Koolhoven’s BRIMSTONE.

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A young woman called Liz (Dakota Fanning) lives among Dutch immigrants in ‘the new world’. She forms a family with a husband and two children. When the father teaches his son to shoot she is visibly upset and tries to stop them. We quickly learn she’s unable to speak and she’s not the natural mother of the boy. The film truely gets going when one day a new reverend (Guy Pearce) arrives in the small town -with a giant scar on his face across his left eye- and Liz starts to be haunted by past demons or a demon from the past to be more exact. Things really start to take a bad turn when Liz -while performing her duties as a midwife- needs to make a decision to safe the life of either the mother or the child.
The film tells the story of Liz in an achronological order (somewhat befitting of a film starring the lead actor of Christopher Nolan’s Memento (2000) although it doesn’t completely mimic that films structure) divided into four chapters; Revelation, Exodus, Genesis and Retribution slowly but surely revealing how all the elements fit together.
Although the film contains all the familiar elements we’ve become to expect (a duel in the streets, outlaws fighting over gold, scenes set in a horse stable, a whorehouse, …) Brimstone is not your usual western. It combines elements of both the classic american as well as the european western and that of horror films, with at times ‘gutsy’ results.
Martin Koolhoven has definitely studied the genre at length and you can tell he’s less interested in the more straightforward, simplistic, good versus evil (and of course good prevailing in the end), dressed in black versus dressed in white type of western when he finally was able to present his take on it. His heart tends to lean more towards individuals like the 3 Sergio’s (Leone, Sollima and Corbucci) or Hollywood outlaws such as Sam Peckinpah (The Wild Bunch, Pat Garret and Billy the Kid, …) and Robert Altman (McCabe and Mrs. Miller, … ) and the man that has almost become the personification (both as an actor and as a director) of the western: Clint Eastwood (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Unforgiven, … ).
Throughout the film you can detect hints towards other westerns; the character that can not speak from a.o. Corbucci’s The Great Silence, a body being fed to pigs as in the HBO series Deadwood, …  we could go on for quite some time. The film that he’s quoted most directly however is Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter (1955), probably the most cinematic movie ever made by an actor. When you see the character Liz sitting on her porch with a shotgun in an attempt to guard over her family inside (“Never leave your loved ones alone. You should know that by now.”) and in the distance you hear a voice singing menacingly (without even trying hard at it) it’s impossible not to think of Lilian Gish and Robert Mitchum in the aforementioned masterpiece.
As far as horror films are concerned at times Richard Donner’s The Omen (1976) came to mind. There’s the importance of a birthmark (has a completely different role in Brimstone though) and the scene in which a nanny hangs herself in quite a spectacular fashion during a chidren’s birthday party that may have influenced Koolhaven for one of the films most horrific and significant moments.
Also Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976) may well have (consciously or unconsciously) been on Koolhoven’s mind when he came up with the concept of Brimstone. Besides some pigs blood and a house being burnt to the ground it was actually the image of a fanatically religious parent draging her child through the house and into a broom closet -dragging through the mud in Brimstone- that immediately made a connection in my mind with the De Palma film.
Also the scene in which a character is being offed while in an outhouse for a number two, seemed to combine a scene from Eastwood’s Unforgiven (1992) with De Palma’s Blow Out (1981). I’m referring to the scene in the De Palma film in which a prostitute is brushing her teeth in a train station toilet but is murdered in quite a brutal fashion by the man that supposedly was to be her next customer.
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Koolhoven has expressed his admiration for De Palma in the past and even had a scene in his previous film Oorlogswinter (Winter in Wartime, 2008) that was clearly influenced by De Palma’s Blow Out. The director was kind enough to take the time to acknowledge the influence when I recently pointed it out in a Tweet, even though he didn’t see it as an ‘homage’: https://twitter.com/MartinKoolhoven/status/823147953917427712
You can check the comparison clip here:
Another potential Blow Out reference in Brimstone:
Some inferno and brimstones in De Palma’s Carrie:
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Another film that may have influenced Koolhoven -even though Brimstone was conceived well before- is Bertrand Bonello’s L’Apollonide (2012) a film set in a early 20th century brothel that similarly depicts the hardships women had to endure in the past.
Kolhoven was able to gather an impressive and interesting cast. With her role of Liz, Dakota Fanning should easily be able to get rid of her perception of a child star once and forever. Women are hardly ever the main character in westerns, I can think of only a few that have the name of a women in the title –Calamity Jane (1953), The Sons of Katie Elder (1967), Hannie Caulder (1971) and Jane Got a Gun (2016)– or in which women play an important part –Westward the women (1951), Johnny Guitar (1954) and Meek’s Cutoff (2010).

