Author Topic: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat  (Read 12974 times)

Bondo

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Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
« Reply #20 on: August 18, 2011, 05:51:58 PM »
A Real Young Girl

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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

1SO

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Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
« Reply #21 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.
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Bondo

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Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
« Reply #22 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

1SO

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Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
« Reply #23 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.

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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.
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MartinTeller

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Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
« Reply #24 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.
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Bondo

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Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
« Reply #25 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.

Bondo

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Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
« Reply #26 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

1SO

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Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
« Reply #27 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.
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Bondo

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Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
« Reply #28 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 Abigailís 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

Bondo

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Re: The Kings and Queen of Extreme: Greenaway, von Trier and Breillat
« Reply #29 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