Once upon a time, many years ago, I went to see a double bill at the Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square. The cinema – a large one – was full for these two films, though this was perhaps less to do with the films themselves than that the Prince Charles is (was, at least) the cheapest cinema in London.
The first film was The Idiots by Lars von Trier, which I’m inclined to consider the worst cinematic experience of my life. I would have left the cinema, if a) it hadn’t been full and myself boxed in, and b) there was still the other film to come in the double bill. As von Trier’s fame has since grown, so my contempt for him has remained much the same. There’s no vision of art that quite as likely to annoy me as that it should set out to shock – especially when one is in the end not shocked, since one has seen far too much. Except, of course, to be shocked anyone should think so banal a film – a film so free of any evidence of thought or intelligence – should be taken seriously by anyone. (I also started watching his series, The Kingdom, but after a few episodes, it suddenly occurred to me that I was thoroughly bored).
So I don’t think I was entirely looking forward to the second film, which was made under the same doctrine and was called Festen; and yet, as it happened, Festen – another film which had pretensions perhaps to shock – was far better and far more entertaining.
Festen was directed by Thomas Vinterberg; but after these two contemporary films, the histories of these two directors departed. Von Trier, as mentioned, went on to great notoriety and won something at Cannes, while Vinterberg more or less disappeared off the map. IMDB records a movie The Third Lie from 2000 (two years after Festen), which appears not to exist, and then a few works he made for Danish TV (all of which are given dreadful ratings) and this Blur video. Then, in 2003, he made the film It’s All About Love.
I was really tired when I watched this, I should possibly have gone to sleep instead. I had tried a few other films, like George A Romero’s Survival of the Dead and Uwe Boll’s Rampage (I had the idea that extreme violence might keep me awake), but they contrived somehow to annoy me. Why I put on this film I can’t say, because nothing in my experience was suggesting it was a good moment to be watching it.
And yet watch I did, and found it oddly riveting.
Now, if you read through the IMDB comments on this film, you’ll find that a lot of people really, really didn’t like it – and what seems to have riled them is that the film is neither coherent nor has any obvious meaning. It is indeed a very meandering film: it meanders in plot, in ideas, even in genre. It starts out seemingly as an ordinary drama about a relationship perhaps, with a few odd sci-fi elements (people dropping dead and their bodies being left in the street … ok, one odd sci-fi element), and then there’s a bit of horror (an evil doppelganger), and then it turns into a thriller (they have to run away from some bad guys), and then a romance, until finally it just goes completely awry and ends with a long sequence of them wandering through snow (an ecological disaster has enveloped the world) and yes, there are those floating Ugandans too (you can see a picture of them here, on this blogpost about 3 movies never to recommend to anyone). There is also Sean Penn, who spends the entire film on a series of international flights, calling the protagonist on his mobile. Some of it is, on reflection, quite silly. One is inclined, if one has enjoyed it, to overlook it’s love-conquering-all type message and pretend it’s not really there.
No, I’m not at all sure why I liked it, or why it interested me more at that moment than people killing zombies.