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|SHADOWS ARTHOUSE FILMS ’04|
On this page: THE CORPORATION | THE HILLSIDE STRANGLER
LOOK AT ME | OLDBOY | TARNATION
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The film is densely compiled with information about the concept of the corporation, from its beginnings in the industrial era through to world domination now, including the repercussions. We don't really need a series of some 40 talking heads to tell us this. Corporations are legally required to put financial interests ahead of the public good, so it's no surprise that the result is a planet plundered to within an inch of its life. But the filmmakers bas it firmly on research and interviews, which makes it strongly compelling.
They also do some very clever things, taking the Supreme Court's legal definition of a corporation as "a person" and then asking a psychologist what kind of person that would be (answer: a psychopath). They stir in lots of witty archive footage from old movies and news stories, along with some mini-dramas (such as Akre and Wilson's appalling story of a Fox News whitewash). We pick up lots of concepts and terms, such as "externality", meaning anything a corporation causes that someone else will have to deal with. And it quickly becomes clear that a system that uses up the planet's animal, vegetable, mineral and human resources only to make money is completely unsustainable.
As it goes, the film gets increasingly technical/political, with lots of fascinating people chattering straight to camera. If we stick with it, we're rewarded with a terrifying portrait of the global economic and political system and a strong sense of moral responsibility. Most chilling is the clear explanation about how corporate greed is the new imperialism--building a branded empire that takes over the world as an idea, not necessarily a product. And how corporations are by nature deeply fascist in their structures and goals. There's also a message of hope at the end--but it's radical and difficult, and will only work if everyone starts now. Hmmm. [U some themes] 4.Oct.04
|THE HILLSIDE STRANGLER|
Bianchi (Howell) has a dead-end life in 1977 Rochester, so he heads for Los Angeles to start over, staying with his womanising cousin Buono (Turturro) and eventually finding a girlfriend (Lange). But Bianchi is a compulsive liar, making up virtually everything about himself until no one has a clue who he really is. And Buono uses this to his advantage, encouraging Bianchi into a life of drugs and sex that leads to starting a prostitution ring, then blaming all women in L.A. when it goes horribly wrong.
Even though the film feels somewhat simplistic, there's actually a lot of meaningful subtext here. But it's not easy to get beneath the gawky surface. Parello directs it with a heavy hand that lacks any subtlety at all--it's so matter-of-fact that the awful scenes of violence feel disturbingly exploitative and misogynistic. And the script and performances aren't much better; both feel like they come straight from the too-obvious, unimaginative 1970s! But in a strange way, this gives the film the ring of truth. And it's warmly shot to capture both the period and a sense of authenticity.
Ultimately it's the story that gets under our skin. This is one of the most unusual serial murder cases in history, as two men worked together to rape and kill 15 random young women over the course of two years. It's absolutely horrific to watch Bianchi and Buono play off each other, encouraging their darkest impulses, slowly erasing any restraints until killing is like an addiction. It actually feels more real due to a limited filmmaking style that refuses to glamorise or moralise. There's not a whiff of slick Hollywood anywhere. And it's perhaps as close as a film will ever get to the awful truth. [18 themes, violence, sex, nudity, drugs] 4.Oct.04
|LOOK AT ME [Comme une Image]|
Lolita (Berry) is a slightly overweight 20-year-old who gets no respect from anyone. Her famous writer father (Bacri) is dismissive at best, subtly insulting her every time he calls her by his pet name "my big girl". So it's no surprise that she has no self-image. Even her singing coach Sylvia (Jaoui) is distracted by Lolita's physicality into thinking she's not a good singer--although she is. Meanwhile, Lolita finds it hard to believe that the lovely Sebastien (Bouhiza) actually likes her, and Sylvia's husband (Grevill) tries to bolster his struggling writing career with the help of Lolita's dad.
