews, I asked my friend if I could borrow his copy. The movie looks promising, even if the plot doesn’t sound like the most original. Well, we’ll have to wait and see.

What are you watching this weekend, or right about now? What do you think of my viewing choices? Got any thoughts on the movies I’m going to watch, or whatever you’ve just watched? Leave a comment below and let me know what’s happening.

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.