Déjà Vu

By Greg Muskewitz
Posted 06/14/02 08:19:03

There is a strategy utilized that unearths revelation and succeeds with, alternating so as to avoid tedium, goosebumps, scares, jolts and gasps. [Reviews of Investigating Sex, Ring, H-Story, Ichi the Killer, and Harmful Insect.]

Déjà Vu
There is a strategy utilized that unearths revelation and succeeds with, alternating so as to avoid tedium, goosebumps, scares, jolts and gasps.

Still, nothing new to add to the Spider-Man collection, haven’t caught the new installment of Episode II (yes, Natalie must wait), I don’t have Insomnia, I haven’t learned The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, I’m not Unfaithful to anything in particular … The word on several of these has been pretty promising, and I can find at least one reason in which to eventually seek all of them out. But for the time being, I’m trying to catch the last available obscure imports of New York before packing up for the more selective line-up of San Diego’s releases.

Investigating Sex. Surely the anachronism in this handful of films shown as part of the Film Comment series, the sad story behind this has the Alan Rudolph product looking for a distributor. Adapted from the book “Recherches Sur la sexualité archives du surrealism” (the same way as Woody Allen adapted Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask from Dr. David Reuben’s pansophisty compendium?), is a collection of meetings and discussions about sex and sexual experiences of several young aristocrats, and an older, wealthier lascivious brute—as transcribed by two nubile stenographers. (The “What is Sodomy” bit in Everything You Always… with Gene Wilder and his leather garter belt-wearing sheep, is especially recalled when Nick Nolte shares his past experiences with a mule.) All in all, the investigation is a bit of a bust; despite the period trimmings, there is little that hasn’t been covered in this topicality. The interrogation format of the movie provides, once worked up to it, a spewing of theories, heated arguments, exacerbated comparisons. (“I abused myself in ways I should have been arrested for” or “sex is in the groin of the beholder,” etc.) While the sexual persiflage remains on the surface, the movie attains light entertainment subtracted from when Rudolph shoots for the determinedly strange, such as the sexual abstraction referred to as “Succubus.” The professionalism of Florian Ballhaus’ marbleized images is contravened by the unctuous performances and affected, controlled atmosphere. The sexual stimulants, the stenographers, are split on levels of inspiration as it is—Neve Campbell as a prudish flibbertigibbet rises above the banality of the role trappings, while Robin Tunney comfortably plops down as an ornament of worn sexuality. For a movie about sex, one might note that nearly right up until the climax, so to say, Rudolph keeps the pants buttoned tightly.

With Dermot Mulroney, Jeremy Davies, Hart Bochner, Alan Cumming, Julie Delpy and Tuesday Weld.

Ring. An effectively creepy, fear-inducing (not fear-reducing) film from Japanese director Hideo Nakata, who takes the superstitious curse on chain letters and actually applies it. Only, the shift has been made from letters to videos, and it doesn’t matter if you make copies or not, but once the phone call comes your time is up; the body is left in a ghastly contortion, almost frozen with the mouth gaping open. Like the Japanese often allude to, trouble is provoked via the youth, so one weekend spent at a resort amongst a group of teenagers spawns several weeks of havoc. The opening introduction, wherein the results of the curse are laid out, is methodically planned and executed. There is a strategy utilized that unearths revelation and succeeds with, alternating so as to avoid tedium, goosebumps, scares, jolts and gasps. A chilling, sudoriferous prognostication remains persistent early on (aided by the haunting score), and Nakata is not one to make waste of building tension. However, unlike Scream, its sequels and ilk, Ring doesn’t settle down on the low road to wreak hell with over-sexed and under-educated teens. Business is dealt with them early on (and returns to them only when necessary), which then leads to the search provided by a young newspaper reporter (and divorced, single mother) to what an answer might be. Ring serves to be a refreshing alternative from the typical schlock of Hollywood slasher flicks, inasmuch as that the means of death needn’t be by “slashing.” (Therefore, it should come as no surprise to know that Hollywood has already grabbed a hold of the rights, with the remake starring Naomi Watts. To call it a promising start is an exaggeration, but at least it will get me inside of the theater with minor anticipation.) Apparently, the common trait that the film does share with the American market is the proliferation of sequels and prequels and television shows, and while I have seen nothing that followed the virgin effort, I can still find a lot left to get out of the concept, the chain letter aspect of it, without sucking it dry. On the downside (but not so far down as to bury it), considering that every minute counts because of the anathema, the film lacks any reliable sense of time. In junction with that, from scene to scene there is a lack of smooth segues. From that perspective, it gives off the illusion that the story will last longer than it really does, but the fact that I was hoping it would continue should speak loudly enough.

With Nanako Matsushima, Miki Nakatani, Rikiya Otaka and Hiroyuki Sanada.

