Poelvoorde, Belvaux, Bonzel Man Bites Dog BeforeWeDieFilms.com

#885 Man Bites Dog (C’est arrivé près de chez vous / It Happened in Your Neighborhood) (1992)

With a $33,000 budget (or as the creators in the Criterion interviews indicate, zero budget that they supplemented by asking friends and family for money in between shoots every three weeks), Man Bites Dog is an edgy genre-busting film from three Belgian filmmakers shot while they were still in college studying the craft. The first film on our list officially rated NC-17 and banned in several nations, this movie is violent, misogynistic, racist, degrading, gruesome, explicit,…..and absolutely hilarious. This black comedy balances two worlds – the world of funny upbeat satire in the style of Spinal Tap and completely shocking “bleak criticism of our desire to watch everyday live tilt out of balance” (Mathijs). The self-awareness of the piece blurs the line between fiction and reality so well that their metafictive narrative’s characters carry their names, they refer to borrowing the money to make the film in character, and at one point their murders reach to the bizarre level of our protagonists murdering a new documentary team documenting their documentary team documenting their murders while other murderers are fighting over victims with them during a shootout in a dim and dilapidated building. The result is something unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Not for the weak-stomached or anyone who can’t recognize postmodern humor and satire when they see it.

We watched Man Bites Dog on Criterion DVD #165.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man_Bites_Dog_(film)

Garrett

I absolutely loved this film from beginning to end. I didn’t know what to expect going into it, and only read internet material and the liner notes from the box prior to Mathjis’ essay in Schneider. Was it a horror film? A mockumentary? A comedy? A political and artistic statement about film? About our consumer culture as a whole? What was this film?

Honestly, it is all of the above, and more.

I loved this film. I laughed (almost) the entire way through. With a lively energy, the three creators of this film have made something unlike anything else in cinema – a self-reflective mockumentary that dances between horror and black comedy like nothing else. Where many films attempt this in a manner that is approachable by audiences in a way that is bankable, the three independent filmmakers responsible for this movie have taken a literal budget of no money and outlined and cobbled together a script and a film that not only tells an interesting and engaging story with characters and performances that are believable and fun (not to mention breaking the fourth wall and production standards the entire time in their use of the crew, their own names, and a variety of other tricks throughout), but makes a heavy and effective statement on cinema  and audience itself. The people watching the very film we are watching as we watch it are just as important to their story and thesis as their product. This culminates in amazingly well-executed hilarious, but black moments such as the birthday dinner party, and hilarious setups that turn into terrifying and disgusting black moments, such as the rape and murder sequence. No taboo is off limits in this film, from rape to infanticide, and perhaps what is most intriguing about this film is how it was made in such expert hands when the filmmakers were so poor and so new to the craft.

This film can certainly get into the ring with the works of Christopher Guest and Quentin Tarentino and hold its own – even more so considering its execution of cinéma vérité , satire, humor, violence, horror, and politics are not only effective approaches to the early years of a genre but that it almost does it better than most of the films I have seen of its kind.

Final note… I did a little research afterward and totally remember downloading a video of Bill Gates being hit in the face with a cream pie when I was a freshman in college. I remember reading that it was the work of a subversive filmmaker, and thinking it was a hilarious statement against capitalism and absolute power. Since then, Gates has retired and dedicated his life to giving his money away to great causes… Within ten years of this event, that man, Rémy Nicolas Lucien Belvaux, committed suicide at the age of thirty-nine. It is just now that I am seeing something he has created for the first time, and find myself mourning in retrospect for a young artist who sincerely had a sense of humor in wanting to bring light to changing the world for good. Today, nearing thirty-nine, I appreciate what he was able to accomplish in this lifetime and wish I could have experienced more of his work – no matter how hilariously disgusting and shocking it was. Sometimes this is precisely the kind of subversive message our world needs; Belvaux’s work is precisely the kind of art that excites me.

Jennifer

Well. This takes a page out of the “Weekend” playbook.  At first, it seems almost like a comedy about a sadistic killer and the hapless film crew making a documentary on his actions. As the film progresses, the crew gets more and more involved in the “dirty work.” To me, this movie seems like a commentary on media, violence, and the viewer. What level of horrifying violence is too much? Where is the line between entertainment and horror? To me, this film’s  commentary on violence in mass media and our apathy towards it is about as strong as you can get.