Guy Pearce who starred in the Australian western The Proposition seems ever so eager to revisit the genre with his depiction of the Reverend that looks like a devilish, self flagellating evil twin of Abraham Lincoln who keeps re-interpreting the Bible to condone his unforgivable and gravest of sins. “Beware of false prophets, they are wolves in sheep’s clothing”.

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In smaller parts you may well recognise Kit Harington (Jon Snow in Game of Thrones) as an outlaw and Carice van Houten (Melisandre in Game of Thrones, Black Book, Valkyrie) as the Reverend’s wife and Paul Anderson (Brian De Palma’s Passion, The Revenant, the TV series Peaky Blinders) as the owner of ‘Frank’s Inferno’.
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Dutch DoP Rogier Stoffers -who since he shot the Oscar winning film Karakter (1997) was able to further his career in Europe as well as in Hollywood- was chosen to photograph the film and does a fine job. Most notable are a series of impressive top shots. Koolhoven re-teamed with editor Job ter Burg who also edited his previous film Oorlogswinter and who has also cut every Paul Verhoeven since his return to Europe. The music was done by another Dutch collaborator: Junkie XL (Tom Holkenborg) who has a firm foothold in Hollywood with music scores for Mad Max: Fury Road (2016), Deadpool (2016) and Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016).
The film is known as Brimstone but the title clearly mentions Koolhoven’s Brimstone. Perhaps the director is hereby somewhat playfully hinting at Tarantino’s proudly announcing his film as the 8th or 9th film by Quentin Tarantino. It may be that for the first time he felt like he made a film of which he truly is the author and therefore in keeping with the title of the famous Frank Capra autobiography ‘The Name above the Title’ (which by the way has a foreword by another legend of the western: John Ford) he earned to put his name above the title.
As previously stated Koolhoven, as is Tarantino, is a cinephile in general and a western aficionado in particular and both can’t help but referring to other films. The main difference is that Koolhoven in this film is not going for the fun factor.

The fact that Martin Koolhoven is a cinephile (strangely enough reviewers oftentimes seem to consider this as a negative) didn’t at all prevent him from leaving his own personal, original imprint on the genre. Despite the fact that the film was shot on location in Germany, Spain, Hungary and Spain, Brimstone has an original feel that has no problem in passing for an otherwise nondescript American West.

He certainly did not make a film that aims to please everybody and there’s plenty of stuff in this film to be shocked or offended by for those that wish to be so. The depiction of the religiously inspired suppression and physical violation of women -you’ll have to see the chastity belt-like headlock-set that locks up women’s faces to believe it- may well prove to be too much for some. It is nevertheless refreshing and not without merit -specifically in the present day- to show this kind of depiction in a non-islamic setting.

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Brimstone has gained its place among a number of recent film such as Slow West (2015), Bone Tomahawk (2015), The Homesman (2014) Meek’s Cutoff (2010) (a rare western that was actually also directed by a woman) and the HBO series Westworld (2016) that prove that now for more then a century the genre of the western keeps inspiring directors to add new, personal and interesting films to its canon.
I was also pleased to see the name of Harry Kümel, the director of Daughters of Darkness, Malpertuis, … and former teacher of director Martin Koolhaven, being mentioned among the names that were thanked.
Jan Bollen

The Winemaker: first taste of a feature in the making.

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In December of 2016 I came across a number of interesting tweets in which people were making connections between art (mainly paintings) and films via the hashtag which was linked to the Twitter handle . I quickly joined the movement of tweeps combining their passion of art and film which was apparently created by someone who likes himself to be addressed to as Narsiesse.
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On his twitter profile I noticed he was working on a short film called The Winemaker that had the ambition by way of a 4-part mini web series to eventually grow into a feature length film. The short has recently been released on Vimeo:
This is clearly a very personal project made in collaboration with his family members and dedicated to the memory of his father in-law Joseph Van Den Hurk who obviously had been a spiritual inspiration. The filmmaker has expressed that via his The Winemaker film (series) he wishes to combine his passion for First Nation mythos, Japanese culture, William Shakespeare and Art influences film references.
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Narsiesse has a Canadian First Nations background which is being referred to from the get-go via the ‘moving image’ of a running buffalo accompanying the title The Winemaker as well as with a relic/necklace I’m assuming is containing a buffalo tooth and via further artifacts later on.
It’s hard not to notice a couple of Stanley Kubrick references. One of the first images is that of a hand holding a bone with the sun in the background immediately bringing 2001: A Space Odyssey to mind.
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Later on there are 2 kids that appear at the end of a hallway who end end up holding hands. Even though they are a boy and a girl and not girl twins it’s impossible no to connect this shot with Kubrick’s twin sisters from The Shining. Is the character of The Winemaker what the character of the Caretaker(s) is/were for The Shining?
At some stage a female character is heard via a voice-over stating: “By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes. Open locks, whoever knocks!” Yes we have arrived in Macbeth and hence William Shakespeare country. The boy is played by Narsiesse’s real life son called Laertes, yes the man has a passion for Shakespeare. Narsiesse himself plays Vic, perhaps a reference to The Old Vic in London famous for staging a lot of Shakespeare’s plays?

