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Filmspotting Message Boards => Marathons => Topic started by: Bondo on August 11, 2011, 01:09:15 AM

Title: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on August 11, 2011, 01:09:15 AM
I have an appreciation for films that push the boundaries a bit and these two directors, Peter Greenaway and Catherine Breillat, are directors noted for a certain provocative nature who I've seen enough to know I should watch more. So here's my chance. I'm also adding some von Trier to the mix.

Greenaway: The Shorts (1969) (http://www.filmspotting.net/forum/index.php?topic=10437.msg616761#msg616761) 2/5
Last Tango In Paris (1972, Breillat Actress) (http://www.filmspotting.net/forum/index.php?topic=10437.msg617245#msg617245) 3/5
Salo (1975, Breillat in Bonus Materials) (http://www.filmspotting.net/forum/index.php?topic=10437.msg617645#msg617645) 4/5
A Real Young Girl (1976) (http://www.filmspotting.net/forum/index.php?topic=10437.msg617867#msg617867) 2/5
Greenaway: The Falls (1978) (http://www.filmspotting.net/forum/index.php?topic=10437.msg620006#msg620006) 2/5
Nocturnal Uproar (1979) (http://www.filmspotting.net/forum/index.php?topic=10437.msg620946#msg620946) 1/5
The Draughtsman's Contract (1982) (http://www.filmspotting.net/forum/index.php?topic=10437.msg622349#msg622349) 4/5
The Element of Crime (1984) (http://www.filmspotting.net/forum/index.php?topic=10437.msg625311#msg625311) 2/5
A Zed & Two Noughts (1985) (http://www.filmspotting.net/forum/index.php?topic=10437.msg628200#msg628200) 2/5
Medea (1987) (http://www.filmspotting.net/forum/index.php?topic=10437.msg629969#msg629969) 2/5
36 Fillette (1988) (http://www.filmspotting.net/forum/index.php?topic=10437.msg632069#msg632069) 3/5
Drowning By Numbers (1988) (http://www.filmspotting.net/forum/index.php?topic=10437.msg633749#msg633749) 4/5
The Cook, Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989) (http://www.filmspotting.net/forum/index.php?topic=10437.msg635323#msg635323) 3/5
Dirty Like An Angel (1991) (http://www.filmspotting.net/forum/index.php?topic=10437.msg635841#msg635841) 1/5
Baby of Macon (1993) (http://www.filmspotting.net/forum/index.php?topic=10437.msg637347#msg637347) 5/5
Breaking The Waves (1996) (http://www.filmspotting.net/forum/index.php?topic=10437.msg639345#msg639345) 4/5
Perfect Love (1996) (http://www.filmspotting.net/forum/index.php?topic=10437.msg640738#msg640738) 3/5
The Idiots (1998) (http://www.filmspotting.net/forum/index.php?topic=10437.msg642166#msg642166) 5/5
Romance (1999) (http://www.filmspotting.net/forum/index.php?topic=10437.msg641378#msg641378) 2/5
Baise Moi (2000) (http://www.filmspotting.net/forum/index.php?topic=10437.msg642496#msg642496) 1/5
Fat Girl (2001) (http://www.filmspotting.net/forum/index.php?topic=10437.msg642693#msg642693) 3/5
Brief Crossing (2001) (http://www.filmspotting.net/forum/index.php?topic=10437.msg643471#msg643471) 4/5
Sex Is Comedy (2002) (http://www.filmspotting.net/forum/index.php?topic=10437.msg643668#msg643668) 5/5
Anatomy of Hell (2004) (http://www.filmspotting.net/forum/index.php?topic=10437.msg628479#msg628479) 4/5
Dogville (2004) (http://www.filmspotting.net/forum/index.php?topic=10437.msg644072#msg644072) 2/5
The Last Mistress (2007) (http://www.filmspotting.net/forum/index.php?topic=10437.msg645050#msg645050) 3/5
Sleeping Beauty (2010) (http://www.filmspotting.net/forum/index.php?topic=10437.msg645095#msg645095) 4/5
Title: Re: The King and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway and Breillat
Post by: 1SO on August 11, 2011, 01:43:55 AM
The Baby of Macon has one of the most horrific moments I've seen in a film. And it's done in a completely non-explicit fashion. Not enough people watch that movie.
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on August 12, 2011, 08:22:14 AM
I've added some von Trier to this shindig.

I also wanted to point out that Catherine Breillat was the screenwriter for David Hamilton's first (available) film Bilitis (http://www.filmspotting.net/forum/index.php?topic=7507.msg597990#msg597990). It all comes full circle. Like Hamilton, she seems to focus on adolescent female sexuality.
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: 1SO on August 12, 2011, 11:23:05 AM
Breaking the Waves is a great film but it's also very long. I'll probably PM you some tips when you get to it. 
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: MartinTeller on August 12, 2011, 11:37:55 AM
Well, The Falls is over 3 hours (and I predict Bondo will hate it).

Why no Fat Girl?  It's the only Breillat-directed film I've seen.
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on August 12, 2011, 12:48:35 PM
Why no Fat Girl?  It's the only Breillat-directed film I've seen.

This was an oversight. Netflix didn't have it so I didn't add it when I was putting those ones down, but I was so aware of its existence that I assumed Netflix had it when I was adding other entries. So yeah, it is definitely part of the marathon.

I guess we'll just see on The Falls. I'm certainly not expecting to love or even tolerate a number of these films. If the only reason I watched films was to enjoy them I'd probably give it up considering how often I don't. In spite of all my various attitudes, I do reckon watching things out of my wheelhouse is like stretching, you hope that over time the wheelhouse gets larger.
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on August 13, 2011, 03:50:48 PM
Greenaway: The Shorts

It feels like damning with faint praise to say that the best thing in this package of six shorts was the 16 minute special feature of Greenaway providing a commentary on his early work and the six shorts in particular. Even after hearing him talk about it, I'm not sure I really appreciate the shorts on the whole, but it does do a good job providing some context of what he was doing here. To the degree that I have any appreciation of "art," it comes from the insight into its creation. In a way I suppose this ties back in to my preference for storytelling in film, to the degree that more avant garde stuff does not engage in storytelling, if I can hear the story of its creation, I get that itch scratched. Anyway, I am going to discuss the shorts in the order I liked them rather than chronological.

Windows (1975) 3/5

This one has the advantage of being the shortest short, at four minutes. It combines images of windows (naturally) with a discussion of a group of individuals who had died from falling out of windows, as broken down by age, profession and cause of fall. Apparently this was an abstract analogy to mysterious deaths in apartheid South Africa, which I'm not sure anyone would get from the short itself, but there is a certain darkly humorous tone to the narration here.

H Is For House (1973) 2/5

This is kind of an avant garde take on Sesame Street. You have video (of Greenaway's family it seems) at a country house and the narration focuses on doing little alphabet games, especially focusing on words starting with H. Almost pushes the patience at 10 minutes but it has a certain adorable aspect of it.

Dear Phone (1977) 2/5

This one does go on rather too long...the video starts by showing written text of the narration before flashing through random pictures of phone boxes. The stories are curious tales involving phoning in one manner or another. Some of them are rather absurd and amusing, but again, with this kind of material, less is often more.

Water Wrackets (1975) 1/5

Again the video is not directly connected to the narration but rather provides a suggestive backdrop. In this case we are shown scenes of water in nature while hearing about some mythical community constructing a set of lakes. The story was a bit hard to follow or get much out of.

Intervals (1969) 1/5

This film is pretty obnoxious in its editing (and it shows the video sequence three times over with changing narration), partly a product of the primitive camera/film being used that didn't allow very long takes (as in less than a minute). The editing is almost strobe like at times. There is one particularly neat shot where there are two different shots of people walking by the same location that are intercut. This has a very interesting visual effect.

A Walk Through H (1978) 1/5

This one loses out in part because it is by far the longest at 40 minutes. It also was the last one shown so I was losing my patience enough as it was. Basically we are shown a series of "maps" that are hung around the walls. It's another case where the narration is clearly in English; I understand all the words individually, but put together it just seems like gibberish.

Greenaway hints in his commentary that invariably the early film is indicative of certain stylistic choices that will repeat themselves in future films, but having seen two Greenaway films from the 90s, I'm glad this is not heavily indicative, though even so I think I can see some connections. Another thing he discussed was the potential impossibility of making an entertaining avant garde without the benefit of actors/people in more traditional cinema and the emotional connection they tend to endear. Probably the best I can say about this set of films is that at the end of the day I'm not overly disappointed by them or feeling like I wasted my time, even though I didn't really find much to love.
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: MartinTeller on August 13, 2011, 05:50:29 PM
I'm pretty much with you on the shorts, except I adore A Walk Through H.  Your reaction to it reinforces my belief that you're going to struggle to get through The Falls.

Are you skipping Vertical Features Remake?  It might be just as well if you do, I can't imagine you'll enjoy it.
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on August 13, 2011, 06:17:42 PM
Are you skipping Vertical Features Remake?  It might be just as well if you do, I can't imagine you'll enjoy it.

I'm pretty sure it is on the same DVD as The Falls, so I expect I'll watch it. I actually just watched two sections from The Falls and found it intriguing. I may have to break it up into chunks though.
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: 1SO on August 13, 2011, 10:32:32 PM
This one does go on rather too long...

I've never been too interested in his short films. I will say that the above quote can be applied to all his films. If you're hoping for some well-paced Greenaway, you're in for a lot of disappointment. Actually, all three directors pace their films a bit outside your comfort zone, so unless there's an Innocence in the batch, be prepared.
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on August 14, 2011, 09:49:44 PM
Un Chien Andalou

Unofficial entry into the marathon but might as well put it here. This is pretentious garbage.