I won’t say I enjoyed watching this movie and I will not watch it again. I can, however, appreciate the contribution that this film has made.

#4 Les Vampires (1915)

Les Vampires is a ten-part French serial that, clocking in at 440 minutes total, took us about 20 nights to watch in little spurts between February 4 and March 20. January and February were some slow months because of Louis Feuillade’s serial film, but for some reason, we felt relaxed, calm, and familiar when we watched this super long work in these little digestible chunks.

We watched the complete Change Before Going’s edition of Les Vampires on YouTube as it is in the public domain. The only complaint we had was the lack of soundtrack in this edition, and it is curious to wonder what the program is usually presented with. Of course, we were spoiled by Air’s scoring of Voyage Dans La Lune. So, we tossed Pandora on and listen to some of my favorite Frech music, namely my Coeur De Pirate station – sure, it was probably terribly inauthentic, but it was something.

Les Vampires is an interesting film, “much like the detective story and the haunted house thriller (and) creates a sturdy-looking world of bourgeois order while also undermining it…porous with trap doors, secret panels, (and) massive fireplaces that serve as thoroughfares for assassins and thieves” (Rubin). While you can’t expect any actual Vampires in this flick, the seedy criminal underbelly of Paris crawling with thieves, murderers, crooked cops and judges, and ne’er a face to trust, traveling through this world with Phillipe Guerande and his bumbling protean fellow Mazamette is a lot of fun. The attractive mastermind behind all of this, Musidora’s Irma Vep, easily holds the entirety of this series together just beyond the grasp of the law. Les Vampires is a little silent story in a crooked funhouse world, perfect before bedtime.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_Vampires

Jennifer

This was an interesting introduction to the very beginnings of cinema.  Like A Trip to the Moon, this film is a funny little mixture of theater and motion pictures.  The characters were well developed, and during several scenes, Garrett and I were shocked or delighted with the twists and turns of the plot.

The series is long.  Like, not just “boy, this is a long movie” – long, like, we watched it over weeks. It’s a silent film so most of the storytelling is through character’s nuances and actions. Also, I may have thought there were real vampires in this movie for way too long and wondered when they were going to show up…

Very happy we watched this!  If you can’t commit to the whole series, even one “chapter” is worth a view.

Garrett

I loved this movie. It was huge, long, spooky, silly, and at times a little hard to follow what they were trying to do. But by the end, it was a familiar comfort to turn it back on and venture back into this crooked, spooky little piece. I enjoyed brewing some tea, getting some biscuits ready, and sitting down for a new installment. Of course, Les Vampires has nothing on today’s sitting down and bingeing on a series by a long shot, but the silence requires an attentive patience and appreciation of stage theater and pantomime to get through. Once you get beyond that, waiting for someone new to pop out of a cabinet or a fireplace becomes an enjoyable and exciting prospect. There were so many criminals swimming around everywhere. Allegiances to characters you can trust shift from scene to scene until a few gestures become recognizable under a shifting costume (I can’t express how many times I found myself saying, “ohhhhhh, here’s Mazamette again, trying to pay his kids’ tuition, the poor guy,” so of course, he’s who I channel in the photo – in typical terrible Mazamette disguise).

A fun film that definitely laid the groundwork for film storytelling in many future films. I was really curious about how this was rolled out in theaters. I think I would be the first in line to see the newest installment and watch the week’s cartoons and newsreels alongside it. The sets, theatrics, and pantomime performances are quite revolutionary for the time, and I enjoyed every night I spent with Les Vampires. With clear influences on Hitchcock, Lang, Brecht, and films like M, The Threepenny Opera, and a host of others, this piece defined the thriller for legions of directors and audiences for at least the next hundred years.

LobsterFantastic mashup Graphic BeforeWeDieFilms.com

The Lobster and Captain Fantastic (2016)

We’ve watched two films over the past month that we felt were some serious contenders for the next edition of Schneider’s book. Even if they aren’t, we thought they were worth giving a little recognition for their stellar quality and storytelling.

