The story is simple: Young Alejandrito rebels against the medical career that his parents have planned for him and instead chooses to pursue his dream of being a poet. In the course of this adventure, he meets like-minded friends and lovers exploring all forms of art. Yet, far from being a realistic biopic, the film is unsurprisingly full of surreal plot elements, fantastic set design, and a narrative that constantly obscures its true intentions. Shot by Christopher Doyle, its flamboyant cinematography and sumptuous colour palette sync perfectly with its theme of celebrating life and art, resulting in an unforgettable fair.
As you’d expect from the Chilean director, Jodorowsky follows no rules when it comes to artistic creation. An earthquake shakes one scene when the protagonist gets into a furious argument with his parents, and a carnival sweeps the streets after he comes to realise that the meaning of life is to live in the moment. But the standout scene is when Alejandro meets his first love in a café where everyone dresses in black and moves in slow motion.
If one flaw (and there are more than one) must be mentioned, it is that every scene tries to be the most memorable, which ultimately leads to the conclusion that for Jodorowsky style might overrule substance. But if anything, the clue is in the title: Endless Poetry is a film that flows in its very own rhythm, fuelled with contagious passion and perpetual imagination.
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Sigrid Bouaziz, Anders Danielsen Lie, Ty Olwin, Hammou Graia, Nora von Waldstätten
France, Germany 2016
Personal Shopper aims high, most notably in its attempt to play with the minds and beliefs of its characters and viewers.
Maureen (Kristen Stewart) spends her days working as a personal shopper for globetrotting supermodel Kyra, buying jewellery at Cartier and the latest fashion from high-end designers in London and Paris. It’s a dull job that keeps her busy and distracted from her own life and, more importantly, from the pain caused by the death of her twin brother Lewis a few months earlier. At night however, Maureen reaches out helplessly to the beyond, trying to make use of her secret powers as a psychic medium to get in contact with the spirit of Lewis, with whom she had made a pact: whoever died first would send the other a sign.
Personal Shopper is hard to pin down: part ghost story, part drama and part psychological thriller, it also has flashes of horror running through its veins. Fear comes mainly in the form of the spirits that seem to answer Maureen’s calls, be it in the house Lewis inhabited before his death or via mysterious texts messages appearing on her phone. However, as the spiritual and the mundane in Maureen’s life become more entangled, causing her to get lost in the twilight zone between the real and the uncanny, Assayas equally loses his focus and, ultimately, his film along the way.
Ultimately, Personal Shopper is a film that aims high, most notably in his attempt to play with the minds and beliefs of its characters and viewers, which makes its imperfections stand out all the more. That is not to say that Assayas isn’t skilled in creating captivating images, yet ultimately here most of his stylistic choices fall flat, while the decision to capture the spirits in the form of smoky shadows simply feels lazy and unconvincing.
Cast: Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, Marton Csokas, Nick Kroll, Michael Shannon
USA, UK 2016
Loving is as good as a drama can be, but for everyone who admires the director’s earlier films, it might be a disappointment.
Loving is Jeff Nichols’s second film to be released this year. The first was Midnight Special, a sci-fi drama about family and belief, which premiered at the Berlinale in February. It’s also the second time the director has worked with Joel Edgerton, who this time plays Richard Loving, a white bricklayer from Virginia who invited the wrath of the state when he married his beloved Mildred, a woman of African-American and Native American descent. Ruth Negga plays his wife and together the two actors turn in the finest, most understated performances of the festival so far. The Lovings, we realise soon, are people of very few words, and so they make every look, every gesture, every intonation count instead.
In order to be together though, the newly wed couple is forced to make a deal to leave their Virginia home and promise they won’t return for at least 25 years. Time passes as they retreat to Washington DC to raise their family, but Mildred struggles to fully adjust to life in the city and, in her despair, writes a letter to Bobby Kennedy explaining the circumstances and asking for help. What follows is the Lovings fight to return to Virginia as a free family. It’s a fight that eventually will go all the way to the federal Supreme Court, and one that changed history.
Loving is as good as a drama can be, but for everyone who admires the director’s earlier films, it might be a disappointment. It’s a film by Nichols rather than a ‘Jeff Nichols film’, the main difference being that in making the political personal, Loving simply lacks the strangeness and dark power of films like Shotgun Stories (2007) and Take Shelter (2011). What’s more, it seems that since flirting with Hollywood in Mud (2013), Nichols has gone off on a tangent and it’s not clear whether or not he too will find his way home again.
