Institute Benjamenta (1995)
Genre: Avant-Garde Drama (UK, Japan, Germany)
Starring: Mark Rylance (Prospero's Books; Angels and Insects), Alice Kriege (Star Trek: First Contact, Silent Hill)
Directed By: The Brother Quay (The Films of The Brother Quay)
Overview: A man joins a school to train in becoming a professional servant. This man, less content than the rest in learning the monotonous, repetitive lessons is the catalyst for change in the institute, as well as in the lives of the matron and her brother.
Acting: While watching this, you may find yourself moved by the lithe and delicate gestures of Alice Kriege in her dominating disposition, and in the way she holds her pointer shaped out of a fawn's hoof. You may find the strange quirks of Mark Rylance to be compelling in the way they silently speak volumes. You may instead find wonder in the synchronicity of the supporting cast in the Institute as they go through the motions of their daily tasks in unison. With this motion focused upon so meticulously, we see the influence of the brilliant direction of the master-puppeteers, The Brothers Quay.
Cinematography: If you are familiar with the works of Jan Svankmeyer, you will recognize, from time to time, his influence. However, this is far less a tribute to Jan's works than a bold and daring leap into black and white chiaroscuro and near-macro photography. There is no doubt that these filmmakers come from a background rooted in illustration and this film never ceases to dazzle the eye with its use of visually dynamic shots and symbolic imagery. This is nothing like the stop-motion animation they have done in the past, save in the detail spent with every frame of film. A perfect evolution of their art so far, with deep streaks of montage influenced by Murnau and Eisenstein.
Script: As is typical with the experimental, we have very little in the way of dialogue, though there is some helpful narrative from time to time. The way the story unfolds is vague, with only mild tastes of the bigger picture, allowing the mind to fill the gaps with possibilities. If you can get into this lack of noise, this chasm of questions, you may find the trip worth the confusion.
Plot: I began to watch this in the way I thought it was meant to be seen, with patience and content in the knowledge that thinking too much about what was going on was not the point. For the first half of the film I was content in the fact that so far there was no story, it was 'slice of life' stuff, ripe with rustic imagery. All of a sudden we're introduced to elements of character that bring into question the future of the institute, the future of the characters and the life-changing decisions they must consider. It's hard to gauge this film for its storyline, since the point was to be vague and artistic, but the plot, hard to follow as it is, unfolds rather well.
Mood: The Brothers Quay continue to hone their unique art in this latest experiment of theirs, and in no way does it fail. Themes include order and defiance, preparation for an existence of doldrums and constant servility. In our hero we know that there is something different about his way, and it strangely, slowly influences the antique and rustic order of the Institute. Slow and meticulous it will seem to some, but those patient enough will be rewarded with stunning poetry.
Overall Rating: 86% (Don't Forget To Enroll!)
Aftertaste: After all is said and done, having an Internet resource is great, especially when you want to see if the vision of the filmmakers was understood. There is nothing more rewarding than engaging in a conversation with others about an experimental film, then going back and watching it (or parts) again to see if the discussions bore any fruit. Better still is the option to just type in a few words and get a lovely little synopsis. I might complain that people try too hard to figure out a movie that means nothing, but this isn't one of those. Above all, it's beautiful, and the main reason for watching.
This post is part of the Avant-Garde Blog-A-Thon. For a complete list, visit Girish.