Thursday, June 24, 2010

Candy Mountain (Robert Frank & Rudy Wurlitzer, 1988)

Robert Frank, that most notable of great American photographers to emerge from the post-war period, and novelist/screenwriter Rudy Wurlitzer collaborated on the quirky and offbeat 1988 road movie, Candy Mountain. It's a charming and somewhat forgotten ode to the road, myth, music, and what it means to truly be free. The film announces itself as a unique presence immediately, as the main credits are presented in a non-traditional sideways scroll over a meditative shot of downtown skyscrapers. We are then introduced to Julius Book (Kevin J. O'Connor), a construction worker taking in the cityscape through the window of a high-rise building being worked on. He seems to be in deep contemplation, and after a few seconds, casually walks out on his job with a liberated expression on his face, having apparently made some kind of crucial life decision. His decision: to be a musician. Well, a successful one at least. In fact, it's tough to discern at moments in the film whether Julius is more passionate about the music, or its capitalist possibilities. He goes to retrieve his guitar from a couple of hoods (one played by the legendary Joe Strummer), and instead of getting his guitar back, they give him a no-paying gig with rock musician Keith Burns (David Johansen, of New York Dolls fame.) Julius struggles during the rehearsal - it's clear that he's not a terribly promising musician - and is on his way to getting booted from the gig, when he hears Burns gushing about a wonderful guitar, made by one Elmore Silk. "Who's Elmore Silk?" Julius asks a young boy nearby. "Only the best goddamn acoustic guitar maker in the country" the boy replies.

Julius ends up convincing Burns that he knows Silk - whose reputation at this point has been elevated to near mythical status, due to no one having seen him in many years - and is hired by Burns as well as a core of Silk's other friends to find the legendary guitar maker. His guitars sell for a fortune, the cheapest around $20,000, and if Julius is able to track the man and his instruments down, it will ensure him the capital and means to go about getting the ball rolling on his own career. Up until this point, the film is an intriguing character study on the enigmatic Julius, a chronic liar and terrible boyfriend who wishes for nothing more than to hit the road and pursue the dream of a successful music career, a performance anchored down by the soulful and goofy rockabilly-swagger of O'Connor (recently seen in There Will Be Blood as Daniel's "brother" Henry.) But then the film really comes to life as it shifts into an utterly charming road picture, as Julius hits the highway in search of the mysterious Silk. Candy Mountain takes a vignetted approach to the rest of its story, as Julius swoops from one encounter to another, meeting up with various people from Elmore's past in the form of friends, family, and old lovers, who give out bits and pieces of information on Silk that collectively shed light on the myth that surrounds the man. Among the people Julius encounters: Elmore's brother, Al (Tom Waits), a successful former musician who lives in opulence; his daughter (Laurie Metcalf), a poor, troubled brat living in a dysfunctional situation at a trailer park; and Cornelia (the great Bulle Ogier), an old flame living in a cabin taking care of her ailing mother.

The vignettes all range from sweet (the Ogier one) and surreal (Julius gets taken as a prisoner in the home of a Canadian constable and his father) to arbitrary (one involving a woman hunting a deer felt entirely tacked on), but the movie nevertheless retains a consistently gentle vibe beneath the raucous unpredictability of its events. Director Frank's photographic eye captures the striking beauty of the various countrysides with picturesque splendor, and the soundtrack - mostly comprised of a soft acoustic rock guitar with contributions from Dr. John, Leon Redbone and Rita Macneil - provides a nostalgically Americana companion for the equally evocative photography. There is also an interesting motif involving automobiles that runs through the movie; every time Julius arrives in a new place, he ends up leaving in a different vehicle, due to an assortment of complications. It serves a slight slapstick function, as many of the vehicles are damaged or lost in eccentric ways and played for a laugh. But it also works as a necessary reminder that Julius' journey should, in a way, be one of self-discovery. The character is slowly stripped of all material possessions by the elements in an almost conspiratorial fashion, but continues to rumble forward with ideals in tow, completely oblivious to the simple beauty and human pleasures that surround him at every turn.

