Programmed by Serin Lee
"The fairy tale, which to this day is the first tutor of children because it was once the first tutor of mankind, secretly lives on in the story. The first true storyteller is, and will continue to be, the teller of fairy tales."
What is it about the fairytale--a child's first contact with narrative that gives him both an awareness of the world, and teaches him some of the ways in which its trouble and danger should be faced--that invites revisitation in adulthood? Sometimes filmmakers simply seem attracted to opportunities to rid well-known stories of their sentimentality by ramping up their underlying surrealism, dark comedy, and horror. In other cases, it's fairytale's moralistic tendencies that are challenged or reimagined towards subversive politics or taboos, and things get more complicated. This series encompasses a broad survey of directors whose returns to fairytale elements are by turns wryly lighthearted, erotic and macabre, reflective and ribald--but tied through nonetheless by the unconstrained visual splendor permitted by the genre. Their innovatively eye-popping works are, if nothing else, a testament to the marriage of a medium and narrative form that equally have shares in pushing beyond the fixity of the physical world, and restoring the fantastical wonder that comes with revealing "how possible the impossible can be." Just as the seeming obsolescence of "Once upon a time" still affects our visions of the future, the cinematic fairytale's communicability of experience finds new ground despite hovering above it.
(Jean Cocteau, 1946) · "Children believe what we tell them. They have complete faith in us... I ask of you a little of this childlike simplicity." Viewers will recognize the classic tale behind Jean Cocteau's debut film, but the surreal poiesis he brings to the medium plunges one from the familiar story of a beautiful girl who falls in love with a fearsome but gentle Beast, into a whirling vision of death and desire. Exquisite performances, costumes, scenery, and practical effects allow this labor of love to retain its ageless magic.
runtime: 93m format: 35mm
(Jan Švankmajer, 1988) · In Jan Švankmajer's first feature, Alice embarks on a surreal adventure into Wonderland, where she encounters an assortment of creatures and animate objects. Stop-motion and live action add rich dimensions to this childhood fantasy-finally doing justice to a story that Carroll originally wrote not as a morally rigid fairytale but rather, in Švankmajer's words, "as a dream, [which] uncompromisingly pursues the realization of our most secret wishes, and is driven by the principle of pleasure."
runtime: 86m format: 16mm
(Jacques Demy, 1970) · In this adaptation of one of Charles Perrault's less palatable fairytales (passed over by Disney), a king promises his dying queen he will marry someone who surpasses her beauty. His daughter (Catherine Deneuve) proves to be the only worthy match, and with the help of a fairy godmother (Delphine Seyrig) she flees to avoid marrying her own father. Despite its simmering undertones, however, Donkey Skin is fuelled by a bright mix of visual whimsy and charming music composed by Michel Legrand.
runtime: 91m format: DCP
(Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, 1951) · Powell & Pressburger reassemble the powerhouse ensemble of The Red Shoes--Moira Shearer, Robert Helpmann, and Léonide Massine--in this adaptation of Jacques Offenbach's final opera, which chronicles the journey of Hoffmann and the stories of his various loves. The uninhibited dances of both the performers and the camera sparked the imaginations of Cecil B. DeMille, Martin Scorsese, and George Romero alike, and achieved a resplendence that took the opera's visuality to unprecedented heights.
runtime: 128m format: DCP
(Nietzchka Keene, 1990) · Björk makes her on-screen debut in director and professor Nietzchka Keene's The Juniper Tree, which has been rarely shown outside of its acclaimed release at the 1991 Sundance Film Festival. A loose adaptation of a Brothers Grimm story, the film centers around two sisters who seek refuge from persecution and find ostensible shelter with a man and his young son. Evocatively photographed in black-and-white, the stark beauty of Iceland's landscapes make this newly restored arthouse gem deeply atmospheric.
runtime: 78m format: DCP
(Louis Malle, 1975) · Black Moon is an experimental outlier among Louis Malle's works, and offers a postapocalytpic twist on Carroll's trip down the rabbit hole. Lily shelters from a strange war in the secluded farmhouse of a mysterious family, which lives in the company of a talking unicorn, snakes, and eagles. A feature-length daydream exploring Freudian adolescence, Black Moon's universe nonetheless works by a logic that offers liberal interpretation for viewers, "each according to his needs" (Vincent Canby).
runtime: 95m format: 35mm
(Karel Zeman, 1962) · Described as a "cinematic whirligig of animation, live-action, painted backdrops, and trick photography tinting, Zeman's adaptation of the flamboyant Baron Munchausen's exploits remains a visionary delight. Chronicling adventures that include stops at the moon and in a whale's belly, as well as encounters with a cosmonaut, sultan, and princess" The Fabulous Baron Munchausen is a quicksilver, fancy-studded tribute to imagination and, per the cosmonaut, to "the spirit of man" (Hal Erickson).
runtime: 83m format: DCP
(Tarsem Singh, 2006) · In the 1920s, a movie stuntsman befriends a girl in an L.A. hospital and regales her with a story about five mythical figures--soon enough, the hospital's dreary landscape gives way to the fantastic ones that sear themselves across her imagination and the big screen. Dressing tales of heroism in sumptuous colors and scenes, veteran music video/commercial director Tarsem Singh achieves "a mad folly" of visual extravagance that arguably merits watching "for no other reason than because it exists" (Roger Ebert).
runtime: 117m format: 35mm
(Éric Rohmer, 1978) · Perceval seems like a curveball in Rohmer's oeuvre at first glance--a film that trades his more commonly attributed realism for soundstage-blended theatre, medieval music, mime, and even rhyming verse, in order to bring Chrétien de Troyes's 12th-century Arthurian poem to life. As the selfish and naive Perceval begins his journey to King Arthur's Table, however, Rohmer's distinct touch resurfaces in the ironic wit and careful remove with which he depicts the young man's education in knighthood.
runtime: 140m format: DCP
(Catherine Breillat, 2009) · From Catherine Breillat, controversial creator of Romance and Fat Girl, comes Bluebeard, an assuredly feminist reimagining of the Charles Perrault fairytale. Ensconced in a twinned structure composed of the two contemporary sisters reading the story and the two sisters who live it, Bluebeard introduces viewers to a hairy-faced aristocrat known for killing his wives. One girl seeks to avoid meeting the same fate, and Breillat's unhurried pace allows the film to burn slowly, reinterpreting the power dynamics between lord and bride, bride and sister.
runtime: 80m format: DCP