Hidden Netflix Gems – Sheitan

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.

After decades of nothing but the excellent 1960 art film Eyes Without a Face, the French cinema has been outdoing itself over the course of the past several years in producing some of the best, most extreme and disturbing horror films in existence. Beginning in 2003 with Alexandre Aja’s relentlessly brutal High Tension, the past decade has also produced, among others, the terrifying but strangely beautiful Inside and the unspeakably violent Martyrs, which is one of the most fiercely anti-religious films ever made. Kim Chapiron’s Sheitan (or Satan, if that wasn’t obvious enough) is a distinctly different breed of horror film from these previous three examples, dispensing for the most part with the graphic gore in favor of unsettling atmosphere and perverse, disturbing humor. It is scary in the way that late-period David Lynch films are scary, thrusting the viewer into a surreal nightmare world from which there can be no escape but outright madness.

Sheitan opens in the disorienting underworld of a Parisian nightclub on Christmas Eve, its cinematography mildly reminiscent of Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible (by far the most disturbing non-horror film France has produced in the past decade), where Bart (Olivier Barthelemy) and his two friends, Thai (Nicolas Le Phat Tan) and Ladj (Ladj Ly), drink and attempt to pick up women. Bart has already had too much to drink, and he quickly becomes belligerent to the point where a bartender has to crack a bottle over his head and forcibly eject him. The three friends and two women, Yasmine (Leila Bekhti) and Eve (Roxane Mesquida), then decide to take the party back to Eve’s home in the country, where they meet her constantly grinning housekeeper, Joseph (Vincent Cassel), and the seductive Jeanne (Julie-Marie Parmentier), both of whom seem friendly but oddly frightening right from the start.

From there, things only get stranger and more frightening, as it becomes clear that Joseph’s jovial grin hides sinister plans for the four big city outsiders, especially Bart. The film opens with the modified quote, “Lord, do not forgive them, for they know what they do,” and there is a sense that Bart is being singled out by the demonic Joseph for his especially godless ways, whereas Thai, Ladj and Yasmine are all Muslims (though Thai is non-practicing). At any rate, he’s such a huge jerk that it’s rather difficult to feel sympathy for him, even as the film gets darker and more gruesome. As a narrative, it’s rather incoherent and disjointed, and it’s hard to tell where the film’s moral center truly lies, but as a visually stylish descent into a bizarre world of nightmarish imagery, Sheitan works marvelously well. There are images that will haunt you for days, and Cassel’s performance is a masterful essay in the fiendishly strange.

  

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Will “Avatar” become the Octo-b.o. king?

HmmmYes, folks, at last we have a teeny-tiny bit of suspense and disagreement among the prognosticators of b.o. (that’s “box office” for those who’ve never read Variety).  Hot off the news that’s she stands to be mythologized by HBO — and make no mistake, the “no-holds-barred” fictional film blogger “Tilda” will be inspired primarily by Finke and not Sharon Waxman or especially Anne Thompson — she most definitely bars certain holds, including insulting people for sport — Nikki Finke writes that it’s just possible that “Avatar” could be knocked off its perch by a movie that few males will see except under the most extreme forms of feminine duress.

The kicker here, of course, is Superbowl Sunday, when a large majority of the male public will be obsessed with the game as well as the beer and fat-heavy snacks that go with the event. Of course, some women like football, some men lack the sports-obsession gene (that’s me), and lots of people who really don’t follow football at all will still be watching the game with friends and family. But many females will still be flocking to our nation’s cinemas, and the younger ones especially may be attracted to “Dear John.”

The wartime love story is currently at 30% on Rotten Tomatoes and directed by Lasse Hallström,who is a long way from his “My Life as a Dog” days as an arthouse favorite. La Finke notes that Sony and Relativity Media’s sentimental romance starring Amanda Seyfried and Channing Tatum was defeating the mighty Na’vi on Fandango by a margin of 20 percent. Even rival Fox execs concede re: Sony executives’ hopes for an upset: “They are not suckin’ on a crack pipe.”

Still, the more establishment voice of The Hollywood Reporter‘s jolly Carl DiOrio states fairly unequivocally that James Cameron will, in fact, reign for one more week — though that may well be it. Still, I wonder just what kind of pipe he and his editors might have been smoking that allows him to describe the violent action thriller-comedy, “From Paris with Love” as another female skewing movie — it’s certainly not a traditional romance.

