Posts Tagged ‘Enter The Void’

There aren’t many films with the ambition to shoot in one single take (or something close to it). Birdman from last year attempted it, as well as Gaspar Noe’s hallucinatory Enter The Void. If we go further back, we have films like Hitchcock’s Rope, ingeniously framed in just one room, and Angsta cult Austrian thriller seen only through the eyes of a deranged psychopath.

Victoria is the latest addition to this distinctive genre. Set over just one night fateful night in Berlin, young Spanish waitress Victoria (Laia Costa) dances the night away in a smoky, industrial bunker club. We get the first glimpse of her character: she heads to the bar alone and chirpily tries to make conversation with the apathetic barman. Already we see that she has a lust for life and a willingness to trust.

She encounters four drunk young men, ‘proper’ Berliners, foolishly attempting to get into the club. Outside she sees them again, and they offer her a lift in ‘their’ car. Sonne (Frederick Lau) is the cheeky ringleader of the gang, quickly charming Victoria. Alongside him are his raffish mates; Boxer, the skinhead, volatile one, Fub, the goofy, weedy one, and Blinker, the Vincent Gallo lookalike.

Victoria, sensing an opportunity for fun and unpredictability to spark up her somewhat mundane existence, joins them in some minor japes. The local snoozing shopkeeper is relieved of a few German beers, and the group break into a rooftop to while away the night. Back at the coffee shop where she works, Victoria demonstrates her ability on the piano to the dumbstruck Sonne. She is a failed pianist, wanting some freedom and fun after years of study and discipline.

The film takes a ominous turn midway through, but Schipper has established the characters and the atmosphere securely enough for it to feel authentic. There is a current of tense energy running throughout every scene; how much can she trust these guys? What it is that they want? Is there an ulterior motive? The performances are all very good, if a little stereotypical at times. To sustain a level of authenticity over one long take is quite incredible.

The film that it most resembles is the aforementioned Enter The Void. The cinematography, while less floaty and elegant, shines a similarly seedy and effervescent glow on urban nightlife, capturing all the edginess that city life provides. It is a very good Berlin film. Recently we saw a film about the French house scene, Eden, which ultimately felt quite safe and sanitised, but this film doesn’t suffer from the same problem. It is fantastically gripping and almost unbearably tense.

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There is something very refreshing about the way many East Asian directors approach genre in film. While Western film makers often have a very rigid, stubborn idea of the one genre film, many Japanese and South Korean film makers seem to play around with the concept. I think back to Shinji Aoyama’s Eureka as an articulate example of this; a family drama-cum road movie- cum serial killer thriller. Bringing such disparate genres together, melding and splicing them, brings the chance of new tones and feelings that a staid singular genre film cannot reach. Of course it doesn’t always work out, but isn’t there a beauty in the risk of glorious failure?

Which brings us to Shion Sono’s latest oddball extravaganza, Tokyo Tribe. Sono has a reputation as a cult director of dizzying invention and offbeat ideas. So I’ll throw this one out there and you try and catch it: Gaspar Noe directs a remake of The Warriors as if it was a sci-fi hip hop musical. Voila. Based on a series of manga books, we are thrown into an alternate Tokyo where the city is ruled by street gangs. The head honcho of the city Buppa (Riki Takeuchi) decides he wants to eradicate all the other gangs, initiating an all-out street war. A comically bullish and horny thug, he enlists the help of the peroxide-haired psychopath Mera (Ryohei Suzuki) to carry out his ruthless plans.

Fighting the good fight are the plucky Musashino clan, a wholesome street gang who preach peace and love. They enlist all the other city gangs in order to unite against the Buppa Town posse and save the city. In all honesty, there are a dizzying array of characters and plot threads to tend to; Sono has a gung ho, all-or-nothing approach to film making. As this is a hip hop musical, each character communicates in a stream-of-consciousness rap, backed by heavy, relentless beats and hazy synths.

