Saturday, November 18, 2006

Review - Container

Whatever happened to Lukas Moodysson? Where did the director disappear to after creating three of the most beautiful and moving films of the past decade; and who is this miserable, tactless and aggressively charmless filmmaker who has stepped in to direct his last two pictures? As personality shifts go, the change that occurred between Moodysson’s 2002 masterpiece Lilja 4-Ever and 2004’s horrible A Hole in my Heart is a drastic and baffling one. The latter film displayed none of the humanism, subtlety, wit and intelligence of his first three pictures, and the result was a nihilistic and repulsive ordeal which seemed to be created solely as an empty provocation.

And yet, we still held out hope for this extraordinary young filmmaker. Every director stumbles once or twice in their career, and perhaps Moodysson would regain some of those former qualities with his next picture. Alas, Moodysson’s latest is just as depressingly awful as A Hole in my Heart. Actually, no; I think it might be even worse.
Container is a black-and-white film which runs for little over 70 minutes, but that’s just about 70 minutes too many. There’s no narrative here, just a series of murkily shot monochrome images which feature two people: a fat man (Peter Lorentzon) and a lithe Asian woman (Mariha Ã…berg). We don’t know who they are or what relationship they share at first, they’re just two random strangers who are filmed sitting in a messy apartment, making their way through a rubbish tip, or strapping a plastic foetus to their faces. Sometimes they’re together, sometimes they’re apart, sometimes they crawl on all fours, sometimes the man carries the woman on his back. The man is often seen wearing women’s clothing and, perhaps, the woman he carries around is an embodiment of the female trapped inside him. Who knows? Who the hell cares?

This is barely a ‘film’ in the traditional sense at all; there’s nothing to grab hold of, nothing to draw our interest and no attempt to shape these images into a meaningful whole. The whole farrago is accompanied by a whispering voiceover from American actress Jena Malone, which is possibly the only interesting thing about the film. Malone’s ceaseless narration is a stream of consciousness which touches on a wide variety of barely connected topics - the Virgin Mary, the Holocaust, pregnancy, etc. - and she also seems to take on a variety of roles as she talks. At first, it’s as if she is acting as the inner voice of the fat man, but then she introduces herself as Jena Malone, telling us that she has come to Sweden for the first time in order to record this narration. Her specific role in the proceedings becomes even more blurred as Container progresses and the monologue seems to take her down a series of blind alleys.

This aspect of the film is slightly more engaging because Malone has a great delivery. Her measured reading is soft, wistful and slightly erotic; and in conjunction with the surreal visuals, it could have produced something quite unsettling and haunting. But Malone’s running commentary rarely - if ever - aligns with what we see on screen. It’s just a frustratingly opaque collision between sound and imagery, and it’s almost impossible to figure out what on earth Moodysson is trying to say.

In truth, I don’t think he has anything to say. A Hole in my Heart was undeniably repugnant, but at least it seemed to come from a place of genuine anger and emotion, and it was provocative in a way few films manage to be. When Moodysson filmed the horrible act of one character vomiting into another’s mouth, and then set it against the glorious, exhilarating sound of Bach’s St Matthew Passion, I didn’t know what I was supposed to think or feel about the sight in front of me - but by God, I sure felt something. Container offers nothing on that level. It offers nothing at all. The film just sits lifelessly on the cinema screen. It’s a flaccid, ugly and ridiculously soporific fiasco which may be better suited to an art gallery; a place where people can wander past, observe a few minutes of the film, and then walk away. They might laugh at the self-indulgent and meaningless pretension on show, but the choices Moodysson is making in his work are no laughing matter.

In a way, perhaps it’s all Ingmar Bergman’s fault. It was he who described Moodysson as “a young master” when he burst onto the scene a few years ago - high praise indeed from such a legendary figure - and Moodysson now seems determined to rebel against the expectations people have of what his career should be. The director has stated in interviews that he reckons Container will find an appreciative audience of about seven, as if it’s something to be proud of, and it’s disheartening to think that this film is nothing more than a wind-up, with Moodysson taking a childish delight in pissing people off. I hate the thought of Moodysson continuing to squander his considerable gifts on this kind of pointless fare, but he seems to be a law unto himself and who knows what his next move will be? Whatever type of filmmaker he chooses to be from this point on, at least he has given us Show me Love, Together and Lilja 4-Ever - three wonderful films to cherish. I just hope we see the old Lukas Moodysson again some day.