Tag Archives: surrealist cinema

Birds, Orphans and Fools

Birds Orphans and Fools 1
Birds, Orphans and Fools

Format: DVD

Release date: 23 June 2014

Distributor: Second Run

Director: Juraj Jakubisko

Writer: Juraj Jakubisko, Karol Sidon

Cast: Philippe Avron, Jirí Sýkora, Magda Vášáryová

Original title: Vtáčkovia, siroty a blázni

Czechoslovakia 1969

78 mins

It’s easy to see why director Juraj Jakubisko was known as the Slovak Fellini. Birds, Orphans and Fools (1969) instantly sweeps the audience along with a liberated camera that plunges joyfully into the film’s carnivalesque world. It has been called a surrealist film, and like other films that fall under this loose designation, Birds, Orphans and Fools focuses less on storyline, more on original images and unpredictable digressions. Unlike some so-called surrealist films which alienate the audience with a lack of structure, Jakubisko’s work has a developed sense of timing, keeping the audience engaged by regular changes of scene. Furthermore, these diverse scenes are given meaning and unity by the continued presence of a central trio: Yorick, his girlfriend Marta, and his best friend Andrej, a photographer. They live in a tumbledown barn, presided over by a maudlin old man, with a variety of little birds flying in and out at will. The title comes from the old Slovak saying that God looks after birds, orphans and fools, but the film seems to contradict the proverb with a tragic ending, announced by the director’s voice-over during the opening sequence.

The source of the tragedy is jealousy, already present early on when Yorick, Marta and Andrej live together in near-utopian bliss. They enjoy a playful existence, always clowning about, living up to their reputation as fools. But every so often, the men show signs of resentment towards Marta: Andrej sees her as an unwelcome newcomer who disrupts his friendship with Yorick, while Yorick suspects her of unfaithfulness. The men’s unkindness and injustice in these moments is emphasized by their regression into anti-Semitic insults. Later, when the characters adopt a more bourgeois lifestyle, feelings of ownership and exclusion become more pronounced, leading to the film’s shocking finale.

Completed in 1968 just after the Soviet invasion and banned the year after, Birds, Orphans and Fools is a key example of the lesser-known Slovak side of the Czechoslovak New Wave. With its stylistic experimentation and non-conformist characters, the film recalls Věra Chytilová’s Daisies (1966), but is less manic and more pastoral. It also invites comparison with French New Wave masterpieces: its ménage &#224 trois recalls Truffaut’s Jules and Jim (1962), but its stylistic virtuosity and affinity for youth culture makes it closer in spirit to Godard’s Breathless (1960). Jakubisko has a talent all his own when it comes to integrating the contemporary hippie zeitgeist into the traditional Slovak countryside. He emphasizes an organic relationship between modern and traditional lifestyles, rather than taking the more obvious approach of ironic contrast.

In an excellent and wide-ranging essay in the DVD liner notes, Peter Hames traces the film’s lineage back to Slovak surrealism, with its characteristic attachment to folk culture. Equally, though, I would suggest that this film has roots in Poetism, a uniquely Czechoslovak version of dada, which emphasized a good-humoured, self-deprecating, playful attitude to life and a powerful attachment to nature.

Alison Frank

Somewhere in Palilula

Somewhere in Palilula

Format: Cinema

Screening date: 7 July 2012

Venue: Rich Mix, London

Director: Silviu Purcărete

Writer: Silviu Purcărete

Original title: Undeva la Palilula

Cast: Anne Marie Chertic, Constantin Chiriac, Paul Chiributa

Romania 2011

145 mins

Somewhere in Palilula anything can happen, and frequently it does. We are invited into a world turned upside down in Silviu Purcărete’s carnivalesque triumph. Serafim, a young paediatrician, arrives in this ghost town, and we learn about the place and its inhabitants through his eyes and the stories he tells. Hard spirits and cigarettes are the staple diet of a community of drunks, doctors, cleaners, prostitutes and a hermaphrodite. There are no children, the hospital patients are not sick, and soon Serafim starts to adapt and feel like he belongs there. Purcărete lifts us to emotional heights with a scintillating score (by composer Vasilé Şirli) and awe-inspiring theatrical tableaux (production designers are Helmut Stürmer and Dragoş Buhagiar), then lets us fall into depths of visceral mire, then up again and so on. The director immerses us in fantasy but his tale is hugely allegorical. Here, the legacy of Soviet rule and the onset of market economy in Romania are parodied and mythologised. By pushing surrealist and magic realist genres of cinema, Purcărete carves out a space for himself alongside Luis Buñuel and Federico Fellini. This UK premiere at the EEFF comes highly recommended.