CAPTAIN FANTASTIC

Captain Fantastic is an independent film written and directed by Matt Ross and stars Virgo Mortensen, Frank Langella, Kathryn Hahn, and Steve Zahn in a story about a large, extreme left-wing family living off the land in the middle of the woods. We learn that Ben’s (Mortensen’s) wife Leslie, often hospitalized for bipolar disorder and impulsive behavior, has been living away from the family in normal society. A series of unfortunate circumstances surrounding her illness forces the family to follow, and learn the many ways in which their choices have adversely affected their family’s ability to function in the real world regardless of the fact that the children have significantly more knowledge and insight than their normal American peers. They have to face some tough realities about their future if they intend to survive.

This film actually came as a recommendation. After attending an amazing lecture by Noam Chomsky, one of my (Garrett’s) colleagues suggested we see it for a great gag about the prolific intellectual. What we ended up getting was a film that was as entertaining as it was touching. It covers a wide swath of themes that highlight how complicated modern life is when trying to do the most good for the world and our children. Modern living with any kind of independent philosophy and intellect is difficult, especially when our desires and interests for our children and the world clash with a society largely content with loafing. Still, compromises must be made to do the most good and be a part of a family. This film features some great writing and excellent performances, most notably Viggo Mortensen’s Oscar-nominated performance as a father who must make some major sacrifices in order to bring closure and progress to his children.

Definitely worth seeing, if only to make sure you remember to mark December 7th on the calendar every year so you don’t forget to decorate the yurt.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Captain_Fantastic_(film)

THE LOBSTER

The Lobster is one of those amazing international collaboration films where some brilliant minds come together and make a piece unlike any other. Premiering at Cannes in 2015 (winning the Jury Prize), this black comedy by Efthimis Filippou and Yorgos Lathimos stars Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Ben Winshaw, and John C. Reilly in a film about modern relationships. Farrell enters a world where people must go to a special hotel if they’re single. He has forty-five days to find a partner. If he doesn’t, he will be transformed into an animal of his choosing (a lobster) where he’s free to find a lobster mate. The clock is set in the opening minutes, and the ensuing violence and turbulent relationships carry Farrell into a world of apprehension, emotional turmoil, existential confusion, and social intrigue.

In many ways, this film is unclassifiable. It’s hilarious, it’s terrifying, it’s sad, it’s exciting, and it is sincerely something that we are absolutely thirsty for in a cinematic experience. This film says so very much about our modern lives and asks a lot of deeply troubling questions. Who do we spend our time with? Why does our society dictate that our lives need to be completely fulfilled by one other human being? Why must the rest of the world be shut out? Why is this the apex? We found ourselves thinking about the implications of the story long after watching it. Something completely necessary in a film like this (is it a science fiction? Horror?) with rules of its own little universe, is that it requires a rock solid script and perfect execution of performance and writing for the audience to believe it. The lobster’s stellar writing and excellent ensemble cast have it, and it was an incredible experience. It is certainly a horror film, but instead of the bloody variety, it turns the mirror on us and lampoons modern love, the promises never delivered, the boredom, and the terrifying knowledge that perhaps the only option besides being a crustacean at the bottom of the cold sea is the ‘red intercourse.’ We’ll let you figure out what that means when you watch it.

An excellent, excellent film.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lobster

 

 

#500 Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Clocking in at the exact halfway point of Schneider’s original 1001, Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby is the French-Polish director’s first Hollywood film and one of four of his films on the list. Mia Farrow’s performance as a soon-to-be mother careening toward uncertainty is utterly spectacular, switching her audience’s belief of whether she is suffering severe pre-partum paranoia, a reasonable distrust and crumbling allegiance of friends and family, or the terrifying question as to whether the Dali-esque rape sequence was a dream or reality.

