Lots of movies this weekend already, and not even halfway through. There’s a lot to write about, and I thought I’d start with the most off-beat in the bunch, Careful. This is one I’d heard about a few weeks ago on NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour. I threw it in my Netflix queue and promptly forgot why I was interested in it. Something about the Alps, I seemed to recall, and as it turns out, I was correct.
Careful is a bizarre parody of German Expressionist movies from the 1920s and a genre called “mountain melodrama”. What’s German Expressionism like? Probably the best (or at least most well-known) example would be The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, with sets that are deliberately unreal. In Careful, things aren’t literally black-and-white, but they are often different shades of monochrome, with a color palette that is purposefully reminiscent of the old two-strip Technicolor process (which is seen in the earliest of color movies). Often, scenes are shot through something of a haze or at odd angles.
The plot owes much to Oedipus and its Shakespearean follow-up, Hamlet. Johann, Grigorss and Franz are three brothers in their late teens or early twenties. Franz is mute, crippled and locked in the attic, generally little more than an observer of the story. The first part of the movie focuses on Johann, who’s engaged to Klara (who Grigorss secretly loves). After a strange erotic dream, Johann develops an incestuous fascination with their still young and beautiful mother, something that will inevitably lead to tragedy. In the second half of the movie, Grigorss becomes the butler to a local nobleman who once loved the mother and now that she is widowed, he intends to marry her. Grigorss resents this interest, which will inevitably lead to tragedy. Meanwhile, Klara has an unnatural fixation on her own father, who in turn seems fixated on Klara’s sister. This will (all together now) inevitably lead to tragedy. Franz seems to watch it all and is impotent to avert disaster, even when warned by the blind ghost of his father.
It’s a weird plot, set against the backdrop of an Alpine town where everyone needs to be extra careful, lest an avalanche be triggered by an errant noise. Careful is probably one of those movies that has to be experienced, but to me, it was a fun experience, because it’s a funny movie. This despite the fact that I’m not overly familiar with these mountain melodramas. For quality or fun content, I rate this 7 out of 10.
As a bonus, the DVD I watched had a commentary track, an even weirder short subject by the director Guy Maddin and a documentary about his work.