First time with Walerian Borowczyk. Nice Klimtian Polish poster.
Looks very artificial: frequent use of stages as a set, performance (musicians, capital punishment, horse lessons). There are some flashes of colour that interrupt the greyscale consistency – imaginative glimpses of a world beyond Goto, the tinpot island dictatorship? (“We may not have light or air,” says the King, “but we have security.”) Also obviously allusive: Hitchcock in the tragedy, the shapes; Buster Keaton in the physical comedy and the square mise-en-scène (silent film is a touchstone more generally); also thought of Stalker‘s opening in the square shots, the austerity, the cart transport, Eadweard Muybridge’s animal studies with the frequent anatomically blank images of horses, dogs, flies.
But if it looks artificial it has a ring of truth. It’s an appealing story: somewhere between Kind Hearts and Coronets and A Brave New World. There’s an earthy and flat physicality to the characters (a bumbling energy – lots of people falling over) which made me think of Hard To Be A God and even Pictures Of The Old World, but the unburnished texture is presented through that cinematic lens and charged with a kind of wonky surrealism that gives it an Arthurian feel: the dialogue is amusingly bald and obtuse, attesting to the broader national stupidity and the pathetic irascibility of our doomed protagonist.
At its brightest it has the indie playfulness of Wes Anderson, but there’s a cracked horror behind the smile (there are two funeral scenes: the first is pretty horrifying and elemental, the second is a complete farce). Guards will nap in the street while their colleagues investigate the scene of a murder, or they will enforce orwellian regularity with total obedience. An unruly classroom is the seat of brainwashing, the incubation chamber for the narrative about the island having been frozen in time after a devastating earthquake in 1887 (HTBAG eh).
Buñuelian fun in a sad grey world poisoned by lust and ignorance, viewed through binoculars the wrong way around.