And then even after I picked up the last 2 thirds of this 3-hour masterpiece, I kept having to take breaks just to breathe a little. I didn't feel overwhelmed while I was watching it, but in the in-betweens, the pauses, it would hit me suddenly, and I'd feel exhausted.
Now that I'm finished with it, I don't know how to put it into words. I am comforted by the fact that this particular film seems to leave everyone feeling overwhelmed. (Here's a good breakdown and intro to the film-- and here's another one. After you've seen it, there's a really good recap and personal reflection here..)
And that's understandable, because it really does seem to contain all humanity, the fragility, the beauty, the hilarity, the warmth, the coldness, the connection, the monstrosity, the love, the need for God. It's fragmented and non-linear, and characters are presented and followed without any context or introduction, and sequences regularly alternate between docile/pastoral and desperate/terrifying. The bell-making sequence absolutely took my breath away, but I almost couldn't watch the Tartar sequences. I was starry-eyed at the long landscape shots, but I couldn't help wincing every time I saw a horse. (Not since Au Hazard Balthazar has the presence of an animal been so prominent in a film, I think.) And the absolutely brilliant image of the fallen balloon pulsing like a giant beating heart. There were images in this film that were staggering.
There was no trigger warning on my screen for the most shocking thing that happens, which is a (probably infamous) moment of severe animal cruelty, but I accidentally saw it before the rest of the film (thanks, Youtube!) and so the whole film I was just waiting with a sense of impending dread for that one thing to happen. Once it happened I thought my sense of impending dread would be over, but that wasn't really the case with this film, because its moments of dread and terror are all bound up together with its moments of relief and exquisite beauty. And the cumulative effect is so powerful that I won't even try to articulate it, beyond saying that this is absolutely one of the films you must see in your lifetime.
I'm inclined, despite all complications, to read this as a humanist film--but really it's a film that has to speak for itself. So if you don't mind, I'll let it.
Next up: Caché and The Conversation.
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