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Lulu Wang (The Farewell)
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Fantasia 2018: Chained For Life

by Jason Adams

Somewhere between Francois Truffaut's Day For Night and Tod Browning's Freaks falls Chained For Life - a rag-tag group of actors (including the ever and always welcome Jess Weixler of Teeth fame) and crew assemble at a hotel turned plastic-surgery spa to shoot a strange little movie, and on the second day a gathering of differently abled persons of the sort that might have long ago populated a circus tent (a little person, a so-called "bearded lady," a giant, some conjoined twins, and most importantly Adam Pearson, the disfigured actor you oughta recognize from Under the Skin) show up to add surreality to the proceedings. 

Writer-director Aaron Schimberg is aware that in 2018 you can't get away with othering these people the way you once might have been able to though, so he goes meta about it. The film-within-the-film reveals itself as a Nazi-tinged rip-off of Browning's Freaks early on, while the day-to-day movie-shooting is all paper plates at the catering tent and make-up chair confessionals. Only slowly do the two halves begin to bleed together, and in the most unexpected ways at that...

If you've seen Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Beware of a Holy Whore that seems a touchstone here too - the director of Chained For Life's film-inside-the-film has a (possibly fake) German accent and looks just like RWF, and he keeps his set about that chaotic too. Everybody looks hungover until they get in make-up and very little time seems to be spent on the movie itself - mostly it's who's sleeping with who, and those extra-curriculars take on narratives of their own until what's real and what's fiction becomes indistinguishable, in a lower-case nervous breakdown sort of way.

What's on Schimberg's mind is movie beauty and its undoing - what we want to look at as audience members and how he can find ways to wiggle around that. He starts the film with a quote from Pauline Kael about just that, and then breaks left. Weixler's leading lady is The Pretty Girl, everybody says so, and while she humbly blushes she doesn't argue either - the tension between us looking at her and then us looking at the less symmetrical faces on display here is the project at hand, and Schimberg unravels it all hypnotically. 

A lot of people have been calling Chained For Life "dream-like" but it's less like a dream than it is a trippy sniff off the fumes of a failed suicide by carbon-monoxide poisoning - that's a compliment, by the way! This is one-of-a-kind mad scientist movie-making stuff, riveting in ways I hardly expected going in - it unfolds itself, paper cranes and finger puppets, nesting dolls dissolving from one to the under to the under. It is, quite frankly, a lovely thing to behold.

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Reader Comments (1)

This review has totally sold me on it. Can't wait to see it.

July 23, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

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