Friday, April 24, 2015

Film Noir (Serbia, 2007)

Last week at our weekly bad film night, for some unexplainable reason we decided not to watch the direct-to-DVD horror film starring Uri Geller entitled Sanatorium aka Diagnosis (2001 / German trailer) and, instead, pulled this totally unknown B&W feature-length animation film out of our pile of mystery movies on DVD.
What can we say other than that it ruined the night: instead of some hilariously crappy movie as expected, we found ourselves watch a truly engrossing and first-rate if flawed and obviously low budget movie. We would have been like totally pissed off had the movie not captured our attention so thoroughly and been so entertaining (in a good way). It is without a doubt the best B&W animated film noir we've seen since, well, about a half year ago when we caught the animated French sci-fi noir, Renaissance (2006 / trailer). That film is a good one in itself, but Film Noir definitely out-noirs Renaissance, sometimes to the point of almost becoming a satire of the genre. Unlike Renaissance, however, which is totally B&W, Film Noir borrows a page from the far more Baroque  Sin City (2005 / trailer) in that there are occasional flashes of color — women's red nails or lipstick, red-rimmed gunshot wounds, yellow cabs, etc. — amidst the B&W shadows of a world long gone wrong.
Like the much flashier, better-scripted and bigger-budgeted star vehicle Sin City, the obviously low budget Film Noir is almost as much of an action flick as it is a noir. But Sin City is far more a comic nook than Film Noir, although Film Noir does suffer from some comic book plotting and action sequences. But it is a sign of quality that Film Noir works so well despite such flaws. (One action scene in it does actually go over the edge — though the film manages to recover — and brings to mind the joke in Last Action Hero [1993 / trailer] about how no matter how many guns are shot at Arnie in the film world, he never gets hit by a single bullet: in Film Noir, there is an outrageous car vs. helicopter chase in which our hero is out-driving a machine-gun-wielding bad guy in a helicopter who shoots hundreds of bullets at him at point-blank range but only hits the car's hood seven times. An unintentional joke that leads to a small scene thereafter at a used car lot that once again reinforces an idea that laces the entire movie: everyone is corrupt, and everyone can be bought.)
Film Noir utilizes the quintessential noir plot device of amnesia, a favorite of traditional noirs —   Somewhere in the Night (1946 / trailer), The Crooked Way (1949 / scene), High Wall (1947 / trailer), Black Angel (1946 / trailer) or Street of Chance (1942)*, anyone? — as well as contemporary neo-noirs (Shutter Island [2010 / trailer], Memento [2000 / trailer] or Dark City [1998 / trailer], anyone?). Our hero awakens next to a dead body, a cop, and has no memory of who he is or how he got where he is, and then spends more than half of the movie trying to find out his identity. Confronted by duplicitous but hot-to-fuck babes, a shady doctor, a missing private eye, and scores of hitmen out to kill him, he begins to realize that whoever he is, he ain't a nice guy. And finally, once he solves the mystery of his identity, he is no better off than before and must now figure out a way of getting out of the whole mess alive.
* Street of Chance puts a twist on the ol' amnesia plot by beginning with a man awakening from his amnesia, only to be in danger from whatever it was that happened in his other life, which he in turn now no longer remembers.
Film Noir is set in a quasi-contemporary world complete with mobile phones and an internet that supplies info better and quicker than that of today, but at the same time the "back-projected" cityscape often has an oddly 40s feel. Yes, the action takes place in the ultimate noir city, Los Angeles,* a place that always rains at night unless you happen to be driving a convertible (which, as everyone knows, you can also leave parked in a bad part of town for days with its top down and keys in the glove compartment and not have stolen). It's a lonely world, one in which the women might be hot to hop in bed with you, but also won't bat an eye ratting on you once they've had their big O. It is almost emblematic of that world that the only woman who turns out to be "true", or "honest" and "trustworthy", is also the one who's most fucked up. (That said, we personally have never met a junkie — and we've known more than we care to admit — who was any of the three.)
* We doubt that anyone who has lived or lives in LA and who has enjoyed the experience of driving its empty roads, particularly in the industrial areas, late at night would disagree with this statement.
It is, in the end, a bit difficult to write about Film Noir without giving away too much of the events, and in turn it must be said that the movie is more a case of matter over substance than anything else. Many aspects of the narrative are pure baloney, of the level of low-grade pulp plotting, and the whole movie probably wouldn't work if it had been done live action. But as an animated movie, Film Noir bathes in its source and creates a mood and rhythm that underscores the various themes — duplicity being the main one, as almost every character of the movie has a hidden side — that drift in and out of the movie. The animation itself is already a bit old fashioned, but this is actually an advantage, as it acts a bit like the mesmerizing patina that old age lends the B&W classic noirs. The jazzy soundtrack, redolent of lascivious cigarette smoke and whiskey, might definitely be more neo-noir than noir, but it underscores the visuals and events excellently, adding that special spice to the pervading mood of the movie.
The big question this film leaves in its wake is: Why the fuck hasn't anyone heard of it yet? It should be a cult hit, but it's more unknown than any given Ralph Bakshi flick. Time for that to change.

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