May 12, 2015

Sound and Fury (1988)

While France once had a good portion of the world’s population under its control as the second-largest colonial empire and caused much mayhem and destruction to Europe in its spreading of so-called ‘human rights’ and the three-headed dragon “Liberté, égalité, fraternité,” the French have a reputation for being preposterously pretentious pansies amongst most American as a result of their patently pathetic role in the Second World War, among other things.  Admittedly, most French films, especially those associated with the La Nouvelle Vague, have only reinforced this seemingly unshakeable stereotype for me. Indeed, I cannot think of bigger candy ass pseudo-gangsters than those featured in early Jean-Luc Godard flicks like À bout de soufflé (1960) aka Breathless and Bande à part (1964) aka Band of Outsiders and the criminals and conmen of films by François Truffaut, Jacques Rivette, Jean-Pierre Melville, and Louis Marie Malle are not much better. It was only until I discovered the oeuvre of frog misfit auteur Jean-Claude Brisseau (Un jeu brutal aka A Brutal Game, Noce blanche aka White Wedding), who has made films that are empathetic towards everything from child-killing serial killers to Lolita-loving heterosexual pederasts, not to mention the fact that the filmmaker was arrested in 2002 on charges of sexual harassment, fined and given a suspended one-year prison sentence after a couple of chicks performed sexual acts on one another during an extra intimate audition for the director's work Choses secrètes (2002) aka Secret Things. Instead of attempting to hide the fact that he was arrested, Brisseau—a filmmaker that is fiercely French in the best sort of way (and, no, I am not trying to be ironic) as a mensch with a clearly jovially anarchistic heart—valiantly decided to direct a film about his criminally carnal experiences entitled Les Anges Exterminateurs (2006) aka Exterminating Angels which, although an official selection of the Cannes Film Festival, was much maligned by critics and described by many as nothing more than preposterous and pretentious pornographic trash disguised as art. Admittedly, I have not even seen half of Brisseau’s films, but judging simply by his early cult masterpiece De bruit et de Fureur (1988) aka Sound and Fury aka The Sound and the Fury, I can only assume that he has more testicular fortitude than any and every single one of the filmmakers associated with the French New Wave as a sort of French Abel Ferrara, albeit more cultivated and hardcore. 

 Like his mentor Éric Rohmer before him, Brisseau was a teacher and part-time filmmaker at the time that Sound and Fury had propelled him into critical and commercial success after it premiered at the 1987 Cannes Film Festival where it won the Special Youth Jury Prize. Championed by so-called ‘left-wing’ (translation: armchair communist) film critics because they felt that it’s auteur was a “socially concerned filmmaker” due to his no bullshit depiction of Parisian ghetto teenage gang ‘culture’ and criminality, the film is a decidedly dark, bleak, gritty and pessimistic work that also manages to be quite hilarious, endlessly enthralling, strikingly beauteous, and even sometimes heartwarming in a pre-apocalyptic sort of way. Indeed, with its so-called ‘new naturalism’ combined with random scenes of otherworldly oneiric pulchritude, the film is what you might expect if Teutonic dandy auteur Werner Schroeter was a rampantly heterosexual frog instead of a morbidly melancholy homo and attempted to direct a work that film was a mix between Vittorio De Sica’s Ladri di biciclette (1948) aka Bicycle Thieves, Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause (1955), Ken Loach's Kes (1969), and the underrated kraut ‘socialist realist’ work Das Ende des Regenbogens (1979) aka The End of the Rainbow directed by Uwe Frießner, albeit all the more magical and nihilistic. Featuring psychopathic lesbo negress gang leaders, anti-brotherly teen-on-adult rape, senseless acts of spontaneous patricide, violent youth suicides, and an amorous apparition that looks like an angel but acts more like a debauched demoness, Sound and Fury is more than likely the most gorgeously grotesque gang flick ever made, which probably does not say much considering the general aesthetic sterility of subgenre, but then again it would almost be criminal to simply lump the film in that subgenre in the first place. 

