The debut feature from Brazilian writer/director Kleber Mendonça Filho, Neighbouring Sounds is a clever domestic drama that takes place largely in an apartment block in an affluent suburb. Within the walls, a spate of minor crimes lead to a new security system coming into place, with guards becoming parts of the residents’ lives. Bia (Maeve Jinkings) is a young mother who is tormented by the sound of her neighbour’s dog, but does the barking signify imminent danger? Neighbouring Sounds has plenty of ominous foreshadowing, but the pay-off is surprising and effective; by selecting and dissecting a microcosm of Brazilian society, the film nails a few universal truths that resonate internationally.
Writer/director Carlos Reygadas is something of a visionary in the manner of Alejandro Jodorowsky, and the surrealist spirit of El Topo and The Holy Mountain is present in his 2005 head-scratcher Battle In Heaven. The film opens with a graphic sex scene involving (Marcos Hernández), a chauffeur who is being aroused by the daughter of his employer. Marcos and his wife have been involved in a botched kidnapping that led to a child’s death, and his guilt leads his to take part in a bizarre religious pilgrimage. It’s hard to summarise or explain the events in Reygadas’s film, but as with his later Post Tenabres Lux, the result is both beautiful and troubling to behold; with a direct interest in both sexual detail and metaphysical issues, Battle in Heaven is well off the beaten track for entertainment seekers, but a challenging mental workout for sensation seekers.
Working with Jean-Claude Carriere, the go-to provocateur for everyone from Luis Bunuel to Jonathan Glazer, Nagisa Oshima crafted this truly bizarre one-off drama. Peter Jones (Anthony Higgins) is vexed when his wife Margaret (Charlotte Rampling) appears to have taken a new lover, but his nose is further out of joint when he discovers her new paramour is a chimp called Max. To make matters worse, this isn’t sex but love, Peter’s world crumbles as he realises that he’s been bested by an animal. Max Mon Amour sounds like a comedy, but it’s a deadly serious examination of modern morals and sexual jealousy, played with a straight-face and the serious intention which might be expected from the director of In the Realm of the Senses. Without any real graphic content, Max Mon Amour deconstructs the male psyche with broad, brutal strokes, and looks at a darker side of animalistic machismo than most directors would be prepared to explore.
So while King Lear is not a particularly good or recommendable piece of cinema, although some claim it is, in terms of cinematic ephemera, it’s a must. Any film featuring Woody Allen, Molly Ringwald, Burgess Meredith, Julie Delpy, Norman Mailer and Jean-Luc Godard has to have a curiosity value, and even it that’s all it offers, King Lear has a certain fascination in the same way that the 1967 version of Casino Royale has. Most of the screen time is absorbed by Peter Sellars as William Shaksper Junior the Fifth, who is attempting to create a performance of King Lear in the wake of Chernobyl. This mafia-tinged version is never seen, although Meredith as Don Learo and Ringwald as Cordelia are seen rehearsing, while director Goddard plays someone called Professor Pluggy and is presumably doing this as an expensive joke on his producers good nature. A mess, a shambles, and yet not bereft of ideas, King Lear is one of the oddest films on You Tube today.
Any film based on a story by Bruce Lee and James Coburn has to be interesting, and Circle of Iron/The Silent Flute is a genuine oddity. Richard Moore’s film features Jeff Cooper as Cord, who seeks a confrontation with wizard Zetan (Christopher Lee), but must go through many obstacles to get there. Bruce Lee died before the film could go into production, but the four roles he would have played are picked up by David Carradine, and the mystical quality of his Kung Fu TV show is much in evidence here. Roddy McDowell has an unlikely cameo, as does Eli Wallach, discovered in a caldron full of oil where he punishes himself for his own misdemeanours. If you ever wondered what kind of films Bruce Lee might have made if he’s lived to enjoy his stardom, Circle of Iron/ The Silent Flute has your answer; mystical, dotty but entertaining.
John Huston’s later films as director show something of a return to form for the veteran; his 1979 adaptation of Flannery O’Connor’s novel pulls no punches in its satire of belief and religion. Brad Dourif plays Hazel Motes, who sets out to built a church of Christ without Christ. Huston’s targets are clearly the funding and hypocrisy of modern religion, although there’s plenty of serio-comic diversions from his thesis involving a stolen mummy and a gorilla suit. Wise Blood’s attempts at profundity may still shock and offend, but Huston’s film is fearless and relentless in its appetite for social-satire.
Gasper Noe’s 2011 phantasmagoria of drugged-up weirdness is something of an acquired taste, but its also ambitious, original and visually stunning. Over a 161 minute running time, Noe takes first persona cinema to new extremes, allowing audiences to see a Tokyo backdrop through the amphetamine-widened eyes of Oscar (Nathaniel Brown). Killed in a drug deal, Oscar’s spirit hovers over the city, observing the impact of his death on those around him. Occupying a territory somewhere between In The Realm of The Senses and 2001, the eye-popping visuals begin from the ridiculously self-promoting credits, and Noe’s no-hold-barred approach certainly delivers a shock to the system for unwary viewers.