1/5

P.S. This is probably the best checks per minute ratio over at iCM.
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: MartinTeller on August 14, 2011, 10:07:40 PM
Un Chien Andalou

Unofficial entry into the marathon but might as well put it here. This is pretentious garbage.

No it isn't.  It's surrealism, which is pretty much the exact opposite of pretentious, because it's not pretending to be anything at all.  And, it's also hilarious.
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on August 14, 2011, 10:21:55 PM
Either it is supposed to mean something, in which case it fails and is pretentious...or it isn't supposed to mean anything and it fails because it is useless.
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on August 16, 2011, 05:49:51 PM
Last Tango In Paris

Well, I can't say I knew which bit part Breillat had in this film, but it was an enjoyable enough experience. This film was famous for its X rating (now NC-17) though I'm not entirely convinced it deserves that (though if they initially thought Blue Valentine deserved it...). You've got full but not explicit female nudity, and while there are risque sexuality, again, it is so far from explicit that it is almost laughable. There's a lot of dry humping going on here. Bertolucci's The Dreamers is far more graphic and pulled an R rating.

I had a few concerns early on in how the relationship between Paul (Brando) and Jeanne (Maria Schneider) starts. I get that it develops into a bit of a game for Paul wherein they keep their relationship as impersonal as possible, not even knowing the other's name, but you'd still need some sort of build up to the fling I'd think. But if I couldn't see how they actually got together, the film does a little to say why by showing their lives outside of the fling and what they are escaping from into this anonymous sexual relationship. Between this and the wonderfully un-self-conscious performance of Schneider, there's just something about a woman who seems to be entirely comfortable in her skin, the film does enough to earn mild approval.

Kind of going back to the depiction of sexuality, it is so unsexy. It is a bit hard to believe that this is actually gratifying them all that much. They are doing the acts, but there doesn't seem to be much passion. This is a better film than something like Winterbottom's Nine Songs, which also had two strangers hooking up, but that film is loads better at depicting any manner of sexual chemistry (very explicitly I might add).

3/5
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on August 17, 2011, 11:21:26 PM
Salo

There are a lot of things that can be said about this film. I think this calls for a list.

1. I'm of the opinion that brutal material should be brutal to watch. If you are going to make a film with gruesome sexual abuse and violence, I want to feel the horror. If you go around only implying it, it doesn't have that effect. This is why the Hunger Games films will be terrible. It is a book series that describes really horrifying things, meant to be horrifying. Once they are made palatable, it won't succeed at making the point. The lack of pulling punches is one reason Irreversible works so well. And in a different vein, Hunger works so well because it is so visceral (especially the walls of the cell). I'm not saying Salo needed to show everything exactly the way it is here, but it needed to be horrifying.

2. I find this film to have an interesting context in a world where videos of people's reaction to watching two girls one cup (don't google it) was an internet trend. There were parts of Salo I found less tolerable than that video (which I maintain was equally fake), but to the degree that people have seen that and tolerated it at all, they can probably handle Salo.

3. At many points of this film, it could almost be an elaborate BDSM group party. Power games, bisexuality, polyamorous, and a few unspeakable kinks. If you listen to Dan Savage's podcast enough, there are people out there with enough...different...tastes that it could only seem plausible. But that setting would have a sense of mutual respect and safe words, which leads us to:

4. Fascism. At the start you get the feeling that the nine young men and nine young women were selected because they were tied to people who had in one way or another threatened those in power, this being set amid fascist WWII-era Italy. Threats to family have always been an effective means of control. You also get the concept of fascism and its total control as a form of slavery that reminded me of early scenes in Spartacus, though with more potency. This nearly complete lack of free will. There is one other thing that struck me particularly as relevant to fascism/totalitarian regimes but I don't wish to spoil it.

5. Dante's Inferno. There are hints of Dante in this story and its circles, though it is not a rigorous interpretation of that story. It does provide a bit of structure to the process. I'd almost have wanted more circles because it spends a bit too much time on individual elements.

6. Naked bodies get boring. In terms of number of people, male and female, and amount of screen time they are naked, this film would rank rather high. While the grim nature of the film is enough to dampen the potential sexiness involved in young naked people, simply the excess of the exposure tends to work alongside the increasing darkness of the film to remove any such context.

Apparently the Marquis de Sade book upon which this is based, 120 Days of Sodom, is actually more gruesome than this so I suppose one has that to be thankful for in watching this film. I think there are a lot of really interesting ideas going on here, though the main problem came in it feeling like it gets caught in ruts from time to time. Still, a really fascinating work that has me interesting in further films from Pasolini.

4/5
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: MartinTeller on August 17, 2011, 11:43:56 PM
Apparently the Marquis de Sade book upon which this is based, 120 Days of Sodom, is actually more gruesome than this so I suppose one has that to be thankful for in watching this film.

The book is also way repetitive and boring.
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: 1SO on August 18, 2011, 12:08:43 AM
This marathon is now underway.

Listening to a discussion today on El Topo, I got to thinking about films which I don't think are great but are essential to anyone who is serious about film. Salo would be on that list, as would The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover. Just when you think cinema is mostly the same stale cookie recipe over and over, along comes a film which aims to confront and challenge more than satisfy. I watched Salo about 2 years ago, and one of the most lasting scenes for me is the opening, where these religious and political heads set up the documentation that will allow everything to happen. Salo is not a film I love, but I'm really glad that I watched it. Glad you watched it now too.
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: sdedalus on August 18, 2011, 01:28:06 AM
Either it is supposed to mean something, in which case it fails and is pretentious...or it isn't supposed to mean anything and it fails because it is useless.

And with that, surrealism, if not all of 20th century art, disappears in a poof of Bondologic.
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: verbALs on August 18, 2011, 03:59:39 AM
I think if you go into The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover expecting to be shocked you might be disappointed after the first few minutes. Admittedly those few minutes are like a barrier to entry and are extreme but, until the end it is more verbally abusive than anything. In fact it is bloody gorgeous if anything. The offensive thing about it, is the horrible working class portrait Michael Gambon gives (brilliantly). All the middle class characters =good, all the working class characters= evil. Its the most uncomfortable aspect of the entire film. Typical chattering class attitudes from Greenaway for someone from a very working class town.
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on August 18, 2011, 11:18:15 AM
Either it is supposed to mean something, in which case it fails and is pretentious...or it isn't supposed to mean anything and it fails because it is useless.

And with that, surrealism, if not all of 20th century art, disappears in a poof of Bondologic.

You're welcome world. 8)
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on August 18, 2011, 05:51:58 PM
A Real Young Girl

Quote
Breillat's films and novels are often about the "erotic and emotional lives of young women, as told from the woman's perspective," typically using "blunt language and open depiction of sexual subject matter."

This sentence from Breillat's wikipedia page is a good indication of why I was eager to do a marathon of her films, even though the one film of hers I had seen, Bluebeard, left me a little lukewarm. The coming of age tale for females, especially as it relates to feminist concerns about female sexuality, are of particular interest to me. It was a central concern of David Hamilton's filmmaking and so it is with Breillat as well.

Now, this film is described as a 14-year-old's sexual awakening. I've defended films in the past that use tween/teen actresses in edgy roles but this film is quite another step beyond, so it is not surprising that the lead actress, Charlotte Alexandra, was 21. She's not even a 21 passing for 14, she looks very much an adult here. Arguably this takes out a bit of realism, but once you get into the film, it takes on such a poetic remove that the age of the actress is just another step away, and one that would probably make the audience a little less disturbed. I'm actually a bit shocked that this film was fairly widely banned considering the actress is an adult. It may be highly graphic material by mainstream film standards but it certainly doesn't do anything so shocking that it would be rated worse than pornography.

One of the first things to notice here is the quite pedestrian cinematography. The quality of the picture, the framing, it is all rather uninspired. Compare this to Bluebeard which has some truly fantastic shots and it seems Breillat comes a long way.

Unfortunately I didn't find Alice here relatable. You never get a real sense about the source of her oddness. I'm not sure Alexandra really does much to sell you on it either. Given the character's name and the blue dress and red shoes she wears through much of it, it seems to be hinting at things like Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz. There is some symbolism on display in how different shots are juxtaposed, and there is some aspect about how hard it is for a girl to control her own sexuality, either being repressed (her mom says she's dressed like a whore) or forced upon her (a man exposes himself to her). But at the end of the day it is rather messy and inelegant in getting these things across. The broader plot doesn't really go anywhere interesting.

As a start, A Real Young Girl is I suppose promising enough but I hope Breillat's craft improves quickly, as it will need to for any true gems to emerge.

2/5
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: 1SO on August 19, 2011, 12:26:57 AM
You bring up a lot of things I hear typically associated with Catherine Breillat's films. She's refreshingly uncompromising. Blunt and confrontational. Yet not skilled enough as a filmmaker to add up to much more than her unapologetic presentation of sexuality. She has interesting ideas, but often makes a couple of critical poor decisions that put a damper on her films. I've also seen and read about a lack of deep insight with her characters. There's a casual distance to them that often reflects a common attitude in French cinema. As you get deeper into her catalogue, I'm curious where A Real Young Girl will rank for you.
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on August 27, 2011, 02:40:57 PM
Greenaway: The Falls

Apparently watching two of these randomly on YouTube is a different experience than trying to watch any significant number of them consecutively as presented properly. They are delightfully absurd and random tales of people and how they were affected by some unknown event, but again, not well situated for sustained viewer enjoyment. At its best moments it reminds me of Hitchhiker's Guide, with fairly unconnected humorous barbs.

2/5

Vertical Features Remake

Oy vey. That's a lot of posts and trees and such vertical features. I don't dispute the cleverness of the idea from an artistic standpoint but it isn't at all enjoyable or enlightening to watch. As for the non vertical features part of the short? I think you'd have to care about the study of film and art to care about the playfulness it displays with its mock experts.

