Caché (Michael Haneke, 2006). There is something interesting going on here, although I can imagine many viewers would just find it boring. Haneke gives us a psychological thriller, but uses seemingly mundane techniques. Some critics have complained about the deliberate pacing and static camera work, which aren’t what comes to mind when imagining a thriller. But the gradual discovery of the hidden lives of people who appear rather bland does indeed resemble a thriller … we keep watching because we want to know what else we might learn about these people. Of course, in the good Hitchcock tradition, there’s a MacGuffin: the central couple’s lives are being recorded by an unknown someone, who then sends them copies of the tapes, so they know they are being watched. You may think the key to the movie is solving the mystery of the tapes, but Haneke isn’t interested in that. Instead, he uses the tapes to dissolve the ways the characters hide themselves from others (their self-knowledge isn’t too deep, either). It has the structure of a thriller, if not the pacing, but in the end, it’s about character and guilt. Caché is downright creepy, because the ways the characters react to being watched seem close to what we might do in a similar situation, as our hidden past rises beyond our desire to bury it. A subtheme about French imperialism and Algeria isn’t particularly successful, but it does provide context. I hated the first Haneke film I saw (The Piano Teacher), and so I am pleasantly surprised by how much I’ve liked the others I’ve seen. #8 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 250 films of the 21st century, and #354 on the all-time list. 9/10. A Haneke film I liked as much as Caché is The White Ribbon.
Wild Strawberries (Ingmar Bergman, 1957). You couldn’t be a film major in the early 70s, as I was, without seeing a lot of Bergman films, and in fact, at this point, I’ve seen as many of his films as of any director. I first came across his movies on UHF TV (ask your grandparents) in the late 60s, when a local station had a weekly “Adults Only Movie”. They showed a lot of Bergman, as I recall … I think Summer with Monika might have been one. The one that made the biggest impression on me was Through a Glass Darkly. Even though I was watching on a TV with rabbit ears, where the movie was interrupted by commercials and probably edited for aspect ratio and nudity (not sure there was any in that one), I was completely sucked in. Imagine my disappointment when later I saw the two other films in that trilogy, Winter Light and The Silence, and found the former boring and the latter just plain sick. (I should watch The Silence again, I’d probably like it now.) Ever since then, when I thought of Ingrid Thulin, I thought of her in The Silence, sick in mind and body. I mention all of this because, when I watched Wild Strawberries again, one of the first things I noticed was how beautiful Ingrid Thulin was. It was quite distracting, because it messed with my long-lived picture of her in The Silence. To make matters worse, at some point I decided there was a definite “separated at birth” look between Thulin and Katee Sackhoff. No one else sees it … I even tweeted Sackhoff, asking if anyone had ever made the comparison. Understand, Wild Strawberries is one of those Bergman films with lots of soul searching and deep meaning. But here I was, obsessing over Ingrid Thulin. I suppose I should mention the actual movie. Victor Sjöström is excellent, the film looks great, and if it’s not as “deep” as it appears, well, after The Seventh Seal, perhaps that’s what people needed. #66 on the TSPDT top 1000 list. 8/10. I didn’t much care for Another Woman, but Woody Allen is a big Bergman fan, and there are some similarities between that one and Wild Strawberries. For a favorite Bergman of mine, check out Smiles of a Summer Night.
The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer, Anonymous, Christine Cynn, 2012). For many years on this blog, I had a series I called “Oscar Run” where I’d catch up with all of the Oscar-nominated movies I’d missed, in time for the Oscar telecast. I don’t do that anymore, because 1) I don’t actually like to watch the Oscars, and 2) I ended up seeing too many crappy movies just because they got a nomination for Best Song. But anything that helps The Act of Killing reach a larger audience is good, so the nomination for Best Documentary Feature is deserved and welcomed. One example of how much is at stake in The Act of Killing is the name of one of the co-directors, “Anonymous”. More than 20 crew members use that name in the credits, because they fear reprisals from Indonesian gangsters. Of course, one point the film makes is that those gangsters are tightly integrated into the country’s government, one reason why they have never paid for their part in the murder of somewhere in the neighborhood of one million people in the mid-60s military takeover of the government. A straightforward presentation of the available facts would be informative and powerful. But Oppenheimer et al are after something bigger. The idea is to get inside the minds of men who would commit such atrocities, and the solution is to help those men make a movie about their exploits. They are happy to participate, admitting that they patterned their behavior in the 60s after American movies. The levels of distancing are disturbing … we are watching a re-creation of events from 50 years ago, starring the original participants, as if it were a TV docudrama. Except the events being re-created involve torture and murder. All of this moves The Act of Killing far away from the straightforward presentation of facts, and the film does little to place the events in any historical context. But the point is less to detail those events, and more to show the effect of the acts of killing on the murderers. 9/10. Not sure what else you could watch after seeing this one … maybe Waltz with Bashir? (Note: I watched the 115-minute version.)
Invasion of the Bee Girls (Denis Sanders, 1973). My brother posted on Facebook that he was settling in for a crappy Monster Thriller Movie, and I thought I’d watch it too, a kind of long-distance viewing party. But I happened to see a couple of reviews of the movie, and it looked so awful I didn’t think I could make it work alongside my New Year’s resolution to avoid bad movies. So I decided to watch a bad movie I’d seen and liked before, because some bad movies don’t count against that resolution. I first heard about Invasion of the Bee Girls when Roger Ebert touted it on a “Guilty Pleasures” edition of Sneak Previews. The plot involves women-turned-bees who fuck men until they die. It’s never explained how or why the women became Bee Girls, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that the Bee Girls are naked a lot of the time, in a refreshing 1973 au naturel way. The movie is cheap, with hardly any special effects (when the Bee Girls seduce a man, we hear buzzing on the soundtrack … that’s the extent of the seduction FX). There are a few actors you’ll recognize, including legendary William “Big Bill” Smith in the lead. One of the women is a former Playmate of the Year … the Queen Bee Girl is played by a future Barker’s Beauty from The Price Is Right. Two-time Oscar winner Denis Sanders directed; Nicholas Meyer, who directed/wrote a couple of the more popular early Star Trek movies, got his first screen credit for writing Bee Girls. It’s a movie that must be seen to be believed. There is no subtext, although the opportunities are there: possibly bisexual women have sex with men, the men die, the women want to take over the world or something like that. It was made during the early-70s wave of feminism, and it is clearly the movie of men frightened by the ever-emerging power of women. Yet you don’t get the feeling the men who made the movie thought about that at all … they got some pretty women to take off their clothes, threw in some nonsense about women-turned-bees, and sent it to the drive-in. 6/10. For a companion piece, how about Hell Comes to Frogtown, with Rowdy Roddy Piper as one of the only fertile men on the planet after the apocalypse … it also features the wonderful Sandahl Bergman and, yes, the legendary William “Big Bill” Smith.