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


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.

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.
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.


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.  

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

Roger Corman’s best film: THE INTRUDER. Happy 90th birthday mister Corman.

The Intruder

Roger Corman, the famous American independent low-budget filmmaker, producer and distributor, turns 90 today.
He’s single handedly responsible for lauching the careers of directors, writers and actors such as Martin Scorsese (Boxcar Bertha), Peter Bogdanovich (Targets), Francis Ford Coppola (Dementia 13), Joe Dante (Piranha), James Cameron (Piranha part two: The Spawning, still the best movie ever about flying piranha’s), Jack Nicholson (a.o. The Shooting, Ride in the Whirlwind), Jonathan Demme (Caged Heat, Crazy Mama), John Sayles (scripted a.o. The Lady in Red, Battle Beyond the Stars) to name but a few.
On the one hand he produced and distributed exploitation and sexploitation movies and on the other hand he introduced the films of Akira Kurosawa, Federico Fellini and Ingmar Bergman to an American audience.
Of the 50 plus movies he’s directed himself, The Intruder (1962) is the best of them all and is somewhat of a stand alone in the man’s oeuvre. It’s a serious film dealing with the first introduction of racial integration in schools set a fictitious southern town called Caxton. In 1954 the US Supreme Court declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students to be unconstitutional.
The film was based on the novel of the same name by Charles Beaumont who adapted it into a screenplay himself, he also has a small part in the film. He’d also written the script for Corman’s The Premature Burial (1962) and went on to write the adaptation of Corman’s version of E.A. Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death (1964) and died prematurely in 1967 at the age of 38.
The film follows the attempts of Adam Cramer (excellently portrayed by William Shatner, indeed the future Captain Kirk of the Star Trek Enterprise, in what must be his first lead role in a motion picture) to incite the white townspeople to racial violence against the black population. He basically wants to make the segregated American white schools white again.

The film was shot -not without risk- on location in o.a. southeast Missouri using the local population as extra’s which lends an incredible sense of realism to the film. The film received a limited released and was the first movie Corman had ever been involved in that lost money. Later the same year a big studio picture To Kill a Mockingbird which also touched upon similar civil rights issues -be it less direct than The Intruder- was released to great succes. The reputation of The Intruder has been growing in recent years and has led to several re-issues and DVD releases which has now, over 40 years later, resulted in the film turning in a profit.

Corman stated: “I really believed in it and was disappointed in its commercial reception. But it changed the way I made films. I felt the reason it had failed commercially was that it was too much of a message from me and not entertaining enough. From then on, I made films primarily for the audience’s entertainment. Any personal statement or scene that was important to me would be a beneath-the-surface subtext.”

Even at the age of 90 Corman is still producing movies at a steady rate, his most recent production Death Race 2050, a sequel to Corman’s producuction of Paul Bartel’s cult classic Death Race 2000 (1975), is currently in post production. I’m sure it’ll be entertaining and will undoubtedly have a subtextual social commentary.

Jan Bollen

BONE TOMAHAWK: S. Craig Zahler manifests his destiny as a director.

Bone Tomahawk

Two bandits are going about their business of killing and robbing some travelers a bit too close to a sacred burial ground belonging to an extremely aggressive group of Native Americans with, let’s say, cannibalistic tendencies. The surviving outlaw flees to a small town called Bright Hope. The local sheriff (Kurt Russell) shoots the bandit in the leg -which appears to be his regular MO- and has the local doctor Samatha (a role for Lili Simmons of Banshee fame) fetched to attend to his wound. She’s married to Arthur O’Dwyer (Patrick Wilson) who’s injured, recovering from a broken leg. In the morning the sheriff is notified that a black stable boy has been found dead, severely mutilated. When they check the jail they find an arrow, Samatha, the bandit and a young deputy are missing from the jail.
A four man posse -consisting of Sheriff Hunt, his back-up deputy Chicory (Richard Jenkins) with potential signs of early alzheimer’s, Brooder (Matthew Fox) a notorious ‘indian killer’ and womanizer (who at one stage had an eye on the town’s doctor) with some vanity issues and the injured husband Arthur- is formed to get them back out of the hands of the tribe of cannibalistic cave dwellers or troglodytes, a word which is the basis for one of the countless comedic scenes in the film. The cannibals bare somewhat of a resemblance to the Predator creature in the 1986 Schwarzenegger vehicule (and many of its sequels).

