A beautiful film, with some absolutely unforgettable performances. This is weirdness with a purpose, and with a clarity of vision.
Allegory is an interesting thing. Because it’s entirely about interpretation, it can mean totally different things to different people. I certainly found that to be the case in this film, which speaks very differently to me than it must have to someone from its own time and place. What’s absolutely wonderful to me is it lost none of its power in the translation, even for someone who can’t feel what it would have meant in its own time.
This is a film about political and social suppression, societal expectations, conformity, and government control. It does not, however, ever address any of those issues directly. Instead it follows a group of friends, as they embark on a journey to a birthday party. We see the friends initially having a picnic, but soon they are beset by a group of men acting out some sort of secret police tribunal. A tribunal that never gets to any kind of point, and is eventually claimed as merely a joke. We follow the group, and the group of men, to the birthday party. Finally we see them judged by the host of the party for one of them having run off. The whole story is told as fantasy, disconnected from reality.
I mentioned that none of the themes are ever made explicit. Instead, they play out in the various things that happen to this group of people. So when they are accosted, we never see any actual charges being leveled. Instead what we get is almost like a dream world version of a secret tribunal. Lots of half sentences, and plots that never quite lead anywhere. In fact, the entire film feels like dream logic. Like the dreams of someone who is living in a controlled and oppressive society, reliving the daily repression they struggle with as complicated social ritual.
In some ways the dream elements make the whole thing much more frightening. Because nothing is specific, it allows the audience to feel like this could be happening to them. It’s that sense of randomness, of ever shifting notions of acceptability, that hit me the most. All the characters in this film can do is try to roll with the punches. Most simply accept what’s happening to them. Even the one who runs away never really rebels. Because they are at the whim of powerful others they have to simply accept whatever happens. They are trying to survive.
At least that’s what I took from the film. Like I said, because it’s all allegory there’s a decent chance another viewer would find something entirely different. The point of the film is to affect you in some way and, in that sense, was a complete success. It made me think about the nature and power of oppression. Possibly the most disturbing thing in this film is how readily everyone agrees to their shared reality. In the entire film, only one person attempts to say no. It’s a scary thing to think about; most people will accept fascism, simply because it’s the path of least resistance.