Monday, October 18, 2010

The Company of Wolves Film Review

Can magical realism be real in a dream? Or is the fact that it is a dream counter all sense of reality. Company of Wolves, directed in 1984 by Neil Jordan and based on Angela Carter's short story, tries to create a surreal atmosphere using the dream to make it real. Mostly playing around adult fears of childhood, she barely spends anytime with the living, sending the viewer into a strange voyage through her fear and imagination.

The movie starts with Rosaleen's sister running up to her sister's room begging her to wake up. When no answer is heard she starts calling her a pest, probably in an attempt to rouse the anger of her innocent sister, yet the child still sleeps. We then get thrown, a bit to rapidly, into the mind of the young girl. The lack of explanation as to why we are sent into her head damages the story, as it lacks definition and only depicts a fancy use of mediocre sets and out of date visual effects. Throughout the film, the director and Angela Carter overuse symbols. This starts in Rosaleen's bedroom, when the camera takes us in a circular motion around the room, showing us all sorts of toys and objects who reappear later on in the film. The image given of the toys makes us wonder if toys are really meant for children or if it is only an adult fear of what we us to be. The first act of the film director is to get rid of the obnoxious sister who calls the young and innocent pest. An interesting move by itself but it is disappointing that the directors didn't expand on her death, keeping it to the very first instant of the movie and then utterly forgetting about it. Yet on her own, she is a representation of a few things. First of all she is evil taken down by good, if we see her as evil to her sister. The wolves are then good, which doesn't really match their later attitude. This paradox is countered by a second possibility, where the young white innocence is killed by the dark ravenous pack of males. An attempt at giving the movie some sense of reality fails when they bury the young girl and try to portray the tough life of a village in some ancient time.

The less then impressive acting doesn't suit the dark and emotional setting that is created. With too much time spent on visual effects, the emotional aspect of the film, which should have been preeminent, is overlooked and this really brings down the film. The visual effects themselves are something to note, seeing the importance the director has devoted to them. Very theatrical, their quality leaves a lot to be desired when for example compared to Jean Cocteau's "Belle et la Bete" film. Cocteau implied a lot of the set, keeping strong contrast and a pitch black background, while it was still obvious that the time didn't allow much more to be done, it was successful. Company of Wolves tries to show the viewer everything, going in to quit some depth in an attempt to create a more sensible world. Yet the set seems to achieve enough for most people, with Louise Watson, from BFI Screenonline saying that "the Hammer-like theatrical forest creates a sense of brooding claustrophobia where no sunlight can reach, accentuating Rosaleen's trapped existence. An intensely visual film, teeming with rich symbolism and imagery, the BAFTA-winning settings and special effects dominate the film, often at the expense of the (perhaps deliberately) underdeveloped characters." Hammer being a film company who created "gothic" horror films in the 1950's to the 1970's.

The development of the werewolf characters seems of some importance, as they are the main antagonist of the story. Fear the man whose eyebrow meet in the middle, says Angela Landsbury as Rosaleen's grandmother. The first encounter with the dreaded wolf man is in one of the stories told by the grandmother. In that story, a man marries a women, but on their first night is called by the night and leaves. The women waits and when he doesn't come back, she marries another man with whom she has plenty of children. Yet one night, when the man is out, the initial lover comes back, dirty and animalistic. He gets annoyed and in a long scene of visually atrocious transformation becomes a weird looking wolf who gets its head chopped off by the man who decides to come back at just the right time, when the wolf finally looks like a wolf. The head flies in a dramatic sequence of 80's filmography and lands in bucket of milk. Then in an impressively kitsch moment the head which at first sank as a wolf floats back up as the head of a human. The sexual appetite shown by the manly beast or beastly man is something that seems to be quit a recurring theme in the film. The film ends with the young Rosaleen meeting the ultimate sexual predator, who sadly enough for her, has eyebrows who meet in the middle. With the village running to rescue her, the poor girl is transformed into a wolf and runs off with a werewolf much older then she is and intent on copulation. 

Without the excessive use of symbols and visual effects on which time has taken its toll, the movie could have been a frank success from an emotional and theatrical point of view. By trying to show that it could see deeper than anyone else, that it could understand the symbols present in old folk stories from the 18th century the movies turns in circles and doesn't bring any definite conclusions. 

All in all a good film for those who enjoy seeing symbols everywhere, with a touch of rough animalistic sexuality, but which will bore some by its fake excesses and slightly arrogant view.

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