Shot as a pseudo-documentary, this magnum opus dazzlingly details 92 case histories of people who have been affected by the VUE (Violent Unknown Event)—a mysterious, apocalyptic phenomenon related to birds, flying, and bizarre invented languages.
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As globalization threatens "small" languages worldwide, Greenaway produces a Babylonian tongue-splitting instrument whose essence though is inaccessible to any linguistic expression as if a prime motor emanating discourse but hidden in transcendence - the VUE. Minor ousts major, and with English as the new lingua franca, erratic xenoglossia geysers erupt in its insular habitat like a repressed and relapsed tumor. The
Linguistically absurd and ornithologically overwhelming. At 3 hours, 15 minutes, Peter Greenaway's first feature film seems rushed. It should have been at least 15 hours long, or even 45 hours. I would have also appreciated optional subtitles in Latin.
An epic summation of Greenaway's early contrarian responses to the imperialism of (information) filmic conventions. It's mordantly hilarious in it's misuse of that earnestly pedagogic style with decidedly unreliable & arbitrary evidence, useless cataloging, misleading illustration, playful linguistic nonsense and indeed film duration itself. It isn't what we've been trained to expect. This is cinema!
How marvelous that Greenaway spends three hours concocting and throwing away character traits that would later define American independent cinema. Obfuscating and creating at once. Every film ever called Quirky in the wake of Wes Anderson has been nothing but one of The Falls stretched to feature length and given much more credence than Greenaway thought necessary or interesting. He was the Violent Unknown Event.
I seemed to find the film a deconstruction the mythology of Icarus' fall: the never-ending quest for man's flight. Within 92 accounts of people surrounding a certain VUE (Violent Unknown Event), Greenaway presents a postmodernist view of the Icarus' FALL, wherein Greenaway sidesteps the vicious approach of the traditional narration. He instead focused on found details and invented language to narrate the myth.
Probably the ballsiest, most meticulous approach to science-fictive worldbuilding I've ever seen, especially in film. Plus a broad emotional range: funny, erudite, conspiratorial, eerie, absurd, and not without pathos. For similar, pagebound intertexual goodies, read: J L Borges' 'Universal History of Infamy,' Roberto Bolaño's 'Nazi Literature in the Americas,' & J Rodolfo Wilcock's 'Temple of Iconoclasts.'