Nicholas Rombes’ Art Film Roundup

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Another clip from Polish director Andrzej Zulawski’s masterpiece Possession (1981), starring Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neill.

The movie piles on one outrageous, tornado-like scene after another, but it is often the quiet, in-between moments that are more deeply eerie. In this scene such a moment occurs at around 1:50, just after the cars fall off the truck. Suddenly, Adjanji’s face changes; something is different, but we’re not sure what. Watching Possession is like surviving a torrent of chair throwing:

The opening sequence to Frederico Fellini’s 8 ½ (1963) is a thing of grace and beauty. The film opened in the US several months before the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and I’ve always associated the opening sequence, with Guido (Marcello Mastroianni) dreaming of being trapped in his shiny black car, escaping, in death, floating above the world, as some fevered dream anticipation of Kennedy’s death in the car.

Miguel Arteta’s short film from 2005 Are You the Favorite Person of Anybody? is sometimes very sweet and very sad and also funny. “Do you want an orange?” John C. Reilly asks Mike White, the second interviewee, and at this point the film slips into something bemused and blank. I don’t know what it is or how to name it. False emotion. Cheating. As if adults are just big, wounded kids, comfortable in the wounded-ness, open-faced, drearily cheery.

In Sisters (1973) Brian De Palma uses split screen to powerful effect (the clip is in French) allowing two narratives to unfold simultaneously, each one commenting on the other. The knock against De Palma is that his signature films are one-note Hitchcock rip-offs and that his baroque style masks a lack of substance. As always, these sorts of judgments are mostly a matter of taste, but I think in his best films (almost everything he made up to Body Double in 1984) the style (split screens, long takes, wide frame compositions) are as much a part of the story as the plots of the films. In other words, you can’t really separate form and content: the way the story is told is as much a part of the story as the story itself.

This footage of Richard Nixon joking around, in a vaudeville sort of way, in the minutes before he announced his resignation on television in August 1974, is not classified as a surreal film as far as I know, but it could be.


Nicholas Rombes can be found here. More from this author →