Eventually, Julius does find Elmore Silk (the great character actor Harris Yulin). He was once like Julius, the film hints at. Young, eager, idealistic and passionate about music. He's now settled into a small cabin somewhere west of Niagara Falls, and as Julius meets him, is selling a crop of a dozen guitars to a mysterious Asian buyer, and as part of the deal, must destroy all other guitars he's made and pledge to never make another. It's no problem for the man, he is content and has found happiness in his life, but Julius is incredulous that his meal ticket has just been ripped in half. Elmore then takes Julius around his small town and attempts to teach him the merits of soaking in your surroundings, providing the emotional climax of the film in a single line of dialogue: "I say freedom doesn't have much to do with the road, one way or the other." The film ends with Julius hitch-hiking out of the Canadian town, and it's entirely ambiguous as to whether he's even learned anything through all of this. It's a simple and sincere way for the movie to close. The message of Candy Mountain - that freedom is the ability to enjoy what you've got - isn't terribly original, but is conveyed with so much honesty and sincerity that its impact contains far more punch than a whole slew of other movies with loads more ambition aspire to. Candy Mountain has a real feel for the human heart, and verve to spare, and through its sheer sense of freedom and rambunctious spirit is able to capture, in its own way, the very essence of rock and roll.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Sea as Cinema : Takeshi Kitano's A Scene at the Sea (1991)

Shigeru is a deaf trashman, and the sea tells him a story. He finds a broken surfboard one day while on the job, repairs it with some spare styrofoam, and immediately walks to the water as though a man possessed. He attempts to surf, and is laughed at by the locals as the waves repeatedly toss him from his board. He returns day after day to practice, and eventually becomes a competent, if not good, surfer. But mostly he sits and watches. The watching is the important part, the meaningful part. One even gets the sense that, for Shigeru, the surfing is merely an attempt to physically reconcile the profound lure of the vast, mysterious ocean with his own life force. He is often accompanied by his girlfriend - who may or may not also be deaf - and together the pair sit on the beach, as though spectators in a theater, observing and contemplating the limitless blue screen before them that seems to encompass no less than everything in life worth feeling .

Takeshi Kitano's superb A Scene at the Sea is, on its surface, the story of a tender and delicate romance between two people whose relationship is completely devoid of all verbal communication. They relate to each other not so much through body and sign language, but rather through that innate sense of knowledge and anticipation shared between two people whose souls are fundamentally intertwined. It's also about a man who aims to break the doldrums of a stale existence through finding a passion in life and seizing it with every ounce of intensity he can summon. But above all it is a film about deep observance. Almost every character is shown at one point observing another from a distance, as though they were a viewer looking in on the detached reality that is another person's life. And everyone looks at the sea.

My mind keeps returning to Kitano's exquisite compositions, deliberately framing the couple and other characters staring at the sea as though they were viewers sitting in the front row of some kind of production. A Scene at the Sea thus contains many scenes involving surfing, but is itself not really about surfing. It is about how, to a degree, our observances shape us, and about how our intermingling with and manipulation of the elements (the image) can have the ability to lead us to a further appreciation of life. Shigeru is hypnotized by the aura of the sea, observes it, and is compelled to interact with it. Filmmakers observe life, and attempt to capture it. All of this is to feel something, to find some truth, to transcend, to synchronize, to do many different things. And in the greatest instances of success, they can have the ability to enrich our perspective and appreciation.

