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mystery

Amer * Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani (2009)

I have been looking for a film like this and now I run into one accidentally. The box made it appear as if “Amer” is some kind of psychological thriller, which would have been enough for a quick-choice. On the contrary, “Amer” is a very strange, experimental and dark film. It brings memories of ‘that other weird French film’ “La Vie Nouvelle“. “Amer” does not seem to have much of a story. We see Ana in three phases in her life; as a child, as an adolescent and as an adult. The the first third Ana lives with her parents in a gigantic house and she is haunted by her dead (?) grandparents, or is Ana the ‘haunter’? This part is very dark and the directors use unconventional camera work, cut-up images, out-of-focus images, colour filters and a minimalistic, threating soundtrack. It does not get really clear what is going on exactly and the viewer is kept pretty much in the dark. Suddenly the tone seems to lighten up and we see Ana in a light summer dress walking near the coast with her mother. Mother has her hair done and Ana wanders off in the tiny village. Inspite of the bright sunlight and Ana’s summer-look, the directors managed to give this part a dark undertone that suddenly ends. The last part Ana has grown up and she returns to the house of her childhood. The house is in an advanced state of decay and as soon as she walk in, Ana feels a presence. This last part gets more of a thriller twist with Saw-like elements.
The directors casted some beautiful actresses for Ana and her mother. They use a lot of extreme close ups; many of eyes, but also of different body parts; a part of an arm or a leg, an ear, the pubic area that is exposed when the skirt is lifted by the wind, a breast, etc. The slow and minimalistic filming with these close-ups give “Amer” a sensual atmosphere. Indeed, “Amer” definately is an interesting watch. When you like “La Vie Nouvelle” you will here find something of about the same breed. If you like David Lynch’s darker films, you want to watch both these French films too. Like I wrote in my review of “La Vie Nouvelle”: “not as good as Lynch, but a nice film to search for of you like this style.” I find “Amer” better than “La Vie Nouvelle” though.

Santa Sangre * Alejandro Jodorowsky (1989)

However not as weird as I expected (or hoped), “Santa Sangre” is a nicely strange film. We follow a circus with (of course) strange characters. Jumping back and forth in time, the story appears to be mostly about “Fenix” who used to be “the boy magician”, but his experiences in the circus got him into a madhouse. The film is a bit of a collection of separate scenes with a red thread acting as a story. There are some slightly horrorish scenes (amateuristic blood splattering), a few ‘shocking’ elements (perhaps in 1989) and some nice findings. Overall not really a masterpiece in my opinion, but at least more interesting than the average Hollywood production.

Valhalla Rising * Nicolas Winding Refn (2009)

The first time I heard of this film I asumed that it would be yet another Viking spectacle with a thin story making a bad history lesson. Later I heard that this is not the case. Indeed, “Valhalla Rising” is far from being a Viking epic, in fact, I wonder why this film is so well-known. Is it because the director (Nicholas “Bronson” Refn) or did the director manage to get a big promotion budget or a large distributor? In any case, “Valhalla Rising” is an extremely slow, very minimalistic and a pretty dark film. There are almost no conversations, nothing much really happens, but when something does happen, Refn created pretty damn violent (but not very explicit) scenes. Especially the first chapter may cause some people to refrain from continue to watch. We follow a one-eyed traveller (a reference to Odin?) who eventually sets out with a group of Christian converts to find the Holy Land. Some overly popular ideas about Vikings (actually the people concerned seem to have been Saxons, or at least, inhabitents of the British isle) and whatever there is of a story is not too strong, but the film has a nice, dark atmosphere. Unfortunately also in that perspective it is not entirely convincing which overall makes the film just nice. Something different for sure, especially when you (also) expect a Viking spectacle.

