Borderlands (Zev Berman, 2007): 6.5/10

The Magic Flute (Ingmar Bergman, 1975): 7/10

La Guerre Est Finie (Alain Resnais, 1966): 7/10

Speed Racer (The Wachowski Brothers, 2008): 8/10

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Friday, October 05, 2007

Woman in the Dunes (Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1964)

Sand is terrifying. I never thought that before seeing Women in the Dunes (or Women of the Dunes, as it's known in Britain), but now, drowning in sand is as viable an option as drowning in the ocean. Set in the isolated sand dunes of rural Japan, a teacher/amateur etymologist is trying to find rare sand bugs when he finds he's missed the last bus out of town. A friendly local man tells him he can stay with a woman who has lost her husband and daughter, but as he lowers himself into her hole in the sand where her hut is, he finds himself isolated with the woman, who seems pleasant enough but makes several cryptic comments about the length of his stay. Eventually, he comes to realize that he is being kept a prisoner of sort, in order to keep their village alive. He tries to escape, and all the pent-up emotion of being in the inescapable dunes comes to a head in the final 20 minutes.

Rarely, if ever, have I seem cinematography as beautiful as in this movie. The beginning sequence, where the man is studying bugs scuttling across the sand, is exquisite. The shots of sand falling like waterfalls onto itself are almost hypnotic, and reminded me of passages in The Falls, by Joyce Carol Oates, the novel I'm reading now about the hypnotic power of Niagara Falls. No wonder the locals want to stay in this place, where it's quiet and beautiful, instead of Toyko. In fact, when the woman asks the man why he wants to escape back to Tokyo so badly, he scoffs, but doesn't come up with an answer. The man's masculine pride is his downfall, and the subservient seeming woman really comes out on top. Or does she? Does anyone?

The water, the eroticism (the first sex scene, where the two wipe sand from one another, is one of the single most erotic moments in film I can think of), the gendered power struggle: all these things add up to a beautiful, contemplative film. My only complaint is that it could have been cut by half an hour (2 1/2 hours long!), but then again, would that lose some of its beauty? This classic, recently re-released by Criterion, is a definite must-watch.


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