Fragmented Films April 2012

If you can’t handle my worst then you don’t deserve my best,” Lars Von Trier paraphrases Marylyn Monroe in the directors commentary of Melancholia (Madman), where the eccentric Danish auteur continues his recent trawl through the darker emotions of mood disorders. He’s referring of course to the controversy that had the at times infantile, yet always interesting provocateur kicked out of Cannes. “I’ve learnt to not talk about Nazis or my admiration for their architecture,” he offers later, simultaneously demonstrating both his ability to learn from his mistakes, and his inability to resist poking the bear one more time. As for the film he self depreciatingly refers to it as kitsch, lamenting that it’s too romantic, without enough roughness. Mood disorders commonly skew your perception and Von Trier is a case in point. Melancholia is a film about the deep all encompassing depression of Kirsten Dunst, her condition seemingly underscored by a planet careering headlong towards earth. The romance here is very difficult to find. Dunst won a best actress award at Cannes for her gruelling portrayal, her marriage disintegrating with Alexander Skaarsgard (True Blood) on the night of their wedding. Kiefer Sutherland pops up as does Charlotte Gainsbourg, one of the few female leads willing to work with him again, and that’s after having sliced off her genitalia in their last outing. It’s typically self indulgent, a unique blend of surreal imagery, apocalyptic sci fi, and social drama imbued with a palpable sense of emotion that is simultaneously tragic and devastatingly beautiful. Particularly on blue ray.

Black Mamma White Mamma (Umbrella) is a women in prison film that begins with sadistic lesbian prison wardens and gratuitous shower scenes before ending in a deluge of bullets. It’s a cross-cultural exploitation buddy film with prostitute Pam Grier (Jackie Brown) and revolutionary Margaret Markov (The Hot Box) finding themselves chained together on the run and fending off gangsters, guerrillas, potential rapists and the police. It’s sleazy episodic b grade fare, shot in the Philippines by Eddie Romero, which is streets ahead of many in the genre, but admittedly that’s not saying much. The highlight is Sid Haig’s (The Big Bird Cage) outlandish cowboy outfits.

Guilty of Romance (Monster) is a dazzling descent into degradation, the third in Japanese director Sion Sono’s (Suicide Club) hate trilogy. It follows the life of a famous author, a serene domestic slave, who lives solely to serve her husband. “You may touch my penis,” he offers early on and she rushes down to grab it eagerly. “I’m so happy, “ she gushes, and you know this is only the beginning. She begins her journey by posing for erotic photos, though when she meets a street prostitute by night and university lecturer by day it appears she has found a kindred spirit. She hasn’t. And it gets much much worse There’s a real cynical darkness to this film, blatant psychosexual exploitation masquerading as arthouse fare. Sono enjoys the sex-fuelled descent way too much, and the appalling consequences of her newfound freedom are examined with voyeuristic relish.

 

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Fragmented Films Feb 2010

In the opening sequence to legendary schlock shyster Herschel Gordon Lewis’ 1970 bloodfest The Wizard of Gore (Siren), Montag the magician places his head in a guillotine and severs it on stage. Unfortunately the head is very clearly made of rubber and when, in a shocking reach around, he grabs the severed cranium you can see the outline of his greying quiff from behind the apparatus. Oops! Cut to a close up of said head and inexplicably the camera starts spinning repeatedly in a dizzying Go Go circle. It’s just like the start of Happy Days, yet the curious combination of technical ineptness and a rabid lust for gore make it so much more fun. It does however make you wonder why in 2007 some folks slicked up its stilted kitsch wrongness, slapped it on its ass and turned it into a strange hallucinatory gore noir. The Wizard of Gore (Reel) circa 2007 keeps some good stuff like Montag the magician butchering people live on stage and in a stroke of genius ropes in perennial weirdo Crispin Glover (Rivers Edge) for the role. Like a duck to water, his neurotic pre butchery monologues are philosophical gems that out of any other actors mouth would be complete nonsense. But that’s just Glover. He eats nonsense for breakfast. Indie legend Brad Douriff (Deadwood/ Blue Velvet) is also welcome in a ponytail he grew for Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant, and you can’t argue about a bunch of half naked Suicide Girls lining up for dismemberment. Unfortunately however the filmmakers desperation to be hyper cool gets in the way, deluding themselves that they’re edgy when like the original they’re just peddling trash.

When films that are dumber than you attempt to outsmart you it’s easy to get your back up. But while the Italian Godfather of Gore Lucio Fulci thinks he’s paying homage to Hitchcock in his ridiculously absurd 1969 Giallo Perversion Story (Umbrella), he’s actually closer to a seedy Eurotrash Brian De Palma. There’s a certain pompous stupidity in the plot twists and it provides for a great ride. Shot in America and dripping with gratuitous and startlingly unerotic nudity, it’s nothing short of a classic. Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (Umbrella) is Fulci pedal to the metal, a stilted almost nonsensical psychedelic thriller with Ed Wood special effects, ridiculous amounts of nudity and an Ennio Morricone score. Carol Hammond, daughter of a prominent politician, is dreaming these wild LSD laced orgies filled with naked cavorting souls. Bad for Carol, but good for us in the raincoat brigade. When her neighbour turns up dead in the exact way Carol dreamed, Fulci decides to film more naked people. Apparently there is a plot here. See if you care.

Whilst Samson and Delilah (Madman) found the accolades, Van Diemen’s Land (Madman) is the best of the recent run of grim Aussie films, uncovering the ravenous hunger of Alexander Pierce, a convict who along with seven others escaped the brutal penal colony in Tasmania circa 1822. Perhaps it’s too grim for mainstream audiences, as it’s uncompromisingly shocking, yet also strangely beautiful, mining the depths of mans drive for survival and turning into unsettling gothic poetry.

To many Lars Von Trier is the Antichrist (Paramount), yet the provocative Dane’s latest ode to suffering is an intensely raw study of grief and psycho sexual disintegration that will resonate with you in ways that you never thought cinema could. It’s a grueling, bleak and traumatic work. Watching it is like being swallowed up in a cave that you know will never escape from. Willem Defoe and Charlotte Gainsourg are uncomfortably raw, open and visceral as the grieving couple and Von Trier himself has returned to the technical mastery of his earlier work, highly stylised, gorgeously shot. Yet each scene is filled with imposing dread. Idiot critics suggest that Von Trier is a mischievous misogynist puppet-master yet the oppressive darkness here reeks of first hand experience of the black blankness of depression. And it’s hard to know what’s worse, Defoe’s condescending and arrogant attempts to treat his wife’s grief or her infamous spot of genital mutilation.

O’Horten (Aztec), a slight, absurd and whimsical Scandanavian tale effortlessly washes away the sins and extremity of the previous films with its detached deadpan humour and dignified take on humanity. People drive blindfolded, businessmen slide down the road on their buttocks and our hero, a retired train driver’s name is Odd.