Friday, July 21, 2006

Fried Neurons at the Movies

It's Friday and I am at a loss about what to write today. There is no shortage of stuff to rant about, but I don't feel like ranting.
It's that stupid virus that refuses to leave the premises of my lungs, throat and nose.
OK. Yesterday I saw two movies on dvd: Time of the Wolf by sadist extraordinaire Michael Haneke, and Elevator to the Gallows, by Louis Malle. The first movie is about a post-apocalyptic world in France where people are trying to survive. As all of Haneke's work it is spare and controlled and quite disturbing. The opening of the movie is incredible. Haneke is one of the few filmmakers that knows not to announce violence, so when it comes, it is truly shocking. But then the movie rambles along as the unstoppable glacier also known as Isabelle Huppert tries to survive with her two children in a merciless world. Time of the Wolf is an uneven movie, with a long tedious part in the middle, but it has some truly powerful moments. Haneke likes to put people in extreme situations and reduce them to their human essence. It's tough going, but he's an interesting filmmaker.
I must have been trying to block it out of my head, but the night before I saw A Hole in My Heart, by Lukas Moodysson, and after watching this abject excuse for a movie, any Haneke film is not only like a day in the country, but the epitome of elegance and grace. Sometimes filmmakers get the itch to use film to document the most abject human baseness (see Haneke's excrutiating Funny Games, which he is remaking now, alas, with Naomi Watts for Hollywood). Why do filmmakers go there? Because, like the proverbial dog, they can. In the case of Funny Games, Haneke is trying to blame the watcher for sitting the movie out, basically implying that we have an insatiable appetite for violence. I really hated Funny Games, in fact, I turned it off because I couldn't stand being both manipulated AND then chastised for participating. Not fair. In the case of Lukas Moodysson I'm still trying to figure out the why. I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt, but it just seemed a pretentious exercise in shock value and a piece of film vomit the likes of which I have never seen, nor do I intend to ever see again, if I can help it.
If the director is sort of like God, creating worlds on film, I wonder what kind of sick pleasure a director derives from torturing not only the audience, but also his actors. Actors were abused in the making of A Hole in my Heart. The purpose is unclear to me. If it's meant to be an indictment of how low the human race can sink, there may be less atrocious and less pretentious (which is the graver sin) ways to show it. I don't like movies to be sunny and happy and feelgood, but I don't like them to be relentlessly sordid either. A Hole in My Heart is revolting yet tries to have redeeming qualities, like finding the humanity and pathos in its grossly stupefied, depraved characters, but to me it's just an excuse to be sadistic and confrontational with the audience and not an intelligent one at that.
However, 24 year-old Louis Malle came to the rescue with a stylish, entertaining piece of fluff, Elevator to the Gallows (1959), which is completely preposterous but beautiful and cool and has a magnificent score by Miles Davis. It also has Jeanne Moreau and the adorably gruff Lino Ventura and oodles of panache. It was Malle's first feature, (before it he shot fish for Jacques Cousteau) and it makes you believe in the possibilities of film with far more eloquence and verve that some benighted exercise in filth can ever do.


  1. why do you say haneke is remaking
    funny games...'alas.' i can think of no actress better for the role than the actress from mulholland drive. no one w/as much range or depth (compare her betty & diane). i would also add king kong & 21g, where the nytimes claimed she was the most eloquent sufferer in the history of sound film. & the female character in funny games does suffer. of course, imdb says she is still in talks, as opposed to starring next in cronenberg's eastern promises about the international sex trade. from my point of view, the funny games characters are merely victims w/o driving the film, as she is in her other films. in other words, i think watts is too good for funny games.

  2. I have absolutely nothing against Miss Watts, except unfettered jealousy. The alas refers to the remake. What is the point of a filmmaker remaking a film for Hollywood?
    Is it that Haneke wants to inflict suffering on the biggest possible number of people? Is it a complete sell-out?
    It will be interesting to see if Haneke succumbs to the dumbing down that Hollywood expects.
    Look at The Ring, another Naomi Watts vehicle. Same director, yet the original Japanese movie is so much better than the remake.