Sunday, 19 May 2013

The Territory (1981) Raoul Ruiz

A small group of wanderers find themselves lost in wilderness, and as time draws on become increasingly, violently unbound from the conventions and sanities of everyday society. It's a classic stock narrative of horror and prosaic drama alike, something that by now holds only a little interest. Happily The Territory is less concerned with grubby inhumanity nor grim adversity that drives it, but headspace. The action of mind, how it churns in isolation and the quirks and follies that spring, this is the concern, while the events may have parallels in reportage and history, may be considered a microcosm of societies at large, the concern is focused on the small.

So we see the urge to collect, to classify. Lists, numbers, repetition, order, theory and prediction. This urge, these expressions and their opposition, the playful, the absurd, the truly questioning that seeks beyond. Not unfamiliar stuff, but the loose, weird approach works very well. The notion of wilderness itself is important, compare with other films of like interest. Mind portrayed as virtually limitless wilderness, ever shifting and dotted with the inexplicable, captures something both more hopeful and more daunting than the similar horror of dark houses or sprawling hotels with characters digging in. Under roof one might be trapped but can still adjust, can make ones cosy nook, in wilderness one might ever roam, have ever the possibility of escape but never quite be safe. The execution is top notch, vivid photography and lighting bringing many pleasures. Red-orange sky like something apocalyptic, a coat of wintry snow, camera pulling slowly out into water, reflection of land giving way to clear and a few dead animals floating. A quite remarkable sequence as one man strides straight and boldly to find a way out, only for the very image to shift and blur out of focus into mocking unreality. And more of course, more weirdness and some violence besides.

There are a few of the flaws one almost expects from such a work, it is unfortunate to note. Moments of stiff acting and stilted dialogue, characters that maintain a sort of intellectual distance from the viewer where at times they should simply grip, some mis-calculations, abrupt ending. While it does work as a genre film it is art film at heart and at some points it is hard not to wish for a gnarlier punch. But whatever it's still pretty great, and if you've gotten here without skipping to the end you might like it as well. So, you know, go watch...

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