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Posted by martinteller on March 19, 2013

A series of scenes inside — and outside — a mental health facility somewhere in the United States at some unknown time.  The patients have some degree of freedom to wander the grounds, which results in several escape attempts.  Two of the patients, Jean (Frédéric Pierrot) and Monique (Bérangère Allaux), are something like lovers.  The priest of the nearby church longs for his organist.

This is one of those “mystery films” from my watchlist.  I have no idea what compelled me to add it.  Someone suggested it might be because the director, Rob Tregenza, later served as the cinematographer on Werckmeister Harmonies.  It’s a possibility.  The stylistic similarities are immediately apparent.  Stark, gray monochrome photography.  A wandering camera that glides and explores with and around the characters, sometimes picking up a new detail previously unseen.  Long takes and minimal dialogue.  Natural light bursting in through hazy windows.  An interest in shabby locations populated by shabby people, a lot of focus on grime and decay.

But it goes to show that two movies can be stylistically very similar but work on different levels.  Tarr’s films, including WH, draw me in and invite me to explore their mysteries.  I want to spend time in those worlds with those people, search for new meanings.  Tregenza’s film largely kept me at too far a distance.  I had little to grasp onto besides the grim atmosphere.  The camerawork is remarkably impressive and beautiful… the content, however, is rather weak and ill-defined.  There are fleeting themes — the frustration of the patients, the stilted yearning for expression, the dichotomy of the two couples — but Tregenza backs away, seemingly unwilling to take a stand, make a point, develop a character or a plotline.  The feeling in the viewer, then, is also frustration.  Perhaps that’s the intention.

Some scenes are fantastic, though.  The institution sets up a party, and the camera slowly does 360 pans around the room, a rock band starts playing.  When they get a little too rowdy, the staff shuts them down and we pick up a woman gently playing a harp (is there any more gorgeous sound?).  As we pan around again, a sense of calm has fallen on a place where calm rarely exists.  The camera glides up to the heavens as the people file out of the room.  A lovely moment.  There’s also some interesting use of subjective sound.  But it’s probably just as well that there isn’t much dialogue/monologue, some of the performances are subpar.

In a way, I’m almost glad I didn’t like this film that much.  It reinforces my opinion that there’s more to Tarr than his striking cinematography.  He takes you into his films and gives you situations and characters and themes to care about.  Tregenza’s more distanced approach mostly just made me restless.  Rating: Fair (64)


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