The sad thing is the three part Tulse Luper Suitcases is working off this and some of this other early stuff. I haven't read enough to see whether those films would be asking for trouble, on the other hand...Caroline Dhavernas!

1/5
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: 1SO on August 27, 2011, 03:34:40 PM
You are either a completist or a glutton for punishment. I would have limited this marathon to their extreme films. Looking ahead you have Nocturnal Uproar next, which bears this hopeful description.

Quote
It struck me as a typical Brilliant movie ... lots of top-heavy dialogue to the tune that a woman's feelings are ever so mysterious, which serve as an excuse for the (as always, stunningly beautiful) lead actress to get her kit off and prance around half-naked a lot. Calling it pretentious soft porn is probably a bit unfair, but not far off the point.

That lead actress is Dominique Laffin, who passed away at the young age of 33. I'm looking forward to your report.
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: MartinTeller on August 27, 2011, 04:24:12 PM
Greenaway: The Falls

Apparently watching two of these randomly on YouTube is a different experience than trying to watch any significant number of them consecutively as presented properly. They are delightfully absurd and random tales of people and how they were affected by some unknown event, but again, not well situated for sustained viewer enjoyment. At its best moments it reminds me of Hitchhiker's Guide, with fairly unconnected humorous barbs.

2/5

The thing about The Falls is it's really not meant to be watched in one sitting like your typical movie.

Quote from: Peter Greenaway
Many, many years ago I made a film and I made a lot of it in Wales called The Falls. It was three and a half hours long, extremely boring and really sort of test people's patience; but I made it deliberately as a browse film a long time before the concept of browsing ever sort of began. It's a bit like the old idea of the Albert Hall with the summer concerts. The Albert Hall was created with an ambulatory which you were allowed to freely promenade and walk so you could come in and listen to a piece of music and you could go out into the sunshine again. You could go away and get a cup of coffee and then you could come back again. This film was made as a sort of browsing film. You could enter and leave it whenever you wanted to and in a sense this ability to create arts, works of art which gets you away from the fixed beginnings, middles and end of a narrative form and creates a new way of approach, I'm sure it's going to be incredibly enfranchising culturally. I would support it and this next project wants to be very much arranged in that way.

Quote from: Peter Greenaway
It's an ambulatory journey to be taken a little at a time, perhaps to be fast-forwarded through if and when the viewer chooses. Certainly, there's no insistence on my behalf that people should feel the obligation to watch it all the way through at a single sitting.


I think it's a brilliant piece of work, and it resulted in one of the longest reviews I've ever written (although a lot of it is just explaining the film):

Quote from: Martin Teller
One of the most original films I've ever seen.  It's another Greenaway fake documentary, again extremely conceptual.  I'll do my best to describe it.  An unexplained Violent Unknown Event, or "the VUE", has claimed 19 million victims.  Victims suffer from fixation with birds and flight, an endless variety of bizarre physical ailments (often birdlike), dreams about water, new genders, unusual languages, and immortality.  Most of the victims had ornithological or aeronautical interests prior to the VUE.  This film presents a case study of 92 of the victims, all of those from the 17th annual "VUE Directory" whose last name starts with "Fall" (in an amusing touch of typically British humor, all of the names are completely ridiculous -- Catch-Hanger Fallcaster, for example). 

The film is stuffed to the gills with inventive little bits of business.  Throughout the film there are numerous clever allusions to birds and other themes that pop up again and again: the number 92, driving in circles, particular locations, death by falling, Tulse Luper, the VUE Anthem (a "bird list opera"), et cetera.  There are several references to the "Bird Facilities Investments", no doubt a not-so-subtle substitute for the British Film Institute.  I don't want to give too much away, but look for evidence linking the VUE to Hitchcock's The Birds -- Greenaway's film is said to be a sequel of sorts, or a more satisfying conclusion.  He also slips in a number of references to his own work, and contains character names that would later appear in Drowning by Numbers, one of my favorites.

The biographies are loaded with voluminous detail, particularly with regard to numbers, a common Greenaway obsession.  Dates, times, lists and locations are constantly being thrown at you.  As you begin to recognize the similarities between the subjects, you also begin to become aware of their differences, and in a sense Greenaway is cataloging both the breadth of human experience and its interconnectedness.  If the film has one major drawback, it's that the narration is EXTREMELY wordy and the biographies often involve convoluted stories and geneaologies that are difficult to follow.  Greenaway alleviates the pain by mixing up the storytelling style a bit for each segment, and some of the segments are only a few seconds long ("Acataloope Fallbus. Last minute entry into the VUE directory due to very late developing symptoms. No details of biography as yet available.").  Still, it can be a trial to sit through 3+ hours of this, and apparently Greenaway himself has said that it can be fast-forwarded or sampled at random. 

It's definitely not a movie for everyone... it's tough to get through (I doubt I'd ever attempt it in one sitting), has no "plot" and no emotional content, and the gimmicky-ness of it will certainly put some people off.  But if you're looking for something fascinating, funny, ingenious, multi-layered, bizarre, and strikingly unique, it hits the spot.  Rating: 10

On a second attempt to view it, however, I wasn't up to the task.  I should have tried to watch it in bits and pieces, as Greenaway suggests.

As for VFM, I think it's very amusing, but I admit the actual "remakes" are quite tedious.  But I love the framework.
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on August 27, 2011, 06:13:15 PM
Mostly I'm just having a terrible time knowing how to rate it at all. As much as I recognize an enjoyable aspect of the components (and certainly didn't watch it in one sitting), it is hard for me to compare a film like this to conventional film either on a scale out of 5 or in ranking. I like a lot of moments but I haven't gotten the sense of it building into something grand matching the scale of the project.

And I do think you bring up a good point about the narration in your review. I'm a very visual person so heavy dialogue/narration without points of visual reference (including someone talking so I can sync to mouth movement) is particularly challenging for me for memory/comprehension. This is actually an issue with most of his short films too.
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on August 30, 2011, 12:30:08 PM
Nocturnal Uproar (Catherine Breillat, 1979)

This was kind of a disaster. At least with A Real Young Girl I generally appreciated some of the ideas that were being hit at, even if they were being hit at poorly. Here the ideas that are being hit at poorly aren't interesting to me. You've got Solange, presumptively a film director, though we see minimal evidence of this. She neither seems to do much work or sleep. Instead, the film seems to entirely focus on her moving from romance to romance, many each night, always seeming to talk about the other guys when she's with one, but not in a way intended to stir jealousy. The entire culture she exists in is just openly polyamorous. Yet if she is supposed to be some female equal of Guido in 8 1/2, she sure takes very little pleasure in it. Solange is somewhere between flat and unhappy emotionally and the film lacks much of a sense of dramatic tension for much of the time.

So yeah, out of the gate I have to admit a pretty strong disappointment in Catherine Breillat. She takes nearly a decade off before her next feature so I'm hoping she discovers a bit more craft in that time.

1/5
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: 1SO on August 30, 2011, 01:03:54 PM
So yeah, out of the gate I have to admit a pretty strong disappointment in Catherine Breillat. She takes nearly a decade off before her next feature so I'm hoping she discovers a bit more craft in that time.

36 Fillette is my favorite from what little Breillat I've seen, though I wouldn't call it a very good film.
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on September 04, 2011, 01:15:14 PM
The Draughtsman's Contract (Peter Greenaway, 1982)

The writing is so dense it had an interesting effect on me. Even though Abigail’s Party is in English and as far as I could tell completely free of slang, much of it just washed over me like I was watching a foreign film without the subtitles.

The use of language here is fantastic and made me think of 1SO's quote from his Abigail's Party review. It is of a aged and formalistic nature that makes it not always sink in as having meaning, yet it has an elegance about it that has a nearly musical beauty to its construction. To the degree that it did sink in, I had a great appreciation of the artful construction of insult and suggestiveness. There is a great edginess hidden beneath the frills.

Up to this point in the marathon, Greenaway's "extreme" aspect was in his break from traditional narrative structure than anything to do with content. Here we do get some extreme content, though usually of the more suggested than explicit nature. In exchange for his services, creating drawings of the estate, the draughtsman demands access to the lady of the estate for his pleasure. Greenaway is discreet with these scenes though. The exception here is a mysterious impish character we see creeping naked around the grounds; let the penises begin.

It becomes quickly evident that art and aesthetics are central to Greenaway's filmmaking. Listening to Greenaway's introduction, he talked of drawing what you see, not what you know, and how that tied into what he said could be simplified into Agatha Christie mystery. You get hints of this in at least one picture where the draughtsman explicitly leaves a section of the drawing blank to be filled in later, a clear violation of that axiom. Indeed, there is much discussion within the films of the way in which what was seen/drawn is symbolic or encoded with meaning, yet these meanings are not always the creation of the draughtsman himself. This has interesting ramifications for interpreting artwork.

As a final thematic point here is the way it fits in a gender commentary. We find that the estate was actually the lady's father's, yet in the possession of her husband as women are denied property ownership. Yet in contrast to the social position of women, the mother and daughter at the center her are forceful in ingenuity and sexuality. The film doesn't do anything that just sends it over the top into greatness, but it had a ton that I appreciated.

4/5
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on September 16, 2011, 10:41:18 PM
The Element of Crime (Lars von Trier, 1985)

Watching this film, one of my first thoughts was its visual comparability to something like Lynch's Eraserhead. Set in a kind of alternate, bleak version of Europe and filmed in sepia-hues and from a lot of odd angles. This stylistic approach is "justified" in that the whole story is told as a recollection from the main character under hypnosis. I reckon that ultimately justifies the kind of mediocre acting and the standard order dubbing, the only audio track.

