Posts Tagged ‘Cannes Film Festival’

Martyrs: Ever since its screening in 2008 at the Cannes Film Festival, Martyrs has bludgeoned through the hearts and minds of every other self-fashioned gore aficionado. With director Pascal Laugier bringing copious amounts of paroxysmal violence, the stench of blood and nihilism is almost too beautiful to resist. Moreover the ferocity with which this film transforms from a typical revenge slasher into a dadaist case of spiritual buggery is like a vicious punch to the side of your neck; you don’t exactly get knocked the fuck out, but rather your limbs gently collapse, muscle by muscle, cartilage by cartilage, as you crumble to the floor like a newborn giraffe would if its mother accidentally (or intentionally if it had a sense of humour) tripped it. This isn’t your standard El Roth‘s dorky horror picture show where the violence doesn’t go beyond oohs and ahhs. This is the newest new wave of French cinema bringing the oh fuck nos and oh god whys. This is Layne Staley singing, “you’d be well advised not to plan your funeral before the body dies”.

Matter of fact, Martyrs would have worked just as well either as a supernatural or a slasher film; the director would have had us by the balls no matter what, chewing nails and colouring happy thoughts in our heads like rainbows or waterfalls. It wasn’t just the feral progression of the plot that made the film an affecting piece of art, its relentless pacing and showcasing of violence was almost sacred considering how quarantined our television sets are from the true nature of evil.

Actresses Morjana Alaoui and Mylène Jampanoï, who play Anna and Lucie, make us care deeply about their characters, as they dig deep to appear as transcended through anathema as humanly possible. Lucie’s personal demons manifesting as a shrieking phantasm is one of the scariest I’ve seen in horror films. It makes the onryō in Ju-on look like Charlie Brown after a severe limb severing accident and a lifetime of crack addiction. Catherine Bégin as Mademoiselle and her motley cult go Henry David Thoreau on us with their ‘more than spittle, than tears, than entrails, than dry blood, give us truth’ shenanigans; anyone of them could easily walk into the set of a Nazi exploitation film and seek gainfully employement.

Now, if you’re the sort who desperately needed to know what Bill Murray whispers to  Scarlett Johansson, then Martyrs‘ final dialogue might drive you up the wall. You might start theorizing cinema and shit, making all sorts of weird faces, trying to figure out what was it that Mademoiselle heard. Is there a soul? Is God a woman? Can Batman actually kick Superman’s ass? None of these questions are actually answered but when the premise is so unflinchingly brutal, do we really need to care?


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wernerIt has been quite the pleasure devouring Werner Herzog’s filmography in high-definition. Unlike most other DVD box sets, never once did this collection seem even a trifle overwhelming in content. Whilst it would have made me a happier person if the TV specials – Herdsmen Of The Sun, The Transformation Of The World Into Music and a few others – had been included, I still can’t honesty complain considering that some of these films have made me feel incorrigibly wonderful for ever having stumbled upon this melancholic German fellow. Over the past weeks, the elation has reached such dizzying heights that I am almost at a slight loss for words. The reviews are shorter than usual to accommodate such delightful handicaps.

Letzte Worte (Last Words): Shot in 1968, this one’s an experimental short film about a strange man brought back to civilization from an isolated leper colony. Letzte Worte showed traces of the narrative style of filmmaking that Herzog later proved to be a master of. The humour is omnipresent and goes well with redundancies in dialogue a.k.a Iranian belch cinema.

LebenszeichenLebenszeichen (Signs Of Life): Later that year, Herzog released his debut full-length film about a German paratrooper going insane while patrolling the Greek island of Kos during WW II. For movie geeks out there, legend has it that this supposedly inspired Stephen King to pen The Shining, which of course gave the world the gift that was Jack Nicholson’s psychotic side. In Lebenszeichen, actor Peter Brogle holds it back so much during the initial moments that during when he eventually goes cuckoo, the audience is left breathless; not at the brutality of his actions, but rather at the extent of his change. Oh it is based on a short story called Der Tolle Invalide Auf Dem Fort Ratonneau by German writer Achim von Arnim.

