Movies of the Week #17 (2023)

In The Company of Men (1997): Neil LaBute might have had two new movies released last year, but his early work will probably remain the one that he’ll be remembered for. While The Shape of Things was an interesting experiment, his debut feature, the one I’m discussing here, stands out as one of the hardest hitting office “romances” ever made. Two co-workers, down-on-love, decide to woo a woman in their office building, with the ulterior plan of dropping her at the same time. The set-up goes one step “worse”, because their target is hearing-impaired, which makes her both more tragic and more abstract at the same time. Defenseless, in the company of men, so to say. What elevates the movie is that in spite of its apparent black and white morals, there are layers that defy categorization, ultimately questioning our perception of ourselves. 9

Berberian Sound Studio (2012): Peter Strickland remains one of my favourite idiosyncratic directors out there, even if BBS isn’t quite at the level of The Duke of Burgundy or In Fabric. It stars Toby Jones as Gilderoy, a sound engineer who is off to Italy to work on an obscure project of an exotic auteur director, the movie being set in the 1970s. Things aren’t quite what they appear, as the tame Gilderoy finds out he’s supposed to work on a giallo production, and even as he tries to focus on the technicalities that the production demands, the life surrounding the production grows more and more tense…until it’s all turned on its head, for a mysterious, yet captivating finale. It was interesting to find out that this had actually been a short, released before Strickland’s first feature, Katalin Varga, with the director describing it rather beautifully: “I wanted to make a film where everything that is usually hidden in cinema, the mechanics of film itself, is made visible. Berberian… turns this on its head. Here, the film is out of view, and you only see the mechanics behind it”. As with all of Strickland’s films, BBS also comes close to overindulgence, but there’s a rich experience worth unpacking in its many layers. 8

Exhibition (2013): Joanna Hogg’s study of a couple living out their last weeks in their dream home will work your soul in unexpected ways. There aren’t that many movies where a home is so much of a character, Exhibition going so far as to mention the building’s architect in the credits. While not a narrative-driven movie, it plays out as an intriguing character study, not only in architectural terms, but also as far as its leading couple is concerned. They live together, but apart, not unlike so many of us in more or less precarious relationships, searching for an intimacy that often appears out of reach. Connecting and, especially, reconnecting, both to each other and to the world around is a strong undercurrent throughout Exhibition, which proves another Hogg-esque entry in the pantheon of Hogg – acquired taste, sure, but there’s always something to taste. 7

Sexual Drive (2021): I’ll make this a week of arthouse oddities, starting with Kôta Yoshida’s three short stories about sexual proclivities. Connected by the presence of the mysterious Kurita, the movie finds the intersection between desire, fetish and food, to unexpectedly humorous effect. It might not always hit as well as it could have, but it manages to tap into its characters and their particular, yet somehow relatable cravings with lasting effect. Without spoiling much, odds are it will…stick with you in ways you wouldn’t have imagined beforehand. 7

Întregalde (2021): There are levels to Întregalde, a movie about a bunch of people distributing donations in rural Romania who end up stuck and somewhat lost in the wintery forest. What I liked about it is that it stays very grounded and defies the more dramatic expectations the viewer might have based on past cinematic experiences. The way director Radu Muntean handles its slightly mentally deteriorated character is part of this groundedness, but he also finds a bit of Lynchianism in what might have one time been described as “eccentric”. 7