Originally written as a bite-sized review for THOMAS J: My Journey Through Film, aka digitalshortbread.com
If you haven’t seen Chopper, watch it.
A movie that will forever linger in your brain, it is also perhaps the quintessential Aussie film, a preservation of the ‘occa’ culture that is sadly suffering a slow death chiefly due to political reasons whose details that are best saved for another day.
‘Taking the piss’, insulting your mates for laughs over a barbeque, the almost dead notion of mateship between every person – friend or stranger, not to mention the very black humour that is the name of the game in this dramatised biopic, are all represented in this eccentric barrel of laughs. Of course though, there are much more demented themes on show, but even these somehow render Chopper the embodiment of our laid back culture and its unique sense of humour – perhaps most funniest when old Chop-Chop shoots a man, only to drive him to the hospital immedietely afterwards.
A noticeably beefed up Eric Bana plays the larger than life character in a career best performance. It wasn’t long before this that he was limited to Australian TV soaps. It is hard to see this fact given the almost scary depiction of a legitimate maniac.
It is worth repeating that this essential Australian cinema; if you haven’t seen it, I envy you: if only I could go all Men In Black on myself and wipe the memory of all the viewings so I could see it for a first time again myself. I remember where I was and who I was with when I first saw this. It’s that type of movie. Or perhaps my sense of humour is too demented for its own good.
Bana truly inhibits the character of Mark ‘Chopper’ Read, an often psychotic Australian vigilante and ‘legendary criminal’ who was responsible for an unknown amount of deaths. He claims the number is 19, but he was only tried for one attempted murder, a charge he beat before moving on to become a best-selling writer while in prison for other criminal activity. A best-seller, as he laughs, “who can’t even bloody spell”.
During his first venture into crime he would assault drug-dealers, the scourge of the earth in his opinion, often using torture to force more money out of them. Apparently he was fond of blowtorches and bolt-cutters. He took a step up when he decided take on the criminal underworld of Melbourne. Unsurprisingly, he went about this violently.
All up, the guy is what I’d call a bloody good bloke.
For a 94 minute film, Chopper has a truly (and literally) insane amount of action, blood, and thoroughly memorable scenes with quotes that will stick. There is no bloated, two hour-plus slog to be found here, this is efficient filmmaking done right and a direct result of this is that the violent impact is maximised.
We first visit Chopper in prison, where the humourous nature of the film is quickly established, despite the fact than an ear is removed from its owner not far from the beginning. But even this scene is quite funny in how the script has been written.
Soon the violent criminal underworld becomes the principle backdrop, Bana constantly on-screen. His immensely dramatised depiction of Mark Read, coupled with the true to life unpredictable and violent personality of the subject, is a big reason why this flick is so goddamned unrelenting yet hilarious.
Its impossible to know what this crazy bastard is going to do next, but you can be pretty sure that it will include some form of violence. But thanks to a top-notch screenplay, involving Chop’s wild mood swings that funnily enough could be described as violent themselves, quieter scenes possess the same intimidating-as-all-hell feeling. Even if you’re laughing.
Mark Read was one of a kind, and there is no doubt that the film is too – how dramatised his personality is portrayed though is an unknown. One could compare Chopper to Winding Refn’s Bronson in some ways: the black humour, the violence, the notoriety of the subject. But even with this comparison, the differences outweigh the similarities. Chopper is arguably the best Australian film of decade (and no, Fury Road doesn’t count) and every cinephile should add it to their watchlist, if only to see Eric Bana play a part unlike anything else he has done. That and, well, as mentioned, it couldn’t be more Aussie in every conceivable way.
5 and a half beers out a sixer.
Original review written for Cinemaaxis.com
Not unlike Pasolini’s ‘The 120 Days of Sodom’, The Painted Bird film will be known by some as ‘that three hour child torture movie’, ‘child torture porn’, or a similar, basic summary along these lines. I hope I am wrong, but despite knowing what they were going into, last year’s Venice premier prompted several walkouts. True, the torrid and almost creative way in which the child protagonist is tormented by almost every person he meets is rather confronting and not for everyone.
The Painted Bird is a spiritual successor to 1985’s Come and See (indeed, the latter’s young protagonist Aleksey Kravchenko is cast here as a direct tribute) as it too follows an aimless, assumedly orphaned child (Petr Kotlár) in an unnamed part of Eastern Europe amidst WWII: ‘The Bloodlands’. Given this premise, director Václav Marhoul chose to use ‘Interslavic’, an amalgam of several Eastern European languages, effectively covering this vast area.
