Thursday, June 15, 2023

“Before the Case Cracks You” series at The Grand Illusion Cinema: Jun 4 - Jul 6

The unsolved mystery remains some of the most compelling of crime literature, as large swathes of investigative, procedural and thriller fiction are dedicated to this particularly unsettling subgenre. Cinema has its own masterclasses in the troubling art of unresolved crime investigation, from which the Grand Illusion Cinema has assembled "Before the Case Cracks You". Spanning three decades, the international array of films on offer plumb the depths of, “Stories of detectives and investigators driven to obsession, if not the edge of sanity, in their quest to crack particularly difficult, heinous cases… before the case winds up cracking them.”. The lineup begins with a masterful and rarely seen Hungarian serving of brobdingnagian despair and gloaming atmosphere. This "Film Noir in the Hungarian Hills" adapts a 1958 Friedrich Dürrenmatt detective story, in which an unnamed retired detective is brought in to investigate the death of a young girl who is found near a statue of the angel Turul holding a sword, a long-observed symbol of Hungarian national strength. György Fehér's “Twilight" resets the story very precisely in the Hungarian countryside, with little in the way of specific years or histories to its principal figures, the film takes on a any-and-every time, where the past, present and future of Hungary appear drained not only of color, and vitality, but of hope itself. Through great rigour and abundant stylistic restrictions, Fehér incrementally builds up his nightmare using techniques and gestures that share much in common with his sometimes collaborator, the minimalist auteur of Eastern Europe, Béla Tarr. Also on offer in the series is Christopher Nolan's first major film for an American studio, "Insomnia" features Al Pacino and Robin Williams in an unexpected antagonist-protagonist dynamic, one which Williams could have built a second career. The central premise of protracted insomnia unravelling Pacino's detective as he pursues William's author-murderer is set against the towering wilderness of Alaska. From France, we also get "Night of the 12th". Adapted by its director Dominik Moll and Gilles Marchand from the work of Pauline Guéna, who spent a year following members of the Paris police in the process of writing her nonfiction crime novel "18.3: Une année à la PJ". Transposed to the picturesque Alpine city of Grenoble, their neo-noir is one of multitudinous false leads and potential suspects. Shot in dark hues and saturated colors, the film adheres to some of the best examples on the genre, seemingly taking its growing uncertainty from the Sicilian police novels of Leonardo Sciascia.

Among the most effective of these in cinema follow or are inspired in their details by real world cases, and few contemporary neo-noir have reached the pitch of David Fincher's retelling of the "Zodiac" murders. Truly in his element, Fincher puts all of his penchant for methodical research into play, crafting what is both a police procedural, and a snapshot of the paranoia and uncertainty of the changing social and political landscape of late 1960s to 1970s California. As with the real world events of the Zodiac Killer, Fincher builds an environment of false leads, and a time of crime investigation only recently beginning to grasp the social and psychological realities that would later become the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit. Which David Fincher himself would return to through the longform exploration and structural benefits of, "When TV Takes its Time", given the space and duration to truly plumb the "Serial Killer Variations" of this era. His "More Chatter than Spatter", FBI period procedural "Mindhunter" may prove to be the greatest work of "David Fincher: The Unhappiest Auteur". Another significant work of unsolved crime fiction comes from an era of very different social and political changes, seen in South Korea in the late 1980s and early 1990s. As with Fincher's "Zodiac", Bong Joon-ho's film adheres very closely to the real world details of the Hwaseong serial murders. Where Fincher's film depicts crime investigation unprepared for the development of the serial murderer, in "Memories of Murder" Bong shapes his narrative around the corruption, shortage of resources and results-driven policing of the South Korean military rule under President Chun Doo-hwa. Due to the fact that the Hwaseong murders had not been solved at the time he was undertaking the initial making of the film, Bong was at an impasse as to how to lead his fictional procedural "Memories of Murder: In the Killing Jar" to a conclusion. His solution arrived with a gift from film critic and Asian cultural studies authority, Tony Rayns. Rayns had gifted the director a copy of Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s masterful comic novel, "From Hell". Which not only puts forward Moore's theory on one of the great unsolved crimes at the birth of the 20th century, but makes its focus the political corruption, social and class divisions, and societal maladies of Victorian England.