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Talking Out of Frame

Alain Resnais, David Bowie, and Ingmar Bergman

Talking Out of Frame:

Art House Cinema on DVD

Vol. 13: November 2010 Edition
compiled by Casey Burchby

New at the Art House Cinema
(Click on the links to read the full review.)

We lead off this month's review of art house releases on DVD and Blu-Ray with two titles from Oscilloscope Laboratories. Founded by the Beastie Boys' Adam Yauch as the band's recording studio, Oscilloscope has recently become a leading distributor of independent films in theaters and on disc. Their selections are varied, idiosyncratic, and generally of high quality. Oscilloscope's DVD packages reflect a considered, thoughtful approach to putting movies on disc. With the acclaimed Howl in theaters now, and the macabre Santa story Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale on its way over the holidays, even the most jaded cinephile will want to keep an eye on forthcoming releases from Oscilloscope Laboratories.

As moviegoers, we are lucky to find one or two small, personal, under-the-radar releases each year. In 2010, one such title is Oscilloscope's Kisses, from Irish writer-director Lance Daly. Daly's short feature film is a miniature jewel that sparkles with effective moods and situations, anchored by two remarkably intuitive performances by pre-teen, non-professional lead actors. In an arc that takes us from the depressed working-class outskirts of Dublin, down the River Liffey into a fable-like vision of the city itself, Daly's film recreates the unmistakable and easily-forgotten sensation of what it feels like to be a child experiencing that first taste of freedom in a world that discovered to be larger than ever before imagined - a place where anything can happen.

Dylan (Shane Curry) and Kylie (Kelly O'Neill) are next-door neighbors in a run-down suburb. One day, they escape their abusive families and leap aboard a small riverboat, whose pilot takes them all the way to Dublin. On top of the city's unfamiliarity to Dylan and Kylie, it's Christmastime, making Dublin a sheer wonderland, alight with festivity. The two go to the mall, buy clothes, and go ice skating. Still, they can't escape the city's underbelly: at one point, after unsuccessfully searching for Dylan's older brother, they are pursued by adult male predators. The next morning, their options seem extremely limited, in stark contrast to the wild possibility of the previous evening.

Kisses is shot in widescreen; composition is excellent. The opening and closing sequences (set in Dylan and Kylie's ugly neighborhood) are shot in black and white. The slow fade into and out of color as the duo enter and leave Dublin is almost unnoticeable. These technical choices are next to nothing, however, when it comes to the notoriously difficult business of working with child actors. Daly was either extraordinarily lucky, or he was wise enough to cast young actors whose personalities melded ideally with those of the characters. Maybe it was some of both. The end result is a pair of on-the-nose performances that effortlessly create distinctive characters. Curry's Dylan is an inward, prematurely hardened kid who barely emotes at all, while as Kylie, O'Neill is voluble, emphatic, and adventurous. They are well-matched opposites whose mutual affection grows as the story progresses. Yet by the film's end we begin to sense that these two aren't exactly "meant" for each other. They are two very young people who have shared an important moment, but who will ultimately grow up pointed in different directions, despite their having experienced something unforgettable together.

Also from Oscilloscope is the recently rediscovered Jules Dassin comedy-drama, The Law, from 1959 and starring Gina Lollobrigida. Boasting wonderful restoration work, the disc received an enthusiastic endorsement from Jamie S. Rich:

"Jules Dassin's 1959 French-Italian co-production The Law (La Loi) is a flirty and fun tornado of small-town scandal. [The] ex-pat director's adaptation of a Roger Vailland novel was apparently too hot for the censors upon its release, relegating it to obscurity amongst the filmmaker's resume.

