Man Bites Dog (1992)

Directed by Rémy Belvaux

Starring Benoît Poelvoorde

Since out last film took place in Belgium, why not a Belgian film?  I revisited this film recently while preparing for a presentation on the subjective camera and it’s uses in film. In the past, I’ve found Man Bites Dog to be an inspirational film for me, one that I actually referenced for some comedic scenes in a children’s animated movie, Surf’s Up.

The film follows a fictitious documentary crew as they record the daily events of an amiable, erudite serial killer. Sometimes funny, sometimes scary, often times repellant, the film is decidedly original. The immersive nature of the camera work and natural acting on the part of Poelvoorde, draws the viewer into the strange world of the protagonist and eventually the film crew as well.

As the film progresses, the documentary crew becomes more and more involved in the killings and two members are coincidentally killed. We used this idea in Surf’s Up when we had the camera crew following a chicken hunted by cannibal penguins get hit with darts and spears. A little morbid for an animated movie about surfing penguins, but it got a few laughs and a nod for technical application.

It’s a student film on a shoestring budget, but it will draw you in and rivet you to your seat. Not for the squemish, this film is definitely a horror movie, but one with some interesting reflections on the media and modern society.

Walkabout (1971)

Directed by Nicolas Roeg

Starring Jenny Agutter, Luc Roeg

Well it looks like it’s going to be Down Under week on My Queue as the slate of films I have planned all come from Austrailia or New Zealand. We’ll start out with one of my favorites, brought to my attention again because it’s scheduled for a Blu-Ray Criterion re-release. And naturally, that made me immediately think about Jenny Agutter. Anyone who’s seen this movie, Logan’s Run, or an American Werewolf in London is gonna know what I’m talking about.

She fine.

Anyway, Walkabout follows the journey of two children who are stranded in the Austrailian wilderness by their deranged father. They befriend an Aboriginal boy who teaches them how to survive in the wilderness and leads them to an abandoned farm house. He tries to court the girl through dance, but when she doesn’t understand his meaning, wanders off and disappears, only to be found later dead, hanging from a tree. Eventually the two children find rescue, but secretly long for their simple days of survival in the wild.

Walkabout is lyrical and ingeniously edited, Roeg juxtaposing life among nature with shots of life in civilization demonstrating the similarities and disparities between the two. It is cinematically gorgeous and Agutter is captivating to watch.

Other Notable Films by this Director: The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)

Happiness (1998)

Directed by Todd Solondz

Starring Jane Adams, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jon Lovitz, Dylan Baker, Lara Flynn Boyle, Justin Elvin, Cynthia Stevenson, Lila Glantzman-Leib, Gerry Becker, Rufus Read, Louise Lasser, Ben Gazzara, Camryn Manheim, Arthur J. Nascarella, Molly Shannon, Ann Harada, Douglas McGrath

This movie might as well be called, “Fucked Up,” cause that’s exactly what it is. Todd Solondz takes an unflinching look at the thin contented vineer we hold up to the public, then rips it away and shows all the dirt and ugliness we keep secret, all the need driven human behavior underneath. It’s so disturbing and funny, because you can believe it being true.

Happiness starts out with a date gone horribly wrong. Joy breaks up with Andy (Lovitz) which sparks a public outburst later leading to Andy’s suicide later in the film. Joy’s older sister Trish is in what seems to be the perfect relationship, but she’s actually married to a pederast (Baker) that masturbates to Teen Beat in parking lots in the back seat of his car. Oldest sister Helen is aloof and successful, but unable to find an emotional connection with the men she dates. Intrigued by her stalking neighbor, she invites him over and finds the fantasy much more tolerable than the reality. That being a fat, greasy, pervert who jerks off on the back of postcards and sticks them to his wall.

Happiness is controversial in its irony and thematic exploration of taboo societal issues. Namely Baker’s creepy portrayal as the secret pedophile, which is a brave three-dimensional performance, but nonetheless disturbing. What makes the film so watchable and memorable though, is the director shows that everyone is flawed, everyone unhappy no matter their station in life. Something about that is honest and yet deeply depressing at the same time. Whatever the case, it’s fucking funny.

Other Notable Films by this Director: Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995), Storytelling (2001)

Couldn’t find the trailer, but here’s a clip to prepare you:

Les Diaboliques (1954)

Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot

Starring Simone Signoret, Véra Clouzot

What attracted me to this movie was a review I read somewhere that called Les Diaboliques, “the greatest Alfred Hitchcock movie never made,” and wow, does it feel like one. Rumors abound that Hitchcock lost out on the right to the novel by a matter of hours. Though Clouzot lends his own directorial style and executes some truly scary and creepy moments that still hold up to scrutiny today.

