Friday, October 9, 2009

House; Dogville

Hello all. I'm reporting here on a couple of interesting films I've seen over the past few weeks. Without further ado:

House (1977)
Director: Nobuhiko Obayashi
Country: Japan

Wow. I don't think words can do this thing of beauty justice, but dammit, I'm going to try anyways. I sat down to see House on October 3rd with the J-Film Pow-Wow crew. I set out to experience Nuit Blanche in Toronto that very same night, but nothing I saw throughout the city (which really wasn't all that impressive) could even begin to hold a candle to House, or as it's known in Japanese, Hausu. It's one of those films that at once makes you feel like you are on hallucinogenic drugs and believe that the filmmakers themselves were on them while they were making it. Using a formulaic plot involving seven generically-named girlfriends (e.g. the musician Melody, the tough chick Kung Fu, the constantly hungry Mac, as in sto-Mac-h) visiting one of their aunts and her big, spooky house, the film catapults itself into a surreal, hilarious and downright nutso ride of cinematic experimentation and absurdist comedy. It is something that might appear to be a trash genre flick on first sight, but there are too many wonderful and visually stunning things packed into it to call it anything other than brilliant. I don't want to give too much away, so I'll just leave you with this valuable advice: House will apparently be doing a theatrical tour through the rest of 2009 and some of 2010 before it is eventually released by the Criterion Collection(!) sometime next year. If you can, go see this thing in a full house, and expect a great night at the movies. If you can't do that (or even if you can), wait patiently until the Criterion DVD comes out, then pick it up and have a few friends over with a case of beer. You won't be disappointed.

Dogville (2003)
Director: Lars von Trier
Country: Denmark

And then there's Dogville, which I saw the day before Nuit Blanche and deserves a different sort of "wow." I'm usually somewhat skeptical of Lars von Trier due to his frequent pompous qualities, but I've always regarded him as a unique and truly fascinating artist. Dogville proves that in spades within its first few minutes, with John Hurt's eloquent voiceover resonating on the soundtrack and the camera lingering on the small township of Dogville from above. Just as Hurt's narration evokes a novelistic mode of storytelling (emphasized by the film's division into chapters), so too does von Trier's choice of presenting the town as merely a dark stage with drawn and labeled tracings of buildings and landmarks with a few props positioned among them put one in the mind of a stage play. As a result, you simply can't help but be drawn into the story purely through the performances being given onscreen (and onstage) as the actors bring to life their individual characters, adhering to the story being unravelled by von Trier. There certainly is an impressive cast to see this duty through, most prominent among them an impressive Nicole Kidman as the runaway girl Grace who seeks safety from the township of Dogville and gradually learns the costs of such a favor. The other fantastic actors who strut their stuff include Paul Bettany, Patricia Clarkson, Ben Gazzara, Philip Baker Hall, Chloë Sevigny, Stellan Skarsgård, James Caan, Siobhan Fallon and, to round things off with a couple of classic screen legends, Lauren Bacall and Harriet Andersson. As well as being another of von Trier's testaments to the importance of the actor and acting in film, Dogville is a beautifully written, brilliantly constructed morality tale; a fable both simple and complex that runs in the same vein as George Orwell's Animal Farm - as well as a remarkable portrait of Americana. Surely enough, Dogville gave me much to think about after its three hour running time had expired, and I very much look forward to a return visit.

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