La Commune (2003)
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[font=Century Gothic]The Franco-Prussian War ends disastrously for the French in 1871 with a months long siege and the surrender of Alsace-Lorraine to Prussia. After the war, the city of Paris is still in rough shape with little food to go around. Some men join the National Guard for meager pay. When the provisional government tries to reclaim the guard's cannon, the citizens fearing a restoration of the monarchy, successfully rebuff them. In response, the government flees to Versailles(ironically the ancestral home of the monarchy) and a commune is established in Paris with elections on the way...[/font]
[font=Century Gothic]"La Commune" is a deliberately anachronistic telling of the short history of the 1871 Paris Commune by focusing on the 11th district, connecting those events to the present day.(The characters act on behalf of their children and the future, seeking to make a better world for them.) Throughout, two reporters for Commune TV - Blanche Capellier(Aurelia Petit) and Gerard Bourlet(Gerard Watkins) - interview various citizens of the commune.(This is contrasted with the official broadcast coming from Versailles which consists of a sole anchor, accompanied by the occasional expert.) Through this technique, director Peter Watkins shows that he has broader aims than just a simple history lesson. He is also concerned with how the media delivers information(at the same time, he is also critical of some of the Commune's news and actions). [/font]
[font=Century Gothic]The movie is a truly collaborative effort. Watkins takes a method he used previously with his film "Edward Munch" where he interviewed characters and expands on it by also occasionally talking to the actors themselves to get their opinion on the film. In the end, Watkins argues for a more participatory democracy. [/font]
Ironic how this film is an epic study on the struggles to escape the dreaded tyranny of socialism, and it's so long that, by the end, it's hard not to feel some overwhelming sense of freedom. I'm probably coming off as a bit insensitive, because the Paris Commune was a terrible event, but it's kind of hard to fully see its severity, because, seriously, by 1871, it was seeming like France would have a revolution over just about anything. Well, I was stuck watching this film so long that I ended up being conditioned to really want to get into battling socialism in Americ-I mean, "France", and I reckon means that this film is successful in its intentions. Of course, if Peter Watkins' intentions were to teach you more about the relative nature of length by making an exhaustingly overlong film about a period in a civilization that was considered brief, he could have done a better job, because all I could think about was how this film is long enough as it is, and one can only imagine what it would be like if it was 70 days long. Well, at least this film isn't as long as Watkins' "Resan", which is fourteen-and-a-half hours of... discussions about warfare, government problems and poor social conditions. Man, Watkins seems to really be into making some of the longest films ever, so long as they're about warfare, government problems and poor social conditions, which I reckon means that I'm going to devote the remainder of what life I have left after this film trying to avoid ten minutes or so of "Resan" if it really is anything like this film that is. Well, to be fair, this film could somehow be even more unwatchable were it not for its having "some" strengths... I guess.
I probably sound as though I'm making a stretch when I commend this film for its photography, but that's only because, yeah, I kind of am, because, as I will touch upon later, the anachronistic feel of the shaky cam really helps in distancing what convincingness there is to this period drama, and plus, not much is all that special about Odd-Geir Sæther's cinematography, which, I must admit, still has its effective moments in intimate framing that draws you a reasonable bit into the film's environment. More effective, or at least more consistently effective, in breathing some degree of lie into this tedious film is the acting, because even though the characters are so weakly drawn and fake-feeling, the performances are about as genuine as they can be, never being too dramatically heavy, but arguably - nay - decidedly more than this film deserves. Again, there's just not a whole lot to compliment in this film, but if nothing else is convincing, then it is the performances, and even then, questionable storytelling and characterization betray the human depths of this drama entirely, which is a shame, because this film's subject matter deserves better. As much as this film is all people simply talking about how bad the Paris Commune of 1871 was, it's easy to forget the weight of this subject matter, because the film is just so badly misguided in its handling of its worthy themes, but there is no denying the importance of the story that this film tells so messily, especially when we come to a rare occasion in which director Peter Watkins does this tale justice. What Watkins does oh so very wrong is mighty frustrating, and I can't say that I was emotionally invested in this film that, because of its length, asks so much of you, but there were moments where I was generally compelled, then they had to have been anchored by an undeniable highlight in Watkins' efforts as "story"teller which thoughtfully soaked up the thematic and dramatic depth of this conceptually important subject matter. Watkins aims to pay tribute the struggles of those who suffered through the Paris Commune of 1871, while bonding the situation with contemporary matters, and on the whole, he fails so miserably you can't even begin to believe it, but on the rarest of occasions, whether it be because of good acting or inspired storytelling, you get a fleeting glimpse what could have been. After that, it's long, long, long stretches of outrageous monotony, which may not exactly make the film unpalatable, seeing as how the film is more misguided than incompetent, but drive the final product much lower than you'd expect, and no matter what few things there are to comment, I just could not run with this film for the life of me, no matter how much the film wanted me to.