Like Come and See, we witness consistent horrid events from the point of view of a child, and among its many themes which an entire essay could cover, the innocence of the child finds him seeking refuge from people similar to those he has just escaped from. His childish innocence also finds him trying to help the few who haven’t harmed him, only to worsen their situation. Each of these are to forget.
Additionally, being shot over the course of three years, the young protagonist visibly ages within the film, while psychologically his aging is a powerful comment on the development of personality being based largely on childhood experiences. This notion culminates in the film’s unforgettable final sequences. Other extensionalist themes weave their way into the film, especially the metamorphosis of ordinary civilians’ behaviour due to a war they want no part of. These civilians that Joska meets as he seeks shelter are suffering from poverty as well as a war that rages around them. Superstition becomes scarily illogical and is often is the cause of Joska being accused as the reason for their suffering. Why else would an outsider wander into their struggling village? It is a frightening depiction of war turning ordinary civilians into cruel people, many of whom are instantly judgemental of any person unknown to them. Joska is a personification of the feared outsider, the fact that he is a child increases the recurring thematic wallop of what living in The Bloodlands during the war did to people. Whether these people weren’t like this prior to the war remains an unanswered question of great importance.
As if all this weren’t enough, hammering the point home is that one of the very few people who show him pity isn’t a civilian, but a soldier. The act is so foreign to Joska that at first he struggles to understand what is happening.
The cinematography is intentionally shot in black and white using high contrast; picturesque landscape shots are beautiful yet harsh, creating two instances of contrast within single shots. It is quite a feat, and their placement relate to the film with masterful touch.
The beauty is in direct juxtaposition to what is happening on (and off) screen. The same can be said for Kotlár’s almost complete lack of facial expression despite what he is experiencing. Subsequently. the few times we do see a very subtle change on his face, it is amplified, and if such a change is a major, sudden deviance, the emotional result is immediate. It’s gut-wrenching, almost violent in nature. Conversely, in an odd way the harshness of the aforementioned shots play against instances where Joska is able to escape a captor, which are arguably instances of beauty within a film void of anything resembling a true instance of it. The same can be said for the few who do not exploit him.
Make no mistake, this is more than a film. Confronting feels like a crude understatement as this is a deeply layered three hour nightmare of the type that refuses to leave you in peace. Important to understanding the film’s understated thematic elements is a basic understanding of what historian Timothy Synder referred to as The ‘Bloodlands’: a large area stretching from central Poland to eastern Russian, encompassing parts of Belarus, Ukraine and the Baltic States. From 1933 to 1945, according to Snyder approximately 14 million people native to their countries lost their lives. Most were without a uniform and bore no emblem or allegiance to one side. While many of these deaths were at the hands Stalin and Hitler’s forces, more importantly, surviving non-combatants were also far from innocent. This last fact was obviously the main influences for the civilians’ behaviour and their treatment of Joska.
For a film of such minimalism, its capacity for heartbreak is undeniably powerful, which brings back to mind the masterful use of juxtaposition within a long, slow film. It is no surprise then that comparisons to Tarkovsky have been made, and not simply due to the similarities to Ivan’s Childhood.
He had a rare ability to subtly create unique, atmospheric films where the overused word ‘epic’ genuinely applied. A similar feeling is evident throughout The Painted Bird: its inexplicable atmosphere is heightened by sparse dialogue, a slow pace and no soundtrack to speak of. Endless iconic scenes of Tarkovsky films spring to mind when considering these qualities.
Obviously not for the squeamish, this searing portrait of living within the Bloodlands engraves a bright potential future for both Marhoul and the non-professional actor Petr Kotlár. Many will lambast the film, but given the background of the area it is based in, the blood it has seen, an awareness of this turns the film into a haunting, unforgettable experience of a childhood filled with terror and the consequences of this. Like most of Tarkovsky’s work, pondering on its psychological musings is difficult to avoid. However, despite the slow pace and horrific scenes, the ultimate difficulty is to look away.
An easy full six pack, and after sitting through this nightmare rendered terrifyingly real, you will definitely savour each drop.
After 2015’s cinematic disaster, it is hard to fathom why Josh Trank received funding not just for a major film, but one to star Tom Hardy in the titular role. At least 12 months ago, photos of Hardy in full make-up as an older Capone circulated the internet. and whether it was intentional or not, this backfired
Many, including myself, were waiting to see Hardy play another notorious criminal were left severely disappointed. especially after his efforts playing Charlie Bronson and both Kray twins. Expectations were high. Our wishes was fulfilled, but Capone is a film that is comical in the worst way: the man’s mental deterioration is funny, immensely so, a sentence that feels wrong as I write it.
