ICA Bookshop Sales Advisor Will Warnock has put together a fascinating selection of DVDs to accompany the screening of Kornél Monduczó's White God at the ICA Cinema. From the cynicism of Dogtooth to Tabu's allegorical alligator, these films offer a unique and stimulating take on pressing contemporary issues. DVDs are available online or at the ICA Bookshop on the Mall.
dir. Kornél Monduczó, Hungary, 2008
White God is the latest quasi mythic film from acclaimed Hungarian director Kornél Monduczó, building on an already impressive output that includes Tender Son, Johanna, and Delta. While it was Johanna—2005’s sort of opera, sort of adaptation of the Joan of Arc story—that caused the biggest stir in Cannes, with its depiction of a reformed drug addict who is granted miraculous healing powers through offering up her body to the sick, Delta is a more subtle exploration of the nature of fables, sexuality and the destructive power of mob mentality. Meditative and calm, but with an undercurrent of tension, Delta is an ideal low-key counterpoint to the thrilling black comedy of White God.
dir. Miguel Gomes, Portugal, 2012
Miguel Gomes’ Tabu is a film of three parts: a prologue, in which a lovelorn explorer plunges into an African river to be consumed by a melancholy crocodile; a contemporary character study of Pilar, Aurora and Santa, three women living in a dilapidated block of flats in Lisbon; and an extended flashback sequence of Aurora’s youth in colonial Portuguese Africa, the country that would become Mozambique. Entirely shot in black and white, with the first and third sections in narration only, Tabu is a beguiling mix of fable, period drama and silent romance. Similarly to White God, the animal (in this case the baby alligator the young Aurora receives as a gift from her new husband) stands as more than just a narrative device, although it also defies easy categorisation as any kind of allegorical symbol. Exploring themes of memory, privilege, and personal responsibility, knitted together in a web of postcolonial guilt, Tabu is a deep, layered drama that rewards return viewers.
dir. Yorgos Lanthimos, Greece, 2009
As deadpan, surreal and unsettling as White God, but with a dark vein of cynicism running through its heart, Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth defies easy categorisation. Is it a drama of disaffected youth and their turbulent relation to an older generation? Is it a comedic deconstruction of the institution of marriage and the nuclear family? Is it a thriller about parents struggling to manage the animal urges of their disturbed children? Roger Ebert famously described the dialogue as sounding “composed entirely of sentences memorized from tourist phrase books”, and the mannered, carefully composed shots bear some similarity to the work of Bela Tarr, Park Chan Wook and even perhaps Wes Anderson. Despite the comparisons, Lanthimos’ work remains utterly itself.
The Werner Herzog Collection
dir. Werner Herzog, 2014
A towering figure in the past 40 years of international cinema, Herzog’s fascination with the unfathomable and pitiless power of the natural world is thematically recalled by the canine uprising against human society depicted in White God. It’s easy to interpret both Herzog’s and Mondruczó’s work as bleakly nihilistic, but that wouldn’t quite be fair – there is an abundance of empathy, an intolerance of injustice and a consistent support for life’s underdogs (no pun intended), despite the dispassionate gaze at life’s cruelties and the damage worked by fools. You wouldn’t call them films of humanity (compassion and tolerance are not depicted as the most human of qualities), but there is a glimmer of hope and redemption available for all of Herzog’s subjects – man, beast, and everything in between. ■
White God is on at the ICA Cinema from 27 February 2015.