Tag: films

Rough as a triplet from Belleville…

Finally got round to watching Sylvain Chomet’s Les Triplettes de Belleville/ The Triplets of Belleville last night. And I must say: if you’re in for an extraordinary car chase, then this is the movie to watch! >:D First, it has three of my favourite things in it: trains, wicked old ladies and nightmares. Then, it’s a (mostly) silent movie, making it a feat of extraordinary animation and expressive, carricature-style characters parading on-screen for your entertainment.

I noticed that people who talk about it on-line tend to say that the movie is incredibly good despite the lack of dialogue. Well, it probably won’t come as a surprise when I say that I belive it’s a fantastic film because of the lack of dialogue. It just goes to prove that emotional language (via gestures, facial expressions and, in animation, colours and shapes) is universal. If anything, dialogue would have destroyed the expressivity of carefully constructed animation. Belleville is a film that works strictly through character and in it character is constructed through well-defined particularities.

What’s most interesting is that the character I liked best is the fat dog, Bruno. Mad about trains (he just can’t abstain from barking at them), this lazy dog conceals a complicated and revealing psyche (his black and white nightmares are, really, uncanny projections of reality, once you shake off the grotesque first impression and start focusing on dream imagery as a symbol). He is also the most sympathetic character – to me, at least – since he is clearly the most used and abused (albeit lovingly). Throughout the film, I’ve often felt, in fact, that I was being pushed/discreetly guided into sharing Bruno’s point of view. (Which must be why I felt that he was the most humane character, whilst everyone else was a bittersweet parody of humanity. Or maybe not.)

In any case, the film was excellent: exquisite soundtrack, exciting array of characters and amazing mixture of carricature, film noir, sugar, spice, everything nice and everything nasty too! There are a lot of unexpected twists that’ll keep you swinging between ill-concealed sniggers and misty eyes. This is a definite must watch. (Don’t take my word for it, though; go and see it, then you can judge for yourselves. :3)

Okay, I’ll be off watching Chomet’s La Vieille Dame et les Pigeons/ The Old Lady and the Pigeons now. I may let myself be tricked into reviewing that later.


“Death is the only path that leads to birth”

I ended up purging quite a few of my older posts from 1-2 years ago. I guess this tends to happen when I’m about to leave a piece of my life behind: I prefer to erase all incriminating evidence. Well, the stuff I deleted was mostly debris anyway, so I don’t suppose the on-line multiverse’ll miss it.

Well, here I am then, finally able to update and – generally – take a break from all the complcations of dealing with life. I received my copy of The Weird Fiction Review – Number 1 in the post recently, and I’m over the moon about it (how come I didn’t find out about this little gem sooner? shame on me!). I’ve only flicked through it so far, but it appears to be more than fascinating, so expect a review of the Review sometime soon. 😉

More interestingly, though, I’ve been to see Les Aventures Extraordinaires d’Adèle Blanc-Sec/ The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec, a most delighful movie from director Luc Besson, based on the comic books of Jacques Tardi, which I have not, however, had the pleasure to read. Here’s my preferred trailer (French and no subtitles, I’m afraid):

Again, I can’t really compare the film to the original comics, since I haven’t read them, but then again, I doubt that would be fair play anyway. As far as my amateurish opinion goes, it was a gorgeous, baroque feast of doubles and doubleness – from twins to arch-enemies to the timeless life/death motif – all wrought together in a string of absurd and savoury adventures. The plot is set in pre-WWI Paris (mostly) and Egypt (or the stereotypically-spooky entrails of an Egyptian pyramid, to be more precise). The main character, Adèle Blanc-Sec (played by Louise Bourgoin) is a tomboyish (for lack of a better attribute) young journalist/novelist/adventurer looking for a three-millennia-old mummy whose knowledge would enable it to cure Adèle’s twin sister, Agathe (and I will not spoil for you what it is that Agathe needs to be cured of, but a word of caution for the faint of heart: it’s a gruesome little detail). As main characters go, Adèle is quite remarkable through her unbreacheable loyalty to gimendous hats and the cool indifference she exhibits towards sneezing mummies and pterodactyls with a taste for ostrich feather shawls. Her reactions are sometimes predictable perhaps, typical of the “reckless adventuress”, but in 97% of the cases, Adèle is simply charming (and I’m afraid I’ve also taken a dangerous liking to her “museum of curiosities” bedecked flat).

