Switches between sharp black and white, and hazy 16mm color – stylishly artificial looking, almost Maddinesque. Five bad kids try to impress their lit teacher, finally sexually assult and murder her, blaming it on the icon of their evil selves, TREVOR.

TREVOR:

A sea captain claims he can make the boys obedient, takes them on his ship to a pleasure island with living plants, where they eat hairy fruit that turns them into girls.

The captain (Sam Louwyck of Ex Drummer) reconnects with his associate Dr. Séverine (Elina Löwensohn, who I watched yesterday in Let The Corpses Tan), is then murdered by the kids when he tries to remove them from the island.

Mandico is obviously a talent, and has a bunch of shorts I should dig up.

Nick Pinkerton in Reverse Shot:

The Wild Boys0 is a supremely assured piece of craftsmanship, evincing an active creative engagement and ample imagination in every minute of its nearly two-hour runtime … A maximalist to the core, Mandico has a natural enmity towards both an inactive camera and empty screen space, and when he isn’t stuffing the frame to bursting with whorls of fog, fleecy feathers, thickets of exotic foliage, bits of rigging, and the glisten of paillettes, seawater spray, or paralyzing sap, he takes pleasure in setting images within images: a fist glittering with jewelry clenching a revolver, for example, framed by the outline of the mountainous Île des Robes.

Kind of a Crane Wife / Tales from the Darkside gargoyle variant with a turtle twist. Man washes up on a bamboo forest island, and is thwarted by a giant red turtle whenever he tries to build an escape boat. One day the turtle waddles ashore and the angry man flips it over. Then it becomes a human woman, they have a kid together, avoid natural disasters, the kid grows up and goes off into the ocean, the man gets old and dies, and finally she turns back into a turtle and leaves. Turtle/human spawning / cycle-of-life business, done with very attractive (wordless) animation. Some cute sand crabs, too. I also rewatched Father and Daughter and The Monk and the Fish with Katy, finally available in HD.

Chuck Bowen:

The man’s one murderous impulse begets a life of empathy — of balance. A heartbreaking, astonishingly poetic ending further challenges our human-centric absorption, suggesting that this rhapsodic life of paradise wasn’t the man’s dream, but the turtle’s.

Isabel Stevens in BFI:

Pictures are the film’s currency and they are, without exaggeration, sublime … The attention to detail shown to the sky (its magic-hour glow tinging the whole island), water (grey and angry one moment, an azure palimpsest the next), even the sand (at times you can see the grains in what looks like a smudge of charcoal) is quite extraordinary. The film is a masterclass in chiaroscuro: shadows are just as intricately sketched as the life forms that cause them. Even from a distance, a bottle washed up on the beach has a lighter shadow than a human’s. A lot of digital animation, with its blocks of colour, can feel flat. But the depth and texture on show here – conjured from a surge of pencil marks and watercolour washes – is remarkable.

Sometimes a movie feels less like a cohesive work to be taken on its own merit than something to be picked apart. As a version of Shakespeare’s The Tempest it’s pretty okay, not as consistent or intelligible as the version we saw at the fountain in Piedmont Park, but more intelligible than Prospero’s Books was on VHS. Helen Mirren is wonderful as Prospera, the set design is marvelous and the rest is hit or miss. Too much flailing about before green screens, and I could’ve done without the song. Personnel in decreasing order of goodness:

– Tom Conti as the Richard Jenkins-looking companion of the king

– Alan Cumming and Chris Cooper (I kept thinking he was Sean Bean or some other lord of the rings) as the king’s men, incompetently plotting against him.

– Alfred Molina as the king’s drunken butler

– Ben Whishaw as the sprite Ariel

– Djimon “Digimon” Hounsou as the monster Caliban

– David Strathairn as Shipwrecked King Alonso

– Felicity Jones and Reeve Carney as the Young Lovers (the king’s son and Prospera’s daughter)

– the extras in the shipwreck scene

– Russell Brand as Molina’s companion – he was tolerable for a long time, longer than one would expect, but finally doesn’t belong in this movie or anywhere else.