Some of the symbols and references to Japanese culture that were clearly in there I was less familiar with, perhaps they will be further explained in the future miniseries and or feature version.

Although the film was shot on an I-Phone the result looks great and contains some impressively executed transitions. A shot of the moon reflected in a puddle of water transitions from the circular moon into the circle of the iris of an eye and further into a drop of water dripping from a winemaking machine. It made me think somewhat of the famous series of transitions in Citizen Kane in which every transition focussing on the lit window and in which each transition moves the viewer closer to the bedroom window of the Xanadu palace in which Charles Foster Kane is to utter his puzzling last words: Rosebud. Perhaps the main reason it reminded me of the  Citizen Kane opening series of transitions is that it also contains one of a reflection in the water.

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I haven’t really discussed the narrative of the short yet, but that’s what reviews tend to overdo anyway. I therefore suggest you read the brief synopsis which is mentioned on Vimeo which appears to go beyond the narrative of the short.
If you are expecting a straightforward short film you may be dissapointed as the short seems to be conceived more as a teaser for things to come then it is a stand alone short film. I see Narsiesse’s project as if it were a ‘Matroesjka in reverse’. A Matroesjka is perhaps more commonly known as a Russian Doll. You have a big doll containing a smaller doll which in turn contains an even smaller doll and so on. Here instead we start off with the smallest doll, the short film that needs to excite the audience to want to see the next doll(s), the 4-part mini web series and culminating in the biggest doll, the feature, each adding new layers and meaning. It’s working for me so far.
You won’t be able to ignore it anyway, but please take a special notice of the lovely artwork Eugene Cobb () has designed especially for this film which is being showcased at the beginning and the end of the short film.
Jan Bollen

Ben Wheatley’s HIGH-RISE: SOS, the signs of decay are on the rise.

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Ben Wheatley is one of the (not just) British directors to keep an eye on. Up to High-Rise (2015) he had completed 4 feature films on micro to low budgets and on each occasion had performed miracles with the limited means at his disposal.
His debut Down Terrace (2009) was a kitchen sink gangsterdrama that was literally made in and around the childhood home of co-writer and star Robin Hill in 8 days. His 2nd film Kill List (2011) starts of as a thriller about some hit men and somewhere midway shifts into an occult horror film, as if Nicolas Roeg’s Performance (1970) fell under the spell of Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man (1973).
Next up was Sightseers (2012), a sort of comical horror version of Mike Leigh’s Nuts in May (1976) written by the co-leads Alice Lowe and Steve Oram which was selected for the ‘Quizaine des Réalisateurs’ in Cannes. They play a couple that go on a caravan road trip leaving a bloody trail along their way. Not unlike High-Rise class differences are at the center of the film. Wheatley has since executive-produced Oram’s feature debut Aaaaaaaah! (2015) -via his production company Rook Films- a film with an even more primitive dissection of what happens when that thin coat of varnish called civilisation is scratched away.
A year later Wheatley made A Field in England (2013), shot on a micro budget in only 12 days. Set in the 17th century during the English Civil War, 3 deserters meet each other and some hallucinogenic mushrooms in (well yes) a field in England. As if Peter Watkin’s
Culloden (1964) and Ken Russel’s Altered States (1980) were put in a blender and the result felt like one of the best cinematic cocktails you ever have the pleasure to put down the hatch.

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This film gave Wheatley some cloud to attempt a (financially) more ambitious film project, an adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s (author of Crash, Empire of the Sun which were brought to the big screen by respectively David Cronenberg and Steven Spielberg) 1975 dystopian novel High-Rise.
Dr. Robert Laing (played by rising star Tom Hiddleston in perhaps his best performance to date) has recently moved into a new luxury apartment which is part of 5 High-Rises of which only the first one has has been completed, the remaining four are still under construction. The architect Royal (Jeremy Irons) has come up with a rather unique concept. The five tower blocks are shaped like the five fingers of an open hand, the lake is to become its palm. The upperclass occupy the top floors of the buildings, the lower income families live in the lower ones. Your wealth determines your level (or floor). The occupants have access to a swimming pool, a gym, a supermarket and even a primary school. Besides going to work there is little reason for the residents to leave the building, gradually they become trapped like the bourgeoisie in a Buñuel film.

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Initially the occupants are soothed by the fact that “the building is still settling” but when the infractures many failures become more apparent the tensions between the upper and lower floors start to erupt. The opening scenes -a short of flash forward of things to come- of the film however immediately clearly show that the architect’s social experiment is doomed to fail. The film is set in the index finger of the so-called open hand, the writer obviously wanted to point out a few things about (British) society. It woud have been less subtle to have the action take place in the middle finger although towards the end director Ben Wheatley inevitably presents one to Margaret Tatcher.

Besides Hiddleston and Irons you will recognise Sienna Miller as a single mother of a bastard son of one of the upper class men, who has a fling with Dr. Laing, Luke Evans as Richard Wilder, a frustrated lower class man whose married with Helen (played by Elisabeth Moss mostly known for her role as Peggy Olson in the popular HBO series Mad Men) who is about to give birth to yet another addition to their family and Stacy Martin (Lars von Triers’ Nymphomaniac) as a cashier in the supermarket.

All the dialogue in the film in one way or another is indicative of the class difference (“You’ve built all this?” “Dreamt, conceived, I hardly pulled up my sleeves”) and is often hilariously funny in a subtle -or often less subtle- very British sort of way (“You can’t put him over the edge, he still owes me a game of squash”).
Notable is the use of the famous ABBA song S.O.S. featuring during a fancy dress party (evoking Greenaway’s The Draughtman’s Contract & Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon?) being held in the penthouse -composer Clint Mansell (Requiem for a Dream) had it arranged for strings for the occasion- and later on in a brilliant cover version by Portishead.

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Among the films many highlights there’s sequence of a man jumping of the building to his death landing on the bonnet (or hood if you perfer) of a car, a scene that would make Richard Donner -who specialises in these type of ‘drop shots’- jealous.
Visually the film peaks with a brilliantly stunning shot that shares us a point of view as seen through a kaleidoscope. I’ve prepared the below montage of potential reference points culminating in the said kaleidoscope shot.
The clip starts of with some shots from Martin Scorsese’s Kundun (1998) in which a young Dalai Lama is peaking through a big looking glass to his subordinates below. When Scorsese cuts to the POV the sequence has some typical Scorsese/Thelma Schoonmaker dissolving along the axis type of editing. There’s a similar shot from Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence (1993) where a character played by Richard E. Grant is looking through some theater binoculars down at the conductor of an orchestra over to a charater arriving in an opposite opera box. Here also Scorsese tries to visually convey the speed of the eye movement by skipping frames combined by dissolves along the axis.
There’s not really a direct connection with Wheatley’s kaleidoscope shot. So why include them any way? Well Scorsese was so impressed by A Field in England that he offered to produce Wheatley’s next film, and so he did. As High-Rise was already under way this would become the upcoming Free Fire.
Thematically you could say there is a bond between Kundun, The Age of Innocence and High-Rise as they are Scorsese’s most class conscious films. Kundun is a film about a society that at a certain stage gives its absolute power in the hands of a child and The Age of Innocence portays New York’s high society in the late 19th century and its strict social rules and customs which ruin the love affair between the two main characters. Scorsese even called this his most (emotionally) violent film.
The next 2 clips do have a direct link with High-Rise in my opinion. There’s a clip from Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976) featuring the “they’re all gonna laugh at you” kaleidoscope shot from that film’s celebrated prom sequence. And finally a shot from John Boorman’s Zardoz ( 1973) showing a fractured mirror shot including Sean Connery. Wheatley has expressed his admiration for Boorman’s Zardoz on many occasions including the 16 minute plus appreciation to be found on Arrow Film’s UK Blu Ray release + in his video clip for the band Editors ‘Formaldehyde’ which has references to both Sergio Corbucci’s Django (1966) as well as Zardoz. Even the picture on Wheatley’s Twitter profile (@mr_wheatley) features the giant stone head from this film.

The kaleidoscope shot is perhaps also linked with one of the many hilarious lines from the film. At a certain stage when the servants are no longer preparing the meals for their masters one of the rich men is wondering who cooked the food they’re eating to which one of the characters replies it’s now op to their wifes: “the women are rotating”. There’s a chance the montage I’ve prepared can’t be played in the UK (as per a message I’ve received from Youtube) so just in case I’ve uploaded it via WordPressvideo as well.


I was lucky enough to see the film in march of this year at the Offscreen film festival in Brussels in attendance of Ben Wheatley where it had the honour of closing the festival and I’ve since see it again when it was released in Belgium in June. The film even played better the second time round. When you watch the film for the first time there’s a chance you may need some time to adjust to the films chaotic opening, it’s definitely a busy film but Wheatley and Jump have certainly found the right tone for putting J.G Ballard’s novel to the screen. It’s nice to see that despite the bigger budget he did not have his vision muddled with. Can’t wait to see Free Fire.

