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What the critics said
German underground director Wenzel Storch brings us
the disturbed strangeness of JOURNEY INTO BLISS. Part Gilliam`s folktales,
part Greenaway`s sinister twistiness, Storch cuts at our filmic sensibilities
and makes us love it.
JOURNEY INTO BLISS est VRAIMENT le trip d'acide
sécuritaire pour le prix d'un billet de cinéma.
A frenzy of archaic technology, visually stimulating clutter, clownish aristocracy, absurd black humour and antiquated fairy-tale iconography, A Journey Into Bliss will have many tagging German indie filmmaker Wenzel Storch as Terry Gilliam on a budget - or maybe on crack.
Storch happily admits to the influence of Gilliam and his Monty Python cronies, and to classic Euro kiddie flicks like Josef von Baky's original Münchhausen ("To my mind," says Storch, "a thousand times better than Gilliam's remake"). But he claims his leading inspiration was his own acid trips in the early '80s.
"At the time, I thought to myself that it should surely be possible to make stuff on the screen just as higgledy-piggledy and unpredictable as it is on a trip. And what if those kinds of films don't actually exist? Then you just have to get on with it and make them yourself. On acid, behind the magnificence of shapes, colours and objects there is hidden, sudden horror, and vice versa. And in Journey, the most spine-chilling things suddenly become quite cute again."
Journey could in fact be described as a children's film that kids should be kept clear of, what with all the pissing, vomiting, sex, drunkenness, exposed brains, exploding heads and cute animals cursing like sailors. "That's a very appropriate description for it, although I don't think it will put kids into a state of shock for life. Even when the really hard stuff comes, it still flickers across the screen in an affectionate and quaint kind of way.
"That reminds me of one small anecdote. Matthias Hänisch, who plays the King of the Gourmets, did in fact show his two six-year-olds the scene where his head is sawn open and the brain is taken out, and the children watched it spellbound. Afterwards, full of concern, they asked him if it was bad or sad for him that he would now have to run around without his old brain."
Journey was filmed and edited on ancient gear (the Arri II A camera dates back to the '30s) largely for fiscal, not aesthetic, reasons. Production design was really an extended scavenger hunt. "We spent a whole year scouring farmyards, attics and flea markets, and on many a night illegally plundered a disused factory. By the end, we stood in front of an enormous mountain of junk - dentists' chairs, plaster cacti, medical apparatus, turnip and potato diggers, mounted antlers, ad infinitum."
The biggest stars in the cast were Nora and Gypsy, the twin bears that share the role of the snail ship's ursine first mate (see it, you'll understand). "Previous to this, Nora had played in the French Asterix film. The twins' mother had filmed with Telly Savalas and Belmondo, as well as appearing in Polanski's Macbeth and Annaud's The Bear."
A steady diet of Gummi Bears and Coca-Cola staved off any star fits by the bears. Not all the actors were so professional, though. "Unfortunately the rabbit was idle in the extreme. When we shot the scene in the propeller car in which the frogs go joyriding, the rabbit just kept on falling asleep at the wheel."
This could very well be the strangest film we’ve ever screened at the festival. Inside a gigantic floating “snailboat” (IE – a giant snail shell that functions as an industrial ship), we find grizzled Captain Gustav on the verge of his retirement. He loves his crew - a bizarre team consisting of lumbering men and talking animals (!) - but he’s ready for change. He gets exactly that when his ship stumbles across an uncharted island that for all intents and purposes, does not exist. The region is under surreal monarchist rule, lorded over by crazy king Kniffi, who just happens to be an old “friend” of Gustav’s… Talking frogs, insightful snowmen, a bunny whose powerful ejaculation allows characters to travel through time, literal brainwashing (as in a brain is removed, bathed and replaced), old school psychedelic opticals and a cast who appear to be under the influence of every illicit substance that doesn’t kill on ingestion are only the beginning.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Wenzel Storch! He has come to us from another planet with a mission to illustrate how delirious and inspirational filmmaking can be when one hits the game with NO RULES and a ton of imagination. Wildly individualistic, cuddly cute, grotesquely obscene, hilariously loopy and all but impossible to synopsize with traditional letters of the alphabet, JOURNEY possesses an anarchistic narrative that can best be likened to cinematic memory-association. Through sheer force of will, Storch manages to make his radical storytelling verve feel naturally (somewhat!) coherent. Like EL TOPO, DELICATESSEN, CAT SOUP or the best work of Jan Svankmajer and Terry Gilliam, JOURNEY exists in a universe entirely of its own. Storch and executive producer Ralf Sziele spent a solid year in 1996 just gathering materials in order to build their crazy sets and costumes, begging farmers for their scrap and sometimes raiding factories. With a team amassed, they spent the next two years creating their sets 23 in all. They also built a castle façade …which was decimated by a storm… so they built it again! For the film’s eclectic special effects, Storch enlisted the services of underground legend Jorg (NEKROMANTIK) Buttgereit, who also ended up contributing a memorable performance. The film’s hysterical stop-motion shots were lensed with a 74-year old Éclair! In the end, the post-production period took another 3 years. And now, JOURNEY INTO BLISS is alive, ready to confound the world with its lunatic charms. It is an ingeniously handcrafted labour of madness, the likes of which hit the screen about as often as Hailey’s comet can be seen from earth.