This article will have short reviews for the following films in this order: Martyrs, Oslo, Agust 31st, Man with a Movie Camera, Seven Psychopaths and High Life.
Dark and disturbing, though not necessarily scary, Martyrs (2008) subverts expectations time and time again by somehow managing to merge 4 different types of films into one. It’s quite the achievement that the director was able to pull this off. He sets things up as a clichéd horror film but then turns it on its head in the scene that follows, though that’s not the only time he does that in the film’s runtime. He plays with your expectations, making the film a very cool experience. The two lead performers were great and I quite liked some of the themes the film brought up. It’s those themes that make it all quite unsettling, more so than what’s being displayed on the screen. The pacing, however, could drag during the middle and there were some illogical moments in the film.
This was one of those films that had to sink in a little before I was able to fully appreciate it. Right after the film was finished, I thought that it was solid B+, but when I thought about it some more, the emotional impact really hit me and didn’t let me go for quite some time. It’s a beautifully depressing story about a man’s last cry for help and about him facing the consequences of his drug abuse. Jochem Trier manages to bring this story in a very personal and grounded manner, making it the more hard-hitting. He uses sound and depth of field effectively, placing us inside of Anders Danielsen Lie’s head. We barely know why Anders is in the situation that he is in right now, and why he’s feeling how he does, but that’s not really relevant. What is relevant is that he’s feeling those things, and how he’s coping with it. And it’s goddamn emotional.
Surprisingly, I really enjoyed Man With a Movie Camera. I knew of its significant importance in the development of film, though I was expecting a similar experience to The Passion of Jeanne D’Arc; it’s not pleasant to see, but it’s brilliantly crafted. This one, however, was. The impressionistic visuals are incredible and so was the editing. It’s a very unique blend of different editing styles that worked well together, making it one of the best-edited films ever. On the one hand, it uses the rhythmic editing of French Impressionism, though on the other, it also uses different techniques originated from Russian Constructivism, a style that was influenced by French Impressionism but really became something on its own. It uses the Kuleshov effect in a cool manner and the way it breaks the fourth wall is incredibly inventive. It shows how the film itself is made; how they got certain shots, how some scenes are edited, and it even shows how the film’s screened to an audience. Oddly enough, it’s also quite emotionally effective. The accompanying score to the film was great as well, though I’m not entirely sure if it was the original score since it was released in the transition period of silent to sound, there might be a chance that the score was not yet printed directly on the celluloid.
While Seven Psychopaths is certainly worse than Three Billboards or In Bruges, it’s still a darn good film. It’s just really hard to be better than two films that are both nearly perfect. Seven Psychopaths tells a very clever story with an original approach, though one that we’ve sort of seen before in films like Adaptation. However, McDonough still gives his creative spin to it, really making it his own. The performances are great all around, with the standouts being Sam Rockwell and Woody Harelson. The film presents a wide variety of colorful and hilarious characters, who all have their own motives. As expected, the film’s funny, though not necessarily in its punchlines, but rather in the situations these characters are thrown in and how they handle them. There’s also that dark underlying tone that we can also find in In Bruges and most prominently in Three Billboards, that gives the film the ability to create some incredibly heartfelt moments. The score was pretty decent as well, and there were some nice shots and meaningful camera movements. However, the thing that sort of dragged the film down was some lackluster editing. They didn’t pay a lot of attention to contiguity as characters often switched positions from shot to shot.
“Beautiful” is the word I think describes High Life the best. It truly is beautiful in every sense of the word. The visuals were absolutely gorgeous and impactful, the story it tells is oddly emotional, and I felt like crying by the end of it, sheer out of how beautifully everything was done. Robert Pattinson is fantastic in his role and beautifully portrayed his complex character in various stages of his life, even slightly adapting his physicality according to his age. The score was hauntingly beautiful, and created this wonderful atmosphere, together with the excellent production design. The editing too was brilliant, and it used various techniques in order to achieve a great emotional impact. Claire Denis made one fantastic, poetic film that has plenty to say about life in general and current social issues. She used the small budget to a great extent, as it wasn’t in the slightest noticeable in the visual presentation that they only had a limited amount of money. She has an interesting way of portraying the messed up scene as well, of which there were plenty to be found. I felt a strange sense of beauty that I had never experienced before, which is a feeling I want everyone else to experience as well. Also, have I already told you that this film’s beautiful?
Grade: A (I might bump it up to an A+, though I’m not sure yet)