 After the death of his grandmother, strange and sensitive boy protagonist Bruno Scamperlé (Vincent Gasperitsch in his first and sole film role)—a young man that is apparently 13-years-old but more resembles a prepubescent child—is forced to move in with his mother at a Parisian ghetto apartment complex with his beloved pet canary ‘Superman,’ who is his only true friend. When Bruno arrives at his mother’s apartment, he finds a sign reading “Welcome My Darling” and a kitchen table full of food and treats, but the protagonist's mommy is nowhere in sight. Indeed, the viewer never actually gets to see Bruno’s mother because she works 24/7 just to make ends meet, thus the unwittingly forsaken protagonist is left to fend for himself without moral guidance or emotional support in a world plagued by senseless violence and criminality.  As a mostly emotionally monotone lad with next to no moral compass aside for a deep compassion for animals, Bruno is surely a young man that is quite vulnerable to pernicious influences, so it is rather unfortunate that he lives in the same building as the most decidedly depraved and proudly morally bankrupt kid in the Parisian multicultural ghetto.  Indeed, a young leather-jacket-clad teenage degenerate named Jean-Roger Roffi (François Négret of Leos Carax’s Mauvais sang (1986) aka The Night is Young and Louis Malle’s Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987)) also lives in the low-income apartment complex and the Bruno first sees him upon arriving at the building while the somewhat loony lad is merrily setting a rug on fire. When a young man becomes outraged by Jean-Roger's pyromaniac proclivities and drags him back to his apartment and demands that his father Marcel (Bruno Cremer of William Friedkin’s Sorcerer (1977) and François Ozon’s Sous le sable (2000) aka Under the Sand) discipline the boy, the proud patriarch responds by brutally beating the nosy concerned citizen, proudly declaring “Nobody has the right to beat my sons. Nobody but me,” and then smacking his son. Unfortunately for him, Jean-Roger and his father Marcel will soon become two of the most prominent figures in Bruno’s life, thus eventually leading to his totally tragic downfall. Not long after arriving at his mom’s home, Bruno spots an angelic ‘apparition’ (Spanish-born Brisseau regular María Luisa García) wearing a blood red 17th-century dress and holding a falcon inside the apartment.  The falcon is actually Bruno's pet bird Superman and it transforms into a bird of prey every single time the mysterious sensual spirit appears. Bruno follows the apparition into a back bedroom where she appears naked and has the boy kiss her and touch her unclad body, though the falcon also sinisterly scratches the boy’s face, thus hinting the dubious spirit is not as heavenly as she looks. When a female teacher begins playing an important role in Bruno’s life as a surrogate mother of sorts, the apparition suddenly no longer appears, thus reflecting that the spirit is a sort of anti-mother who, instead of lovingly nurturing the protagonist, leads him on a dead-end road of self-obliteration. 

 Aside from living in the same apartment building, protagonist Bruno and teenage delinquent Jean-Roger are also in the same class with a beauteous young female teacher (Fabienne Babe) who the latter incessantly gives trouble which includes embarrassing her in front of the entire classroom by slapping her on the ass. Ultimately, the teacher and Jean-Roger will fight for the ‘heart’ of seemingly morally retarded protagonist Bruno, who is highly impressionable and stuck somewhere between a figurative heaven and hell.  Notably, Bruno and Jean-Roger’s friendship begins when the latter steals the former a motorbike so they can ride around their ghetto and cause havoc. When Jean-Roger dares to torture a dog by wickedly tying a rope around its neck and dragging it from his motorbike, Bruno becomes exceedingly enraged and attacks the sadistic philistine teen. When Bruno reveals that he attacked him because he does not like it when people hurt animals, Jean-Roger replies, “You’re weird” and then proceeds to play a prank on two dipsomaniac bums by lighting their clothes on fire, though the protagonist does not mind as he does not have much empathy for humans. When Jean-Roger takes Bruno back to his apartment, his father shoots a gun a couple feet away from their heads and then says two the boys, “Don’t ever forget! Always be on your guard!,” which inspires his son to say to the protagonist, “You see? He’s great, my dad. He’s severe but he understands life.” Jean-Roger’s young adult brother Thierry (Thierry Helene) is less impressed with incessantly reckless behavior of his father Marcel, as he has a job and serious girlfriend and is tired of living in a dangerous criminal environment that is full of plenty of beer and bullets.  Indeed, Marcel is a proud career criminal who, aside from stealing cars and pinball machines, contracts underage teens to do his dirty work for him since they are less likely to go to prison if they get caught.  In Marcel's mind, doing a couple years in prison is preferable to living in the figurative jail of mainstream bourgeois society.  Marcel’s favorite son is Thierry, so he takes it rather hard when his progeny refuses to go drinking and shooting with him.  Naturally, Jean-Roger is extremely jealous of Thierry due to his father's special affection for him, so he goes out of his way to be as wayward as possible so as to earn Marcel's respect, but his efforts seem in vain.  Also living at the apartment is Jean-Roger’s virtually rotting dying grandfather, who can no longer properly speak or walk but merely lies in a small bed all day and is not in a hospital because his son Marcel is a sort of criminal anarchist and has a complete distrust of all institutions. As later revealed in the film, Marcel seems to have derived his distrust for authority and law after serving in the army and being exposed to mountains of corpses and war atrocities. 