Of course, if you know me, you know that comparisons to Eraserhead aren't going to get you a lot of admiration. As a serial killer police mystery, this is rather opaque. To make matters worse, it is probably reasonable to call this noir, though instead of inner monologue, you have the telling of the tale to the therapist. It just feels so clunky as it moves through the plot. I like crisp plots and less creative visual style.

Yet there is a certain interest in the story here. The Element of Crime is a book/policing method by the character's mentor that involves delving into the mindset. This creates for some interesting plot aspects and comment on the nature of crime. I just wish the film was less in its own way.

2/5
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: 1SO on September 16, 2011, 11:16:36 PM
I was excited for Elements of Crime, but I also found it too up its own ass to enjoy. All I remember these many years later are shots of lightbulbs (maybe in a tunnel) and a pretty amazing image of (dead?) horses being raised up by a harness.

Congrats, on making it through a rather difficult section of films. Looking ahead, the next 7 films make up what is perhaps the most interesting section of this marathon. If you reach Europa and have found nothing satisfactory, I'd consider revising or even ending your project.
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on September 17, 2011, 12:52:19 AM
Eight films in both Salo and The Draughtsman's Contract have been pretty strong successes so it's not just been a terrible slog. I was thinking of taking a second look at my list and paring things a little, but I didn't see anything immediately that I wanted to cut out so I guess for now full steam ahead. One place I could cut is to skip rewatching Pillow Book and 8 1/2 Women, the former I remember the liking and the latter I remember being kind of crap.

I think I'm adding Baise-Moi and perhaps one of the explicit films under von Trier's production company that got some praise and was rated as a top film of its sort made for/by women. It could be an intriguing detour.
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on September 27, 2011, 10:03:50 PM
A Zed and Two Noughts (Peter Greenaway, 1985)

About halfway into this film, I was in the mood to give it a 3/5. But then it just kept going and it wore out my resistance. This is one of the longest feeling two hour films I've experienced. It isn't particularly slow in its pacing exactly, it just doesn't really go anywhere. You've got twins, Oswald and Oliver, whose wives die in a car crash, leaving them, in their grief, obsessed with evolution and decay, symbolized by their watching a long documentary on the history of life on Earth and of taking time-lapse photography of decaying animals. Other characters factor in in less interesting ways that provide more opportunity for nudity (ever Greenaway with both male and female nudity). I give ZOO a little credit for enough ideas that I was with it for a while but it just isn't a film I'd recommend.

2/5

P.S. I'm gonna have to skip ahead to Breillat's Anatomy of Hell due to Netflix Instant expiration looming tomorrow night.
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: 1SO on September 27, 2011, 10:52:30 PM
I will defend that Greenaway is an excellent case for trying not to get so hung up on a developing plot. There are enough themes and repeating concepts going on to be worth my time no matter how little is happening to move things forward. He tends to direct like The Five Obstructions where he'll film what appears to be the same 20 pages of script 5 different ways. What makes him a great director is how he chooses to differentiate the tellings of that same story.
I wonder if this will be a constant problem with you. The only Greenaway film with a nice pace is Drowning By Numbers, and that's because you can count along with it. (It's also perhaps the most obvious version of him telling the same story over and over.)

Good news is when you do come back to the right order, Medea is only 75 min.

Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on September 27, 2011, 10:58:25 PM
Thinking back to Pillow Book and 8 1/2 Women I guess I can see your point about lack of plot development, yet at least in the former case I liked the film. Maybe the problem is I was never entirely sold on this one thematically. You could probably say that Draughtsman's Contract spins its wheels a little but I never felt that one dragging too much.

I should say that I liked the little bits with the daughter matching the alphabet to animals that harkens back heavily to Greenaway's shorts.
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: MartinTeller on September 27, 2011, 11:29:40 PM
I should say that I liked the little bits with the daughter matching the alphabet to animals that harkens back heavily to Greenaway's shorts.

If you pay attention, you'll find a number of these connections as you explore Greenaway.  He definitely has his pet obsessions.  Few directors are more self-referential.
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on September 28, 2011, 09:46:49 PM
Anatomy Of Hell (Catherine Breillat, 2004)

There is one point in this film that the woman (the characters are unnamed) asks if she lost dignity by doing that in front of the man. I won't specify what that is but it hints at the theme. This is a film a bit about exposing that which is made private largely because of the fears and insecurities of man.

Some have accused this film of homophobia, presumably because the woman recruits a gay man to kind of torture with her body and implies to some degree that homosexuality is caused by male revulsion with the female body/female sexuality. To the degree that some gay guys do have an eww, lady parts reaction, it is clearly caused by their sexuality, not the cause of it. So it's a bit weird, but I think the role of having the guy be gay is to remove sexual desire from the frame to talk more broadly.

If I viewed this film as speaking at a personal level, I'd actually be willing to accuse it of being anti-male, because it would be unfair to accuse this individual man of mankind's sins without any indication that he deserves it. But this is a symbolic film, likely one of the reasons for the generic character titles. It really is man and woman as broad groups, ultimately commenting on patriarchy.

Though it would never happen, this film would actually be a useful component of sex education (at a much older age naturally). In commenting frankly on various things; body hair, periods, sex toys, etc that are seen as revolting/threatening to any male ideas of virginal (adolescent) purity and ownership, I think it does quite a service in forcing male viewers to deal with these things and hopefully work toward overcoming them. Though the film has its actress completely naked virtually through the whole film and the actor often naked, and it includes some rather close up views, the most shocking element here is in its explicit depiction, in flashback, of a childhood game of doctor, which I suppose could either be the first moment of revulsion or a contrasting moment of purity.

Anyway, I feel like there are details that I wasn't picking up on. Sometimes the film felt like, while I was understanding the individual words, when put together I lost the meaning that almost felt like it was occurring off frame. Still, I found a great deal of interest in the film's style here. Of course having jumped out of order to watch this film I kind of pity losing the steady chronological progression for Breillat that took her from the rather lacking filmmaker of her first two films to this success (and the very competent hand that provided Bluebeard, which I had seen prior to the marathon). At least this reassures me that Beillat isn't one to write off.

4/5
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on October 04, 2011, 07:46:49 PM
Medea (Lars von Trier, 1988)

I wasn't really familiar with the story of Medea before seeing the dance based on the greek tragedy as part of Wiseman's La Danse. Based on that great film, I had a keen interest in the story going into this one. The first impression one gets watching von Trier's Medea is that it appears to be filmed on the camera technology of the ancient Greeks. This is a pretty ugly looking film, which is a pity because what it is shooting poorly looks magnificent. It certainly suggests medieval Scandinavia more than Greece and takes its time with lots of long shots of windswept fields of grass (Sam take notice).

Unfortunately, this Scandinavian iciness or austerity carries through to the telling of the tale. If you know the story of Medea, I feel like it goes without saying that it is a story of passion or madness. The actors don't do much to express this (though von Trier does sometimes with camera tricks). I guess it goes back to that classic concern with films about relationship disintegration, if you don't show me what is being lost, it is hard for me to care. This also kind of gets into one of those irksome storylines that I've complained about with Chicago, Adam's Rib and others (including Carrie Underwood's Next Time He Cheats) where women choose illegal/immoral approaches to respond to a husband's violation rather than legal avenues, though arguably the ancient setting's disempowerment of Medea goes further toward justifying her reaction to her husband's betrayal. It is interesting that this story dates back so far with its misguided approach to feminism.

Anyway, for the second straight film I find von Trier kind of getting in his own way at times. Though I have enjoyed his daring if not entirely his filmmaking in some of his efforts in the 00s, I think his films are a good candidate for some trimming in the marathon. Anyone who wants to chime in with those on the list that I should keep, let me know. The Idiots, Dogville and Meloncholia are probably sure to stay around. Breaking The Waves? Europa? What's the word?

2/5
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: 1SO on October 04, 2011, 08:02:31 PM
arguably the ancient setting's disempowerment of Medea goes further toward justifying her reaction to her husband's betrayal.

Inarguably. To say arguably is to miss the entire point of the story. Desperate times call for desperate measures. You can't look at her actions through a modern eye. It's like arguing that if they had cell phones the entire mess could have been avoided all together.

I can't tell if you're knocking the cinematography or praising it. The ugly look matches the story perfectly and Von Trier manages to find some poetry in the images without betraying the realism of the time period.

Von Trier always gets in his own way. It's part of his charm. From the stylized splashes of color interrupting the pristine B&W of Europa to the stage setting of Dogville. Von Trier sets up rules and then breaks them to see how you react.

If this is truly a marathon of Extreme Cinema you can easily cut Europa, which is perhaps his least offensive work. Breaking the Waves is long, but it remains his masterpiece. I'd hesitate to see it go, though I worry about your endurance. (Perhaps Katrin Cartlidge can help sustain your interest.)
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on October 04, 2011, 08:12:40 PM
The resolution of reality in ancient times was just as high as it is today, though the eye sight of the people was not as well corrected for. I see no reason to use grainy images to tell old stories. It was excusable when technical limitation was the reason, not so much as artistic choice.

As to the thematic point...whether set in the present or in ancient Greece, you are still accepting that a woman has to get back at a man who betrays her rather than moving on. I wasn't saying the time doesn't matter though, I was trying to draw contrast to the current tales of the same sort that work much worse at a time where women can work and own property and can more reasonably just ditch the bastard. Medea works as shallow morality tale but they could have played up what cost Medea faced beyond the emotional one. Let me feel how much worse her life is going to be as a result.
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on October 11, 2011, 11:06:17 AM
The Belly of an Architect

I find it interesting that all of Greenaway's films seem to revolve around what I'd call practical artists. Draughtsman, time-lapse photography, architect. These are all people who use images as part of their work.