The plot I found well-balanced and tantaizing, combining a decent percentage of supernatural, absurd, humour and drama. From scientists with telekinetic abilities, to Jurassic birds in the middle of Paris, to mummies with a unique sense of aesthetics – “The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec” has it all. But the best part about it is its “film noir” streak, in which no joke is left without a shady or tragic twist. For every life saved there is a life tragically lost or at least placed under severe threat. I would love to expand on this, but I don’t really want to spoil the movie for anyone who hasn’t watched it yet. I leave you with a lovely pic of sisters Adèle and Agathe in the foremath of a truly decisive tennis match:

Life as a Nunnery

I am aware it looks like I’ve been lured “to the other side”, also known as “the great and frightful RL”. Sadly – or happily, depends which way you look or squint at it -, however, I am still here, somewhere, stalking better updated blogs and other such online haunts. But yes, I have been busy and still am and still will be for a while, so, dear internet void, do expect scarce updates and please do not hold a grudge against me because of that… The good thing is that I am slightly more active on tumblr, where I can rapidly post (or, more likely, reblog from keener fellow tumbleloggers) an exciting picture or two and then run back to my ever mounting piles of work.

Have I been up to fun things, as well? Why, yes, bits and pieces, here and there, I’d say, mainly in the few breaks I’ve had from trying to escape the bone-crushing jaws of the educational system. For one, I’ve purchased the wonderful volume two of Kaori Yuki’s latest manga, Grand Guignol Orchestra. Some might remember that I reviewed the first volume here… Well, the second volume was just as good as the first one and definitely worth every penny, since Yuki remains not only an amazing and imaginative storyteller, but also a most talented and entrancing visual artist.

In vol 2, some of the mysteries surrounding the main characters start to get cleared up, only to have more secrets and mysteries jump at you from behind the next manga frame. 🙂 All of this is most satisfying to me as a reader, as I’m usually not happy with a book/comic/film/anything with a storyline unless it keeps me guessing right until the very end. 🙂 So yes, go buy this manga or any of Kaori Yuki’s works, RIGHT NOW! None of her mangas has disappointed me so far… (Gods, they should be paying me for all the free advertising, right? But I simply can’t help it. xD)

For another thing, I’ve been watching… well, stuff. A lot of Jan Svankmajer, of course, but I’m not going to give in to the temptation to rant about all his wonderful short films. Instead, I’m going to embed a nifty little video that pretty much speaks for itself. It’s “a trailer for a non-existent Jan Svankmajer Collection consisting of many short clips from five of his full-length films”, as its maker describes it, and it’s the best “promotional vid” for Czech Surrealism I’ve seen so far:

There are too many of Svankmajer’s shorts that I’d recommend, but, quite unfortunately, not many of them can be found on-line. “The Pendulum, the Pit and Hope” is one of the rare exceptions, and so I’m embedding it too. Note: I would have embedded it full-length, but LiveJournal won’t let me, since it apparently thinks my vodpod&viddler permalinks are unsafe. Therefore, I have provided a YouTube link at the end of this wonderful paragraph. Dx There’s a bit of text that features in the film, and there are no subtitles for it, but it’s not that big of a deal, since that’s just a quotation (translated into Czech, of course) from E.A. Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum”: […] the sound of the inquisitorial voices seemed merged in one dreamy indeterminate hum. It conveyed to my soul the idea of REVOLUTION, perhaps from its association in fancy with the burr of a mill-wheel. It might be worth mentioning, though, that it is that quotation from Poe that got the film banned in the former Czechoslovakia in 1983. You can watch the film here on YouTube, if you want.

But Svankmajer’s stuff isn’t the only thing I’ve been watching. I’ve also continued my obsessive need for German Expressionism, which I’ve fed with a good dose of uncanny directed by Richard Oswald and featuring surreally gorgeous Conrad Veidt (the picture on Wiki is crap, though – check out this one instead :D). I’m talking about the 1919 film Eeerie Tales/ Unheimliche Geschichten, presenting adaptations of five classic horror stories: “The Apparition” by Anselma Heine, “The Hand” by Robert Liebmann, “The Black Cat” by E.A. Poe, “The Suicide Club” by R.L. Stevenson and “The Spook” by Richard Oswald. As always, I was stunned by the impeccable mime-acting required by silent films and always dutifully provided by silent film actors. Oh, and you can watch the movie on YouTube, here.

