Friday, January 8, 2010

Wasted Postage: Reports from the Netflix theater

Gomorrah (2009)
Gomorrah is so dense, it's details so esoteric, that some of its elements only reveal their relevancy during the epilogue. Waiting two hours and 15 minutes for an entire sub plot's potency to ferment is asking a lot of an audience, but it's worth it. Based on the gritty Roberto Saviano book, Gomorrah follows the violent path leveled by the Camorra gang in one of the most depressing concrete-and-steal housing projects I've ever seen. The terraced, immense structures look like stills from any number of post-apocalyptic films. It's hard to believe anything lives there, let alone festers and kills and eats and sleeps and fucks there. As Newsweek described the crime-infested projects in Naples, they "aren't as bad as (Gomorrah) makes them out to be. They're worse," or as the epilogue says, they're the "biggest open-air drug market in the world."

Like an Italian City of God, hand-held cameras and frenetic, unpredictable events give the film a documentary look and feel. Without City of God's more straight-forward narrative and plotting, Gomorrah instead focuses on several parallel characters dealing with an environment they can't control. Every fragments of the drug trade's devastating affect on Italy — everything from its hands in high fashion, to pollution, to street drug deals and of course, unrestrained killingare shown with an unflinching eye. Gomorrah is a relentlessly bleak film without an ounce of sanitation, compromise or the kind of audience-pandering that has rendered Hollywood embarrassing. A-

Thirst (2009)
Thanks to Twilight, the Twi-hards, Twi-moms, Fangbangers, and all the rest, a working person can't even enjoy the simple pleasures of a vampire movie without immeasurable shame and hiding. You find yourself pleading with judgmental friends, "B-bu-but it's the new film by that Korean dude that directed 'Oldboy,' haven't you seen 'Oldboy'!?!" This was apparently not enticement enough, so there I was, watching a vampire flick by myself, curled on the recliner with a blanket like so many 16-year-olds. Oh, but of course Thirst is not really about vampires, you tell yourself, the title describes both the thirst for blood our protagonist, Priest Sang-hyeon, feels after a blood transfusion accidentally grants the vampiric blood burdens and pleasures, but also his thirst for lust and violence and all the prurient interests resisted in the priesthood. As we learn early in the film, the order was not a good fit in the first place for Sang-hyeon, a man more interested in science, who, during confessions, advises depressed followers to seek pharmaceuticals and not prayer (my kind of Priest!). Once infected with vampire blood, he's enjoying the shit out of extra-marital affair, and scheming with his lover to free her from the bounds of wedlock. This is where Thirst goes certifiably Lynchian, with dreams and life intersecting into a bloody mess of guilt, love and horror. Director Chan-wook Park loves the grand, Shakespearean tragedy — arch-enemies standing between star-crossed lovers, ugly fate and revenge tackling doomed inevitability, themes that become all too clear as it reaches the bloody conclusion. B


Professor Film said...

I just watched "Thirst" last week myself, and I have to say, I agree with a lot of what you're saying. I was with the film until about the 80-minute mark, and then I began to wonder where the hell it was going. It just felt like it was spinning its wheels, being weird and quirky for the sake of weird and quirky. But then the "Big Event" happens, a scene of stunning beauty (the music is especially appropriate and operatic), and the story settles back down, and I began to get back into it. But by the end, I still felt like it was a film of specific stunning sequences instead of a unified whole, and that's disappointing.
"Gomorrah" I think is even more dense than you're letting on. It takes so long to understand what's going on that I reached a point where I didn't really care anymore, although I have felt compelled to watch it again, so obviously the filmmaker was doing something right.

Warped Coasters said...

I felt the same way about Thirst. They could have trimmed 20 minutes, but it definitely returns to form during and after the "big event."

Anonymous said...

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Warped Coasters said...

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