Film: Blame Spielberg, not me

David Cronenberg's latest is typically extreme, although that's not what he'd have you believe.

"Compared with Saving Private Ryan, you think this is extreme?" This was director David Cronenberg's response to one squeamish journalist who suggested that eXistenZ (which had its world premiere in Berlin earlier this week) might be too much for US audiences to stomach.

Cronenberg had a point, really. Spielberg showed soldiers with their guts spilling out, and was praised for revealing war "as it really happened". Cronenberg does something similar and is immediately vilified.

eXistenZ starts from the premiss that humans have evolved a new organic game which they can download into their nervous systems. Cronenberg pointed out that this is not as outlandish as it may seem: whether by tattoos or by piercing, even the earliest societies attempted to change their bodies.

Despite some macabre imagery - for instance, a gun made out of human bones which uses teeth for bullets - and much shoving of strange objects into orifices - eXistenZ is unlikely to provoke anything like the controversy that Crash did. This is Cronenberg at his most playful. Neither the audience nor the characters in the film know where reality ends and the game begins. They can take the movie on an existential level ("You're born into a world whose rules you do not know," Cronenberg proclaimed during Tuesday's press conference), or simply enjoy it as a surreal comedy in the vein of David Fincher's The Game.

With its air of distorted reality, eXistenZ is a remarkably apt film to be showing at the Berlin Film Festival. The two-week long event has witnessed a bizarre collision between Hollywood hype and self-conscious European artistry. This year, the lines have been blurred by a series of Hollywood movies that are more radical and inventive than their European counterparts.

Prime among these is Alan Rudolph's wildly inventive adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's satirical novel Breakfast of Champions. Bruce Willis, who financed the film, is a long-time fan of the book: "It reflects a lot of the lunacy which exists in the States."

Despite being one of Hollywood's highest-paid stars, Willis claims not to be "that challenged by the larger budget films I do... It's only in the independent field that actors are really allowed to act". Hence his decision to play a character as unhinged as Dwayne Hoover, Midland City's car salesman extraordinaire. Somehow, you just don't expect to see Willis as a neurotic, middle-aged man on the edge of a nervous breakdown, but his performance is a revelation.

Nick Nolte is equally striking as Hoover's assistant, a strapping businessman who likes to dress in slinky red lingerie and high heels in his spare time. Nolte was allowed to design his own dress for the film. Accepting that he was flat-chested ("and I didn't want to get silicon implants"), Nolte went for the "Phoenician" look by wearing the dress back to front. "My line will be out this fall," he joked.

Rudolph is known as a stylist who makes intelligent, leisurely paced movies in the Altman mould. In Breakfast of Champions he goes haywire. The film may often be uneven, but it's as brazen a satire on modern American society as you could wish to see.

Equally eccentric, albeit much more lugubrious, was Aki Kaurismaki's feature, Juha (which also had its world premiere in Berlin.) It's the first full-length silent movie since Mel Brooks made his ill-advised attempt at Mack Sennett-style slapstick, 1976's Silent Movie.

Kaurismaki is a director in the Fassbinder mould. When he was introduced to the audience following Juha's screening,most could smell the beer on his breath. He is alleged to have made the film drunk and edited it sober. Whatever else, Juha (like Breakfast of Champions and eXistenZ) is wonderfully perverse. Like all his films, it is shot in such deadpan style that it takes some time to work out whether it is a tragedy or a comedy. Kaurismaki seems to have been inspired in equal measure by Soviet- style social realism (there are lots of shots of tractors, spanners and farm equipment), Buster Keaton and Charles Bukowski.

Asked why he made the film as a silent, Kaurismaki replied in typically gnomic fashion that people "talk too much". Then he fell quiet and wobbled off into the night.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions