Review by Tom Huddleston
Posted on 05 October 2006
Source Metrodome 35mm Print
Features: The Times BFI 50th London Film Festival
What do you call avant-garde cinema when it’s no longer avant-garde? Lukas Moodysson’s fifth feature film establishes a sort of retro-garde, explicitly emulating surrealist and ‘personal’ films from the 60s and 70s to create something frustratingly (though doubtless intentionally) naïve, but somehow oddly moving.
The style is familiar from a thousand student films, teenage video experiments and web diaries: grainy black and white footage, with a poetic monologue expressing the characters’ innermost thoughts. There’s only one actual character here—a rotund transvestite listed only as ‘Man,’ who lives alone in an apartment littered with refuse and celebrity paraphernalia. He occasionally shares the screen with ‘Woman,’ a ghostlike representation of the girl he wishes he was, and that he feels living inside him. The voiceovers are performed by Hollywood actress Jena Malone, a soft and soporific stream of semi-consciousness that anchors the random events onscreen in some semblance of reality.
Visually, the film is crude and rather repetitive. Shot in grainy black and white, seemingly edited with tape and scissors, it’s a barrage of images ranging from the comic to the absurd, the dull to the downright unsettling. Man crawls on the floor of his apartment, taping a plastic foetus to his face, stuffing ravioli down the plughole of his bathtub, poring over gossip magazines. He carries his inner Woman through a disused factory, over a vast heap of rubbish, through a forest at night. Some images stand out from the morass—Woman throwing back the bed sheets to reveal a mass of writhing, naked people, or sliding in filthy bathwater beneath a pane of glass littered with detritus.
But it’s Malone’s monologue that is the real focus of the film—presented as radio, without the images, Container would retain it’s impact. The main focus of the narrative is Man’s inner struggle (the character, not the species) between the drab and overweight image he sees in the mirror and the gleaming feminine celebrity he feels he ought to be. It’s a familiar, achingly modern preoccupation, but Moodysson finds new angles, hooking his audience directly into the mind of this deluded, pitiable, self-loathing figure. The detail in the monologue is disturbing, from David Beckham’s Nativity portrait to Kylie Minogue’s breast cancer, no celebrity horror story is left unreferenced. Man longs to be a part of this world, and his glittering dreams of catwalks and premieres are brutally contrasted with the grotesque, demeaning images onscreen.
But there more in the voiceover than just Man’s fantasies and self-abusive diatribes, there’s a complex world being created, where realities are constantly shifting, and truths are being challenged—at one point in the middle of the film Malone states plainly, “My name is Jena Malone, I’m an actress. This is my voice.” It’s impossible to tell who is really speaking at any one time—there’s a recurring theme of birth, “I’m nine centimetres dilated,” and life within life, bacteria and sickness and childbirth all locked into themes of religion and celebrity and truth and distortion.
Container will carry a unique resonance for each different person who sees it. At the screening I attended there were numerous walkouts within the first thirty minutes, and it’s hard to see the film finding much of an audience. But it’s also hard to imagine an audience member who won’t find something in the film, some part of himself reflected, however disconcertingly.