27 May 2009 | sprengerguido
A wonderful omnibus
(This review concerns the DVD version, which omits the contributions by the Coens and Lynch.) Omnibus films are always a mixed bag, but one thing can be said about this one: No other omnibus contains as many films from so many talented directors. So, as omnibuses go, this is pure joy. All these three-minute-pieces deal with being in a movie theater or watching movies. Some goodies and some baddies: Only a few directors manage to compress intensity and emotion into even the briefest, most unassuming forms. One of them is Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu – his single-shot entry about a blind movie goer (one of three in this collection) is mysteriously touching and formally exquisite.
Another director of that ilk is Wong Kar-Wai – his film manages to evoke intense feelings of desire and memory with a few almost abstract shots of people in a dark theater, like glowing orange and red strokes on a black canvas, a few intertitles, and dialogue from Godard's "Alphaville": wonderful. Except Wong, all the other Chinese(-speaking) directors show rather wistful visions of the past, including Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige and Taiwan's Hou Hsiao-Hsien. Taiwan's Tsai Ming-Liang is the most original among them: In characteristically perfect compositions and hypnotic pace, he imagines his childhood family having a picnic in a movie theater – as if the cinema is a repository of a home long lost. "It's a dream", and not without irony.
Talking about wistful – I like much of Theo Angelopoulos' work, but not that certain underlying pompousness, that "Look at me – I'm a poet!" attitude. Here he has an aged, dignified Jeanne Moreau recite her text from the final scene of Antonioni's "La notte", then addressed to Marcello Mastroianni, to – an actor playing Mastroianni's ghost. Aw, no, Theo! There's just one Marcello, remember? Put his picture on a wall, show him in a scene, but don't replace him with someone else! This is a dedication that backfires. But it is on the foil of such serious arty attempts that other contributions shine, like Lars Von Trier. I had expected something conceptually more intriguing from him, but maybe it is conceptually intriguing to, in the company of illustrious artists, deliver something that is just gross. Trier addresses one of the most serious issues of watching movies: the idiots you're watching them with. He offers an ultimate example of that character, and the ultimate solution. My laugh-out-loud moment. A similar moment of resistance to good taste is Cronenberg's "The suicide of the last jew in the last cinema of the world" – there's not much more to it than the title indicates, but it's fun for one reason. I think the very first film the director ever showed in Cannes was one of his early experimental features, and it just tanked. These early works consisted of dialogue-free scenes with bizarre voice-overs, and Cronenberg uses this form again here. That is irony. And Raoul Ruiz is the man. At his best, he combines Godard's literacy with a reluctant love for storytelling and rich, surprising visuals. Here, he has read Marcel Mauss' "Essai sur le don". A blind man tells how a missionary, a man of God, gave a radio and a movie projector to some Indians. They ritually transform these gifts into ceremonial exchange items and sacrifices. When they give them back to the westerners, they turn them into blind atheists, thus taking away from them both God and the images. And that's just one level of what is happening in these mind-boggling three minutes. Roman Polanski's recurring themes are sex, random cruelty, misleading conclusions and awkward situations – and they are all present here, in this little joke about an elderly couple watching an erotic film. It's quite literal – you could tell it to your friends at a party – but nicely executed. (And why does everyone, except the groaning man, wear glasses?) Abbas Kiarostami's entry is a sketch for "Shirin", his follow-up feature, using the same concept: You do not see the movie, but the reaction of the Iranian women watching it. The film being Zeffirelli's "Romeo and Juliet", the paradigmatic tale of forbidden love, their emotional reactions are powerful and evocative. It makes me long to see "Shirin". And as for the rest, see for yourself.