Ignoring the fact that Hardy doesn’t resemble Capone at all – the makeup a smidge over the top then – worse still is that to public knowledge, Capone’s voice doesn’t exist on tape. Hardy chews scenes effortlessly, his raspy, three packets a day smoker’s voice memorable and consistent with an effortless hint of the mans Italian/Brooklyn roots.
One has to wonder if this voice was his decision or Trank’s, as the biggest influence is for the most part based on a Bugs Bunny episode. This is not a joke.
Apart from Hardy, finding anything to comment on in a positive light is difficult. The unintentional comedic value: Al ‘smokes’ carrots, unable to differentiate it from a cigar, is a legitimately funny idea, as is a diaper-clad Al firing a gold-plated tommy gun. Neither are presented as comedic though, and to the knowledge of those close to Al in his final days, these scenes are entirely fictional.
The movie also suffers from the vast difference between his hallucinations and reality: in an early, extended scene reminiscent of The Overlook’s party taking place in Jack’s mind, here it is in his basement. He sing a version of a song that didn’t exist at the time, which given the above examples isn’t surprising, the most egregious (and a continued motif) narrative decision is to connect an important part of these delusions to reality. Worse still, it is hardly a small detail, yet its importance is barely emphasised, simply causing confusion.
Of course, ther entire idea is fictitious, rendering its jump from insanity into reality absurd, unrealistic and proof that Trank cannot write.
The LSD-like hallucinations make up a fair portion of the film, unsurprising given his brain’s deterioration, but Trank either doesn’t have the finesse to create any suspense as to whether a hallucination could potentially be reality, or the premise is one he never entertained. We’re only kept guessing when he yells at supposed enemies hiding in the woods that surround his backyard, but the constant surveillance he was under render these scenes a little pointless. His use of a shotgun while fishing could certainly be either, but its importance is fleeting.
The supporting casts’ performances are solid at best, only his wife giving a somewhat memorable display. However we can barely connect with her shallow depiction. in fact even any exploration of Al’s character is minimal. He is a criminal who losing his ability to function. It is unclear if this is to elicit pity, but regardless it is yet more incredibly lazy writing.
The screenplay? Confusing is understating affairs, containing so many untied loose ends it is best compared to a maze with no exit as several peripheral plotlines are left unexplored, unfinished, or simply confusing.
The concept that the film is about the guilt someone like Al may feel at this stage of his life seems, until one realises, or rather, forgets, how bad the script is and that nothing is said to support this notion.
Often covered in his own vomit and/or feces, the film feels like a cinematic hit job on the notorious gangster, only he is the one on the receiving end.
This is worth two beers out a sixer, its only strength being Hardy.
His best picture since The Pianist, The Officer and The Spy (or J’Accuse, its title in France) is Polanski’s third and arguably most accessible film since he began working in French seven years ago. Refreshingly, no opening titles announce that the film is based on true events, as once the name Alfred Dreyfus is heard in the first few minutes it becomes clear that this is indeed a true story based on unfortunate historical events.
This story of Dreyfus thrusts the viewer into the late 19th century: the use of natural light throughout is perhaps the biggest factor, amplifying the effect of horse drawn carts travelling down dirt roads and natural orange interiors. The spectacular wardrobe of the French military, as well as civilians, is the final touch in recreating the period with amazing reality.
A simple story of an innocent man being condemned because of his heritage is hardly unique. Its presentation however is delivered with the expertise one would expect from a director with six decades of experience. The story itself is well known but elements of suspense effortlessly blend into the screenplay, co-written by the author of the source novel and previous collaborator Robert Harris.
Following the dramatic opening in which Polanski’s long-time cinematographer Pawel Edelman uses the large open area to great effect, it is revealed that a high figure of the army’s intelligence wing is severely ill. The central character Georges Picquart (Jean Dudjardin) is asked to replace him despite no prior experience in this field. The true reason he is chosen is made clear via the effectively presented flashbacks in the first act.
Soon his new position allows him to witness the evidence against Dreyfus that subsequently led to the farce that was his trial. Importantly, he becomes aware of his peripheral involvement in the trial, leading him to question the methods used by the army he has been a part of for 25 years.
The film excels in the building of Picquart’s character, simultaneously and almost comically portraying the inherent corruption that breeds within intelligence agencies who show little to no transparency. The more Picquart learns, the further his character evolves while the reality of espionage put on display, a reality which of course remains relevant to this day.
Winning best picture and director at the ‘The French Oscars’ unsurprisingly caused a stir and multiple walkouts. Given Roman’s rather dim remarks that he chose this story feeling it aligned with his own as he maintains his innocence, this reaction to his win is far from surprising. His Jewish background doesn’t seem to have much, if any, bearing on his situation: a far cry from the hell that Alfred Dreyfus experienced.