Anyway, this isn't a proper review, I gave up at the halfway point. I'm cutting back on Greenaway. I figure Cook/Thief/Wife/Lover and Baby of Macon are the two essentials left and I will watch them and skip the rest. Any objections?
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: 1SO on October 11, 2011, 11:10:15 AM
Definitely those two but I would also include Drowning By Numbers which is his most fun. He turns his pretentiousness into a game and you as the audience get to play along, counting from 1 to 100.

I would be fine with you cutting all of the rest.
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: MartinTeller on October 11, 2011, 11:41:15 AM
You've already seen Pillow Book and 8 1/2 Women.  I can't imagine you'd get anything at all out of Tulse Luper Suitcases, Nightwatching or Rembrandt's J'Accuse (films I didn't care much for either). 

But I second 1SO's vote for Drowning By Numbers (naturally, it's in my top 100).  I don't think you'd hate it. 
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on October 12, 2011, 05:01:32 PM
36 Fillette (Catherine Breillat, 1988)

Returning to early Breillat, 36 fillette focuses on a 14 year old girl desperate to play in the adult world, finding the appeal of her sexual appeal to men, yet still immature and largely unready to actually inhabit that world. Again Breillat casts an actual teenager in the main part, yet one that could easily pass as an adult.

While the plot itself ambles along a little, the characters of Lili and the older man are well constructed with some really effective lines. Now typically films with this kind of age gap are tales about why young girls should avoid the guys, but this film is at least as much why guys should avoid the young girls, without going for the contrived drama of those other stories.

Ultimately, I don't see enough payoff from the good moments to really like this film, but it is solid enough.

3/5
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: smirnoff on October 12, 2011, 05:09:07 PM
The films in this marathon aren't my thing at all but The Draughtsman's Contract sounds like it might be the exception. Do you still feel the same way about it or has it gotten better or worse the more it settles?
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on October 12, 2011, 05:35:08 PM
It stands out for its wit. Arguably The Falls has as much humor but in a much less approachable package. So yeah, Draughtsman's Contract remains a solid 4/5 and probably worth a shot. Compared to the other 4/5s, Salo and Anatomy of Hell, it is the safest bet.
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on October 18, 2011, 12:27:51 AM
Drowning By Numbers (Peter Greenaway, 1989)

Man am I glad I learned how to swim young before I had to start dealing with women. Drowning By Numbers sets us within a family of a mom and two daughters, all with the same name and all with fellows. Right off the bat the mother drowns her husband in a bathtub (right next to his passed out mistress). The coroner conspires with her to cover it up. And we're off. The story isn't particularly deep or anything, but it does keep moving forward and conveys a subtle idea.

Greenaway is up to some of his usual tricks with the theme of counting. Early on we have a girl jumping rope, counting to 100 while naming 100 stars in the sky. Counting and numbers pop up many other places too. Another bit of an aside is the creation of various games, my favorite in concept being reverse strip jump, my least favorite in execution being hangman cricket. Indeed, it is the hangman cricket scenes near the middle that particularly slow the film down for a bit. I imagine 5-10 minutes of it could have been lost for tightness.

One thing of a bit of intrigue here is that Greenaway, quite partial to nudity in his films, typically features less than attractive people in less than attractive settings. This is the first film thus far (though not the last) that could be said to fully attempt for its nudity/sexual content to actually be sexy. This is especially true of the scenes with Joely Richardson and David Morrissey (hello!) as well as Juliet Stevenson. In some ways the conventionality of the nudity in having it be seductive matches that this film is far more narratively coherent than many, if not all, of the other films.

Anyway, thanks to 1SO and Martin for pushing me to keep this in. I had a good enough time with it. I still favor Draughtsman's Contract as the top Greenaway of the marathon (still have Pillow Book above that), but it definitely reminded me of the potential of Greenaway to carry me through the final two of his entries in the marathon.

4/5
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on October 23, 2011, 11:40:15 PM
The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (Peter Greenaway 1989)

Frankly, I consider it absurd that this film was unrated rather than getting an R. Yeah, frontal nudity and some other very dark themes and the like but this isn't explicit sex; it isn't excessive gore. Meh [insert ratings rant here]

Anyway, I like the idea of this film a lot more than its execution and the main issue is length. This film felt twice as long as it needed to be. As is sadly typical of Greenaway, repetition is the name of the game so we have to watch night after night as the thief (Professor Dumbledore) and his wife (the Queen) take in dinner at the fancy French restaurant that the thief has bought. The cook (and the thief's wife) are none to pleased with this boorish man who has no taste for fancy food and antagonizes the other patrons. The wife falls for the titular lover, a regular patron, and they engage in an affair at the restaurant. Each night this story repeats with only slight progress to the story. I think it had a few too many days for the ultimate distance that the plot needs to travel.

The thief is pretty one-dimensional from start to finish. Gambon goes big and it is certainly necessary to get us against him but it just becomes tedious. Shockingly, the sex and nudity from Mirren and the lover gets a bit tedious at points as well in its repetition, though they are commendably naked a lot. Not having a lot of knowledge of the context of Thatcherite England, I can't speak to the claim that this is political parable, but as sordid crime/revenge tale it is pretty tasty. I just wish it could have been tightened up a lot.

I should recognize the use of color in the film. It is impressive.

3/5
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: 1SO on October 24, 2011, 09:23:13 AM
The film opens with a man stripped naked, beaten, pissed on and I believe there's also dog feces smeared on him. It's all done in a brutal, dark and intense fashion. Felt NC-17 to me right off the bat, and that's before the laundry list of other adult themed events that happen. To get an NC-17, sex does not have to show penetration to be considered explicit.

I'm going to not agree with you here about the film's length. I understand what you're saying about the repetition and slight progression, but that pacing is perfect for the tone of the film, which plays like a great piece of music (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bolero). The build may be too gradual for you, but it is always building.
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on October 24, 2011, 10:03:42 AM
It is always possible that after this marathon my bearings on what is normal and what is extreme will be skewed. ;D

I expect this deserves an NC-17 rating in a world where an NC-17 rating means just for adults and not this film is doomed to obscurity. Then again, I don't really think films with explicit sex should be doomed to obscurity either. That's how problematic the rating system has become.
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on October 25, 2011, 09:39:59 PM
Dirty Like An Angel (Catherine Breillat, 1991)

This may be one of Briellat's most obscure films. It only had about 60 votes on imdb. With a dearth of information about it, it kind of threw me for a loop. For one thing, it doesn't have a female protagonist. I believe this is the only of her films where that is the case. Instead we focus on a near-retirement detective as he goes around the underbelly of Paris (I think) using his position to his benefit. He also engages in an affair with his partner/friend's new wife. This rather gave me pause as you see him at dinner with them and there is some mild flirting and then a couple scenes later he is bedding her and then it just cuts to another scene without anything said. It's just really baffling and takes all the emotional relevance out of the scene.

Indeed, I could say about many of the scenes here that they are too abrupt. Everything kind of flies by without enough time to establish anything as important. Even though she isn't the main character, the main conflict seems to be within the female character here, torn between whatever desire she feels for the man she's having an affair with and guilt over cheating on her husband, no matter how much he is cheating on her at the same time.

As a disclosure, the subtitles on this were very poor starting about a third of the way in where they were partial, showing up late and only remaining for a split second. I actually switched it over to the Spanish subtitles that were encoded in an attempt to at least understand some of the dialogue, though my Spanish is somewhat limited. Either way, this made most of the second half of the film a complete wash in terms of finer details so this review comes with a few grains of salt.

Here is one positive review (http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/51548/dirty-like-an-angel/) and I can generally go along with it thematically, though the film had not done a lot to captivate me in its storytelling or characters.

1/5*
Title: Re: The King and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on November 01, 2011, 11:58:59 PM
The Baby of Macon (1993)

The Baby of Macon has one of the most horrific moments I've seen in a film. And it's done in a completely non-explicit fashion. Not enough people watch that movie.

Well, this marks the end of my journey into Greenaway's material within this marathon (though I certainly may return to other films at another time). It was a marathon framed around extreme cinema and I think all three directors have certainly lived up to that billing. Baby of Macon is commonly considered the most extreme of Greenaway's films and as a result is one of the least distributed. It is distinctly a Greenaway film with its grandness of design, its staginess and artificial formalism and of course its ample nudity. I've tolerated his style to different degrees throughout the marathon but Baby of Macon is certainly the biggest breakthrough due to its more tangible thematic content.

If my reading is correct, Baby of Macon plays as a pretty scathing critique of Christianity and the Catholic Church, judging them for their exploitation of the baby Jesus. We watch the play within the film evolve, starting with Act I where we see the rugged reality of childbirth turn into the miraculously pristine virgin birth. We see a whole community exploit the child in different ways for their own gains. We see a vindictive Church. Things get increasingly horrific through this process. Greenaway however ups the ante by breaking the illusion of the play. Obviously we still know it is a movie, but breaking through that added distance from the horror brings it that much to the forefront of our minds. On the whole the film takes a pretty abstract route to the message I see it telling, but it tells it with such immense power that it is hard for it not to have an impact.

The name actors in this film, Julia Ormond and Ralph Finnes, share one particularly bold scene in the middle of the film that even based on the previous exposure to celebrities within Greenaway films seemed like another step. It is my habit to hold actors with that level of willingness to put themselves out there at high esteem, even moreso when it pays off for the film so effectively. Anyway, this has definitely made the inclusion of Greenaway worthwhile and the combined impact of his work may set him up for a position in my 51-100 range on my directors' list.

5/5
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: MartinTeller on November 02, 2011, 12:53:08 AM
I skipped the text of your review because I haven't seen it yet myself and want to go into it with a fresh perspective, but I'm glad you liked it.
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on November 02, 2011, 09:02:12 AM
I'll look forward to reading how you interpret it. I'm not sure if what I saw was obvious or off the mark. Greenaway is slippery like that.
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: 1SO on November 02, 2011, 09:07:16 AM
It's some piece of work, probably the Enter The Void of its day (though even better because it isn't as long and drawn out.) I love the addition of the theater audience and the way that transcends being a gimmick to being an essential part of the story.

