A light week that’s three-quarters artsy and one-quarter fartsy
Hey there, gang, and welcome back to The 300, a recurring feature on my artsy-fartsy attempt to watch 300 movies in theaters in the year 2018. I’ll be watching new releases, classics, and hidden gems to experience the wide world of cinema in all its forms. With so much being watched, there ought to be something each week that you can enjoy.
As always, there are three rules for The 300:
- The movie must be at least 40 minutes long, meeting the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ definition of a feature film.
- I must watch the movie at a movie theater, screening room, or outdoor screening venue.
- While I can watch movies I’ve seen before 2018, I cannot count repeated viewings of the same film in 2018 multiple times.
A very light week this week, but will be back to a more regular schedule in the next installment of The 300. I have my eyes on a few movies at the forthcoming New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF) and the Japan Cuts Film Festival, both of which comprise one of the biggest showcases of Asian films in the United States.
And so, onward.
170 of 300: Werckmeister Harmonies (2000)
(aka Werckmeister harmóniák)
Directors: Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky
Starring: Lars Rudolph, Peter Fitz, Hanna Schygulla
Seen at Metrograph (New York, NY)
Thursday, June 21st
Werckmeister Harmonies is one of my favorite movies of all time, and it’s depressing to watch it again as the world grows darker by the day. An arch political fable, the movie is like observing an eclipse of humanity. There is light in the beginning in the form of a fire in a furnace, and it is extinguished. We are in the darkest parts of the soul by mid-film, and then by the finale there is light again. But while the light returns, the landscape is changed and the world is left ruined and in a haze of smoke.
The film centers on a depressed European town’s descent into madness with the arrival of a stuffed life-sized whale and a demagogic figure known only as The Prince. Tarr and co-director/editor Hranitzky allow the narrative to build slowly, staging the entire two-and-a-half-hour movie in just 39 shots. These shots (some of which are around 10 minutes long) can be broken up into sub-shots, and each composition helps emphasize the paranoia, helplessness, and sadness underlying this bizarre, mesmerizing film. In one of the most famous single-take sequences from the movie, we watch a crowd of frenzied rioters storm a hospital. They go from room to room beating the patients without mercy and leaving destruction in their wake.
Werckmeister Harmonies is an adaptation of László Krasznahorkai’s novel The Melancholy of Resistance, and it seems as if our hero in the movie—a lowly newspaper delivery man—is powerless to resist the forces that overtake the town. This may be viewed as the difficulty of lone individuals trying to survive the rise of populist fascism or, apolitically, the darkest parts of human nature overwhelming our better angels. It is a philosophically terrifying film enhanced by the mournful beauty of Mihály Víg’s two compositions that comprise the score. What perfect musical accompaniment for the dark night of the soul and the dawn that follows.
171 of 300: Woman in the Dunes (1964)
(aka 砂の女; Suna no Onna)
Director: Hiroshi Teshigahara
Starring: Eiji Okada, Kyōko Kishida
Seen at Metrograph (New York, NY)
Saturday, June 23rd
And we go from a mesmerizing eclipse of humanity in Werckmiester Harmonies to a mesmerizing erosion of the human spirit in Woman in the Dunes. This sure is a fun week, right?
An adaptation of the novel by Kobo Abe—whose books feel like a forerunner to Haruki Murakami—the film centers on a teacher who winds up trapped in a house amid desolate sand dunes. He is kept against his will, forced to live on rations with a widow who has been there for an undisclosed amount of time. The Kafkaesque tone is enhanced by Toru Takemitsu’s unnerving impressionistic score and Hiroshi Segawa’s cinematography, the latter of which seems to find human emotion in the movement of sand—the unease of ridges created by the constant wind, the terror of sudden breaks in solid ground, even a sensual downhill flow like slow trickles of water traveling across bare skin.
172 of 300: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)
Director: J. A. Bayona
Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall
Seen at Village East Cinema (New York, NY)
Monday, June 25th
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom closes on such a thoughtful and chilling note, which is pretty funny since the rest of the movie is so f**king stupid. Think The Lost World but a lot dumber. Bayona is able to pull off some effective set pieces here and there, but he’s left trying to make chicken salad out of a chicken-s**t script. Pratt and Howard have as much chemistry as a physics class, Jeff Goldblum cashed a paycheck for an afternoon of work, and the only characters I cared about were the dinosaurs. It’s too bad the humans got in the way of the good stuff.
I can’t remember any of the character names from the movie, but I’m sure this descriptive list is all you need:
- Guy Swolehero
- Gal Ladytagonist
- Dinovet Supportingrole
- Mannscream McSidekick
- Scheme Villainman
- “Oldie” Totes Gonna Dyerson
- “Oldie” Albion Supportingrole
- Cutie O’Lyttelgirl
- Sgt. Mercenary Yanktooth
- Eugene Sciencemaker
- Ohey Itstobyjones
- Jeff Checkcleared
- Dino Meatfodder #1
- Dino Meatfodder #2
173 of 300: Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts (2017)
(aka Marlina si Pembunuh dalam Empat Babak)
Director: Mouly Surya
Starring: Marsha Timothy, Dea Panendra, Egy Fedly, Yoga Pratama
Seen at IFC Center (New York, NY)
Tuesday, June 26th
An Indonesian feminist spaghetti western/rape-revenge movie, Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts will probably find a place on my top movies of 2018. There’s something about the way the movie is shot that gives our heroine such a mythic quality; Marlina (Timothy) walks the countryside carrying a sword in one hand and the decapitated head of her attacker in the other. Think Django by way of Lady Snowblood. Surya seeds the story with surreal images adding to the movie’s mystical mood, like the mummified corpse of Marlina’s husband lingering in her home, or the decapitated ghost of Marlina’s attacker stalking her along rolling seaside hills. I can’t help but see these as metaphorical manifestations of sexual oppression—despite death, the patriarchy persists.
And yet even with the film’s mythic qualities, the story itself deals with women being victimized and ignored in the real world. There’s a moment of well-placed black humor as Marlina watches ping-pong in the foreground. When Surya shows the audience who is playing ping-pong, the black humor transforms into this bitter critique of how institutions routinely fail women, and why survivors are often silent. At a certain point, Marlina and other women in the movie are forced to take action and create their own future.
What an odd and memorable film, so brutal with its depictions of violence and yet so artful and painterly in what it’s trying to say. Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts also has one of the best soundtracks of the year thanks to Zeke Khaseli and Yudhi Arfani. Their score sounds like Ennio Morricone with a satay twist. I wonder how this compares to Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge, another rape-revenge film made by a woman that came out earlier this year. It’s such a difficult exploitation subgenre to elevate, and it is often done wrong, but I think Surya succeeds because of her singular vision.