There are other characters and more intertwined relationships, and all of these people are vividly written and performed. As a director Jaoui assembles the film with polish and brings out subtleties wonderfully, and her script with partner-costar Bacri is full of acerbic comedy, startling insights and cleverly understated comments on human interaction. The complex characters are all deeply flawed--cruel, dismissive, rude and nasty, as well as pathetic, needy and obnoxious--some worse than others, of course. But Jaoui and Bacri don't let anyone off the hook.
This lack of a definitive hero-villain structure is what makes the film exceptionally watchable. Each person does terrible things, and yet we can fully identify with most of them. We begin to understand what makes them like this, especially in Lolita's case, due to her terrible self-image and her cruel father. On the other hand, the father himself is much harder to pin down--why is he so relentlessly self-absorbed and twisted? Some scenes are laugh-out-loud hilarious, while others are extremely chilling. All of which makes the film extremely involving, even if it never tells us anything we didn't know already. [12 themes, language] 5.Oct.04
Dae-su (Choi) is mysteriously kidnapped right outside the home where he lives happily with his wife and daughter. He wakes up in what looks like a hotel room but is actually a prison where he's kept for 15 years. His sudden release is just as mysterious, and he dedicates his life to finding out why this happened to him and who's responsible. He's assisted by an old buddy (Chi) and the pretty sushi chef Mido (Gang), with whom he immediately falls in love. The trail leads to a very odd businessman (Yu) who's pulling the strings. But why?
The story is an action-revenge thriller, but Park maintains a blackly comic tone that's both unnerving and endearing. Despite his erratic personality, we really like Dae-su, and we are just as desperate to solve the mystery of his life as he is. The script is cunningly structured to reveal secrets slowly, making discoveries and connections right up to the final stomach-churning revelation.
Performances are terrific. Choi gets so deeply under Dae-su's skin that we actually worry for his mental well-being. This is completely unhinged acting, and since we're on his side all the way, it works brilliantly. Yu is the other standout, glacially charming and yet we see something sinister and emotionally devastating behind that handsome face.
Meanwhile, Park is taking us on an unforgettable journey, shocking us with murder, mayhem, horrific dentistry and, erm, gruesome eating habits. But the emotional core makes the film special--an undercurrent of sadness, neediness, vulnerability and lack of identity, which as it comes into focus makes the characters wish they were back in the fog of ignorance. It gets a little too grisly and melodramatic at the end, but when the final puzzle piece falls into place, it's a stunner. [18 themes, language, violence, grisliness, sex] 1.Oct.04
When he hears that his mother Renee has taken a lithium overdose, Jonathan travels back through his life, assembling photographs and home movies to tell Renee's harrowing life story. Throughout her childhood in Houston her parents (Rosemary and Adolph) regularly institutionalised her, and her personality was altered through shock therapy. Even so, she married and became a mother, although her husband Steve left without knowing Renee was pregnant with Jonathan. As her shock therapy continued, Jonathan was raised by his grandparents--while dealing with his homosexuality, cinematic obsessions and his own drug-induced mental illness.
The film is constructed with a dreamlike feel that echoes (apparently) Caouette's own mental state; it looks beautiful, with ethereal cross-cutting, telling film and TV clips, lush colours and, most of all, extremely heightened emotions. The home movie footage is startlingly intimate, capturing the intricate structure of this deeply dysfunctional yet loving family and creating vivid movie characters out of each person. Rosemary emerges as the diva of the piece, a forcefully strong personality that infuses the entire film.
The journey these characters take is gripping and often disturbing. A lot of the film is difficult to watch, simply because it's so private! Long takes of Rosemary after her stroke and Renee after her overdose capture the reality of Jonathan's life--these are uncomfortable to see simply because other films would cut away long before Jonathan does. But he is clearly trying to understand himself and his history, and as a result he gives us a deeply meaningful glimpse into what it is that holds a family together and helps us survive whatever life throws at us. This is powerfully moving, revelatory, cathartic filmmaking. And it makes us extremely curious about what kind of narrative features Caouette might have up his sleeve. [15 themes, language, brief nudity] 6.Oct.04
© 2004 by Rich Cline, Shadows
on the Wall