Even Dwafs Started SmallAuch Zwerge Haben Klein Angefangen (Even Dwarves Started Small): His sophomore film was about a group of dwarfs rebelling against the guards and the director himself on the remote Canary Islands. It doesn’t take long for one to realize that David Lynch could probably be America’s answer to Werner Herzog in about ten years (with more maturity and less misogyny). Of course, by then, Herzog would be Germany’s answer to God. Engineered food fights, a pig killing, floral pyromania, a monkey crucifiction and a bunch of other epically surreal scenes had me asking myself, Then how come great directors don’t start small?

Fata Morgana: Herzog once described the 1971 film as “a documentary shot by extraterrestrials from the Andromeda Nebula, and left behind.” Who else thinks he should review films? He’d so sound like Ebert on downers. Based on the Mayan creation myth of Creation, Paradise and The Golden Age, Fata Morgana was shot on the southern Sahara region of Africa. Needles to say, the cinematography is breathtaking, as is the soundtrack comprising mostly Leonard Cohen’s ballads, Blind Faith and classical interludes. It should be said that Herzog has tried his best to keep Fata Morgana out of the sci fi category and despite the fact that it’s about aliens landing in the Sahara desert, he has succeeded. I’d sooner categorize this into ‘pleasant nightmares’.

Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes (Aguire, Wrath Of God): Not since words failed me a few hours after watching Clockwork Orange (they still do), have I felt this ill-equipped to review a film. I could try and probably pull off something vaguely funny and philosophical, but I’d be doing everyone injustice. I’ll lead you to the mind of Roger Ebert for a great review of my favourite Herzog film of all time.

The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver SteinerDie Große Ekstase des Bildschnitzers Steiner (The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner): Werner Herzog’s lifelong fascination with ski-jumpers comes alive in this 1974 short film that is based on the story of Swiss ski-jumping champion and erstwhile woodcarver Walter Steiner. Apart from filming the breathtaking ski-jump scenes that seem like the illegitimate children of Video Zonkers and Jacques Cousteau, Herzog also gives you glimpses of Steiner’s painful shyness, which moves you just as much. Popol Vuh’s haunting music only adds to the intensity.

The Enigma of Kaspar HauserJeder Für Sich Und Gott Gegen Alle (The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser): Based on the legend of Kaspar Hauser – “a mysterious foundling in 19th century Germany famous for his claim to have grown up in the total isolation of a darkened cell” – this 1974 film won Herzog a nice grand jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival. On a personal note, I’d like to say that this is my second-favourite film of the collection. With the Kaspar myth already drenched in mystery, Herzog adds to the mystique by casting German actor Bruno Schleinstein as the lead.

For those who don’t already know, Bruno had a fucked up life that made Drew Barrymore’s look like a Walt Disney animated feature with talking animals. Born “as the illegitimate son of a prostitute, he was often beaten as a child, and spent much of his youth in mental institutions.” Fantastically, much like Kaspar Hauser himself, Bruno too had a great ear for music. People say that he was quite proficient in the piano, accordion and glockenspiel. Come to think of it, this is the only Herzog film, in which the actor upstages him as a performer.

Mit Mir Will Keiner Spielen (No One Will Play With Me): It was only a matter of time before the director had something to say about innocence lost. This obscure (hahahaha) 1976 short film is apparently based on the stories, which he had once heard from the children themselves. It’s depressing, yes it is. Sort of like Children of Heaven, but without the miracles. Life, as Werner Herzog might tell you, is already a frightening miracle. Why want more?

heart_of_glass12Herz aus Glas (Heart Of Glass): I wish I had some sort of technical acumen when it comes to interpreting cinematography. Maybe then I could tell you in length just how friggin beautiful this film looks and feels. For now, deal with fanboy amateurism. Heart Of Glass is set in an 18th century Bavarian town known for a factory that produces red ruby glasses. When a veteran glass blower dies, so does the legend of the blood-soaked glasses. What it results in is not very pretty to think of but leave it to the director to squeeze every ounce of beauty from it. Why cinematographers don’t give free foot massages to Herzog, I’ll never know.

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