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Manuel de Layet [Celluloid 09.05.14] comedy thriller crime

Only at L'Etrange Festival will you catch me watching a romantic comedy with musical pieces. But of course, only at l'Etrange can you see one where the hopeful swain is a schizophrenic serial killer having conversations on the innate dichotomy of good and evil with his house pets.

This is normally the part where I'm supposed to retell the pitch, talk about the quaint whimsical "middle-of-nowhere, America" setting of The Voices and call it Wes Anderson-esque, present the cast and characters, do the predictable jokes on "the voices made me do it," throw David Lynch in the fray, and basically fill up space with pre-chewed garbage according to the modern tropes than transformed any form of journalism into a glorified publicity machine. I do enough of that elsewhere and you're all big enough to get the info on the IMDb if you want mere data. We are, after all, one of the few places not giving "percentage" or "stars" to let the festering masses know what we think of the contents we review so you're obviously here for something else. For the millennials reading me let's say it's Dr. Doolittle with less Eddy Murphy, more severed bits and a conga line. Consider everything below this point as "TL/DR."

Now that I've alienated the easily offendable audience, let's talk Cinema. As far as festival-openers go, this one sets the tone for a truly marvellous vintage and the bar pretty high for the other movies I will review. Actually this one put me in such a good mood that instead of being my usual hater of everything and saying it's a mere hodgepodge of all the possible clichés since the first porn-laden Sumerian mosaic, I'm gonna be nice and tell you sorry lot to entertain yourselves by seeing it.

Don't get me wrong, it is indeed a patchwork of clichés, references, and all the tripe you can sprinkle pink sugar on in this particular genre. BUT it's cleverly done and beautifully shot for a change.

There are two marvellous films in my battered cortex that do ring a bell when saying "musical" and "serial killer." One is the chilling documentary The Act of Killing, (must see if you haven't - have a barf bag ready if you're squeamish),the other is the cult Les demoiselles de Rochefort by Jacques Demy. In the aforesaid Demy there is, throughout the whole romance and dancing and singing, the darker trail of a killer on the loose. In a distorted echo, The Voices has a trail of butterflies and rainbows amidst the rampage and self-deprecation, making it a perfect companion piece.

This, I think, is one of the highest praises I'll ever bestow a movie. Continuing with the analogies to other cultural landmarks The Voices takes it's ending from Hair, a sprinkle here and there of Schramm or Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, bits and bobs universally used by every horror comedy since the eighties and above all, it is full to the brim with knowing winks to “Paradise Lost;” the poem not the hair-metal band.

Nothing new under the sun as I said, but to misquote Tanith Lee "Yes, it was already done a million times but not by me" and director Marjana Satrapi does a wonderful job in mixing and matching all these influences into something delightfully entertaining.

Among its many qualities, besides refreshing old ropes in a well executed manner, are the complete absence of the usual sex scenes, as little violence as possible given the subject, not a single child as pathos placeholder and a mere acknowledgment of the modern world (feeling more like an after-thought than an era defining setting). This a temporality means that unlike many things done in recent years, this movie will age remarkably well. You could transpose the story to the Roman Empire without it losing any appeal.

A little more on the “Paradise Lost” connection because it's worth noting: apart for the obvious references like the town being called Milton and a bit of trivia on the named angels in the bible, what you have here is a modern day, little town depiction of the fall of the Morning Star, his struggle to get back at the All-mighty by reigning in Hell since he cannot serve in even Heaven anymore. It's something you can either analyze for years without end, or simply dismiss as "daddy issues" cliché to put on the same shelf as the "glimmer of redemption" and the "final acceptance of self."

Now to get to the core of the matter, all the plot revolves on the usual depiction of conflicting thoughts, the "angel and demon on shoulders," here transposed as "dog and cat on the sofa;" the cat obviously being the evil one thanks to centuries of symbolism, barn door nailing, and in this particular case, a Scottish accent.

If good and evil doesn't suit you, the same animals can be placeholders for spirituality and carnality, or the male and female principles. The perpetual antagonism as a driving force of the universe, even the cult of eternal ice if you'd like.

Nothing new under the sun, but the major reason some things become cliché is that they are the semiotic equivalents of duct tape and a screwdriver. And where cleverly used they can fuse and transcend themselves to the point where a movie centering on a loneliness so extreme the hero hallucinates an alternate life and it gets the entire theatre laughing in almost perfect unison during its course.

Proof indeed of both the director's talent and an audience bonding over the most celebrated form of entertainment.

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