Monday, November 14, 2011

Repulsion and Happy People

Three Two more from the Film Festival! Something old, something new, and something informative...
[Bellflower was going to be included in this group... It'll be coming soon instead...]

Repulsion is early Polanski and definitely 'classic' enough that it'd usually fall way outside the focus of this blog: I tend to lean away from writing about the classics, if only because plenty of people have already written plenty of words about these films - what's left for me to add? So I'll be brief...

[There are a couple of nice reviews to be found at Korova Theatre and Radiator Heaven]

Repulsion is a thriller in the old, almost forgotten sense of the world. It thrills. Every single person watching jumped at least once in the film, as poor Carol's hallucinatory nightmare threw shocks and scares at her in fits and starts. Polanski throws in a wonderful mix of the increasingly repulsive - an uncooked rabbit left out to gather flies and rot - the imaginatively uneasy - a crack in the wall that threatens repeatedly to burst apart - and the threat of real violence - sexually aggressive men pounce at Carol from every corner, some real, some imaginary. It's edge of the seat stuff that is propelled by a pulsing score and a camera that hovers voyeuristically around doorways and windowframes, beckoning the viewer into Carol's paranoid fears.

So little of her condition or the realities or origins of her fears is explained that you leave the cinema desperately untangling plot elements in your head, guessing and re-guessing which of the more plausible elements were imagined and which of the more outlandish were real. Great stuff.

Happy People - A Year in the Taiga
This documentary of Siberian life came with a "Narrated by Werner Herzog" tagline - surely as good a guarantee of an interesting film as there can be. Thankfully, it doesn't disappoint. We are taken, in a fairly straight-forward manner, through a calendar year in the lives of the trappers/hunters of a a Siberian village in the Taiga. Herzog contributes, as you might imagine if you've seen his (fabulous) Encounters at the End of the World, some perfectly dead-pan humour and a fair bit of admiration for the trappers. Occasionally, his wistful reminders that, out in the wilderness, they are free of government, free of taxes, free of bureaucracy, etc. etc. is a little too heavy-handed, but for the most part, his narration fits the documentary well.

Far more impressive than anything Herzog can provide are the demonstrations of traditional skills (especially the making of skis and the hollowing of a dug-out canoe), the rugged philosophy of the trappers and, above all, the sheer beauty of the landscape. The rive they live by and hunt around is an enormous sheet of ice for most of the year and comes slowly to life around May, looking something like a glacier rolling down a valley but much, much faster, carrying enormous chunks of ice as it flows. For the next couple of months it's navigable by boat, but after that it turns back to ice and becomes the domain of the snow-mobile. Happy People is a fabulous watch and, although occasionally too sentimental, it's a fascinating window into lifestyles we rarely see.

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