Saturday, October 20, 2012

In short: Beyond The Black Rainbow (2010)

Holy crap!

Actually, I was playing with the idea of a write-up only consisting of these two words, but then I'm trying to be somewhat informative here even about films that could use more being seen and less being read about by people before they have seen it. So I'll just make vague, excited noises, jut down some thoughts, and ask some rhetorical questions (yes, I'll go there) instead of my standard reviewing spiel.

On a plot level, Panos Cosmatos's Beyond the Black Rainbow is about Elena (Eva Allan), a young woman with psychic abilities of the Scanner type who is held against her will in Arboria, the Platonic Ideal of a particular type of late 70s/early 80s dystopian futurism you'll recognize once you've seen it. She's drugged up and supposedly mentally improved by Barry Nyle (Michael Rogers), but it's clear early on that, mostly, Barry gets his kicks from breaking her. And that's the most pleasant thing we'll learn about Barry.

But really - and here's where the film becomes interesting and special - Beyond's plot isn't told in the usual manner, but rather through a series of sequences I'd call trippy if that word didn't imply a certain randomness and vagueness utterly alien to a film as concentrated as a sniper before the shot. Yet the film uses colours, filters and techniques usually only seen in films that are either coded as "trippy" or "experimental cinema", so perhaps "trippy" can mean something different than "the director took some LSD once"?

This is a film where every shot and every sound we hear is strictly and coolly composed and colour-coded, every form on screen consciously imbued with meaning, every element of the production design important. In theory, this should of course describe every movie ever made, but watch this and a less exalted movie back to back and you'll know what I mean.

I can already hear the "style over substance" brigade coming from beyond the horizon out to put the film in its place, for what is more offensive to a certain type of movie fan than a movie simply not interested in saying all it has to say via dialogue and a three act plot structure? That's a type of criticism I have never been able to grasp, to be honest. Isn't the style something is told in an important part of its substance, or else we could just scribble down a handful of sentences for every narrative work of art and have something just as effective as the complete work itself? And isn't understanding the surface of something necessary and part of exploring its depths?

Apart from all that, I also find Beyond very interesting as another movie - Drive comes to mind as the other big example - that uses very particular pieces of 80s film and sound aesthetics in a way nobody would ever call "retro" (I hope), creating its own, contemporary, future and style out of those of the past. There are some clear aesthetic and intellectual influences at work here - Ballard, Cronenberg from a time when he made movies instead of Oscar bait while whining about superhero movies, Argento at the height of his powers, perhaps even John Carpenter, and others obvious and less obvious - but Cosmatos isn't just copying his influences, he's using them to construct something all his own. That "something" is probably the most exciting film I've seen in a long time, at times strangely beautiful and fairy-tale-like, at times disturbing, always hypnotic.


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