"The heroine of The Law is Marietta (Lollobrigida). Marietta and her mother and two sisters live with Don Cesare, and are essentially his harem. He currently sleeps with her older sister, but Marietta is next to be called into his bed when he grows bored with her sibling--just as it was with their mother and her eldest daughter before them. The Law is [also] a story of how social structures are governed, showing us how life in the town is dictated by two men--the Godfather-like Don Cesare (Pierre Brasseur), who has all the political and financial power, and the gangster Matteo Brigante (Yves Montand, Z), the muscle on the streets. 'The Law' is also a drinking game that was popular in Southern Italy, and its strange rules mimic the way everything else is run.

"Jules Dassin's script is an extremely agile piece of writing. He never gets overburdened by all this story, nor does he ever shy away from the heat. Visually, he and cinematographer Otello Martelli (La strada) make use of the tall buildings and winding streets of Porto Manacore to give the audience the feeling of traveling through a maze. Built on a hillside, the village has lots of stairs and many levels, and it's easy to get lost. Try to map out which way Marietta is going as you watch The Law and see if you can keep up.

"The Law is a real narrative tour-de-force, full of rich characters and surprising script developments. The actors all attack their roles with relish, and Dassin was at the height of his powers when constructing his mise-en-scene. The Law truly deserves the description 'lost classic.' Jules Dassin's 1958 story of sex, crime, and social mores is a wonderfully salacious and fascinating piece of work."

Chris Neilson tackled a new box set of films by acclaimed Czech filmmaker FrantiÅ¡ek Vlácil, available from UK distributor Second Run. "In 1998, Czech film critics named FrantiÅ¡ek Vlácil's 1967 masterpiece Marketa Lazarová the greatest Czech film of all time, but it's still not available on DVD in North America. North American viewers with region-free DVD players can turn to the United Kingdom's premiere boutique art house label Second Run. Marketa Lazarová is now available in an inexpensive box set along with FrantiÅ¡ek Vlácil's 1968 follow-up The Valley of the Bees (Údolívcel), and his competent though lesser Adelheid (1970), together with an exclusive bonus DVD of Tomás Hejtmánek's 2003 feature-length tribute to Vlácil entitled Sentiment.

"Marketa Lazarová and The Valley of the Bees are both set in medieval Bohemia, in what is now the Czech Republic. Inspired by Vladislav Vancura's novelization of an actual mid-13th century feud between two landed families, Marketa Lazarová constitutes perhaps the most seemingly authentic depiction of medieval Europe ever to appear on film. Based on meticulous research, the sets, costumes, and props were constructed using authentically-historic methods and materials, the cast was compelled to live on set and essentially in-character during the two-year shoot, and the script and cinematography emphasized the thoroughly distinct medieval worldview of its characters. Collectively, these efforts created an environment both so seemingly authentic as to forever ruin the supposed realism of nearly any other historic film, and so genuinely alien from the modern world as to be frightening in its depiction of the harshness of Dark Ages.

"Marketa Lazarová and The Valley of the Bees are each worth the price of admission, while Adelheid and Sentiment are both certainly lesser but not without their own merit."

From MPI Home Video comes a disturbing but incisive look at social media and the next generation of psychopaths; Preston Jones reviewed Antonio Campos' Afterschool: "Filmmakers could do worse than emulating Stanley Kubrick or Gus Van Sant right out of the gate. Both directors (and a dash of provocateur Larry Clark) are a clear influence upon writer/director Antonio Campos, whose unsettling debut Afterschool relies heavily upon a chilly, dispassionate tone, glacial pacing and a clinical style. This approach befits a story about a teenaged boarding school student, Robert (Ezra Miller), who's something of a social outcast. He spends his days wallowing in some of the roughest stuff the Internet has to offer -- graphic porn, grim clips of violence -- and generally avoiding his Bryton Academy classmates.

"Afterschool lingers after the credits roll, in part because Campos views his protagonist dispassionately. He offers no answers to the many questions raised and intimates that an entire generation, weaned on Facebook, YouTube and Tumblr, may be heading down a very similar, psychologically destructive path.