 When Jean-Roger starts a virtual riot at his school after jumping out of his classroom window, climbing onto the roof of the building, and hanging off the end as if he has a death wish, a social worker is sent to his family’s apartment and when she gets there she is greeted by a sign reading, “Death to the Social Worker” and a gun being pressed against the side of her delicate little head. Indeed, while sporting a goofy pink children’s mask that makes him seem like some sort of monstrous child, Marcel puts a gun to the young female social worker’s head and threatens her by hatefully stating, “Why the hell are you hassling us here? Bitch. If you come and try to bother us again, you’ll wish you’d never been born.” Ultimately, the social worker resigns after her run-in with Marcel and Jean-Roger is temporarily suspended from school for his behavior, thus giving Bruno the opportunity to bond with his beautiful teacher, who gives protagonist private lessons after school and attempts to instill him with so much needed self-esteem. Of course, Bruno still continues to hangout with Jean-Roger and the two do things like watch lesbian porn flicks and George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978) when they are not outside committing petty crimes. One day, Bruno accompanies Jean-Roger and Marcel when they go by Thierry’s place of work. Marcel is mad that his son Thierry is moving out of the small family apartment and into a new place with his middle-class journalist girlfriend, so the bizarrely heartbroken father attempts to coerce his son to dump his ladylove and become a criminal like himself, stating things like, “Those people, they’re not like us” and “When you’re done fucking her, what will the two of you talk about? You’ll find yourself imprisoned for the rest of your life in a golden jail. If you’re lucky.” When Thierry remarks, “I want peace. A real job, and to be esteemed by respectable people,” his father replies, “Like a slave…all your life. I saw corpses, piled, thrown in the mud in heaps, halved…kids with their eyes gouged out, scabby old women tortured…We counted the dead by the number of trucks.” Indeed, Marcel developed his degenerate nihilistic criminal philosophy as a result of his experience in the army and when Thierry remarks that he never told him about that before, he replies, “I’ve never told anyone, no. There’s no god, no punishment. There’s nothing, my boy. Nothing but the big black hole at the end. There will always be war, everywhere. It will never end. I won’t ever bust my ass again for those people. And I don’t want you to either. The only thing that counts, is yourself. Laws are for suckers. Be like me – don’t set your sights to high. You’ll have both money and freedom.” Ultimately, Marcel gives Thierry a thick wad of cash and tells him to take a vacation in the country and spend some time thinking about whether he wants to become a law-abiding bourgeoisie cuckold or a ‘free’ criminal like himself. 

 As time passes, Jean-Roger gets more and more involved with an extremely violent and predatory teenage multicultural gang led by a butch bull-dyke that looks like a negro-arab hybrid named Mina (Fejria Deliba). After setting a car driven by a rival gang on fire by throwing a Molotov cocktail at it, Jean-Roger ends up murdering one of the boys after he escapes from the inflamed automobile with a shotgun in his hands by stabbing him in the back with a knife while Bruno does nothing to stop the sadistic behavior of his comrade. While the gang rejects Bruno, the group’s sadistic Sapphic leader tells Jean-Roger he can become a member after he proves that he is man enough. Meanwhile, the teacher ends her after-school tutoring sessions with Bruno at the recommendation of the school’s pussy principle after Jean-Roger spray-paints “Go on and you will croak bitch” on her car. To add insult to injury, Jean-Roger also has an anonymous letter sent to the principle that claims the teacher is having sexual relations with Bruno.  While the teacher teaches Bruno somewhat romantic things like how to waltz to Nana Mouskouri’s cover of the highly popular traditional Bretagne song “Aux marches du Palais,” she stops the protagonist when he instinctively attempts to kiss her.  Ultimately, Mina demands that Jean-Roger that he must rape a girl in front of the entire gang if he wants to be a member, so the decidedly depraved teen requests that he be able to sexually pillage his brother Thierry’s bourgeois journalist girlfriend, thus leading to a series of senseless tragic events. 

