Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Weeks Too Late: Careful

Careful. Directed by Guy Maddin & written by George Toles & Guy Maddin.

Preconceptions: As promised (well probably threatened would be more accurate), this week I'm going to have a look at the strange comedic drama that is Careful. I had heard from a few third and fourth hand sources that Careful was a pretty funny satirization of old, German, black and white Bergfilm movies. In order to properly educate myself (a dangerous notion) I watched one of the source movies. If you didn't read last week's review: shame on you. While I ended up enjoying that a lot more than I expected, I thought of Careful as the pay off for doing my movie homework. I was prepared to enjoy a movie that poked fun at the neat and artful but kind of overblown Bergfilm.

General Review: Since this is another flick that you might not have seen (what with it being an off the beaten path, weird Canadian movie) it's the story of a number of the inhabitants of Tolzbad, a town high in the Alps. Its location in an avalanche riddled area (the classier Tornado Alley of Europe) means that the townsfolk have to be quiet and careful (hey, just like the title!). This leads to an atmosphere of repression and we all know where that leads: wanting to have sex with your mom or dad. And may I say, I haven't been so beat about the head and neck with Oedipal scenes since Mel Gibson's Hamlet (except this was doing it on purpose).

While there was certainly a sense of ridiculousness to Careful I don't think I'd go so far as to call it a comedy. I'm well aware that the back of the box didn't promise comedy, but there were a number of jokey scenes, including a scene of unbuttoning coats during a duel that could have been lifted from an Airplane! style flick. There were also a number of tightly constructed jokes that were cleverly put together that left me thinking: "huh, that was skillful" but not laughing. But hey, even if I'm not rolling in the aisles (the aisles of my...living room, I guess?) I can appreciate a bit of intellectual comedy. It was pretty clear that even if it wasn't exactly meant to be a comedy, it was meant to have a comedic angle. And the juxtaposition between the dreary, joyless setting with the absurd seems like good ground for laughs to me. Unfortunately, those laughs rarely surfaced. Just putting something strange and wacky on screen, pointing at it and exclaiming: "this is a strange and wacky thing!" isn't always enough to make it funny.

It was a very neat looking movie. While the Holy Mountain wasn't the murkfest I was anticipating, most of the old black and white films I've seen have a certain grainy quality that Maddin was able to reproduce admirably. More specifically, the day dream and nightmare sequences were very like the Bergfilm ones I had seen without looking like they had been ripped off. He also captured the overall ambiance. As far as making a movie that was like a Bergfilm Maddin succeeded.

Careful was an interesting watch. Maddin certainly recreated the dire, oppressive feeling of the old German movies he was emulating, but I don't know that I would recommend it. It's well put together, there are some funny bits and it is unusual. As an experiment in film making, it was successful but it wasn't exactly entertaining. This might be because I've already been through my David Lynch phase of enjoying weirdness for its own sake. Weirdness can still hook me, but once I'm on the line I need more to metaphorically bash my head in to keep me from flipping back out into the water (and other fishing analogies). While Careful certainly caught my attention, it lacked in the head bludgeoning department (the above Oedipal comment aside).

I'm also left uncertain as to whether someone who hasn't recently seen a couple of old German movies would even enjoy this as much as I did (which is only mildly). Without the context I think it would be less interesting. And while I like that it didn't talk down to me, I'm not sure assuming that your watchers have taken a 1920's German film class is a good move.

Aside: As a (sort of) Canadian, it's always funny to see what the government gives grants to in a desperate attempt to create Canadian culture. Well, at least this one was interesting and not about the Prairie life, for once.

Next week I'll be back to something more mainstream and not foreign, promise (but I do have a queue full of strange stuff, so for how long?)

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