Jan Bollen

ELLE: Paul Verhoeven and Isabelle Huppert’s rape of the century.

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At the end of the title sequence just when the name of director Paul Verhoeven appears on screen we hear some objects smashing on the floor while a violent struggle is taking place. As these sounds continue the frame turns black and remains that way for a short period of time. The actual first image of the film is that of a cat who’s a bemused onlooker while the lady of the house Michèle Leblanc (Isabelle Huppert) is being raped.
How this mature woman will cope with the aftermath of being sexually assaulted is basic-ally the main subject of this film. Its originality lays in the fact that the brutal rape seem-ingly hasn’t effected her too much. She certainly manifests a rather cavelier way of dea-ling with this event which one would expect to be rather traumatising. She doesn’t call the police but on the contrary cleans up the rape crime scene and takes a bath to clean herself while having a glass of red wine. When her son comes home and notices a bruise on her face she quickly comes up with the simple excuse that she fell off her bike.

The next day at work she and her entire team are watching a demo for a new video game she’s producing. In the demo we see a woman being assaulted by ‘some kind of monster’. In her feedback afterwards she’s complaining the segment was not violent enough and in addition mentions she couldn’t detect the pleasure on the woman’s face.
When during a dinner she’s having with some friends (one of the attendents will appear to be a lover, another her ex-husband) in a restaurant she casually mentions she has recently been the victum of a break-in and consequent rape she’s not looking for moral support but appears to be more interested in their (predictable?) reactions. Only the behaviour of her cat (its passivity during the rape and the ‘present’ of a bird) seems to be able to shake her up somewhat.

It’s obvious that Verhoeven is not interested in depicting a typical main character from a straightforward rape victim/revenge film, ranging from Nuts (1987) (you know, that film in which Barbara Streisand is being raped by Leslie Nielsen a.k.a. inspector Drebin from Naked Gun) and The Accused (1988) on the one hand to Abel Ferrara’s MS. 45 (1981) and The Brave One (2007) on the other, to name but a few. Instead Michèle Leblanc is yet another strong female character in a long line of strong women in his films, manipulation is often their game and sex one of the tools for survival, we’ll find out in due course what she’s up to.

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Even though the movie is dealing with a rather heavy subject matter it is actually extreme-ly funny and some audience members may at first wonder if their laughter is perhaps in-appropriate. But partically the way Isabelle Huppert portrays Michèle in her dealings with her son and his pregnant girlfriend, her elderly mother and her toyboy, her ex-husband and a (male) lover, you often can’t help but role over laughing. And we haven’t even brought up her newly arrived neighbours from across the street of whom the wife is an extremely devout christian. The scene in which Michèle is spying on them while they are setting up a Nativity set and a subsequent Christmas dinner scene, well … .
Many great films have centered around or featured infamous rape scenes, such as Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs (1971), Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America (1984), De Palma’s Casulaties of War (1989), Gaspard Noé’s Irreversible (2002) and most of the body of work of Verhoeven for that matter, but none where you as an audience member left the movie theater thinking: now that was fun! I’m obviously not referring to the rape scenes.

If you are familiar with Paul Verhoeven’s oeuvre you’ll notice many similarities or nods to his previous work and you’ll discover that this time round he’s leaning towards a more subtle/restraint approach, at least for a Verhoeven film that is. A few examples: Just compare the ‘castration’ scissors scene from De Vierde Man (The Fourth Man, 1983)with the ‘stigmata’ scissors scene in Elle. Or ‘study’ the amount of ‘bodily fluids’ on display on the bed sheets in Verhoeven’s Basic Instinct (1992) in the “He got off before he got offed” scene versus the perpetrator ‘leaving a message’ in this film.

The way the documentary TV footage is used revealing ‘her troubled past’ -which upto that point was only hinted at during conversations with her mother and sudden violent reactions from people who seem to recognise her for some reason- reminded me somewhat of the projected home movies of several fatal outings in The Fourth Man. Both sequences leave room to suggest the female lead characters may have been a in one way or another a participant in the horrific events that took place. Not unlike Catherine Tramell or Hazel Dobkins (played by Dorothy Malone) in Basic Instinct, a character which Sharon Stone, in the part that made her famous, keeps in touch with as a sort of ‘murderess technical advisor’ for her crime novels.