This film’s early horror genre is in amazing hands with Polanksi’s interpretation of the pulpy book, “weaving together…(a) taut, focused, building sense of dread…(still keeping audiences of today) in awe of (his) detail, his rhythm and pacing, his skill with his actors, and the fine script he adapted for the screen” (). A magnificent flick that features Ruth Gordon in her much-too-delayed Oscar-Winning role as Best Supporting Actress, Rosemary’s Baby is a film that by all standards shouldn’t hold up today, and yet does so with such energy and gusto that it can only be credited to Polanski’s vision and its striking observation of the horrors and uncertainty of the mysteries of even the most perfect modern pregnancy.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosemary%27s_Baby_(film)

This is also officially the first time one of our regular posts has been able to crossover with Movie Posters By Me! Check out Episode 18 below…

Jennifer

Well… I am very glad I didn’t watch this movie while I was pregnant. In my opinion, this movie is pretty perfect from start to finish.  There is a slow but steady build up of dread that compelled me to watch more as the feeling of more and more bad terrible things are coming. The genius of this movie, besides its remarkable actors, is a breathless waiting for the “gotcha” part. At so many different points I was positive something terrible was going to happen – but didn’t.  Most of the movie leaves one to guess about what is and is not real or imagined. Who is sinister? Who is pretending? How much of it is in Rosemary’s head?  The last 20 minutes of the movie are a perfect roller coaster dive of action and revelation.  After watching it, I realized how perfectly every little moment of the film is – so many things I barely noticed at first ended up being significant to the ending of the film. The location and the mood of the movie are perfect, with Rosemary’s apartment itself established in the very first scene of the movie as being that significant prison that the atmosphere of the piece as a whole rests upon. A great film.

Garrett

I really enjoyed Rosemary’s baby. I am not one to get scared by any paranormal entities at all, especially those surrounding religion, but what sets this film apart from much of the hype that surrounds those tropes is the fact that Polanski has directed a film that puts its weight on questioning the pregnant-hysteria of his protagonist, the structure of her social and emotional support systems, and almost in hindsight, the possibility that this is the child of some horrific devil-entity. I think Polanski did an incredible job in structure and execution, the various surreal scenes being edited in such a way that they generally didn’t feel as ridiculous as I am sure they could have been in any less capable hands. When it got to the end, in my opinion, the reveal was a little disappointing for me, however, I can easily blame that for my brand of 2017 skepticism. Still, from dialogue to editing, camera work to performances, it is easy to understand what makes this film have such staying power – and for something made in the late sixties to early seventies, it is easy for something like this to age poorly. This is certainly credited to Polanski’s adept filmmaking. Finally, just as Jenn mentioned, there was a point where we turned to each other and said, “imagine what it would have been like to watch this pregnant?” Mine was at the line where the doctor told her not to read any books and talk to any friends about her pregnancy. If there is anything I can say that this film nails the most (and I sincerely mean this without any irony or the hyperbole the film clearly contains), it is the confusing, complicated, bizarre, troubling, and terrifying process of modern pregnancy… for everyone involved.

#484 Week End (1967)

Week End is easily the most bizarre of Jean-Luc Godard’s films. A strange satire rife with paint-blood contrasted with striking real violence, this radical film presents an episodic, loose, audacious storyline that moves from “a mundane phone conversation becom(ing) an absurdly charming musical number, (to) our heroes encounter(ing) fairy-tale characters in the woods, (to) main characters meet(ing) grisly ends at, really, any time at all….(and a) traffic jam-interrupted by Godard’s irrepressible penchant for didactic, elliptical intertitles…(featuring) zoo animals, boats, an occasional picnic, and a hell of a lot of blood (that) the director once famously said, its nothing to worry about: It’s really only red paint” (de Seife).

What we are left with is a sharp satire that breaks many rules of filmmaking. The result is a piece that was relatively divisive between the two of us. No matter what the opinion, it’s absolutely clear that this film made a striking impact on Before We Die Films.

We watched Week End on Criterion DVD (#635).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weekend_(1967_film)

Jennifer

So, wow.  The first half of this film I found very disorienting and disconcerting. Godard’s piece is another film from the mid-1960s (we’ve seen a few from our list, recently) that turns traditional movie narrative structure on its head by inter-cutting somewhat mundane scenes with shockingly graphic and gratuitous chaos.  This is not a film that you can relax with some popcorn. There’s no relaxing. No part of this movie is predictable except for the fact that every scene seems to have more shock value than the last.

I can’t say that this is one of my favorite films on our list or even one that I’d watch again, but it is also like no movie I have ever seen. I can appreciate the bold and quite ambitious message this film delivers to its audience.

