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A Masterclass In Dream Sniffing
on 29 May 2010
"Institute Benjamenta : or This Dream People Call Human Life" is unlike anything you'll have ever seen. Unless you watch Lynch's "Eraserhead" every time it rains on a Saturday afternoon like myself, that is. Brother's Stephen and Timothy Quay are better known for their amazingly disturbing and surreal animations, but with this and their later feature, "The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes", they entered the world of live-action film and yet somehow managed to embed them with the feel and look of their unique animations to boot.
The plot involves a young man called Jakob who arrives at the eponymous institute to study servitude under the brother-sister team of Johannes and Lisa Benjamenta. Enduring never-ending and ludicrous lessons about such things as drawing circles endlessly (makes you a better servant, apparently) Jakob and Lisa (played by the criminally under-used Alice Krige) seem drawn to eachother, but whether the attraction is unrequited is unclear. As Lisa becomes Catatonic as the winter draws in, it seems that it's Jakobs presence and actions are the cause, but the reasons for this have to worked out.... But all this is moot really, as the Quay Brothers aren't interested in anything as trifling as plot - rather the visuals, the surreal dreamlike interludes, the black-and-white photography are what they concentrate on as they do within their animation. And like the aforementioned "Eraserhead" it does indeed mess with your head on a grand scale, so the Brothers can rest assured their goals were met. However, don't watch this movie with a purpose of ferreting out meaning within it's symbolism, as this isn't a puzzle. It's all perfectly spread before you, but like many things of such grand scale, it's sheer size can frighten you.
Praise be to the BFI, once again they've released a beautiful package of a feature, and with their new "dual format" discs you're getting both Blu-Ray and DVD, so if like so many others you haven't gone hi-def yet, you've been well-and-truly futureproofed. Extras are also glorious; a new documentary commissioned by the BFI ("Inside the Institute"), three Quay Brothers shorts, a booklet contaiting comprehensive essays regarding the film.... All for such a small price natch. One thing though, BFI... The sticker on the top of the case that trumpets it's "Dual-Format" nature... why won't it just peel off without leaving a sticky/papery mess? So small a quibble, but YOU try having OCD.