As usual Verhoeven can’t help himself but poke fun at religion (or religious people) in the best tradition of Luis Buñuel, one of the directors favorite cineasts. It’s important to note that Verhoeven had a brief but intense encounter with a strict Pentecostalism movement in his early adolescence when his girlfriend accidentally got pregnant, an event he also incorporated in his film Spetters (1980) and which he discusses in some detail during his directors commentary for that film and during several interviews.
What remained is an ongoing fascination with the historical figure of Jesus. He’s become a fervent participant and respected member of the Jesus Seminar and also wrote a book on the subject called Jesus of Nazareth. He has been trying to make a movie about the life of Christ for ages, but considering his basic premise is that Jesus was not the result of an immaculate conception (as is the popular ‘belief’) but instead that of (Holy) Mary being raped by a Roman soldier, you can understand why he’s been having difficulty getting this project greenlit anywhere, let alone in Hollywood. This however would be a Biblical film I might actually be looking forward to seeing. Furthermore, in Elle there’s a strong suggestion that Michèle’s son is not the biological father of his girlsfriend’s child, making him kind of a Joseph-like figure.
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Elle is an adaptation of Philippe Djian’s ‘Oh…’ which Verhoeven initially tried to set up in the US, finding the right actress proved troublesome. In hindsight it was a blessing the film eventually got made in French with Isabelle Huppert who is truly amazing. The film is very fresh and one wonders what a Hollywood version of this material would have been like. Only in the scenes in which Michèle suspects 2 of her colleagues of being the potential rapist the film tends to lean towards a more Hollywood clichéd approach but even here Verhoeven eventually found an original way out.
The DoP of the film is Stéphane Fontaine, his visual palette consists of skin color and light gray tones and the entire film appears to have been shot with the slightest of diffusions. His credits include 3 collaborations with Jacques Audiard (a.o. Rust and Bone), the recent Captain Fantasic and the upcoming Pablo Larraín biopic Jackie starring Natalie Portman in the title role of Jackie Kennedy.
The overall acting is brilliant. The cast mainly consisting of great French actors such as Charles Berling (L’ennui, 1998) in the role of the ex-husband, Judith Magre who plays Michèle’s mother and Laurent Lafitte as the neighbour. The German actor Christian Berkel who plays the wife of Anne Cosigny is the only actor Verhoeven worked with before in Zwartboek (Black Book), you may recognise him from Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Downfall and Tarantino’s Inglouroius Basterds. And there are 2 Belgian actors: Jonas Bloquet as the son, known from the controversial masterpiece Elève Libre (a.k.a. Private Lessons, 2008 directed by Joachim Lafosse) and the Kevin Costner vehicle 3 Days to Kill (2014) and Virginie Efira who plays the neigbour who already starred opposite Huppert in Mon pire cauchemar (My Worst Nightmare, 2011). To convince yourself even further of what a fearless actress Isabelle Huppert is you should see the scene in Mon pire cauchemar in which she lets herself be ridden on her back like a horse by Man Bites Dog (1992) star Benoît Poelvoorde.
This could have easily resulted in a euro pudding, certainly given the fact that the Dutch director doesn’t fully master French but instead the film is vintage Verhoeven and it’s hard to imagine any area’s the film could have been improved on.
Jan Bollen

Homage to Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate in Erik Van Looy’s The Memory of a Killer.

Check out the below homage Erik Van Looy paid to the ‘Michael Kovacs murder scene’ from Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate (1980) in his film The Memory of a Killer (original title De Zaak Alzheimer, alternate international title The Alzheimer Case, 2003). Van Looy referred to it during his audio commentary (dutch audio only) which is available on the Benelux DVD edition from Bridge Entertainment.
Cimino’s scene is also an interesting example of a star entrance for the character Nathan D. Champion played by Christopher Walken.

In addition Van Looy also worked with Cimino’s fetish actor Mickey Rourke in his film Shades (1999)His brief appearance in Heaven’s Gate marked Rourke’s first collaboration with Cimino, he would later play the lead in the excellent Year of the Dragon (1985) and Desperate Hours (1990), his poor remake of William Wyler’s The Desperate Hours (1955) starring Humphrey Bogart.

Jan Bollen

Reflections on the mirror image. (Post 2 linked to Jaco Van Dormael’s The Brand New Testament).

In this second post (Post 1: A slice of Buñuel). linked to Jaco Van Dormael’s Le Tout Nouveau Testament (The Brand New Testament) I’ll be focussing on his particular fascination with the mirror image and similar usage by other famous directors. Before checking out the clip at the end called MIRROR IMAGE you can read the below text explaining what’s so special about these particular movie extracts.

