Thursday, December 31, 2020
Quest Status: 726 / 1000
Wednesday, December 30, 2020
Quest Status: 725 / 1000
TSPDT Rank #652
--- 275 films remaining---
Sunday, December 27, 2020
Quest Status: 724 / 1000
TSPDT Rank #214
On the surface, Michael Haneke's Caché is a mystery film, a psychological thriller about surveillance - the feeling of being watched by an unknown entity that can see your every move. However, its central mystery is never solved, with Haneke pulling back layer after layer and making the mystery progressively more complicated and disturbing - ultimately refusing to satisfy viewer expectations like most other mystery films. The result is a master class in creating and sustaining tension. The creepy atmosphere that Haneke creates never lets up; there's always a sinking feeling that the unknown stalker is hiding just around the corner, just waiting to be revealed. There's plenty of tension in earlier Haneke films like Funny Games and The Piano Teacher, but also a breaking point where that tension explodes into violence. In Caché, by contrast, little violence is shown on screen. And even when it is, it only results in the creation of further tension and uncertainties.
What is certain is this: Georges (Daniel Auteuil) and his wife Anne (Juliette Binoche) are being harassed by a stalker who sends high-quality videos of their apartment shot from the outside, filmed by someone close by but never seen. The videos are also accompanied by bloody drawings that seem to recall an incident from Georges' childhood which is never revealed fully. In any case, the incident involved a young boy, Majid, the son of Algerian immigrants killed in a 1961 massacre in Paris. Georges' parents had intended to adopt Majid after the death of his parents, but six-year-old Georges used lies and intimidation to have Majid sent to an orphanage away from their family. As an adult, Georges still can't face up to this incident from his childhood. He can't even tell his wife about it. Nevertheless, he is forced to reckon with the past when he suspects Majid of sending the tapes.
--- 276 films remaining---
Thursday, December 24, 2020
TSPDT Rank #338
Initial viewing: 10/11/2013
After losing his wife, Sharon Tate, in the grisly Manson Family killings of 1969, Roman Polanski seemed to unravel--his subsequent films becoming progressively darker and filled with brooding anxiety. The Tenant follows this pattern, although it also recalls two earlier Polanski films with which it forms an unofficial “Apartment Trilogy.” In the first, Repulsion, a timid young woman’s apartment is invaded by a man who tries to rape her; in the second, Rosemary’s Baby, a pregnant woman fears that her neighbors are plotting to take her baby away from her. The Tenant, however, deals with a sense of fear which is much more difficult to pin down--not to mention much stranger and disturbing.
For one thing, rather than having the main character be a woman in peril, Polanski plays the main character himself. His character, Trelkovsky, is a quiet Polish immigrant looking for an apartment. Although the one he has his eyes on was the site of a suicide attempt, the apartment’s owners hardly seem to eager to show the apartment and immediately treat him with suspicion. From here on, the premise starts to get really strange: as soon as Trelkovsky moves into the apartment, people in the neighborhood start informing him of the previous tenant’s habits - a cup of hot chocolate in the morning instead of coffee, Marlboro cigarettes instead of Gauloise Blues, and slippers after 10 pm so as not to disturb the neighbors. He is aggressively encouraged to adopt these habits of his own, gradually causing him to feel that his identity is being threatened.
But what exactly is the source of this anxiety? As a Polish immigrant himself, who had lived in both America and France, Polanski would certainly have understood the feeling of being an outsider in a foreign identity - with one’s reputation always one step away from investigation and suspicion. But the idea of forcing someone to become a different person is another question entirely. One answer is that a death leaves a void which those left behind feel compelled to fill in some way. A look at Polanski’s personal life might suggest that the experience of losing his wife made him want to fill the void that she left behind.
That the dialogue is spoken in English, despite being set in Paris, only accentuates the film’s undefinable sense of discord. The effect is disorienting - the street signs and storefronts are all in French, but the actors all sound like Americans. All, that is, except for Trelkovsky and one of his fellow tenants, a woman with a Eastern European accent and a disabled daughter. At one point, we see the woman and her daughter forced to don robes and masks as the neighbors violently prod them in the street like animals.
It’s impossible to see this and not think of the Holocaust, medieval witch hunts, or other such atrocities. But like many other scenes throughout the film, the simple sense of uncomfortable uncanniness overwhelms any literal analysis. For example, when Trelkovsky begins dressing in drag in his belief that he is “becoming” the former tenant of his apartment, it’s not the effect of seeing Polanski in women’s clothing that’s so disquieting, it’s that he seems to fit so well among the intricately designed sets and really become another character. And the moment when he examines himself in the mirror and whispers with palpable dread, “I think I’m pregnant,” is like no other in the history of cinema.
Thursday, December 10, 2020
Quest Status: 723 / 1000
TSPDT Rank #705
Every review of this movie should start with a warning, so I'll get that out of the way before we go any further. This movie is not for the faint of heart. It contains a 10-minute rape scene and a scene of graphically violent bludgeoning, but these two infamous scenes are really only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the raw emotional impact that Irréversible has on the viewer. This impact comes primarily from the fact that the story (a fairly standard rape and revenge story on the surface) is told in reverse: starting from a place of gut-wrenching ugliness and working its way gradually up a breakneck downward spiral... until we find ourselves in a place of beauty, tenderness, and possibilities that seem so close, but are actually impossibly out of reach.
Irréversible was my introduction to Gaspar Noé, the French director behind some of the most provocative and incendiary films of recent decades. I had known of him for a long time, but could never work up the nerve to watch this film - his most acclaimed film by far. Not being a big fan of Christopher Nolan's gimmicky Memento (another reverse chronological order film whose success reportedly secured Noé the funding for this film), I doubted that the same trick would work in service of material which I had heard to be nearly unwatchable in its extended cruelty, no matter how cleverly applied. And indeed, for the first 40 minutes of Irréversible, I found the reverse storytelling clunky and predictable. The exaggerated fury of Marcus (Vincent Cassel) and Pierre (Albert Dupontel) in their search for the lowlife pimp who raped Marcus' girlfriend Alex (Monica Belluci) seems calculated to make the story clearer to to the viewer - who may find it difficult to follow in reverse.