Rigor Mortis is one of the most beautiful and emotional horror films I’ve encountered in many years. An actor moves into public housing in Hong Kong when his career begins to fail. He attempts to kill himself, but is saved by a Taoist exorcist who senses something is wrong in the long-haunted apartment 2442. The actor soon discovers that nothing is normal in his new home. Ghosts, zombies, and vampires roam the halls and coexist with the tenants. Everything is balanced until a generous older tenant loses her husband in a tragic accident and wants nothing more than to spend the rest of her life with him intact.
This Cantonese language horror from Hong Kong is not afraid of the darkness in the soul. Rigor Mortis is a sad film filled with sad characters and sad stories. These tenants, new and old, have been through more than their fair share of tragedy and nothing is held back.
I’m a sucker for a good psycho-sexual vampire film. We Are the Night, an award-winning German vampire film (it got nominated for screenplay and editing at the German equivalent to the Oscars and won top prize at Sitges), fits the bill. The dub available on Netflix is atrocious and the distributors should feel terrible. Ever see a paranormal romance with throat ripping action?
I’m terrified of Takashi Miike’s next film project. I’m a big fan of his style and know that if anyone can make this particular story work, it’s Miike, but it’s really disturbing.
Production on the film adaptation of the manga Kamisama no Iutoori, aka As God Says, begins next June. Japanese horror split in two very different trends after Battle Royale and Ringu became so successful one after the other. It’s not the totality of J-horror, but it is a pair of clear subgenres that began to dominate the field. On one side is the supernatural horror with pale wet ghosts destroying anything they encounter. On the other side is huge body count features often centered on young people thrown into games where people are guaranteed to die. As God Says is the latter style.
In broad strokes, a group of high school students are tossed into a bizarre game where most of them will die. A daruma doll arrives claiming he speaks for God and begins blowing up heads in the protagonist’s classroom. It’s actually a play on red light, green light, where if you’re caught moving at the wrong time, you die. The games only get more twisted and violent from there. I don’t want to say there is a wonderful fan translation of the manga online if you want to see what’s up, but it’s a little too early in the life of the series to hope for officially licensed English translations any time soon.
Blue is the Warmest Color is a quiet character study and romance unlocked by its title alone. Adele, a high school student focusing on literature, tries to fit in by dating the boy everyone knows she’s perfect for. She feels nothing from the relationship and winds up meeting Emma, a university fine arts student, at a lesbian bar. Emma’s bright blue hair catches her interest and helps her begin to form a sense of identity.
The color blue is important to the film. It really is a subtle device reflecting Adele’s self actualization. In the beginning of the film, when Adele is just following whatever her friends and family expect her to do, there is very little blue on the screen. The first memorable appearance of blue is a cross, Romeo & Juliet style, where Adele and Emma’s eyes meet while crossing the street and pass without incident. A bit more blue begins to fill Adele’s life as the thought of the beautiful stranger with blue hair sends her into sensory overload. The color blue grows and fades in shade (light blue is tepid, cyan is vivid, navy is overwhelming) and vibrancy to reflect Adele’s mental state and feeling of independence.
It really is quite remarkable how that kind of detail can set the tone for a film. By the time her high school friends realize Adele is a lesbian, you can’t avoid blue on the screen. Everyone is wearing dark wash jeans and vibrant scarves and hats. The sky is practically glowing and even the lockers in the school seem to transform. The dialogue is so simultaneously slice of life and driven by references to very specific philosophers, writers, and artists that the color conceit really opens up the text.
This week on Horror Thursday, we’re looking at a slasher film from Kenta Fukasaku, the screenwriter of Battle Royale and the writer/director of Battle Royale II: Requiem. He brings his eye for brutality and realistic teenage behavior to someone else’s totally ridiculous story and almost make magic happen. Almost. A meta-text on slasher films paying tribute to everything from Psycho to Scream that starts to take itself too seriously, which in itself is a commentary on oh so serious slasher films that commit to ridiculous twists just to have a twist. It’s like Inception, only it all boils down to a school dance. So, you know, not at all like Inception.
New review is up at Man, I Love Films. This week, I looked at a curious little horror film from Japan adapted from an award-winning book that also inspired a critically acclaimed manga series. It’s…something.
On Thursday, I will be uploading Foreign Chops: Czech Republic to The LAMB. We have a good number of submissions, but could get a lot more pretty easily. I did a little digging around and found a number of Czech films that can be viewed on streaming services for a quick write-up before the deadline tomorrow, 1 May, at midnight.
Alice, dir. Jan Svankmajer: a reimagining of Alice in Wonderland with haunting stop motion animation and puppetry.
Kolya, dir. Jan Sverak: 1996′s Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Language Film about a cellist in Soviet Czechoslovakia caring for a Russian boy.
Howling with the Angels, dir. Jean Bodon: a documentary short about Bodon’s father’s experience in the Czechoslovakian Resistance movement during World War II.
Alois Nebel, dir. Tomás Lunák: a black and white rotoscoped film about a train dispatcher near the end of the Cold War.
The Country Teacher, dir. Bohdan Sláma: a male teacher, fresh out of a relationship with another man, becomes friends with a widow who is looking for romance.
Protektor, dir. Marek Najbrt: a radio host attempts to protect his Jewish wife when the Nazis invade Prague during WWII.
