Beginners offers a greater insight into humanity than any film I’ve seen in 2011. This is not because it mirrors my life experience in the slightest, because it doesn’t. In point of fact, many of its thematic and stylistic eccentricities preclude it from that oft-mentioned film critic category of “realistic.” Realism is not the film’s stock-in-trade. But it masters authenticity for these unique characters, in this beautifully realized cinematic world.
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Opting to eschew any exploration of its subject’s possible charlatanical status, Werner Herzog instead employs the famously suspect story of Kaspar Hauser (Bruno S.) – who, after practically materializing in Nuremberg, Germany one morning, garnered notoriety after claiming that he’d been shackled in a cellar for the first seventeen years of his life – as a means to muse on the unconscious behavioral conditioning that’s inherent to the human experience.
The documentary film has always been about trying to filter a larger story, whether it’s a polemical point being made by the documentarian, or a narrative regarding a person, time, or place, through the personal lens of the filmmaker. Ross McElwee just takes that conceit to its most extreme conclusion on the landmark 1986 documentary Sherman’s March.
Is there an image more frightening than a killer with a knife wearing a white expressionless mask with two black holes where his eyes should be? The answer is no. It’s simple, iconic and direct. It is death, creeping from out of the shadows to destroy you. It is Michael Myers.
A deadpan movie, which begins with a series of unpretentious shots of talking faces, slowly turns into a low-budget spectacular, as the images on the screen are impregnated with film history. Near the end, swamped in fugitive references, A Useful Life growls with swells and eddies of feeling, every small moment elevated into an epiphanic orgasm, so that everyday existence becomes the battleground for ecstatic freedom.
Far and away the most fascinating of 2010’s crop of high-profile “prankumentaries” – and one of the year’s best in any genre – many critics found Exit Through the Gift Shop, from iconically anonymous street artist Banksy, literally too good to be true. A shockingly entertaining blend of humour, insight, coincidence and subversion, it’s been commonly suggested that, like Joaquin Phoenix hoax I’m Still Here, Gift Shop was an elaborate con, playfully but purposefully crafted to expose the absurdities of the commercial art scene.
Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Double Life of Veronique is a masterwork of mood, more concerned with tapping in to deep wells of feeling than with concrete ideas and concepts. Kieslowski was a filmmaker who dealt more in intuition than intellect, which is not to say that his films don’t contain material worth chewing on intellectually, just that they resist literalist or symbolist interpretation and exist more in realm of sensual experience.
A nightmare begins; the screen is splashed with bright primary colours, the shots contain a maniacal energy as they shift gracefully from one threatening composition to another accompanied by a pulsing rock score complete with strange howling and secret voices whispering… This is Dario Argento’s Suspiria, this is his nightmare.
There is something almost daunting in approaching for the first time the work of a director universally acclaimed as among the greatest and most influential in cinema. A stellar reputation preludes the strong possibility of disappointment; can anyone ever live up to such significant hyping? Ingmar Bergman is widely regarded as one of his medium’s finest artists, and yet his significant body of work was something I—for these very reasons—had never dared traverse.
Tarkovsky’s Nostalgia continues the biographical threads that Zerkalo had started. It is a rumination on the faithless man that has been separated from his roots for far too long and he is haunted by the past and an insatiable and unquantifiable desire to return to what once was that will never be again. He is manipulated by forces that are outside of his control as they have been ingrained upon his soul by life experiences that are long since passed and forgotten. We are all unwitting and unwilling products of our roots and our futile attempts to search for answers to fill our existential void only leave us disenfranchised as we try desperately to reconcile our past experiences and tribulations with our current realities.