Monday, November 26, 2007

Innocence and Experience

The way Lucile Hadzihalilovic's Innocence (2004) is made shows a chilly kind of French discipline, which exaggerates the fact that it doesn't explain anything to the viewer. This discipline is on display from frame one, and the first five minutes of the film are a masterclass in menacing ambiguity. Set in a girl's school surrounded by a wall with no gate and staffed with adults who seem more servants than chaperones, Innocence posits a kind of prepubescent idyll. But why does our protagonist arrive at the school in a child's coffin? I'm classifying this as a horror movie, but it doesn't really fit comfortably in a pigeonhole. There's no violence in the movie, after all, but that menace that hangs over the film is unforgettable.

Anyone who doesn't know the intended direction of George Romero's zombie movies can be forgiven for looking at Andrew Currie's Fido (2006) and wondering where the hell that came from. Romero had intended to steer his series towards a new society where zombies are controlled by enclaves of humans, used as servants, and even used to wage wars. Fido is a logical extension of that, presenting a post-zombie world in which zombies are kept as pets. This is what you might get if you crossed Lassie (Timmy's in trouble! Go get help, Fido) with Land of the Dead and salted it with a generous helping of Douglas Sirk for good measure. Include a generous helping of good actors, including Carrie Anne Moss, Billy Connoly, Dylan Baker, and Tim Blake Nelson, and you have a recipe for a cult classic, right? Well, in theory, I suppose. It's all well and good to include a Sirkian subtext of frustrated sexuality in a stifling fifties sitcom world, but it's quite another to lace the entire movie with a not so subtle undercurrent of necrophilia. It makes for a creepy viewing experience. And not creepy in a good way. Plus, it's not as funny as the premise would suggest. It's not awful, but it's a misfire none the less.

Speaking of misfires, has it really been twenty years since Paul Verhoeven came to Hollywood? Jesus, what a waste. That waste is highlighted in his first film in six years (his last was the nigh-unwatchable Hollow Man), for which the director returned to his native Holland. Black Book (2006) shows why Verhoeven mattered in the first place, all the while giving license to the excesses that led him so far astray. The good stuff: Carice Van Houten is going to be a major star. Mark my words. She's the actress Verhoeven always wanted (in Sharon Stone or Renée Soutendijk) but never had before now. There's also a certain playfullness in the way the director and screenwriter Gerard Soeteman booby-trap the cliches of the WWII thriller, culminating in a bitterly ironic twist of the tail at the end. I mean, I can hear Verhoeven chuckling at the very notion that the Nazis could be heroic and that the resistance could be villainous (and overtly anti-Semetic). That's a perilous knife's edge that the film walks, especially given that the movie starts with the massacre of a boat full of Jews who have been betrayed to the SS. But, Verhoeven being Verhoeven, he can't resist a scene in which van Houten brushes her pubic hair with peroxide to dye it blonde. Nor can he resist the excessive defilement of his heroine when she's tormented as a Nazi collaborator. That all said, I'll give him props. This movie holds one's attention from scene to scene, and the film's running time unspools in a relative blink. I see that Verhoeven is heading back to Hollywood. Ah, well...

1 comment:

DeAnna said...

I haven't visited this blog in a while and wow, a post where you talk about 2 of my favorites that I saw last year!

I really enjoyed Innocence. Fascinating movie. Seems I also watched a lot of the commentaries included, which is something I rarely do. I think it was really a wonderful film about childhood and the tone, while feeling nearly like a horror movie, I think punctuates the experience of being a child. the world was so much more mysterious then when adults moved in a world that was separate and sometimes a little scary. Nifty idea for a movie really.

And Black Book! What a blast of a movie. One of the benefits of being a SIFF member is that I get invited to free movies about once a month or so. This was one of those. I probably would have skipped it in the theater, but wow, it was so fun.