The ending of the film, in some abstract way, flirts with perfection. Shigeru's girlfriend stands at the edge of the ocean, with Shigeru's surfboard in hand, and tapes a picture of the two of them to the board before releasing it out into the water. The last shot we get is of the photograph, a captured memory of a specific time and place, stuck to the floating piece of foam, doomed to get lost in the expansive body of water that will endure countless lifetimes and continue to lure people in with its mysteries and sensual beauty. A Scene at the Sea is a wonderful film, probably my favorite within Kitano's disjointed but fascinating career. It's a deep, reflexive meditation on life and love, cinema and surfing, observance and incorporation, and filling the gaps in our life with wonder.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Tape (Richard Linklater, 2001)

Richard Linklater's Tape is a taut and claustrophobic character study, a filmed version of Stephen Belber's one act play of the same name. It takes place in real time over one night, entirely within the walls of a single, seedy hotel room, as three old high school friends are reunited in an unexpected way to sort out the details of a troubling incident from the past, one that may or may not have even occured. It's a film whose unornate, simple setting and facile premise belies numerous emotional complexities and resonant human themes, and for me it stands out as one of the more underrated spots in Linklater's prolific and notable career.

The first sound we hear is a beer can being cracked open, and the first image we see is the same beer being poured right into a toilet. We then get a shot of Ethan Hawke's character, Vince, pouring the beer out with one hand while chugging a full beer with his other. It's a brilliant bit to open with, as the movie has barely begun, and already the audience is being challenged by this illogical act to question the motivations of a character whose intentions will be nothing but murky and questionable throughout the film's duration. Vince fidgets anxiously around his hotel, snapping his fingers and doing push-ups in an all around nervous state, as he anticipates the arrival of his oldest friend Jon (Robert Sean Leonard), an independent filmmaker who is in town for the Lansing film festival to premier his new movie. Jon arrives shortly after the film's opening moments, and is happy to see Vince, who's traveled a long way from Oakland to spend the eve of Jon's big premier with him, getting some drinks and dinner, and catching up.

The pair have clearly hit separate paths since their high school days: Jon is poshly dressed and carries himself with an air of intellectual sophistication, while Vince is a gruff deadbeat; abrasive, aggressive, immature and dressed in boxer shorts with a wife beater tank. Jon casts more than one ambivalent look towards Vince's direction in their initial interactions, the first clue for the audience that there possibly lies a crevice beneath the friendly veneer of their reunion. The two sit around, smoke a joint, and chat. Jon tries to convince Vince that his occupation as a drug dealer is immature and beneath him. Vince mentions that Amy, a former girlfriend of his, lives right there in Lansing, he's just found out. Jon is surprised to learn this, and after some slight arguing, the truth behind their tension finally comes out: after Vince and Amy broke up back in high school, Jon slept with her one night at a party, and Vince has held a grudge ever since. But is that the whole truth? Vince begins interrogating Jon with an alarming urgency regarding suspicions that he actually raped Amy that night. It's here that the film takes a fascinating turn and Hawke begins to shine in one of the best roles of his career, revealing Vince layer by layer as a cunning and calculating mind with an agenda. He admits that he's gotten Jon stoned on purpose to make it easier for him to spill the truth, and after a particularly aggressive line of questioning, Vince finally gets him to admit that he did in fact rape Amy that night, and that their intimacy was hardly consensual.

Linklater shot Tape in digital, mostly using a handheld camera, making it one of the earlier films to be shot entirely in the format, and it works quite well. Between the digital photography, the handheld technique, and the cramped quarters of the hotel, there is a gritty and intensely personal feel to watching these characters interact. The scenes with Hawke interrogating Leonard are shot in single takes, with the handheld camera swooshing back and forth between the two as their exchange becomes increasingly heated and accusatory, and the effect gives the words a sharp, stabbing quality, that alongside the gravity of the situation being discussed, makes the scene exponentially more uncomfortable than it has any business being. Vince keeps a bag filled with drugs in the corner of the room, checking on them periodically, and after finally getting the admission of rape out of Jon's mouth, Vince reveals that along with the drugs, the bag also contains a running tape recorder, one that has just captured Jon's confession. Jon is floored by this sucker punch act of betrayal, along with the decimation of a life long friendship, now gone in the blink of an eye. Vince couldn't care less about their friendship, it becomes apparent, and makes clear his motivations at hand: he's in fact already spoken with Amy, and she'll be arriving at the hotel soon for what she thinks is a simple dinner with Vince. With tape in hand, Vince aims to pressure Jon into admitting and apologizing to Amy in person for his actions that one night. Of course, Vince has less than altruistic reasons for doing all of this; he is a man whose ego was profoundly cracked and wounded by what he saw as a betrayal from a best friend and girlfriend, and he seeks revenge and a form of closure through this manipulative plan.

