Sunday, October 30, 2011

Ubu Roi (1965)

An evil giant man is persuaded by his nagging wife to usurp the King of Poland, and he is successful, until his extremely harsh new laws and the return of the former King's youngest son lead to a fight for the crown. (Imdb rating N/A)

Right off the bat, you need to know this is a French made-for-TV movie by Jean-Christophe Averty, based on Alfred Jarry's play Ubu Roi, a play so scandalous, that it's first performance in 1896 was stopped after the first word was uttered, because the crowd rioted.

The first word was "Merde", translated as "shit". I can't imagine how a crowd back then would have felt, if they ever got past the first word, at what quite possibly could be the lewdest, most lowbrow plays ever conceived. The amount of swearing in this puts Eddie Murphy to shame, and I have the feeling most of it wasn't properly translated to English either.

The main character Pere Ubu is just a vile human being, he's extremely fat, obnoxiously loud and egotistical, and acts like every petulant child you've ever wanted to punch. His wife is barely any better, and they spend the entire movie arguing or manipulating each other. The whole movie plays out like a pastiche of Shakespearean themes and plotlines, with bits stolen from other plays here or there. It's very predictable, but not moreso than most other movies.

I think some classical film students just had a heart attack.

The style is the main talking point here; I can almost guarantee you will never see another film that looks even remotely like this. The Forbidden Zone has some vague similarities, such as the black and white colours and mix of animation and live action, but that's it. Trying to adopt a more theatre based approach to film making, Ubu Roi dispels any types of camera panning, zooms and even moving the camera at all. At any one time, there could be three, four, six different mini-scenes onscreen, all interacting with each other in bizarre ways. Characters will pass things to each other, and the item will change size depending on where the camera is. It's visually disorientating, and cool as hell.

Ubu Roi has a unique way of word building, and by that I mean it barely exists. Half of the time, it's just characters over a black background. When there are props, they are flimsy at best, such as the cardboard horses, which look like something a five year old would strap into and race around in. Occasionally, there will be a solid setting, made from what looks like white tape. You are really forced to use your imagination, much like you would in a play.

Unfortunately, Ubu Roi does retain other play features; monologues. As a side effect of the visuals, none of the characters ever shut up, as they need to be constantly explaining what is going on action-wise so you don't get completely lost. This works well most of the time, but can start to grate. The ending is very flat as well, but I can't fault that, it's like that in the original play on purpose, to be as different to the usual 'classic' play endings as possible. Still, this is a crazy movie, and if you can get your hands on it somehow, it's well worth a watch.

Things I learnt:

  • 'Disembrained' and 'Hornigobolets' are real words.
  • 'By my green candle!' is a common saying?
  • You can kill people by them being turned into paper cutouts of themselves, then just ripping them up.
  • Or you can just threat to sharpen your teeth in their calves.

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