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Science Is Fiction: 23 Films by Jean Painlevé

Posted by martinteller on June 20, 2009

I don’t have any reason to believe I’ll particularly enjoy twenty-three short nature films.  But there is a possibility that this will be one of those glorious surprises like By Brakhage, and I’m always willing to give Criterion a chance, so here we go.  I’m probably crazy to rate & review each of these separately, but as usual with shorts, I don’t feel obligated to get too wordy about them.

Hyas et stenorinques (Hyas and Stenorhynchus) – Lovely, interesting, amusing.  Rating: 7

Les oursins (Sea Urchins) – Cool, color!  Avant-garde soundtrack is very groovy.  Fascinating creatures.  Rating: 8

Comment naissent les méduses (How Some Jellyfish Are Born) – Some bizarre images, but the subject matter isn’t very compelling.  Rating: 6

Cristaux liquides (Liquid Crystals) – Like an abstract painting in motion.  Another cool electronic score.  I was afraid these films would be too similar, glad there’s some variation.  Rating: 7

L’hippocampe (The Sea Horse) – Strange and graceful creatures.  Very well photographed.  Rating: 8

Les amours de la pieuvre (The Love Life of the Octopus) – Surreal and even frightening, and more odd electronic gurglings on the soundtrack.  So far I’m enjoying this set far more than I expected.  Rating: 8

Histoires de crevettes (Shrimp Stories) – One of the duller subjects.  I’d rather eat ’em than watch ’em.  The Groucho Marx joke was kinda stupid.  Rating: 5

Acéra ou Le bal des sorcières (Acera, or the Witches Dance) – Bisexual mollusks more otherworldly than any creation by Ray Harryhausen, H.R. Giger or Stan Winston.  Gorgeous “ballet”.  Rating: 8

Le vampire (The Vampire) – Disturbing and horrifying with sly political commentary.  Rating: 7

Assassins d’eau douce (Freshwater Assassins) – I should note that many of these have inventive titles.  Here they have a neat rippling/reflecting effect.  Starting to tire of the aquatic stuff, though.  This one is far too long.  Rating: 5

Les danseuses de mer (Sea Ballerinas) – Nice-looking, but I’m still getting bored.  Rating: 6

Diatomées (Diatoms) – Slightly more interesting because of the dialogue narration.  I’m not really into microscopic life.  Rating: 6

Les pigeons du square (Pigeons in the Square) – Cute and playful, but 27 minutes of pigeons is overkill.  Didn’t find that soccer match gag that funny.  Rating: 6

La pieuvre (The Octopus) – An early silent.  A bit redundant after seeing “Love Life of the Octopus”, but octopi are just so freakin’ cool.  Rating: 8

Les oursins (Sea Urchins) – Again, having the later sea urchin film on the first disc makes this one feel redundant.  More so in this case because it’s pretty much the same information.  Rating: 6

La daphnie (Daphnia) – Yawn, more microscopic stuff.  I’m sure the technology was impressive for the time, though.  Rating: 5

Oeufs d’épinoche (Stickleback Eggs) – A silent intended for scientific research purposes, extremely dry.  Gotta admit I skimmed through most of this.  Rating: 3

Traitement expérimental d’une hémorragie chez le chien (Experimental Treatment of the Hemorrhage in a Dog) – The short length and slightly more relatable subject matter made this easier to sit through than the stickleback one, but watching that poor animal struggle was tough.  At least it has a happy ending.  Rating: 4

Images mathématiques de la quatrième dimension (The Fourth Dimension) – Makes a good companion piece to the book “Flatland”.  It explores most of the same concepts, and in an entertaining fashion.  Rating: 8

Images mathématiques de la lutte pour la vie (The Struggle for Survival) – Somewhat interesting examination of population explosion and decline, but too many graphs.  Rating: 5

Voyage dans le ciel (Voyage to the Sky) – Kind of like the first half of the Eames’ Powers of Ten, going ever further out into the universe and taking a look around at various points along the way.  Quite nifty.  Rating: 8

Similitudes des longueurs et des vitesses (Similarities Between Length and Speed) – Really clever examination of proportion and its effects on organisms.  Rating: 7

Barbe-Bleue (Bluebeard) – The set ends with something completely different.  An operatic claymation rendition of the classic macabre tale.  Incredible color and amusingly gory.  It’s not the greatest animation in the world, but the crowd scenes were pretty impressive.  Rating: 8

In summation, I was really wary of this set but I’m glad I checked it out.  I wouldn’t buy it, but except for the longer segments I mostly enjoyed it.

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