Surreal times call for surreal films. Three recent films screening in movie theaters are a walk on the surreal side. Each of the directors was hoping their films would be enjoyed on the big screen. Indeed, many people have ventured back to cinemas recently. Now, with the new Delta Variant spreading through the unvaccinated masses, many are less inclined to venture out. We’ve enjoyed a brief summer respite from mask mandates and a feeling of a return to “normal”. Cinemas had some record attendance with big blockbuster action films. “Black Widow”, “Suicide Squad”, “F9” and “Jungle Cruise” were all given theatrical release and did reasonably well. Horror films continue to attract an audience. Many of these films are fun, forgettable fare.
A sleeper hit of the summer may be “Pig”. In a year that saw the release of the gentle “Truffle Hunters” and the cinematic feast of “Gunda” (a documentary about a pig), did we really need a film featuring a truffle pig? Watching the preview and noting that it looked like another crazy film starring Nicholas Cage, I was NOT planning to see “Pig”. As buzz built on film Twitter (I’m looking at you Brian Perry) and a Facebook friend mentioned she loved it (I’m looking at you Kay Rippy), I put it back on my “To See” list. I convinced a couple of friends in other states to pay to stream it on Amazon. We watched it together.
Sidenote: if you’ve not streamed a film with friends in a “Watch Party” on one of the many platforms (YouTube, Amazon, Netflix), you’ve really missed out. We do a Google Chat before and after, but it’s the comments in the sidebar as the film streams that are priceless. I highly recommend it.
“Pig”, Director Michael Sarnoski — Are you looking for a slightly less unhinged Nicholas Cage performance? Will you believe there’s a gangster kingpin controlling the truffle trade in Portland, Oregon and an underground “Fight Club” for restaurant workers in an abandoned hotel? The cinematography is beautiful, but the plot is a stretch. One friend kept vouching for Nicholas Cage and his return to form but the fact that his character spends the entire film covered in blood but still manages to wash his hands to prepare a meal and he’s a celebrated chef, was such a stretch that I was left in observer mode. I was watching the film to see what other nonsense I was going to have to swallow but finally relaxed into the narrative. I found myself rooting for this anti-hero in his unwashed, unkempt state and appreciating the bravado of a screenwriter and director willing to create this unusual film. 2 glasses of exquisite French wine hidden in a mausoleum (out of 5)
“The Green Knight”, Director David Lowery — Are you an Arthurian Legend fanatic? Have you studied the 14th Century Middle English poem, “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”? Well, here’s a film for you! You won’t need subtitles to understand the garbled auto-tuned voice intoning the poem at the start of this film or title cards to point out who the characters are on screen. A surreal morality tale with nods to Monty Python (but serious) and a mushroom trip that conjures a talking fox, naked Giants and seductive maidens (portrayed by the same actress, Alicia Vikander, just to add to the confusion). Dev Patel portrays the untested sycophant, a nephew seeking knighthood on a quest that reveals his lack of courage.
Full of whimsy, and mysterious characters, “The Green Knight” is a film that begs discussion. Much is lost by not knowing the context and characters, but the cinematography is immersive and surprising. There’s a wonderful time loop that serves the films message about bravery and believing in yourself. The Green Knight is a mythic creature made of wood but the Knight (Patel), is also “green” or untested. The film’s message is that he must earn his place at the Round Table. 3 glasses of mead (out of 5)
“Annette” – How much do you enjoy musicals with actors mainly speaking their songs? What if one of the stars is a puppet? This surreal film starts off amusingly enough with the musicians and co-creators (French avant-garde filmmaker Leos Carax and the Sparks Brothers) joined by the key actors singing a catchy song as they leave the sound stage to walk into their movie roles. Sadly, Marion Cotillard is saddled with an awful, chopped pixie wig but soon gets to don one of many lovely flowing manes as a beloved opera singer. Our romantic leads are both performers with Adam Driver’s character on stage as an audience-baiting comedian. They celebrate their love by singing an inane song even while they’re copulating.
There’s an amusing news flash to announce the stages of their relationship and an interlude to introduce our third star, Simon Helberg. He’s playing an ambitious pianist who’s also in love with Cotillard’s character. As the story of this tumultuous romance unfolds, our bad-boy comic faces accusations of sexual misconduct and abuse. Cotillard seems to be in another film; she’s the tragic hero. The rest of the actors play their roles as if they’re in a Spanish soap opera–broad gestures, loud voices, leaping and twirling about. Once the magical puppet child enters the film, the staging gets more surreal and there’s death and an even more dramatic wig for Cotillard. If you’ve stayed this long (many may have left the theater– there were walk-outs the night I went), there’s a sad conclusion. Staged with fake glycerin tears and overly-dramatic make-up on Driver, “Annette” ends with our anti-hero, still delusional, singing in his prison cell. 1 bottle of expensive bourbon (out of 5)
Of the three films, “Pig” is the least surreal. I found “The Green Knight” amusing, and thought-provoking. All three films have some gorgeous cinematography and production design. Dev Patel and Adam Driver both give incredible performances in their respective roles. They serve the stories that their directors are trying to tell in a bold and nuanced way. Sometimes I want to go to a movie to see something unique and to marvel that so much money, talent, and time were poured into an enterprise that one might not consider entertaining. So take a walk on the surreal side. Instead of forgettable films, take a chance on a movie you may not “enjoy”, but one that you might appreciate for it’s vision and artistic expression. Those images may linger in your thoughts for days or weeks.