The clip starts of with a small segment of the celebrated opening point of view shot from Rouben Mamoulian’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931). We see the main charachter following his butler who will get his coat, hat and cane as Dr. Jekyll is leaving his mansion to give a lecture and happens to pass a mirror. As the camera approaches the mirror and films straight into it we see the reflection of Dr. Jeckyll as portrayed by Fredric March in his oscar winning performance. What we get to see is actually impossible as we should be seeing the reflection of the camera + crew into the mirror instead.
The way this effect what created is by building a duplicate symmetrical (mirroring) set. The actor Frederic March therefore was situated behind the wall of the dupe set and therefore had to act in perfect unison and had to appear at the exact same moment the camera moved in front of the mirror which is actually just a hole in the wall through which we see the mirror replication of the same set. When the actor who’s playing the butler opens the door of the cloakroom and enters it to get the coat, hat and cane he joins Fredric March on he other side of the set and hands it over to March and then while March is putting them on he quickly needs to move back to the other side of the set to open the front door.

We then cut to a door being opened by a killer in a short portion of ‘the movie within the movie’ opening scene of Brian De Palma’s Blow Out (1981). It’s also a point of view shot, we see the killer enter a shower room of a female dormitory and approach a mirror in which the killer sees his own reflection, he turns away and approaches his female victim  currently taking a shower. In this shot an actual mirror was used and the actor and steadicam operator -which happened to be Garrett Brown the inventor of the steadicam- had to be placed strategically and had to choreograph their simultanious movements to create the illusion of the point of view shot looking into the mirror without the camera being visible.

Next up are the first and last shot of Francis Ford Coppola’s Peggy Sue Got Married (1986). In the opening shot we see a televison commercial staring Nicholas Cage. The camera pans back and we see his daughter (Helen Hunt) watching her father on TV and mentions this to her mother (Kathleen Turner) who as the camera keeps pulling back we can see is doing her make-up sitting in front of a mirror. The camera keeps pulling back and we see the back of Kathleen Turner and her image reflected in the mirror. As this was one continuous take again we’ve been looking at an impossible shot as the camera had to move through the mirror which is physically impossible. To achieve this -as with the Mamoulian film- a double adjoining set was created, this time a body double had to mimic the actress Kathleen Turner’s movements with her back facing the camera. All the bottles and objects standing in front of the mirror had to be put at both sides of the set. When you look closely you’ll notice the movements of Kathleen Turner and her body double are not perfectly synchronised but when you do not realise hwo the shot was done the illusion will probably work perfectly.
The 2nd shot from Peggy Sue… is very similar to the first shot (again a camera going through a mirror, this time in a hospital bedroom) but with the added difficulty there are now 3 actors and 3 body doubles that need to act in perfect synchronicity while they have their backs to each other (whereas in the first shot Kathleen Turner and the body double were facing each other).

In case you haven’t seen the original Twin Peaks series yet it’s best not to look at and read this part of the clip/text as it has a bit of a spoiler since it’s the ending of the final episode (at least for now) directed by David Lynch. We see special agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) looking at himself in a mirror and immediately afterwards smashing his head into it. We notice through the shattered reflection of the mirror that the mirror image reflected is not that of Cooper but that of Killer Bob (Frank Silva). MacLachlan and Silva move in unison at either side of the duplicate adjoining set with a haunting devilish smile and laughter.

In La Haine (1995) director Mathieu Kassovitz has Vincent Cassel deliver the french version of the famous you’re talking to me speech from Taxi Driver (1976) in front of a mirror. (A bit of trivia: in Taxi Driver this speech was filmed in a mirror and we actually only get to see the filmes reflection in the mirror). Same trick here, the camera is placed behind a body double who stands in front of the mirror, he moves down to drink water from the faucet after having brushed his teeth. The camera moves in while off camera the body double moves out of the shot and when Cassel at the other side of the set looks up straight into the camera we have the impossible illusion of a point of view (we become Vincent Cassel) shot looking straight into a mirror.

Jaco Van Dormael used a similar mirror shot for the first time in Mr. Nobody (2009) and had his particual take on it, at the same time perfectly assimilated with the thematics of his film and as a cinematic injoke. Jared Letho plays a charachter that since a childhood trauma can no longer take any decisions and therefore in his mind is living out endless variations of his potential other lifes. At at certain stage in the film he wakes up in the bed of one family and walks into the bathroom and wants to turn on the light but it happens to be at the other side of the room (he belived to be in a mirror version of his bathroom). He walks towards the mirror looks into it and afterwards walks into the reflection he sees and ends up in that mirror image which happens to be another one of his alternate families. The shot was achieved with a combination of a duplicated adjoining set in combination with visual effects.

In Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn (1987) there’s a funny (and scary) scene were Bruce Campbell looks into a mirror after some horrible typical Evil Dead stuff has taking place and wants to reassure himself everything is ok when suddenly his mirror image grabs him and advises him of the contrary. Again this was achieved practically by director Sam Raimi by using a duplicate set with the principal actor at one side and a body double at the other.