Ruiz made a series of films in the mid-1980’s involving sailors, pirates, children, islands, treasure and magic. There’s an explicit Treasure Island reference in Three Crowns of the Sailor (1983), and in between the similarly-themed City of Pirates and Manuel on the Island of Wonders, he made the movie Treasure Island, and wrote a book called In Search of Treasure Island.

As I learned from The Golden Boat, I’m not a big fan of Ruiz’s English-language films (actually Klimt was good). Treasure Island is full of fascinating work, especially when the plot comes together at the end, but while watching all I can think of are the language problems. Most actors (not Martin Landau or Anna Karina) are badly dubbed. Dialogue is imperfectly translated and conveyed, and performance styles are inconsisent – I tried to overlook it, but it’s too clunky to ignore. Little things make me think Ruiz wasn’t at the dubbing sessions (paella is pronounced “pai-YELL-ah”). And it’s cool that Jean-Pierre Leaud was cast, but distracting to hear him speak with no trace of French accent.

Ruiz’s Treasure Island isn’t an adaptation of the novel… not exactly, anyway. After a while it starts to follow the story when young Jonathan’s father dies while his seaside home is being visited by Landau (who asks to be called The Captain), then after Jonathan runs off he’s picked up by a sailing shoe salesman named Silver.

Some mutinies and mercenaries later, it comes out that this is an annual reenactment LARP, performed with a different Jim Hawkins every time. Captain Silver is the professor who invented the game, an “expert on game theory” (maybe not coincidence: when Silver gave his real name I wrote it as Omar Amiralay, which is also the name of a Syrian filmmaker who was active at the time). Jim/Jonathan sees through the ruse when he realizes during a gun battle that the fighting is fake, so he goes off alone, commandeering the ship with only Israel Hands (who soon dies) aboard. I start to lose track of the characters as the roles shift (The Dead Father returns as the ship’s doctor, for instance) – shades of the re-enactment identity-blending of The Territory. Even the narrator, who we assumed all along to be Jim/Jonathan, is revealed to be another character, who kills J/J offscreen at the end.

Jim and Helen:

Martin Landau, who dies, comes back to life, declares Jim is his son during an earthquake, and jumps out a window:

It’s fun to analyze the movie afterwards, to go through the screen shots and read reviews – maybe a less painfully-dubbed version exists in another country and will come out someday (argh, a restored print played Paris last month – the poor dubbing remains, and the movie has lost 15 minutes). Anna Karina is very good as J/J’s mom, anyway.

Karina and Helen:

Don’t think I got all the characters straight. Multiple possible captains – besides Landau we’ve got Silver (Vic Tayback of Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore), the French Captain (Yves Afonso, who appeared with Karina and Leaud in Made In USA), and Mr. Mendoza (Pedro Armendariz Jr. of Walker in a Yankees hat). Mendoza is obsessed with a different ship-mutiny novel, Benito Cereno by Herman Melville. There’s the doctor / Dead Father (Lou Castel, Bruno Ganz’s driver in The American Friend) and J/J’s aunt Helen (singer Sheila). Crabb (Michel Ferber) imprisons J/J, Ben Gunn shoots diamonds from a slingshot. That leaves Israel Hands (Jean-Francois Stévenin, the immortal Max in Le Pont du Nord), Squire Tim Moretti (Jeffrey Kime, the doomed Jim in The Territory), and back on shore before the adventure began, Leaud as a writer (and possibly the narrator), and the creepy Blind Man (Charles Schmitt). Jim/Jonathan himself is regular Ruiz star Melvil Poupaud, returning from City of Pirates.

The island scenes (second half of the movie) were filmed on the coast of Senegal, where Katy is now.

