Thursday, May 1, 2014
Film Atlas (Slovenia): Dancing in the Rain
Title: Dancing in the Rain / Ples v Dezju (1961)
Peter is a painter, but he spends most of his time morosely drinking at a local dive. Marusa is an actress, but she’s past her prime and skips rehearsals to mope. The two are considered a couple within their limited circle, but it’s a warped, emotionally-abusive relationship always on the rocks. The theater’s pipsqueak line-prompter is in love with Marusa, who’s in love Peter, who’s in love with a nonexistent ideal. Contempt flows back in the other direction. They drink deeply and frequently of alcohol and bitterness. They dream, fantasize and delude themselves to stave off encroaching despair. We watch them as a day passes and the rain rolls in.
Having laid out that heavy-sounding summary, it might be hard to believe that this is an absolutely beautiful film, astounding in its technical ingenuity and abundant imagination. Director Bostjan Hladnik eagerness to play with filmcraft enlivens the rather dire noirish plot and his impatience to experiment, instead of obfuscating the story, serve to better express the psychology of his characters. His bag of tricks includes graphic matches and jump cuts, 360 degree roving camera movements, dream sequences and their surreal geographies, unexpected camera angles and focus pulls, close ups that pull out only to redefine the space with new surprises and abrupt transitions into flashbacks or fantasies often without an edit. One touch that I especially liked was a young couple, lost in their hermetic puppy love, who mysteriously haunt the backgrounds and tail-ends of almost every scene (including even a dream sequence!). Are they glimpses of Peter/Marusa’s past? A metaphor for their albatrosses of ideal love? A reminder that the cycle of innocence and disillusionment repeats itself with each new generation? Mere contrast with Peter Marusa’s failing relationship?
Even more radical and unique is Hladnik’s sound design, which uses often highly unrealistic volume modulation, misleading aural cues and internal monologues from shifting perspectives to create a subjective soundscape. Not every idea works (one scenes has Peter chasing Marusa at an unconvincingly lazy pace so that the camera can keep up), but it’s refreshing to see a film take so many risks.
Hladnik’s visual virtuosity and willingness to experiment reflect the influence of Ingmar Bergman and Robert Siodmak and would have fit right at home in the New Waves then blossoming in France, Czechoslovakia and Japan. Sadly, he remains in obscurity outside of Slovenia.