Disturbing in at least some of the right ways! Interesting idea and some neat execution but hoping for a slightly stronger story arc I guess.
The Marquis de Sade
Wow this was the most polished film I have seen in the competition!
Great range of locations, excellent camerawork.
Felt like I was back in Italy.
Cool props and lighting.
It was like taking Gus Van Sant and dipping him in a puddle of Kubrik. Reminds me of ticking time-bomb films like Gerry and Elephant with purposefully long, awkward takes.
Just missing.....a mini-gun for full marks!
Yet again, Strang Entertainment have made a film that I find extremely hard to rate and review. There are a few different ways you can come at appraising this one, and as a result I expect reactions will be rather divided. For my own part, I found it at once both compelling and frustrating. (While spoilers should generally be assumed for any review on here, it's maybe worth explicitly mentioning that they follow here.)
We open with a rather unassuming-looking guy sitting at the side of road, awkwardly fidgeting with his zipper in a rare moment of lightness (in retrospect of course, this zipper play is an horrific bit of foreshadowing). Figures come out of the classic unmarked van, abduct him, and drive away. It's a shocking and engaging opening to the film, and beautifully shot and framed. He then awakes in a windowless interior location, and pretty much the rest of the film plays out from there in similarly anonymous dark places. The whole film is an exercise in visceral terror, with the camera not afraid to get up close and personal with our main character, forcing us to become silent voyeurs to all the tortures and humiliations he endures. The edit is uncompromising too, deliberately lingering too long on uncomfortable moments, most memorably the extremely close-up of a gimp-masked face, with terrified breathing dominating the soundtrack of what we hear.
Our guy gets an opportunity to break free, but it's only a temporary reprieve from the inevitability of his fate. The ordeal goes through a few stages, and finally, a female character (presumably in a dominatrix/madame role) gets right up close and talks to him, explaining what awaits him, and suggesting he will not get out of this situation alive. The final shot shows him lying prone in the middle of what appears to be a high-class secret sex party, surrounded by black tie and masquerade costuming, with very strong evocation of the famous scene from Eyes Wide Shut.
So, what does it all mean? Does it have to mean anything? The piece has the bleakness and relentlessness of a Haneke film, but I feel like there was something missing to complete the picture - maybe it's simply that I was unsure what the film's *thesis* was, what it wanted to say. Not that a film has to be preachy or have a moral purpose, but it does I think at least need to have a perspective, in order to go beyond being just a genre filmmaking exercise. Maybe that voice is in there somewhere, and it might require a further viewing for me to discover it, not sure. I guess the best place to start looking for answers is in the genre: "Monster". Who is this titular Marquis de Sade - is he the unseen monster? Or is the woman (i.e. the most explicit face of evil in the piece) playing the monster role? Or is it simply saying that humans in general are monsters, when we succumb to our most base, animalistic instincts?
So yeah, this film left me conflicted, and I guess that reaction is a microcosm for the wider debate about where the line is between artful psychological terror and exploitative torture porn. The whole time I was waiting for another shoe to drop, for the end-point to be other than the obvious thing that we were all quietly thinking was where it was going. Maybe the fact there is no rug pull is also sort of the point. Like I said earlier, my main emotion coming out of it was frustration, but I can't deny the craft that went into producing this challenging piece.
Great to see a light, sweet, feel good movie that we could all relate to on an emotional level.
I was thinking about this film today and a few years on I've gotten a little older and I have a new deeper appreciation for it that I wanted to express. As a lot of reviews have mentioned here, it's not that this wasn't a great film, it was a case of going 'wow that was kinda crazy, impressively done, but not really my taste' and it's that last point about taste that has stuck with me - It wasn't my taste, nobody goes looking for this sort of thing casually, so it was very confrontational, and for some, exactly the sort of thing we needed to be confronted with, just the fragility of a persons story, how things can change so dramatically for anyone, at any moment.
This film still isn't my taste, but I appreciate it way for more for what it is.
Nimble has provided an in-depth breakdown of the synopsis above so read it!
Easily the most polished and cinematic short in CHCH this year. It's a relentlessly disturbing piece that gets you asking all sorts of questions (most of them covered by The Nimble already) so that is also a real strength of the film. Sound design is excellent and equally relentless. I too was waiting for "the rug to be pulled out" as Strang traditionally tend to lead you down one path and then you suddenly find yourself in another place. Didn't happen here so maybe the shock is that everything happened as expected - SPOILERS: he's kidnapped, beaten down, gimped up and then becomes the play thing for the rich. A note I had was that one of the torture scenes that was in profile played a bit too long - seemed pointless to do it that way. Small quibble though.
Strang Entertainment play things pretty close to their chests before screenings. I had expected them to go big, an epic sci-fi physical monster film straight from the 50s and 60s. Didn't get that at all! This film will polarise an audience as the content doesn't sit nicely at any stage. I like that approach so I'm a fan of this short and look forward to seeing it again in the finals.
PS - is it wrong of me to wonder whose gimp suit that is? Nevermind.
I really enjoyed this film. Was definitely a stand out to me from heat 9. This was beautifully shot and edited and genuinely gripping. Looking forward to watching again.
Loved the length of the opening shot - i would have been tempted to use a cutaway or another shot, so I'm very happy that you stuck with just one. I thought that the lighting was great and your final shot tracking backwards looked very professional - the music then really added to that scene.
As always Strang Entertainment brought a film that was off the charts stunning cinematography. If I could give Rowan the best cinematography award every year I would. This film looked like a scene picked straight out of a big budget feature film. But for me therein lies its only real flaw. It did feel like a scene from a larger story but without the context either side of this horrific tale it was hard to become invested in the character. Who was he? Was he a good person? Was he a bad person who deserved his punishment. Were these villains actually dishing out capitol justice? We will never know. It was really great to see a truly linear story this year from Strang Enertainment. Not that I haven't loved or been blown away with their previous entries of Deleted scences, trailers and commentary. So overall beyond top marks for cinematography, lighting, acting, sound and score. But only lost marks for me with being light on story arc and character. But a highly likely finalist still.