[screencap from “Eerie Tales”, “The Suicide Club” section]

That’s mostly it, I should say. But since I’m such a nice and generous blogger, I won’t leave you just like that, great internet void. Oh, no. I’ll leave you with a nice little animated gif of yours truly running berserk. Literally. 🙂

Trapped in the Obsession: Jan Svankmajer’s Short Films

With each passing day I’m starting to think I might be going for a film studies degree next. xD It just seems that my blog is half filled with film reviews, and rereading my posts makes me kind of wish I’d gone for a joint degree in the first place… Oh, well, here goes another artistic film-related random rant…

Remember my praising the accomplished surrealist Czech director Jan Svankmajer in my previous post? Well, here I am at it again, since I recently bought some DVDs of his complete short films, and watching them has managed to put me in a particularly good mood.

One of the most striking films in the collection, is one of his earlier works, Et Cetera (1966). This 7 minutes short is mesmerizing in its almost obsessive circularity, starting with a pronounced FINE in elaborate typeface, and ending appropriately with a DA CAPO AL FINE.

Jan Svankmajer – Et Cetera
Uploaded by popefucker. – Classic TV and last night's shows, online.

This amazing short is all about circularity and futile actions that repeat themselves ad infinitum without being brought to a satisfying closure. In the first part of the animation, there is a human figure on an encyclopedia-style plate, trying on different pairs of wings in a neverending attempt to leave the illustration. The second part shows two interchanging figures, one human and one animal, cyclically exchanging places as trainer and trained, which seems to be a bitter irony directed at the mechanics of being human. The final segment shows a human figure similar to the previous ones, constantly and almmost desperately trying to solve a conundrum: how not to be trapped. It first draws the contours of a house around it, then, dissatisfied, erases it and draws it again as a separate object. In both cases the figure finds itself either trapped inside or outside of the sketched house, thus showing an inability of coming up with a creative solution (e.g. a door that would allow communication between ‘inside’ and ‘outside’) in this 2d universe which is inherently constraining.

I keep falling in love all over again with Svankmajer’s dark satire, which is forcefully apparent in all of his shorts. His surreal hermeneutics I find extremely compelling and especially challenging, since the viewer is constantly forced both to accept the illogical course of events in Svankmajer’s work and to try to uncover the thread occulted under the uncanny imagery. His films are both vaguely disturbing and incredibly attractive through their impossible connections and their atmosphere of ‘theatre of illusions’ (much like the films of Georges Méliès in that sense).

As soon as I get enough spare time on my hands, I’m fully resolved to watch all of his shorts and as many of his longer films that I can get access to, and possibly start ranting again about the god-like talent and imagination of Jan Svankmajer.

[still from “Alice” (1988) via]

Unrelated edit: Some of you might have noticed that I changed the title (and subtitle) of the blog. That’s mainly because I accidentally stumbled upon a livejournal blog bearing virtually the same title. I don’t know why that bothered me so, but it made me think that, perhaps, I should have tried to be a bit more original when naming this here livejournal. So there you go, I have re-baptised it as Encyclopaedia Vanitatum – a dictionary of spectral curiosities (and by the way, many thanks to Mike @ To the Ends of the Galaxy! for being so cool as to help me with the title!). I’m quite happy with this new identity, I think it suits my blog pretty well, and I guess I’ll be keeping Sakasama no Chou purely as an unofficial anthem.

Shadow Puppets: ‘Vampyr – Der Traum des Allan Grey’

This 1932 silent horror was truly a delight to my 6th sense, the sense for all things uncanny. 🙂 Loosely based on Sheridan LeFanu’s now almost legendary cult piece, ‘Carmilla’, Carl Theodor Dreyer’s film follows the steps of Allan Grey (played by baron Nicolas de Gunzburg, better known under the stage name of Julian West), a young man fascinated by the darker side of the occult. Throughout the film, Allan struggles to save two young sisters, Léone (played by Sybille Schimtz) and Giséle (played by Rena Mandel), from the clutches of a mysterious vampire (in fact a nefarious elderly woman played by Henriette Gérard) and its faithful assistant, a Faustian country doctor (played by Jan Hieronimko).