This typical and fairly simple premise and character set-up could have resulted in a straightforward, lean and mean western. Writer director (and musician) S. Craig Zahler had other plans, he’s opted for a slow paced rhythm, with a lot of riding and campfire scenes leaving plenty of opportunity for character moments and loads of comic relief, many scenes playing out in long takes with little camera movement. The character of Chicory played by Richard Jenkins is clearly an homage to similar comic relief roles by character actors such as Will Rogers in many a John Ford film or of Walter Brennan in countless Howard Hawks films. Where the humor in the films of Ford and Hawks now often feels dated as it’s too much ‘broad comedy’ (at least for my taste) the dialogues by Zahler constantly strike the right chords even though a lot of the time it has an oldfashioned feel to it. Not that the other actors are less than great but Jenkins really has the star part and steals many a scene.

Zahler’s reputation and script was able to attract a lot of star quality for his low-budget debut, all willing to work for scale. The film was shot on a shoestring budget of 1,8 million dollars on pre-existing sets on the Paramount Ranch for 21 days. After the shoot Kurt Russell almost went straight to The Hateful Eight set, he clearly kept the same hairstyle and beard.
The film also has a lot of interesting actors (rnaging from cult actors to former glories) in minor parts . There’s Zahn McClarnon (of Fargo Season 2 fame, reteaming with Patrick Wilson) -who in an original take on the typical Native American scout role- informs the posse where they can find the tribe but wisely declines to go along.
David Arquette (deputy Dewey in the Scream films) and Sid Haig (o.a. Jack Hill regular including the Pam Grier vehicules o.a. Coffy, Foxy Brown, played a cameo as the judge in Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, and more recently Rob Zombie’s House of  1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects) as the bandits.
Woody Allen and Coen brothers fans may well recognise Fred Melamed as the saloon owner Clarence (Sy Abelman in A Serious Man, and one of the abductors/writers in Hail, Caesar!).
Michael Paré as as Mr. Wallington in the saloon scene who almost became an A-lister in the mid eighties via Eddie and the Cruisers, and Walter Hill’s Streets of Fire, and has since 2000 acted in almost every Uwe Boll film. And Sean Young (Blade Runner, No Way Out) as the mayor’s wife.

For some Zahler may at times be lingering too much. But then we would have missed such wonderful scenes such as the one with the (tiny) mayor who for whatever reasons is being completely ignored by Sheriff Hunt or the one showing the nightly encounter and treatment of a couple of Mexicans (“Mr Brooder just educated two Mexicans on the meaning of Manifest Destiny.”)  For others the extremely horrific outbursts of violence in the final act might be too much to take. This blending of western, horror and comedy that lasts for almost 2 hours and fifteen minutes some may find to be a bit indulgent, I liked it a lot and it was one of the many highlights at this years Offscreen festival.

If you have a dark sense of humor you’ll definitely have to check out the below clip: Cabin Fever and Bone Tomahawk: Windpipes and black humor.

Jan Bollen

Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s EVOLUTION. Mixing Bresson with Argento.


Set in a seaside village of a remote volcanic-like island the film shows a small community that seems to consist entirely of adult women each taking care of one young boy. The young women gradually appear to be more guards than guardians and more caretakers than caring. The children are given medicine to drink to so-called to strenghten themselves eventhough they are not ill. Director Lucile Hadzihalilovic focusses on one of these boys called Nicolas who discoveres the body of a young boy on an otherwise idyllic looking bottom of the ocean. The adults do not appear too alarmed, his mother (?) dives down at the same spot only to find the bright red starfish the boy said marked the dead body and do not seem to hold any further credibility to his story.

Made up more out of cryptic elements and taking a purely visual approach to storytelling (rather than a more classic form of dramatisation) the film immerges you in a moody and atmospeheric cinematic trip mixing the beautiful with the horrific. Small details have a maximum effect such as the bleached eyebrows of the mothers and the lightgray outfit they share make them look extremely similar and thus interchangeable  The approach chosen leaves a lot of room for interpretation that some may find exilharating and others frustrating.

The film forms a perfect companion piece to Hadzihalilovic’s debut Innocence (2004). She likes to start her films under water, in Evolution the water appears to be a symbol of the origin of life. Both films focus their attention on the world as experienced by children, girls in the case of Innocence and boys in Evolution and seem to share a similar dreamlike
logic. Both films are mainly set at night, have an eerie feeling to them and have children ‘disappearing’ and adopt a style that combines arthouse and genre films. Showing as much respect for the cinema of Robert Bresson as for that of Dario Argento.
Both films were shot by Belgian DoP’s. Benoît Debie who shot all films of her partner Gaspard Noé and worked with Fabrice Du Welz a.o. Calvaire (2004) and Vinyan (2008) has been replaced by Manuel Dacosse who seems to be his favorite replacement since Debie’s career has gone more international (a.o. Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, Wim Wenders Everything Will Be Fine and Ryan Gosling’s Lost River) as he helmed Du Welz Alléluia, and Hélène Cattet’s and Bruno Forzani’s Amer and L’étrange couleur des larmes de ton corps and now also Evolution.
Evolution is a more accomplished film and no longer has the imperfections Innocence had. In her debut film you could sometimes feel the child actors had no clue what they were upto due to which certain scenes played out far too long. It nevertheless remained a powerful film. Let’s hope we won’t have to wait another 11 years for a next film by Hadzihalilovic.