"Although cinephiles will undoubtedly be distracted by Campos's vigorous assimilation of various influences, but look past the homage to see what the filmmaker has truly wrought: a frightening, wholly plausible glimpse of what our web-addled world may have in store. Afterschool is a ferociously accomplished debut, one marking Campos as a genuine cinematic talent worth keeping an eye on."

The world of art dealers, gallerists, collectors, and self-appointed experts receives a well-deserved send-up in the rambunctious Boogie Woogie, which Brian Orndorf found amusing if imperfect: "Boogie Woogie doesn't know if it's here to satirize or indict the modern art scene, but it certainly loves to remain in the sinister gray area it creates. A comedic look at the whirlwind nature of the art world, the film is only sporadically humorous, faring better as a perceptive jab at the egos, libidos, and nitwit audacity of a subculture that's founded in handcrafted miracles, yet prides itself on excesses of status and power.

"In London, the war of art is waged on a daily basis, with gallery owners (including Danny Huston), underlings (Heather Graham), collectors (Gillian Anderson and Stellan Skarsgard), artists (Jamie Winstone), schemers (Simon McBurney), wannabes (Alan Cummings), and observers (Amanda Seyfred) out to make a name for themselves within a frighteningly competitive, self-absorbed business.

"A hurried ensemble piece seizing fragments of characterization over a unified plot, Boogie Woogie retains a breezy, casual feel from director Duncan Ward, working from a screenplay by Danny Moynihan, who adapts from his own novel. This is a tale of pure amorality, unleashing a community of corrupt individuals inside an art world that rewards betrayal, profiting from agony. The satiric atmosphere of Boogie Woogie is pungent, but the digs are earned, with the narrative taking a plunge in these icy, shark-infested waters to survey the backstabbing soullessness that helps to keep the movement scurrying along."

Chris Neilson took a look at Michael Pilz' extraordinarily ambitious (and long) Himmel und Erde, a five-hour "ethnography of the Austrian alpine village of St. Anna. Himmel und Erde, translatable as Heaven and Earth, was recorded between 1979 and 1982. The documentary invites the viewer to contemplate the disruptive effects of technology on economic and social ties through circumscribed vignettes of village life which are oft repeated either as recycled footage or variations on a theme. The repeated vignettes explore the village school and schoolchildren, the farm and farm life, logging and road building, and the social life of the tavern and church.

"'In these modern times not everything is great,' says one farmer, who like every other local farmer must also find supplementary non-farm work to support the family. With advances in farm machinery and consequential decreases in the price of farm products, hillside family farms are too small to meet farm expenses, yet the high costs of hillside farming and the social conventions of family farming blunt the consolidation of the small tracts. The result is a slow dissolution of an agrarian way of life that accreted over centuries -- farmer's sons grow up to be mechanics and electricians, and neighbors leave.

"Pilz's methods are highly affected. In addition to the repetition of circumscribed vignettes described above, Pilz's frequent narration tends towards metaphysical poetics. The people of St. Anna are not as important as individuals as they are as abstracted physical manifestations of the ideas he attempts to convey through his poetic narration. Though Pilz may not have had a role in the DVD subtitling (but I strongly suspect he did), his devaluing of the subjects as individuals comes through clearly in how the documentary is subtitled. Although every word of Pilz's narration is subtitled, the degree to which the words of the villagers are subtitled varies in direct proportion to how well those words serves Pilz's purposes. For example, school reports and economic summaries selected by Pilz to be read by the villagers are nearly fully subtitled. Similarly, the extemporaneous answers to Pilz's questions are mostly subtitled, but dialogue between the villagers rarely earns a subtitle, presumably because such small talk doesn't advance the filmmaker's objective."

The little-seen Good is out on DVD from National Entertainment Media. The film is set during the rise of the Nazi party in Germany and stars Viggo Mortensen, Jason Isaacs, and Mark Strong. How this film escaped wider theatrical distribution is a real head-scratcher. Preston Jones summarizes its themes succinctly: "When does honoring one's country become blind allegiance to evil? That's just one of many provocative questions raised by Good, a cinematic adaptation of the late British playwright C.P. Taylor's 1981 play. Effectively a character study of professor John Halder (Viggo Mortensen), who finds himself slowly assimilated into the ranks of the Nazis, Good traces the ascent of the Nazi Party in Germany in the late 1930s, as an otherwise astute intellectual is steadily seduced by the power and prestige of the nascent National Socialist movement and his shocking lack of moral outrage.