Back on land, The Blind Man with Karina:

Played in Cannes in 1991 alongside Yumeji, Boyz n the Hood, Hearts of Darkness, and three African films. Rumor is that Chris Marker assisted Ruiz in some way. A four-hour cut was planned, but I don’t think it was completed (nobody claims to have seen it).

Ruiz in conversation with J. Rosenbaum:

Treasure Island was a complete misunderstanding, because the money was there at the beginning and then suddenly the money was gone [not there anymore]. So I had to reduce the budget, and do it like a kind of B movie. This movie starts very strangely, with a good atmosphere, and then suddenly we are in a typical TV serial, because it was shot in continuity, so you can see the point at which the money starts to vanish.

From Michael Goddard’s book:

As [the film’s introductory] television transmission is interrupted by a power cut, we are informed that its tale of a coup d’etat, diamonds and treachery continued in Jim’s head. In other words while we may be aware that stories originate elsewhere and come to us from the outside it is we who continue them as they take possession of our imaginations; so before even introducing any of the elements of Treasure Island, the key theme of possession by prior stories that make up not only Ruiz’s film but in a more implicit way the original novel itself is already established.

As in the cartographic game in Zig-Zag this is a game played in real spaces with real lives and deaths but it is no less fictional than the novel on which it is based, while the latter is increasingly read not as fiction but rather as an instruction manual for how to operate successfully in the Treasure Island game.

JW McCormack:

For one thing, the pirates don’t look much like pirates, more like guerillas, revolutionaries. Jim’s friends the Doctor and the Squire appear without much fanfare. Other characters, like participatory academic Aunt Helen, are without an analogue in the book. The Oedipal strains of the Disney version have gone haywire, as everybody claims to be Jim’s father and nobody seems terribly concerned with treasure. But as Jim says — or, rather, as Jean-Pierre Léaud says, since we learn three quarters of the way through that he has literally run away with the script and has been telling the story from Jim’s point of view — “I didn’t see why we couldn’t just carry on without the treasure. It was an adventure anyway.”

But alas, no reconstruction is perfect: in perhaps the funniest joke in the movie, Silver, disappointed that the action has fallen so far from the book, echoes the sentiments of any reader who has ever been outraged by a movie straying from its source: he fires a machine gun into the air while shouting “It was not written! It was not written!”

Ruiz interviewed by D. Ehrenstein:

When I reread Treasure Island recently I discovered that the structure was stronger than the material. The way Stevenson tells the story is so remarkable that it could be about anything – pirates, kidnappers, whatever. We are surrounded by stories that are like houses we can enter. We play amidst these stories, sometimes being involved in two or three of them at once. In one you’re the hero, in another you’re a secondary character. These scripts are the society in which we live – if you want to be a sociologist. It’s a notion I feel more and more. This has been expressed in many ways – by Stevenson, by Orson Welles, Borges, and many others – this notion that certain stories have the structure of dreams. For those stories it’s as if the cinema had already been invented.

Rock goddess Tilda Swinton is relaxing at a Mediterranean island paradise with boyfriend photographer Matthias Schoenaerts (Rust and Bone) when her ex, music producer Ralph Fiennes (an overpowering, charismatic performance) shows up with his newly-discovered daughter Dakota Johnson (Black Mass). Sexual and other tensions get extremely high, and the movie, which has an otherwise excellent soundtrack, tries in vain to get me to appreciate the Rolling Stones song “Emotional Rescue.”

I was disappointed when the story twists into murder-investigation territory after Matthias drowns a belligerent drunk Ralph in the pool, but this ends up justified. After initial interviews the chief investigator reveals himself to be a trembling Tilda superfan, gets her autograph and lets them all go. Tilda had previously, not at all convincingly, suggested to him that one of the immigrants flooding onto the island (many dying at sea) could have snuck onto the property, drowned Ralph, stolen nothing and run off. We didn’t realize that Tilda or her friends, in their wealthy bubble, even noticed the immigration crisis in the background noise around them – until it becomes useful to get themselves out of trouble.