Amy (Uma Thurman) arrives, and the stage is set for Vince's grand scheme to come together. The suspense builds as we wait for the issue to inevitably be brought up, and when it finally is, Belber's screenplay throws a curveball: Amy remembers the events of the night entirely different, as a completely consensual experience, just a little rough is all. And now it is Amy's turn to wield the power of the Incident, a power Vince initially held over Jon through his interrogation, and now which the incredulous Amy holds over both of the men, as she hits the pair with some harsh truths, and probes their individually selfish motivations for getting to the root of what happened that night. Since it never becomes clear what exactly did happen, it's obvious that the goal here is to explore the theme of subjective experience, and how multiple people can come away from a mutual experience with entirely different views of what happened. Can a rape exist without an accuser? Amidst all of this, the film manages to touch on a profound human sadness: how sex, the most intimate of all physical acts, can still be a cold and disconnected encounter when experienced between people who are not in love. Amy, however, was in love that night, and as such feels entitled to the last word. As she finally tells Jon, who continues to apologize for a rape that he's not being accused of, "Your problem is that you want the last word. But it's not yours to have."

The greatest success of Tape is that, throughout it all, the film feels entirely believable. The dialogue is realistic and unaffected, and the characters remain true to how someone would probably act in a situation such as this. Even Hawke's character, the Machiavellian man-child Vince, is believable in his over-the-top obnoxiousness and immaturity. Deep-seated resentments are a dangerous and volatile thing, and can affect behavior in fundamentally bizarre ways; I've seen it myself. At 86 minutes, Tape doesn't overstay it's welcome, and as compelling as the action that occurs on the screen is, what's going on internally with the characters at any given moment is of significantly more interest, thus giving even the quieter moments throughout the running time a complexity of their own. Linklater's body of work is eclectic and impressive, including the classic high school stoner flick Dazed and Confused, the rotoscoping mind benders Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly, and Before Sunset and After Sunset, a pair of films I consider to be among the greatest from the Romance genre in at least the last quarter century. Tape intelligently tackles such hefty themes as human subjectivity, memory, resentment and guilt, and while it lacks the flash and high profile of some of Linklater's other works, I wouldn't pause to mention it in the same breath as those excellent films. It's a real sleeper within a great career, and a gripping, resonant experience.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Paris n'existe pas (Robert Benayoun, 1969)

First of all, just take a look at the poster. That is a movie poster. If I'm walking around France in the late 60's and see that poster hanging in the wall of my favorite movie house, I'm seeing that movie. End of discussion. Alas, Paris n'existe pas, a wannabe-heady but ultimately hollow post-New Wave exercise in time travel and philosophic pontification, fails to live up to the unmitigated coolness of the poster and the potential of its premise. Said premise involves a young French painter named Simon (Richard Lecud), who one night smokes a joint at a party and quickly develops an array of supernatural abilities, among them the power to move objects at will and the power to receive premonitions of insignificant events a few moments before they happen. Simon lives in a cramped apartment flat with his girlfriend, and soon begins receiving visions of a previous tenant who lived in the apartment 30 years ago, a single, attractive lady. He develops something of a voyeuristic relationship with the image of the woman, who is frequently shown in the middle of intimate acts, such as getting ready for bed and bathing, and watches her with a quiet intensity and curiosity as she moves through his apartment like a phantom. As his mysterious visions and sensitivity to time continue to increase in both intensity and frequency, Simon soon finds himself wandering the streets of Paris, on the brink of losing his mind.

