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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.

Tarnation * Jonathan Caouette (2003)

In the local Mediamarkt I ran into a box with “Aaltra“, “Calvaire” and “Tarnation”. Three cult-films for 6 euros! “Calvaire” is great, “Aaltra” very amusing and “Tarnation” is a strange experiment of a young director. His first full-length is an extremely personal autobiography (though told in the “he” form) about his troubled youth. Caouette’s mother (to whom this film is an ode) was mentally wrecked by an accident and many shock-therapies after that. She was in and out mental hospitals for the rest of her life. Caouette spent time in many foster families, was abused and in the end put under the care of his grandparents who were even crazier than his mother. As an outlet Caouette started to run around with filmcameras from an early age. His epileptic montage suggests that he used much of that old material in his documentary. Experimentating to the extremes of filmographic possibilities, the film goes well together with “Calvaire” (the last part) or perhaps even comparisons with Gaspar Noë are not completely strange. The film is definately interesting and weird. Some of the biographic parts take a bit too long, but overall this film is definately worth watching.

Enter The Void * Gaspar Noë (2009)

The latest film of Noë is pretty hard work to watch! The beginning is great with the most insane opening titles I ever saw and then there is a scene with Oscar smoking something, having a psychedelic trip, which is wonderfully done. Pretty soon it becomes clear, though, that Noë uses constantly moving cameras, from handycam views, so high-and-low flying twisting and turning stretched shots (towards the end even with effects). After about 5 minutes my stomach was upside down and I developped a pounding headache and that did not go away (it still did not!). With such a tiring view, 2,5 hours is way too long. Moreover, the visual spectacle completely overrides the drama in the film, even two extremely devastating scenes towards the end had no effect on me whatsover. Besides the sickening camera work, Noë stuffed his film with filmographic experimentations. Extremely bright and extremely much neon, computerised drug-tripping scenes, Lynch-like light-and-dark and close-ups, out-of-focus shots and almost no music, but just Throbbing Gristle and Coil’s constant rumbling. The story is of a brother and sister living in Tokyo flushing down the drain of the sex and drug scene. A heavy story that is ingeniously told in flashbacks interwoven with the present and with dreams. Paz de la Huerta gives all playing Linda; a fragile part that goes from sexy shots in the appartment to stripclub-, sex- and even an abortion scene. The story is not too original, but well-told, the experimental montage is very interesting, but the unsteady camera makes me to discourage you to watch this film on the big screen. A very interesting film, but I do not like the physical reactions…

Jubilee * Derek Jarman (1978)

I accidentally ran into a cult classic! I am reading a book with texts of John Dee (reviewed soon) and the compiler in passing mentioned that Dee is portrayed in this film. My regular rental proved to have this oldie. The box announces it as “Brittains first punk film”. That is nothing like the Medieval setting that I expected! That is to say, “Jubilee” opens with the historically incorrect scene in which John Dee and queen Elizabeth I conjur angel Ariel who shows them a glimpse of the future. This future is some sort of punk version of “A Clockwork Orange”. With weird music (punk opera?) and strange characters, Jarman obviously tried to push the limits of the permissible in his days. Nudity, sex, strong language and useless violence are the elements that make up the story. Some other controversies are added. Overall, “Jubilee” strongly reminds of “A Clockwork Orange”, but then with a punk(-like) attitude.

White Lightnin’ * Dominic Murphey (2009)

We follow Jesco White, a trouble-kid who has been sniffing (lighter) gas since the age of 6. Frequently sent to reform school and even an asylum of the insane he grows up with “bad thoughts” and “evil in [his] blood”. He tries to be good, but keeps getting problems with what is going on in his head and that usually results in violent outbursts, both to himself and to others. He has a few periods of “good times” such as when he runs into Cilla, but in the end, no good time lasts. Murphey has his film grow darker and darker when Jesco becomes more violent, resulting in disturbing and very vague scenes. There is a thick religious overtone with preachers that interupt the film and Jesco’s turn towards the faith at the end. Jesco’s father was a dancer and he taught it to Jesco too to keep him on the straight path. That dance is some kind of hillbilly-version of tap dancing, so the soundtrack is made with the all-American hillbilly music, but also here Murphey managed to get it pretty dark.
“White Lightnin'” is not an overly weird film, but sure has some moments that many viewers might not enjoy. I found the end quite impressive myself.

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.

La Vie Nouvelle * Philippe Grandrieux (2002)

“La Vie Nouvelle” is somewhat of a cultfilm. It is almost impossible to find outside French-speaking countries and there seems to be no version with subtitles, not even French for the parts that are spoken in (I think) Bulgarian. There is not that much talking in the film, but it would have been nice to know what the Bulgarians say and the French parts are not very easy to follow either. In a David Lynch style and with quite a few ‘Lynchian’ elements, “La Vie Nouvelle” seems to give fragments of a story that plays in the dark underworld of Bulgarian organised crime. Out-of-focus and shaky camera work for the more shocking parts, a very minimalistic style with a dark rumbling soundtrack for most of the other. Grandrieux has created an interesting film that will mostly appeal to people who like David Lynch and not to people who enjoy a straightforward story and flashy action scenes. The film is dark, sometimes disturbing, but not really as shocking as some seem to find this film. The term “drame sentimental” that appears on the back of the box is a vast underrating too of course. There is some violence, a lot of nudity, beautiful images and strange camera and montage experimentations; not as good as Lynch, but a nice film to search for of you like this style. Try French and for example Canadian sources to find this film.

Container * Lucas Moodysson (2006)

It does not happen often that I turn off a film, but this was not the right film for a hot summer night. The director of depressive teen-films seemingly wanted to make a peek into the head of a schizophrenic young woman. Since the very first second a woman’s voice is constantly rattling incoherently and with a soft, almost whispering voice. I had an import version without subtitles, not even English (the film is spoken in English) and with outside sounds of neighbours, etc. this was way too hard to follow. What the woman whispers is shown in weird and disturbing black and white images with strange effects and montage. Normally I like the weird and experimental kind of filming, but the incomprehensible voice started to work on my nerves. I think I need to see this film again some winter night, at the moment I will not rate it.

Taxidermia * György Pálfi (2006)

TaxidermiaWith a lot of attention this Hungarian film premiered about 2,5 years ago. It received several awards and reviews were raving. I do not think that this is something for a large audience though, not even the larger arthouse audience. “Taxidermia” is a pretty bizar film with three stories showing three generations leading up to the person that the title refers to. First you see a small ‘community’ (of only a few houses) in the middle of nowhere how they survive, live and fullfill their sexual needs. This story ends with a pig-tailed boy who in the second story is a speed-eater who in his turn is the father of the taxidermist of the last part. “Taxidermia” is extremely explicit and disgusting with a sick sense of humour and weird characters. This film is certainly something I have never seen, especially the end. I had some good laughs though, but the crisps did not always taste very good!

Eraserhead * David Lynch (1977/2000)

It must have been decades since I saw this film, since I didn’t remember much of it. I got a Lynch release of the cleaned up 2000 version and I have no old version to compare, but the sound and visuals are indeed amazing. “Eraserhead” is a truely ‘industrial film’. The soundtrack would in terms of my music reviews section be called “industrial dark ambient” or something, the setting is in some desolate industrial landscape and the pressing atmosphere is amazing. Since this is a Lynch, there is hardly a story and the scenes get weirder and weirder. “Eraserhead” might not be Lynch’s best film, but it is a lot better than I remembered.