Goat Story, dir. Jan Tománek: an animated film about a boy in middle ages who falls in love with a beggar girl, setting his goat friend into a fit of jealousy.
On Hulu Plus:
A Report on the Party and Guests, dir. Jan Nemec: picnickers are forced to attend a dinner party thrown by a sadist.
Return of the Prodigal Son, dir. Evald Schorm: an architect attempts to recuperate in a psychiatric hospital after a failed and unmotivated suicide attempt.
Closely Watched Trains, dir. Jirí Menzel: a dispatcher in occupied Czechoslovakia obsesses over trying to lose his virginity as the war rages on around him.
Courage for Every Day, dir. Evald Schorm: a communist questions his beliefs as politics shift and his friends don’t live up to the same beliefs.
All My Good Countrymen, dir. Vojtech Jasný: citizens in a small Czech village try to claim freedom for themselves after WWII, but face opposition from the communists.
Pearls of the Deep, dir. Vera Chytilová, Jaromil Jires, Jirí Menzel, Jan Nemec, Evald Schorm: an anthology of five short films celebrating the Czech New Wave.
Daisies, dir. Vera Chytilová: two young women named Marie try to find their place in the world together in dangerous ways.
Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, dir. Jaromil Jires: a fantasy exploration of love, fear, sex, and religion through the lens of fairy tales and folklore.
Capricious Summer, dir. Jirí Menzel: three middle-aged friends become obsessed with a tightrope walker’s assistant one summer.
The Ear, dir. Karel Kachyna: a government official discovers his house is bugged after a massive series of layoffs at the office.
The Cremator, dir. Juraj Herz: a horror film about a Czech cremator who begins to take advice from an old war buddy about embracing his German heritage.
The Junk Shop, dir. Juraj Herz: a short film about a man working in a junk shop.
The Joke, dir. Jaromil Jires: a revenge drama about a man taking revenge on the man who got him booted from school and the communist party.
I apologize for getting this post up so late in the Foreign Chops’ cycle. The idea of rounding up possible streaming titles only just occurred to me today. Future posts will be up weeks before the deadline.
If you’re a member of The LAMB, you can submit up to 5 posts about films from the Czech Republic/Czechoslovakia. That’s 5 total per site, not 5 per author per site. They can be new or old reviews, features, or retrospectives so long as they focus on Czech films. Send the links to me at [email protected] by Midnight EST on 1 May. Include “Foreign Chops” in the subject line of your e-mail. I will send you a confirmation if I receive your message, so don’t be afraid to message me again if you haven’t heard back from me.
How far would you go to provide comfort and care for the person you love most in the world? Would you sacrifice your own independence to take care of them full time? Would you go against the will of your family and friends to fulfill your love’s biggest desire? Would you stand by their side as they slowly fade away due to medical problems that surface overnight and only get worse?
Amour is a film about coping with death and the end of life. The title is not a misnomer, but a device to help you invest in a very bleak story.
Anne and Georges are retired music teachers living a beautiful and fulfilling life together in their gorgeous apartment. After watching one of their former students perform a piano concert, Anne suffers a stroke at the breakfast table and has to undergo a low risk procedure to hopefully correct the damage; it fails, leaving her paralyzed on the right side of her body. Georges is now Anne’s full time caretaker and does everything he can to make his wife comfortable and happy in her final days.
Writer/director Michael Haneke, probably best known in America for Funny Games or perhaps The Piano Teacher, creates his least sensational film to date. Amour is a quiet, slice of life drama that just happens to focus on a catastrophic time in a married couple’s life. The effect is very Modernistic in the Virginia Woolf style, immersing you in a world that rises and falls in gradations of human experience like waves breaking on the shore.
With the exception of the concert scene (a beautiful piece of minimalistic action where the patrons all sit around in private conversation waiting for the performance to begin, never once showing the act onstage), Amour takes place entirely in Anne and Georges’ apartment. The design and layout is stunning. There are secrets in the design slowly revealed as the film goes on that really enhance the struggle of the characters. From the narrow doorways that barely allow Anne’s wheelchair to pass to the unending procession of elaborate chairs, the home slowly transforms from a spacious palace to a claustrophobic prison for retirees.
Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant carry the film as Anne and Georges. Riva has a beautifully expressive face that makes the damage from the stroke all the more tragic for the couple. In early scenes, she doesn’t even need to say a word for you to know what she is thinking; as the film progresses, communication becomes more and more of a struggle. Riva clearly shows this frustration throughout her whole body.
Trintignant has the harder role as the support figure in the family. He doesn’t get flashy makeup or increasing physical odds to help convey his character arc. His role is deeply physical, requiring him to brace, feed, and cater to his partner’s every need. The beauty of Trintignant’s work comes out in his interactions with the outside world–the landlords, his daughter, his son-in-law, his former student, the nurses–that allow him the briefest moments to escape from the woman he loves and all of her struggles.
Amour is bold in its refusal to be anything louder than a whisper once the story is underway. It’s adventurous in its choice of subject matter and its refusal to conform to traditional narrative structure. It is beautiful to watch and heartbreaking to think about. None of us make it out of this life alive. It is the people who we love and choose to be with that make life worth living until the bitter end.