In Le Tout Nouveau Testament (2015) Jaco Van Dormael pulls a similar trick. The shot starts with a real mirror in a bathroom filmed from the right. A body double moves in front of the camera at which point there’s a subliminal cut to the same set this time with a duplicate set behind the mirror. The body double approaches the mirror and we see François Damiens appear in the mirror image and they embrace each other through the dupe sets.

To end of there’s a brief funny clip from Marc Foster’s Stranger Than Fiction (2006) which has a bit of an impossible mirror shot as well.

Jan Bollen

Jaco Van Dormael’s The Brand New Testament. Post 1: A slice of Buñuel.

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In the coming weeks I’ll be writing several posts on Jaco Van Dormael’s excellent religious satire ‘Le Tout Nouveau Testament’ (a.k.a. The Brand New Testament) focusing on links and references to other movies the director has put in his film. In this first post I’ll be focusing on the influence of Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali. Buñuels films are filled with images critizing organised religion and the almost inherent hypocrisy that Buñuels seems to detect among the clergy.
To give but a few examples, in La Voie Lactée (The Milky Way, 1969) one of the pilgrims dreams of assassinating the pope. At the end of Simón del desierto (Simon  of the Desert, 1965) a saint who stayed and prayed on a pilar in the middle of a desert for 6 years, 6 weeks and 6 days (yes indeed) gives up and ends up partying in a jazz club. In Viridiana (1961) a nun unsuccesfully tries to help the poor which leads to a famous scene parodying Leonardo Da Vinci’s ‘the last supper’. Van Dormael does the same in Le Tout Nouveau Testament. (See pictures below)

The notorious Last Supper sequence in Luis Buñuel's VIRIDIANA.  

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Furthermore there’s the casting of Catherine Deneuve who in Le Tout Nouveau Testament picks up a young male prostitute kind of mirroring her role in Buñuel’s most succesful film Belle de Jour (1967). Deneuve off course also played the title character in another Buñuel film: Tristana (1970).

In the below clip I’ve prepared called Sea Breeze you can see Van Dormael also pays homage to some cinematic tricks Buñuel used in his first two and most (in)famous films: Un Chien Andalou (1929) and L’Age d’ôr (1930). Both films are filled with dream or better nightmarish images that are still as powerfull now as they were at the time of their initial release (and for once that’s not an exaggeration).
There’s a particularly clever cinematic idea Buñuel used in Un Chien Andalou that perfectly visualises the dreamlike state the movie keeps up for its entire running time of about 15 minutes. Towards the end of the film a woman and a man are having a fight and she leaves the room and sticks out her tongue at him. In the next room (or hallway) in the distance she sees another man she knows standing on a beach, which makes no logical sense since she’s still in the interior of a house. To smooth out the transistion form the interior to the beach exterior you’ll notice Buñuel introduced wind in the exterior part of the scene which blows in her hair and moves her scarf.
In L’Age d’ôr made a year later Buñuel used the same trick again. A women is sitting on a chair in front of a mirror and her mind wonders of. We hear sounds of the wind (to know why there’s also sounds of cowbells and a barking dog you’ll have to see the film) and we see her hair move, as do the flowers next do the mirror which again makes no sense as the scene is set in an interior. On top of this the mirror is suddenly showing a cloudfilled sky.
Next up there’s also a clip from Barton Fink (1991) in which a writer with writer’s block starts to fantasize about a woman in a picture sitting on a beack overlooking the ocean. The writer ends up in the painting meeting the woman of his fantasies. The Coen Brothers only used sounds to make the transistion from an interior set to an exterior beach location.

In the part of The Brand New Testament dealing with the sexually-frustrated third apostle there’s a scene in which Van Dormael adopts the same techniques used by the masters that have proceeded him. As an inside joke the scene is followed by a scene in a hairdresser saloon where the boys hair is blown dry with the use of a hair dryer. In my opinion this scene is also refering to Patrice Leconte’s Le Mari de la Coiffeusse (The Hairdresser’s Husband, 1990), no footage of that film is used in this clip.
To end the comparison clip there’s a short scene from Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s Belles Familles (2015) which showcases a subtle use of the same technique. A young woman is sitting in a car and is looking out the window and sees a beach and some kids running or riding a bike. The scene in the car is shot in a studio in front of blue screen with the exteriors added digitally later on in post. The wind going through her hair creates the illusion (movie magic) she’s really sitting in a car that’s riding on a road near a beach.

The next post will feature a similar comparison clip called Mirror Image.

Jan Bollen