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The Forgotten: Even Werner Started Small

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Nobody Wants to Play With Me (1976) is a Werner Herzog short which seems to have been produced for some public education scheme to encourage kids to play nice. I think it means to be cute, but of course it has a sinister undercurrent running right through it. Maybe it's just because little kids speaking German make me think of Lang's M, and although the kids in that are victims, not monsters, they're somehow rendered macabre by association.

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The performances of the kindergarten kids are, like those of the little people in Even Dwarfs Started Small, just exactly as they are. Herzog relies on the overwhelming reality of his cast's littleness to compensate for any unreality in their line readings. This may not work, exactly, but you can tell that's what he's doing. The only line that carries any conviction is one that's whispered. Instruct a small child to whisper and he immediately becomes a convincing actor. I'm thinking of a particular scene in Spirit of the Beehive. But somebody should make a film starring small kids where they have to whisper all the way through. Seriously. I would watch such a film.

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The Forgotten is a regular Thursday column by David Cairns, author of Shadowplay.

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Gyorgyi Palfi has a made a great kindergarten picture as a companion piece to his “I’m not your friend”. It’s available (with English subtitles) on the hungarian 3-disc edition of I’m not your friend and it runs cca 50 minutes. Supposedly, Palfi shot over 100 hrs of material and then he edited it to 50/15 minutes (the latter running time being the one of the short featurette screened in cinemas before the main feature, the 50 min is the DVD-cut). It’s well worth wathcing, there are some incredible characters and performances (Boldiszar).
Great! Some enterprising programmer ought to put all these films on together. Maybe throw in Zero de Conduite for good measure.
It’s such a strange little film in that it plays out as almost a parody of Kiarostami’s films on children in that it has a faux-innocence to it that, I think, is what gives it a more uncanny sort of edge. I guess it’s sort of a feeling that by pushing the children’s world to being something slightly unreal there is the suggestion that their mean spirited play at the beginning of the film is somehow more true than the reconciliation at the end. Their innocence seems to be what is off in that the scenes where the young boy wins a friend come across as something akin to a whimsical fantasy or projection leaving the other aspects of the children’s play untouched. There is a weird play between the real and the unreal in the film that suggests it could take a much darker turn at any moment. The way the children are captured is like they would be for a straight public service sort of film, but the scenario confounds that expectation leaving a feeling of unease surrounding the world these kids inhabit. Odd and somewhat slight, but worth checking out.
Absolutely. At a certain point I got the impression that the story was heading towards a more heartwarming conclusion, but I still didn’t stop feeling anxious and creeped-out.
“I’ve got a crow at home. His name’s Max and he can speak” is such a great pick-up line.
From all descriptions, I’m sure Herzog’s GAME IN SAND does nothing to remove the “sinister undercurrent” from a movie about child’s play. Like the crow story that pops up kind of revised in WOODSCULPTOR STEINER and the talking bird element that pops up again in STROZSEK.

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