The film is about as ambitious as anything can get, and ambition can breathe life into a certain charm that could very well leave you to give a misguided film a pass, at least as mediocre, for its passionate desire to be more, but really, while director Peter Watikins' ambition sometimes inspires what few highlights within what little storytelling there is in this film, after a while, all of that charm of ambition thins out, and all you're left with is a pretense that this film is rewarding, which is insulting to the audience enough when you disregard the fact that most everything Watkins wants you to run with is an intentional mistake in story structuring that couldn't be any more misguided. The film opens up giving you a tour of the potentially convincing set for 1871 Paris, and at that moment, you can't help but feel like the film had just shattered its illusions as a recreation of the time it portrays, and will be hard to buy when it comes to its body, not then aware that not even the body of the film attempts to be subjective, for although the shaky camera often actually draws you into the environment, more often it gives the film too much of a modern feel for you to be all that convinced of the setting that drives the period drama, - especially when either seams come into view with all of the camera shakery, or the performers actually look into the camera on purpose - while the "narrative" goes mostly unraveled by onscreen text summaries and even heavy-handed interviews with the characters, - who do nothing but explain the situation, typically from the objective viewpoint of the performer ("Oh yes, well, you see my character is starving and suffering, but fictitious, so it doesn't matter") - most of which are conducted by our leads, two [b][u]TV news journalists[/u][/b], whose anachronistic role in the film is meant to associate the political and social problems of 1871 with modern society, but comes off as too thematically heavy-handed to be any more compelling than aspects that fire you out of the film's time and setting. The film leaps from a pseudo-documentary format to a dramatization format jarringly, yet I can't say that the final product is all that terribly uneven in its structure, because it at least keeps consistent in feeling, not at all like an immersive docudrama, but like the French answer to some kind of a cheap Civil War recreation that some lazy town holds annually, complete with, well, a sense that this film runs for years, upon years, upon years, and also a total lack of care in storytelling that leaves you to fall out time and again. There's hardly anything engaging about this intentionally fake, distances and aimless drama whose monotony is torturous enough without the heavy-handedness of the thematic deliver or, of course, the bone-dryness of the atmospheric storytelling, whose thoughtfulness is occasionally effective, but, because of anything from quietness that goes so far as to entirely cleanse the film free of music, to a limp meditation upon nothing but nothing, is mostly, not simply bland, or dull, but tedious. If the resonance of this drama isn't completely done away with by an unfocused narrative and a consistently thorough lack of convincingness in setting establishment, it's a total lack of kick to the atmospheric telling of this "story" that doesn't simply dull things down considerably, but chills compellingness away, while thinning out pacing into dissipation, and therefore leaving you to fall slave to the film's runtime, which, as you can imagine, means death for the final product. I suppose I really am a pretty committed film critic, because I had the stone-cold audacity to sit through the entirety of this film (Needless to say, I had the internet at my side, seeing me through this very difficult time) which suffers from the aforementioned distancing problems much more heavily than I made it seem, and runs [b][u]"five hours and forty-five minutes"[/u][/b], with no pacing, or focus, or engagement value, just tedium, tedium, tedium, some more tedium, a bit of tedium on the side, and a tall glass of tedium - with a hint of tedium - whose blows, in a much tighter film, would decidedly be softened and make for a final product that could be anything from just short of decent to on a relatively higher level of bad, but are left out for too long to not spoil into unbearably challenging. I may have fulfilled the overwhelming dare to myself to watch this misguided monstrosity of an overstylized, overambitious and overblown showcase of what you do not do when making a docudrama gradually slip deeper, and deeper, and deeper into frustrating monotony and contempt (The things we suffer through just for the story), but unless you're pretentiously starving for something that's new, even if it's new because most everyone knows not to do it, this film is utterly unwatchable, as it's just so embarrassing to watch Peter Watkins heavy-handedly shove this film's admittedly noble themes down your throat in the most distancing and monotonous of ways, and it's agonizing to watch him do such a deed throughout a runtime that ranks among the most sprawling in the history of feature films, and with an arrogant aura of pure, overwhelming pride for the mistakes he made, which don't obscure the strengths so much that the final product ever descends into a dismal state, but decidedly make this film an experience that I just couldn't get away from soon enough and don't even want to walk about anymore, unless I'm driving away potential audience members who need to know what this film says about the suffering, but don't need to also suffer to do so.
When the tyranny... of Peter Watkins is finally over, it's hard to not be left in ruin, because even though the film has its immersive occasions, fair deal of strong performances, and the occasional highlight the telling of what story there is, the pretentiousness of Watkins, distancing questionability of the stylistic choices within the mishandling of an uneven and unfocused narrative, crushing heavy-handedness of the conceptually worthy thematic weight, tediousness of the bone-dry atmosphere and impossible excessiveness of the paceless, 345-minute runtime are all too painful for "La Commune (Paris, 1871)" to be anything more than unwatchable disaster of astounding proportions.
1.25/5 - Awful
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