Garrett

I thought this film was pretty innovative and amazing – but the caveat is, it is pretty innovative and amazing for what it is. This isn’t a film with a clear linear narrative structure, nor is it a film whose job it is to make the audience feel. As a matter of fact, I think its job is to do quite the opposite, that is, to make the audience aware of their own desensitization and laugh at our own ignorance of what life truly is via his narrative. As the characters are desensitized in the film about everything from traffic to cannibalism to extreme violence to magic, miracles, music, colonialization, exploitation, and even the what little remains of story itself, it is clear our reaction (mirrored by those of our two main protagonists) is meant to be that this is simply a film that is a statement and realize that we shouldn’t look beyond the surface. It exists as a statement through its strange sketches, overt and confounding use of the Godardian jump cut, extreme color, and fictional characters evoking other real-life and fictional characters, and then literally setting fire to everyone and every thing.

Godard said, “if it would have been possible to make the film dirtier pornography, then I would have.” Every frustration he has comes out in this film. Frustration with form and expression, frustration with war, fascism, and violence, frustration with sex, frustration with consumerism. Every aspect of these frustrations with the world he lives in is illustrated in Weekend, from the senseless, violent slaughter of a pig on camera to a terrifying car accident from which our female protagonist emerges and screams, “my bag! My Hermes bag!” as it burns in the inferno along with several other motorists. The transference of meaning and lens of commentary then transitions to us, the audience. The film begins with a long description of an orgy, and ends with a question – was it a dream or reality? And our character doesn’t know. This statement leads to the literal burning of society in traffic punctuated by miles of bloody car wrecks – sex, violence, frustration, exploitation. The dirtiest pornography that, of course, ends in a literal slaughter and characters feasting on the meat of other characters.

I really enjoyed this film – but the problem with Weekend is that it is what it is… A beautiful museum piece whose ‘end of cinema’ occurs precisely in 1966. It is a commentary on humanity that remains frozen in a specific social time and place, and while it is extremely successful at what it is and we still struggle with the same issues today, it lacks the heartbeat of a narrative that awakens our hearts. But the thing is, to Godard, that is precisely the point.

I read the collected essays that came in the Criterion release book, and they were fantastic studies. Gary Indiana’s analysis breaks down what the film means in its most elemental forms using bookmarks of events to steer his reading of the piece. Bergala’s excerpt from his book feature behind the scenes interviews and rundowns from the cast and crew, and this is a further dissociation from the final product that offers interesting insight into how their performances and choices transferred to the screen (my two most fascinating ones were Darc’s improvisation of the Hermes line and the fact that she was originally slated to do the opening psychoanalysis scene nude and Godard changed his mind last minute so they had to go out and buy her underwear). Finally, Godard’s interview with Jonathan Cott was fascinating. His genius bleeds through what few sentences come straight from his mouth in twenty-five or so answers. It is easy to be mesmerized by the way his mind makes connections as well as his various responses that work on the micro scale of his film, but also the macro scale of his career and his work’s place in and commentary of the world at large. A beautifully curated collection.

#469 Come Drink With Me (Dà Zuì Xiá / 大醉俠) (1966)

How about a little Shaw Brothers and a little Shaw Scope for your eyes? Can’t handle it? Go find some of your fake kung fu, because we’re buckling in for a ride on the King Hu train, losers. Tonight we watched Come Drink With Me (Dà Zuì Xiá / 大醉俠), and what an absolute blast this film was. King Hu “revolutionize(d) the martial arts costume drama…(showcasing a) mastery of all aspects of the medium, especially his inimitable approach to editing” (Peña). His portrayal of the merciless Golden Swallow waltzing into town to deliver some much-needed justice is a thrill ride from beginning to end, and the touching, slow scenes with Drunken Cat are just as wonderful as the action-packed, bloody, quick, precise action sequences.

This film was a lot of fun, and the production quality truly accentuated a genre thirsty for work like this to pave the way for directors like Ang Lee’s work decades later.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Come_Drink_with_Me

Jennifer

This movie was very entertaining!  Lots of great choreography, bloody battles, settings, and costumes. A classic 1960’s martial arts film. The heroine in this movie fights some bad guys to rescue her kidnapped brother.  She inadvertently falls in love with a martial arts master. They go on to kick major bad guy butt together. This movie is visually stunning and leaves little room for boredom.