When I see you in chat we'll talk about the scene you quoted me on. The last 2 big incidents are something where when you find out someone else watched the film you want to ask about, to make sure what you watched actually happened.

Is this your favorite performance from Finnes and/or Ormond?
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on November 09, 2011, 03:23:28 PM
Breaking The Waves (1996)

This film was a bit of a tale of two halves for me. There was a very firm dividing point in my experience that happened to coincide with my stopping the film to pick up at a later time, but ultimately was thematic in basis. This definitely feels like von Trier's breakthrough, a proper drama without using unusual technique to obscure everything. Yet the back end of this 160 minute film felt bulky and felt like it could have lost maybe a half hour.

We open with the wedding of Bess (Emily Watson), of a strict religious sect on a remote Scottish isle, to outsider Jan (Stellan Skarsgard), who works on a sea-based oil rig. Dodo (Katrin Cartlidge) is Bess's sister and importantly a nurse, as both Bess and Jan will face medical concerns. Indeed we get from early on the notion that Bess is a mentally/emotionally fragile individual who had been institutionalized after her brother died.

A couple of the early scenes between Bess and Jan were just brilliant. Bess coming from this sexually repressed community (and it seems rushed to marry in part to be freed in part) has a wonderful curiosity, awkwardness and naivety about sexuality that Watson really nails, and I could certainly relate.

The second main thing that was setting the film up for success, and there will be some spoilers in this, is after Jan has his unfortunate event. He encourages her to find love elsewhere as he is incapable, and seems to want to live vicariously through the cuckoldry. As a Dan Savage listener this openness to necessary monogamish behavior was intriguing, unfortunately, after the intermission I took, the direction it went was less satisfying. Instead of being smaller drama, it became grand drama based around her mental state.

And her mental state is handled pretty interestingly, we get scenes throughout the film where she prays to god and then voices god's response and through these conversations we can kind of see her character and its degradation over time. But it all became a bit much for me in the end. Her character was just a bit too off to really identify with. Watson's performance was slightly handicapped by this writing. Skarsgard and Cartlidge are both strong here. In the case of Cartlidge, it is interesting seeing this more toned down performance compared to her work with Leigh, closest to the scenes when she is older in Career Girls. But ultimately I still prefer her work in Naked.

As a final note, this film has a number of chapter breaks that are kind of fascinating as they show scenes that are almost like a painting and kind of styled, and accompanied by soundtrack. This stands in stark contrast to the grainier Dogme95 technique of the rest of the film with only natural sound. On the whole a very solid film, though one that kind of worked its way out of unqualified adoration over the second half.

4/5
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: 1SO on November 09, 2011, 06:35:55 PM
First off, this was hardly a proper drama, but compared to his other films I see where you're coming from. This was pre Dogma95 and the gritty, handheld camerawork was very unusual for the time. It's kind of a joke that the film is broken up by ultra pretty chapter cards and that he gives himself the most egotistical directing credit of all time.

(http://i.imgur.com/3va2E.png)

Not surprised to hear you complain about the running time. By now it's like Kermode making the obligatory anti-3D comment.

Where I start to differ from you is when you say Bess's mental state is a bit too off to identify with. I don't take to the character personally, but I identify with those around her and how they handle Bess during her fragile moments. This is why the sister character is really important. You do all you can, but ultimately people like Bess must go on their own journey. The final act of this film is brutal, like Von Trier, but thank goodness he threw in that final shot. It almost betrays his reputation to end on such a note, but it's a bit of comfort we needed.  He surgically removed this humanity by the time he got to Dancer in the Dark.
For the record I give Breaking the Waves * * * *, and Emily Watson as Bess is in my Top 5 Performances of All Time.
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on November 09, 2011, 06:58:10 PM
I guess it wasn't technically Dogme95 though it was somewhat influenced in form.

Spoilers

So it does get a bit odd at the end. You don't see how Bess gets her ultimately fatal wounds but I suppose you can assume she is roughed up by the sailors she had had a confrontation with before. Jan has some form of miraculous recovery, which is prayed for toward the end but seems unreal. And then there are God's bells ending that you talk about that is perhaps uncharacteristically upbeat for von Trier. It kind of lost its grounding in that sense.
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: 1SO on November 09, 2011, 07:32:07 PM
It proved that Bess was right all along. You think she's nuts, in need of some serious help, but in the end Von Trier makes her correct. I thought it was pretty brilliant.
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on November 15, 2011, 10:07:08 PM
Perfect Love (1996)

With the release of Melancholia (due later in my extreme cinema marathon), there's been some talk of films that begin with the end. For that film, the end is rather grander, but Perfect Love also fits that in a smaller way. The film opens with the police asking a man to demonstrate the circumstances upon which he killed his lover. After a brief interview of sorts with her late teen daughter about the incident, we jump back to the beginning of the relationship between Frederique and the much younger Christophe.

The film operates at rather a glacial pace, capturing them as they lounge in bed, talking about this and that, mostly aspects of their love lives to that point. These details stray toward the shocking at times or implicate some dysfunctional families and thus aren't exactly boring, but they aren't exactly punchy either.

You get a lot of ups and downs here. The scene where Christophe is introduced to Frederique's children is well played, but then it is followed by a scene with a friend of Christophe's who is a player in the most despicable sense of the word. I wanted to see him get called for his terribleness but it wasn't to be. The end has a great use of phallic symbolism related to the plot development. For that alone I'm tempted to bump the film up a notch.

Still, the genre of disintegrating relationships has a number of entries with Blue Valentine coming to mind more recently. Too often films of this sort neglect investing you in the relationship and rely on heavy melodrama in breaking it apart. This one felt a bit more toned down with some elements, both in forming the relationship and seeing it go away, that felt authentic. It could perhaps be bolder at times because it risks being too bland but on the other hand, too much of Breillat's early work has more shock than structure. This is the better side of the balance to err on.

3/5
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on November 18, 2011, 10:27:09 PM
Romance (1999)

This was a tough one to get my head around. Like I often do, I turned to the internet to look for some other perspectives to see if any of them jogged anything for me. And yet these reviews, namely Roger Ebert's, expressed a similar level of unknowing. It is a film that seems to be saying things through its fairly direct narration/dialogue about the nature of female desire, but it never quite formulates.

Caroline Ducey plays Marie, whose husband refuses to be intimate with her, which only seems to drive her interest in him to greater extremes. Meanwhile, she goes out to seek sexual fulfillment, a bit unsure of what that means. She shows a distinct lack of emotional connection with those she experiments with. It has vestiges of a Madonna-Whore complex or perhaps this lack of feeling  through the process is symbolic of a quest for discovering her orgasm. There also is a conflict between loathing the feeling of being objectified and thriving on it.

I have no problem with the fact that the explicit nature of the sex here isn't sexy. But the coldness combined with the extent to which the scenes are drawn out and often covered with kind of monotonic inner monologue makes it a bit lifeless for spells. That's right, there is naked sex stuff going on and I'm rather bored. Though there are a few particular scenes where the symbolic aspects did more to engage my interests as Breillat showed a bit more skill.

Ultimately Roger Ebert recommended the film even though he claims not to have particularly liked it, based on the potential concepts being discussed. I'm a bit more of a stickler for feeling, not so much entertainment but engagement, and ultimately this left me a bit too cold and confused, even though I see interesting themes as well. It reminded me of Breillat's later film Anatomy of Hell in many ways, yet that film engaged me more.

2/5
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on November 22, 2011, 12:03:10 AM
The Idiots (1998)

As one of the main people involved in the Dogme95 movement, it is strange that Lars von Trier has only made one film as part of the movement, this being that film. This is my second film under that movement, following The Celebration (I smell a marathon) and as the opening shot has music playing with no clear source within the film, I was already calling von Trier on violations of the manifesto. Such is my familiarity with the rules. Other things, to which von Trier, in the tradition of Dogme95, confessed would be impossible to discern just from watching.

Anyway, the film starts with Karen sitting down to a meal at a fairly fancy restaurant and revealing that she is of limited means. She sees another table where two seemingly developmentally disabled men are dining with a female caretaker and when their behavior starts getting out of control the waiter ejects them and through developments, Karen comes along (the better to avoid paying for the bill) and falls into their group. We find out that they are a group that practices "spazzing" or acting like they have a disability, mental or physical.

Now, you can think these characters are despicable for what could be seen as mocking performances or you can see them as getting at a real social issue about the treatment of those with disabilities but the film itself I think is effective in broaching the topic at an angle. Yet the broader statement is about shunning the conventions and expectations that make us unhappy. In this way it isn't so different from Trainspotting a couple years earlier, though they turned to heroin. But as can be expected, this sort of idealism runs head-on against real life concerns. I also see some trends within the group that are explored in more detail in Together a couple years later and the way a group of idealists like this can often come to conflict, especially when some aren't pure enough for others.

This film certainly qualifies for the marathon through its inclusion of tons of nudity (full frontal from vitally every main actor and actress) including one brief scene of explicit sex (using body doubles in contravention of Dogme95). Yet this mature content almost seems a bit passe compared to the extremeness or rudeness of the general concept. On the other hand, I've never seen so many boom mics fall into frame so this film is extreme in the roughness of the filmmaking as well I suppose.

The funny story here is that Mark Kermode, a reviewer I generally find myself agreeing with, actually stood up after the Cannes screening and shouted "It is shit" in broken French, which I guess is part of why he's got a fairly rough relationship with the Cannes festival (something that von Trier himself now can claim). But in the case of The Idiots, I greatly disagree with the good doctor. I found this an ultimately fairly charming bit of filmmaking with many a touching moment fit in among the nonsense. It is my new favorite von Trier.

