Dealer (2004)

23 12 2008

As unintentionally hilarious as it sounds, the physical experience of watching this was a little bit like watching Dreyer’s Vampyre, which I reviewed only a couple days ago. There’s no striking similarities, or obvious thematic connection, but ultimately, I couldn’t appreciate either film beyond just being formal studies. Both are fascinating to watch, but I would be lying if I said I’d like to see them again. Criticizing either film for being “all style, no substance” is a little too harsh, especially since I don’t think substance is tangible element of films, but I have to admit that they both could have been a lot more interesting.

Benedek Fliegauf’s film observes the final days of a drug dealer (hence the title) as he roams around the city, revisiting old friends and former flames, but also (of course) making drug deals. It starts out very fascinating, but rather quickly takes a turn to dullness. The fact that the film is “slow” has nothing to do with its torturous pace, but more because it doesn’t even seem to be slow for the right reason. People criticize Gus Van Sant’s death trilogy for trying to be slow for slow sake, and its easy to understand what they’re trying to say. After all, Van Sant had been working in mainstream Hollywood for many years prior. The thing is, his self-conscious “art” films are slow because the content calls for it. Two guys roaming around in a desert should be slow because it underscores the narrative.

Back on topic here, Fliegauf’s story does not (at least in my mind) call for such a meditative aesthetic. This film could have been great had it not limited the dramatic “chaos” (for lack of a better term) into Fliegauf’s formal appreciation of Miklos Jancso. His camera floats around the room, observing the protagonist’s life. As I said earlier, it is fascinating to watch, at least for awhile, but it doesn’t seem appropriate for what is happening on-screen. A rotating tracking shot of a woman shooting up heroin may have a deadpan comedic tinge to it, but a scene with the same woman yelling about her child doesn’t.

Comedy is obviously not the only reason for a director to choose the “minimalistic” route so I’m not exactly criticizing Fliegauf for not making his film funny enough, but instead, the form doesn’t seem to fit with the content. Tsai Ming-Liang, for example, makes wonderful “slow” movies. In my mind, he’s one of the best, but the thing is, all his stories are around loneliness and/or ennui (among many others thing, obviously) so they work perfectly with a slower pace. Maybe Fliegauf’s film is groundbreaking just because it doesn’t fit this mold, but it just ends up feeling too forced. Again, this isn’t a bad film by any means, it just a curious one that maybe will take on a greater importance in my cinematic “evolvement” but for now, it is a well-made piece but a bit too much on the ponderous side.

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One response

23 12 2008
Jan S

Though I guess it really is an extremely formally experimental approach, I disagree about the pace being forced. It’s like that to set a certain mood, to practically hypnotise the viewer. Notice the buzzing sound loop that goes on throughout the [i]whole[/i] film, non-stop. Breaking that scheme for even one scene would ruin the experience it sets out to keep you in. It’s absolutely ingenious how Fliegauf mixes deadpan humour into that kind of setting and gets away with it.

On that note, I guess you can’t really ever fully appreciate this if you don’t think it’s completely hilarious. I do. Then again, I’m kind of a weirdo. 😦

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