Saturday, August 09, 2008

MIFF Roundup 4


What an irritating film. I don't know who this Robert Bresson clown is. I do have a book on him, now that I think of it. Let's see. Actually wait, I have a book on him and a book by him.

OK, I've just read my books on/by Robert Bresson and he's still a clown. The book by him is a manifesto of the sort that French artist-intellectuals of the 50s-90s excelled at writing. Think Debord, Baudrillard etc. Short disconnected sentences or paragraphs such as:

"Models. Mechanized outwardly, intact, virgin within"


"No possible relations between an actor and a tree. The two belong to different worlds"


"Telephone. His voice makes him visible".

Whatever, don't expect me to keep researching a filmmaker I've managed to avoid this long despite a degree in cinema. I'll just go to the film and complain about it and then probably see some more films by the same guy.
The Devil, Probably, was banned in France when it was first released but I'm not really sure why. It can't be because the French have a low tolerance for boring pointless experiments in plotless, non-acted drivel. Nobody with any experience in French cinema would make that claim.

But Bresson's film comes across as an overly mannered, sub-Godard polemic that didn't promise a great amount and delivered on that lack of promise. A bunch of long-haired, vaguely good-looking youngsters wander around Paris having random non-encounters with each other while one of them, Charles, occasionally contemplates suicide. The film starts with a newspaper article announcing said suicide - OR WAS IT MURDER - and this ostensibly provides some kind of dramatic impetus for the film. Will he do it? Or is someone else going to kill him? Who cares? Bresson gets every one of his cast to perform in a robotic, blank manner that disallows any emotion. It's to do with his theory that the cast should be "models" rather than "actors", since actors distract you by trying to be what they're not and models can just be. Fair enough. It's not that he's depicting disaffected youth of the 60s so much as trying out an experiment in performing that removes entirely expression from the picture for whatever reason. The narrative itself also abandons the cause-and-effect logic of the traditional realist plot, and I thought throughout the screening that the entire sequence of the film could have been randomly shuffled like a deck of cards and still feel as purposefully arranged.

Bresson's shooting style is pretty cool, I'll give him that. The camera is almost always positioned in a similar spot just above the actors, who are for the most part arranged in mid-shots with an occasional vertical frame to either side - a tree or a door or something. It's really unobtrusive but very consistent and is one of the things that does give the film a kind of cohesiveness.

Anyway, I won't go on about this fairly drab outing. I think Bresson's earlier works (I've always wanted to see Pickpocket and Mouchette) are probably worth looking at; this one's just for those looking to complete the set.


More youth suicide. This French-Canadian rubbish gives us a dude who discovers that all of his buddies have killed themselves one day. He feels a bit left out and rejected by this and hooks up with one of his deceased friend's girlfriends and they immediately have sex in a quarry, presumably because grief often makes people do such things. Then he wanders around feeling sorry for himself for a while and she occasionally turns up to have sex with him again. Nobody else in towns know what to do with this kid, including the filmmaker who decides that sometimes, when it comes to youth suicide, we can never really know what goes on in people's heads so why bother trying to explain? At least we can add an awesome soundtrack and show how - even if it is totally sad - it's also kind of beautiful in a totally sad way, you know?

There are a couple of genuine moments in the film, mainly concerning the parents of the protagonist's friends, but every teen here is portrayed in such a shallow way that it almost seems to fetishise youth suicide. There's no empathy developed, just a kind of lurid fascination with these kids, along with the constant forecasting of how it'll likely end (the main guy trying to kill himself too). I imagine the director thought he was being pretty smart by avoiding a narrow "kids kill themselves because of parents who won't listen/society won't allow them a voice/bullying/religious hypocrisy/etc" but to go so far in the opposite direction seems just as lame and ends up disregarding the people under scrutiny as much as any tabloid journalist hack or moral crusader. And it takes two hours.


I kept thinking this film was titled Battle for Habitha which led to me think of it as Battle for Ibiza which is actually a film I would line up to see. If anyone ever wants the rights to make an action movie depicting the bloody skirmishes between warring raver clans on a hideous party island - kind of like a cross between Mad Max, Lord of the Flies and Human Traffic - you can totally steal that idea from me with no crediting issues. Take it.

Battle for Haditha is nothing like that really. It's an up-close recreation of an infamous incident in Iraq where a jeep carrying US marines was blown up and the grunts retaliated with a massacre of innocent families in the area. It's filmed in a jarringly credible doco style, featuring several ex-marines as actors, and doesn't offer much comment on the goings-on. I was waiting in terror as the bomb was planted by the road and the marines were driving about harassing people or trying to conceal their general bewilderment and lack of understanding of the whole situation by shooting down doors and screaming at whoever they found, or blazing around the desert to the tune of serious metal songs while making videos for YouTube. A thoroughly nasty situation and one in which nobody was emerging in a particularly admirable light.

This is an interesting film but I was surprised to find myself wishing I was watching a well-made documentary instead - one with an actual person telling me how I should be interpreting these events. Strange, I know. Not that I wanted Mike Moore spelling it out for me, but the film's dedication to only showing what happened at ground level (plus a few obvious dramatic moves to remind us that all sides are guilty of something) didn't suggest much insight or analysis. You're left with the feeling that the US presence in Iraq is really messed up and that's about it. I knew that already, didn't I? Still, if I hadn't caught this straight after two lamentable odes to teen suicide I might have been in a more appreciative mood.

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