Sometimes Alexander Sokurov, Werner Herzog and Pedro Almodóvar are ingenious, but their newest releases regress. Sokurov’s gorgeous bullcrap in The Sun is the definition of hagiography. He elegizes Emperor Hirohito’s deposition of his own divinity at the end of WWII as a confrontation between rationality and superstition, poetry and politics, tradition and personal expediency. Sokurov’s usual spiritual mysticism dreamily suggests Hirohito possessed a skeptic’s interest in science and historical fact. (Issey Ogata performs Hirohito uncannily with dignified reserve but tentative, punctilious gestures and tics.) This whimsical pretense is fairly spellbinding—measured and layered with multimedia references—until a completely factitious conversation (script by Yuri Arabov) between Hirohito and General MacArthur that demonizes America. “Why doesn’t the U.S.A. really catch fish? Because we can buy anything. We can buy all living creatures and it’s cheaper for us than to equip our own ships, and we don’t need other nation’s territories. But what can you buy? Now that’s geopolitics!” Perhaps the most politically jejune moment ever filmed, it absolutely separates Sokurov’s visual mastery from good sense. His high-art biopic is lower than Oliver Stone’s pop-art biopic W.
Herzog trades his usual interest in outrageous real-life exploits for the hysteria of Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. He remakes Abel Ferrara’s 1992 Harvey Keitel film into a drama about the psychosis haunting New Orleans that no Hurricane Katrina doc has dared show. Watching Nicolas Cage’s take on Keitel’s role reveals Herzog’s motive: Cage’s sociopathic cop represents modern moral chaos. Man’s fall focuses Herzog’s fascination with the universe’s anarchy and the result is often unexpectedly comical—as when Cage teams with a drug dealer (Xzibit) in a war against disquieted (break-dancing) souls. The cop’s romance with a prostitute (Eva Mendes) and love for his family counters his junkie’s desperation. Cage’s receding hairline and hunchback performance evokes Conrad Veidt—a Klaus Kinski-like maniac—because this is, in fact, a German Expressionist horror film and comedy. Herzog’s wobbly tone reflects William Finkelstein’s unstable script. This oddball vision feels awkward after Neveldine-Taylor’s extraordinary Crank 2: High Voltage, an action sequel that ramps-up the culture of over-stimulation. Its bizarre, disorienting satire of action-movie ruthlessness outpaces Herzog.
Broken Embraces is another of
Almodóvar’s overlong, convoluted sexual melodramas—this time about an actress, Magdalena (Penélope Cruz), who falls in love with a film director. His self-referential, movie-within-a-movie games are lavish yet humorless. Almodóvar lost his nerve when he acquired expensive technique. Inspired by Buñuel and De Palma, he used to match them. Now, his once underground satires are just expensive tearjerkers. Magdalena’s trials don’t advance appreciation of erotic eccentricities but settle for fancy, middle-class trashiness.
Almodóvar’s interest in varieties of passion curiously lack gay gusto, only camp or pathos. It’s impossible to salute his eminence without also accepting the status quo. Almodóvar certainly opened the door for putting gay sensibility on screen—there’d be no Julián Hernández without him—but with Broken Embraces, Almodóvar’s retreat into the bourgeois feels closeted.
Directed by Alexander Sokurov
Film Forum, Nov. 18-Dec. 1
Runtime: 110 min.
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
Directed by Werner Herzog
Runtime: 121 min
Directed by Pedro Almodóvar
Runtime: 127 min.
Trackback from your site.