Based on a story previously filmed by Jacques Deray with Alain Delon, and by Francois Ozon with Charlotte Rampling. Played in Venice with Anomalisa, Francofonia, Blood of My Blood and 11 Minutes. I finally warmed up to “Emotional Rescue” during the St. Vincent cover over the closing credits.

D. Ehrlich:

There are few better metaphors for the myopia of hedonism than a swimming pool on an island paradise surrounded by the sea … In lesser hands, this could’ve been a Woody Allen movie, but Guadagnino — always with his chef’s hat on — takes the ingredients for a sunbaked creampuff and slowly stirs them into a three-course meal. Working with regular cinematographer Yorick Le Saux, Guadagnino shoots in a sensual register where every shot feels just a hair too perfect to exist anywhere outside the movies. Snap zooms playfully focus on emotions that burst like firecrackers, rhythmic cuts throw you back on style whenever things risk becoming too realistic, and Marianne’s aviator shades reflect every character against their true intentions. Best of all, the soundtrack is wild and true, running the gamut from Harry Nilsson to Popol Vuh.

Irrfan Khan is Pi, having a quiet day at home when an annoyingly Richard Dreyfuss-looking writer (Rafe Spall, one of the Andys in Hot Fuzz) shows up demanding to be told a story. So Pi starts at the beginning – he is named after a French swimming pool and lives with brother and parents (Tabu, who played Khan’s wife in The Namesake, is his mom) at a zoo, and is interested in religion.

One day the family packs up their zoo and heads off in a ship, which sinks in stormy waters, presumably killing Pi’s whole family. He finds himself on a lifeboat with an injured zebra, an orangutan, a rat, a hyena and a bengal tiger named Richard Parker, but the animals soon eat each other until it’s just Pi and the tiger. He fashions a raft so he can sleep without getting killed, but loses all his food and water due to a leaping whale. Formerly vegetarian, Pi learns to catch and eat fish. Boy and tiger stop on a “carnivorous island,” then get the hell out of there after loading up on edible roots. Finally, land and rescue, though Pi is sad that he never managed to connect with the tiger.

Rafe Spall thinks the whole thing is pretty far-fetched, so Pi gives another version of the story (told, not shown), where the lifeboat survivors were people, including Pi’s mother and a sadistic cook from the boat (Gerard Depardieu), then asks Rafe which story he prefers. The center of the film is just perfect – more colorful and awe-inspiring than a shipwreck story has any right to be.

G. Kenny:

But the frame story, in which an older Pi, a happily settled vegetarian living in Canada, tells his tale to a white male writer who in the credits is called “The Writer” is both a little cloying and forced and smacks a bit of, dare I say it, colonialist thought. I know that it’s a faithful adaptation from the book, and I know the book’s author is a white male writer, but I personally am just a wee bit tired of the convention in which a representative of The Other relates a tale of profundity to a white dude. Changing it up a little can’t hurt. Hell, a white woman would be less boring. I understand that second-guessing the artist is poor critical practice. But that fact remains that this convention, which was always pretty patronizing to begin with, has ossified into cliché, and the movie suffers for it.

“You’re an amazingly unscientific young man.”

“Are we not men?” Fun to imagine young Devo watching this in the 70’s and inverting the mad scientist’s intentions for their de-evolution theories. There’s even Devo-specific content on the Criterion disc, which I need to rent sometime.

Based on the HG Wells novel Island of Dr. Moreau which was remade a few times, with Burt Lancaster then Marlon Brando as Moreau. Here it’s Charles Laughton (same year as The Old Dark House), reveling in his role of the kindly accomodating villain, the calm and rational “mad” scientist with a whip. Laughton may have just invented camp in cinema, beating Bride of Frankenstein by a couple years. All the fun in the movie comes from Laughton along with the creatures whom he has forced to rapidly evolve in his surgical “house of pain”: slinky, sexy Lota the Panther Woman (Kathleen Burke, who next appeared in Murders in the Zoo) and fur-faced servants including M’ling (Tetsu Komai) and the Sayer Of The Law (Bela Lugosi, the year after Dracula).