There is an enjoyable air of mystery in the first half hour or so of the movie, as we view Simon's rapid evolution into this Billy Pilgrim-esque character stuck out of time, and wonder what exactly has happened to him. Was the pot he smoked laced with some sort of psychedelic substance? No, his friend assures him. It was good stuff, but not that good. Much is made at the beginning of the movie on how Simon has been plagued by an annoying bout of painter's block for some time, and my first thought while watching was that director Robert Benayoun was possibly presenting a sort of abstract tale of an artist's bottled up creative drive manifesting itself in the every day world. But it unfortunately becomes pretty apparent by the midway point of Paris n'existe pas that Benayoun is using his premise merely as a means of waxing philosophic on the concept of time in decidedly uninteresting ways, such as in the many scenes that take place between Simon and his friend Laurent (Serge Gainsbourg, who also wrote the score) that involve the pair espousing trite, half-baked philosophic conceits back and forth on the future and the past and what separates the two. The last half of the film almost entirely revolves around Simon wandering the streets of Paris, catching little premonitions here and there but otherwise completely oblivious to his surroundings, and rapidly losing touch with himself. And that's pretty much it, nothing really happens other than, well, a lot of wandering. It grows thin pretty fast. The main problem seems to be that Simon is as much a mystery to the audience as his condition is to him, and we are simply given no reason at all to care about watching this man ramble around aimlessly. The film is flimsy intellectually, visually undistinguished (aside from the occasional use of stop motion and stock black-and-white footage to accentuate the time predicament), and without any deep sense of mystery, we are left with a rather tedious and trying experience passing itself off as something profound.

If I talk about what bothered me about the movie however, I have to also point out what I liked about it, and I did indeed enjoy aspects of Paris n'existe pas. Serge Gainsbourg composed a rich and haunting orchestral score for the film that works at infusing the accompanying images with a certain nostalgia and sense of foreboding, particularly in the sequences with Simon and the phantom lady in his apartment. That story, by the way, gets more play than I gave the impression of, as it does receive a good bit of focus in the middle part of the film. Those sequences are probably the best in the film, as they are the only ones where I got any kind of sense that Benayoun had a distinct vision with what he was doing here. One particular scene, involving Simon and his girlfriend making love in their bed with the phantom lady in the background listening to an old record player, is extremely striking stuff and anticipates the vibes of the masterful haunted house sequences that would come 5 years later in Rivette's Celine and Julie Go Boating, to such a degree in fact that I wouldn't be shocked to learn that Rivette had seen and been inspired by that particular moment.

Researching director Robert Benayoun online provided some limited but interesting information. It seems that Benyoun was a film critic who wrote for the French film publication Positif, and was also occasionally published in Cahiers du Cinema. He is probably best remembered for being one of the more rabid enthusiasts of comedian Jerry Lewis, having both written a book and filmed a documentary on the performer. He was a solid supporter of the Surrealist movement, and was supposedly anti-Godard, taking the opportunity to speak out against the man's work whenever given the opportunity. I find the last thing, about Godard, to be particularly interesting if true. Early on in Paris n'existe pas, the characters launch a verbal attack on the shallowness of modern art and the shocking lack of feel in it, a sentiment that seems to be shared by Benayoun, displayed through some choice editing and the incorporation of American cartoon strips in a less than positive light. It's interesting to think that this film could have been Benayoun's cinematic rebuttal against the films of the New Wave movement, possibly the modern art he found to be shallow and without feel (a quick perusal of Benayoun's top 10 lists from 1963-1968, found here, show only one instance of inclusion of a New Wave heavy hitter - Truffaut's Stolen Kisses (1968).) But while the films of the New Wave largely remain bold, invigorating works that are ripe with intellectual and emotional stimulation, Paris n'existe pas is for the most part unfocused, fruitless, and indeed, without feel. In a way it's a hollow shell of a film, one that's interesting to look at and to think about, until you realize that there's nothing really going on inside. But at least we will always have that kickass poster.
On a completely unrelated note, I decided to take advantage of the new Blogger Design feature, and give the site a new look. I was never really satisfied with the old template I chose, and feel that this new look both suits the blog and reflects me a little better. Please feel free to leave any feedback, positive or negative, on the new look. Thanks!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Holy Girl (Lucrecia Martel, 2004)

