Sunday, 7 November 2010
LEEDS FILM FEST REVIEW: The Bothersome Man
Some films have this amazing idea, which could be brilliant if executed in the right way with the right amount of pathos, intelligence and philosophy. The Bothersome Man gives it a good go, but is ultimately flawed by its murkiness.
Andreas becomes aware that he is being driven in a bus through the middle of nowhere. He is the only person on the bus. He is dropped off at a remote station, where he is greeted by a welcome banner, and a man who drives him silently onwards until they reach a city. Here is told where he lives, where he works and goodbye. Thus Andreas begins a new life in this new city, where he has to carve out relationships and emotions for himself. He battles silently with questions whilst everyone around him smiles blandly and is obsessed with furniture, wealth and wanting bigger houses. Then he comes across a man who seems to think the same way as him: that everything is grey and lifeless. After attempting to live in this soulless concrete jungle and also realising he cannot die after he walks away from throwing himself under a train, he resolves to meet this man and in sharing a kindred spirit, his desperation to leave ever increases.
It’s extremely absorbing, and because the dialogue is sparse and clipped, as a viewer you are the one asking the questions rather than the characters. How did he get there? Why is he so different to the people around him who seem content and dismiss him as soon as he starts speaking of memory and feeling? Why can’t he die? What is his purpose in this place? What will happen to him? Unfortunately the film is unable to answer those questions, nor provide enough clues and allegory for us to satisfy ourselves. We can have a stab at it – and I’ll give my own interpretation in a moment – but there are holes that cannot be filled. It’s almost as if the director wanted to fulfil many different theories and by not committing to any certain path the film falls into the same shade of grey as the world his protagonists inhabit.
This is how I saw it. Andreas, in his ‘real life’ was unhappy and isolated, and so he killed himself. Whether this was by throwing himself under a train and this is repeated later on as an extension of his depression or as a Sisyphus type punishment of being doomed to repeat the same action over and over again is questionable. Because his suicide was selfish and unnatural, instead of graduating to the true afterlife he is sent to a kind of purgatory, or limbo which is the grey city where he is given a new life, a chance to do things over again and perhaps be content with it all. Most people are content, and are numb to any real bursts of emotion or immune to confessing their inner thoughts, but Andreas brings the same outlook with him, and his unable to settle, and again without just learning to deal, he tries to kill himself again. Only this time it doesn’t work – he just gets patched up by some aloof men in a van, and sent back to his home again. Is this his eternal punishment for suicide? When he goes to visit the man whom he believes is as unhappy as he is in the new city, and discovers the ‘hole’ which offers music, the sounds of children playing and the smell of baking and the beach he tries all possible means to open up the hole and escape into the ‘heaven’ just on the other side of the wall. But he’s unable to get through before he is caught and sent to the ‘government’ of the city, who after realising that there is no more they can do for him, send him back on the bus from whence he came, and out of the city. When the bus eventually comes to a stop and he gets out, he is in an icy wilderness and left alone as the bus drives away. Now he is in ‘hell’.
I’ve read a lot of other stuff too – how this is actually more of a commentary on how modern day life is evolving, how the ‘hole’ can also represent a womb, or a vagina, or even homosexuality (that’s a bit of a far out theory if you ask me). It depends on how you look at it, which is always a beautiful thing about cinema and I applaud films that can master different experiences for the individual viewer. The Bothersome Man is worth going to see for that alone.
It’s the story of the film which takes precedence over everything else – the acting, directing, cinematography being OK – but you can’t help thinking of other ways they could have gone, things the director could have explored further or different actions Andreas could have taken. I also came away thinking I would have demanded more answers from the very beginning, but then I guess there wouldn’t have been a film to be made after that, would there?
If you get to see this film and enjoy it, I would thoroughly recommend a read of Kevin Brockmeier’s The Brief History of the Dead as it’s very similar to this, but happier!