Sunday, March 24, 2013

Weekly Top Five: Three's a crowd

Posted By on 03.24.13 at 09:00 AM

LAvventura
  • L'Avventura
Two of the major highlights of this year's European Union Film Festival, which is wrapping up its final week at the Gene Siskel Film Center, were the Chicago premiers of Ulrich Seidl's Paradise: Faith and Paradise: Hope. They're the final two chapters in his Paradise trilogy, the first of which, Paradise: Love, had its premiere at last year's Chicago International Film Festival.

The three films, partially inspired by Ödön von Horváth's 1932 play Faith, Hope, and Charity, tell separate stories that feature separate characters but are united by similar themes and structures, thus forming a sort of informal trilogy. I often find that I prefer these sorts of trilogies, which present variations on themes and styles, over those bound by plot and narrative. After the jump, my top five favorite informal trilogies.

5. John Carpenter's "Apocalypse Trilogy":The Thing (1982), Prince of Darkness (1987), and In the Mouth of Madness (1994) Three films united by a distinct fear of the preternatural, in which the very contours of reality seem to alienate, confuse, and terrorize the characters. Borrowing themes from H.P. Lovecraft and cosmicism (essentially the idea that human beings are ultimately insignificant and play no role in shaping the universe at large), the three films in this trilogy grow increasingly dejected: if The Thing and Prince of Darkness suggest it's possible for mankind to lose his free will, In the Mouth of Madness suggests there was never any free will to begin with.

4. Rainer Werner Fassbinder's "BRD Trilogy": The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979), Lola (1981), and Veronika Voss (1982) Among the last completed by the prolific Fassbinder, these films are tied together in their exploration of Germany's "economic miracle" in the 1950s. Traversing the sociocultural climate of postwar Germany with curiosity and scrutiny, Fassbinder probes the historical amnesia that percolated throughout the region following the end of Nazism. Additionally, the films openly questions the narrative of the supposed "miracle" by way of three melodramatic stories, each centered on the plight of three heroines whose fates are inextricably tied to historical atrocities.

3. John Ford's "Cavalry Trilogy": Fort Apache (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), Rio Grande (1950) As Dave Kehr notes in his review of Fort Apache, the "Cavalry Trilogy" marks the beginning of Ford's greatest period, in which he'd begin to revise not only elements of his own style, but also how the history of the West was depicted in American cinema. Primarily, he begins to explore Native American injustice, illustrating the ways Anglo progress led to the marginalization and virtual destruction of Native American progress. The films are lyrical, subtle, and, despite their 19th-century milieus, are essential time capsules of post-WWII America.

2. Michelangelo Antonioni "Alienation Trilogy": L'Avventura (1960) La Notte (1961), Eclipse (1962) Known for their sparse narratives, unaffected performances, and melancholic tones, the films in the "Alienation Trilogy" document the spiritual cost of modernity. L'Avventura, in particular, seems to be the key text in reference to what Stephen Holden once described as "the diminishing attention span of a modern world," where the natural beauty of our surroundings grows insignificant in an increasingly existential cultural climate. Devastating but highly rewarding viewing.

1. Roman Polanski's "Apartment Trilogy": Repulsion (1965), Rosemary's Baby (1968), and The Tenant (1976) The horror of confined spaces rendered salaciously and stylistically by Polanski. My favorite of the bunch is The Tenant, which is too cartoonish to be labeled a horror film but far too unnerving to be seen as a comedy. I will forever appreciate Polanski's enduring ability to mix lowbrow concepts with highbrow style, as he does in Rosemary's Baby, and Repulsion remains one of the most effectively creepy chamber pieces in British film history.

Drew Hunt writes film-related top five lists every Sunday.

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