Morte sospetta di una minorenne (1975)

21 02 2011

It’s been a very, very long time since I’ve last encountered Sergio Martino. Since then I’ve developed a theory that although he was an extremely skilled filmmaker, he was always held back by his content. This is never more evident than it is here in which he takes a pretty ridiculous story, complete with noir-inspired conventions and terrible music, and dissects it with his otherwise fantastic aesthetic. While it is a bit upsetting to see such obvious talent wasted on the b-film level projects he devoted his career to, I think there’s actually a charm to them. It’s bizarre to see some of the most groundbreaking technical work for the time masked underneath some pretty pedestrian narratives.

I’ll give the story here some credit: it’s pretty confusing at first. It’s not nearly as elliptical as it should be, but the opening is stitched together in a way that immediately separates Martino from most conventional action/horror/whatever other genre you can place this film in directors. Unfortunately, this makes the moment in which the story’s skeleton becomes visible even more laughable. Our protagonist, seemingly out of nowhere, becomes detective Paolo Germi. His intricate (to say the least) plan to discover the killer of a woman he met at a dance hall slowly begins to unfold, along with the help of his comic relief sidekick, Giannino.

Another jarring element, aside from just the general lack of tremendously interesting happening on the screen, is the music which seems like it was written for a silly detective TV show. It’s hard to fully embrace Martino’s brilliant command of montage when it is being overwhelmed by such dreadful music. It’s another case of the film selling itself short: it has this terrible devoted noir detective complex guiding the story, but there seems to be something more in detective Germi. It’s in his eyes in the opening scene at the dance hall, which I guess is to help contribute to the surprise of finding out he is a detective later on. At the point, he becomes merely a chess piece of justice, a hero without any depth but with all the traits that the genre has already ascribed to him. It sounds a lot worse than it is considering the fact that it only takes about fifteen minutes to realize the movie isn’t going to be some significant artistic statement, not even for Martino’s standards. It’s a piece of popcorn entertainment, but its just one that happens to be expertly crafted.

Kynodontas (2009)

2 02 2011

I wish I could go back in time and give this movie to myself about five years ago. Since such technology doesn’t exist, I just have to enjoy this movie as a nostalgic liking for the time whenever I liked “subversive” films the way I once did. There’s a still a lot to like here. It looks beautiful and unravels in this fascinating yet slow way. The problem is that I guess I’ve gone a little soft on such subjects. Yeah, I admire something for being this weird and transgressive and whatnot. But it ultimately comes up on the side of being brutally cold. This works for some people, Bruno Dumont comes to mind. In the case of Lanthimos, though, it just seems a little too much when paired with something that’s pretty miserable to think about in the first place.

The story concerns a unidentified family. The father is the only working individual in the family of five, the rest are imprisoned in the jail that is the family’s yard. The father tells the children lies of another offspring, whose disobedience led to his death. The outside world has little to no influence on the family until the father resorts to hiring a colleague, Christina, to satisfy the son’s “urges.” Eventually, she becomes a similar tool for the older daughter. Sex creeps into the family’s blood stream, and it starts to tear them apart.

Lanthimos is working with the same cinematic vocabulary as the aforementioned Bruno Dumont and the similarly sterile Michael Haneke and while he gets all the technical stuff right, the extremism displayed in the film’s story threatens to overwhelm all of his other qualities. I don’t mind that the film is frank and disturbing, or even that it manages to be funny within the same scene (a la Todd Solondz, I suppose) but instead that the film’s brute force almost makes it feel a bit didactic. Contrary to one clearly confused Netflix user, this movie is not a cautionary tale about homeschooling. This sounds pretty comical for anyone who has seen the film, and that’s because the message, if it is there, seems like it would be a bit more consequential than parenting, especially since the father is closer to a breeder than he is a parent.

This is probably where the film loses me. Okay, you’re never going to be able to make a subtle or open-minded film about a Josef Fritzl-esque character, but I guess I have to blame it on the subject matter being so displeasing in the first place. I never felt uncomfortable (save the “tooth” scene) but even that wouldn’t be a problem. While I was always fascinated by each character, I found their emotional trajectory to be a little short. So you live in an impossible household, welp, that sure is bad. Maybe emotional relation is at fault here? I don’t feel for the characters anything other than pity. They don’t even seem real, though I guess that is sort of the point.