Garrett

I really enjoyed this film. From its opening sequence, it was clear that the director was going to take us on a ride through a valley of danger, double-crossing, and intense, bloody swordplay. Knowing nothing about this film ahead of time, I had few expectations, but it was a beautiful joyride through the narrative. The costumes, excellent performances, and obsessive attention to detail transported us to a world of martial arts high adventure. Come Drink With Me is truly a fun hour and a half diversion that fully encapsulates the audience in a striking, magical, dangerous land.

#404 Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Lawrence of Arabia is a true epic Hollywood film that brings audiences to another time and place while also managing to be in-your-face with its production value balancing a subtle art and metaphor in a super-long, super-technicolor manner that you don’t seem to mind even though several hours have passed. Lawrence “epitomizes all that motion pictures can be…from Maurice Jarre’s sweeping score to Robert Bolt’s literary script to Freddie Young’s Gorgeous desert cinematography to the literal cast of thousands,” Lean’s beautiful film presents “the follies of colonialism and the hypocrisies of war” as a “true epic with the scope and scale of great literature” (Klein).

We watched the film over several nights, and we were surprised how often we found ourselves gasping out loud, pointing out something huge and amazing to one another, and finding ourselves swept up in the scale and brilliance of a film that deserves every single accolade that has been heaped on it. We promised that when the opportunity to see the film in 4k or 70mm arises that we will drop everything and make the trip. This film is simply definitively moviemaking – tell an original story with a message in a unique way that only cinema can capture. Lean’s film is unparalleled, human, global, and timeless. O’Toole’s performance of the enigmatic and troubled Lawrence is stunning, with his bright blue eyes cutting through the screen the entire film. Just as remarkable was Omar Sharif as Sherif Ali. Lawrence of Arabia is a masterpiece.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_of_Arabia_(film)

Garrett

I was absolutely floored that I had never seen this film. I knew little about it going into it, and frankly, I was ignorant to what O’Toole was doing in the costume and perhaps that wasn’t dust but unfortunate makeup and a hundred other unfortunate casting decisions right down the line as early Hollywood was wont to do. That said, I was incredibly surprised at what Lean and O’Toole delivered – and I went on to do some research about T.E.Lawrence and learned some really interesting political, social, and personal details about a man whose life was cut way too short.

This film was spectacular. I loved every moment that I spent watching it with Jenn. It is moving, it is huge, it is spectacular, it is exciting, and it is perfect in so many ways. I love that Lean spared no expense, and the fact that it was cast so well with thousands of real actors, it was shot on location at real locations, and there were hundreds of tiny deliberate decisions to make the most perfect film, one can really appreciate that this was a real film without any CGI to pad any aspect of what we were watching in 2017. Everything felt true, from the scorching sun to the horses to the costume and palatial sets, and nothing replaces that.

A magnificent film I wouldn’t mind watching again and again – like a book, it feels like I could toss this DVD in and pick it up wherever I please and watch for twenty minutes or the full three and a half hours, and find the same awe and wonder as the first time I saw it. Looking forward to catching it when it hits theaters again, as it inevitably will.

Jennifer

This movie is majestic in every possible way. I have never (and probably never will again) see a movie like this. Every part of this movie revolves around the desert. It’s the main character, it’s the major problem, and the solution in the narrative.The ability to view the desert of Arabia and so many authentic actors at this time in history is fascinating. I wish I could have really seen this movie in the theater.

Lean brilliantly casts Peter O’Toole, who delivers an impressive performance. The way his character evolves from the beginning to the end of the movie was captivating. Omar Sharif delivers an equally captivating performance.

Omar Sharif perfectly sums up this movie:

“If you are the man with the money and somebody comes to you and says he wants to make a film that’s four hours long, with no stars, and no women, and no love story, and not much action either, and he wants to spend a huge amount of money to go film it in the desert–what would you say?”

In our time, this area of the world is again in the spotlight so there was an added level of relevance to this movie. I really knew nothing about this region at this time in history, and I did a bunch of research on the real Lawrence after watching the film. His story is fascinating on its own. Combined with the authentic setting and perfect casting, the four hours of this film felt like mere moments.