Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

FANTASTIC PLANET (1973)
Profoundly unsettling French animated movie about a world where humans are pests or pets to a race of giant aliens called Draags. It's very disturbing to see humans treated like rats, which is of course the point. Very imaginative and fascinating; it's truly surreal. There's a lot of mixing of superstition and science, particularly in the way the Draags want to explore the mind and meditation in a quest for a higher self, but fear even the notion of accepting humans as conscious, intelligent beings rather than mere animals. Interesting, too, the Cold War overtones. But the disturbing imagery remains... ***1/2

THE MYSTERY OF THE THIRD PLANET (1981)
Fun Russian animated film about a girl on a scientific trip with her father to procure exotic animal species for an intergalactic zoo. They accidentally uncover a pirate conspiracy and get tangled up in a search for missing space captains. Apparently it's something of a cult classic in Russia; I would never have known about it if I hadn't seen stills on Tumblr recently and decided to look on YouTube. Great creature and alien design; I love it when outer space is as biodiverse as possible. ***1/2

THE SNOW QUEEN (1957)
This Soviet animated feature is one of the best animated features I've ever seen. This is from Soyuzmultfilm, and it's impeccably made. I don't know what animated features were available to the Soviet Union, but it reminds me most of Fleischer cartoons and Disney films of the 1930s; it's a full animation spectacle, much more in the vein of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Pinocchio than the Disney films of the time. The Snow Queen herself is a marvel of character animation; the impossibly straight lines of her crown are amazing. Apparently there's an American dubbed version of this out there from the nineties; the one I saw on YouTube was in Russian and subtitled, and it's beautiful. ****

CAPTAIN DONALD (2014)
I know I say it all the time, but I'm so, so glad to see Donald Duck getting some spotlight time in the new series of Mickey Mouse cartoons. Fast-paced and full of gags, this one had me laughing hard on a night I really needed it. ****

NYMPHOMANIAC (2013)
Lars Von Trier's final entry in his "Depression Trilogy." Charlotte Gainsbourg stars as the titular nymphomaniac, and tells the story of her life. There's a lot of misogyny on display, but I don't think it's a misogynist movie, though it's often uncomfortable to watch. What's so interesting to me about this movie is that it tries to honestly address the way patriarchal oppression of femininity prizes white women as objects, and how that can be dehumanizing, and then attempts to unravel it humanizing female sexuality, and then completely rejects its own attempts to be sex-positive because, in its way, sex-positivity can itself be oppressive by offering women only a chance to be complicit in their own domination. It's a radical, challenging idea, and Von Trier seems to be unable to grasp it completely. But the key here is that he's totally honest about that; he doesn't answer the questions he raises because he has no answers. It's the exploration of those ideas that we watch. When Gainsbourg finally does rise above it and take things into her own hands, we don't even get to see it; we only hear it and draw our own assumptions, perhaps because Von Trier doesn't yet know what it looks like for a woman to take her power into her own hands. Perhaps, as a man, he feels it would presumptuous to try. It's an endlessly fascinating exploration, along the way touching on other aspects he explores in his other "Depression Trilogy" films, Melancholia and Antichrist--grief, loss, regret, humanity, resignation, and what lies we tell ourselves to make the best of an existence that may ultimately have no greater meaning. I know four hours of sex-negative feminism is not for everyone--I see people all over the internet who are more than a little pissed off about this being a sexually graphic movie you'd not really want to masturbate to--but there is a lot here to think about it. ****

(I should mention: I saw the unrated two-part version, released here as two separate films, but I'm counting it as one. Apparently Von Trier's original version, as yet unreleased, runs for five and a half hours.)

UNDER THE SKIN (2013)
Artful, engrossing film with Scarlett Johansson as an alien in human form. She drives around Scotland, talks to men, seduces some, and in the process explores aspects of humanity. What's so interesting about this film is how quiet it is. I think this is the kind of film that people watch, lured in by the promise of Scarlett Johansson taking off all of her clothes--and yes, she looks stunning, come on--and are then angry about it because it's not a fun sex romp. It's a contemplative, slow-paced, but utterly fascinating movie held together by Johansson's performance. She can do more with a curious look than some actors do with a page of dialogue. Can we please stop acting like she's a hot girl who accidentally fell into a career yet? (And boy, the rise of deep, interesting films that are heavily criticized by viewers who can't jack off to them is really getting annoying. Let's just call it the Spring Breakers Effect. God forbid we explore the way people relate--or can't relate--to one another. You'll get another hard-on, I promise. Stop panicking that each one is your last.) Sorry about the digression. Anyway, I can't stop thinking about this movie. It's kind of formless, but watching it go where it went was hard to look away from. ****

3 comments:

Konstantin Burlak said...

The Mystery of the third planet is based on several books about a girl space explorer, by Kir Bulychev. Don't know if the translation is available. I'd love to have my kids read it, but their Russian is not up to par.

Tallulah Morehead said...

I'd all but forgotten Fantastic Planet. It is indeed a lovely and disturbing movie.

The dubbed-into-English version of the Russian The Snow Queen (which included a filmed-live introduction by Art Linkletter) dates back to 1959, which was when I first saw it in its surprisingly wide American release. The voices included Tommy Kirk, Sandra Dee, Patty McCormick, Paul Frees and June Foray. The film's peculiar mood was preserved. For a long time it was seen occasionally, but then it lapsed into obscurity. I remember it (It's been over half a century since I saw it) as a movie as cold, beautiful and icy as it's titular villainess. And visually stunning, even to a kid.

Roger Owen Green said...

The Mickey Mouse cartoons are a bonding element twixt the Daughter and me, and even The Wife will watch occasionally.