Friday, March 19, 2010

POSSESSION (Andrzej Zulawski, 1981)

****
France/West Germany



Kramer Versus Kramer: Unexpurgated and Unhinged. If that doesn’t sound delectable, just ponder the notion of Isabelle Adjani in her shrieky phase replacing Meryl Streep in her meticulous phase. In a movie that understands divorce isn’t a poignant drama of bonding. It’s a grotesque surrealist psychosexual horror, with intellectual pretensions. With a creature in the closet: Oh, how to describe the creature? Something like a rancid vagina with tentacles, which in time naturally evolves into a slithery phallus. With tentacles. All this interspersed with conversations between hypergesticulating men with clashing accents along the lines of: “There’s nothing to fear except God, whatever that means to you;” “For me God is a disease;” “That’s why through disease we can reach God.” As her own wholesome pliable doppelganger Adjani commences a staggering monologue with “There’s nothing common to all women except menstruation.”

So yes, intellectual pretensions galore. But the film’s real value has nothing to do with intellect, and everything to do with viscous, delirious where-could-this-possibly-go-next please-stop-no-don’t-stop fun. I, for one, refuse to live in a world without it.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A SINGLE MAN (Tom Ford, 2009)

***
USA



Tom Ford’s Wong-Kar-wai-by-way-of-a-perfume-ad mise-en-scène (you have to resort to a French cliché to describe it, nothing else will do) has little to do with Christopher Isherwood’s pained, ruminative, nourishing prose. But the film just might get to you anyway, thanks to its proficient ensemble.

Colin Firth reverts to auto-pilot for his Oscar-clip-reel bits, and he struggles to sell the surge of epiphany in the closing stretch (since the epiphany is totally unfounded). But he exudes a tersely, hopelessly half-suppressed grief and an elegance that grounds some of Ford’s excesses. What’s more, he maintains an easy, priceless chemistry with each of his gaudy, ever-shifting scene partners. The highlights among them include a baroque/tragicomic/majestic Julianne Moore and a lovely Matthew Goode, whose achievement might even be the most significant: he takes a ghastly plot device – the saintly, ethereally, irreproachably beautiful Dead Lover – and creates someone spontaneous, warm, bewitching yet thoroughly life-like.

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THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (Niels Arden Oplev, 2009)

**½
Sweden



Slick, meticulously contrived highbrow trash. It has more plot holes than most movies have plot, and more plot than... Well, much more than necessary. And for all its solemnity, it ultimately amounts to nothing of real meaning. The mysteries are convoluted and hollow, the psychologies – thuddingly literal, the forensics – gruesome yet pedestrian, the plot conveniences – abundant, and the grotesque sadism undergone by the protagonists – only outdone by the grotesque sadism that befalls the lecherous, hyper-maniacal villains when they finally get their comeuppance.

If there is any kind of message at all in the end, it’s that a lesbian is only a critically petrified girl afraid to face her true and primal need for the love of a man (specifically, a gentle, noble father figure). Once she confronts this need, she will also finally begin dressing and styling her hair like a decent woman.

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