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Bob Doto [Celluloid 03.14.09] movie review drama



[Editor's note: Beket had it's world premier at Locarno and just had it's North American premier]

Year: 2008
Release date: Unknown
Directors: Davide Manuli
Writers: Davide Manuli
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Bob Doto
Rating: 7 out of 10

Davide Manuli's BEKET is a black-and-white film from Italy about… hmm… “about”… funny word. Longing? Sort of. Waiting? For sure. Well-dressed Itailan men? Some what. Floating buses? Doesn’t hurt to mention it. Idleness? Is the playground of the devil. Trance music? I’m becoming more sympathetic to it. The search? Definitely! BEKET is about the search, and what happens when you get to the one woman who can lead you to what it is you are searching for.

Sort of.


Before the film began I wondered what version of Becket I would encounter. Would it be Krapp, Endgame, Happy Days, Godot? The opening two scenes, first a man walking alone over an expanse of dried earth, followed by him being greeted by a man on a horse lead by a servant, lead me to believe that this was a retelling of Waiting for Godot. But, then there was this other guy who popped in and he’s sitting alone too, only playing with his shoes. Then I think: Krapp’s Last Tape? A stretch to be sure, but maybe I’m about to enter a world where all of Beckett’s themes meander from scene to scene in some sort of absurdist retrospective. However, soon enough it all made sense. It’s Godot. Only in this film, we rarely wait in the true sense of the word. Here, we search for Godot.

The opening of the film is a single shot of a man, whom we will not get to know, shadow boxing the viewer while dressed in a shiny (silver?) robe. From there we enter the story in all its biblical absurdity. Our main character, Jaja, asks people questions. Questions like, “Would you like to hear the story of the two thieves?” When his newfound companion, Freak, who claims to have been the singer in an old punk band answers “No” he simply asks again, beginning a theme of repetition that plays throughout the entire film.

Experimental writer Gertrude Stein has said, “There is no such thing as repetition. Only insistence.” A human can never do, say, or suggest the same thing twice. The better you understand that the more likely you will be able to appreciate the language and acts of BEKET, because things happen more than once in this world. Characters will repeat themselves to the point of replaying entire dialogues. When Jaja and Freak stumble upon a three-person performance of a svelte and hipply-dressed Eve lambasting a rotund Adam for being hungry, while Eve’s female lover sits watching, you can be sure they will reenact the scene three times before its conclusion. The two lovers end only when Adam gives his reason for not being able to feed the starving Eve. He’s a DJ. “Well if you’re a DJ,” Eve proclaims, “than make us dance.” At which point techno music (another reoccurring theme of sorts) blasts from nowhere and the three of them drunkenly dance to its hypnotic beat.

Later, our travelers will meet a man named 06, a sort of Ringo Starr-looking Death or Elijah character, who will drive them to seemingly random points in the desert. When asked who he is, he responds (of course more than once), “I could be everything and nothing, but not a policeman.” And how!

Lucky for Jaja and Freak, a policeman is not what they are looking for. They are looking for Godot who they believe lives on the other side of a mountain, which is also where the seemingly out-of-place techno music comes from. But first they will need a guide, as not just anyone can find Godot. From here they go to meet the Oracle, who plays a mean noise-centric guitar solo over-and-over again on a toy guitar. he also sings and sings and sings and sings. Why not? Unfortunately for Jaja and freak, however, the Oracle can not tell them how to find Godot. With the exception of some vague directions, “Go straight and then turn both right and left” the two seekers are out of luck.

Introducing, The Great Mother. Eventually, Jaja and Freak find out that the only person who can help them find Godot is a most beautiful scantily clad woman who just so happens to love swimming next-to-naked in her island’s pristine waters. It is here where the story takes a precarious turn.

As a whole I really enjoyed BEKET. For those of you wanting to fill out that DVD shelf devoted to the avant-garde this is obviously a film you need to have. Show it to your friends and they’ll think you have a handle on difficult cinema. Don’t be fooled, however, I’m not so sure the film is aware of itself as much as it portends. You see, I’d like to give this film a 7.5 or eight, but something is holding me back.

For anyone who was privy to a recent discussion on Quiet Earth regarding the use of lesbianism as stock shock value, this film will either A. make you cringe, or B. completely delight you, for BEKET is a male movie with all the trappings. It’s a film about Man searching for that something he feels he is missing. Women feature only as nagging wives who ultimately love other women, or insanely sexy beach goddesses who will perhaps give your life more than it can handle. Two men walk the Earth waxing philosophical, even if tortured and very funny to the beat of a perpetual rave. And, here’s where I will make a rather uncool and blasphemous leap, but it is a move I believe has to be made.

I’m kind of done with the man-as-tortured-existentialist film. Not forever. Just for now. I’ve also never liked Apatow guy-flicks, which have come to smother the last remaining twitches of big-budget films. And for me, I can’t help but see some of the recent horribleness that is the obsession with “bromance” peek through BEKET. Taking a step back and forgetting all the black-and-whiteness, the overtly intentional and sparse dialogue, the cozying up to the absurd, the forced randomness of prop placement (think: lone card table on a desert island), and the “boo-hoo life is meaningless” quandary we find our noble protagonists in, what you are left with is a film about two dudes looking for something they can not find supported by a handful of hot actresses with foul mouths, threadbare clothing, and a penchant for kissing each other. Sound like anything you’ve seen lately? Perhaps not in 1951, but what about in 2009?

Is all that separates two guys looking for their car (a la Dude Where’s My Car?) from two dudes looking for Godot a familiarity with disjunctive narrative techniques? Ugh. I’m starting to wonder. Again, I don’t want to take the comparison too far, and perhaps I’m just getting a bit apathetic, but I feel like there are more universal appreciations of the search for Godot than two dudes in a desert.

I want to believe that BEKET is self-aware enough to know that existentialism was a really male-centric exploration (aside from and including Simone’s important role as lover and theorist), but I also want to believe that BEKET is not self-assured in its appreciation of the “existentiabsurdist” take on life. Tantra is a path that leads to realization through the aspects of our everyday life. Perhaps Jaja and Freak should come back down to Earth and start engaging the women they meet and not simply observe them.

In any case, BEKET is a good film. It’s smart and funny and difficult and possibly important. You should see it.

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