Mittwoch, 3. September 2014

Venice Film Festival: 野火 (Fires on the Plain)

Japanese cinema does extreme like no other. "野火 (Fires on the Plain)", which tells the story of a group of abandoned soldiers hiding from unspecified enemies and killing off each other for survival towards the end of World War II, basically offers the the filmmakers a license to exercise their most savage imagination, and director Shinya Tsukamoto gladly takes the challenge.

The film starts off mercifully, perhaps deceptively light, introducing us to the ailing central character and the fatally treacherous surroundings he finds himself in, with "only" the occasional shots of dead bodies or scenes of animal slaughter. Even during this comparatively mild part of the movie, however, an exceptional stylistic fury is to be noted. The camera moves fast, presses close, instantly creating a distressing sense of panic. The overexposed imagery, splashing a kaleidoscope of colors across the screen, is so intense it buzzes with heat and a religious fervor. Fueling this feverish spell is further the strange, perturbing original score that sounds like a nightmarish hymn. Sitting through the first half hour, you feel trapped in a lush, twisted Buddhist paradise, unsettling but somehow also calm. That's before the second act kicks in, and then the third, of course.

Nothing in the latter parts of the film can possibly be called calm. Aggravated by hunger and controlled by beastly instincts, humanity peels off and carnage adds up. Not shying away from any last bit of gory detail, the director treats us to close-ups of blasted, decomposing corpses, severed limbs, brain matter, intestines and in one particularly memorable shot, a whole cheek falling off a man's face. The climax of the movie is reached in a massacre scene where, within blood-and-mud-splattered frames, humans explode practically like popcorn. Add to that ample depiction of cannibalistic acts, and the whole last hour passes like one endless, hellish scream.

I don't think anything justifies portrayals of this kind of über-violence, even when they're supposed to embody an anti-war message. As a work of cinema, it's just much too sickening to be defended. That said, the photography and music of the film are both ace as described. The blistering, abnormally bright impression they leave behind is hard to wipe away. Tsukamoto also plays the lead and looks appropriately lost, horror-stricken, eaten by insanity. Placing somewhere between arthouse and B-horror, Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Quentin Tarantino, this movie probably won't find a wide audience beyond its festival run and that's probably for the best.

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