5/5
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: MartinTeller on November 22, 2011, 01:38:58 AM
Still haven't seen that one, but it's been on my list for ages.
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Lobby on November 22, 2011, 02:33:01 AM
I watched The Idiots as it came out and as far as I recall I liked it. I had honestly forgotten about that I'd seen it until you wrote about it now.

Those Dogma movies make a bit of a blur to be honest. I remember that I liked them quite a bit. (And I'm not yet tired of shaky cams!)

The one that stood out most to me was The Celebration. But I wouldn't mind making a revisit to The Idiots.
In the name of my von Trier love.
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on November 22, 2011, 07:33:14 AM
Yeah, I was a fan of The Celebration as well so Dogme is 2 for 2. A wrote about my thoughts of the movement itself in my review of The Celebration and have to say I'm generally on board with the idea, especially things like no artificial sounds as I've been finding scores and stuff really grating lately.

It's either The Idiots or Dogville for me. So... agreement!

Dogville is the next von Trier in the marathon (the last, having skipped the rest of his first trilogy) so we shall see.
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: worm@work on November 22, 2011, 10:29:31 AM
I found this an ultimately fairly charming bit of filmmaking with many a touching moment fit in among the nonsense. It is my new favorite von Trier.

5/5

When we agree, we really agree :). This is likely my favorite von Trier (like fliger, I too go back and forth between this one and Dogville).

Quote from: Bondo
Yet the broader statement is about shunning the conventions and expectations that make us unhappy.
I completely agree. To me the film is more about rebelling against societal conventions, in general, rather than about how society treats the disabled, specifically. What the idiots are doing is essentially rebelling against society's rules of conduct. Interestingly, society treats them sympathetically when it's not in the joke but once it's evident what it is they are upto, there's anger and lack of tolerance.

It has also always struck me as being a commentary/critique of the Dogme manifesto itself but maybe I'm reading too much into it.

Loving this marathon, Bondo :)!
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on November 22, 2011, 01:03:06 PM
Loving this marathon, Bondo :)!

Me too. Now I need to think about what other directors to seek out for this sort of cinema.
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: MartinTeller on November 22, 2011, 01:32:50 PM
Loving this marathon, Bondo :)!

Me too. Now I need to think about what other directors to seek out for this sort of cinema.

Takashi Miike
Pier Paolo Pasolini
David Cronenberg
Dusan Makavejev
Jesus Franco (*from what I've heard, I've never seen his work)
Nagisa Oshima
Tinto Brass
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: 1SO on November 22, 2011, 01:36:24 PM
Me too. Now I need to think about what other directors to seek out for this sort of cinema.

Ken Russell
Paul Verhoeven
Noribumi Suzuki or Toshiya Fujita
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on November 23, 2011, 12:37:34 AM
Baise Moi (2000)

This film, part of the new French extremity, was added simply for its reputation. This is a reputation more for its content than its quality. Violent and featuring explicit sex, it is co-directed by a porn director and stars a number of porn stars. It partly begs the question of whether being written and directed by women, it avoids the possibility of being misogynist. It does after all almost delight in its opening in the violence and rape of its female characters.

You've got two women, one a prostitute and the other an occasional porn actress who end up killing someone close to them and going on the run. I suppose this could have been some feminist revenge fantasy the way Inglourious Basterds is Jewish revenge fantasy, but the violence is so non-discriminating and pointless. It also lacks Tarantino's skill as a director and a writer. It also lacks particularly  talented actors. This makes even the lowliest of Breillat, von Trier and Greenaway seem a bit more friendly.

It does start feeling marginally better later in the film as it gets away from the murders that are contraindicative of the feminist message of taking on the men that abuse, rape and subjugate women. One does see a glimmer of a film that could have been but it continue to mix potentially awesome grindhouse filmmaking with muddled thematic material. That this film started actually winning me over slightly is I suppose testament to that promise.

Ultimately, this film seems to be lost between two worlds. It doesn't have a useful enough narrative to qualify as a good legitimate film, but it is surely too violent to be tolerable as a pornographic film (plus by that standard it would have lousy sex scenes). I'm not sure what audience would delight in such filmmaking at the end of the day.

1/5
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on November 23, 2011, 09:59:00 PM
Fat Girl (2001)

Fat Girl follows two sisters, Anais and Elena as they hit different points in their sexual awakening. Elena is nearly 16, and is a beauty, and has began to toy around with boys while Anais, 12, is fat and viewing boys a bit more hypothetically. In their opening conversation we see a different perspective on love and sex, perhaps driven by the expectations their relative beauty grants them. Elena speaks longingly of waiting for someone special to have sex with while Anais is keen to just get it over with.

It isn't entirely clear who here is the more idealistic and who is more of a realist. Anais has a comment about not wanting to treat the first time as special because she doesn't want to let a man boast about having taken her virginity or her purity. She also, in pretending to talk to a potential beau, lectures him that he should value her experience because it would make her a better lover. Not bombarded by male attention, she seems to have developed a more sensible view, arguably a more feminist view. Anais Reboux does a good job with the character, hitting that transitional point of adolescence where she still engages in childish acts, like the bit of make-believe, but it covers a bit more serious material.

Elena on the other hand is taken by a college aged man they meet at a cafe and begins to flirt. But quickly she finds herself a bit over her head, pressured to move faster than she intends but so trained to please by virtue of her beauty that she finds herself a bit stranded. Roxane Mesquida again is very good, though I dare say she is too beautiful. I know there is an attempt to draw a clear contrast between the two sisters but she just seems a bit too polished to perfectly pass as a teen.

Ultimately we get a little commentary, both in early joking about who would be able to get a man first and later in a bit more direct terms, on the idea of women being raised as rivals. One of the bits of emotional manipulation that Elena's man uses is to say that if she doesn't put out, he'll have to do it with a woman he doesn't care about. This is one of many ways women can be said to work against each other, and as is frequently the case men reap the benefit.

This is all a way of saying that this film was really working for me thematically and as a gentle coming of age film. But then came the final five minutes. The tonal change there is radical and fairly inexplicable. I get how it fits the theme but it so wildly blows past the level of disbelief I'm willing to suspend. I looked around at other reviews hoping to find something that made me comfortable with the direction it went and they all failed me. If I could exclude the final five minutes I might be considering a 5/5 for this film but it's such an unsuccessful ending that it just makes me not know what to think about it.

3/5
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: MartinTeller on November 23, 2011, 10:54:24 PM
Still the only Breillat I've seen.  I found the different layers of sexual predation, both blatant and metaphorical, pretty interesting.  I think the ending is quite bold, but I seem to be one of the few who likes it. 
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on November 23, 2011, 11:07:49 PM
Even if I was more willing to go along with the plot of the ending, I feel like the particular scene was really poorly blocked and acted. It just felt inauthentic. Like...what kind of windscreen was that?
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: 1SO on November 23, 2011, 11:27:01 PM
I was reading your review and it reminded me of everything I found interesting about the film that immediately got obliterated by the ending. I wrestled with it too, looking for some reasoning that wasn't metaphorical. I admire Breillat for having the guts to try something so radical, but it's such a spectacular failure you wish she had money for a reshoot. Either a different ending entirely or a way to make this ending work.
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on November 23, 2011, 11:50:51 PM
Filmmakers are fallible.
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: 1SO on November 24, 2011, 12:05:43 AM
I wasn't implying that she had no idea what she wanted to do. I'm saying that the ending doesn't work, partly because it's so radical and partly because it's so poorly directed.
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: roujin on November 24, 2011, 10:35:06 AM
Baise Moi (2000)

Looking forward to this one a lot.
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on November 27, 2011, 09:02:46 PM
Brief Crossing (2001)

Catherine Breillat has tended to focus on female sexuality, often with a young girl having her first experiences with a much older man. Here she turns the tables around. During an overnight ferry trip across the English Channel, French teen Thomas (Gilles Guillain) meets British thirty-something Alice (Sarah Pratt).

The bulk of the early part of the film is Alice dominating the conversation, talking about her issues with men and drawing out a bit why she is interested in him. She claims her marriage is ended and bemoans a loss of passion in older men compared to the enthusiasm of this teen. I feel there was some interesting stuff going on though it went by fast enough in subtitles that just keeping up was sometimes enough of a challenge that stopping to really consider the lines intellectually wasn't an option as much as I would have liked.

This flirtation reaches its climax when they retire to her cabin. I think the use of nudity here is effective in supporting the broader issues around age. The camera does not seek to hide flaws. Alice is certainly beautiful but there are still some wrinkles, sagging or drooping.

The ending is a nice touch, again a bit of a flipping of convention. It would be easy to ignore the emotional context for Thomas under the conception that guys are ever eager and less bothered by emotional bonds. Ultimately like most of Breillat's films, there is a certain melancholy reality to sexual awakening. It's like the collision between all this fairy-tale rhetoric about how wonderful it should be with the typical reality that it can't live up to these hopes.

At the end of the day, this is a gentle, enjoyable film that lands in the upper portion of Breillat's filmography though it remains short of Anatomy of Hell as my favorite.

4/5
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on November 28, 2011, 09:52:06 PM
Sex Is Comedy (2002)

This film comes at a perfect time with the show reprising the top 5 movies about movies. The lists on the show are kind of boring, naming mostly widely known and widely acclaimed classics. Catherine Breillat's Sex Is Comedy moves right near the top of my list as this film blew me away.

This film is vaguely autobiographical and the actress cast as the director Jeanne (Anne Parillaud) actually has some basic resemblance to Breillat. The film takes us through a few days of a film shoot following Jeanne as she interacts with the lead actors as well as various members of the crew in getting things done. Simply as an insight until the film process it is remarkably engaging.

