Tag Archives: Ariane Labed

You Know What I Vant

The Vourdalak

by Hope Madden

There is nothing in this world that cannot be undone by obedience and patriarchy.

Also, I just watched the maddest film about vampires—Adrien Beau’s The Vourdalak, based on Tolstoy’s 19th century tale that inspired Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath. In Beau’s hands, a darkly comic sensibility wraps around themes of oppression—classism, sexism, homophobia—to charge the old vampire lore with something wizened and weary about who becomes victims and why.

Fancy pants Marquis Jacques Antoine Saturnin d’Urfé (Kacey Mottet Klein, the picture of entitled cowardice in his powdered wig and pointy shoes)—a nobleman from the court of the King of France—finds himself lost in a formidable wood somewhere out Serbia way. His host has been murdered by marauding Turks. His only hope is that the primitive family in this rustic little farmhouse can offer him aid.

But the Marquis has arrived at quite a moment. The patriarch is gone to fight the Turks. He said he would return within six days, but if he returned any later than that, the family was not to let him in the house because he would no longer be their father. The Marquis has arrived on Day 6.

Klein’s comic delivery meets deadpan reaction from Ariane Labed (The Lobster, Flux Gourmet) playing the host’s lovely if melancholic daughter, Sdenka. The performances create a fascinating pairing, Klein instinctively enriching his character arc with their onscreen chemistry.

Vassili Schneider injects the film with aching tenderness that gives the horror a powerful sadness, even though there’s no denying The Vourdalak’s comedic sensibility.

Beau’s film delivers stagy fun that’s utterly hypnotic, using dance, melodrama, even  puppets as well as more traditional genre imagery to spin a bizarre and captivating horror.

Plot Plop Fizz Fizz

Flux Gourmet

by Hope Madden

There is something so delightfully confounding about trying to review a Peter Strickland film. Even summarizing the plot is a walk into absurdity. For example, Strickland’s latest, Flux Gourmet, takes us inside a culinary collective institute. Here, sonic caterers and a man documenting them struggle with artistic authenticity.

What are sonic caterers, you ask? Maybe you didn’t, but I did. They are sort of performance artists whose medium is food.

Elle (Strickland regular Fatma Mohamed), Lamina (Ariane Labed, The Lobster, The Souvenir) and Billy (Asa Butterfield, Hugo) are the collective who’ve earned this year’s residency. Jan Stevens (Gwendoline Christie) oversees the institute. Stones (Makis Papadimitriou) documents.

Stones also narrates the film, and while his voiceover does help to articulate the plot of the film, his main focus is his own humiliating and painful flatulence problem.

The film often plays a bit like Strickland’s 2012 treasure Berberian Sound Studio, where an amiable outsider — a normal, nice guy — finds himself trapped with hedonistic, narcissistic artist types. Can he escape with his goodness intact?

Both films fixate on sound design, but Flux Gourmet settles into lighter, more clearly comic territory. And, at the risk of trying to read too much into Strickland’s absurdities, the film seems to say a lot about filmmaking as art versus commerce—the vulgar act of consuming and producing.

Which brings us back to poor Stones. Papadimitriou’s sympathetic performance delivers a nicely human counterpoint to the narcissistic, shallow characters that surround him. Christie, lavishly costumed and made up, is especially entertaining. Her patronizing sparks with Mohamed’s dictatorial Elle create absurd comic gold, only outdone by the self-impressed in-house medic, Dr. Glock (Richard Bremmer).

Strickland’s carved himself a recognizable niche in modern absurdist filmmaking with his precise, eclectic visual instincts. Funnier than Yorgos Lanthimos, more biting than Quentin Dupieux, more accessible than Leos Carax, Strickland wallows in his own very specific preoccupations. But he does so with such panache that it’s tough not to let him convert you.

This story feels somewhat slight compared to the complicated plotlines of Strickland’s earlier films, especially his 2018 horror treasure In Fabric. But Flux Gourmet is the filmmaker’s funniest feature.