Sunday, 7 August 2011
Starring: Cathryn Harrison, Therese Giehse, Alexandra Stewart, Joe Dallesandro
By Alan Bacchus
New to The Criterion Collection is this oddball film of monstrous proportions, part Alice in Wonderland allegory, part late-period Luis Bunuel surrealism. And it's a Louis Malle film I've never heard of. Giving a 'star rating' seems completely inappropriate in this case, employing a convention to a film that treats convention as poison. Black Moon is an unexplainable and unquantifiable piece of art that isn't meant to be enjoyed, understood or commented on - simply experienced.
The film opens up showing Malle's version of 'Alice' (named Lily here) driving down a rural highway observing some kind of near-future warfare going on. Then, while escaping the clutches of one of the soldiers, she sees a unicorn. While sleeping on the grass she then becomes fascinated with snakes and large millipedes crawling over her body. At one point she thinks a flower is talking to her in another language.
While wandering the landscape she stumbles upon a large country mansion inhabited by a dying matriarch who speaks an unknown language, two twin models with the same name as our hero, Lily, and a team of naked boys wearing only flip-flops running through the woods herding sheep.
The rest of the film takes place within these confines to no substantial effect other than to confuse and titillate us. Malle's purposeful spacial inconsistencies confuse us. Inexplicably, Lily has difficulty trying to reach a glass of milk on the counter, especially when disturbed by a talking baby pig lounging on the countertop. Random jump cuts create even more hallucinatory effects. If we can appreciate Malle's attempts to laugh at our expense we're free to laugh along with him.
To find other cinematic comparisons, in many ways this endeavour feels like a Kubrick journey. The '70s cinematography, near-future world and the distinct outsider point of view links up with sequences and tones in 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, The Shining and Eyes Wide Shut. We can also feel little bits of Pier Paolo Pasolini's Salo: The 120 Days of Sodom, that utterly strange yet riveting sexual, social and historical commentary on Nazism. Strange compositions inside the vast country mansion create some of the same eerie tension as the debaucherous aristocratic prison in Salo.
Malle establishes such a crazy world of inane gibberish we come to expect both everything and absolutely nothing to come of this venture. It's the equivalent of a nonsense poem. At one point the twin sister version of Lily attempts to nurse the strange old lady back to health by offering her breast to suckle. The film could cut to black at any second or a character could spontaneously combust into flames - anything is possible.
There might be some kind of social commentary going on, and indeed the extensive liner notes outline in detail one rationale of significance for this stuff. But sadly, none of it ever stuck with me.
No bother though. We are left with a stunning and lasting final image, the exterior ground of the mansion engulfed by turkeys and hens. Well, that's not exactly the 'last' image. After the turkeys we see a freeze-frame of Lily massaging her nipple preparing to suckle the unicorn. And that is probably the most laughably perfect ending for this zany slice of celluloid.
Black Moon is available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.