Part-Time Work of a Female Slave (1973)

28 05 2008

A brilliantly composed film, as one should expect from Alexander Kluge, that builds up too much momentum in its first couple of minutes. To his credit, it must be extremely difficult to live up to showing close-ups of a live abortion but he does fairly well thereafter. If anything I wish Kluge would simply tone down some of the more overt political statements. While some of that stuff is quite funny, at least in this case, it also threatens to date this otherwise wonderful film.

In order to put food on the table, Roswitha performs abortion while her husband, Franz spends all day researching. Her operation is uncovered by a rival abortion clinic and forces her to find a new way to support her family. Franz takes a job in a research facility, which enables Roswitha to have more free time. Instead of turning her focus to her children, she becomes deeply involved in politics and social work.

The opening section is fantastic and perhaps even a bit overwhelming. As always, Kluge demonstrates an innate understanding of capturing images and doing so with beautiful results. The big deal, so to speak, behind this film lies in the fact that an abortion is shown in great detail. It is with the same confidence and spontaneity that the rest of the film is shot with, even though the content never comes close to being so grotesque. Perhaps I’m alone in finding sequences of people washing their hands to be riveting but it is to Kluge’s credit that he can make something like that be exciting. The first half of this isn’t all too different from Harmony Korine’s Gummo, a film which I reference here far too much as the standard of “poetic cinema.” I did intend for that to be a compliment.

Then out of nowhere, the film slips into an outspoken (but not heavy-handed) satire. This is all fine by me but I also wish he would give up on some of his political tendencies and make a film that is more representative of his abilities as a filmmaker. Still, there’s nothing really wrong with this film. It’s about as perfectly crafted as anything he’s every done and for my money, probably his most immediately intriguing. A very problematic film, but a wonderful one, too.

À travers la forêt (2005)

28 05 2008

Not too long ago, I discreetly sang the praises of Jean-Paul Civeyrac’s Le doux amour des hommes, a film which seemed to triumphantly announce a new defiant voice in French cinema. One on par with Denis, Desplechin, Assayas, and so on. In that film, Civeyrac’s wonderful eye for visuals clashed awkwardly with the aesthetics of a digital camera. In this film, he’s upgraded and the result is one of the most beautifully photographed films of all time. However, he has unfortunately traded in the simple “relationship drama” setup of his previous film for something less straight-forward and more metaphysical.

Armelle is coping with the death of her boyfriend, Renaud, rather poorly. Her two sisters treat her ongoing depression with different approaches; Roxane is slightly more caring and buys into Armelle’s accounts of supernatural sex, while Bérénice is far more realistic and advises her sister to find a replacement. Instead, Roxane takes Armelle to a medium. While there, she spots a man that looks identical to Renaud but, as it turns out, he is involved with someone else.

Within the time frame of a mere sixty-five minutes, Civeyrac establishes an atmosphere bursting with poetry. The entire film is built from ten shots, which can be described as “floating.” They’re just tracking shots but Civeyrac captures every sequence with an easy-going flow that is free from interruptions. In a way, the long takes are reminiscent of Miklos Jancso had he only worked in a more closed environment. Lest I forget that every shot seems to be created with the objective of capturing as much as beauty as possible. In that case, it certainly helps to have Camille Berthomier, who carries what would otherwise be an unlikable character, in the lead role.

So I guess I could simply say that this is pretty much a case of a film that has all the technical things right, but none of the dramatic ones. Instead, I’m quite undecided on how I ultimately feel about the narrative. Normally, I would never praise a film that is about something so (self-consciously) spiritual but Civeyrac is a talented enough director for me to think he is above such a style. Actually, if anything, the film’s whole supernatural story leaves me rather indifferent since every sequence is captured with such care and attention. Really, the film’s biggest problem is the few sequences in which it reverts to a level of conventional horror film. There’s one scene, in particular, that seems to have been directly lifted from Repulsion or Inland Empire. No matter how important it to the film as a whole, it is really embarrassing to have such a silly “scary” moment. Remove such unflattering sequences and I might be a little less cautious in calling it a masterpiece. For now, it is great advancement in cinema, but also an experiment that has some nasty side-effects.