invasion of the paramount: day two

day two belongs to jesse trussell, the paramount's film programmer extraordinaire, so i knew i would be in for something good. i did not know, however, that i would be in for something transformative. we begin the day with věra chytilová's daisies (1966).

it is a film that steadfastly resists easy summation. basically, it follows the exploits of two oddly beautiful young girls who have decided, since the world itself is going bad, that they have nothing to lose by doing the same. what follows is a series of cacophonous, kaleidoscopic, anarchic vignettes in which they deflate and subvert every social norm that crosses their path. mirroring their exploration, the film itself is not bound by the rules of filmmaking as we know them. spastic cuts and a rainbow of filters make sure that form follows function. it's almost like children's programming, if the exclusive goal of children's programming was to raise a generation intent on smashing the state. filmmakers in eastern europe walked a fine line during this time. they had to be fluent in a carefully coded dual language that could be highly critical of the oppression they suffered while being sly enough to not make the obtuse ruling powers suspicious. chytilová pushes that to the extreme here, making something that, to the unimaginative bureaucrat, looks artless and inane. all the while, she is using these two manic avatars to shake all their societal constraints until they come crashing down hilariously around their ears. did i mention she did it using state-sanctioned funds and resources? brilliant. the key to the film's success on that front, i think, is an absolute lack of overt political malice on the part of our protagonists. these girls move through their world as complete innocents, intent only on devouring every experience. the fact that they find your rules of little use is but a happy coincidence. it is a dizzying, pioneering and fearless bit of work, notable as well for the significant strength of female characters. even in considerably more free cultures in 1966 you would be have been hard pressed to find two female characters who so fully dictated their own terms. even now, their freewheeling explosiveness and anarchic glee make thelma and louise (1991) look about as exciting as a couple of mail sorters. i know this is not going to be everyone's idea of a good time but i feel like i have just opened my eyes for the first time in years. this was one of those experiences that i chase the cinematic dragon in search of. i have never seen anything like it before, an experience in itself that is valuable, but it's more than that. it's a reminder that art is powerful and chaotic and fun and important. and it only took a forty-six year old film to do it. i can't believe i haven't seen it before now. actually, maybe it is coming to me just at the right time. if you would like to take a trip through this czech new wave looking glass, some kind soul has made it very simple to do so. for those of you in the mood for a funny, frenetic lightning bolt of subversive surrealism, here is the film in its entirety:

charged with the herculean task of following that, we have a norwegian import, joachim trier's reprise (2006).

the film chronicles the intertwined lives and fortunes of phillip and erik, a pair of aspiring young novelists. we start with them together at a mailbox, dropping their manuscripts in together which kicks off a clever montage of imagined events for which these manuscripts are the catalyst. it is a striking way to begin the film because it makes you hyper-aware that every action we undertake, every decision we make is a junction. each one is the starting point for an infinite number of new universes, each working for, against and beside everyone else's. boldly underlining this theme, the film then settles into a more subtle exploration of the idea as we see the reality of the boys' efforts play out. phillip's novel is actually published and is moderately successful. erik's is rejected, as it should be, for it seems to me he lacks gravitas. success does not insure happiness however, as the next time we see phillip he is being picked up from the hospital after recovering from a suicide attempt. we follow the boys as they engage in the pursuit of women, literary success and contentment. it's a coming of age story of sorts, which, if you're a regular around here, you know doesn't do a lot for me in most cases. this one suffers from some of those pitfalls. the biggest impediment to me (always) is the amount of bullshit masculine energy that is expended by almost every pack of twenty-something males put on screen that i am supposed to relate to. granted, these guys are mostly more erudite than average, but that still doesn't stop the group dynamic from occasionally veering dangerously close to swingers (1996), just with guys that have better libraries. i would assume, unfortunately, based on how much i see it portrayed in popular culture, that this is standard operating procedure for men/dudes hanging out? i have never been part of a pack of "bros", so i don't know. didn't want it then, don't want it now, will never understand why someone does. god help you if you try to pitch it to me as some sort of universal touchstone. fortunately, there is much more to the film than that. anders danielsen lie really shines as phillip, the odd one out of the group, truly talented and honestly pained. where erik would adopt a tortured artist persona because he read somewhere that writers are supposed to do that, phillip is truly mildly mentally ill. it's manageable, yes, but there is an imbalance there that makes his suffering very real, rather than a shopworn cliche to be put on, and lie imparts a real believability to the highs and lows that beset the struggling kid. it is him that you come to care about the most and it is his arc that comes to the most satisfying conclusion, finding love with a girl who learns to manage, and assist with, his instability, devoted but wary enough to not kid herself. they are worth watching for and they close it down with just the right note of resignation mixed with hope. with all their friends getting married, getting jobs, having kids or having careers all around them, they are the two who are actually quietly growing up.

it could be that i am being too harsh about it. that might not have been the case if i had reversed the order of the two films. it's just that daisies was so wildly inventive and so aggressively, smartly feminine that reprise probably didn't stand a chance today. again, not that reprise is bad. it is very good. but even very good pales next to revolutionary. it was a nice, clever bit of programming, though. i would expect no less from jesse. it is his job, after all. it was a deft blend of personal/political, social/temporal, literary/visual and male/female. chalk one up for the girls today. daisies really undid me in the best way. it confounded my every expectation. it was a true gift. thanks, jesse!

if you guys want to keep up with what jesse has in store for paramount film fans year 'round, you should check out film at the paramount. all the news that's fit to print.

rumor has it that tomorrow things may get a little dark.

but i say where there is love, there is light.

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