It has the feel of an extended music video, but it never becomes tiring. The film is splattered with odd, surreal touches; a beatboxing maid had the audience tittering and bewildered.A gangster’s son has created his own art gallery of sculptures using people he has captured off the street. An ancient granny provides ominous interlude warnings as the resident DJ and MC. It is relentless in its mind boggling invention and desire to thrill. The music is joyously brassy and obnoxious, with Sono leaving restraint at the door. Sono films with a marauding handheld camera reminiscent of Noe’s Enter the Void, the city streets gleaming in neon lights and rain spattering down constantly.

Unfortunately the film sags a little in the third act as the wave after wave of street battles commence. This was never a film to go for half measures, but the initially exciting fight scenes become a little tiresome after the 333rd karate kick. The film works much better when it is more focused on the music and the attitude of the gangs, the ridiculous ceremony and ego boosting of hip hop. The ending, however, is only a minor bum note in the outrageously entertaining, invigorating, absurd circus that is Tokyo Tribe. 

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Director Alejandro González Iñárritu made a name for himself with a series of multi-stranded, seriously serious films, most notably Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Biutiful. The Mexican’s latest work is said to be somewhat of a departure, lighter in tone, set around one single location, and with some actual (whisper it) jokes. While on the surface it might seem a new leaf for Iñárritu, look a bit closer and you can see the same traits running through his previous films.

Michael Keaton plays Riggan, a washed up actor famous for playing a nineties superhero, who is trying to reclaim his reputation with a serious play on Broadway. A fully paid up misanthrope, Riggan spends his days trying to shepherd his failing play into something coherent, all the while having to contend with the hotpot of demanding women in his life. His daughter Sam (Emma Stone) is a recovering addict trying to stabilise herself as his assistant, Lesley (Naomi Watts) is the insecure lead of his production and his girlfriend Laura (Andrea Riseborough) an unfortunate afterthought in the world of Riggan.

Yet it is Edward Norton as Mike who really rocks the boat. A last minute replacement/saviour, Mike is a sleazy yet talented hotshot who plays by his own rules and threatens to steal Riggan’s show from underneath him. Iñárritu films his cast almost solely in one location, a New York theatre, utilising the claustrophobia and endless corridors to dazzling effect. Shot in a frantic, marauding style by the virtuoso DP Emmanuel Lubezki, the film is edited to appear as one singular take, the camera essentially buzzing off the energy of the actors, much like a John Cassavetes film.

This is the best part of the film; the sheer energy of the film-making and the actors. It has been noted that the extended take can bring about a sense of hypnosis and disorientation in the viewer; recently we have seen the excellent True Detective utilise a breathless 6 minute tracking shot, and Enter The Void had a similarly feverish, dreamlike feel to it. The improvisational feel of the film is emboldened by a raw, jazzy percussion soundtrack, echoing the snappy action on screen. The actors look like they are having a ball as well; Keaton is the hangdog delusional keeping things glued together, but Norton is the real star, turning in one of his best performances in years.

Audiences will leave the cinema feeling dazed alright. The zing of the cinematography, the screwball playfulness of the performances – it is for a large part a real treat. Yet when the dust settles and the last flashes of lightning have dissipated, what are we really left with? This film has four writers on it, a troubling sign, and it shows. The basic concept, of a tired actor trying to reinvent himself, is a tired concept in itself. Meta-narratives have been overdone in recent years and we have a much more interesting, poignant film about theatrical delusions in Synechdoche New York, Charlie Kauffman’s messy tragicomedy.

When we look closer at the characters, not many of them really stand up behind the hubris of the performances. Riggan is essentially a bit of a sexist pig who gets given an unearned penitence at the end. Then we have a whole host of talented actresses pushed to the wayside in order to validate Riggan’s oh-so-tortured existence. Iñárritu, meanwhile, has not really changed so much; he still has a habit of filling his films with wall to wall profundity. Not a scene goes by when a character doesn’t give some kind of overwrought speech about their secret wound. We are, after all, all human beings with feelings. 

So, Birdman. As a piece of film making, as a playground of performance, a real dazzler. Just don’t think about it too much.

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