Pushing this aside though, it is clear that J’Accuse is the work of an experienced filmmaker in top form: a masterful demonstration in how to create a believable historical piece. Regardless of one’s opinion of Polanski himself, his high skill in film-making has not decreased and cannot be denied.
Five beers out a six-pack.
The beer is back!!
As always, thanks again to Courtney:
The Polish nominee for this year’s Academy Awards is a poignant, emotional drama that follows Daniel, a young man who finds his spiritual self in Christianity while in a juvenile detention centre. The opening scene briefly shows his personality however, as he keeps watch when a guard leaves the room so one sorry inmate can be thrashed by several others. There is not a trace of regret on Daniel’s face. His crime that landed him in juvie initially remains unexplored.
After a mass, the transformation Daniel undertakes is strongly portrayed, his faith unwavering as he dreams of becoming a priest when released. When this time comes however, the priest of the centre repeats an answer to a question he has clearly heard several times from Daniel; given his criminal record, he cannot fulfil his wish to become a priest himself. Of course, this does not stop him from trying.
He is to catch a bus that is headed for a sawmill on the other side of the country, a place where many inmates are sent to work. The film is hesitant to reveal many facts, but this is to the film’s advantage. There is a subtle air of uncertainty and darkness surrounding him, the sawmill he briefly visits and the town he decides to visit.
Soon after learning that the town had recently suffered a tragedy in which six young people were killed in a head on collision, he endeavours to help the families and friends of the victims, despite taking advantage of his fake position as the town’s priest.
Soon, the minister’s wife takes him to meet the minister himself, who is ill and assumes that Daniel is ‘Father ‘Thomasz’, who is to be his replacement. The minister’s wife offers him a bed for the night, but her facial expressions show her uncertainty and mistrust of the young ‘priest’. She isn’t entirely wrong as quick scene shows him pocketing money from the Church donations
He wakes the next morning to see the father very sick, and is asked by his wife to substitute temporarily for confession; his first challenge. He looks at his phone for instructions while listening. Despite his inexperience, his words help those who talk to him.
In a clear allegory to the power of faith, Daniel’s confidence in delivering sermons grows. They are unconventional and untrained – occasionally they are downright theatrical, a vast difference to what the town is accustomed to. However, he is bringing the community together as the pews gradually begin to fill. He tries to heal the people of a broken town, to bring them hope and stability and to restore their faith.
Bartosz Bielenia as Daniel/Father Thomasz, in his first lead role, is magnetic; his is in most scenes, his eyes piercing and intense.
This rebirth of a criminal to what seems like a passionate man of God is foos for discussion. It throws forward interesting questions while deftly avoiding taking a side against or for religion. It offers scenes that show both sides of the coin, exploring the concept of faith. Daniel’s ability as a ‘father’ offers him opportunities to manipulate the towk folk for his own gain. Even if it is ultimately for a good cause, does he truly want to help people, or does he simply want to feel like a good person after a dark past? The other side of course is the power of faith that Daniel’s sermons ressurect. Given the story and subject matter, it isd a very balanced film.
The elephant in the room though is hard to ignore. Daniel is a criminal. Daniel rarely expresses emotion (unless during a sermon) rendering it impossible to know his true intentions. Is his willingness to dress as a priest and help those affected by the crash a ploy to avoid a hard, unrewarding life working at a sawmill? A way to avoid other ex-cons, a way feel important? How much money did he pocket from Church donations?
Or, is he honestly following his dream to become a priest? His emotion and passion for the chruch is clearly legitimate, but to what end? This uncertainty of his final goal, what he is planning, is never clear.
Whether you are religious, spiritually minded or not, this is a captivating, heavy drama that asks us pertinent and timely questions: what do we have faith in? And importantly, how strong is it? Can it be broken by a tragedy such as the one in this film?
If you dislike religion, this is still a movie that needs to be seen given the balanced screenplay which never has any bias to one side: the concept of faith, and what could be considered a wolf in sheep’s clothing, but again it is never clear if he is a wolf.
Even if only to witness the captivating lead role, this is a film that must be seen.
As always, thanks again to Courtney:
Guy Ritchie’s The Gentlemen signifies a return to the crime-laden and humourous style that originally established his career. Save for Matthew McConaughey’s criminal protagonist ‘Mickey’, who hails from the US in a very odd and out of place casting choice, this film is definitively British in every way. The classic UK-style of dry humour plays a big role, and the way the script is written and delivered maximises the potential it presents.