Paterson doesn’t give answers, yet it offers its fair share of wisdom.
Paterson (Adam Driver) is a dedicated bus driver in the city of Paterson, New Jersey, born there, like his greatest hero, the poet William Carlos Williams, who himself wrote a book-length poem entitled ‘Paterson’. To mark out the setting so explicitly is important, as it ultimately blends into the plot of Paterson, the movie. The film shows one week in the life of our local hero as he gets up early to drive his bus around town, while observing his surroundings and listening to the passengers chatting. During his breaks, Paterson likes to write poetry in his notebook, and after work he volunteers to take his wife’s dog Marvin out for a walk, if only as an excuse to stop by for a beer at his local bar.
To say much more would take the beauty away from this wonderful, wondrous film, which proves once more that Jarmusch’s genius lies in capturing precisely the small moments and fine details that make life so special, no matter how trivial, or crazy, things may seem. One day Paterson’s bus breaks down, leaving him and his passengers stranded. Some days later at the bar a heartbroken actor attempts to shoot himself in front of his beloved ex-girlfriend, and everyone else around. However, whatever the problem, Paterson handles each situation with the same calm and unassuming authority that even allows him to forgive Marvin for shredding his notebook.
Naturally Paterson doesn’t give answers, yet it offers its fair share of wisdom. Paterson’s poetry, inspired by Williams, has the intention and the power to make people see the world in a new way – if we simply care to look and take note. And with his film, Jarmusch has pulled off an equally fine feat.
Cast: Peter Simonischek, Sandra Hüller, Ingrid Bisu, Michael Wittenborn
Germany, Austria 2016
Toni Erdmann is that rare thing: a film that makes you laugh and cry, wince and twist in your seat all at once.
Toni Erdmann is that rare thing: a film that makes you laugh and cry, wince and twist in your seat all at once. Rather than a comedy by definition, it’s a subtle drama with slow-burning humour , winding up to the punch with care and pathos that renders the punchline all the more poignant. But even more than that, Toni Erdmann is about a father who refuses to do what’s expected of him, and a daughter whose drive to be nothing like him has driven her to the verge of hysterics.
Ines (Sandra Hüller) leads a solitary life, immersing herself in work and concealing her insecurities with a cool exterior. She’s lonely and so is her father Winfried (Peter Simoneschek), who lives alone, separated from his wife and has just buried his much-loved dog. In a desperate attempt to reconnect with his daughter he creates an alter ego , complete with grotesque teeth and an unconvincing wig, and the film takes a great effort in following him on his mission to re-build their relationship. Yet, it’s not only Winfried who mounts an offensive, instead father and daughter both share an ability to make up outlandish stories about each other: she invents a whole new wife for him, he jokes about having a substitute daughter because ‘the cakes are better’, but with every knock each is making serious points about the other.
In many ways, Toni Ermann is a tragedy as much as it is a comedy and it’s down to Maren Ade’s fine direction that the film never loses its balance. There’s a great deal of wisdom to be found amongst the satiere, and a great deal of heart — although Ade stringently avoids any hint of sentimentality. The result is breath-taking, and often hilarious.
Dziga Vertov’s silent Soviet classic remains a visionary masterpiece.
Made in 1929, Man with a Movie Camera was unlike any film made before (or since). It was directed by the cinematic visionary Dziga Vertov – a pseudonym that seems to translate as ‘whirling spinning-top’ and sounds more Soviet than David Kaufman. As he declares at the beginning of the film, Vertov’s aim was to find a new art form, a truly cinematic cinema free from the influence of the theatre and literature. And with Man with a Movie Camera he was wholly successful – creating an essay on the language of cinema written with the movie camera itself. Arguably one of the greatest films ever made, it is wildly entertaining, technically breathtaking and intellectually and theoretically fascinating. And yet this brave new direction was to lead to a dead end.
Lenin had declared cinema to be the most important of the arts and thus nationalised film production in 1917. He saw its great potential to educate and inspire Russia’s mass of illiterate workers. Dziga Vertov cut his teeth making agitprop movies on the famous propaganda trains that spread news of the revolution around the enormous Russian hinterland. Like many Soviet directors he rejected the language of bourgeois cinema and sought to create something new – a cinema fit for their great new society. Vertov thus passed a ‘death sentence’ on contemporary cinema, and with typical communist zeal, set about writing his manifesto – Kinoks: A Revolution. Writing in the style of a revolutionary poet he claims: ‘The innards, the guts of strong sensations are tumbling out of cinema’s belly, ripped open on the reef of revolution.’