A brutal headmaster of a provincial boarding school terrorizes his wife and mistress to the point where the two conspire to kill him. They drown him and dump his body in the school pool only to find the next day the body is missing! Tense days pass until signs start to point to the headmaster moving about the campus. A haunting seqeunce punctuates the climax of the film, but I’m not going to ruin it for you.

I was torn between reviewing this Clouzot film and Wages of Fear, but I’ll tackle that one later, for it warrants its own review. Much better than the Sharon Stone remake, this classic horror film is not to be missed.

Other Notable Films by this Director: Wages of Fear (1953)

Insomnia (1997)

Director: Erik Skjoldbjærg

Starring: Stellan Skarsgard

Having an obsession with film noir out of college, I immediately gravitated toward Insomina, when I heard the director’s aim was to turn the genre on its head. It was this visual style, using pervasive light in a disorienting and ubitiquitous manner, combined with the powerful performance by Stellan Skarsgard that cemented this film in my subconcious.

Being a pilot when I saw this film, I was all too familiar with the phenomena of insomnia, traveling through multiple time zones every day, never being able to convince your body and mind when night and day were falling. My travels also frequently took me to the Scandanavian countries, so I could relate to the way the constant sunlight wreaked havoc on the senses of the lead character in the film. The director magically captured this experience and combined it with a tense thriller in a completely unique way.

Unlike the remake by Christopher Nolan, the original’s protagonist is far less likable and in turn more watchable. The less sleep he gets, the deeper a hole he sinks into. Accidentally killing his partner while investigating a serial killer in the Norweigian Artic, detective Jonas Engstrom, decides to cover up his mistake by blaming the murder on the killer. But his plan quickly unravels with his psyche, the less sleep he gets, and the more crimes he commits in an attempt to assuage his ever increasing guilt.

Skarsgard’s best performance to date in my opinion, this relentlessly bright film is at the same time, one of the darkest I’ve ever seen.

Other Notable Films by this Director: Prozac Nation (2001)

Don’t get this mixed up with the American version, they’re as different as night and day…see what I did there?

The Third Man (1949)

Director: Carol Reed

Starring: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten

Awards: BFI Best British Film of the 20th Century (1999)

Quite simply, my favorite film. Out of work, novel writer Holly Martins arrives in war-torn Vienna looking for a job, only to find his only friend, Henry Lime dead. Upon investigating further, Holly comes to find that his friend was not the stand-up citizen he assumed, rather a ruthless black market smuggler, who staged his own death to escape the authorities.

Shot with stark contrasting expressionistic lighting, forced perspective, and signature dutched angles, this film stands the test of time as having a technical style all its own. The script is tight and smart, the dialogue captivating, especially the additions to Greene’s script by a young Orson Welles. The locations are gritty and believable, having captured a post WWII Vienna that will never exist again.

Also to note is the unqiue score all played on an instrument called the zither by Anton Karas. From the poster hanging in my living room, “He’ll have you in a dither with his zither!”

Don’t miss one of the greatest on-screen villain performances in cinema history.

Other Notable Films by this Director: The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965), Mutiny on the Bounty (1962)

While the original trailer is out there, I thought the remade TCM trailer more engaging for modern audiences:

Le Circle Rouge (1970)

Director: Jean-Pierre Meville

Starring: Alain Delon, Bourvil, Yves Montand

Another great French jewel heist film, this one a good 15 years after Rififi and following in its greatness. It’s The Defiant Ones meets Heat, when a murderer on the run hides in the trunk of a recently released convict’s getaway car. Both men are dangerous and mercilessly calculating, nothing to lose, they band together to pull off an ambitious jewel heist. The action is sudden and violent and the story is always tense.

Several scenes stand out, one a jarring introduction to an alcoholic marksman at the tail end of some horrific withdrawal induced hallucinations. Over and over, he is covered by waves of spiders, snakes, and rats, unable to scream, the actor is so terrified. The 30 minute heist scene, like Rififi, is without sound or dialogue, but just as tense and intriguing. Also notable are the fancy up-scale brothel dance numbers. The style and fashion are remarkably dramatic and memorable.

Other Notable Films by this Director: Le Samorai (1967)