After having sat through too many disappointing major Hollywood this year already, I delved into the Netflix instant streaming catalogue to find solace and to cleanse my palate, as it were. I had heard before of The Triplets of Belleville, but I initially dismissed it as the type of ponderous European animation that you’d need to be nostalgic about to properly appreciate. But, being the wild and free-spirited soul that I am, I decided to throw caution to the wind and give it a watch anyway. So imagine my surprise when I found Triplets to be one of the most weirdly absorbing and imaginative films that I’ve seen in a very long time.
Sometimes it’s fruitful to take a step back from the flash and sparkle of modern, CG-laden movies in order to see an old concept from a fresh perspective. “Fresh,” in this context, refers to a French short film from 1962 entitled La Jetée. In stark contrast to the whiz-bang excitement of this summer’s recent time travel film, X-Men: Days of Future Past, this week’s Short Film Sunday candidate takes a more thoughtful, quietly intensive path.
Shot in black and white and mainly consisting of a compilation of still images, La Jetée is a micro-budget production that nonetheless captures the imagination with it’s melancholy imagery and genuinely unnerving presentation. The story follows an unnamed man who has been chosen to undergo experimental time travel tests wherein his consciousness is sent back through time in order to forestall the imminent apocalypse via nuclear holocaust.
Clocking in at a modest twenty-eight minutes, the film shifts from the grim, bombed-out ruins of Paris to the relative peace of the nonspecific pre-war era, in which our protagonist engages in a romantic relationship with a woman he remembers from his childhood, much to the displeasure of his captors. Still, director Chris Marker manages to craft a compelling love story between the woman and the time traveler in such a short time, much more so than many other feature-length movies. And the relationship between the two is still only a single facet of this thematically dense and beautifully realized work. The shocking bleakness of the ending, for instance, may help to explain why this film has survived so long in the collective psyche of critics and the movie-watching public alike.
While originally in French, La Jetée is available online with both English subtitles and a English language dub, both of excellent quality.
The English dub can be found here: http://alaskapirate.com/lajetee/
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Winner of the Palme d’Ore and Nominated for Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Picture, Michael Haneke’s Amour is more than deserving of all the praise that is being lavished upon it. Rarely do I leave a movie feeling as emotionally devastated as I did after my viewing of Amour. Deliberate, uncompromising, and brutally realistic, in my eyes this film is nothing short of a contemporary masterpiece, as well as one of the most poignant films about mortality in recent memory, or perhaps ever.
Amour is about Georges and Anne, a two retired music teachers who spend their time appreciating the literature, music and life. However, when Anne’s health begins to deteriorate, the film shifts more towards and meditation on life and death as Georges is put into the role as full time caretaker for his ailing wife. While the plot itself may not sound riveting, the execution of this film is superb, as the film full articulates its themes and ideas within the narrative. Amour is full of beautiful yet minimalistic cinematography, as well as absolutely some of the best acting performances of the year from Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, who is nominated for Best Actress for her role in the film.
This film in many ways feels more like a play than a movie. By that I mean the narrative feels very intimate, as there are really only two main characters and a very small number of side characters. Even with the small scope of the film, Amour manages to do what few films can, offer something so powerful that the message of the movie transcends its small scope and offers something much more universal, a story that nearly everyone will have to directly or indirectly experience in their life time. This makes Amour is particularly notable in this area because of the strong effect the message has on its viewers.
Haneke’s true genius in Amour is not the film itself, but rather the emotions he is able to evoke in the audience. His use of sound within the movie is deeply unsettling, as the film has no score where brief piano scenes are nearly the only instances of music in the film. As a result, much of the film is ominously quiet, and all instances of sound feel very deliberate and impactful.
Amour is by no means a movie for everyone; it is a difficult film as well as a very depressing one, as it makes the view contemplate the true and ugly nature of human mortality. That being said, the fact that a movie had this kind of impact should speak to the merit of this film, it is an absolutely incredible movie from and emotional narrative standpoint, and a movie that was clearly made by a capable director. Though I fear it may set unrealistic expectations for the film, I can comfortably say that Amour was the best film I have seen all year.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Easily the most interesting movie of the year, Holy Motors is a film begging for interpretation. While the film seems to be a commentary of some sort on the nature of acting, or the different roles we portray throughout our lives, this movie is so rich with completely baffling and unexpected material that a case could be made for any myriad of interpretations. Throughout the film I found myself grasping for some kind of concrete theme, but director Leos Carax refuses to make things that easy.
The film does not have a real plot, in the traditional sense. It instead follows the daily activities of Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant), as he travels through Paris performing a series of increasingly bizarre and disjointed tasks as though they were monotonous and perfectly reasonable things for a rich man in a limousine to be doing. While never explicitly clear, Oscar is a contract actor of sorts, though his motivations are never explained as he navigates through the city taking on various, often ridiculous personae. He is a murderer, a lunatic, a father, throwing himself completely into these roles how over psychotic they may be.
Though I will not pretend to have any of the answers on this film, it is clear that it is a film about identity, and by my estimation, social interaction. At the end of the film, Oscar is clearly exhausted by these tasks that he must perform every day, for seemingly little purpose. My personal interpretation of the film is that it is a commentary on the ever changing state of our personalities told through hyperbole. More specifically, Oscar’s jobs are representative of the various roles he is expected to perform in real life, as at one time or another; we are all doing some amount of acting ourselves in our daily lives. Though I acknowledge the film has much more to offer than just this interpretation, having only seen the movie once, I do not feel comfortable making wild guesses at what appears on the surface to be an exercise in complete insanity.
While Holy Motors is in many ways a creative masterpiece, it was an intensely frustrating movie going experience. This movie challenges the viewer to analyze the film at breakneck pace, yet it is unapologetically complex, making it next to impossible to synthesize all the vignettes within the film into anything that resembles a definite interpretation. Though this movie did not make my top ten list of 2012, it is a film that I would highly recommend as I can guarantee there is very little else like it.
4.5 out of 5