Each month, A World of Film brings you three recent discoveries, including a main feature, a key recommendation, and a classic discovery. Be sure to seek out each film upon interest and let us know what you thought of it in the comments.
Main Feature: A Hidden Life (2019) Terrence Malick
Experiencing 2019’s A Hidden Life after so many lesser Terrence Malick films was wholly refreshing this month. The film follows the real-life experiences of the Austrian Franz Jägerstätter, a conscientious objector, who refuses to fight for the Nazis in World War II. It’s an important story of substantial courage and resistance under a violent pressure to submit, which reminded me somewhat of one of my personal favorite films, Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928).
I’d been a big fan of Terrence Malick up until 2012’s To the Wonder, where Malick, after the giant artistic success of The Tree of Life (2011) started to swerve into self-parody. To the Wonder, as well as Knight of Cups(2015) and Song to Song (2017) feel self-important and uncontrolled in their editing and construction, as though Malick took what where already hollow narratives of extravagant, overly-privileged and slightly annoying people, then randomly spliced together moments of their lives with little focus on narrative or meaning; they are exercises of form destroying interconnectivity. The result ends up unintentionally degrading Malick’s previously successful aesthetic achievements such as Days of Heaven (1978) or The Thin Red Line (1998).
With A Hidden Life, Malick does a fantastic job of creating a cinematic experience that sits in-between his older and newer filmic tendencies. For me, the film is most similar in style to the director’s 2005 film The New World, which is also a film rooted broadly in true-to-life narratives.
The true story of Franz Jägerstätter in A Hidden Life and a strong narrative theme grounds Malick’s style to a central point, meaning he has freedom to express his tried and tested method of rapid temporal editing, kinetic improvisation and flowing voice-over without the film slipping into self-parody. Malick, as he always does, creates an aesthetically dense representation of life’s beauty and torment, allowing his gliding cameras to establish a memory quality that reflects one’s mind looking back at a moment rather than living it directly.
The film is a welcomed return from an undeniably interesting filmmaker who continues to help move cinema forward into new grounds of esthetic possibility.
Also Recommended: The Grand Bizarre (2018) Jodie Mack
Described as “…a kinetic journey through the graphic motifs of textiles paired with figures and landscapes … alongside systems of visual and spoken language.” Jodie Mack’s 2018 film The Grand Bizarre, may sound heavy in its subject matter, yet the film is astonishingly fun to discover and experience.
What might be described as an art film, The Grand Bizarre is rather a filmmaker’s film, inspiring visually through rapid editing, stop motion, and kinetic energy – the kind of visual purity that only cinema can truly create. With no fixed narrative, Mack makes the history of fabric the film’s main protagonist, with hundreds of animated fabrics and textures moving trippily through the world while constantly reimagining and transforming itself to meet varying practical needs and cultural styles.
This is not a film about fashion, but rather our relationship to fabric and the way it inhabits our world and everyday lives. The film forced me to view my own surroundings differently, taking extra note the next time I saw the pattern of a knitted jumper lying around in the bedroom or the design imprinted on a tea towel in the kitchen. The fabrics themselves are just as essential as the spaces they inhabit, and Mack uses cinema to reveal these details otherwise lost in the often-manufactured routine of lived experiences.
Also paired with a creative and highly interesting soundtrack, The Grand Bizarre is a short and prompt, yet endlessly fascinating visual experience into a hidden world that is guaranteed to affect how you view your everyday surroundings.
Classic Discovery: Experiment in Terror (1962) Blake Edwards
This month, I also discovered Blake Edwards’ directorial venture into film noir, Experiment in Terror (1962). More famous for lighter dramas and crime comedies such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) and The Pink Panther (1963), I was eager to discover how Edwards treated what seemed to be such a dark subject matter.
The film follows Kelly Sharwood, who is terrorized by an unknown man with an asthmatic voice as he attempts to force her to rob the bank she works at on his behalf. Kelly manages to contact the F.B.I and the story becomes a cat and mouse tale of tug and pull, with Kelly struggling to hold herself together as she is caught in the middle.
The film offers sequences of genuine horror, such as the unknown man confronting Kelly towards the start of the film. We see fragments of his shadowy face and imposing manner, yet Edwards manages to hold back just enough information to retain our terror, while also giving just enough information to spark our interest.
The film inhabits a strong 40s film noir aesthetic while bringing a more modern and lived-in feel to its visual space and maintains more than enough acting class and narrative interest to keep us guessing and wanting more until its very end.
Experiment in Terror is well worth seeking out for fans of film noir, yet also offers much in terms of horror and creating a dark space of filmic terror and tension for those seeking both intrigue and fright.