It’s a good week for dream sequences as far as Chicago moviegoers are concerned. This past weekend saw the wide release of Neil Jordan’s Greta, which features a memorable scene set in the unconscious mind of Chloë Grace Moretz’s character and which gives the Irish director a chance to devise the sort of metaphorical imagery at which he excels. (Let’s not forget that one of Jordan’s most underrated features is the 1999 Annette Bening vehicle In Dreams.) Tomorrow Doc Films will host the belated local theatrical premiere of Hong Sang-soo’s 2012 feature In Another Country (which, like Greta, stars Isabelle Huppert). That movie is divided into three sections, the second of which contains a few narrative curveballs wherein the South Korean filmmaker reveals the peculiar onscreen action to have been a dream. This isn’t the only time Hong’s dabbled in dream sequences—both Night and Day (2008) and Nobody’s Daughter Haewon (2014) take viewers into the protagonists’ subconscious to poignant effect.
Greta and In Another Country remind us of how integral dreams have always been to cinema. The very act of sitting in the dark and looking at moving images recalls the act of dreaming, while filmmakers have always been able to exploit a wide range of tools (such as slowed-down and sped-up motion, jump cuts, and heightened acting styles) to re-create the language of subconscious fantasy. Some filmmakers, like Jean Cocteau and Ingmar Bergman, have approached dreams as collections of metaphors that generate insights about characters’ anxieties and longings. For others, particularly the French and Spanish surrealists, the beauty of dreams lies in their inexplicability, the imagery of the subconscious existing purely for its own sake. Below are five Reader capsule reviews of movies in which dreams factor crucially into the stories.
The Blood of a Poet Jean Cocteau’s 1930 attempt to transfer the artistic strategies of modern poetry—allusiveness, discontinuity, self-referentiality—to film. Though many of the images are striking (the mouth that lives in the poet’s hand, for example), they still function essentially as literary conceits, gaining nothing in the transition from words to pictures and perhaps even losing some of their universality and mystery. But despite its flaws, the film remains a fascinating souvenir of a vanished avant-garde. In French with subtitles. —Dave Kehr 1984
Yolanda and the Thief As a musical, it isn’t much: the book is trivial, and the songs are few and forgettable. But as a tour de force of visual style, this 1945 film is unique. Vincente Minnelli, a superb pictorialist as well as a great director, let his imagination run wild, and the result is a captivating, dreamlike film composed of startling, outrageous, and sometimes sublime images. It has nothing to do with good taste—and that may be the secret of its peculiar appeal. It’s kitsch liberated, personalized, and intensified, to the point where taste drops out and the film becomes an act of crazy artistic courage. With Fred Astaire, Lucille Bremer, and Frank Morgan; photographed in soft Technicolor by the brilliant Charles Rosher (Sunrise). —Dave Kehr 1985
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie Luis Buñuel’s 1972 comic masterpiece, about three well-to-do couples who try and fail to have a meal together, is perhaps the most perfectly achieved and executed of all his late French films. The film proceeds by diverse interruptions, digressions, and interpolations (including dreams and tales within tales) that, interestingly enough, identify the characters, their class, and their seeming indestructibility with narrative itself. One of the things that makes this film as charming as it is, despite its radicalism, and helped Buñuel win his only Oscar, is the perfect cast, many of whom bring along nearly mythic associations acquired in previous French films. Frightening, funny, profound, and mysterious. Produced by Serge Silberman and coscripted by Jean-Claude Carrière; with Delphine Seyrig, Stéphane Audran, Bulle Ogier, and Jean-Pierre Cassel as well as Buñuel regulars Fernando Rey, Paul Frankeur, and Julien Bertheau. —Jonathan Rosenbaum
Dressed to Kill Brian De Palma plunders Psycho, with incidental grabs from Murder, Spellbound, and Vertigo. Originality has never been a high value in the genre-bound aesthetic of filmmaking, but De Palma cheapens what he steals, draining the Hitchcock moves of their content and complexity. He’s left with a collection of empty technical tricks—obtrusive and gimmick-crazed, this film has been “directed” within an inch of its life—and he fills in the blanks with an offhand cruelty toward his characters, a supreme contempt for his audience (at one point, we’re compared to the drooling voyeurs who inhabit his vision of Bellevue), and a curdled, adolescent vision of sexuality. The smirking, sarcastic tone is supposed to make the sex killings “fun,” but mostly it undermines whatever credibility the enterprise might have had. This is Brian De Palma’s personal fantasy, and he’s welcome to it (1980). —Dave Kehr 1986
Dreams In the uneven career of Akira Kurosawa, two limiting factors were sentimentality and preachiness, and both come to the fore in this 1990 collection of eight dreams, some of which are more like parables or fairy tales. The dreams are often connected by themes and visual motifs, and the overarching theme is man’s ecological recklessness and foolishness, as evidenced by the building of nuclear weapons and our growing remoteness from the natural world. One could recommend the film without qualification to grammar-school kids who haven’t been jaded by the pacing of TV or of Lucas and Spielberg (who helped produce this picture); older folks may find themselves growing fidgety over the simplicity—if not the sincerity or aptness—of the Sunday-school lessons. With Martin Scorsese and Chishu Ryu. —Jonathan Rosenbaum v