Vertov and his collaborators, including his brother Mikhail Kaufman and his wife Elizaveta Svilova, shot news reels and documentary footage often shown on a train called ‘The October Revolution’. With his two documentary series Kino-Glaz (Kino-Eye) (1924) and Kino-Pravda (Kino-Truth) (1925) Vertov set out ‘to see and show reality in the name of the proletarian revolution’. The films show positive depictions of communal farming, village fetes and other slices of revolutionary and/or communal life. They were shot without a film studio, actors, sets or even a script, in candid camera style, filming participants unawares.
Vertov would continue to use these techniques in Man with a Movie Camera. Like Walter Ruttman’s Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927), the film depicts a day in the life of a city – although actually shot over three years in four cities (Kharkiv, Kiev, Moscow and Odessa). All of life is contained in these 68 minutes – sleeping and waking, commuting, working, relaxing, drinking and more. We see two weddings, one divorce and a funeral. We see a baby as it is born and a dead body surrounded by flowers. There is the dramatic – fire engines and ambulances rushing – and the mundane – packing cigarettes, shining shoes and dying eyebrows. All of this is shown without the context of a story.
Man with a Movie Camera is as much about the process of making the film and watching the film as it is about the daily life depicted. The film crew are characters too. It is their everyday work we are seeing. We see the car coming to pick up the cameraman to start his day. We see shots directly into the camera lens, we see the cameraman carrying his tripod. This is more than a simple Brechtian distancing device or a post-modern gimmick – it is showing the reality. After the low-angle shot of the miners dragging the carts over the camera, the film cuts to the cameraman lying on the floor under the carts, employed in his own labour – the making of a film. There is no attempt to disguise the fact that what we are watching is something created. The film opens with a movie theatre and an audience arriving. We are even shown a film of a film being projected.
For Vertov it is a cinema free from exploitation – nobody is being fooled. He saw himself as a ‘positive illusionist’: there are camera tricks aplenty but Vertov is never trying to trick the audience. We see how the camera works – window blinds closed then opened to let in light; a vase of flowers is blurred and then focused. And yet Vertov does all this playfully and for entertainment. Double exposures show the cameraman in a beer glass, an edit shows a foot on the railway line as a train approaches. Fellow Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein called the film a ‘compendium of formalist jackstraws and unmotivated camera mischief’. Without Eisenstein’s didactic montage Vertov’s message is more subtle. He is showing reality on both sides of the camera, and he is making audiences think rather than telling them what to think. He is teaching his audience to read a film. And with no or minimal intertitles, he is creating an international language to match the Esperanto the Soviet leaders were learning – a cinematic language that could become a tool of international labour solidarity.
The film celebrates the process of rapid industrialisation that the USSR was going through at the time. And cinema, the exciting new art form, is perfectly suited to show this. Cogs and gears of industry are edited to match the movements of the camera apparatus. Cinema is the art of the mechanical age.
However, the times were conspiring against Vertov. The late 1920s were perhaps the greatest turning point in cinema history. With the coming of sound the newest art form began to develop new modes of production. The freedom of movement that the silent pioneers were allowed disappeared as cumbersome sound equipment restricted camera movements. The camera that Vertov’s cameraman seems to take anywhere and everywhere was stuck inside a sound studio. And the language of the theatre (script, sets, dialogue, acting) began to reassert itself.
Similarly the USSR was approaching its own turning point after a difficult first decade of civil war, the death of Lenin and compromise in order to feed the country. The next phase saw the internal struggle that would determine where the great social experiment would go next, and who would control it.
Both Vertov and Eisenstein were to find themselves out in the cold (though, unlike some, not literally) as Stalin consolidated power and the new doctrine of ‘socialist realism’ came to the fore. The regime famous for its doctored photographs – as disgraced former leaders were air-brushed from history – had no interest in depictions of reality. Art would be used to obscure the truth and create myths. Great heroes (often proletarian heroes) doing great deeds were needed. Dyed eyebrows and shiny shoes were surplus to requirements. And although Vertov’s influence was eventually to be felt – in the direct cinema, cinéma vérité and other such trends in the West in the 50s and 60s – his career in the USSR was over.
