Though I like costume-period movies with lavish sets and all the extravaganza, I often wondered if the stories in those movies could be told in another way, if they could be told in a minimalist style, using shoestring budget, if the visual element of those movies really has to be breathtakingly beautiful and spectacular. Are there any other ways? I also wondered what the result would be like if one dared to take a different approach to tell the same story. After seeing `La fausse suivant' be Benoit Jacquot and `Theodor Hirneis,' I know I've found the answer, and I know I've found what I'm searching for. These two movies, the former presenting characters without sets, the latter presenting sets without characters, are as effective, funny, and entertaining as, if not more than, the best costume-period movies. `Theodor Hirneis' deserves a lot of praise not only because it represents the boldness of the director, not only because it is innovative, not only because it is `different', not only because it cost so little, but because it also has many other good things about it. I love many things in this movie, and what I'm writing here can represent only `a part' of its virtues.
I have to admit that I'm not familiar with `Syberberg' at all, so what's innovative in my point of view might be an old storytelling method used in many other movies that I've never seen. However, for me, this is the first time I encounter this method. This movie tells a story of a court cook under King Ludwig II based on the memoir of the cook. This memoir can be easily adapted to make a costume-period movie, but Syberberg didn't choose that way. He chose to have a narrator walking through many beautiful palaces in the present time, quoting the memoir and giving his own comments from time to time. All is said in monologue. Thus, this movie has both the feelings of seeing a documentary and reading a book at the same time, but it also gives so many other feelings.
One of the many good things about this movie is its humour. Because the memoir tells about the madness of King Ludwig, one can't help laughing a lot at his crazy activities, but still feels sympathy for his servants. Apart from this amusement which can also be achieved by a much-more-expensive costume-period movie, I am more impressed by what this movie can achieve, but costume-period movie can never achieve.
Though I can't understand 100 % of the English subtitles as I'm not a native English speaker, it is not difficult to follow the story of the cook and his King, and when can follow the story, one can see `the story' played out in his mind, in his own imagination. Thus, seeing this movie is like seeing two movies at the same time: one you see with your eyes, the other you envision in your mind. I have never experienced something like this before. How can the simplest technique in storytelling create something so extraordinary like this? A costume-period movie can only make me see or experience one movie, not two simultaneously.
For me, this kind of technique results in at least two great advantages that costume-period movies can never achieve. One is that you can see the differences between the movie you see and the movie you envision. Your eyes see the present, but your mind sees the past. Your eyes see the empty room, but your mind sees people in that room. Your eyes see a calm and peaceful atmosphere in the film, but your mind senses the turbulence, the tension, the fear, and the deadly mystery in the story. Your eyes see the smile and friendly attitude of the narrator, but your mind sees the madness of Ludwig and the sorrow state of people who had to work for him. This movie has proved that to tell effectively the absurdity of people who had too much power or money, you don't have to use much money. You can tell it by the cheapest way possible. However, this technique of contrasting the present and the past doesn't always make the audience feel bad for King Ludwig, because I think the contrast becomes most striking, the difference reaches its climax, when the narrator says,'Without the King, the magic is gone.'
The other advantage of this technique is that by letting the audience imagining by themselves, the audience have the same pleasure as they would have by reading the memoir. While most films don't give the audience a chance to imagine, this film provides plenty of chances, and seeing this film has become a unique experience of filmviewing--It's a liberation. While the film itself is a kind of liberation from the normal rules of filmmaking, the audience's power of imagination is also liberated. King Ludwig can look as handsome as you wish he could be; the food can look as delicious as you want it. What picture can satisfy you more than the picture in your own imagination? Everything you see in your mind corresponds to your desire. You don't have to complain about the lighting, the costumes, the faces of actors, as you'd probably do with costume-period movies. And the act of imagining also has some fun in itself. However, while I feel liberated seeing this film, I still feel the oppression of the King's servants at the same time.
Seeing this film somehow makes me feel like I want to compare films with food. While most films can be compared to 100%-ready food that the audience must consume it as it is, this film is like 50%-ready food. The filmmaker provides you the ingredients and invites you to help him cook (by envision another movie), and you have some fun already while cooking it. And because you cook it by yourself, the taste of the food will totally correspond to your taste (everything looks the way you want it to be in the movie you envision).
However, What I'm impressed the most in this film is some feelings I can't describe, something I can't explain. Apart from the feeling of liberation and the fun of imagining, at the same time I also feel as if this film gives me a warm and cosy place to rest. While most films make me feel as if I see a room full of many things, this film makes me feel as if I see a space, and this space welcomes me to go into it. Moreover, this film gives me pleasant, comfortable, and friendly feelings. Seeing this film makes me feel as if I just had a walk in a beautiful park with a friend - a friend who doesn't force me to think the way he wants. Hardly a film can make me feel as if it is a `friend.' I feel as if the task and role of filmmakers have been expanded by this film. The definition and realm of movies have been broadened. Film is not only a carrier of messages and themes. It can also be a friend of the audience, or maybe something more than a friend, something no word has yet been assigned to. And I don't know exactly where these feelings come from. Is it because it lets me imagine? Is it because of the smile and the characteristics of the narrator? Is it because of the story? I don't know which elements (ingredients) of this film (food) that makes me feel like this. Maybe it's because of the talent of the director--If food were film, he must be a real great cook.
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