The films of Argentine auteur Lucrecia Martel are some of the more enigmatic and wonderful cinematic discoveries I've made in the past year. Characterized by their hypnotic pacing and subtle tensions, Martel's work is often sensitive to race and class, and intensely interested in the fragility of the human psyche and the malleability of perception. The first of her three feature films to date, 2001's La Cienaga (The Swamp), was an eerie and atmospheric look at a pair of households coping with the extreme summer heat amidst bubbling familial tensions. Her most recent film was 2008's The Headless Woman, a quiet portrait of a woman who experiences amnesia and complete emotional disconnect after possibly running over and killing another person with her automobile. While La Cienaga entranced me from the beginning and felt as assured as any feature debut I've seen in recent memory, my first viewing of The Headless Woman left me a bit cold, I'll be honest. But images and moments lingered in my mind, and subsequent viewings have convinced me that the latter is indeed a near-masterpiece; a complex and elliptical examination of a mind quietly ravaged by guilt, staggering in both it's emotional subtlety and lyricism, all anchored by the phenomenal performance of Maria Onetto as the titular woman-sans-cabeza. I was eager to bridge my experiences with these two haunting works by watching Martel's 2004 feature, suggestively titled The Holy Girl. Thankfully, it proved to be every bit as challenging and fascinating a film as the other two.

The Holy Girl primarily takes place in a decrepit old Argentine hotel named Hotel Termas. The hotel is run by Helena (Mercedes Moran), who lives there along with her daughter, a teenager named Amalia (a memorable Maria Alche), who always seems to be wearing a perpetual scowl to match her cold eyes. Amalia is a student at an all girl Catholic school, along with her best friend Josefina (Julieta Zylberberg), and when the pair are not in class, they spend their time wandering the old hotel and gossiping and flirting with boys. A medical convention is set to take place within the hotel in a matter of days, and as the film starts we witness doctors from all over arriving for the event. We will follow one of the doctors in particular, Dr. Jano (Carlos Belloso), a meek Otolaryngologist who has left his family back home while he attends the conference. One day after school, Amalia is watching a street musician perform, and Dr. Jano casually slinks up behind her and begins grinding his crotch on her behind. He walks away a short time later, leaving Amalia standing in a profound daze, stunned and trying to make sense of what's just happened. It is indeed part of the great mystery of The Holy Girl exactly what effect the incident has had on Amalia, and soon she begins stalking Jano, sneaking up on him in public places for moments of transient physical contact, and even spying on him as he relaxes in the hotel pool in one particularly memorable scene. Meanwhile, Jano has attracted the eye of Helena, who is charmed and intrigued by the quiet doctor, and the two begin something of a courtship, Helena having no clue that Jano has molested her daughter, and Jano being entirely unaware that Helena is Amalia's mother. Martel follows these stories with an observant eye as they eventually converge and lead to an unpredictable yet inevitable ending, one which contains secrets spilled, lives changed and bonds stronger than ever.

