Devil Come To Hell And Stay Where You Belong:
The tortured syntax of that title should let you know you're in Arthouse territory with this film from Massimilian and Nina Breeder, a married Italian couple filming their cross-country trip through the USA. This is a truly aggressive arthouse film, one that challenges viewers at every turn. In fact the movie is so challenging and ambiguous it's often unclear as to whether it's just a big put-on. If it weren't frequently so rapturously gorgeous it would be more trouble than it's worth.
Quite the exemplar of experimental narrative, Devil barely has a plot; the couple decides to hit the road across the good old U. S. of A. The DVD box tells us they're heading to California, though I can't quite recall. For mysterious and shocking reasons, their course ultimately changes. Meanwhile, they drive a lot, have sex every now and again, wander around deserted landscapes with inexplicable angst, and photograph road-kill. Dialogue is almost totally absent, though when present is mostly inaudible or essentially meaningless. If you've taken the challenge of watching arthouse movies, you can handle this, though even those experienced might struggle with exasperation.
No instance of weirdness is unexplored, from rambling, alienating narrative to disturbing lighting. Most curious seems to be the way the weirdness deliberately leaks into the DVD product itself. Dialog is mixed so deliberately low it's quite quixotic, navigation screens are painfully low-key, and the image is vertically compressed, (unless my gear just couldn't handle it, man) making the couple appear unnaturally skinny - which was probably the intent. Also, chapter breaks have been constructed so that when one chapter switches to the next, the DVD stops and spins up again, like when shifting from previews to the main menu. Seamless it isn't, though it is definitely artsy.
But what is the purpose behind the art? Why the tension between the cramped, dark environments of the Breeder's motel choices and the glowing landscape scenes, which form the fantastic backbone of the movie? And what's up with the road-kill? For a while, as the couple moves west, it seems like road-kill becomes more desiccated. Is it the death of the American Dream? Maybe not, since the last bit of road-kill is a pretty fresh bird. Chalk it up to more ambiguity, or something I'm missing.
Though Devil's arthouse mannerisms can become infuriating, it's still stunningly beautiful much of the time, and a good film for heavy heads who want to literally space out for 90 minutes to languid, mesmerizing imagery. At times seeming to ape Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi - especially when those repetitive woodwinds kick in - Devil nonetheless earns its own place in the pantheon of art films that most people hate, but in which those with patience will find a few nuggets of weird gold.
As previously mentioned, this 16 x 9 widescreen presentation doesn't appear to agree with my set (nor does the bonus short film included in the extras). Is it an artistic choice to squeeze the image in from the sides, or an authoring error, or is my set up just totally jacked? I'm praying it's an artistic choice. Otherwise, there are a few other curious things to note, all of which might also be intentional, such as the frequently too-dark, murky image that appears to be underlit. Heavy digital noise reduction also crops up on occasion, causing the picture to swim like a fish, and enjoy healthy instances of motion blur to boot. Those gorgeous landscapes look nice, but expect a weird, often antagonistic image.
Digital Stereo Audio presents music and hypnotic incidental noise forthrightly and with subtle, tasteful stereo placement. Dialog is keep at a low, mysterious volume, which may drive you crazy.
A similarly obtuse ten-minute film, The Furnace probably works better for what the Breeders hope to accomplish than the feature itself. Liner notes feature a five-page Interview with the couple, in English and French, and an onscreen, four-page text Biography that reveals an interesting tidbit about the Breeders - from two different families, they were simultaneously orphaned when their sets of parents were killed in an avalanche, then adopted at the age of four by a single family. They married in 2008.
Arthouse veterans will find much to enjoy and much to slap forehead over in this alternately beautiful and irritating minimalist road movie. Nothing much happens, but a lot of it sucks you in and zonks you like a super-powered, sleepy sunray - complete with lulling music and stunning landscape imagery. If only the human element weren't so aggravating, super-hip and mysterious. And what's up with the DVD itself, apparently almost crippled by stylistic quirks? Rent It, for some brave arthouse kicks, but wear a helmet.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com