Vertov’s films were criticised for artiness, intellectualism and lack of popular appeal, and yet he had always imagined Man with a Movie Camera as mass entertainment. And it is an entertaining movie, fast-paced, funny, visually accomplished and full of fascinating details. The new Alloy Orchestra soundtrack adds to these delights. The drum kit and repetitive riffs enhance the pace. The metallic percussion punctuate the mechanical themes. We even get synced voices of crowds and synced bell chimes. Man with a Movie Camera now looks and sounds amazing – it is what cinema could have become had it been allowed to break free of the chains of literature.
This review was first published in July 2015 for the BFI’s theatrical release of a remastered print of the original film.
Specially commissioned by Manchester’s new cultural centre HOME to accompany the release of Ben Wheatley’s Ballard adaptation High Rise, Jason Wood and Simon Barker’s short film Always (crashing) is an abstract contemplation of the modern artefacts that fascinated the writer, infused with a dose of Chris Petit alienation. A car endlessly, obsessively circles around a car park to an inhumanly soothing ambient track, intercut with extracts from Ballard’s short story ‘Report on an unidentified space station’. In a way, this metal and concrete reverie is more post-Ballardian than Ballardian: the film eschews the collision between man and modern machine favoured by the writer; instead it loops around a world strangely devoid of people, the driver of the car a mere silhouette glimpsed through the window, framed by the lines and pillars of the car park, as if modernity had finally eliminated the human.
Always (crashing) screens with selected showings of High-Rise between 25 – 31 March 2016 only.
Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans
Ben Wheatley’s Ballard adaptation deliriously embraces social breakdown in a dystopian past future.
We open on a doctor, Laing (Tom Hiddleston), clothes torn and paint-spattered, as he cooks a pedigree dog on an improvised barbecue on his balcony, after declining neighbour Steele (Reece Shearsmith)’s offer to have a tipple with a clearly dead man. Back: the doctor has moved into a flat nearer the top than the bottom of an ultramodern building that towers over its undeveloped commuter belt surroundings, the work of architect Mr Royal (Jeremy Irons), who lives at the penthouse/garden estate at its peak. It looks spectacular, but the cracks soon show. There are power outages. Rules are ignored. The technology isn’t working as it should. And there’s a growing sense of friction between floors. The toffs at the top are appalled at the likes of Laing showing up for a costumed ball with the wrong clothes and an inappropriately priced bottle of vino. And lower down the ladder, chippy cameraman Wilder (Luke Evans) bristles with revolutionary ire when he finds his kids are excluded from the swimming pool during an upper crust social. When Laing’s upstairs neighbour, the liberated, and resented Charlotte Melville (Sienna Miller) throws a party, it simmers with boozy anger and frustration. Things get out of hand. There’s a beating. A suicide. Rival parties are planned in retaliation. A collective madness starts to take hold. The residents venture out of the building less and less, and then not at all. Resources, food and wine are running out and are to be battled over. Pets become food. Society within the tower tears itself apart, and re-organises.
J.G. Ballard’s High Rise has long seemed the novel in his oeuvre begging most for cinematic adaptation (well, either High Rise or Concrete Island) – at least, after Cronenberg’s Crash made it viable to imagine any being filmed at all. It has neither the mega-budget requirements of his early SF, nor the gnomic intractability of The Atrocity Exhibition, but manages to fit his themes into a single location with a limited cast of characters. That said, it was always going to be odd. I’m amazed that what has finally emerged is this successful in capturing the flavour of the book, or at least a warped and woozy hybrid of Ballard and director Ben Wheatley/writer Amy Jump’s sensibilities.*
Initially the urban setting might seem to signal a departure from the folk horror beats that were building through Wheatley’s Kill List, Sightseers and especially A Field In England, but a recurring theme in that movement is the malign and strange affect of landscape on personality, which is an obsession Ballard shared. High Rise takes us away from the ancient outdoors to more modern interiors, but the creeping unease is the same. It isn’t some viral contagion or chemical that is causing the madness (or even the porno-parasites of David Cronenberg’s Shivers, which riffs on similar ideas). It’s the architecture. Royal wants his building to be ‘a crucible for change’, which it most definitely is, though clearly not the change he expects or desires. He can fret all he likes over whether he has ‘left out some vital element’ but it’s too late, the tower exerts its own logic, and there’s no stopping evolution. As the upper classes’ thuggish enforcer Simmons (Dan Renton Skinner) tells him, ‘I don’t work for you, I work for the building.’
