Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Woman in the Dunes

One of the best parts about this whole watch-a-ton-of-classic-films project is getting to see the work of some Japanese filmmakers who aren't Akira Kurosawa. This movie actually got nominated for the Best Director Oscar when it eventually came out in America, which shows how captivating it can be despite its simple story and slow pace. I'm wondering whether I should actually explain what the premise is, because I'm not sure whether the tension of the opening scenes would be greater if you were wondering along with the protagonist about what was happening or just waiting for him to figure it out. Suffice it to say, a teacher visits an area rich in sand to study its bugs, but misses the bus home and ends up stuck in a house surrounded by walls of sand on all sides with a widowed woman.

He struggles with his captivity at first, but over time becomes torn between his desire to return home and his growing feelings towards the woman. It's a remarkably sensual film for 1964, but in a weird way; the two never seem to really fully understand what they are to each other, and lots of time is spent with weird images like close-ups of skin covered in grains of sand. But while it's a very stately film completely filled with existentialist ideas, it's a lot more watchable than it seems like it might be. They really pull off quite a bit with two actors, a house, and a ton of sand. Eventually the story shifts away from the romantic aspect, as the main character finds more things than just the woman keeping him in the house, constantly digging to prevent the house from getting buried. I found the ending odd, because it concluded the man's story in an unsettling and appropriate way for the movie's tone, but it raises other questions to get there that it doesn't bother getting to. Still, the film accomplishes what it intends, and never compromises itself for any reason.

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