Being a Breillat film, however, it wouldn't be complete without some sex and some commentary on gender. Throughout the film she makes various comments about dealing with actors, male actors in particular. She has a nearly constant battle with the lead actor to get him to do what she needs. You see her work through the more romantic scenes as well as observe the awkwardness involved in faking this most intimate of things…starting from a beach scene filmed off season in the cold.

But the whole film is building to the main sex scene of the movie being made within the movie. Will she get the two actors who don't get on very well and may or may not be comfortable with what the scene demands in terms of nudity to pull this off? The scene in question mimics a scene from Fat Girl, with Roxane Mesquida in the same role. It is great having seen these two close and being able to compare them. Where Mesquida seemed a bit too beautiful to be playing this teenager in Fat Girl, playing an actress in a scene that doesn't have the context she seems more appropriate. In many ways I found this version of the scene more gripping and emotionally powerful. I like to think that just shows how richly this film built the aspect of performance and not as a slight to Fat Girl. This film just ended on a perfect note for me

Ultimately, this was a very important film for me, I think. As someone who focuses a lot on the use of nudity/sexuality in film, and if I became a filmmaker would probably be inclined to incorporate that within my style, seeing the on-set implications of this played out (accurately or not) provided all the interest I needed. I think this is Breillat's first truly complete film.

5/5
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: 1SO on November 28, 2011, 11:25:46 PM
Just put this one at the top of my queue. Wish I read your review before they shipped me The Future.
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on November 29, 2011, 12:17:13 AM
You should have read my review of The Future before they shipped you The Future. :P
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on November 29, 2011, 11:02:39 PM
Dogville (2003)

This has to be one of the largest disparities between the my appreciation of the story and my appreciation of the filmmaking I've ever seen. Curiously, though it has been too long ago for me to talk about it in much detail, Manderlay was my first Lars von Trier film, and as the second part of the (unfinished) trilogy that Dogville initiates. It uses the same tactics like heavy narration and a minimalist staging using chalk for building outlines. It also runs over two hours. Yet I at least liked it and its interesting perspective on post-slavery conditions and was engaged in it enough.

It is interesting to talk about Dogville as part of this extreme cinema marathon because, while it has a fairly extreme plot and a strongly misanthropic message, the way it is staged makes it positively tame. The fact that the artifice is front and center in the staging, as well as in a certain theatricality in the acting, never brings you as close, and the sexual and violent content is more implied than is typical of von Trier, even in Manderlay. This feels more like a textbook exercise in teaching us of the miserable or animalistic nature of man than an authentic story.

The far greater problem is with the runtime of just under three hours. Cutting a half hour would make it passable, cutting an hour would be entirely possible to make it good. There is just too much lolling around and inefficient narration. This feels more like listening to an audiobook at times. It isn't really until 90 minutes into the film that it starts to even show its hand at the eventual message.

But like I suggest, this is a very interesting outline for a story. Grace (Nicole Kidman) is on the run from gangsters and happens upon this small Colorado town and is protected by resident Tom Edison Jr. (Paul Bettany). Her precarious situation is faced with mistrust from the residents and so she sets out to prove her honesty and usefulness by assisting them with chores. Over (too much) time, this evolves into an increasingly exploitative relationship. Lars von Trier apparently describes the film as saying that "evil can arise anywhere, as long as the situation is right," which certainly fits the notion of a broader misanthropic interpretation. Ebert critiques him as being anti-American, which I accept tangentially, though with a less negative emphasis. It is a broader ideological point that America happens to embody simply about income inequality or the way people will turn desperation and need into their benefit. It is a selfish nature of humanity that again ties back into misanthropy, but one that I, though perhaps not von Trier, would argue some systems have done a better job resolving.

This is all to the good, but it just needed a better film telling the tale. Clip an hour and do just a little less to highlight the artificiality and come back to talk to me. Either way, I feel like this film as much as any others explains why von Trier might have been keen to depict the end of the world in Melancholia.

2/5
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: MartinTeller on November 29, 2011, 11:41:55 PM
The Brechtian production is designed to distance you from the emotional content of the story and encourage self-reflection.
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on December 03, 2011, 09:51:06 PM
The Last Mistress (2007)

This film marks a pretty distinct shift in Breillat's filmography. Though her films had previously left the gritty, arguably poor technical quality behind some ten years earlier, this marks a particular level of cinematography and art direction that would be seen again in her next film Bluebeard. This costumed melodrama is also much more traditional in its narrative and themes and bit less in your face sexuality (though still enough nudity, old habits die hard).

The film starts us in the late 19th Century on the eve of the marriage of Ryno, a poor and somewhat disgraced man of aristocratic birth, and the proper and wealthy Hermangarde (Roxane Mesquida making her third appearance for Breillat). This is a controversial pairing because Ryno has had an extended relationship with Spaniard Vellini (Asia Argento). The bulk of the film is flashbacks of his relationship with Vellini as related to Hermangarde's grandmother to earn her trust that he will be faithful to his soon to be wife.

I'm not sure I get a lot of thematic depth here but as a torrid romantic drama with lots of emotional ups and downs it manages alright. It is very French, presenting an interesting culture where people seem to be jumping from marriage to marriage, all while carrying on extramarital activity. Love is a wild and unkempt sort of thing. And yet despite the tumult we see in this relationship, a certain strain of commitment exists. Whether this does more to prove his fitness in this new marriage or undercuts it, I don't know, but we do get to see into the marriage in the final act.

This film is interesting in that a great number of leads in past Breillat films populate much of the supporting cast here. She's not quite Mike Leigh in having a troop but it would suggest a certain strong relationship or loyalty she develops among her actors.

While I am certainly happy to see Catherine Breillat continue to develop as a technical filmmaker and have no complaints there, and ultimately The Last Mistress and Bluebeard are both solid films, there is something lost from her original stories (basically every film until this point). We shall see with The Sleeping Beauty to follow, but her adaptations lack that biting insight that made her so interesting as a filmmaker even when the films weren't working.

3/5
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on December 04, 2011, 12:53:26 AM
The Sleeping Beauty (2010)

This film doesn't beat around the bush in getting the plot rolling. It opens upon a birth, an old and unattractive (and thus evil) witch placing a curse on the newborn girl (as she is cradled in the arms of her mother even), and three young and beautiful (and thus good) fairies showing up late and figuring a way around the curse. Instead of dying at 16, the girl will fall asleep at 6 and wake up 100 years later as a 16 year old. In the meantime, she will be sent to an active fantasy world.

In the brief time we see the princess before she falls into her sleep, we get a clear signal that she is gender conflicted and rather considers herself a boy, upset whenever they try to limit her or sort her according to her birth sex. This of course is of immediate interest to me. Having entered her fantasy world, she happens upon a mother and son and they take her in having wanted a daughter, yet they dress her in the old boy's clothes and she is happy as can be playing along with the boy until he hits puberty and suddenly a tension is thrown into the situation.

The film occasionally throws symbolic hints back to the real world. Early on in the dream world she is shown a queen bee that has eaten so much it is unable to move and she is frightened by it and responds with a line that hints at burial, implying that is what is happening to her body in the real world. As she moves on she hits a world where she continues to be told not to be noticed, which ties into a certain gender norm about girls.

At the end of the day, the film is a fantasy version of a coming of age story and kind of finding your own way toward being a woman with various comments on gender expectations. I'm not sure I picked up all the layers but the ending, if I interpret it right, is fairly provocative and interesting. Having now finished Breillat's entire feature filmography, this one settles near the top and is a great way to send me into the future and the hopes of more to come from someone who has become one of my favorite directors.

4/5
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Bondo on December 04, 2011, 12:58:07 AM
Well, that wraps it up for this marathon. It turned out to be really incredible. Breillat, who I had seen one film from prior, is now solidly in my top-50 directors. Lars von Trier who I had seen three films from and was rather mixed about is now borderline top-50. Peter Greenaway who I had seen two films from is now top-100. Where do I go from here? Well, Breillat did a segment in an omnibus picture that I'll probably try to check out. von Trier has the other two parts of the Europe trilogy that I could watch or The Five Obstructions which would be DOCember relevant. Greenaway also has a few films remaining that I could visit. I probably won't make too much of that a priority but it is always nice to have a bit left to find with a director. Anyway, below are my film rankings for the three directors.

Catherine Breillat
Sex Is Comedy 5/5
Anatomy of Hell 4/5
The Sleeping Beauty 4/5
Brief Crossing 4/5
Fat Girl 4/5
Bluebeard 3/5
The Last Mistress 3/5
Perfect Love 3/5
36 Fillette 3/5
Romance 2/5
A Real Young Girl 2/5
Dirty Like An Angel 1/5
Nocturnal Uproar 1/5

Lars von Trier
The Idiots 5/5
Antichrist 4/5
Melancholia 4/5
Breaking The Waves 4/5
Manderlay 3/5
Dogville 2/5
Medea 2/5
The Element of Crime 2/5

Peter Greenaway
The Baby of Macon 5/5
The Pillow Book 4/5
The Draughtsman's Contract 4/5
Drowning By Numbers 4/5
The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover 3/5
8 1/2 Women 3/5
The Falls 2/5
The Shorts 2/5
A Zed & Two Noughts 2/5
The Belly of an Architect 1/5
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: Lobby on December 04, 2011, 01:41:52 AM
I've been bugging you about why you need to watch the TV series The Kingdom in the chatroom. But I'll tell you to do so here as well. Just as a reminder. No Trier marathon is complete without that. Besides it's awesome.
Title: Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
Post by: oldkid on December 04, 2011, 06:50:53 PM
Great marathon, Bondo.  I'll be checking out a number of those and I suppose I'll try Greenway again, although I haven't cared for the couple films I'd seen.  Baby of Macon sounds fascinating, though.