Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Bad Lit reviews “FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions”

Mike Everleth reviews “FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions” for Bad Lit.

“I was first introduced to the work of Carlos Atanes via his short film compilation DVD Codex Atanicus, which featured a trio of surreal shorts filled with wild characters, garishly colored sets and non sequitor plots, all produced with an intense manic energy. However, Atanes’ first feature film, FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) — released in 2004 — is a complete stylistic turnabout. The surrealism that governed his shorts is here reduced to brief little flourishes, all color seems to be sucked out of 3/4 of the film, the plot is fairly straightforward and the main character stumbles through the movie like a cross between a somnambulist in early avant garde trance films and Being There’s Chauncey Gardener.Yet, the change in approach is totally complimentary to FAQ’s themes and plot, which adds up to a highly successful film. As much as I thoroughly enjoyed the shorts of Codex Atanicus, I found Atanes’ first feature a much more thought-provoking and satisfying experience.

The film takes place in a vaguely futuristic dystopian milieu like in 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale, except here the oppressors are a female group called the Sisterhood of Metacontrol. They bombard Paris with a steady stream of megaphoned announcements advocating a strict separation of the sexes. Men and women can and do live together, but touching is strictly forbidden and each sex is encouraged to not let the other influence their lives.

Now, here’s where it gets a little tricky. Is Atanes offering a misogynist diatribe against the feminization of Europe? (The director is Spanish, but the film is in French.) Or is he just providing a different basis for a repressive government than the usual patriarchies one typically finds in dystopian fiction? Personally, I’m going with the latter since the film does feature a strong, independent woman in the second lead and nothing in the Codex Atanicus would suggest a misogynistic nature in Atanes’s background. But it’s still a risky move for a male writer/director to take.”


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