Friday, August 27, 2010

Ne te retourne pas (Don’t Look Back) – Marina de Van (2009)

When I started watching this film, I had no idea what it was going to be about.

To tell the truth, I have a soft spot for
French films, for some reason.

I have no idea what it is about that country, but their movies make sense to me.

Truffaut, Leconte,
Alain Resnais, Gela Babluani, Alexandre Bustillo, Gaspar Noe, I love 'em all.

French films are beautiful and horrific. They move, inspire and scare the Christ out of me all at the same time.

"Ne te retourne pas" is no exception. It does all of those things at once and it does them very slowly and subtly.

Aside from that, I had seen de Van’s 2002 freak-fest “Dans ma Peau” (In My Skin) and to this day, I’m the only person I have met in real life who liked it.

And who doesn’t want to spend 100 minutes or so watching Sophie Marceau? (Well, as it turns out, the better part of half that time, anyway.)

I vaguely had the idea that it was going to be some kind of thriller.

So imagine my delight and surprise when I found myself completely lost and confused as hell about 12 or 13 minutes into the movie.

The film centers around Jeanne, a French trade writer who finally wants to write fiction, specifically autobiographical fiction.

The problem is, she can’t remember anything before she was 8-years-old.

The other problem is that while her work as a professional writer is exceptional, her first attempt at fiction is terrible.

It’s tepid, self-aware, disassociated, overly-descriptive and trite.

Of course this is because memories of childhood are more than just facts told to Jeanne by her mother. The novel is cold because Jeanne never felt, touched or tasted a childhood. Poor Jeanne.

Before long, Jeanne’s mind starts playing tricks on her. Or is her family just messing with her?

Little things start to seem out of place, like the kitchen table, and s

he catches her husband and children ges

turing ominously to each other, exchanging conspiratorial hand signals.

Of course, at this point, we, the audience have no idea what's going on, but that’s okay

because neither do any of the characte

rs. Is Jeanne going crazy? Is it a brain tumor or a legion?

Is it Satan?

Actually, there’s nothing that suggests anything supernatural, but whenever there are endless, baseless theories as to what’s happening in a movie, I always like to throw Satan into the mix.

Before long, Jeanne’s loving husband is actually changing into another man and then Jeanne finds herself morphing.

The scene where we first see her with half of her own face and half of a new face surprised me by how effectively creepy it was.

It’s impressive how we’re about half an hour into the film and we have no reason to be frightened, but for some reason, I’m finding myself with a severe case of the willies.

Again, we still have absolutely no idea what is going on. And that's a very good thing because none of the characters do, either.

The rest of the film plays out with Jeanne’s mind swapping out her perception of realities to the point where her husband, mother, children and herself are different people.

Jeanne goes on a journey to find who her ‘true’ mother, self, husband, and her whole reality actually is.

By the time we get to the 'twist ending' which I won't give away just on the principle of not spoiling films, the plot is no longer the point. This isn't a film where the story matters.

The chain of events is incidental. What’s important is Jeanne’s broken mind.

Toward the beginning of the film, there’s a scene that shows her mother playing poker in an apartment with a handful of friends around a small table.

Later, when Jeanne visits her mother, she’s playing poker in an enormous, elegant penthouse, filled with affluent gamers, security guards and high stakes.

When Jeanne’s reality is altered, it’s disturbing, especially when the change is subtle.

For me, the most jolting moments were toward the building when she would catch her husband and children exchanging those subtle hand signals out of the corner of her eye or in a reflection or on a home video.

Of course, they had no idea what she was talking about and watching the film, I believed them.

They were truly her loving family and meant her no harm.

I was just as lost as Jeanne was and that was what made the film so psychologically gruesome.

Because Christ, do any of us really have any kind of grasp on anything?

Watch this movie. Buy this movie. It’s a masterpiece.

Along with John Hillcoat’s adaptation of “The Road,” this is the second film to make me realize I put out my top 10 of 2009 too soon.

I need to wait like a year before doing those.

And, in case any of you care, right now, I'm listening to:

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Inside – Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury (2007)

I have to be honest.

Fair warning must be given.

"Inside" is truly offensive and exploitative. The plot centers around one of the most horrifying and shocking true-life crimes I can remember.

Having said that, if you don’t mind being offended and you can look past the truly bad taste this film shows, you are in for one hell of a treat.

I loved every frame of this blood-soaked movie.

Every distasteful and odious moment in the film just made me giddy.

The story starts with a POV shot from a fetus. That’s right, a fetus. This movie is that unconscionably abusive of both its characters and its audience. Wow, hats off, Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury.

They leap right over into that territory where they've crossed the line and shown too much. And oh, don't I admire these ladies for that.

And this frantic, obscene violence keeps up through the entire film.

As I keep writing this, I can’t emphasize this enough: when I use words like ‘unconscionable’ and ‘offensive,’ I’m just giving fair warning weak-stomached viewers, not passing judgment myself.

Again, I loved, loved, loved this film.


Let’s get back to the opening scene.

It’s not just any old fetus POV shot. It starts with a soothing ‘another-nice-warm-day-in-the-womb’ vibe complete with a mother’s muffled voice as the fetus must hear it talking about how she’ll take care of her baby.

Then, BAM! There’s a car crash, a gush of blood clouding around the fetus and a miscarriage all within a matter of seconds. Do you see what I mean when I say this movie is horribly offensive?

It opens up with a miscarriage from the fetus’ point of view for Christ’s sake. I asked myself, “Could anything be more offensive?” Bustillo and Maury spent the next 80 minutes doing their god-damndest to answer that question with a definite “Yes.”

So let’s flash-forward four months, give or take and the woman whose husband was killed in the crash is so far along in her pregnancy, well doesn’t she just look like she’s about to burst?

The transition from benign caller to menacing killer happens in a matter of seconds.

First, who doesn't love it when a girl accidentally kills her mother by stabbing her in the neck? Whoops? And then screams, "Mommy!" as her mother falls down and bleeds to death.

But I'm getting WAY ahead of myself. And I'll try to keep the spoilers to a minimum.

But then, the point of movies like this isn't really plot twists, is it?

"MOMMY!" Ladies and germs, that's comedy.

When the very bad, scary lady gets into the house, the slashing starts immediately and doesn’t stop until the end of the movie.

And since everyone else is thinking it, I'm just going to say it.

The killer is hot.

This isn't any surprise for those of you who've seen Jean-Jacques Bieniex' infamous "Betty Blue," in which BĂ©atrice Dalle played a big pile of sex.

I found her pretty enough in that film, but in "Inside," I don't know if it was just because she was sadistic and evil, but I was irresistibly attracted to her.

And I’m not ashamed to say that one of the things I loved about this movie is that so much of the bloodshed was not necessary. Was it really necessary for the crazy lady to snap that cat’s neck?

Of course not. That was just a little extra gift for the audience to enjoy.

The initial attack is absolutely brutal as our sleeping heroine lies, unaware of the intruder.

She realizes she is not alone only when crazy-bitch starts to slide the knife into her gut.

The scene ends with survival for our good girl, but for the rest of the movie, our protagonist looks like she walked right out of one of the Joker’s “Do you want to know how I got these scars?” anecdotes from “The Dark Knight."

Any fan of horror films knows what the rest of the film will be like.

Would-be rescuers come to our damsel-in-distress’ door only to meet horrific and hilarious deaths.

I won’t give a play-by-play because there really isn’t a need for one, but I will say that one of the sequences involves one of the most startling and cackling-out-loud cop-getting-his-head-blown-off shots ever.

I rewound it like ten times. Cackled. Like a green-faced, warty witch. Seriously.

There is a very good reason I usually watch horror movies alone. I laugh myself into fits and that sometimes disturbs people.

I've had people move a few seats over from me in the theater. Seriously.

And throughout "Inside," I felt like a kid, opening birthday present after birthday present every time a would-be rescuer approached the house. You know they're going to die and it's going to be messy.

They are not going to go quietly into this dark night and after the first couple scenes of "Inside," I knew that the SFX guy was going to put wit into every kill.

I won’t ruin the ending for you, not because there's some kind of shocking twist or anything like that because this ain't that kind of movie. I'm just not going to tell how it ends on principle.

But if you’re the kind of person who makes people move away from you at horror movies because you’re laughing at the worst possible moments, or if you wanted to touch yourself just a little bit during Hostel 2 when Heather Matarazzo met her bloodletting demise (and I’m not saying I’m that kind of person) then “Inside” is a movie you will absolutely and unabashedly adore.

And in case any of you are wondering, I'm listening to: