As was evident with the previous night’s Zulawski screening, LIFF is not just about showcasing fresh, contemporary world cinema, but also highlighting older, overlooked gems, bringing them to the fore and exposing them to an audience that may have previously passed them by. Grill Point (Andreas Dresen, Germany, 2002) is supposedly one example (although fairly recent), a tale of two couples who find their lives thrown into turmoil when unfaithful partners are caught cheating. Allegedly inspired by the work of the great Mike Leigh, Dresen’s aim was to uncover the ‘truth’, arguing that realism in film is not about presenting life as it occurs, but presenting a fictionalized, honest account of events. Ok, so nothing entirely new or groundbreaking there.
The film could be seen as consisting of two distinct halves, before and after the adulterers are caught in the act. The first hour follows these characters going about their daily business, fulfilling their roles at work and home. It’s all fairly routine; occasionally, the disloyal Chris and Ellen will rendesvous to make love, blissfully unaware of the pain they are potentially causing. There’s nothing remarkable about these events. The cast of characters are merely continuing their course without any sense of malaise or disenchantment. Even when the two lovers meet in hiding, they show no remorse or guilt over their actions, even daring to shout their partners’ names in the middle of nowhere, confident they will not be found out. This was perhaps Dresen’s intention, to establish a reality whereby nothing is unusual, and the unfaithful are unaware of the consequences of their actions, in turn effectively setting up the second half of the film, the ‘truth’. When the disloyal pair are discovered, events start to rapidly hurtle downhill as the effects of the affair are felt in a manner not unlike your typical soap opera.
It’s strange that Dresen opts to search for the an unequivocal truth in his work when his methods feel as if much is being thrown at the wall and expected to stick. Most of the film is shot inside small interiors, the camera following subjects around in a documentary fashion. Seemingly out of nowhere, a character will briefly become a talking head, explaining to whoever is offscreen what they are doing, and why they are doing it. These tangential moments pop up infrequently and tend to detract from the rest of the film’s scope. They aren’t the only instances of the ‘truth’ being sidetracked; the verite style is once or twice thrown to the side in favour of some rather irritating montages – soundtracked by equally irritating music – that play out like a weak children’s television skit.
Extramarital affairs are nothing new in cinema, done to death but also in superior fashion eg. Lantana and Hannah and Her Sisters. Grill Point offers no new insight on the subject; when it’s pulling in so many different directions, it’s hard to maintain a tight focus. That’s the hard truth.
The next feature on the itinerary, and an overall welcome surprise, was FILM IST a girl and a gun (Gustav Deutsch, Austria, 2009), a wonderful experimental feature separated into five acts, comprised of archive footage from the first few decades of cinema, skewered and assembled to form an entirely new narrative with a soundtrack provided by superb electronic artist Christian Fennesz. The first act, GENESIS, was an absolute joy to watch, promising viewers that what was to come would be equally as mesmerising. Bursts of orange flame and crushing blue waves erupted across the screen. Colour and light exploded like a volcano, reminiscent of the work of Kenneth Anger. Following on from this vivid introduction were four more chapters that used excerpts of classic silent cinema, toned and tinted in a variety of colours, that strung together with the use of associative editing provided a commentary on the objectification of women in cinema and man’s love for the phallic: his gun. There were girls and guns in this film, of course, but not necessarily together the majority of the time.
Not without its flaws, the film had intertitles that started off suitably cryptic and ambiguous, although by the end these same lines of text couldn’t resist in giving away a few of the finer subtleties. Despite this minor criticsm, there was much joy to be had in piecing together the relationships between the images and indulging in the visual delight on display. When all is said and done – and I hope I haven’t spoken too soon – this may be one of the finer films of the festival.
Low-budget zombie horror Colin (Marc Price, UK, 2009) has received an enormous amount of buzz since it was snatched up by distributors at the Cannes film festival, the hot talking point being the miniscule £50 budget it took to fund the entire film. The technical elements of the film make this an easy claim to believe, but one must also consider how much was spent on makeup and props, of which there are many. Going into the film with moderate expectations, I listened first to Price, providing an introduction and sounding nervously optimistic that we would enjoy his creation.
As it turns out, you can do a lot with £50. Mostly dialogue-free, Colin is all about establishing a mood, partly down to the musical rhythmic beats that build suspense, aided by superb sound editing. Light exposure proved to be a problem at times, but that’s not to say the flick was without its impressive images. Indeed, the option to proceed mostly on visuals is unquestionably what saved the film from appearing as too amateur a production. Most of the performances consist of bloodied zombies rustling about and gnawing each other’s faces, hardly requiring an Oscar-worthy acting effort. In short, this was the perfect route to avoid looking – or indeed sounding – like a student film.
Does it work? Yes and no. While the film has certainly achieved success at managing to craft a doom-laden zombie horror out of just £50 (allegedly), it does feel a little too long, even at 97 minutes, and I found myself starting to lose interest after the first hour. Unfortunately, a denouement is tacked on which weighs the whole narrative down, telling us an awful lot more about certain plot points without letting us in on anything legitimately worthwhile. It’s ultimately easier to admire and respect the craft that went into making this achievement out of such a meagre budget than it is to truly embrace it as a horror masterwork. The real question is, with so many zombie films saturating the market right now, where will this stand among the greats? Is it an important addition to the genre? It’s uncertain, but only time will tell. Time, or DVD sales.
Human Centipede (First Sequence) (Tom Six, Netherlands, 2009), the highly anticipated, depraved body horror that would make even David Cronenberg feel a little queasy, arrived at the stroke of midnight. Director Tom Six was present, wearing a truly amazing hat and informing us that he and a Dutch doctor had spent time in pre-production researching the plausibility of the procedure carried out in the film, eventually discovering that it was indeed possible to carry out in real life… if we ever wanted to try it at home. The procedure? Take three human beings, graft the second person’s mouth to the first’s anus, then continue the chain. One long tunnel of poop.
Anyone approaching this film expecting to be disgusted enough to vomit in the aisleway can instead prepare to be significantly disturbed, for Human Centipede has an unmistakable aura of evil about it, manifested in one of the most psychotic, terrifying villains committed to screen. Fecal matter, mutilation, unbearable tension, the slowest chase sequence known to man… this one has it all. The victims are – as is usually the case – two unassuming college girls, believing they’re in for a delirious night on the town. Little do they know that their car is about to break down in the woods, leaving them stranded, and at the mercy of whoever they should encounter. So far, so formulaic. The acting was notably terrible at this point; the fact that the audience spends so long with these girls shouting at each other seemed like a concerted effort by the filmmaker to have us actually wish death upon them. Sure enough, they find their way to the house of our evil doctor, and there the fun really begins.
What happens next can only be described as pure terror; an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. As expected, there is an abundance of blood, gore and feces, however the real horror comes from the sinister atmosphere that pervades each frame. Succeeding tremendously as a horror film, it left me comfortable enough to brush aside a little of the forced subtext that crept in during one expository line of dialogue in the third act. It’s clear that the most taboo subjects make for the best horror, purely resulting from the amalgamation of our unbridled fear and morbid curiosity that yearns for a glimpse into such an unfamiliar, tempting depravity. If you want a real horror, put that cheesy Saw DVD away and spend an evening with Human Centipede. Just… don’t get any ideas.