Jan Bollen

ANOMALISA: complex, one of a kind stop-motion animation with strings only puppet master Charlie Kaufman can pull.

Based on his “sound play”, Anomalisa marks the long anticipated return in the director’s chair for Charlie Kaufman since his brilliant debut Synecdoche, New York (2008). He’s mostly known as the screenplay writer for Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) and to a lesser extent Human Nature (2001) and Spike Jonze’s Being John Malkovich (1999) and Adaptation (2002).

This stop-motion animation film he co-directed with Duke Johnson follows Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis), a succesful writer of a book on customer service, who’s on his way to a convention on this subject held in Cincinatti. After checking in the Fregoli hotel he decides to call a former girlfriend Bella Amarosi (what’s in a name) he unexpectedly left over ten years ago. They meet but the encounter does not turn out a succes.

In the meantime we’ve noticed every character in the film -regardless if they are a man a woman or a child- as seen by Michael has a remarkably similar face and voice (that of Tom Noonan). In his view everybody looks the same and has the same uninteresting things to say, he’s therefore only interested in being left in peace and tries to avoid social contact to the an absolute minimum.
The name of the hotel seems to suggest he may be suffering from of the so-called Fregoli delusion, or the delusion of doubles, which is a rare disorder in which a person holds a delusional belief that different people are in fact a single person. It’s named so after the turn of the century Italian quick-change stage actor Leopoldo Fregoli.
This seems to change suddenly when he encounters Lisa who does look different and does have a voice of her own (that of Jennifer Jason Leigh). They have sex (an incredibly sweet scene) and the illusion holds up at least till the morning after breakfast conversation.

The writing and plot is rich, layered and if you’re willing to dig deeper you’ll notice it’s dark and perverse as well. There’s a lot of irony linked to the customer service expertise knowledge of the main character. When he’s confronted with professional customer ‘speeches’ from e.g the taxi driver who drives him (who can’t stop giving free advice on Sin Sin or Cin Cin city Cincinatti) to the hotel and the phone conversation he has with the room service order taker who he feels is taken too much time and he’d like to cut of as soon as possible are probably applying his book on customer service to perfection. “You can feel the smile even if you don’t see it” Michael would state during his convention address).

A lot is being introduced extremely sublty and might not be picked up at all and may require multiple viewings. The ‘toy store’ confusion which is planted during the cab scene in the beginning and is built upon during the entire piece is being paid off during the conclusion of the film. This kind of complexity and indepth psyschological portrayal is not something you’d expect in a stop-motion animation film. It’s a truly original film that pulls no punches and doesn’t care about showing characters that have serious flaws or might lack sympathy, somewhat symbolised by the fact that the makers chose not to erase or digitally hide the inperfections in the dolls faces that are needed for facial movement. Needless to say: required viewing for mature audiences and undoubtedly one of the films of the year.

Jan Bollen

BELGICA: Welcome to your favourite place of depravity.


Two brothers turn a small pub into the place to be in the nightlife of Ghent. With more enthusiasm than know-how they incorporate an adjacent empty building and transform it into a nightclub. The bigger they get the more professional and responsible they should become but this doesn’t correspond with the ‘original concept’ of a cosy, easy-going place where everybody is welcome and anything goes. But whereas the older brother Frank (Tom Vermeir) sees their joint venture as an escape from responisbility (from his family life) the younger brother (Stef Aerts) is yearning for a family of his own. Tensions start to build up and painful choices need to be made.

Director Felix van Groeningen (De Helaasheid der Dingen a.k.a. The Misfortunates, The Broken Circle Breakdown) loosely based his film on the real-life bar ‘The Charlatan’ -previously owned by his father and later taken over by two brothers- and the events he’s witnessed and stories he heard. At first glance the script is more character than plot-driven but it is richer and more subtle than you might think.

The film is also very music driven, Soulwax (David and Stephen Dewaele at one stage known as The Fucking Dewaele Brothers) -who also collaborated with van Groeningen on his debut Steve + Sky– have created 16 original bands to play their music life in the film which proved to be an excellent choice. If you are somewhat familiar with the Belgian (and Ghent) music scene you’ll be able to spot a lot of familiar faces playing in these bands, the ‘ladies’ from Kenji Minogue, Kamagurka’s children Boris en Sarah Yu Zeebroek (from Hong Kong Dong), Roland, Steven Janssens, and Lander Gyselinck and Bent Van Looy on the drums.
The pub/parties scenes therefore look, feel and almost smell (luckily odorama never caught on) incredibly realistic. Kudos to editor Nico leunen, Ruben Impens for his brilliant lightning and photography and art director Kurt Rigolle, no mean achievement. The only thing remotely similar are the party scenes towards the end of Tom Barman’s Any Way the Wind Blows.

The film has some great performances by more established actors such as Stef Aerts en Charlotte Vandermeersch and some new (to film at least) interesting faces like Tom Vermeir and Hélèné De Vos. In smaller parts you may notice van Groeningen regulars Titus De Voogtd (the lead in Steve + Sky) and Johan Heldenbergh who means to van Groeningen what Olivier Gourmet means for the Dardenne brothers, unmissable.
Netflix has secured the exclusive worldwide VOD distribution rights -except for some major European countries where the film will be shown theatrically- and the film will be seen on their platform in many countries.

Jan Bollen

WAKE IN FRIGHT: Lost in the outback, Scorsese approved.


Wake in Fright starts with an image of the Australian outback (Outback happens to be the international title of the film), the camera circles a full 360° and the only thing we see is a railway, a tiny hotel/bar and another tiny building which turns out to be the local school. Inside the school we see a teacher John Grant (Gary Bond) and a handful of kids, no actual teaching is occuring. Everybody is counting down the last moments before the Christmas holiday is about to begin.
Grant plans to visit his girlfriend in Sydney over the holidays. To get there he first needs to stay overnight at a mining town called Bundanyabba or just the Yabba as it’s lovingly called by the locals. The plan is to take a plane the next morning. However the miners are all to happy to buy and share a beer with the newcomer, one after the other, refusing is not an option. A local sherif (played by popular Australian actor Chips Rafferty who died shortly after completing the film) takes him to a place where he can get the best steak in town, just for 1 dollar. in the back of the restaurant there’s a gambling den where a game called Two-Up (a traditional Australian game where 2 coins are trown in the air by a ‘spinner’ and the players gamble on whether the coins will fall with both heads up or both tails up) is played. Grant is looking down at the local mining population and their drinking and gambling rituals, a culture routed and founded by boredom.
Grant is not only stuck in the town (somewhat similar to the bourgeoisie in a Buñuel film), he’s also stuck professionally. A thousand dollar deposit keeps him trapped in his teaching job. The Two-Up game might give an easy way out, or not.

It is an intense and brilliantly crafted and acted film (Donald Pleasence as ‘the doc’ deserves a special mentioning), depicting one man’s drink-induced descent into a hellish nightmare culminating in a violent and controversial kangeroo hunting scene. Contrary to the CGI effects Greg Mclean’s used in the more recent Wolf Creek 2 (2013) director Ted Kotcheff’s (First Blood, 1982) Wake in Fright uses real footage of actual Kangeroo’s being gunned down. The filmcrew followed hunters during their hunting party and only filmed what would have happened anyway. As you can read during the end credits this was done with the approval of Australian animal rights groups as they wanted to denounce the activities of the real hunting which at one stage even threatened to make kangeroos extinct.

This film was part of the offical selection of the Cannes film festival of 1971 where it represented Australia. In that period Australian films were still directed by foreign director’s, famous examples are Michael Powell’s They’re a Weird Mob (1966), and Nicholas Roeg’s masterpiece Walkabout (1971), paving the way for local director’s like Peter Weir (o.a. Picnic at Hanging Rock, 1975) and George Miller (the Mad Max films). It’s incredible that this film was director by a Canadian as the movie feels extremely authentic

One of the films greatest champions is Martin Scorsese -being an unkown at the time-who saw the film in Cannes at it’s initial showing. In 2009 -now a celebrated director- when Scorsese was guest curator for the Cannes Classic section he selected the then recently restored version of the film that left a lasting impression on him and had this to say about the film:  Wake in Fright is a deeply — and I mean deeply — unsettling and disturbing movie. I saw it when it premiered at Cannes in 1971, and it left me speechless. Visually, dramatically, atmospherically and psychologically, it’s beautifully calibrated and it gets under your skin one encounter at a time, right along with the protagonist played by Gary Bond. I’m excited that Wake in Frighthas been preserved and restored and that it is finally getting the exposure it deserves.”

I’ve prepared to below clip comparing a scene from Wake in Fright with some shots from Scorsese’s Casino (1995). You can judge for yourself if Scorsese was inpired by Kotcheff.

Jan Bollen