Monday, 2 January 2012

those Quays!

The Quay twins, never to be confused with the awful Krays, conceived and directed in 1995 the unique and extraordinary Institute Benjamenta, or This dream people call human life. It was great to catch up with this rare gem a few days ago (thanks once again to Exeter's fine film library!) in its new dual format edition. This includes an informative booklet and lots of fascinating extras – several other shorts by the Brothers Q, and interviews with them and the exceptional actors Mark Rylance and Alice Krige, who star in this wonderful film. Of course the fact that it's B&W and drawn from the weird works of the German-Swiss author Robert Walser (1878-1956), whose latter years, from 1929, were spent in a mental hospital, may discourage your average browser in search of digital tricks and zappy sledgehammer editing, but the loss will be theirs.

The distinguished British poet and translator Christopher Middleton refers to Walser's "charmed ironic clownishness", and certainly the Quays seem to capture this. "An exquisitely realised anti-fairytale, a fragile world shimmering with luminous energy and hypnotic beauty" says blurb, and for once that's spot on. I should think anyone who likes Beckett, Kafka and Keaton would love this film about a very peculiar training school for servants, but it's a truly independent and original piece of cinema. Gottfried John, a Fassbinder stalwart, also plays an important part, and the film is mysterious, comical, oneiric, surreal and gorgeous to watch. Those who have savoured the strangely distinctive, sometimes nightmarish animation and the singularly odd puppetry and dreamscapes of the Quays' earlier films – their adaptations of Bruno Schulz for example – and their affinity with Central European filmmakers like Svjankmaier and Borowczyk, will need no further recommendation.

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