Mickey’s game is marijuana – truly massive quantities of it. He wants out though – in other words he wants to cash his cheque after years’ of hard work keeping the operation underground. This draws attention from many interested parties, all whose personalities contrast against each other gloriously and soon Mickey is forced to negotiate after a video hits the net that doesn’t cast his enterprise in a respectful way, to put it lightly. As Ritchie returns to what he knows best, it is quickly apparent that he is using his many years of experience to create a more polished and mature film that those that made his name.
The aforementioned eccentric, exaggerated characters litter the story on both sides, ranging from high ranking British officials to Asian gangs to other, low-key parties who have all taken an interest in Mickey’s business and they don’t intend to play fair. The man taking charge of the Asian contingent is hilariously known as ‘Dry-Eye’ (Henry Golding), an obvious reference to what one’s eyes feel like if smoking weed (or ‘bush’ as the Poms seem to call it). Another is known as ‘Phuc’ (James Wong), which prompts amusing discussions of how it is spelt versus how it is pronounced.
The rapid-fire, witty script is what powers the film for the most part: again,. quintessentially British with an incredible number of one-liners that never feel forced, principally because they are rooted in British slang and culture. Ritchie has created the tightest screenplay and script of his career, and as an artist, he quite rightly ignores current societal trends that yearn to not ‘offend’. It seems he can see them for what they truly are. His gleeful use of the almighty ‘c-word’ is consistent throughout, and its use alone will surely divide viewers, a sentiment I can’t quite understand given its a single word, and again a part of British slang.
Clearly then, this is a film that doesn’t understand, nor care, about ‘political correctness’.
An unexpected but pleasant surprise is Hugh Grant, complete with a Cockney accent. He excels in perhaps the biggest against-type role in recent history, playing a dodgy private detective who seems to have all the answers, and the confidence to back it up. He is easily the centre of all the scenes he is in, and subsequently the film itself due to the interesting way Ritchie lets the story unfold. Grant flirts with Mickey’s trusted friend/business adviser/’right-hand-man’ Ray (an appropriately understated Charlie Hunnam) after the fact, and that his documentation of the events as a screenplay adds further sauce into the saucepan along with the effortless flashbacks that are easily distinguishable given he and Hunnam’s interaction doesn’t leave the room it begins in.
Grant soars in a role seemingly written for him and him only, flying far higher than McConaughey, who himself looks high on his own supply for the entire film. McConaughey hasn’t been the centre of a great film for a few years now and, despite being the focal point of the story, he is out-shined by all co-stars here. His autopilot mode is engaged and the film suffers as a result, but it does give bit players such as a boxing coach played by Colin Farrell, and especially his wife Rosalind (Michelle Dockery) who easily holds her own amongst the men who are often pushing an image that exceeds their true personality, or abilities for that matter. She is the diamond in the the rough and probably possesses the most legitimate ‘take-no-shit’ attitude of any player in this farcical caper.
As for Grant, the future surely holds further exciting roles, and he undoubtedly deserves them as easily the best, most magnetic and memorable part of the entire film, more so than the story itself, which admittedly is a slight problem. As for Ritchie, he has made a very loud splash after a series of underwhelming films. Using experience and versatility to tell his story in a cleverly presented fashion, The Gentlemen is Guy Ritchie’s best film in years as his take-no-prisoners approach returns to the fore.
The extensive use of psychedelics against Christian’s will is hard to ignore; it is clear that after Dani is crowned, Christian has no idea what is happening, amplified by the man next to him blowing yet more foreign but obviously psychedelic dust from the palm of his hand into Christian’s face, a bit of a sucker-punch if you ask me
When Dani is crowned the flower princess, in one of many references to Paganism, it is yet another worship of nature as Dani is covered in flowers to celebrate the occasion, while the visiting men who burn to death also feature themes of nature: the pelt of a bear, flowers replacing the eyes in another victim burnt by the fire. The foot of another protrudes from dirt too. Dani’s smile to end the film as she turns to look at Christian burning alive leaves us to wonder what exactly her fate is.
Also interesting is that his name is Christian. Who was it that essentially wiped this demonic (we truly do need a sarcasm emoji) religion from the face of the Earth? Yup. Nice stuff Ari.
While the filmmakers have attempted to explain some of the paintings and their symbolism, yet conveniently leave out others that are in the film, either way I’m one who tends to ignore a director trying to tell us how certain images are to be perceived. It reeks or arrogance, and this was never more egregious than when Darren Aronofsky was telling people that this is how mother! was to be interpreted. I’m sorry guys, but we all have minds of our own and a life experience of our own. With that irritant out of the way, could this below have something to do with what is planned for Dani, whatever it may be? It doesn’t seem to relate to any other scenes of the film.
