Institute Benjamenta (1995)

Institute Benjamenta (1995), directed by Stephen and Timothy Quay.

"...or This Dream That One Calls Human Life".

A man enrolls in a training school for domestic servants. It is run by a couple claiming to be brother and sister, and maybe they are. The building is shabby-genteel, encrusted with deer antlers and pine-cones on the inside. (Is this some sort of rebus puzzle? If so it is beyond me). The curriculum is pointlessly degrading and everyone is inexplicably odd. The house has magic doors and strange moving lights and is ruled by a dream reality.

This punches my art-film ticket for another six months. It is beautifully photographed with odd angles and both vivid details and games with blurred focus. I would best describe it as Eraserhead (1977) without the ghastliness. The soundtrack has haunting moments.

You can be moved by a film without an intelligible story; see Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970). This one is tougher sledding because of the many moments of intentional absurdity; a little of that goes a long way. I think actors must love doing this: pure acting with no story to worry about. Just like exercises in acting class.

Even so, it operates on a suggestive, mysterious level. Online comments propose that the Brothers Quay offer an "interior metaphysics", a reality that is suspected but never seen directly.

I had an oddly satisfying moment toward the end: the moving lights have a logical explanation! There is a tram line near the house and we are seeing the train headlights.

Based on a 1909 novel: Jakob von Gunten.

Alice Krige photographs so well I can't take my eyes off her. Her expressions, gestures, postures: enigmatic as they are, I almost believe she understands the film she is in. Last seen in Ghost Story (1981) and Chariots of Fire (1981).

Gottfried John has a face Ingmar Bergman would love. I've been seeing him in movie and TV supporting parts for years. Last seen in Goldeneye (1995).

Mark Rylance is our Everyman, confused but sticking with it.

Available on a region B Blu-ray.