The Isle

Discussion in 'Reader Reviews' started by dwatts, Apr 12, 2005.

  1. dwatts

    dwatts New Member

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    I finally watched this DVD last night. I've owned this film literally for months, but it had languished in my "too watch" pile.

    While there are many films that deal with the fragility of human emotion, and damaged people coming together, few of them have the conviction of The Isle. Not only are the two leads severly damaged, but there is no solace for them at all. The final seconds of the film hammering home the point that while they have found each other, inside they will always be somehow less than whole.

    The location chosen for the story is open, free, with lots of space. But turning our usual feelings for such a space on it's head (space most often portrays freedom) here it's just a visual loneliness, and also, oppresive. Can you be confined in an open space? Watch The Isle.

    Set upon a lake, where small boats with tiny homes built upon them are moored for fishermen, each morning starts with thick fog. These homes are empty, with no furniture, yet self-contained. This is almost medieval - a trap in the bottom of these homes is used for defacating, as people sh*t and Pi*s into the very water they are fishing for food. The only contact with land is via boat, and there's only one. This is taken care of by a young woman. This woman rents out the homes, takes renters to them, takes out food and bait for fishing, and at night, she sells her body should anyone ask.

    The sex in this film is either perfunctory (one guy takes a break from sex to pull a fish in, then resumes), or misguided. It's far from erotic, but then the story is told from the point of view of two desperately lonely and sad people, people who are unlikely to be touched. This is a film where the physical does the least amount of damage.

    The film centers on the two leads, one male one female. The female character remains an enigma for the entire film. We can see the pain, we sense something terrible has happened to her beyond the obvious trauma of her current life, yet we never find out what it is. The male character is an ex-cop who has shot his girlfriend and is now on the run. This anchors him, strangely, as the most normal of the two. In fact, the films plays out as though the girl is somehow strange, and the man is quite normal. Quite an achievement given that he tries to commit suicide at least twice during the running time. Obviously the film plays with us a bit here. We can understand the feelings of a jealous man who kills his girlfriend for cheating (without condoning it), but this strange silent woman we simply cannot fathom.

    On the surface this appears to be a film about two lovers meeting, however warped their psyche, however, when I consider it, there is little love in the film. Instead, they are simply two people at the end of the emotional line, self-aware of their own demise, but unable to simply take their own lives. So they cling to each other, both wanting to end it all, but neither with the strength to do so. Who wants to die alone, or to die with only the hurtful memories replaying in their souls?

    Top-notch filmaking here. The location lends itself to the spiritual, but it is aided by many long shots that illustrate the expansiveness. A minimalist score, and a script - dialog wise - that could fit on a single sheet of paper, drives home the fear and pain of tranquility. With the lead female never uttering a single line, don't expect the clumsy mainstream "knowing looks" or glances. This film is about vacancy - and there's no need for over-zealous portrayals of emptiness. It just is empty.

    I have heard some talk about "animal violence" in this film. As someone who has been vocal about this topic (against it), I should discuss it here. I honestly feel a bit silly lumping this film in with other guilty parties (Cannibal Holocaust etc), since the poetry of this film is legions above any other film I've seen associated with the term. Still, even taking it out of that pile, some of the animal material is hard to watch.

    First up is the capture, killing (by banging it on a rock), and skinning of a frog for eating. The camera does not linger on any of this, but it's there. Later in the film, a man and a woman catch a fish, cut two huge slices of flesh from its flanks, and then throw it back into the water - where it survives and swims away. They eat the flesh (now that's fresh sushi!). Several other fish are hacked up, straight out of the water, later on. Finally, a bird - trapped in its cage - is thrown into the water. It sinks to the bottom, and we get a shot of the bird flapping it's wings, trying to fly under water. None of it is very pleasant, and you have now been warned of the specifics of the issue.

    The Isle is such a wonderful film, I am saddened by the animal violence because it's just the sort of film I would like to recommend my more mainstream friends to watch, as an introduction to the power of asian cinema. With the animal segments though, I won't be doing that. Pity. As a metaphor for the emotional state of the central characters (as opposed to simply being in the film in order to provide "shocks") it does indeed have an impact. However, it has crossed the line for me. So I will confine recommendations to sites such as this.

    The Isle does just about everything right. The tone, the ambience, the performances, the relentless weight of its message, the desperation, the evil, the mental and emotional solitude, the fact there is sometimes no escape from oneself. It is never a light-hearted movie (I got one laugh from the film, and that comes in a scene where a man is pulling fish hooks out of a woman!) Watch when you have a clear head, and you can think your way out of its dark corners.

