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Manuel de Layet [Celluloid 05.24.16] Canada drama



How acquainted are you with Oedipus? Not the Freudian mess, cobbled together to give gravitas to a simple residual mammalian pack-behavior, but the Hermetic symbolism. Oedipus, "he of the engorged feet" is, like most of ancient mysticism, a clever bit of psychology. A simple tale to illustrate a common affliction and in the case of It's Only the End of the World, a wonderful meta-explanation of everything. The movie, the play it is based on, the speech the director gave upon receiving this year's marketing boost, etc,.


I've avoided this particular director as best as I've could for years, mostly out of an unshakable distaste of the person, but I couldn't dodge that particular bullet Honestly, one could have led a long and fruitful life without ever seeing it. Now my position as of late is to try and find something worthwhile in everything. That wasn't easy to come by in this case, hence Oedipus.


But let's start with the basics. The pitch is a family dinner, revolving around a son coming home after a dozen of years to herald his imminent death. This is a rather common exercise in style, you have seen it a thousand times before so, well, there are expectations. Will it be Chabrol-esque? How much of a cross between Festen and The Barbarian Invasions can we expect? Will it end up like Kill List, all dinner party and naked people? Will they eat pound-cake? Is an incestuous orgy totally out of the question? All these questions, all these numerous previous experiences are there waiting on the curb to judge the newcomer, and in this case they found it wanting.


The experience is a bit like having to sit through a collection of bad Arcade Fire clips strewn with bits of hysterical yelling. It's wrong on so many levels I'm at a loss to find a place to start.



The character design is something I was hoping never again to see, one dimensional beings that you can sum up in a paltry of words, "Jewish-mother", "wife-beater blue-collar", "daddy-issues stoner-girl", "gay-creative", "Potiche" (not sure of the English on this one – maybe "insignificant other"?). Not, from what I've scrolled through during the various down-times of the festival, that the initial characters where better described in the play, if anything they were actually sketchy, leaving more room to ponder their motives. But even a rough sketch is preferable to that collection of caricatures which is clearly so spiteful of the infinite diversity of humankind it should have no place outside of sitcoms.


The dialog is also abysmal. There is a vacuity to it and each character has a key-phrase they keep saying over and over in various degrees of screeching, like psittacines being pruned by a wandering Englishman. And yet, despite all these pointers in favor of an Ionesco inspired vaudeville, these boulevard histrionics, this cannot be classified as such. The pompous flashbacks shot like atrocious music videos or sportswear ad campaigns are essentially why.


At regular intervals, roughly every 15 minutes, the main protagonist goes into a pseudo black-out and remembers scenes from his past. It's always brought in the exact same way, the background going out of focus and melting into something else with music that has neither rhyme nor reason with the action. The hero (for want of a better term) bored of not being the center of attention on his return, nor the void in the lives of his relatives he obviously deserved to be, refocuses on what really matters: himself.


Since I'm neither an ADHD suffering kid nor a complete waste of gray matter, having the same idea hammered into my face for 90 minutes feels more than just condescending. It is a downright insult.


As for the execution of the whole, well, there are two types of main shots: The "characters 5 meters apart" and the "off-center head shot with blurry background" alternated continuously through buffer frames. The intended effect is so obvious it shouldn't be dignified with a comment, but the result is the stuff of nightmares, of storyboards made by a bad mangaka at the end of a coke binge. There is also a pair of rather pathetic attempts at a symbolic treatment of Hope, opening and closing scenes, that led me to believe this movie is unfortunately aimed toward a young audience.


The redeeming factor in all this, for there is one, is the cast performances. Cassel in particular seems to enjoy himself tremendously at portraying a shaved ape, and Seydoux is on her steady way to become the most important actress of the decade. Something I'm pretty convinced of since her incredible performance in The Lobster, and further reinforced here. She does manage to turn the caricature she has to work with into something natural and almost touching, and that's quite a feat as a good two-thirds of her dialogue consist of "I have a car, I can drive you, you know, I have a car." Sadly their respective talent isn't enough to help the picture stay afloat.


Now, you're surely wondering what the damning heck Oedipus has to do with anything I wrote. So let's elaborate.


For those without the benefits of a classical education, the tale of Oedipus goes more or less like this: a toddler gets cast out in the wilderness with both ankles crushed. He manages to grow up despite now having feet the size of cantaloupes, gets back to his own town out of pure luck, ends up killing his father and fucking his own mother with reckless abandon; all that without anyone involved realizing who they are or what they are doing until the end when, upon discovering the truth, the mother commits suicide and Oedipus blinds himself with a knitting needle. (I said more or less so don't go nitpicking on me).


This story understood at face value by a certain Austrian, dull enough to take the form as the subject, ended up as a complex. Nothing more than a botched explanation for some residual pack behavior in the young human male (you know... the whole alpha-dog thing and the reason most mammals get rid of their offspring as soon as possible once weaned), but it's far more than that.


Whatever the tradition, Hermetic, Mithraic, Gnosis, Golden Dawn, Ohio Grand Moose Lodge, there are particular constants to the couple of symbols that is Father/Mother. The mother is the physical, the senses, the ugly biological state of the human condition whereas the father is the analytical mind, the logic and an ideal to tend towards.


Equilibrium, stability - have you ever wondered why we use the exact same set of expressions for body and mind? Why does feet washing have so much importance in the Bible? Why are the disciples at the feet of the master? Through a rather simple transposition what makes us able to stand up and walk about in the physical became symbol for its equivalent in the psychic: our mind, our first level of consciousness.


Now the thing about that type of ancient and accepted mysticism is that most of the knowledge is in front of you if you know how to look: So "he of the engorged feet" kills his father and gamahuches his mother to kingdom come. You should see where this is going now.


The engorged feet are a sickness of the mind, an infatuation with the self so potent the logical, analytical and, by extend, social faculties of the individual dwindle. In killing his father Oedipus renounces all higher mental processes, and without him the mind can only act through the mere animal wiring of the sense, unfiltered, unchecked, hence the subsequent two-pennies upright with the mother. There is no more thought beyond a pulsing action / reaction, like protoplasm worming away from a needle. A state the human mind cannot accommodate for long without consequences, the final blinding being the last attempt at their refusal.


So we have a guy who has his head so far up his arse he's lucky not to be a unicorn, that makes a tremendous mess of his life, destroying others in the process and ends up maiming himself instead of acknowledging he fucked up. That's for the Greek tale. It's a tale intended to elevate people above its moronic hero and that is my biggest problem here.


You see, in the play, and even more in this dumbed down version of a movie, the protagonist is the perfect illustration of that particular tale. The only matter of import to him is himself, he's like a toddler wanting a new toy and not comprehending why he can't have it. In fact given the last scene, the childish symbol of hope dying because in the end he didn't get what he wanted, it's clearly made as a normalizing statement of that kind of self-entitlement. That instead of struggling to better yourself it's better to drag down others to your level.


It's like saying the earth is flat, it's despicable.

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