H-Story. On occasion, a film is so good that I actually dread having to write about it. The ubiquitous sensation of nonplussing the viewer is like a spell cast whereby the approach to discern the top-notch qualities seems to make the film more indefinable, more impalpable. The h-story the title refers to is none other than Alain Resnais’ own spell-caster, the Nouvelle Vague classic Hiroshima, Mon Amour. If you haven’t seen that film, and expect to understand this one (though “understand” may not be the best choice to describe one’s comprehension), that’s strike one. If you’re looking for a point, that’s strike two. This film, presented in a semi-documentary format, has a cast and crew attempting to remake the Resnais film. Writer/director Nobuhiro Suwa is writer/director Nobuhiro Suwa. Béatrice Dalle is Béatrice Dalle, playing the part that belonged to Emmanuelle Riva. Hiroaki Umano plays himself in the part of Eiji Okada. Think of Olivier Assayas’ Irma Vep, where a has-been French filmmaker is trying to remake Louis Feuillade’s Les Vampires with Hong Kong action star Maggie Cheung as herself. The differentiation comes at the point that you take away the humor of Vep and play it as a tragedy. The scenes are mixed up to project several different viewpoints and observations over the shoot of the film. Moreover, especially when watching the re-enactment of particular scenes, it is technically manipulated to maybe start without sound, progress and then add sound, and before the end of the scene, once again cut the sound out. H-Story isn’t about the content in the way it is about feeling, texture, sensation, or often, the unique glimpse into the creative and emotional workings of the artist, additionally coping with their own inner conflicts related mainly to the material. As the shoot unsuccessful plugs along, other predicaments are illustrated—the difficulty between the French-speaking actress and the Japanese-speaking writer/director, the deterioration and ramfeezled aggravation of multitudinous takes (“It’s impossible to feel the way they felt forty years ago”). The production is taken apart piece by piece, from the discouraging interrogations about the director’s motivations, Dalle disappearing for days, misperceptions, etc. Suwa, as the director of H-Story—not the remake—reveals a strong eye and sense for detail, exhibited in scenes such as having his actors rehearse a shot down to the measurement of a gesture, and then cutting away to the original to show how precise the two are. He is punctilious, specific, but the inclusiveness of pitch in the textual tone doesn’t become dull. The ambition Suwa deliberately pursues, the complexity of the fractured narrative, the emotional exhaustions and replications thereof, and the resulting brilliance are coterminous to the original and effective nature of Resnais’ accomplishment. Whether they, both the films and the directors, are examined in whole, past or present, it is more than a dare or risk that was taken but with more gained in that ever-evolving universe of cinema.

With Kou Machida, Caroline Champetier, Michiko Yoshitake and Motoko Suhama.

Ichi the Killer. Rampant assemblage, albeit crookedly stitched, of purely comic/absurd violence and grotesqueries. Following the painful and masochistic dexterity of Audition (now available on DVD for everyone who missed it in the theaters), I would have expected something other than the comic book mentality and overall lack of seriousness from director Takashi Miike. In its place is the story of a disturbed youth who dons a rubber superhero outfit with the number “one” on the back; as the culprit (usually a rapist or pimp) laughs, often at the hero’s uncontrollable erection, Ichi cries and a blade springs from his boot. Butt-slicing time. Miike, known in Japan as their reigning “chaotisist,” thrives on sado-masochism. Examples of such: hooking a man from hanging chains (à la The Cell) with the additional torture of being doused in boiling oil, the razor removal of nipples, using the boot-blade to slice a body in half (of course, one can see all of the organs falling out as the body divides, but they all appear to be intact), intestines and other insides hanging from the walls, dripping from the ceiling, etc. (In the an early scene, after the ejaculate credit sequence, you might have noticed the main bad guy blowing smoke from his cheeks. The small rings holding the incisions together later reveal that he can open his mouth like a snake.) Because of the outrageousness of the previous scenes, Miike faces the self-imposed necessity to continuously top each act with the next more grotesque and more visceral—however, in most cases, it falls apart like a sutured body. Though the gore is excessive and explicit, it is not squeamish in the sense that Audition is. Rather, the comicality and perversity drive it over the cliff. Ichi the Killer is more of a cartoon in appearance and presentation than it is a movie no matter how violent or ridiculous, and while the absence or ignorance of logic severs all ties to the constraints of reality, there is little (after a short while) to keep one interested even in the fantastical. Naturally, the initial shock wears off and the monotony builds, but Miike is far too lost in his own fantasy world. Prolific as he seems to be (sometimes up to five movies a year), the skill he showed in the earlier film is seemingly not ingenit.

With Nao Omori, Tadanobu Asano, Shinya Tsukamoto, Suzuki Matsuo and Paulyn Sun.

Harmful Insect. A microcosmic spec so small, one would hardly realize what they are in the presence of. The read-out of the radar (faintly) falls something along the lines of the anabasis of an alienated teenager, struggling to adapt, from day to day, of the stresses and dilemmas of daily home and school life. The Japanese film again shows a startling sensitivity to the subject and the subject matter. In the U.S., we either get Bully or crazy/beautiful, neither of which serve as a selectable alternative. It’s like Bush versus Gore; choosing one over the other is only an individual’s moral choice of the lesser evil. So I would rather go with the Nader, or the Perot, or in this case, the Shiota. Likewise, it is not the most preferable possibility (nor are any politics), but as far as the options reach, it better fits my ethics, my standards. Back to sensitivity, there is also a semblance of non-judgmental objectivity that was so evident in Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Millennium Mambo. It is illustrated, repeatedly, the climate at which the comely, disciplined girl is driven to the brink. Her silence, her reticence is an indication of how deep the alienation has burrowed, and elsewhere, each time she is let down after that, seals off another form of trust. Director Akihiko Shiota, the erstwhile assistant director to Kiyoshi Kurosawa, similarly employs a distilled detachment to the subject, a staid snapshot instead of an artificial portrait. There is no deprivation in the technical quality of the film, possibly even an advancement with the utilization of Tokusho Kikumora’s cinematography. Shiota has a tendency, like his trainer, to let whim and occurrence dictate the vicissitudes of the story, but he also picks up Kurosawa’s bad habit of letting that free-flow turn into an arid overhaul.

With Aoi Miyazaki.

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