 While Thierry manages to stop the defiling of his girlfriend mid-rape by attacking and beating Jean-Roger, Mina’s crew soon gangs up on the loving boyfriend and beat him unconscious. Ultimately, Mina and Jean-Roger decide to have a bonfire where they wait for Thierry to wake up so they can “teach him a lesson.” When Marcel finally catches wind of what is going on and spots members of the gang carrying his favorite son Thierry towards the fire, he begins shooting at the juvenile delinquents and manages to kill a number of them before going after his son Jean-Roger, who is extremely drunk on liquor and is carrying around a revolver. Of course, novice dipsomaniac Jean-Roger dares to shoot his father and hits him in his rather large gut. In the fear of what his father might do to him for shooting him, Jean-Roger follows the advice of Mina and her girlfriend and decides to hang his father from a tree right next to the bonfire. Meanwhile, Bruno goes outside and looks for his pet canary Superman after it flies out of his apartment window. After Jean-Roger shoots and kills the bird moments after it lands on his lynched father’s shoulder, the apparition guides Bruno to the spot where the bodies of both Superman and Marcel are. When the apparition hands Bruno Jean-Roger’s revolver, the protagonist opts to blows his 13-year-old brains out. In the end, Jean-Roger, who is apparently somehow now reformed as a result of being incarcerated, writes the Teacher a letter in prison where he apologizes for his previous behavior, explains how he saw the spirit of Bruno, and begs for forgiveness.

 While Sound and Fury is oftentimes compared to so-called ‘urban youth’ films like Jean-François Richet’s Ma 6-T va crack-er (1997) aka Crack 6-T and Mathieu Kassovitz’s La Haine (1995), it is ultimately infinitely more authentic, poetic, magical, and entertaining than those two films, which are not much more than pseudo-artsy xenophiliac trash that provide a safe way for white liberals to wallow in their fetish for ghetto garbage from the third world while feeling superior over the white working-class. While I hate to use the word since it has become nearly meaningless in our morally inverted world, I have to say that Jean-Claude Brisseau’s film is a rare true piece of cinematic ‘humanism’ that dares to depict the most unsavory members of the Parisian lumpenprole in a way that enables the viewer to understand their behavior without making pathetic slave-morality-inspired excuses for their abhorrent actions. Indubitably the character of Marcel is one of the most reprehensible fathers in film history yet in the end you cannot help but see him as a sad tragic figure who, in the end, found minor redemption by saving one of his sons while ultimately becoming the victim of another. Of course, Brisseau must also be commended for the way he opted to have protagonist Bruno Scamperlé meet his end. As a man that taught at public schools for two decades, Brisseau surely came to the conclusion that there is no hope for the hopeless and that public education systems are the height of bureaucratic impotence and inefficiency. Of course, a lot has changed in France since Sound and Fury was released nearly three decades, namely that the country has much worse problems than its white underclass, which has been virtually swallowed up and eaten alive by Islamic colonizers who are effortlessly outbreeding the seemingly suicidal indigenous French population. 

 As someone that pretty much agrees with the validity of the Mudsill theory, I think it is absurd to even pretend that the forsaken underclass featured in Brisseau’s film is in need of saving, for a marginal superior few like Marcel’s son Thierry might escape such a pathetic existence, but the rest are doomed to remain in prole pandemonium and rightly so, as it is their god given birthright. Aside from some of the other Mediterranean countries, France is the most senile rotten corpse of a country in Europa and not unlike the equally extreme Paris-ghetto-based French-Italian coproduction La Dernière femme (1976) aka The Last Woman directed by Marco Ferreri, Sound and Fury demonstrates that the French capital, like most major European cities, will only see the further growth of a sort of neo-barbarism as expressed in an expanding sub-working-class that lives to destroy and would love nothing more to bring birth to an apocalyptic world where their nihilistic hedonism can be fully expressed without consequence (not that the current French criminal justice system is not ludicrously liberal, especially when it comes to their melanin-privileged populations). With his film, Brisseau has managed to do the seemingly impossible by giving great beauty and sensual realism to a fiercely forlorn world that thrives off of ugliness, savagery, and the sort of highly confidant stupidity that one can only find among people that are sired in shitholes. Like a more honest update of François Truffaut’s Les Quatre Cents Coups (1959) aka The 400 Blows as directed by a man who seems to enjoy lesbian porn and Romero's Dawn of the Dead more than Hitchcock and Godard, Sound and Fury is arguably the least patronizing and most artful white ghetto film ever made, thus not only making a truly singular oddity of French cinema, but cinema in general.  Indeed, Brisseau's film was certainly not made for bleeding heart liberals (although they have misguidedly attempted to claim it as their own), though it certainly makes the viewer's heart bleed.

-Ty E

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