Fragmented Films 9th April 09

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Just so we’re clear that Import Export (Accent) is an art film, it contextualises its shocking and gratuitous moments, then acts all innocent and pretends not to enjoy them, leaving us to do its dirty work and cast judgement. Yet it still goes much further than it needs to, such as when the young Austrian drop-kick walks in on his sleazy stepfather having what he refers to as an ‘anatomy lesson,’ bending over a Ukrainian prostitute and telling her to stick her fingers in her ass – and that’s only the beginning of a scene that gets much much worse. There’s a matter of factness to the way it’s all filmed, like it’s simply a collection of events that just happened to be captured on film. It’s a grim exploration into poverty and morality from Ulrich Seidl (Dog Days), delving into those uncomfortable prejudices that we’d prefer not to think about. It’s a tale of two journeys, a young Ukrainian woman leaves her child and a career in nursing and internet porn behind for the promise of a better life as a cleaner in Austria and our aforementioned Austrian drop-kick gets a job delivering candy machines with his step father in the Ukraine. The scenes in an elderly hospital in particular are incredible, the patients are impossibly old and it’s difficult to imagine they are even acting. And maybe they’re not, as Seidl in the extra features mentions he uses non professional actors and never writes dialogue, offering what some critics have called a ‘grotesque realism,’ to the film. Despite the grimness of the economic inequality, Seidl mines unexpected moments of humor, warmth and beauty within the despair. His film is messy like life, highly stylized and beautifully crafted, though also an intensely powerful and confronting cinematic experience.

Patrick (Umbrella) is one of the seedier (read better) examples of Ozploitation, where a comatose young murderer develops the horn for his nurse and conspires to wreak havoc on any of her prospective suitors. He does this of course without moving a muscle, without blinking, just spitting occasionally. He’s evil, telekinetic, immobile and horny, a pretty special combination. He’s also not altogether subtle in letting the object of his desires know how he feels. Whilst typing a memo his nurse drifts into a daydream. She then looks back at what she’s written. ‘Patrick wants his hand job now.’ It all comes across as a b-grade Alfred Hitchcock homage (rip off), something director Richard Franklin (Psycho 2) acknowledges proudly in his commentary, and he should be proud. Patrick is a cracker.

Ministry of Fear (Directors Suite) is an incredible film noir from German expatriate Fritz Lang (Metropolis). It’s a 1944 adaptation from a Graham Greene novel that sends you on your ass immediately and has you breathlessly playing catch up from then on in. It’s equally measured and ludicrous with great performances from Ray Milland wondering why everyone is so obsessed with cake, and dapper noir sleaze-bag Dan Duryea. Lang’s Western Union (Directors Suite) however is a little less exhilarating, a by the numbers matinee Western which despite some curious point of view shots from buffalos at the beginning plays it nice and predictable for your sunday afternoon viewing.

If the sight of Ghandi attempting to bone Mary Kate Olsen isn’t disturbing enough then perhaps the fact that Sir Ben Kingsley plays a psychiatrist swapping therapy for pot may give you some insight into the disarray at the core of The Wackness (Madman). It’s self conscious American indie cool cinema with a Cameron Crowe like nostalgia for 1994, for coming of age and for troubled folks finding solace in each other. There are some genuine moments of humour and invention here and Ghandi is like we’ve never seen him before, repeatedly hilarious, totally unhinged, swallowing every drug he can find and dispensing curious advice and counseling to our dope dealing teen hero.

Fragmented Films 18th Dec 08

Otto Or, Up With Dead People (Kojo) is a gay zombie film from Bruce La Bruce with the best wound sex since Crash. Whilst it feels calculated to offend, there’s an unexpected depth here, with strong socio political undertones and anti consumerist messages. Yet that’s only if you dig beneath the extreme gore of homosexual zombies literally consuming and mutilating each other by tearing out their intestines with their teeth during sex or wandering down the road munching on decaying roadkill. But they’re also being persecuted, getting beaten up and set on fire by horrible gangs of the living. It’s edgy, at times hilarious cinema, and La Bruce uses some intriguing experimental techniques takes some real risks with sound design. It’s a cool art-house gorefest that’ll keep you away from sausages for a while.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s films are a revelation. He delights in those messy difficult emotions, of love, obsession, loneliness and desire. He has this rough and ready style that initially seems clunky, yet creeps up on you and then turns on you like a spurned lover. He made films quickly with the most uncommercial pretexts, such as a love affair between a middle aged woman and a young Moroccan immigrant. Yet Ali: Fear Eats The Soul (Madman), is incredibly compelling, a reworking Douglas Sirk’s All that Heaven Allows (Madman), that takes a blowtorch to moralistic society. On Sex (Madman), groups together three of his films united by the tragedy of submitting to love. In The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant (1972) and Fox and his Friends (1974), in which Fassbinder himself plays the title role, and even in In a Year with 13 Moons (1978), to be in love is to throw yourself to the mercy of another. That other, is either oblivious to your presence despite the fact that you’ve just had a sex change for him, or fleecing you for everything you’ve got. Neither seem like a good option. Yet despite being hazardous to your health, love in Fassbinder’s hands is all conquering – which would be romantic if the consequences weren’t so dire.

He filmed Lili Marleen (Madman) in 1980 in English with a big budget. It’s an opulent, Sirk influenced melodrama, the tale of the song Lili Marleen that became synonymous with the Nazi war effort, a garish hideously unmusical dirge that Fassbinder repeats endlessly through the film. The kicker is that it evokes something different each time it’s performed, thanks to the trials and tribulations of an impossible love story, the singer who became a propaganda tool for the Nazi’s and her lover who risks his life attempting to get Jews out of Germany. Movies have taught us that love conquers all, and whist Fassbinder agrees unfortunately it doesn’t negate the suffering.

Dan Duryea is Willem Defoe for the 1950’s. He appears in three of the four films in Universal Film Noir: Vol.2 (Aztec), a collection that explores that dark and murky emotional and urban landscape of late 40’s early 50’s America. There’s something incredibly cloying in his manner, yet you can’t take your eyes off him, though that might be because you want to make sure he’s not going to reach through the screen and steal your silverware. In Fritz Lang’s excellent Scarlet Street, he’s a seedy shyster to Edward G Robinson’s straight laced bank clerk, in Criss Cross, he’s the dangerous seedy gangster to Burt Lancaster’s lovelorn straight man and in Black Angel he’s the seedy alcoholic pianist to June Vincent’s virtuous. Sense a pattern? Duryea makes seedy endearing in this compelling collection of 50’s cinema.

Sukiyaki Western Django (Hopscotch) is a truly bizarre mess of spaghetti western cliches shaken up and spat out by lunatic Japanese director Takashi Miike. Miike is responsible for some of the wrongest films of all time, including the hyper violent Ichi the Killer (Siren) and the hyper wrong Visitor Q (Siren). He’s a man who does extremist cartoon violence better than anyone and it’s sprinkled liberally through what is essentially stealing back what Sergio Leone initially stole from Akira Kurosawa, yet with less class and a higher body count. It looks beautiful, has a Quentin Tarantino cameo, borders on nonsensical and is in English, yet still requires subtitles because it’s totally unintelligible. In a good way.