Carnivàle (series) season 2 * Daniel Knauf (2005)

I do not remember exactly when these series were broadcasted on Dutch TV, but I suppose it was 2003 or 2004. I started to watch the series and even though I loved them I lost track when I started to miss episodes. Years later we rented and watched the first series and again years later, my girlfriend ran into the second series for a good price. I wanted to watch the first series before starting with the second, but the first series were not very expensive! Reading back my review of the time, I liked the series, but I was critical still. Yet, my memories of it always remained positive and I must say that when we started to watch the first series again, I loved them. My older review gives a good idea of the series’ atmosphere and some elements of the story. Exited about the second series, the first two episodes blew me away. Darker and stranger than the complete first series and apparently giving all the answers to the questions I had. I really wondered what these second series would lead to. Just as with the first series there are very good and just good episodes. Characters develop, the storyline becomes clearer, there is less focus on Ben’s visions, but more on that mysterious brother Justin, whose part grows to new heights. Ben seems to become fully aware of his gift and the purpose of his life and towards the end the series seem to work towards a final knockout. Still, the last episodes are not that impressive. More even, the story stops, some new leads are given and the viewer is made ready for the third series that never came…
Overall Carnivàle are truely great series. The magnificent brown tint, the desolate desert atmosphere, the great characters and well-written story, a classic!

Na Srebrnym Globie * Andrzej Zulawski (1988)

“On The Silver Globe” is Zulawski’s “best known but least seen film” according to the box and I understand why. It proved hard to see! I heard about a Zulawski box with this one, “The Devil” and another film in it. I thought I ordered that box, but got another one with three French films, one of Zulawski. The Polish box that I did want to get turned out to be very expensive, but “On The Silver Globe” and “The Devil” fortunately have been released on DVD separately too. Also quite expensive though. Then there is the story of the film itself. Zulawski started filming in the 1980’ies, but the Polish government forbid the continuation of the project and to destroy all material. Zulawski fled to France and was 10 years later allowed to return and finish his project. He chose to complete what was left of the originel tapes and what we see are the parts that are left, the holes are filled with the read out texts of Jerzy Zulawski’s (Andrzej great-grandfather by the way) novel that this film is based on with random images on the background. The film is obviously based on a book. The dialogues (also mostly overdubbed because of the destruction) are mostly long and philosophical monologues which give the impression that you are watching an ancient play of, say, Shakespeare rather than a film. The gigantic ‘overacting’ adds greatly to this. The long monologues in Polish also make that I constantly had to try to keep up with the subtitles leaving but little time to watch the visuals. All this resulted in the fact that I do not really have a good idea of what it is all about. A group of spacetravellers (called “astronauts” while I would have expected “kosmonauts” by the way) land on the moon that looks a lot like earth. The astronauts that survive settle and then at high speed a new population grows who on their turn run into the original population of the silver globe. The new population creates its own worldview with the original astronauts as gods.
“On the silver globe” is a weird film that I will probably have to watch a few times again before things really start to make sense.

Inception * Christopher Nolan (2010)

I noticed the posters for this film (that just premiered in the Netherlands) downtown, but Leonardo DiCaprio, the tagline “of the creators of The Dark Knight” or the poster that looks like an action movie did not really catch my attention. Then my girlfriend noticed that the director is Christopher Nolan. I do not immediately think of Nolan when I hear “of the creators of The Dark Knight“. Visitors of these pages of course think of “Following” and “Memento” when hearing the name of Nolan. When I think of it, Nolan is not really my favourite director with two Batman’s, the mediocre “The Prestige” and a remake of “Insomnia” that may be good, but unnecesary (the original was great enough). In my case he got enough credit with “Insomnia” for me to keep watching his films and in the general case it seems that “The Dark Knight” has earned Nolan enough credit of financers to be able make a big-budget of his own liking. When I write this, Inception gets a 9.3 out of 10 from almost 60.000 voters on IMdB! Now things start to get interesting!
Contrary to “Insomnia” there is no mystery about the story. That story is, in fact, given away in all reviews and announcements. Let me remain with saying that when the Kaufman brothers had written the story of “The Matrix” the result might have been something like “Inception”. Imagine a story as weird as that of “Being John Malkovich” poured over the earlier mentioned, and already not too straightforward in story, “The Matrix” and you have an idea of what to expect. I must say that “The Matrix” is better worked out in details, but “Inception” is impressive in its basic simplicity that is worked towards a few extremes with amazing filmographic (and psychological?) experiments. Just as in the last Matrix, there is a lot of focus on impressive action with top-notch techniques, completely ear-shattering in a 1200 watts Imax theatre by the way. Like I said, the story is not hard to follow and might not be the ultimate filmscript, but Nolan managed to create that uncanny “Matrix” atmosphere and the suggestion that the story may be more complex afterall. All in all a maybe bit too spectactular film, but a very, very good one.

