Tag Archives: film within a film

Epidemic – Review

21 Jun

Here we are once again revisiting the work of the Mad Genius of Denmark. Of course, I’m talking about the one and the only Lars von Trier. I probably say this every time I review one of his movies, but I can’t stress enough that there’s something about his movies that keeps drawing me back in. Today, I’ll be talking about one of his earlier works from 1987 called Epidemic. This is the second part of his Europa Trilogy which also contains The Element of Crime and Europa, both films I’ve talked about already. Out of the three movies, Europa is by far my favorite, and Epidemic takes the unfortunate spot as my least favorite of the trilogy, and quite possibly my least favorite of the von Trier films that I’ve seen.

Lars von Trier and screenwriter Niels Vørsel star as themselves in this film. They are two struggling artists who, on the break of a deadline for a screenplay which bears a striking resemblance to The Element of Crime, lose everything they’ve worked on and have to start from scratch. Soon they think of an idea that features a doctor named Mesmer, who in the midst of a plague, heads to the infected area to help the sick that are there. As the duo become deeply involved in creating the story, they fail to notice warning signs of a viral epidemic breaking out all around them. The two writers travel to find inspiration and spend time discussing different points of view, which they incorporate into their story, and when the time comes to present their work to the producer, an unexpected tragedy strikes.

This is a hard film to review because it doesn’t really have that much of a story. Like some other films that I’ve reviewed, this one is almost just a collection of scenes involving von Trier and Vørsel getting inspiration for their story and becoming so obsessed that they lose themselves in their fiction. This is something that I do like about this story. As a fan of film and writing, I know that it is easy to get lost in something that you’re working on or watching, and it also can be seen as things that happen in a story, wether on paper or on screen, can have an effect on real life. The banter between the two stars is often very relaxed and believable, and their chemistry is definitely there, but the whole experience seems very long winded. There are plenty of conversations that go nowhere, and only a few times do I really see the parallels in real life and the story they are writing. It’s such a missed opportunity, and in this case the degree of minimalism they were going for just didn’t fit what the movie might have been trying to be. I’m really not sure. I honestly don’t get this movie.

So, while I’m really grasping at trying to find the meaning of this film, which I’m failing to do I might add, I can say that this is a really excellent looking movie. Say what you want about Lars von Trier, because in many instances you’re probably right, but he really has an eye for cinematography and that shows once again in Epidemic. It doesn’t quite have the visual flair as the other two movies in this trilogy, but it definitely separates itself as it’s own style. The scenes that show von Trier and Vørsel planning and writing their film are shot using 16mm film, while the scenes of the movie they’re writing is shot using 35mm film. The stuff shot in 35mm looks very crisp with very smooth lighting while the stuff shot in 16mm is the really cool stuff. All of this is harsh and grainy and highlighted by some really cool contrasts of light and shadow. This is what kept me involved with the film the most. One really annoying thing is that throughout the film, and in bright red lettering, the title of the movie is kept at the upper left hand portion of the screen. I thought it would get less distracting as the film went on, but I was sadly mistaken.

Like I said, Epidemic is broken up into two parts. There’s the segments that show the screenwriters hard at work developing their story and ignoring the warning signs of a plague and the actual movie they’re writing. Whenever the movie cuts away to the film within a film, I kinda got lost. It just wasn’t very interesting and I couldn’t help but think that if they didn’t do that, more time could have been spent developing the plague that is surrounding the writers. That’s what really interested me about the movie, but it totally fails to live up to that expectation and instead tries to be a super meta art house film that doesn’t even live up to that potential. That sounds harsh, but I expected a lot more from this movie.

I had pretty high hopes for Epidemic simply because I really love the work of Lars von Trier. This may actually be my least favorite of his films with the only competition being the absolutely idiotic Manderlay. The concept of this film is very intriguing and the look of it had me interested enough to keep watching, but it’s really the bottom of the barrel compared to his other works. It’s a pretentious, self indulgent mess that doesn’t go anywhere interesting, and the shock ending feels so tacked on that it really didn’t affect me in the least. Only hardcore von Trier fans should try this one out, just to say that you’ve seen it. Other than that, it’s not worth your time.

Final Grade: D+

Inland Empire – Review

11 Aug

Recreating nightmares and mental decay is not an easy task, but David Lynch has always stepped up to the challenge. EraserheadLost Highway, and Mulholland Drive all have the same nightmarish feeling, as if you might fall asleep later that night and have a dream that plays out exactly like these movies. Of all of Lynch’s films, I feel like Inland Empire encompasses his career perfectly and really makes you feel like you are part of a nightmare. That being said, this isn’t his best film, but it certainly can be said that this might be the strangest movie I have ever seen.

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Nikki Grace (Laura Dern) is an actor whose time in the spotlight has ended, so when she lands a roll that might restart her career, she is ecstatic. The film is called On High in Blue Tomorrows and is being directed by Kingsley Stewart (Jeremy Irons) and her costar is Devon Burke (Justin Theroux), a man with quite a conspicuous sex life. As she gets deeper and deeper into her character, and her relationship with her costar seems to be getting closer, Nikki starts losing track of what is happening first, now, and later. Soon she can’t even begin to tell her life from the character’s leading to a complete psychological breakdown.

I’ve been putting off this review for a little while because the thought of reviewing a David Lynch movie and really giving it justice is a little intimidating. Much like his other movies, Inland Empire has many different interpretations and themes to explore, and everyone’s view of the whole can be very different. The first time through, it may seem like this movie makes absolutely no sense, but in the days to come and you think about it more, or even watch it again, things in the movie start to piece together and an idea will begin to form. Like Eraserhead and Mulholland Drive, I found Inland Empire to be quite frustrating.

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All interpretation aside, I have to say that I have a newfound respect for Laura Dern as an actor. Her performance demands a lot, from screaming and crying to manic laughing and then to calmness, maybe all in one scene. I can imagine that David Lynch is not the easiest director to work with, being in his own head and all, and even Dern has said that she isn’t entirely sure what the movie is about. Justin Theroux has said the same thing. Imagine acting on a movie where you really don’t know what it is about. That’s a tricky thing to do but they both pull it off very well and pull you into the “story,” despite how difficult it is.

This is where the review might get a little spoiler-ish because I want to talk about things in the film. You have been warned. Ok. In my opinion, Inland Empire is the story of a woman who is struggling to find a character that she is unable to tap into. Much like in Black Swan, she gets so obsessed with finding the character, that she sees herself becoming the character. At first it starts with scenes where we don’t know it’s the movie within a movie until the end of the scene to the point where nothing is really decipherable. This leads to the nightmarish world of Nikki’s mind. There’s still a lot that I’m not sure about, like the woman watching the television and the rabbit sit-com that we keep seeing. This just means the I’m going to have to watch it again.

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I can’t really say if Inland Empire is good or bad. It’s sort of one of those movies that redefines your definition of a good or bad movie. I will say that Inland Empire is art, through and through, but saying it’s entertaining wouldn’t be doing it justice. This is a terribly uncomfortable experience that you can’t help but staying focused on it, no matter how difficult it is. Fans of David Lynch will love his deepest, darkest trip into the fractured human mind, but anyone looking for a narrative that makes perfect sense will find no happiness with Inland Empire.