Tuesday, January 2

Streamathon - Magical Realism


Magical Realism (January 2018)

Preface: This is part of an ongoing blog series of curated movie marathons that are thematically or otherwise tied together. The other common factor tying these films together will be their availability to watch them all from the comfort of your own home on various streaming platforms. The goal is that writing this blog will somehow justify the excessive number of streaming platforms I subscribe to. The films will be found on some combination of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Mubi, FilmStruck, Shudder and/or Fandor. These titles will be available for the month that the blog is published. All of these subscriptions offer free trials so feel free to dive in and follow along… Have fun. Just don’t message me for my login information.

By: Emery Martin-Snyder

According to Wikipedia, magical realism refers to fiction that “…expresses a primarily realistic view of the real world while also adding or revealing magical elements.” In other words: These are stories that essentially take place in the real world, but impossible (or magical) things happen from time to time.

Some of the best examples of cinematic magical realism take place at or near the end of a film to reveal a whole new realm of possibilities never previously considered. One of my favorite examples is the final climactic scene in the underrated Coen Brother’s film, THE HUDSUCKER PROXY (1994). Other times, the magic is lightly sprinkled into a far more serious plot like Alejandro Inarritu’s Best Picture winner BIRDMAN (2014). In other films, the magical realism serves as a fantastical backdrop for the characters to slip in and out of. Sometimes this is done to reflect that the story is unfolding through the eyes of a child such as Behn Zeitlin’s 2012 film, BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD.

I think one of the things I love the most about these films is that they demand the audience’s acceptance of what is put in front of them, at least for the moment that the magic happens. It’s one of the reasons I love film as a medium in the first place. It is the ultimate example of “show me, don’t tell me” storytelling.

The Stream

AMÉLIE (2001) 
Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet – Streaming on Hulu

I’ve loved this film ever since it came out in 2001 and I rewatch it every year or so, always thinking that I will eventually grow out of it. I never do. I’ve always thought of this film as a sort of gateway drug to modern foreign cinema. Once you get a little used to the unique quirk of this French filmmaker, you can graduate to something a little more hardcore, like a Leos Carax or a Michael Haneke.  In the meantime, keep watching Audrey Tautou, in the ultimate manic-pixie performance as she fumbles through her magically real quest for love. I dare you not to fall for her.

Directed by Bill Watterson – Streaming on Hulu

This is like all of the best parts of Jeunet, Terry Gilliam, Michel Gondry and Jim Henson all made out of cardboard. Run, don’t walk (don’t trip & fall) to watch this film. I really can’t suggest it enough. I watched this film at the International Horror and as Sci-Fi Film Festival in Phoenix, Arizona with absolutely no idea what I was getting into and it really blew me away. The plot is absolutely ridiculous and if handled by a different filmmaker, I likely would have hated this movie. But this is an example of DIY filmmaking, great attention to detail and what must have been tons of man-hours to construct one of the best movie sets of all time.

Directed by Woody Allen – Streaming on Netflix

Like most Woody Allen films, this one is full of insufferable characters with little to no redeeming qualities. This is why I don’t spend much time watching his films. Most of the screenplay is just as pseudo-intellectual as the characters on screen. And some of the dialogue was clearly just written to show off Allen’s own pedantic knowledge of history, art and culture… So why watch it? Well, also like most of his films, this one contains brilliant and charming performances from some of its actresses. I’m specifically referring to Marion Cotillard’s “Adriana”. Watch it for her. I’ll pretty much watch anything with her in it.

Directed by Guillermo Del Toro – Streaming on Amazon Prime

Guillermo Del Toro is a masterful craftsman of cinematic fairy tales. What separates this story from a strict fairy tale however, is the very real Francoist Spain setting. Realistic gore and horror blends with fantastical macabre in a way that pulls the audience into the eyes of a child. In the world of this film, there is no difference between the faun’s underground labyrinth and the anti-fascists revolution brewing above. Both are to be seen as equally genuine carrying life and death consequences.

Directed by Seijun Suzuki – Streaming on FilmStruck

“I make movies that make no sense and make no money.” – Seijun Suzuki

This is my favorite entry into the filmography of one of my favorite directors of all time. The moments of magical realism found in this film are brief, subtle, expressionistic and beautiful. Most of Suzuki’s films have some sort of a fantastical and/or surreal element to them. It’s why he was fired from Nikkatsu Studios. But in most cases, these elements are just part of Suzuki’s idiosyncratic flare. I’ve always felt that this movie was unique in that these little flares are much more in service of the characters on screen.

THE TIN DRUM (1979) 
Directed by Volker Schlöndorff – Streaming on FilmStruck

Like the rest of this list, this is one of those films that you’re simply not going to like if you can’t accept its premise. Trust me, just go with it. The film takes place in Germany during the rise of Hitler’s 3rd Reich. Oskar Matzerath is a child at this time and somehow chooses the most unusual protest against his country’s passive enabling of the rise of the fascist dictator. The New German Cinema is a fascinating movement made up of filmmakers that were born around this time and many of the films are critical allegories for the failures of their parent’s generation. Volker Schlöndorff is a name that often gets overlooked and hidden behind Fassbinder, Herzog and Wenders. This is unfortunate. His career has lasted just as long as Wenders & Herzog’s and he has made more masterpieces than Fassbinder.

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