When we see her move after the ceremony where she sits at the head of the table, the amount of flowers covering her makes it extremely hard to make progress. Dani can barely be seen underneath the absurd amount of flowers that seem to slowly grow and cover her, as if they are threatening to eat her alive. Is this the last stage of the pagan’s plans for her? Are her ovaries what is depicted above, to be alight with life much like the girl who a drugged Christian had sex with?
Importantly, let’s recall how happy Pelle was that she was able to come… despite her being a friend’s girlfriend, someone he doesn’t know too well and certainly isn’t friends with. Why would he talk to her like that – her response to his statement at first has more than a trace of confusion.
The juxtaposition between the bright, sunny environment and the actions of the Hårga make each of the unpleasant, distressing scenes feel somehow more evil in nature. They clearly use all outside visitors, including Dani despite the smile on her face, which may not even be related to Christian given the psychedelic drinks consumed, as well as the mushrooms earlier that she did not react well to.
This subject matter is far from fiction too: most of the traditional/ceremonial events we see are based on ancient cultures; the traditions of those times were brutal beyond belief. An interesting question could be: do any such the tribes still exist? In the Amazon perhaps? Aster has again created a true mindf*ck of a film, and I absolutely love it.
Is this a floral crown of thorns combined with being nailed to a cross? She can barely move, and is wearing a floral combination of a crown of thorns and the pope’s funny hat. There is some connection to Christianity, I’m sure of it. Or, perhaps I have just watched this damned film too many times.
Ari Aster has resurrected the horror genre (arguably along with Robert Eggers), setting the bar incredibly high. If the characters weren’t so typical and shallow, this would be a perfect film. But that may well be the point: in religion like this, personalities aren’t a part of the culture, rather it is the whole that matters much more.
Midsommar is damned close, if not the best, psychological horror film ever created. While very different from Polanski’s Repulsion, both succeed in burrowing into your brain to create scenes that will take some time to leave you alone at night. Despite being decades apart, both are must-see movies that are hard to forget.
It feels like this should be a good time to make my own list of films that have thoroughly drilled through my brain. I can’t explain why I like films that severely screw with my head, painting images for me to see every time I close my eyes. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense I must admit. I suppose I like to challenge my self. Mindf*ck movies thankfully are still around other that Aster: The Lighthouse by Robert Eggers certainly causes madness and creates memorable images. Aronofsky’s mother! is somewhat in this category, though the Colombian film Monos by Alejandro Landes is one of the best movies of my made-up genre that I have seen yet… apart from Midsommar of course, as it is one of the most f*cked up films I have ever seen, the events that unfold, the artwork that we see, that final scene of the building burning down completely is one of cinema’s best scenes/ending to exists. If this film does mess with your head, then there really is something wrong with ya. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem like he has a project in the future, but I am sure that it will be fantastic.
So, it seems apparent then that one of the Hårga’s traditions once they reach the age of 72, the end the final ‘cycle’, they jump off a cliff, not before being carried like a king to the cliff beforehand. I’m sure this latter part makes some sort of sense, respecting one’s elders and whatnot, but it still seems odd that jumping off a cliff towards a jagged rock isn’t s big deal for these folk. And if they don’t die, they are to lie there in pain until so friends armed with giant wooden sledgehammers slowly amble up to the ‘victim’ – no need to rush, this person is only is extreme pain – and proceed to take turns in slamming a giant sledgehammer into his skull, almost like this this is a custom as well. A privilege to be shared around as those who casually walk forward share the sledgehammer around. All while the rest of them are smiling and chanting! Although on of the girls in the second pic pictures admittedly doesn’t look too happy! The leader of the Hårga’s recreational activity certainly seems to though.
When I first saw Midsommar, the final sequence of Dani’s boyfriend being burned alive seared itself into my retina and long-term memory, just before the smile that we see on Dani’s face, literally her first smile of the movie. This final sequences literally stopped my brain from functioning properly, I’d try to think and that was all that was there, this and folk free-falling off cliffs. This prompted me to joke brainlessly to my friend, “Now that is he ultimate way to dump someone!” I wasn’t capable to make an intelligent statement about the movie for about 15 minutes, and besides, while not intended, it kinda is the ultimate way to break up with someone. At a commune, in the middle of nowhere, burned alive!! Given how much of an asshole Christian was, it did seem fitting.
Pertinently, it was Pelle, the humble, friendly Swede who originally kicked the entire psychedelic freak-out into motion. Seeing that his friend was doing a thesis on similar types of people, he took the advantage to bring his friends to his ‘commune’ to be used by the Hårga, playing dumb when asked, appropriately, ‘what the F*CK?!’ after the rest of group grill him on why he didn’t tell anyone about the ‘tradition’ of diving off a cliff. It isn’t as if it just ‘happened’ either, there was plenty of time to say something before. He also plays the ignorant card as the people he brought, as well as another couple, begin to disappear. It also seems that Christian, in what mustn’t have been a hard task, has already been brainwashed by Pelle or one of many who drug him later on, as his response to people randomly disappearing in a condescending, “that’s TERRIBLE!” to Dani, only to then to promptly move onto the topic he was discussing with a local.