"It must've been sorely tempting for screenwriter John Wrathall and director Vicente Amorim to draw parallels to contemporary society, particularly America in the wake of 9/11, and its tendency to drift toward us-vs.-them mentalities. Yet, the film shies away from overplaying its hand and is content to let the metaphors breathe. Good flits back and forth in time, from 1933 and the heady days of Halder's debut as a serious thinker and novelist to 1938, with the rise of Nazism and the persecution of Jews, including Halder's good friend, Maurice Gluckstein (Jason Isaacs, who also helped produce the film).

"The cast, which includes Mark Strong as a high-ranking Nazi official, is uniformly great. Good functions primarily as a showcase for Mortensen, who has, by now, perfected this sort of character, a smart man with a hesitation to do the right thing until it is too late.

"As the camera slowly pulls back, during Good's horrifying finale, the full impact of Halder's inaction and (willful?) blindness is brought to bear. The playwright Taylor and director Amorim make it clear: Standing idly by while any country embarks upon a path of assured destruction will only destroy one's soul. It's a chilling and timely message -- it was not so long ago that Americans were marching in the streets in a vain attempt to influence national war-time policy -- and one which allows Good to linger long after its final frames fade. "

A master of the New Wave era returns at age 88 with a typically baffling, beautiful creations. In Alain Resnais' Wild Grass (Les Herbesfolles), many things happen that are impossible to describe. Resnais' characters speak, make choices, and interact with one another in ways that at first seems "normal." But the tension that creeps under the surface, and the filmmaker's visual choices - among other factors - subtly alter the plot and dialogue in wholly unexpected ways, placing attempts at gathering meaning and significance tantalizingly beyond arm's reach. I do not suggest that Resnais' films are in any way devoid of tangible content, but at least in the instance of Wild Grass, that content is only partially accessible to this writer. Wild Grass is rich in incident, visual information, oblique thematic gestures, obfuscatory dialogue, and hard left turns against the grain of expectation.

First, a woman named Marguerite Muir (Sabine Azéma) has her purse snatched outside a Marc Jacobs in Paris. Next, Georges Palet (André Dussollier) finds Marguerite's discarded wallet in a parking garage. Palet, a married man who lives with a dark and undisclosed secret, seeks to return the wallet personally to Marguerite. When she proves elusive, Palet leaves it with the police. Marguerite retrieves the wallet from the police and then feels compelled to thank Palet, which leads to a series of awkward phone calls and attempts at communication. Palet finds himself revealing some of his deepest desires, including his passion for airplanes; as an amateur pilot, Marguerite eventually agrees to take him up in her small plane. By this point, Palet's wife (Anne Consigny) and Marguerite's friend Josepha (Emmanuelle Devos) have been drawn into this odd relationship, which has gone through a number of iterations before finally achieving a strained mutual understanding.

Wild Grass moves in the slow but irresistible manner of a lava flow, and the film's depiction of elemental human desires suggests the bubbling action of submerged primordial impulses. Color is of immense importance, varying from neutral earth tones to crazily gaudy neons; the production design is meticulous and forceful in this regard. The loving, fluid widescreen camerawork of the great Éric Gautier and a remarkably graceful editorial style (thanks to regular Renais and Polanski collaborator Hervé de Luze) merge in some striking imagery, particularly during the film's final sequence, which concludes with a pulse-pounding series of pans and cuts across an alien, barren landscape before delivering a final blow with one of the most jaw-dropping lines of dialogue of all time.

