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Recently I’ve been on a run of watching some challenging movies. Not by design or anything, it just seems that I’ve gotten to the point in my “Movies to Watch” list where there seems to be a surfeit of films that are challenging on many levels.  A while ago I discussed Lars von Trier’s weird opus “Antichrist”, which although hard to watch was nevertheless beautifully filmed and acted; a few of the films I’ve seen recently fall into this category. 

The brutal rumination upon rape and relationships, “Irreversible” directed by the ever gutsy, and slightly nuts, Gaspar Noe is a no-holds barred take on the clever, puzzle box movie “Memento”.  This is not to say the two films have anything to do with each other in the way of plot or technique.  Both films are stories told in reverse order. Only in the case of “Irreversible” the viewer is given no help or sign posts to place them in the linearity of the story.  You must watch and let the story unfold.  In this case, just merely watching passively is tough as there are many parts of this film that I found myself wincing at and wanting to turn away.  And at this point, let me say that “Irreversible”, although not a Halloween type horror movie is definitely one of the most creepy, terrifying and gorge inducing movies I’ve ever seen.  Screw “Paranormal Activity” or any of the myriad torture porn gore-fests, if you want to be truly disturbed by a movie next Halloween then take a gander at “Irreversible”. 

I like how Noe starts the film using a dreamy, carnival-ride sort of camera technique where the POV floats god-like from one appalling scene to the other with no apparent connections to anything.  Then as the film progresses and the story winds its sad way backwards to when the character’s world was right and normal we see the camera get steadier and the lighting get brighter.  Very nice little trick.  Indeed, the beginning scenes in the gay sex club are like a roller-coaster ride through a particularly grim corner of Hell.  Only, these souls are there willingly. It’s the stuff of nightmares and the thought that there are actual places like this where men go to have fists jammed up their asses and get pissed on for fun is just too sad and disturbing to contemplate for too long. If that makes me a Pollyanna in your eyes, then your tolerance for this sort of thing is a lot stronger than mine. There is a character named “Fistman” in the credits for God’s sake.  I mean, I have to wonder what the first run-through of the dialogue was like when this guy’s lines consisted mostly of shouting, “Fist me! C’Mon! Please fist me!” Indeed, an actor’s dream dialogue for sure.

Speaking of which, the actors are to be commended for their courage in making this film, particularly Monica Bellucci who had to go into a Very Dark Place in order to play out the rape scene with the startling veracity that it had. In fact, hers is the only character amongst the three primaries that rang true.  The two men are cartoons, and they compromise the suspension of disbelief that the film tries mightily to protect.  I don’t believe Bellucci’s character Alex would ever be with either one of these losers.  One is a sexless intellectual and the other is a too-cool-for-school arrested adolescent.  Neither is a fit for the Alex character’s cool, high-brow artistic intellect and her smolderingly super model looks.  After all, even though it’s trying to be brutally truthful, “Irreversible” is still a French film and it wouldn’t do if the female lead was homely and dull.

Homely and dull like some of the characters in my next movie, “Cloud 9”, a German film with a pretty standard love triangle plot. The twist is the people involved in the triangle are all elderly.  And for those of you who’ve always complained that movies need more regular looking people and sex scenes need to be more real and older female actors need to work more, this movie is for you.  Within five minutes after the opening credits we see one of the main characters, Inge making full-on nude love with 76 year old Karl which, I must say, wasn’t the least bit sweet or stimulating in any way.  It just happens;  like it does in life sometimes.  And the clear eyed, unblinking cinematography leaves no illusions about just what elderly sex is probably like and in this case its like two crinkled bags of flesh thumping, wheezing and moaning their way towards an orgasm that somehow transforms both lovers back to being  twenty-year-olds for about ten seconds before reality comes crashing in again.  This is the first time Inge and Karl express their love for each other.  Karl is single, but Inge is married to Werner whom she’s been with for 30 years.  Werner is depicted as one of the most boring men on the face of the earth. His idea of a good time is having a glass of wine in the evening while he listens to recordings of various types of train engines.  Its no surprise that Inge falls head over heels for Karl who rides a bike and actually goes out and does things.  The movie moves through the relationships pretty much as you would imagine with the two lovers becoming more entwined and Werner the cuckold being betrayed and everyone’s lives completely uprooted and changed.  This movie could have been more ground breaking for its daring view of sexuality, but the hackneyed script holds it back.  In the end it’s a story any junior high kid with talent could’ve written with a few porn scenes thrown in. Porn scenes with old people.

The next film is Sidney Lumet’s “Before the Devil Knows Your Dead” was a shock to me only because it was virtually passed up completely for any awards at all, not least of which is the Academy Awards.   The script was well done and Ethan Hawke and Phillip Seymour Hoffman do tremendous work in their roles as brothers very much in the Cain and Abel mold. Ethan Hawke is particularly effective in what could have been a shrill, nothing sort of role. We even get to see Albert Finney chew some scenery.  This is a story without a happy ending, which if done right can be very satisfying and is one of my favorite types of film to watch.  “before the Devil…” is done very well which can be expect from the director, Lumet.  The plot is a cross between grand Grecian tragedy and Gothic Southern family drama ala Eugene O’Neill.  Don’t let those stuffy genre comparisons fool you though, once this film gets rolling it’s a tension filled toboggan ride through an unimaginable but believable family tragedy.  This one was on my list for a long time and I’m only sorry I didn’t get around to it sooner.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 11th, 2010 12:09 am (UTC)
I love "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" and I'm thinking about showing it to my son on some Father's Day.
Nov. 11th, 2010 12:54 am (UTC)
Ha! Yeah - some nice "life lessons" in that one.
Nov. 11th, 2010 01:00 am (UTC)
Too bad he doesn't have a brother to share it with him.
Nov. 11th, 2010 01:14 am (UTC)
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )