For me, the words ‘night drive’ bring to mind two things. Perks of Being a Wallflower is one, a book in which the main character cruises around LA at night with his friends, listening to The Smiths and ‘feeling alive’. The second is my own personal experience, hours of aimlessly riding around the country lanes of Cumbria in a Fiat Cinquecento, listening to Weezer, trying to find the elusive ‘Cocklakes’ and generally breaking down in the most inconvenient of places.
Night drive. These two words are the premise of Low Lights (Ignas Miskinis, Lithuania, 2009), a meditative insight into neglect, shortsightedness and illusion. Tadas is approached by a friend and invited to spend a night cruising around the city, an opportunity to which he obliges. He’s not considering his wife Laura, who returns home every day expecting a greeting, or mere acknowledgement of her existence, of which she receives neither. Tired of the perpetual neglect, Laura too heads out into the night, dressing up, transforming herself into a femme fatale figure, and begins to indulge in car theft. When the moment arrives for Laura to eventually cross paths with her husband and his friend, the pretense is prolonged, and the couple drag out the falsity of the illusion for as long as possible, neither helping the situation.
At one point in the film, Laura takes the bemused pair to an airport and simply watches as people move around the terminal. After a while, she suggests they leave. Neither of the two males are aware of the image presented in front of them, and the husband especially is unaware of its connotations. Much of this film is not spoken in words, but presented in a series of stares from one character to the next, suggesting more than could ever be said.
The majority of the film is shot at night, overlaid with gentle jazz and electronica; easy, repetitive sounds that flow suitably with the sight of the cars floating through the nighttime cityscape, emitting an vibe that is almost oneiric, as if the characters are inhabiting a dream, or an illusion that won’t end until one of them is able to see sense. Whilst the audience would understandably not welcome daybreak, as it would surely signify the end of this journey, perhaps it is for the good of the characters, to enable them to see more clearly in the light of day.
And now for something completely different: The Misfortunates (Felix van Groeningen, Belgium, 2009) utilises a framing device in which a writer recalls his past as a young boy in Belgium, growing up around his alcoholic father and his equally alcoholic friends. As would be expected, much of the humour revolves around the mishaps of these consistently drunken louts, with the more sombre moments coming courtesy of the neglected child.
Drunk people are the worst thing in the world when you’re sober. Even more infuriating are the types that aren’t alcoholic, yet still know nothing outside of getting wasted and treating women like objects. Partaking in a human centipede project is preferable to spending time with these people. And yet, in this affecting comedy these imbeciles prove to be fine company. The humour doesn’t fall flat at any point, because no one joke is lingered on for too long, and the constantly spinning camera and quick edits do an adequate job of navigating the cramped interiors and helping us to feel involved in the merry proceedings. The drunks themselves are as vulgar as is humanly possible, but in identification with the protagonist we are compelled to view them as a sort of family unit; as such, throughout the trials and tribulations that they’re forced to endure we’re able to see their more vulnerable, human side. Culminating with a message that I can wholeheartedly agree and certainly identify with, The Misfortunates struck a personal chord with me, and for that self-centred reason it’s a strong recommendation.
More amusement was to be had in the form of Being John Malkovich.. uh, sorry, I mean, Cold Souls (Sophie Barthes, USA, 2009), starring Paul Giamiatti, in which Paul Giamatti himself is assured that placing his soul in cold storage will free him from any acting difficulties and stress resulting from said difficulties. As ever with, well, film, this does not prove to be the case and Paul quickly decides to get the bottom of things before it’s too late.
The reason I confused this title with an earlier, superior film by Spike Jonze is simply because Cold Souls, for all its strengths, is fundamentally a Kaufman-lite production. Much of the subject matter pertaining to the idea of the soul and identity feels lifted straight out of a Kaufman script; even Paul Giamatti making an appearance as himself smells a little fishy when you consider John Malkovich was doing the same gig ten years ago.
That’s not to say Cold Souls is a failure. It handles its themes in a light manner, not demonstrating a great deal of insight, instead provoking its viewers into an emotional response centring around the satisfaction of the soul. This is a far cry from Kaufman’s enigmatic approach which utilises Cartesian philosophy and is clearly much more layered and complex. These are two very different films with similar aims, yet where I feel Cold Souls excels is in its humour. We’re not just laughing at the predicament of Paul Giamatti’s character, but Paul Giamatti himself. It’s inherently amusing, and the concept is stretched to its fullest potential, helped along by the man’s priceless facial expressions and exasperated reactions to the plot developments. Above all, the film serves as a testament to the acting chops of Giamatti, and his ability to poke fun at himself whilst at the same time wearing a constant face of anger and exhaustion.
Tonight’s midnight screening was the comically titled Doctor ‘S’ Battles the Sex-Crazed Reefer Zombies: The Movie (Bryan Ortiz, USA, 2009). It wasn’t just a movie; not since Grindhouse was released (in the blink of an eye) in 2007 have British audiences been treated to mock advertisements and intermissions. The film itself describes its own plot in the titles, and its aesthetic is made up of inventive black-and-white footage that opts for deliberately dire, trashy fun over the melancholic stylings of yesterday’s Colin.
Some of the exchanges play out like bad videogame cutscenes, a constant source of hilarity. Indeed, the laughs really come from continuity errors and effective joke repetition than anything really involving zombies. Doctor S is the star of his own show, evoking laughter with his detached demeanour and macho buffoonery. Maybe it’s because this was the fourth film I’d seen in a long day, having hardly eaten anything to appease my growling stomach and therefore running out of energy to muster a chuckle, but for all its attempts at belly laughs, DSBtSCRF:TM audiences would probably benefit more from a few pints of alcohol and a spliff (not that I condone drug usage); after all, marijuana does play a heavy part in this film and it’s obvious the filmmakers knew their intended target audience. If you enjoy B-movies, fun trash or Garth Margenghi’s Darkplace, then this one’s right up your street. Either way, I’m not sure I’d watch it again in a hurry, under the influence or not.