A director reveals his most recent Fandor film adventures.
When you want to change your life, change your diet. I make films, but for a filmmaker, I don’t watch many. Now, I’m watching three or four Fandor films every week from now until I shoot my next film or fail to pay the internet bill, whichever comes first. I’m doing this to make myself a better artist, and to help guide you across the vast Fandor buffet. This is the re-education of one independent filmmaker.
Here’s the rub, cutie pies: I watched three movies at the end of 2015, they were all huge winners and now I’m gonna drink this cup of tea (which is actually whiskey) and tell you all about it:
People keep telling me to watch this. I watched it, alright? It’s really, really good. I agree.
Basically there’s this dude who’s raised his three adult children to be terrified of the world outside the walls of their estate in Greece, which is the country that invented gyros and “Western civilization”. He teaches them false meanings of words, and has trained them to be so obedient that they resemble domesticated dogs in their extended childishness, neediness and bickering. At one point, he literally demands that they bark like dogs to keep a cat away. Dad arranges cold, weird sex for the kids, and there’s a bit of blood, too. It’s a fundamentally terrifying movie, not because any part is horror-movie scary, but because it’s all entirely possible.
Which is the point: We are all trained by our parents, and by the societies we consider “our own”… and most of us have geographic walls beyond which we assume or have been told we would not be safe. Words have their meanings because we’re told they have those meanings. Paternal figures demand incredible control and influence — a close parable for the suffocation of life in a state power structure. This is big stuff, but Dogtooth illustrates it so well that it feels obvious in retrospect.
If you are looking for really clear, traditional narrative, then Dogtooth might mess with you a little. The turns are subtle and it zags sometimes when you expect it to zig. That’s good. It is beautiful, and it is careful. This is an art object, which is probably where features need to go when they don’t star Iron Man.
I would love to see this dude’s Iron Man.
SHOULD I WATCH IT THO?
Yes. It’s an important movie. It will haunt you and make you think about everything you’ve been taught about the world. Or, at least, it should. That said…
IS THIS A GOOD DATE MOVIE?
No! It is among the worst. Unless you want all your date to feel super skeeved out by you. Do you want that? Do you really?
Everything you think you know about the world is probably mostly wrong. Just saying!
IT FELT LIKE LOVE (2014), directed by Eliza Hittman
“I hate when they need practice.”
This movie is about a youngish teen girl navigating the landscapes of: A) southern Brooklyn, which is where I’m always getting lost, and B) early sexual awakening. The focus here is more on B, which is probably a more fertile subject (Get it? You get it).
Lila, who is really, really excellently brought to life by young actress Gina Piersanti, has a friend who’s started having sex. Lila is longing to feel sexually valuable, too, but struggling with how to land that in a way that’s right for her. She lies a lot about what she has or hasn’t tried.
I love how quiet Lila is with other people her age, but how confident and funny she can be with her own fam. That is a very young feeling — only being a certain way around certain people. This film brought back a lot of rough memories for me. And Lila seems to have no help around her for envisioning healthy female sexuality. You’ll get there Lila! But, spoilers, not really during the span of this movie. Instead, you’re going to have to watch porn with idiots for a bit.
It’s a soft and deftly shot film. The acting is natural and moving (which is saying a lot because these are kids and we all know kids are great at being terrible in movies), and it’s the kind of exploration of early female sexuality and its associated pressures that we never get with our films and really need to. Compare with American Pie, and see which one leads to a better world for us all.
SHOULD I WATCH IT THO?
Did you at some point want to have sex but hadn’t yet? Then yes.
SHOULD I WATCH IT WITH MY FOURTEEN YEAR OLD?
Maybe! Maybe your 14 year old can handle it. Introduce it subtly. Don’t be like ‘watch this movie so you can be good at sexuality’, but I do wish I saw something like this at that age. I think a smart kid like Lila could get down with this movie and identify with the feelings and lessons learned. She might not like her dad watching it WITH her, though.
I bet all the headlines for reviews for this movie are like, ‘Eliza Hittman’s Debut Film Feels Like Love’ and ‘It Feels Like I Loved This Film’ or ‘It Didn’t Feel Like Love’ and a bunch of crap like that. I didn’t actually look any up, so don’t check that.
I have wanted to watch this movie forever. I think I rented it when I was sick twice, and then was too sick to watch it, twice. Much like my initial misunderstanding of Gravity, I thought the whole movie was gonna be Max Von Sydow playing chess for his life against Death on a rocky beach, for like an hour and a half, in Swedish. I thought this sounded special.
Turns out, this movie has other locations, but it is not less special for that. There’s a crusader and his squire, back in Sweden after a long run killing, raping (the squire straight-up says this) and pillaging across the Middle East. Maybe they told a couple of people about Jesus or something? Now, they’re headed to the crusader’s castle through the forest. They pick up some pals, like this acrobat guy who looks like a friendlier version of Rand Paul, and also a fad disease called the Black Death is sweeping the nation.
I was surprised how full of humor and occasionally downright silly Death is. It really wasn’t a far cry from his later turn in Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, which seems to not be on Fandor, which IS SHOCKING, FRANKLY, so here:
Some of the scenes with the various death cults popping up around Sweden are unforgettable. The whole thing is a brilliant meditation on the inevitable looming for all of us… yet it’s never really a downer (other than when you realize the squire is a barely-reformed rapist). Actually, it’s the funnest movie I watched this week!
SHOULD I WATCH IT THO?
Duh. It is one of the classics, and it’s got something for everyone. Heartbreakingly, it’s now ended its latest run on the site! Fandor cycles the Criterion movies in and out (looks like they have two Ingmar Bergman films right now that expire on Sunday), so I’m sure it’ll be replaced by something that’s also amazing, and my Fandor sources tell me that it should be back in a future Criterion Picks collection. They also released a whole Spotlight on Scandinavian Cinema just today, so there’s that.
THE COLOR IS NOT WORKING ON MY COMPUTERTRON:
Do not adjust your computertron. This movie was filmed back when Sweden was still in black and white.
The characters correspond with the chess pieces in the game. This is a little lost in the English translation, but the Crusader with his cross is the King, and Rand Paul is the ‘Leaper’, which we Anglophones call the “Knight’”. The Rand Paul character has visions, because the Knight is able to transcend the board any time he likes. The Crusader only has visions of Death now that he’s going back to his castle, because the King can only transcend the board when he is “castling”. This is cool.
So, what did Colin learn this week?
The greatest common thread between these films is that they zoom in to tell relatively small stories, but end up addressing massive, planet-sized issues like death, education and sexuality. Damn, guys. That is the winning recipe for a successful independent or art film, isn’t it? A small story, told well, where the implications touch the lives of every member of the audience.
Lila’s longing and desire for sexual validity weren’t foreign to me in the least, but the details of her particular situation magnified the lessons to be learned. The Seventh Seal is the largest story here, but in the watching it is a simple, accessible parable. And the whole point of Dogtooth is that it exists in a shrunken world — implying every world might be equally shrunken.
WHOA AS I WAS WRITING THIS LAST SENTENCE I SWEAR TO GOD JIM JARMUSCH WALKED BY ME ON THE STREET THAT’S CRAZY
Colin Healey is 98% sure that was actually Jim Jarmusch. You should follow Colin @ColignonPE because it would help him feel nice. Colin’s first feature film, Homemakers, is available on Fandor, in case you’re reading this, Jim. If you think Colin would like a movie, tell him in the comments and he’ll watch the hell out of it.