Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Dispatches from Rotterdam: What Day is it Now?

38 Witnesses: This might’ve counted as evidence for Takashi Miike’s assertion that every film with at least one good scene is worthwhile, except that it’s more of a decent film with one brilliant scene. Granted, almost all the others come at the right times and contain the right ideas – it’s just that they’re often written a little too expressively for a realist film or that they ably express the idea behind the scene without really revealing the person delivering it. The former is especially the case with the dialogue given to Yvan Attal which indulges in a few too many “long, dark night of the soul” clichés, far too many nautical metaphors and is just a little bit too focused for a drowning man with a desperate need to walk a plank. Perhaps a better actor might have been able to give the words more weight but Attal doesn’t quite nail the thousand yard stare.

In any case he’s adequate and, as suggested by my opening remarks, this is a pretty thorough exploration of guilt and justice in which both the moral and practical questions are given full reign. Should one own up to a moral failing if it’s too late to have a practical impact? Should justice deter, punish or rehabilitate? As dramas of ideas go this one does a solid job of being thoughtful about such quandries without being prescriptive. Yet because of its slightly off dialogue it never truly shines until its stunning climactic scene which spells out the horror of the initiating incident in clinical, yet gut wrenching, detail. 

The Legend of Kasper Hauser: With all its bizarre archetypal characters and random insertions of modernity into aged locations Kasper Hauser plays like an absurdist comedy and for the most part it’s a pretty funny one. A great deal of this can be ascribed to Vincent Gallo who, as The Sherriff, peppers his dialogue with laconic “yeahs” which, when delivered as a half-arsed afterthought, become hilarious through sheer repetition. 

Unfortunately I wasn't able to fully enjoy it as such because I made the mistake of reading a director’s statement beforehand: He writes seriously about wanting to get at the philosophical implications of Kasper Hauser. This sounded interesting to me: I imagine you could play with quite a few epistemological quandaries using this story. Unfortunately what he really meant by stating that he wanted to “explore the philosophical implications” is that he wanted to make a film about how no one in the West is able to convey ideas anymore. As a result he delivers a simplified, streamlined version of the story in which he expresses his rather uninteresting idea in its most basic form: ie everyone is forever talking past one another, talking around one another or saying a whole lot of nothing. Indeed several characters only exist so they can be ignored by others; the most egregious example being The Whore.

Even if you do subscribe completely to The Death of the Author weird bits of sincerity are almost sure to keep tripping you up. A conversation between Kasper and The Priest, in which the latter latches on to a couple of Kasper’s rare phrases and proclaims him the messiah may strike you as satire but it’s hard to keep grooving on this when it becomes clear that the writer-director actually believes he was a saint; he just, as with most things in the film, has a really funny way of showing it.

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