From the Archives: Container (2006)

14 Feb

Swedish auteur Lukas Moodysson has never been afraid to take risks. His 2004 feature A Hole in My Heart was a visceral insight into the lives of a dysfunctional family unit involved in amateur pornography. It challenged audiences and critics alike with its graphic representations of genital mutilation, vomit and urination. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Moodysson’s latest film Container once again represents a radical departure from convention. Devoid of any standard narrative structure or substance, Moodysson’s bleak black-and-white visuals come accompanied by American actress Jena Malone’s monotone, yet strangely hypnotic voiceover. Her words only occasionally bear any relation to what is happening on the screen.

Images of the film’s protagonists (the overweight Peter Lorentzon and Mariha Åberg) wandering through desolate wastelands and indulging in cross-dressing are interspersed with Malone’s musings on everything from the cult of celebrity to religion and natural disasters. Where Malone’s narrative does relate to the visuals, Moodysson tends to revert to overly simplistic metaphors to reflect his sentiments. A diatribe against a David and Victoria Beckham nativity scene is juxtaposed with images of a rubbish tip, while the male character’s apparent gender issues are emphasized when he literally carries the female character on his back. Similarly, his frustration at being unable to “break free” is signposted by his inability to escape from a sheet.

In any case, it is Malone’s almost ethereal tones that are far more captivating than what is happening on the screen. Her effortless ramblings portray a sense of almost childlike fascination with the world as she relays tales of the ill-fated porn star Savannah alongside the tragedies of Auschwitz and Chernobyl. Interestingly, by placing the so obviously tragic alongside the seemingly trite, Moodysson may be attempting to emphasize the banal nature of today’s celebrity culture. In addition, there is an overriding sense of despair and desolation that envelops the film. Barren landscapes, endless tunnels and deserted cityscapes dominate the visuals, whilst Malone’s monologue is peppered with negativity. At one point she even asks: “Why is everything so sad?” Moodysson’s insistence on utilizing Chernobyl and Transylvania as settings for his picture compounds the already overwhelmingly morose tone; although Malone’s narrative is tinged with humor that provides the much needed moments of respite.

Effectively, Container is the very definition of style over substance. Acting as a vehicle for Moodysson’s undoubted sense of experimentation, the picture is much more about the ideas behind it than the actual experience itself. By exploring religion, celebrity, self-image and natural disasters, Moodysson invites the audience to indulge in an unfiltered view of today’s hectic all-encompassing society. Andy Warhol’s influence is especially evident and it is worth noting that Container exists in five different versions; the Swedish original, the English language version and three adaptations produced especially for art exhibitions. It is easy to see why Moodysson has chosen to distribute his work in this way. The film is art gallery fodder, a sentiment compounded by Moodysson himself. At the Times BFI 50th London Film Festival screening, he stated that the audience can “watch it for five minutes or for eight hours; maybe it works better if you decide how you see it.” As an experiment and an idea, Container certainly delivers. Whether or not it can stand up to scrutiny as an inspired piece of filmmaking will surely form the crux of fervent debate for some to come.

 

(originally featured at http://www.cinemattraction.com on 26/10/06)

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