Jamie S. Rich wrote about the elegant I Am Love, starring the sublime Tilda Swinton in another outstanding performance: "Rarely do the opening moments of a movie tell us so much in regards to what a picture is about. After a brief glimpse of a clandestine make-out session between two of I Am Love's younger characters, writer/director Luca Guadagnino cuts to a birthday party for an old man, Edoardo Recchi Sr. (Gabriele Ferzetti), the patriarch of the Recchi Family. The grandfather is opening a present from his granddaughter, Elisabetta (Alba Rohrwacher), and her mother, Emma (Tilda Swinton), seizes the ribbon off the gift and wraps it around her hand. It is a small gesture that reveals what kind of character she is: she maintains the family order, everything must be contained and controlled. Likewise, the old man's reaction to the gift shows us there is a conflict between young and old, between change and tradition.

"I Am Love is a grown-up melodrama. It is about many things, but most of them boil down to divisions: divisions between generations, divisions between classes, and most important, the division between our desires and our actual lives. The movie examines lives that have become stagnant and explores how some blossom by embracing change, and others flounder because they hold too tight to things they should let go of.

"I Am Love is a beautifully shot, marvelously acted melodrama. Guadagnino has created a layered story of one family's divisions and the instability caused when the lines are redrawn. The center of the drama is Emma, played with a stunning emotional range by Tilda Swinton, who discovers new love and a renewed sense of self-worth in the arms of an understanding young man. Clashes between tradition, class, and social expectation inform the larger narrative, and though the film eventually goes overboard, I Am Love is a rich meal."

Apropos of one of 2010's biggest critical hits, Jason Bailey asks, "Is there a more underrated director than Nicole Holofcener? Since her 1996 breakthrough film Walking and Talking, she's written and directed a steady stream of witty, smart, female-friendly indie comedies, pulling terrific performances out of Frances McDormand, Jennifer Aniston, Emily Mortimer, and her cinematic alter ego, the DeNiro to her Scorsese, the great Catherine Keener.

"Her new picture, Please Give, begins (improbably enough) with an opening credit montage featuring tight close-ups of women getting mammograms. Those mammograms are administered by Rebecca (Rebecca Hall), whose life consists primarily of working and taking care of her elderly grandmother Andra (Ann Guilbert). Rebecca's sister Mary (Amanda Peet) sometimes helps out as well, but she's mostly off in her own orbit. In the apartment next door, we find Kate (Catherine Keener) and Alex (Oliver Platt), an upscale couple with a teenage daughter (Sarah Steele) and a furniture boutique, where they resell vintage items at a high mark-up, usually bought for a song from adult offspring of the recently deceased. Kate doesn't feel right about taking advantage of people, but isn't quite sure what exactly to do about it, aside from handing out money to the homeless people in front of her building (which she hopes gives her some kind of karmic balance).

"Holofcener's screenplay uncoils slowly and deliberately--it's smart, low-key, and character driven. It carefully establishes the specific personalities in the opening scenes, then slyly slams them into each other to see what happens. The opening scenes are good, but the film doesn't really pop to life until it puts its six primary characters into the room together, and lets them go to work on each other. They get together for Andra's 91st birthday party, and the dinner is funny and awkward--both, in tandem and independently of each other (too often, the comedy of awkwardness is long on the awkward and short on the comedy, but this scene does both). These are earned laughs, and Holofcener piles them up, one banging right into the next."

Julio Medem's controversial and memorable Sex and Lucia receives new life on Blu-ray from Palm Pictures. Thomas Spurlin enjoyed the film, but not without a few considered reservations: "Billowing music and fuzzy digital typeface for the title credits accompany a swim along the ocean floor at the beginning of Sex and Lucía (Lucía y el sexo). It's an odd, mysterious juxtaposition that familiarizes its audience with a bristly behavior that'll continue throughout Julio Medem's Goya Award-winning film, one that dips its toes into the waters of sexual allure while venturing into the mind of a struggling writer. And yes, there's plenty of carnal activity to be seen, handled with a steamy, almost uncomfortable passion that breeches on voyeurism as its grips our attention.