Bela!

No fun at all comes from our obligatory decent romantic couple: Richard Arlen (also the obligatory romantic lead in Thunderbolt) and Leila Hyams (also the obligatory romantic lead in Freaks). He was hitching a ride on a trading ship when he argued with the captain and got dumped at Moreau’s, and after he’d failed to show up, his fiancee Hyams teams up with some other captain named Donahue and goes searching. Donahue doesn’t make it out, nor does “doctor” Montgomery, a morally grey character who works with Moreau. And Moreau has compared himself to God – never a good idea in a movie, so we know he’s doomed as well.

The movie’s pretty good overall, with cool creatures and a perfect dose of Laughton, but it also serves up a smarter ending than expected. Laughton has built his dominance over the semi-evolved creatures through intimidation (the whip, House of Pain) and The Law, which forbids killing. But when he orders one monster to kill the captain, the others have enough of a grasp of logic to realize that “law no more,” and go on a Moreau-and-island-destroying rampage.

Kenton also made some Lon Chaney Jr. horrors in the 1940’s. Adapted from the Wells story by Philip Wylie (who’d also work on Wells’ The Invisible Man) and Waldemar Young (Love Me Tonight, Desire) and shot by Karl Struss (Sunrise).

When I realized there is a movie called Finis Terrae from 1929 and another called Finisterrae from eighty years later, I set out to watch them both. Sometimes it’s as simple as that. The latin phrase means “ends of the earth.” There’s a place in Spain (where the 2010 film is set) called Finisterra, and a university in Chile called Finis Terrae (how wonderful), but this Epstein film was set on Ouessant, a small island off the coast of France (today home to an airline called Finistair), and on the even smaller island of Bannec. As the opening titles tell us, “on an island where winter storms wipe out all forms of life, four men come in two teams to spend the summer collecting seaweed in total isolation…”

A gorgeous film, made on location with nearly as many credited cinematographers (one of whom would later work on Vampyr and Hotel du Nord) as actors. Very simple story, a bit too poetically-paced at times, but it worked – I found it very affecting by the end. Apparently not much is known about the film on the web. I’ve seen it listed as a documentary – it’s clearly not, though Epstein seems to have cast local workers instead of film actors.

Strange that the team leaders look to be about sixteen, and their barely-named assistants are large middle-aged men with mustaches – why not the other way around? Ambroise, one of the two young men cuts himself on a broken bottle of liquor belonging to the other, Jean-Marie, causing both a grudge between the men and an infected sore on Ambroise’s finger that gets worse over the next few days, preventing him from working and finally threatening his life … “during a becalmed period making it impossible to cross the waters without the requisite wind in the sails. Cue a rescue mission launched from the mother island, Ouessant, to get them back to at least a semblance of civilisation.” (A. Fish)

D. Cairns:

When the sick boy starts to hallucinate, the movie almost oversteps its stylistic bounds by trying to evoke a state the audience is already in: Epstein snap-cuts a jangling montage of looming ECUs and what look like off-cuts and deleted scenes into an abstract nightmare that threatens to turn the whole experience into abstraction and dissonance, with no way out save the declaration of a cinematic Year Zero from which we can start afresh. Seriously, the movie feels like it was made tomorrow, or at any rate made in 1929 by time-travelers.

A. Fish again:

It would be Epstein’s parting glory; oh, other films would follow in its wake, but they weren’t worthy of him and he’d disappear, a fossil, a megalith one might say, of a silent era, not yet put out to pasture but with the fires not so much raging as flickering in the hearth. He wasn’t alone, one could add Gance, l’Herbier and de Gastyne to that list of exiles, yet his is a name that should stand tall in French film history, but instead often merits at best a paragraph in conventional histories.