Archives for posts with tag: genre: surrealismo

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And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin, When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall, Then how should I begin?

– T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (1915)

The association between butterflies and the feminine in the western narrative have been canonised in Puccini’s verismo opera Madama Butterfly, itself an allegory for western imperialism. In Act 1 of the opera, the character of Cio-Cio San (a.k.a Butterfly) sings to Pinkerton, “Dicon ch’oltre mare se cade in man dell’uom / ogni farfarla da uno spillo è trafitta / ed in tavola infitta!” (“They say across the sea, if it falls into the hand of man, each butterfly from a needle is pierced and on (a) board fixed!“). The proverbial subjugation of the butterfly (woman) by the man inevitably spells doom, foreshadowing what is to come if Butterfly allows herself to be captured by a colonial lepidopterist.

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As Gregor Samsa woke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect…“What’s happened to me?” he thought. It was no dream.

– Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis (1915)

The concept of “the other self”, or the doppelgänger, has fascinated art, literature, and mythology for centuries. Conceptually, it can be rooted into a schizophrenic manifestation of self-idealisation; that is, the ‘improved’ version of oneself. One’s better half, as it were, can be more confident, more accomplished, and more self-assured. In contrast, while desired attributes are realised, it is often the case that one’s fundamental morality and sense of self is inverted in the double; the doppelgänger is often amoral if not outrightly wicked, and usually possess some desire to essentially erase the original, or even subsume the original entirely. Variations on the evil twin trace back to the mediaeval epic Beowulf, who faces a host of monsters which figuratively reflect and distort Beowulf’s own personal attributes. Moreover, the Romantic poets Shelley and Byron made use of doppelgänger imagery to conceptualise the internal struggles of the self, while Poe’s own grotesque short story “William Wilson” tells the tale of a man plagued throughout his life by a sinister shadow of himself. Indeed, the projection of one’s hidden and often malevolent qualities onto another being are endless throughout literature – the perpetual Jekyll/Hyde conundrum – and is a theme revisited often.

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Since its conception, the giallo genre of cinema has enjoyed an intimate relationship with psychoanalysis. Themes of repression, compulsion, dysfunction, and psychological discontent underlie much of the style and narrative in much of Euro-horror cinema from the 70s, particularly in that of the giallo masters including Bava and Argento. Indeed, psychoanalytic interpretation is not merely suggested but covertly demanded through atmospheric mis-en-scenes that evoke a sort of fantastical terror only possible in the most depraved of minds. Strickland’s tribute to all of these themes brings to mind the excellent The House of the Devil (2009), similar in that the two films pay deliberate homage to horror films of the past through filming techniques particular to the original eras. Berberian Sound Studio is deeply ensconced in the giallo ethos, resulting in a meta-cinematic experience: a film about a film that elicits Bava and Argento directly, combined with Hitchcock sensibilities of suspense and psychological foreboding.

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“I have seen men in real life who so long deceived others that at last their true nature could not reveal itself. In every man there is something which to a certain degree prevents him from becoming perfectly transparent to himself; and this may be the case in so high a degree, he may be so inexplicably woven into relationships of life which extend far beyond himself that he almost cannot reveal himself.”

– Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or (1843)

Where do we go when we do not have to be ourselves? In our daily lives, we are surrounded by the faces of others, our visage thusly reflecting those of an external nature. We slip in and out of masks like second skins, but who are we when we are alone? One has to wonder that, when there is no one watching, if we assume a visage at all. With gleeful abandon, Léos Carax takes this notion and runs with it, both figuratively and literally. As a result, Holy Motors is an utterly engrossing, unpredictable, and unforgiving deconstruction of identity and its malleability, effectively blurring the line between fantasy and reality.

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