"Lucía (Paz Vega) receives a troubling call from her forlorn boyfriend Lorenzo (TristánUlloa) -- where he cryptically reflects on the secrets of an island trip he took -- that sends her into a panic. After arriving at his empty apartment, finding only a suicide note, Lucía travels towards the island he talked about. The story then jumps back, and Lorenzo and Lucía jump into their amorous affair. Julio Medem's film begins telling the story of their mojo-driven romance through expressive, lurid scenes of love-making and conversations about their love-making, shown as they trade nude Polaroids of one another, strip for each other, and discuss the best sex that Lorenzo's ever. That level of intimacy breathes raw life into the front portion of Sex and Lucía, a heaving invigoration for the senses that's made intriguing on varied levels with the knowledge of what's to come between the lovers -- heightened further when Lorenzo's secrets begin to shape the picture's dramatic poise.

"Thankfully, Sex and Lucía reveals that the realism and psychosis of sex simply aren't the point. Conflicted novelist Lorenzo begins to write again, but when the film's characters are symbolically transposed into the images that Lorenzo paints with his words, and the drama arises around Lorenzo's past, Medem's storytelling fights against implausible plot devices that detract from the sincere gravity Lorenzo and Lucía generate early on. An anchor can thankfully still be found in [Lucia], played by Paz Vega with insatiable abandon both in and out of the bedroom. Though chaotic in its connect-the-dots inanity and scatterbrained with unrealized cathartic ideas, it still rewards its audience in an odd way as it hits expected points of intrigue with a stringent level of cinematic craftsmanship."

As always, the folks at Criterion have offered several new titles over the last month, two of which were released on DVD and Blu-ray for the first time. Jamie S. Rich took a look at them both, beginning with one of Ingmar Bergman's less-famous masterworks: "The Magician is one of those movies where nothing is as it seems, everything has two explanations, and the very notion of the 'knowable' is called into question. Its knotted narrative is full of tricks and surprises, some obvious and others not so much, and by the end, Bergman has pulled off his own cinematic magic trick, leaving the audience wondering just which of his flickering illusions to believe.

"The Magician opens in a Swedish forest somewhere near the tail end of the industrial age. We move in on a traveling sideshow led by one Dr. Vogler (Max von Sydow). Tall, dark, and bearded, Vogler is an imposing figure; he is also mute. Amongst his group are the master of ceremonies Tubal (Ake Fridell), Vogler's grandmother (Naima Wifstrand), the androgynous Mr. Aman (Ingrid Thulin), and the carriage driver, Simson (Lars Ekborg). We are given multiple explanations as to what this band of performers does. They regularly insist on their own lack of veracity--they do tricks for show, nothing more. Or do they?

"In the woods, the troupe finds an ailing actor (Bengt Ekerot). They take him in their carriage, and he dies before the group reaches civilization. They take the body to the police, but find they are in trouble for other infractions. The performers are hauled before a tribunal of three. They demand Vogler and his people account for themselves, and even push for a demonstration of the Doc's powers.

"There is a subtle comment on class here: the more common folk believe in religion and magic, the more affluent and educated do not. Yet, as Bergman holds back the curtain and shows us things that defy rational explanation, who are we to side with? There is a lot to digest in The Magician. All the characters are dealt with before the finale, all the subplots wrapped up, and together they create a dramatic tapestry that is fun to pick apart and analyze. Emphasis on fun. Bergman's movie is one of his more self-conscious entertainments. It's spooky and challenging, and Bergman uses all the mechanics of a good fireside ghost story. "

Jamie also reviewed one of David Bowie's most unlikely roles in another of this month's Criterion releases: "1942. A Japanese prison camped for Allied POWs captured in Korea and other parts of Southeast Asia. This is the setting for Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, Nagisa Oshima's 1983 film of hidden desires behind the barbed-wired fences.

