Monday, July 31, 2006

Container (2006)

Lukas Moodysson follows up his underrated confrontational objet d'art A Hole in My Heart with a film that seems designed to alienate even further the crowd who once had him pegged as the Great White Hope of Humanism. This one's a strange bird -- a portly man and a woman wander through a ruined landscape while Jena Malone whispers a narration that has nothing to do with what we're seeing. The disconnect between the words and the images, between what the man is doing and (presumably) what he's thinking, is pretty fascinating for about forty minutes. But then Jena smashes the cinematic illusion by identifying herself as Jena Malone. Then the film runs out of ideas. Still, there's a lot of worthwhile stuff here. Malone's commentary is amusing and affecting in equal measure (at least until she breaks character), as she spins out a rambling discourse on starstruckness and confused sexuality. Pop-culture references are abound (such as when Malone intones, "If I were a boy, I would have sex with Paris Hilton all day long"), as are references to transgenderism and being a woman in a man's body. The ultimate message seems clear: Our bodies are in some way ourselves, but said bodies are all just containers for our consciousnesses, and we can only understand the world through the filter of our interests. It's this acknowledgment of the human capacity for self-involvement that provides for much of the best parts of this film, most notably the Sudan story; meanwhile, Moodysson's direction reinforces this through the use of inky black-and-white photography and limited light, showing us only what we need to see at the time. There is a vanishing point for this kind of thing, though, and the pretension does become overwhelming. Furthermore, the film's last half-hour is repetitious; there's still interesting stuff (i.e. the part where Malone talks about her favorite collectibles, with a pair of boots taking precedence over a letter from Auschwitz), but it mostly rehashes concepts that have been well-established. This probably would have worked better as a short film, but even so I'm happy to see it exist. Despite his radical shifts in material, Moodysson hasn't really changed much since Show Me Love -- he's still advocating empathy with the outcast and the downtrodden. He's just found different and more exciting ways to express himself. And if Container is ultimately a bit of a dead end, it still shows an artist who's willing to challenge himself.

Grade: C+


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