filmmaking

Surprise Me!

I’m in love with stories that surprise me. Whether it’s a short story, a newspaper column, anecdote or a movie, doesn’t matter as long as there’s a plot turn that makes me question my own reality. It’s also irrelevant if the surprise is positive or negative, subtle or loud, realistic or pure science fiction – just hit me with it, expand my mind just  bit beyond the borders of a mold it is currently in.

Watching a predictable drama or Jennifer Aniston romantic comedy can be both fun and cathartic every once in a while, but when it comes to movies, the unusual genre hybrids are what keeps this love going strong.

I’ve already heard impressions about Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ unusual ways of coming up with stories before I watched one of his films and naturally developed my share of expectations. I knew I would encounter something atypical and was very much looking forward to that.

The first one I watched was The Lobster, a 2015 dystopian drama probably taking somewhere in the near future. I already wrote a piece about that one so I don’t want to repeat myself, I just wanted to stress out how it exceeded my expectations. I was baffled, impressed and entertained in a unique way. It met all my ‘surprise me’ wishes and put Lanthimos on the list of foreign directors I keep yapping about to my friends, pulling their arm and saying: But trust me, it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen before! TRUST MEEE, go watch it! Read the reviews,  here’s the trailer link, did you watch it? Did you like it? Did you? Isn’t it funny when you realize why the film is named Lobster, is it? Can you imagine this happening to us one day?

And so on.

At the moment I’m impatiently awaiting The Killing of a Sacred Deer, the latest Lanthimos’ work so today I decided the time has come to go back in time and watch 2009 critically acclaimed film Dogtooth. Of course I didn’t expect it to have anything to do with The Lobster, but the cold, sterile atmosphere crept on me right from the beginning and that’s when I was able to recognize a similarity. The feeling of alienation and characters pronouncing the dialogue like reading school textbook lines in a bad play while  turning absurd statements into logical conclusions are shared in both movies.

That is where the comparison ends and the weirdest plot I have ever seen begins (and I’ve seen Martyrs, thank you for asking).

Three teenagers live with their controlling parents, completely separated from the real world. By that I don’t mean they go straight back home from school to do their homework, they never leave home and are literally unaware of other people or anything that’s going on in the world (assuming that it really is our world), the only one who leaves the property is the father who works in some kind of factory. The children (two sisters and a brother) are told they can leave home on the day their ‘dogtooth’ falls out.

They are coming up with endurance games to keep themselves busy, have gathering ‘parties’ by watching old family videotapes that they already know by heart or listening to their grandpa singing. A little spoiler alert – the man they think is their grandpa is actually Frank Sinatra singing Fly Me To The Moon. Those poor kids.

At times it felt like a much more censored and brutal version of  The Truman Show, but the rest of the story is far more original in making levels of absurd hitting the ceiling. I caught myself often getting annoyed by the characters – their way of talking, reacting to pain, following their animal instincts, general lack of empathy or any kind of usual reaction. But then again, there’s no place for normality in a story like this one so who can blame them? Their family dinner time taken out of the context sounds like a bad improvised sketch performed by not too intelligent amateur actors.

Oh and please remember that the cats are the most dangerous animals you can ever encounter and that zombies are small yellow flowers.

Confusion, sex, violence, incest, more violence, confusion and the open ending is how I would put it shortly. At the end of the day,  I’m glad I watched it but the feeling of having a 90 minute physical fight with this film is something I wouldn’t like to go through again.  I think I can finally say I watched something that was just too much for me to absorb or break down to pieces and analyze. But it sure did surprise me, disturbed me, but made me laugh at the most unusual moments, and like I said at the beginning, that’s the most important part.

 

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Godard: ‘I get high staring at posters in the streets. I get high on people.’

Note: Godard who has just finished shooting his lates film One Plus One, agreed to meet Hermine Demoriane for this interview but would not consent to it being recorded. “What you don’t remember, make up”, he said. Excerpts from the interview follow.

We have a lot of professional filmmakers who would be better off doing something else.

 

HD: You have said everybody should make movies.

JLG: No. I did not say that,  I said more people should. There are not enough films. Look, there is no black cinema at all. Stokely Charmichael should make a film. But he can’t. Even if Mao sent him the money he would not find a distributor. There aren’t any films from the workers, either. I’d like to hand over my unit, lock, stock and barrel and let some of them get on with it. We need films FROM people, not FOR them. In the meantime, we have a lot of professional filmmakers who would be better off doing something else.

HD: What do you think of Claude Givaudan’s experiment?

JLG: Very good. You should be able to go into a shop and buy the latest Godard, take it home and project it with no more fuss than reading a paperback. In two years time we may be putting cassettes of our own films into TV sets.

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HD: You have said England was an American colony. Does this apply to its films?

JLG: There are no English films. There are American films set in London.

HD: What do you think of American cinema, then?

JLG: The most conservative in the world. It works on worn-out formulas totally irrelevant today. Its only aim is to lift people out of their environment for a moment and persuade them the world is a beautiful place so they keep quiet and allow the system which begats such films to continue.

HD: You didn’t even like Bonnie and Clyde?

JLG: Average. Very average.

HD: And the cinema in France?

JLG: Very conservative, too.

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HD: What do you reckon is the way to break the monopoly of the big companies?

JLG: Either drop a bomb or them or buy them.

HD: You have just made a film for French TV. Would you like to do more?

JLG: I see no difference between cinema and TV films. I would like to make more, yes, but I doubt if they’d get shown. TV is governmental, and not only in France. Governments are always clever enough to take it over. Consequently TV would be the same in Cuba as it is in Greece. I think opposition parties should have an equal influence.

HD: Do you believe that hippies could be a force to purge Capitalism, as the Red Guards purged Soviet Communism?

JLG: The hippies will do nothing until they are politised.

HD: They need a Mao?

JLG: Not necessarily. Only to get educated politically.

HD: The demonstration at the first night of the Green Berets proves that something is burning.

JLG: Yes, that was excellent. I wish someone had told me, I would have gone.

HD: Do you think the uprising could come from England eventually?

JLG: Yes, it is good here because there are plenty of people with money and open minds. But alas, they don’t use their minds, and they are usually corrupted by money. People could do things but won’t. Look at the Beatles for instance. And Peter Brook. He should have put his Marat/Sade outside Buckingham Palace.

HD: Are you aware to have prophested Sorbonne in La Chinoise?

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JLG: No. Prophesy is a mild form of fascism.

HD: What about your next film?

JLG: It is going to be produced and shot in America. That’s all I know about it. Except the title. I’ve got that. An American Movie.

HD: Have you ever taken acid?

JLG: No. Not interested. I get high staring at posters in the streets. I get high on people.

HD: Exactly what my mother says. Thank you.

 

*Interview with Jean-Luc Godard by Hermine Demoriane, published in IT (International Times) no. 39, 6-19 September 1968