"Tom Conti leads the film as Colonel John Lawrence, a British officer with some expertise and experience in Asia. His ability to speak Japanese makes him a valuable liaison between the prison guards and their prisoners. Lawrence is roused from sleep by the gruff-voiced Sgt. Gengo Hara (Takeshi Kitano). One of Hara's men (Johnny Okura) has been caught in a compromising position with a Dutch prisoner (Alistair Browning), and Hara wants Lawrence to both translate for the victim and be witness to what happens. Hara would like to punish his soldier without involving his commander, the aloof Captain Yonoi (musician Ryûichi Sakamoto). Homosexuality is not to be tolerated, particularly if the captor forced himself on the captive.

"Yonoi does end up stumbling into the situation, but he has little time for it. He is on his way to base where a tribunal has been called to deal with another captured Brit. Major Jack "Strafer" Celliers (bleached-hair, Let's Dance-era David Bowie) was engaging in what was apparently some pretty effective guerilla warfare before he ran afoul of the Japanese army, and his lack of cooperation now that he is in their hands has confounded the top brass. Yonoi is brought in for some outside perspective--only his superiors don't know how far outside it is.

"There's a lot of strong stuff in Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence. The complexity of the drama and the psychology of the characters is fascinating. Lawrence forms an unexpected bond with both Hara and Celliers, driven together by the odd behavior of Yonoi. The Captain's own secret shame ends up connecting to how he finally deals with the alleged rapist (there's some question of what really happened), and he masks his sexual frustration further by trying to assert military dominance over his prisoners. Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence has an impressive final act. The melancholy denouement neatly encapsulates all the things the rest of the film touches on: war is destructive, and it causes men to act in ways that are against their nature."

Finally, Thomas Spurlin takes a look at the new Blu-ray release of Jeunet and Caro's beloved debut, Delicatessen, out from Lions Gate: "A yellow haze coating an empty corner of post-apocalyptic France clouds our vision in Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro's Delicatessen, a marvel of the senses from two highly imaginative minds. As the camera pans towards a small butcher's shop, the directorial pair introduces us to the extent of humanity's flexibility in the wake of, well, some disaster. No, we have no clue what's actually happened, nor how long everything's been this way. The delicatessen is just ... there, with a cluster of fidgety people filing to the counter for the meat the butcher (Jean-Claude Dreyfus) has to offer, with satchels of corn in-hand as payment instead of currency. Only, when they talk about shoulders, they're not talking about from a slab of beef or pork.

"Delicatessen bundles the components of its post-apocalyptic setting into a bizarre flourish of artistic whimsy. Shot by gifted cinematographer Darius Khonji (Se7en), it creates a sense of isolation outside the deli through those dusty shots of dilapidated buildings coated with a dense yellow fog. On the inside, however, the pallid shades become warming, even oddly inviting as the camera moves across found objects in the characters' apartments.

"Delicatessen excels as a melting pot of moods -- a soupy swirl of repulsive, warm-hearted, romantic, and unsettling tempers -- that bursts with originality. More often than not, the directorial duo experiment with the tones it generates into compellingly juxtaposed scenes, such as the "date" Louisan and Julie share that blends our awareness of the building's cannibalism with the charming fumbles of their romantic link. The most blatant exercise of their playfulness would be an absurd rhythmic sound sync between all the tenants, where rug-pounding, toy-screwing, and roof-painting follow with the squeaks under the butcher's bed mid-amore with almost a Pied Piper-like obedience.

"Before The City of Lost Children and Amelie thrust their names into the mainstream of contemporary French cinema, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro ventured into the realm of pitch-black humor with Delicatessen, a post-apocalyptic story that thrives in its mix of sinister tonality, visual flare, and a warming core."

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Casey Burchby lives in San Jose, California: Twitter, Facebook, Blog.

Special thanks to Jamie S. Rich, Chris Neilson, Preston Jones, Brian Orndorf, Jason Bailey, and Thomas Spurlin for their contributions.


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