Next Floor (2008) dir. Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Jean Marchand, Mathieu Handfield, Emmanuel Schwartz, Sébastien René
Though only 11mins, Denis Villeneuve's 'Next Floor' stands tall as a magnificent visually stunning allegory to class struggle told with a wickedly dark sense of humour. Villeneuve channels the absurd and surreal metaphors of Luis Bunuel with the visually grandness of Terry Gilliam to create a unique artistic masterpiece."Next Floor" has been gathering awards at various festivals since last year's Cannes Film Festival, and this week opened the Worldwide Short Film Festival in Toronto.
On the highest floor of a tall building a group of black tie dressed aristocrats have assembled for a pampered meal, complete with formally dressed waitstaff and a three piece orchestra. The meal, gluttonous over-the-top helpings of prepared animals - beef, pork, ham, birds, even a rhinoceros. When signaled to eat the guests proceed to gorge with ravenous carnage, shoveling the food into their mouths like starving hynenas. Suddenly the room starts to shake, and the whole dinner table and its guests literally fall through the floor to the level below. After a brief moment the guests simply brush themselves off keep eating, with the staff quickly running down the stairs to catch up. As more food gets served and the guests continue to eat, the floor is just not strong enough to keep the weight of the table, thus sending them down floor by floor to the bottom.
There's a number of fun influences on display in this piece. Using the building as the metaphor for the plummeting disgrace of these upper class twits perhaps borrows from JG Ballard's novel 'High Rise'. As the dinner table drops a floor lower and lower so does their dignity. With each drop both the individuals and the food they eat becomes drenched in broken plaster, wood, and drywall dust. Yet they keep eating. While most of the tension comes from the waitstaff anticipating when the floor will break, there's a hint that the group might just stop eating, and that the host just might just lose some kind of bet - how long these fools can keep stuffing themselves oblivious to their impending deaths.
Villeneuve tells the story with little dialogue, just the monotonous sounds of the shoveling of food and the scraping of metal on the plates. Villeneuve projects a classical and mannered tone of deadpan humour. No matter what happens to the group, the staff and orchestra continue to play like cold robotic unemotional servants. The music is an aggressive and violent series of heavy drum pounding, like an army going to battle, complimenting the theme of passive aggressive class struggle.
Villeneuve's cast is made up of some marvelously distinct faces. The most interesting is the Maitre D, played by Jean Marchand who is introduced with a magnificent bold close-up lit with texture by DOP Nicolas Bolduc. His bald head and course face and angular facial features shows us supreme professional with resolute determination to serve these guests to the very end.
On a technical level production values sore in the short medium. Villeneuve and his crew were given access to a Heritage building in Montreal set for renovation, and allowed to destroy and demolish at will. And so, despite some carefully placed CG effects, much of the destruction in the film is real. As mentioned, Nicolas Bolduc's cinematography, shot in anamorphic 35mm is a triumph, purposeful underlit with David Fincher-like crispness, showing all the details of Jean-Marc Renaud's gritty art direction. The handsome production is aided by sharp editing and music composition for maximum spectacle and entertainment.
Despite the technical achievement, "Next Floor" is a comedy, a dark satire on the level of Peter Greenaway, Terry Gilliam and Jean-Pierre Jeunet/Marc Caro. But it's perhaps the absurd surrealism of those great Luis Bunuel films, like "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" and "The Phantom of Liberty" where the film links up best. But like all influences mentioned above "Next Floor" is a sociologically thought-provoking and wholly unique artistic cinematic statement.
"Next Floor" continues to tour the world. Unfortunately, I'm not sure where and when this will be available to find on DVD. But I'll when a link of some sort becomes available I will post it here