Cinematic melange

Finding the video rental store naturally meant seeing some films. The selection was admittedly odd, but then it was driven by impulse.

The first one i picked was Starship Troopers by Paul Verhoeven. It is based on a controversial “classic of military SF” written by Robert A. Heinlein, and I must say that it is something of a work of genius. Some might want to contest this, but this film is really taking the piss at everyone in a delightful manner.

Take the recruitment clip above, or the beginning scenes with the pearly-toothed youngsters straight out of some chewing gum commercial, listening to a lecture on why only those who do armed service can be citizens. It is testing to watch but oh so rewarding. The rest of the film is equally ludicrous, with heavy fascist overtones, and still it at the same time successfully passed as a “action film for guys”. It is subtle enough (in it’s genre, that is) not to be an all-out parody, but it is also quite clear that the ridiculousness isn’t anything but deliberate. Heinlein would probably have been rather miffed for what Verhoeven had done with his imagining of an fascistoid utopian society, would he still have been alive when it was released.

The other films were Ugetsu Monogatari and Oyû-sama by the for me hitherto unknown japanese 1950’s director Kenji Mizoguchi.

Ugetsu Monogatari is a rather nice piece based on a classic ghost story. Set during the civil wars of 16th-century japan, the story tells of a greed-stricken potter, Genjuro, who goes to great lengths to make money selling his goods, while his brother-in-law is obsessed with the thought of becoming a samurai. Their wives try to turn them from these ideas, to no avail – and tragedy inevitably follows.

The story has the beautiful simplicity of folk stories without being banal or overly predictable, and the historical sceneries and costumes are very nicely realized. Additionally, it is beautifully filmed. Well worth seeing if japanese ghost stories and older black-and-white material is your cup of tea.

The other Mizoguchi film was a different beast alltogether. Oyû-sama is a drama set in the fifties, with the main protagonists being Shinnosuke, Oyû, the woman he falls in love with, and Shizu, the woman he is supposed to marry. We are talking arranged marriage, but matters are complicated by the fact that Oyû and Shizu are like sisters, Oyû being a widow after a marriage into Shizu’s family. Triangle drama ensues, and the resulting competition in self-sacrifice is a pain to watch; you really get annoyed at the characters. Not to say that the film doesn’t have a certain interest despite this, or perhaps due to it.

But the films don’t end here. On tuesday I saw my second Belgian film, and it was a rather enjoyable one. C’est Arrivé Près de chez Vous has the only slightly absurd premise of a film team following a thieving serial killer and hitman around on the job, so to speak. This hitman is a pleasant character with thoughts on all aspects of society, that he shares with the camera. While perhaps offing an old granny by shouting in her ear, so that she gets a heart attack. Which happens to be only one of countless random and pointless killings.

The film is made in the way of a mockumentary, so the view is always through the fimteam’s camera – a tightness of concept which adds much to the film, and leads to some amusing plot twists. As for the plot, it can be said that this is one of the more nihilistic movies I’ve seen. Ever. I’m pressed to come up with a straight comparision, but certain elements remind me of American Psycho. This is however siller, grittier and considerably more gonzo. I warmly recommend it with the usual disclaimers.

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