Friday, October 13, 2006

Container (2006)

Container (Lukas Moodysson, 2006)

After Lukas Moodysson's rather pretentious and critically panned last feature A Hole in the Heart (2004) which focuses mainly on four characters, centering on the introverted teenage central character who observes his father making home-grown pornographic videos, one would expect for Moodysson to follow it up with something more akin to his first three features which offer narratively conventional yet rewarding cinematic experiences. Instead, Moodysson comes up with Container, which seems to be even more dense and pretentious than A Hole in the Heart. Shot in low-grade black and white video, haphazardly edited into a nebulous string of unconnected images ranging from the utterly banal to surprisingly striking, Container looks and feels like the work of a film student rather than an internationally known director. It's more similar to Jonathan Caouette's Tarnation (2003), a cinematic autobiography which features personal home videos and pictures of the director edited together to form a coherent and very introspective look at his homosexual life. Yet Container is not personal at all, unlike Caouette's Tarnation. Container distances its viewer by separating the visual and aural values creating an air of discordant and jarring experience that is devoid of any emotional impact, aside from stereotypical depression.

The visual component of the film features one central character --- an overweight man (Peter Lorentzon) who is seen prancing around, donning women's clothes and performing some other acts that suggest some emotional or mental disturbance. Another character features --- a petite Asian girl (Mariha Åberg) who is shown as the overweight man's inner self. The two are infrequently shown together except on a couple of situations --- when the man is carrying the girl, or when the girl is tending to the man. Aside from those situations, the two are filmed separately, sometimes in similar situations, suggesting the identity of the two characters. The scenes where they are shown together suggest the relationship of the outward and the inward personalities --- that the outward character is forced to carry the inward character as a burden, but in return the inward character tends and takes care of the troubled outward character. The visual component is an accurate conveyance of what a transgender individual might feel, and despite the amateurish production, the visual component is quite effective in its portrayal.

More important and resonating than the visual component is the aural component. The voice is supplied by American actress Jena Malone (who is also one of the actresses the character pretends himself to be). She speaks in hushed whispers, as if speaking from a covered closet. Malone speaks of many things --- of her experiences as a trans gender, how she hates homosexuals and differentiates herself from that, how she collects things and buys junk from Ebay, her idols ranging from Savannah, a classic suicidal porno actress to Britney Spears. The voice is quite updated on celebrity news. There's a frequent appearance of anecdotes regarding Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston's break-up, Paris Hilton, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, which transform into social and pseudo-philosophical commentaries and introspective intimate discussions about her own experiences.

The visual and aural components do not match up, but almost magically, Moodysson is able to give resonance to both components when experienced together. I don't think the visual component will work without the voice, but the voice, in particular, is added a certain value when coupled with the black and white images that are shown. Sure, it's undeniably pretentious and the only reason it might have a wider audience than its similar student-made counterparts, is because Moodysson attaches his name to it. However, Container has a certain compelling quality that just simply can't be dismissed. It's nothing like Tarnation, which is both accurate, intricate, and intimate. Container is more interested in detailing the sickness and the depravities of our modern society by showing the incongruent personal and fictionalized experiences of a trans gender individual. Moodysson attaches footages of a desolated building in Chernobyl and its surrounding areas, including several point-outs to the tragedies that have struck the world (the Iraqi War, the Chernobyl fallout, a kid dying while playing soccer, Kylie Minogue's breast cancer), to connect and juxtapose the desolated interiors of the troubled trans gender individual with the confusion that surround present and modern living.

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