To be fair, after at least ten watches it became clear that there were several overt signs that blood would spill, among other things. And I clearly wasn’t the only one according to Google.
The painting above seems is obviously related to the chilling scene that follow this second image. But both seem to be a sign of what is to come: that blood will be shed, metaphorically that is. These may depict the blood of Hårga elders, but after this it is the visiting party who begin to go missing.
Unsurprisingly then, the Hårga were easily able to use Christian, his idiocy, ignorance and arrogance was the perfect combination for the two ceremonies he takes part in, his world becoming increasing psychedelic in nature due to being drugged several times, soon losing control of his actions as he is encouraged to ‘finish’ while having sex with a local girl in order to continue the commune’s existence, the girl exclaiming that she can “feel the baby!” immediately afterwards. The below painting from the film is rather self explanatory.
The second ceremony of course has him awake but only able to use his eyes – nothing else. The images of this scene will forever stay with me, not to mention the fact that he is able to witness, feel and smell his body being burnt alive without the power to do anything to stop it, to even scream in pain. It does appear in the last picture that he is able to move his facial muscles though!
It is a savage ending to a psychologically savage film, predicted by another painting that apparent experts in symbolism disagree with me on.
Over a decade ago as an unemployed, young 20-something man-child, I sat on my backside every day, all day, watching movies, often inebriated. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, I don’t remember much from those days. Though funnily enough, I remember Memento vividly despite having major memory issues myself.
I also recall that someone online, or someone in person… it doesn’t matter who really: I came across the ideal phrase to describe the kind of movie that I always had loved, and forever will. Could it be a genre of its own? Despite often combining traditional genres to achieve its mind-f*ckery, I think it could be, and should be. At least in my mind-f*cked opinion. It is a type of film that will always surprise, is often unpredictable, and thoroughly bores itself into one’s cranium.
A mind-f*ck movie.
Two words to describe the exact type of movie I enjoy the most, films that consistently seem to stand the test of time and play out as the moniker suggests.
I quickly searched the term and the first result was a perfect hit, a simple site that alphabetically listed 200-300 films. The title at the top was made up of two familiar words.
This was the first time I had ever read about the likes Polanski, Argento, Kubrick, Gilliam, Cronenberg, and countless others. A completely new world of film. Using the list as a guide, I’d rent 10-15 movies every week, continuing to sit on my backside every day, however, I was now focused on the films rather than avoiding sobriety.
Fast forward to 2018, and enter Ari Aster. In less than two years, he seems to have taken this concept and claimed it as his own. He has created a level of sheer min-f*ckery that twisted this ‘genre’ (as well as the modern horror film) to new heights.
Hereditary clearly displayed a director confident in his writing and directorial intentions while truly screwing with viewers minds; one scene in particular is till in my head. Last year, Midsommar expanded on a unique visual style that Aster has quickly established. As a writer/director – a combination that we need much more of – he of course has also established an ability to surprise and to, ahem, f*ck minds, including mine, one that was, and is, thoroughly disturbed.
The film kicks off with a very dark and cold bang, and this darkness in tone remains relentless for the entire film despite its juxtaposition with bright sunny visuals and the incredibly disturbing events that transpire.
The beginning finds Dani’s sister, and parents, dead. A fantastic way to start a film of this nature. The scene looks like her sister intentionally gassed not just herself, but her parents too. It is brutal but unclear: we are never explicitly told. Minutes in and after Dani witnesses this, as if in a nightmare, she is obviously shaken into an appropriate fit of wailing and crying. She is now alone within her no family.
She calls her boyfriend, the only person left in her life she loves, but the love is based on her loneliness. Needing emotional support, she gets nothing as Christian is moronic, brainless boyfriend with a crumbling brick for a brain, a constant throughout the film. If anything, he amazingly becomes dumber and dumber, as if the brink is made of dirt.
But if she dumps him, who is left in her life?
One of Ari’s trademarks is his his DPs’ very deliberate camerawork. To begin Hereditary, the camera slowly pans over a miniature model of her house, a fantastic way to illustrate the mother’s mental state: why miniature models? Is that how she feels within her family? Aster has an keen eye for subtle, symbolic moments like this that often take several viewings just to notice. The ending to Hereditary is an obvious exception, as far from subtle as possible. But what does it mean? It is again psychologically dark, unique and very, very strange. It is an important opening scene, captured perfectly as the tree house looms in the back ground outside.