And yet, by the end of The Holy Girl, much like Martel's other films, not much feels resolved. There is a deep ambiguity in the way Martel seems to analyze her characters without speculating; we still, for instance, don't know what to make of Amalia by the end of the film. She consciously makes the decision to take Jano on as her "mission", but to what end? It is fascinating to watch as the relationship between Amalia's actions and intentions become increasingly more complex and difficult to discern. Is she using the molestation simply as a way of empowering herself with the ability to forgive? Is this need triggered by a possible lack of faith that lies beneath her stoic, deliberate exterior? Or is she simply using the situation as a means of exploring her budding sexuality in a way that doesn't compromise her religious ideals? Are the events in the film the actions of a cunning, curious youth, or something more ominous? Who exactly is the victim by the film's end? The questions are complex and endless, and there are no easy answers. Martel reserves all judgement, and the film benefits tremendously, leaving the viewer with an array of rich and challenging possibilities to ponder.

Martel has cast her film wisely, and the acting in The Holy Girl as a whole is nothing short of excellent. Alche as Amalia is sympathetic and mysterious, with a hint of menace in her burning stare, one that almost suggests a creepy omnipresence. Her and Zylberberg do tremendous jobs of depicting young women for whom sexual awakening is right on the cusp, and yet still possess a great deal of immaturity, as evident in their indulgence in urban legends and frivolous gossip and displays of careless physical dares. Mercedes Moran as the mother gives a wonderful performance as a kindhearted woman jaded by years of business and scorned love, one whose hardened facade slips away in a moments notice with the slightest bit of emotional attention paid to her. And Carlos Belloso inhabits his role as Jano, playing the perverted doctor at exactly the right pitch, as a man painted into an increasingly smaller corner, keeping one eye open at all times with an innocuous yet worried smile plastered on his face, as though he's afraid the mask will fall off at any moment. Even the supporting actors offer up lasting impressions, in particular the stunningly gorgeous Mia Maestro as the school teacher who's the source of gossip, and Alejandro Urdapilleta as Amalia's uncle Freddy, whose a-little-to-close-for-comfort relationship with Helena carries a creepy ambiguity all its own.

Martel's strong sense of atmosphere has always been one of the aspects of her cinema that's resonated with me the most (just watch the first 5 minutes of La Cienaga as an example), and again it carries a strong presence in The Holy Girl, with the dilapidated, ramshackle old hotel, somehow evocative in its grimy drabness, providing an appropriately moody setting for the simmering and mysterious emotional undercurrents running throughout the film. Martel in particular makes wonderful use of the hotel's swimming pool (swimming pools are prominent in all of Martel's films), a dirty and lonesome location where some of the film's strangest moments take place. Martel's films are also notable for their intricately detailed sound design, and again this is quite prominent in The Holy Girl, where (similarly to The Headless Woman) important conversations and snippets of dialogue and significant noises are occasionally heard off-screen, mixed-in with the ambiance of the busy hotel, and so the challenge is up to the viewer to - in addition to soaking in the images - sift through the audio for pertinent info, resulting in an uncommonly demanding (and extremely rewarding) viewing experience, even for the most ardent of cinephiles.

"What makes a story or what it tells" says Martel on a making-of feature from the DVD of The Holy Girl "isn't something so cerebral and direct. It's very emotional and mysterious." This stands out to me as a wonderful approach for one to take towards her work. Martel's cinema isn't satisfying in a traditional sense. Her films ask for high levels of attention from the eyes, ears, and brain, as well as a significant amount of patience, and even then a single viewing is sometimes not enough for a viewer to digest the experience. In fact, her films often feel like ones that are designed to be tough to digest on first viewings, films whose first viewings function in effect as primers for the second viewing. But when her work hits - as it did in a very big way for me with The Holy Girl - it hits on a profoundly affecting and mysterious level. The Holy Girl, like both La Cienaga and The Headless Woman, is a haunting examination of the mysteries of human nature, one which appeals to the intellect by way of its searingly complex and cryptic emotional pull, and one that challenges the viewer to a degree that not many films do these days. It's an experience that I won't soon forget, and a more than worthy entry in the young filmography of one of world cinema's most unique and talented voices.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Scenes From A Career #5 - The Haunting Faces of David Lynch


This whole world's wild at heart and weird on top.