Dealer (2004)

23 12 2008

As unintentionally hilarious as it sounds, the physical experience of watching this was a little bit like watching Dreyer’s Vampyre, which I reviewed only a couple days ago. There’s no striking similarities, or obvious thematic connection, but ultimately, I couldn’t appreciate either film beyond just being formal studies. Both are fascinating to watch, but I would be lying if I said I’d like to see them again. Criticizing either film for being “all style, no substance” is a little too harsh, especially since I don’t think substance is tangible element of films, but I have to admit that they both could have been a lot more interesting.

Benedek Fliegauf’s film observes the final days of a drug dealer (hence the title) as he roams around the city, revisiting old friends and former flames, but also (of course) making drug deals. It starts out very fascinating, but rather quickly takes a turn to dullness. The fact that the film is “slow” has nothing to do with its torturous pace, but more because it doesn’t even seem to be slow for the right reason. People criticize Gus Van Sant’s death trilogy for trying to be slow for slow sake, and its easy to understand what they’re trying to say. After all, Van Sant had been working in mainstream Hollywood for many years prior. The thing is, his self-conscious “art” films are slow because the content calls for it. Two guys roaming around in a desert should be slow because it underscores the narrative.

Back on topic here, Fliegauf’s story does not (at least in my mind) call for such a meditative aesthetic. This film could have been great had it not limited the dramatic “chaos” (for lack of a better term) into Fliegauf’s formal appreciation of Miklos Jancso. His camera floats around the room, observing the protagonist’s life. As I said earlier, it is fascinating to watch, at least for awhile, but it doesn’t seem appropriate for what is happening on-screen. A rotating tracking shot of a woman shooting up heroin may have a deadpan comedic tinge to it, but a scene with the same woman yelling about her child doesn’t.

Comedy is obviously not the only reason for a director to choose the “minimalistic” route so I’m not exactly criticizing Fliegauf for not making his film funny enough, but instead, the form doesn’t seem to fit with the content. Tsai Ming-Liang, for example, makes wonderful “slow” movies. In my mind, he’s one of the best, but the thing is, all his stories are around loneliness and/or ennui (among many others thing, obviously) so they work perfectly with a slower pace. Maybe Fliegauf’s film is groundbreaking just because it doesn’t fit this mold, but it just ends up feeling too forced. Again, this isn’t a bad film by any means, it just a curious one that maybe will take on a greater importance in my cinematic “evolvement” but for now, it is a well-made piece but a bit too much on the ponderous side.

Keby som mal pušku (1971)

23 12 2008

Another great film from the unjustly neglected Stefan Uher, though it has very little in common with his equally great Sun in a Net. (Slnko v sieti, 1962) That film is more of a Antonioni-esque relationship driven mood piece, while this is one that is built almost entirely on its energetic aesthetic. To give a good idea of the film’s overall feeling, I’d look at the sequence in Werckmeister Harmonies with the little kids jumping on a bed, refusing to go to sleep. It has the art of Tarr’s work, but it also has a sense of humor about itself and never becomes overly-ponderous.

Continuing with the comparisons to Hungarian filmmakers, Uher does remind me a little bit of Miklos Jancso here, but only in the sense of the camera’s freedom. Like Jancso’s work, this film feels extremely “open” if only for the fact that camera seems to become a character all on its own. Uher doesn’t use the floating, tracking shot, though, instead he goes the route of shaky and/or steadicam. Maybe it is a bit manipulative in the sense that it is obviously trying to come off as sponteanous, but it comes off as, well, sponteanous. It probably also helps that Uher’s content, following around teenage headcases is far more interesting, at least to me, than Jancso’s political examinations.

Even if the camera work wasn’t so wonderful, there would still be enough of that “kids being kids” material that I would probably love the film anyway. I probably use this description one times too many, but this is definitely a “glue-sniffing” story. To put things into perspective, the children here are crazy enough to even attempt to circumcise themselves, only to win a bet, in which the prize is a knife. I guess it could be argued that I shouldn’t be so easy on the whole transgressive teens genre, but its a personal thing, I suppose.

In my (and more importantly Uher’s) defense, all these crazy and sponteanous moments are absolutely beautiful to look at. One of the few things carried over from Uher’s Sun in a Net is the wonderful sensory-filled close-ups that, in this case, are composed among wide-angle lens shots that bring to mind Wong Kar-Wai’s work of the mid-90s. Taking how groundbreaking the two films I’ve seen from Uher are, it is a shame that more people don’t know about him. I know there’s plenty of people out there that would absolutely love this, but unfortunately, Uher has yet to get any substantal attention in the west.