    Symbolism in the film is rife, it's everywhere. From the fact that every time these two characters want to meet, it takes a great journey to achieve (the boat ride), to the attrocities each of them bring upon each other (the woman's around her sexual organs, the man around his throat - what he SAYS), to the portrayal of this place that is tranquil, and yes beautiful in the day, to the long lonely nights when all that can be seen are distant lights on the lake. Frankly, I could go on and on.

    However, one blatant piece of symbolism comes when the man is removing those fish hooks from the woman. Laying down the five hooks, take a close look at the pattern he is making. First, there is a single hook. Then he lays two hooks together, entwined. Lastly, the final two hooks form a heart shape. Love? Perhaps some form of love - but there is no real redemption.

    The Isle then is a stunning film. Not a casual Saturday afternoon flick though. How mesmorizing was it? Well let me tell you this. I grabbed three beers from the fridge, thinking I would drink them while watching. By the time the film was over, I'd forgotten to open a single one. I didn't want to miss a single frame of this wonderful film. I'm not sure what it says about me that I had some kind of connection with these characters, or that in the very least I could empathize with them. Regardless, their journey is extreme, without feeling extreme. Which is quite extraordinary. Recommended.
     
  2. tobaccoman

    tobaccoman White, Proud, and Stupid

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    You Suck. I want to see this!
     
  3. Ash28M

    Ash28M Active Member

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    I caught up to the Isle a few Months ago and although I thought it was well made I had a hard to connecting with it or the characters. Some of the scenes were just too out there and disturbing for me to enjoy. Not saying I don’t enjoy “out there and disturbing” but I really don’t need that angle of a guy taking a crap or a few other scenes in the movie. Come to think of it I never got into similar films such as Takashi Miike’s Visitor Q and Gozu. I guess it’s just not my taste. I did like the tone of the film though. Great review though Dwatts it almost makes we want to revisit it. I have a feeling I’ll have the same reaction though. Well-executed film that just wasn't to my taste.
     
  4. dwatts

    dwatts New Member

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    -- I really don’t need that angle of a guy taking a crap or a few other scenes in the movie--

    I don't know about the "few other scenes" ;)

    Alright though, let's think a little about that hole in the floor used for...... toilety things.......

    There is one incredible scene, which on one level is plain old disgusting.... a guy sitting there doing his business, right into the water. Since he has been disrespectful to the girl earlier, she sets out for her own revenge. So she swims into the water - SWIMS THROUGH HIS SHIT - in order to pull him in. Metaphor?

    Or is it simply that these people live, by our standards, as peasants? You know, I drive a lot down French highways, and public bathrooms off those highways are - literally - holes in the floor. Amazing I know.... but it's for real. There are hints of "civilization" in this film - motorcycles, well dressed whores coming to visit, a gold watch (ironically, this jewel unravels their feeble plans.)

    The fact that these people shit into the very water they're fishing - and then eat that fish - is also significant, I believe. Anyone who has seen the film knows, there are a few nasty things going into that water. Yet the water cannot hold its secrets. These people live on the water, by the water, and from the water. Yet they abuse it at every turn, fill it full of shit, piss, motorcyles and corpses. On the surface it's tranquil, clean, pure. Under the surface though, there are a thousand stories to be told. None of them good.
     
  5. Paff

    Paff Super Moderator

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    If The Isle is too intense for you, try Spring Summer Winter Fall...and Spring, by the same director.

    This movie is also set on a lake, with nearly no dialogue, yet you'll be completely enthralled. No one shits on the camera, and there are no fish hooks either
     
  6. Ash28M

    Ash28M Active Member

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    I don't know, there something about shitting on a camera that never fails to spoil the mood for me.
     
  7. dwatts

    dwatts New Member

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    Interesting point. Birds getting killed, fished maimed.... no problem. One log and damn, that's over the line :D
     
  8. Ash28M

    Ash28M Active Member

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    Is that to much to ask? Say YES to log free cinema!

    If they were to kill a bird and then shit on it. Well that's enough to promote censorship.
     
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2005
  9. dwatts

    dwatts New Member

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    --If they were to kill a bird and then shit on it. Well that's enough to promote censorship.--

    Yes, I too am against animal cruelty. Or in such a case, is that log cruelty? I'm beginning to feel the urge to put nails in my logs, or in this case, fish hooks. :D
     

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