This is a film that demands a second viewing but is so knowingly repellent, teasingly incoherent and downright disconnected, it may leave many of its audience running a mile in the opposite direction.
It’s a headfuck; leaping paradoxically from retro experimental to experimental retro and falling somewhere between pastiche and parody but never being either. As with the filmmaker’s smart debut film, ‘Amer’, it recontextualises Italian giallo horror but, this time, turns up the dial to maximum and blasts our senses with such an explosion of flashing images, split screens, slashing knives, faux-blood and booming sounds, there is no time for catching our breath and taking stock.
It yells HYPE-REALITY, IMPLOSION and BAUDRILLARD before defying them all and settling for a disorientating pseudo surrealism that leaves us wondering whether we are losing track of the quasi half meanings or on a cinematic wild goose chase. And it includes – shown multiple times – a re-imagining of that most notorious of all surrealist filmic nightmares, Luis Buñuel’s and Salvador Dalí’s eye slitting moment in Un Chien Andalou, but now with black leather, S&M iconography and a nipple.
The plot is paper thin, narrated randomly in flashback and the present, and has a man investigating his wife’s disappearance within an apartment block from the art nouveau period that feels surprisingly airless and dingy, gothic even. The other tenants are enigmatic but we sense that they know something that we don’t; hinting at a conspiracy and, maybe, the supernatural. One, an elderly sounding lady, sits amongst the shadows, concealing her face like a vampire avoiding sunlight and, as with the film, only communicates in sinister riddles and red herrings. Another wanders the dark corridors aimlessly, coming across as a seductive femme fatale type but, inevitably, remains beyond our grasp. And there is a another occupier – perhaps the most interesting – who is not a tenant at all, and secretly resides in the building’s voids, those latent gaps, non-spaces, between the apartments. They all carry echoes of Polanski – ‘The Tenant’, ‘Frantic’, ‘Repulsion’ – but no more; ghosts from a cinematic past, which complicate as much as clarify our interpretation.
The film’s central conceit – and a good one – has the husband morphing into a self-contained Hitchcockian doppelgänger as both pursuer and pursued at one and the same time in a voyeuristic conundrum that shifts control around the gender spectrum. It’s a pretext for challenging the audience’s ‘male’ gaze and Laura Mulvey’s seminal article ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ even more emphatically than the ‘Amer’ and introduces an intrigue that does not exist within the plot.
But, in truth, all of this seems better in retrospect than during the viewing experience, once we have had chance to gather our thoughts. It will leave some curious and wanting to validate their conclusions with a repeat screening and others bored rigid. Thought provoking art house or pretentious bollocks, take your pick.
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