The methodology of this madness is evoked through a million cuts. Wheatley sets up tightly edited rhythms within the film showing the rituals of the block dwellers as they go to and from work, shop, swim, ride the lifts and live their lives, and then quietly introduces disruptions, unsettling images that increase in frequency, the pattern of things changes, visual and verbal cues build from a subliminal wrongness into full blown lunacy. A telling tracking shot at the halfway mark takes from one end of a supermarket display to the other, going from fresh fruit to rotting mush. Before that, the party scene at Charlotte’s place is a marvel of drunken momentum and shifting tones, evoking Brit sex farce and brutal Alan Clark aggro along the way, and then suddenly changing gear for an alarming slow mo sequence of the coked up Wilder dancing, suddenly isolated in a strange tribal testosterone display, a bit of business that recurs in the penthouse apartment later in the story. In Jump’s excellent screenplay, the dialogue is initially dominated by the party chit chat and small talk, the flirty one-liners and bitter put-downs whereby the residents subtly and not so subtly jockey for status, but here it always seems to be freighted with double meaning, to the point where even a banal exchange in the tower’s supermarket, (‘keep the change’ – ‘there isn’t any’) feels loaded with portent.
In the novel, if I remember rightly, language breaks down to caveman grunting as the devolution takes hold. But here, deliciously, the barbarity goes hand in hand with a weirdly civilised eloquence. Thus the top floor is full of men discussing their insane and brutal plans for the suppression of the lower floors in language befitting a golf club or yachting marina, a rugger club bumptiousness that wholly fails to recognise the home counties Mad Max stylings of their current situation. There’s something hilariously inappropriate about somebody raising the sudden prevalence of rape, violence and factional warfare with ’I’d watch out if I were you, there’s some very unhappy bunnies bouncing about’.
It’s intoxicating…. with the emphasis on the toxic, it’s a bit of a phantasmagoria, cleverly weighted to keep you off balance and back footed. Most filmmakers making a tale this open to allegorical readings would surely decide to go for a vague and unspecified mise en scène. Instead, Wheatley very specifically anchors his High-Rise in the Britain of the mid to late 70s, with an exacting eye for detail, and cultural signifiers to the fore: there’s a swinging Alan Whicker lookalike, a copy of Action Comic (with the ‘Kids Rule OK’ cover), pound notes, indoor smoking, and not one but two cover versions of ABBA’s ‘S.O.S’. This seems appropriate, and not just because the novel dates from 1975. The film consciously evokes the 70s cinema of Lindsay Anderson, Buñuel, Roeg and Cammel, and works in that heady vein, being an artful treatment of difficult ideas rather than the usual elaborate treatment of banal ideas that dominates your modern multiplex. It’s dense and delirious, both in words and images, in a way that defies simple readings. The sexual politics alone would take a thesis to unpick, moving from swingin’ Carry On innuendo, through nasty assault and into a kind of maternal utopianism.
I’ve seen the film twice now, and think at the first viewing I was simply too dazzled for critical thinking. I just loved this combination of things, these performances, this dialogue, that music.** The second time, I still loved it, and I’d see it again in a heartbeat, but then I’ve been quite taken with everything Wheatley has put out, whilst being quite aware that not everybody feels the same; a press screening of Sightseers had me grinning from ear to ear, surrounded by people who made their loathing quite audible. Balls to them. You’re either on Wheatley’s wavelength… or you’re wrong. And I’ll fight anyone who says different. But maybe that’s the architecture talking.
*Jump has clearly worked her socks off trying to give the characters the motivations and story arcs required by modern cinema. Ballard was happier to work in a distinctly chillier, more oblique register. Horses for courses.
** Clint Mansell, playing a blinder, and some very well chosen tunes, The Portishead ‘SOS’ moment is particularly effective.
Cast: Clémence Poésy, David Morrissey, Stephen Campbell Moore, Laura Birn, Deborah Findlay
Despite a sense of déjàvu and an unconvincing ending, David Farr’s London-set pregnancy chiller conjures up a claustrophobic atmosphere.
With more than a passing nod to Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, this contemporary chilling thriller riffs well enough off its contained, two-up, two-down set-up, even if it struggles to convince with its grand reveal.