What is most fascinating abot Dreyer’s film is, first of all, the atmosphere he manages to create. Despite the abundance of plot summaries one can find on-line, the storyline of ‘Vampyr’ is not, I would say, so simple. A lot of what is happening is suggested, rather than clearly shown. There is a lot of play with shadows, which set a surreal, eerie mood, and, I would add, a lot comes also from the sheer use of facial expressions, a nice play on phrenology. All in all, the film is a feast of sensations, and can be read as a display of effects of human fear. Allan Grey’s point of view in the movie is constantly ambiguous, leaving room for doubt. It might well be that nothing of what he (thinks) he sees is, in fact, real. It might all be a trick of his imagination and sickly fascination with the occult.

There are other elements which suggest that all might not be quite as it seems, and which allow for a double (or multiple) reading of the storyline. Some of them are to be found towards the end of te film, like Allan’s obsessive vision of himself in a coffin, or his escape with Giséle in a boat over the misty river.

Dreyer reportedly told his cameraman, ‘Imagine we are sitting in an ordinary room. Suddenly we are told that there is a corpse behind the door. In an instant, the room we are sitting in is completely altered: everything in it has taken on another level; the light, the atmosphere have changed, though they are physically the same. This is because “we” have changed… This is the effect I want to get.’ This is cited in numerous on-line sources dealing with Dreyer’s movie (here, for instance), and I feel that this is precisely the effect that ‘Vampire’ manages to produce. The blurry shots and many-faced symbols Dreyer uses keep the viewer constantly on the edge. ‘Vampyre’ is a wonderfully uncanny trompe l’oeil.

For those who wish to watch it, the film is currently available in its entirety on youtube.

Of Old Filmings

I’ve stumbled upon a nifty little website via La Carmina’s blog. It is, actually, an online vid archive storing 20th century films and it’s quite fascinating to observe the old news filming styles. But it’s even more interesting when you find vids about your own country. Both instructive and entertaining, I should say. Some of them are absolutely fascinating:

† (1966) short clip about Romanian Ilie Stamate at the age of 138 (language: Romanian)
† (1966) Romanian fashion styles [partly filmed inside a plane cabin :D] (mute)
† (1928) [now] ex-king Mihai of Romania as a child, going to the circus for the first time xD (mute)
† (1969)“Women Only” restaurant in Cluj (language: Romanian)
† (1928) Queen Marie of Romania [formerly Princess Marie of Edinburgh] visiting the tomb of her husband, King Ferdinand (mute)
† (1965) [part of] a travelogue (language: English)
† (1966) Romanian woman speaking 12 languages (language: Romanian)

Of Infernal Desires and Oneiric Machines

The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman
by Angela Carter

I don’t often do book reviews (though this little affirmation is open to debate, since all or most of my academic essays can be said to border on book reviewing), but since the term is over, and I (finally) got the chance to finish reading a most wonderful novel, I’ll indulge in the sweetly perverse pleasures of telling the world about Angela Carter’s “The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman”. Firstly, though, I should probably mention that the book is surprisingly hard to come by. Amazon UK lists two different editions of the novel as “not in stock”, though available second hand from different sellers (from admittedly surprisingly low prices). I wasn’t able to find it in book stores for a long time, but I eventually stumbled upon it in Waterstone’s (the one where I found it had only two copies on sale, one of which I purchased; even the cashier pointed out she’d never seen/heard of the novel before, though she liked Angela Carter). This was a bit of a disconcerting situation, since I’d noticed a sustained tendency, as of late, to promote Angela Carter’s writings. So why was/is this particular novel largely overlooked? (Won’t even attempt to answer this question, though; it was simply surprising, that’s all).

The novel in itself is absolutely stunning, the best I’ve read by Angela Carter so far. The plot is woven (and I’ll beg you to excuse my Gothic simile) like an intricate arabesque with interconnecting designs and spread in concentrical circles. It is, in fact, a bit like this, if I may relate to a concrete visual reference. But also, in a sense, like this (yes, I just had to link it to something that’s displayed in a fascinatingly decadent Transylvanian museum). The plot summary, as it appears on the back-cover of my edition (Penguin Books, USA, 1994) goes as follows:

Cut for space