ICA Film and Cinema Co-ordinator James King introduces the latest Cinematheque season Amour Fou (20 - 26 September 2013), which delves into a world of carnal obsessions, infidelity, subversive sexuality, and insane love.
One of the most liberating aspects of the ICA's Cinema 2 space is its intimacy. The audience is positioned very close to the screen, which dominates an entire wall, offering an immersive viewing experience. With its snug 45-seat capacity, we are able to be adventurous in our programming whilst still frequently filling the room. So this seemed like the apt location for a salacious Cinematheque season exploring the concept of subversive sexuality and insane love.
The series commences with Stanley Kubrick’s swansong Eyes Wide Shut (1999). Although the film has divided critical opinion, it remains one of Kubrick’s most complex, ambiguous and lasting works, one that lingers in the mind and invites return viewings. Adapted from Arthur Schnitzler’s 1926 novella Traumnovelle - a slim, daring text that heavily influenced Freud during his development of psychoanalytic theory - Kubrick transposed the source material’s events from turn-of-the-century Vienna to 1990s New York where he examines the strained sexual dynamics of a young, affluent Manhattan couple’s marriage – depicting their anxieties, jealousies and adulterous fantasies with his notoriously obsessive formal style. The casting of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman in the two lead roles proved to be uncanny - when viewed through the lens of their subsequent divorce it adds an eerie sense of authenticity to their commendably exposed performances; whilst the decision to shoot the Manhattan exteriors on the set-dressed streets of Hampstead, necessitated by Kubrick’s refusal to leave England, creates an atmosphere of simulacrum and unreality that perfectly compliments the notion running throughout both Schnitzler’s book and Kubrick’s film that the events unfolding could all be part of a strange, oblique dream.
Other highlights from the season include Joseph von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel (1930), one of the last great cinematic works from Weimar Germany. Subsequently banned when the Nazis took power in 1933, the film was produced in a liberal pre-censorship era where Sternberg was given free rein to indulge and fetishize the swaggering sexuality of his lead actress and muse Marlene Deitrich, with whom he later journeyed to Hollywood and continued to collaborate with, albeit on less daring ventures such as the toned-down English language remake Blonde Venus (1932).
Todd Solondz’ pitch-black ensemble comedy Happiness (1998) remains a controversial masterclass in audience manipulation. Defying all sense of mainstream morality, Solondz invites the viewer to empathise with and root for a paedophile character, who is depicted in a not-entirely-unsympathetic light via a fearless performance from character actor Dylan Baker. It’s a shocking storytelling technique, but one that brilliantly facilitates Solondz’ despairing world view, which although fatalistic remains saturated with perfectly-observed and often hilarious gallows humour.
Finally Miguel Gomes, in his recent masterwork Tabu (2012), takes a Hemingway-esque tale of marital infidelity in 1960s Colonial Africa and delivers it in an innovative, near-silent fashion, overtly referencing the early works of F.W. Murnau but also adding a wit and flair that is uniquely his own. With gorgeous black & white visuals - shot on an array of 35mm, 16mm and 8mm film stock - the critic-turned-filmmaker Gomes gives us an aesthetically complex and emotionally exhilarating tale of doomed love, snow-capped mountaintops and melancholy crocodiles. Amour Fou begins on Friday 20 September and finishes on Thursday 26 September 2013.