Kate (Clémence Poésy) lives upstairs with husband Justin (Stephen Campbell Moore) and is expecting their first child, albeit with some reticence. Brightening her day is her new ground-floor neighbour, Theresa (Laura Birn), a vivacious blonde whose older husband, Jon (David Morrissey), has a brusque manner and an even worse temper. They have been trying for years (seven, to be precise) to conceive. When they are invited for dinner, Jon can barely mask his contempt for a couple that can successfully procreate at the drop of a hat.
Inevitably, the new arrivals prove to be awkward guests, made worse after a tragic accident, which sends them scurrying downstairs back to their renovated flat. Almost immediately, the promise of like-minded neighbours vanishes. Or so it would seem.
Director David Farr, here making the leap from stage to screen, does well handling Kate’s mental deterioration, which convinces as the line separating fantasy from reality becomes increasingly and alarmingly blurred. Poésy’s pale and increasingly drawn complexion, captured effectively by the lensing of Ed Rutherford, makes for unsettling viewing. Moore’s typically solid turn as the hapless husband, seemingly powerless to stop the dramatic denouement of the piece, is also well timed.
Given their positioning in the narrative – and the mysterious goings-on that play out on screen – it’s trickier to take Morrissey and Birn’s characters quite so seriously. Yet the pair both respond to their material in a suitably colourful way, allowing for brief moments of dark humour to waft through proceedings, before matters begin to turn ugly.
And ugly they most certainly are. While Polanski needn’t fret about this young, London-based pretender, The Ones Below succeeds in crafting a tense and claustrophobic environment within which this motley crew of characters can do their worst. That its finale seems almost laughably absurd is soon alleviated upon reflection of what’s just unfolded. Farr’s film, which showed at Toronto as part of the festival’s City to City programme, isn’t likely to rattle any cages, but it might just upset a few light sleepers. Provided you don’t mind a plot hole or two.
Cast: Shu Qi, Chang Chen, Zhou Yun, Tsumabuki Satoshi
Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, France 2015
Hou Hsiao-hsien’s most recent work is the anti-action film, with aesthetics and technical mastery taking precedence over narrative or meaning.
Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien’s most recent film, The Assassin, was the darling of the 2015 festival circuit, winning the award for Best Director at Cannes, as well as topping many best-of lists, including Sight and Sound’s. There’s always the danger that a film so critically praised won’t meet the high expectations of its general audience, and that is certainly, and problematically, the case with this martial arts period drama.
Opening with a black and white prologue followed by a transition to colour, The Assassin tells the tale of a woman, taken from her home as a young girl to be trained as an assassin. After her feelings lead her to fail in a mission, she is sent back to her province to remove its powerful governor (Tian Ji’an, played by Chang Chen), who is also her cousin as well as former fiancé. But while Nie Yinniang is a deadly killer, superbly trained by her mistress (who, we later learn, is also her vengeful aunt), she is too independent, too compassionate, to blindly follow her orders, and her mission is muddied by emotional and familial entanglements.
Hou Hsiao-hsien’s version of wuxia is sumptuously shot by cinematographer Ping Ben Lee, capturing nature in all its glory, and with a voluptuous indulgence given to its 9th-century royal setting. Nie Yinniang is a stunning figure, with her long black hair, her stark clothes, providing a contrast to the luxuries enjoyed by her enemies. But while beautifully played by Shu Qi, the assassin is allowed only brief moments of (admittedly brilliant) intensity in the movie’s few fight scenes. The film, a chain of tableaux vivants that all fade to black, is glacially paced, and Nie Yinniang is too often merely an object of beauty, a still figure standing amidst meticulously staged backdrops.
The intricacies of the story are bewildering, with the ‘who’ and the ‘why’ only obliquely revealed as the film lingers on. But rather than lending The Assassin an air of intrigue, these mysteries seem pointlessly and frustratingly obtuse, with the most potent symbolism left to be teased out of a broken piece of jade, while not enough is done to bring the characters to life, to make them whole. Hou Hsiao-hsien deliberately avoids giving its audience any of the pleasures of wuxia, but its take on the genre offers little, and feels like a pale shadow of fellow auteur Wong Kar Wai’s Ashes of Time.
And perhaps that’s not the context in which to view the film, and it shouldn’t be sold as such to audiences. The Assassin is the anti-action film, with aesthetics and technical mastery taking precedence over narrative or meaning. It looks gorgeous, but there’s a shallowness to its beauty. The Assassin, unfortunately, is more still life than cinema.
Watch the trailer:
A Deviant View of Cinema – Film, DVD & Book Reviews