While impressive on every technical level, I can’t say I enjoyed this film at all. Not just because of how disturbing it was (and I’ll grant you, you’ve done the best of any film this year at covering such a topic), but largely because I felt like there was no reason for it all. I feel like maybe you were trying to send some sort of message, but if you were, that was unclear. I thought maybe you’d follow in classic Strang fashion and reveal that your film is a prequel to Pulp Fiction. But instead, I was only left wondering why I watched these events happen. And that’s simply what they were, events. I didn’t feel that there was any real story to be told.
Maybe it’s just not for me, but it was certainly a disappointment coming from my personal favourite team of 2017.
What stood out for me was the first and last shots. Soooo good. I would have liked more time in those scenes to establish the story. I can't get out of my mind the white eyeball in the mask flashing back and forth. I keep thinking about the filming and shots really well executed.
This is a really interesting film, and I'm not entirely sure how to structure my review, so bear with me. This review presupposes you've seen the film, so if you haven't (and you really should) - go and do that before reading the reviews!
Strang Entertainment is one of my favourite teams in the competition. Their understanding of cinematography and sound design are fantastic. When that pairs up well with story magic happens. True and The Intervention are all time classics. And I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that of all the regular teams, Strang has the best chance of breaking Christchurch's Grand National Winner hoodoo. Just not with this film.
The principal problem with the film is the lack of relateability with the protagonist (victim). Other than his seeming lack of ability to operate his jacket he doesn't have any relateable characteristics (goddamn zips). Does he have a family? Is he going to a job interview? Is he being kidnapped and tortured because he's a) available, b) forgettable, or c) a paedophile (for example)? Not knowing the background of the victim, or the motivation of the torturers is frustrating. Indeed, the most exciting shot in the entire film - the one that really drew me in - was the final one. I wish that had been the start of the film, because suddenly there was a very interesting couple of characters in a very unusual setting. I want to see that story.
As always, Strang Entertainment pushes boundaries. In this case it was confronting. Who is the monster? The victim? The torturer? Those of us who looked away? Or those of us who watched? I really dig that. 48Hours should embrace the drama, the horror, and the suspence as well as the comedy. Ultimately I think the team's desire to keep the audience guessing and wanting to know more more backfired.
I'm gutted it missed the finals. I think it would have been a worth addition given it's challenging nature. As always the cinematography, art design, sound design, and acting performances were on point. If there was an award for the sexiest shot, then the final one would be a shoo-in.
4 out of 7 phenomenal gimp masks for me.
To echo Nimble, I find this film very hard to review, but potentially for more personal reasons than just it's divisive nature.
It's no secret that I consider you guys at Strang Entertainment to be one of the best teams Christchurch has to offer, and historically underrated with films like "True" and "Pandora's Night: Deleted Scenes" deserving far more acclaim than they got. Now, the issues with "The Marquis de Sade" have nothing to do with it not being my favourite kind of Strang film (the format destroying/DVD menu series), though it is an interesting case when comparing it to those, and understanding the style and angle this film is coming from.
What I love about those Strang films, especially "Pandora's Night" is that it emphasizes the idea that story is NOT king. Strang always have way more emphasis on the other areas on filmmaking and in some cases, the absence of story IS the story. As a 'filmmaker' who basically lives and dies by whether or not their own story is good, I found myself learning a lot about all the things you can do and rules you can break with Strang films.
All this stuff is here in "The Marquis de Sade", which foregoes story for atmosphere and horror. I think the problem here is there is no deliciously cheeky format subversion here to accommodate the lack of story, and so there isn't much else to grab on to.
Of course this is all assuming there is no story to this film, and maybe I'm wrong in that. Maybe there is a story and it just went over my head, but if that's the case it also went over all of the other judge's heads and a lot of the fellow reviewers on here, and in a year where we had such a consistent high standard of film, it didn't make much sense to include this one in the top 15 over others which were more immediately accessible. Maybe that means we're all uncultured idiots, and if that's the case, then I can't wait for Rowan to chew my ear off for years to come with what this film actually is saying, and what it is actually about.
As it stands for me, all I see with "The Marquis de Sade" is a series of events where a guy is abducted, beaten and bruised, and finally put on display as a trophy at a creepy party. There is no closure to this, there are no developments in the story, there is only a descent.
To attempt to illustrate what I mean, at the beginning of the film, we see the protagonist struggling with his zipper on his shirt before he gets abducted. Later on in the film he's zipped up in a gimp suit, and watching this for the first time I was waiting for the twist or the "aha!" moment where he manages to undo the zips some how and escapes- essentially telling us a morbid personal journey of a character who eventually succeeds his goal of fixing his zipper. I'm not saying I think this is that great of an idea, I'm simply trying explain the hook that this film was missing.
I feel like I can say all this as both a huge fan and a close friend of Strang Entertainment; because nothing about this film should make you think you aren't good enough to get back up to the top again next year- I mean you've made it relatively consistently over the past decade, and shit dude a film like "The Marquis de Sade" could have easily made the finals in a year without such a crazily high standard of films. So if nothing else consider that it wasn't that your film was bad, but everyone was on top of their game this year.
Going forward I'd encourage you guys by all means to keep trying stuff like this- "The Intervention" is the gold standard for your team's narrative work. "The Marquis de Sade" is an experience, but not as much of a story as I was hoping.
As for your title, I really like "The Marquis de Sade", I didn't really know what it meant before I looked it up, so it's got a great spooky vibe to it. May even be your best title yet.