As the camera slowly hovers over the lush green expanse of the mountain, its slopes caressed by a constant flux of toxic gases, the faint sounds of trickling streams and rivulets give way to a foreboding piece of classical music, which gradually diminishes as the camera now switches to a poor peasant lying at the base of the mountain. This short 60-odd second segment appears about halfway through Werner Herzog's "La Soufriere", and at this point in the picture the viewer is left in no doubt with regards to the critical acclaim that it has garnered.
All of 30 minutes in its total runtime, "La Soufriere" is a visual report shot in 1976 documenting the impending eruption of the eponymous caldera, located on the island of Saint Vincent in the Windward islands of the Caribbean. Towards the end of August in that year, it had become clear to volcanologists that an earth-shattering explosion, "possessing the power of 5 or 6 atomic bombs", was inevitable. Thus, 75,000 inhabitants comprising the whole southern part of the island were evacuated. That is, except 3 impoverished peasants near the slope of the mountain, who refused to be evacuated against all odds. Mr. Herzog, ever on the look-out for eccentric environments and even more eccentric characters, seized the opportunity to travel to the island, churning out a valuable piece of art in the process.
Upon arrival into the town, Herzog spends some time filming the streets in the full glory of their complete desolation, now and then focusing on eerie aspects such as still-running traffic lights and television sets, a bunch of clueless pigs, a pair of donkeys wandering aimlessly, and the rotting carcasses of starved dogs. A true depiction of a ghost town, "almost resembling a spooky science fiction locale", that rivals any fictional counterpart ever captured on celluloid at the time. Add to this Herzog's restrained and gracious monologue, and it's impossible not to share his sense of awe for the grandiosity of nature. Going one step further, in a trademark breach of laws and circumvention of roadblocks, the team ascends the mountain, and casually films an active volcano while standing right on top of it.
But the juice of the film comes later, with the introduction of our three adamant protagonists. The first one is found peacefully sleeping, and when interviewed, exhibits not a shred of fear, in spite of being fully aware of the gravity of the situation. He says that he has found his inner peace, and is ready to embrace death. The same goes for the other two, who are equally nonchalant. The brief scene with the folk song is a nice touch, providing a strong contrast against the looming peril. It is interesting to note here that Herzog dubs both, his own questions, and the peasants' answers, in his own voice. It is one of those things that separates this film from your standard Nat-Geo fare, with Herzog the observer becoming one with the observed in his pursuit of "ecstatic truth".
The volcano never erupts, however, and for another filmmaker in Herzog's place, this would have been a major let-down. Instead, the film takes on a fresh sense of irony, as well as of humanity. As the film ends along the notes of a loud and triumphant orchestral piece, Herzog narrates : "In my memory, it is not the volcano that remains, but the neglect and oblivion in which those black people lived."
Layer Cake is a powerful Crime/Drama directed by producer Matthew Vaughn, now better known as the filmmaker who has helmed the upcoming superhero action-flick, Kick-Ass.
Layer Cake is one of those movies which uniquely blend Action and Humor seamlessly, while effortlessly churning out a movie that is both unabashed entertainment as well as an intriguing piece of film-making.
The film opens with a narration from an unnamed drug-dealer (Daniel Craig), describing the cocaine-addicted criminal world of today, and the way he sees and operates in it. Even as he plans his early retirement to a quiet and uneventful life, things go awry, and a drug-deal gone wrong sets about a chain of events that pose a threat to everyone involved in the deal. The twists and turns that follow are cleverly executed, each more surprising than the one before.
The plot moves effortlessly throughout the film, and the pacing is just right. The beautiful cinematography, though not gritty and dark as would have suited the movie, stands out, and so do the performances from the entire cast(except maybe Sienna Miller), with Michael Gambon and Daniel Craig in top form. The soundtrack mainly consists of popular British songs, paired with a pulsating background score. Although the movie features a multitude of characters, almost all of them are quite memorable.
A common complaint that some viewers have with this movie is that after a while, the story becomes so confusing, that it is impossible to keep a track of who is doing what. In my opinion this might be deliberate, because this movie essentially requires multiple viewings, each one being more rewarding than the last.
Although this is a flaw that is sometimes unnerving and frustrating on the first viewing, it seems to be the only detectable one in the stylish, intelligent and ceaselessly entertaining crime-drama, Layer Cake.