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Okay, the title might skew could be misleading to some (at least those who don’t know their early James Bond), and women certainly won’t mind looking at “The Tudors” star Jonathan Rhys Meyers.  However, take one look at the trailers and clips and it’s clear this is a real testosterone-fest of an over-the-top action film, embodied by a goateed, shaven-headed John Travolta as a brutal CIA agent and Finke is probably right that it could steal some of the male thunder of “Avatar.” Well, everyone’s allowed the occasional foul-up and jolly Carl certainly is part of “everyone.”

The consensus seems to be that the film from future “Dune” director Pierre Morel will perform below the numbers for “Dear John,” especially given a male-drained Sunday. Its reviews, by the way, are about equally underwhelming. On the other hand, this highly biased critic definitely recommends you take a look at “We’ll Always Have Paris”  — a Bullz-Eye feature on Paris-based movies that I had, of course, absolutely nothing to do with.

That’s pretty much all the news that fits save for noteable Oscar-nomination driven expansions in terms of theater count of “Crazy Heart,” the very good “An Education,” and “Precious.”  Those latter two-films especially might also not be harmed by the big game.

Gabourey Sidibe in

  

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“Who could ask for anything more?”

Between word of an upcoming George Gershwin biopic and Bullz-Eye’s feature on fifteen (mostly) great movies set in Paris, it seems like an opportune time for a pair of clips from Vincente Minelli’s multi-Oscar winning 1951 musical, “An American in Paris.” First, a languid portion of the film’s gorgeous, sexy, and lengthy ballet sequence.

And a lesson in American without tears from Gene Kelly.

  

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Monday movie news: Sundance redux; the Oscar noms are coming, but the Razzies are already here…and more.

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*  Since I wasn’t there, there’s not much I personally can say about Robert Redford’s annual mega-event. Fortunately, lots of others were and their thoughts are worth taking a look at, starting with Manohla Dargis, chief film critic of the New York Times who finds plenty to recommend in this year’s entries. She also considers a DIY digital new New Wave.

Another good summary of the Sundance fest comes from Indiewire’s Eric Kohn while David Hudson rounds up more reaction. Meanwhile, Mike Fleming takes a look from a more dollars-and-cents perspective and finds no huge “indie bloodbath” at this festival, and a comment points me towards the second Dargis piece linked to above.

* Yesterday, I wrote that the winner of the DGA award for Best Documentary got a “boost,” in its Oscar chances. I qualified that statement a bit, but probably not enough. A.J. Schnack notes that, if one award can be said to predict another award, the DGA victory yesterday for “The Cove” actually might make it less likely to win the Oscar. Weird but, I think, true. Historically, the folks in the documentary side of the Academy seem to like to give the nod to films that have been relatively ignored. Of course, “ignored” and “good” are not the same thing.

* They’ll be announcing the Oscar nominations far earlier than I’m prepared to get up tomorrow morning, according to tradition just after 5:30 a.m. PST, just to make all you east coasters happy by 9 a.m. Of course, I’ll get to that tomorrow. In the meantime, Steve Pond of the L.A. Times has predictions for those of you who enjoy that sort of thing, and — far more entertainingly — you can get an early taste of the inevitable complaints about unfair snubbings from an ahead of the curve Dustin Rowles.

Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson in
* Speaking of being just a bit ahead of things, the Razzies, dishonoring the lamest in Hollywood films, have made their nominations known and, as MTV’s Terri Schwartz points out, “The Twilight Saga: New Moon,” has the opportunity to get some payback from critical and other detractors for all those fan-based awards it nabbed. In a somewhat older demo, Tom O’Neil of The Envelope points out that Sandra Bullock has a decent shot at winning both a Razzie and an Oscar in the lead actress categories. That would be a first time achievement, for lack of a better word.

* Anne Thompson writes that a biopic about the great George Gershwin starring could be the next Steven Spielberg directorial effort and that nouveau Spock Zachary Quinto could possibly be its star. Speaking of Gershwin, the movie inspired by his music and named after one of his best known suites, “An American in Paris,” is the second film covered in “We’ll Always Have Paris,” Bullz-Eye’s salute to films based in Paris which, of course, I had very little to do with.

* Speaking of matters Parisian AICN’s Capone talks with Pierre Morel, director of the upcoming “From Paris with Love” and, it looks like, the new version of “Dune.” Whatever else is true, the guy is a fan and that’s a good thing.

* “Avatar” did even better than thought yesterday, earning over $31 morning and breaking the all-time cash record for seventh weekends. It also broke $2 billion worldwide. <Yawn.>

  

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