The East End Film Festival opens on 3 July and runs until 8 July 2012. Somewhere in Palilula screens on 7 July at the Rich Mix. For more information please visit the East End Film Festival website.

Nicola Woodham

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie

To mark the 40th anniversary of the film’s original release, STUDIOCANAL and the ICO are releasing a re-mastered digital print of Luis Buñuel’s surreal comedy The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie in cinemas on June 29, including an extended run at BFI Southbank as part of their Jean-Claude Carrière season. Carrière has written the screenplays for many classic films including Belle de Jour, The Milky Way, Cyrano de Bergerac, The Tin Drum, La Piscine, Sommersby and The Unbearable Lightness of Being. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is released on DVD, and for the first time on Blu-ray, on July 16.

Comic review by Grayham P. Puttock
Grayham P. Puttock is the creator of Love&Ammunition comic. To see more visit dontlooknowcomics or contact Love&Ammunition@facebook.

L’&#226ge d’or

L'âge d'or

Format: Dual Format: Blu-ray + DVD

Release date: 30 May 2011

Distributor: BFI

Director:Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí

Writers: Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí

Original title: Lásky jedné plavovlásky

Cast: Gaston Modot, Lya Lys, Caridad de Laberdesque

France/Spain 1930

63 mins

The BFI’s new Blu-ray release of Luis Buñuel’s L’âge d’or (1930) provides a comprehensive introduction to surrealist cinema. In addition to the 50-minute movie, the DVD includes Luis Buñuel’s shorter début film, Un chien andalou (1929), another collaboration with Salvador Dalí. These two titles are the most famous surrealist films ever made, but L’âge d’or was the only one that completely satisfied surrealist leader André Breton.

The DVD contains three other special features: a Spanish-produced documentary on Buñuel, a voice-over commentary on selected clips from L’âge d’or by Robert Short, and an introduction to surrealist cinema, also by Short, in the form of a talking-head lecture. The Spanish documentary gives a chronological survey of Buñuel’s life and career, and is enlivened by the variety of its contributors: it is composed entirely of anecdotes from the director’s friends, family and collaborators, with a few clips and quotations from the great man himself. While entertaining, the stories are also useful, as they shed light on the themes that dominate Buñuel’s entire oeuvre. Although many of the interviewees are recognisable from Buñuel’s films (Michel Piccoli and Angela Molina, for example), the documentary strangely fails to identify the contributors with the usual on-screen titles. The material from Robert Short suffers by comparison with this engaging documentary. Short’s contribution is informative, certainly: he assumes zero knowledge about surrealist cinema on the part of the audience, and provides all of the necessary material for a basic understanding of its history. He also offers relevant background details to the two films as well as some helpful interpretations. Still, Short’s style of expression is ill-suited to reading aloud and would have been far more enjoyable as liner notes.

L’âge d’or still holds an astonishing capacity to shock. The film’s male lead, Gaston Modot, kicks a puppy, slaps his prospective mother-in-law and knocks over a blind man. Co-star Lya Lys is introduced rolling in the mud with Modot, screeching with erotic pleasure; subsequently, she appears sitting on the toilet, sucking suggestively on the toe of a statue and reclining on a couch in post-masturbatory bliss. The film implies that society’s repressive attitude towards sex results in productive drives being sublimated into cruel and violent acts. The film also criticises the bourgeois for their selfishness: they are outraged by relatively minor affronts to people of their own class, but indifferent to true tragedies that befall their servants. While Un chien andalou, with its infamous eyeball-slicing sequence, is arguably the better-known of the two films, L’âge d’or succeeds where the surrealists felt that Un chien andalou failed. While the first movie was received with enthusiasm by the public, who didn’t bother trying to understand its dream-like images and missed its intended ‘call to murder’, L’âge d’or was banned for provoking far-right riots. The film’s attack on Dieu, famille, patrie had not been missed, and the surrealists basked in the ensuing scandal.

Alison Frank