You can't be in a French-Canadian torture porn flick and not be a chick with a bad haircut. That's what Haute Tension, Frontière(s), and now Martyrs have proven. Like those previous Midnight Madness entries, Martyrs is trés pretentious and trés boring.
In fact, the audience may feel complete empathy for the lead character here — getting trapped in a confined space and getting the snot beat out of her — because it's a similar experience to viewing this Pascal Laugier film.
Broken into roughly three parts, Martyrs opens with young Lucie being taken care of by Anna at a mental institution (why Anna is there isn't ever explained, unless it's because of her Sapphic tendencies). Fifteen years later, Lucie (Mylène Jampanoï) shows up at the front door of a family and proceeds to slaughter them. She's convinced that this pleasant French family was responsible for her torture as a child. Once the walls are red with blood, it's up to Anna to help make things right by burying the bodies.
Not quite as sane as you'd like a former mental patient to be, Lucie has visions of another torture victim from her childhood. ... Follow? End of story? After 45 minutes, are you nuts? No way! There's the big twist — that seemingly innocent family happens to own a fully stocked dungeon in their chalet! It's even got a gallery of "torture's greatest hits" lining walls. This ain't no dank mudpit, kids; it's the Four Seasons of agony. It's also where you and Anna spend the second half of the movie.
Anna's chained up, beaten, and fed really bad food. Why? Wouldn't you like to know. There's got to be a twist coming, right? And why are we forced to watch Anna continuously getting the crap kicked out of her? Forget the twist.
It's true, the worst thing a film can be is boring, followed by predictable. Martyrs is both. An endurance test, really — not one to see how much violence and bloodshed the audience can endure, but if they can even make it through to the end without dozing. —Mike White
Under the Bombs
Another sobering and timely arthouse gem unearthed from Film Movement, Under the Bombs is a definitely Middle Eastern merger of narrative and documentary — Lebanese director Philippe Aractingi is no doubt a student of Iranian groundbreakers Mohsen Makhmalbaf and Jafar Panahi. But the movie's humanist core stretches all the way back to the verisimilitude of postwar Italian neorealism. The film was shot in Lebanon in the wake of the month-long conflict with Israel in the summer of 2006. Like the laborer and his son in The Bicycle Thief, a secular Dubai woman is on a film-long quest for something — in this case, it's her son and her sister, from whom she was separated when the first bombs fell. She finds the one taxi driver who'll take her into the war-town southern regions, and the two of them form a bond while navigating perilous terrain and an itinerary of convents, monasteries and military posts for clues. Though the movie only depicts the struggles of the Lebanese side, it's not anti-Israel so much as a devastating window into the costs of war. —John Thomason
Gigantor: The Collection Volume 1
It's almost impossible to believe that Gigantor was scandalous when it first hit American airwaves in the mid-'60s. Even with the violence significantly toned down from its original Japanese form, the cartoon series elicited vituperative reactions from parents and critics, with one reviewer going so far as to say that it was "strictly in the retarded babysitter class." Such a reaction is impossible to believe not just because our tolerance for violence has grown considerably over the past four decades, but also because Gigantor is such a shitty cartoon, it's hard to believe anyone bothered to be bothered by it. It had cheap, black-and-white animation with a dependency upon static shots and repeated scenery that would shame even Hanna-Barbera, as well as laughable mouth movements with an English soundtrack that probably weren't better in Japanese. Still, nostalgia is nostalgia, and the formative role that this series played in the development of modern anime is pretty substantial — so, yet again, the first 26 episodes of Gigantor (as it appeared on American TV) are being repackaged to appeal to aging boomer nerds and irony-hunting hipsters. The single best part of this set is the DVD-ROM component, which compiles six issues of the Gigantor comic book, which is no slight on the work done by the folks at E1; although the transfer was taken from the original 16mm prints, the stock quality is so low that the resultant product is still scratchy. But even if it were pristine, the rudimentary level of the source material — especially when compared to the cartoon work that was coming out of America during the preceding decades — is still lacking. —Jason Ferguson