Sauna * Antti-Jussi Annila (2008)

Unfortunately I had to watch this film on a laptop, so the sound- and videoexperience are probably not what they should have been. Moreover the film is slow and vague and I think I have missed a thing or two. The story seems to be about a group of men who have to establish the borders between Russia and Sweden (or Finland?) after a 25 years war. Eerik has fought in the bloody was and his younger brother Knut did not. During their travels the group stumbles upon a mysterious village with an even more mysterious sauna. Eerik’s past seems to come hunting him.
“Sauna” has a very pressing and mysterious atmosphere using grim images of the present and dark images for flashbacks to tell a story that I did not entirely comprehend. It looks very nice, but I need to see it again on a bigger screen and with better sound some time.

Calvaire * Fabrice Du Welz (2004)

“Calvaire” (or “the Ordeal” as the international title goes) starts as a ‘normal’ film in which an artist gets stuck somewhere in the Ardennen (the Belgian mountainous area). His path leads to a remote inn where Marc is taken in friendly by Bartel, the owner. It is a strange character (Boris) who leads him there, but Marc does not think much of that yet. Bartel gives Marc shelter, breakfast and offers to fix his truck. Meanwhile Marc takes a walk, stumbles upon a near village where he witnesses a strange excess of the local population. Returning to the inn, not only Bartel, but also the film gets stranger and stranger. “Calvaire” brilliantly derails with incomprehensible characters, violence and nightmarish scenes. Nothing much can be made of the characters after a while and the film suddenly ends. Indeed, this film is pretty disturbing and pretty good. “Calvaire” reminds me a bit of “Mørke“, but where “Mørke” remains a drama, “Calvaire” is closer to horror. For the lovers of the weird stuff.

Small Gods * Dimitri Karakatsanis (2007)

“Small Gods” is a nice, Flemish Dutch spoken, independant film from our Southern neighbours. A young woman is kidnapped from a hospital by a young man who takes her somewhere in a camper. The film is a slow and mysterious roadmovie in which little is said. Along the way another young woman is picked up and as the film develops, conversations and situations during the trip and Elena’s of the events to her lawyer, draw and faint picture of what is going on. Some questions are left unanswered. The film is quite minimalistic, has a few nice experimental scenes and a good, strange atmosphere. Also the story is descent, but unfortunately the acting is a bit poor. Overall “Small Gods” is definately worth watching if you like the stranger kind of film and since it is only Karakatsanis’ second film, I am curious for possible future productions.

Winterstilte * Sonja Wyss (2008)

Even though German, this film seems to go under a Dutch title. Wyss’ debut is almost completely without talking and is a very slow and minimalistic film with a lot of focus on the visuals. Somewhere high up a snowy mountain in a tiny community lives a devoutly Catholic family with four daughters. We follow the daily pattern of the family, but the community seems to have a ‘dark’ underbelly in what appears to be an ancient men-bond. If that was meant to be such, Wyss portrays two conservative sides of a distant community. In any case, great imaginary of snowy landscapes, some darker scenes and a descent soundtrack make Wyss’ short debut (70 min) a very nice film. I do not think “Winterstilte” will be for everyone, but if you like minimalistic films without much story, you might want to see it.