The same applies to Midsommar, the single take and the slow movement forward over the scene of her dead family are done is such a way that they tell their own story without the need for words. Working with the same DP as his first film, Pawel Pogorzelski, is an obvious advantage.
Side note: What is it about Polish cinematographers? Every second DP I read about seems to be Polish. Whatever the reason is, they are certainly competent behind the camera!!
The story told by the camera suits the story well: long takes sweep slowly over the dead bodies, but pay no attention to these lifeless people on screen, not focusing on any one of them. It is deliberately cold and unemotional. Soon, more deliberately paced camera movement establishes a similar narrative. Dani is wailing on a couch having witnessed her lifeless family, trying to find comfort from Christian, who clearly does not want o be there.
Much like the dead bodies in the earlier scene, the camera doesn’t pay attention to the tears, the cries of uncertainty, the two characters on the couch. Rather it treats the two as pieces of furniture, barely focusing on Dani. It gradually moves over her and Christian in a way that seems to dismiss Dani’s situation, casually ignoring her cries.
Appropriately, snow is falling outside as the camera stops moving and locks onto a window, and in a small stroke of genius, this is where the title of the film appears as heavy snow falls behind it. This camerawork alone establishes a cold and dark atmosphere that lingers throughout the film, the bright Midsommar festival be damned.
Unlike Hereditary, Midsommar moves into much more psychologically challenging territory. This is a true horror film, as it will horrify you. The psychological angle becomes the core of the film as the group of friends try to understand why they are required to do certain things, and more so, why the people of the commune act in the way they do. Not to mention, the visitors to the commune begin to disappear one by one.
The unforgettable scene where two of the Hårga people jump off a cliff where jagged rock is waiting for them is the only bloody scene, and its horrifying and surprisingly nature, its intensity, is amplified by the contrast of the complete lack of blood before and after the rest movie. The visitors are unsurprisingly disgusted and act as much.
The genre staple of establishing drug connections, drug deals going sideways and often ending ending in violence with money owed to the wrong people, has been well explored and is an arguably worn out formula. Birds of Passage is a vast re-imagining that spins this construct into a very different experience, offering a contrasting, unique perspective. The drug trade represents capitalism and modern society, whose prosperity affects a native tribe of Columbia in the 1960’s, threatening their culture, their values and their humanity. This depiction of a real tribe of people during this period is both honest and brutal – it may be a very different look at the genre, but blood still spills.
Birds of Passage then is unabashedly calling out the modern world and especially capitalist society, speaking not just for this Colombian tribe, the Wayuu people, but all native peoples around the world who sadly have suffered similar fates. Despite the vastly different setting, this remains a violent crime saga, and whether it is a native tribe or the city folk of past films, the destination remains the same.
The Wayuu people rather impressively lived in relative peace until the late 1960’s, relatively untouched by modern civilisation, and thrived for years after they adapted after the marijuana trade invaded their culture, enriching their lives in a semi-capitalist fashion at the cost of their spirituality and morals.
This change comes after Zaida, part of an influential family of this clan and the daughter of the family’s matriarch, Ursula, takes part in a traditional ceremony signifying her becoming a woman. A young man, Rapayet, tells Zaida that she is to be his wife after taking part in this ceremony.
Ursula is hesitant to approve this bond due to Rapayet’s background, as she knows he has dealt with outsiders in the past. She consequently asks for a large amount of supplies as dowry if he is to take her daughter’s hand. Rapayet however uses his past experience to easily acquire what is asked of him; a sign of what is to come as he becomes heavily involved in the booming business of marijuana trade.
Living on their land in the far north of Columbia and Venezuela, the area becomes increasingly crowded by outsiders of the clan. Rapayet’s involvement in the marijuana trade has improved their lives in a material sense. However, it hurts their culture: traditions are compromised, as are their relationships with other Wayuu clans. Many younger men begin to leave the traditions of their culture behind, and soon violence erupts between the formerly peaceful clans of the Wayuu, with Rapayet at the centre of it all.
Birds of Passage straddles both its commentary on the modern world tearing apart generations of tradition and native people, while also presenting the film in a wonderfully colourful, picturesque and trance-like fashion, enhancing the film as more than commentary on a period of history. Traditional music also accompanies the colours and the traditional dancing, giving the serious narrative a stylish touch.
Within the enhanced colours of the desert, this story becomes a warning as well as an examination of the Wayuu people and how they were affected. It is a timely message as the cracks in capitalism seem to be showing today, and our future may well be similar to that of Wayuu tribe.
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