Saturday, May 16, 2020

the wolf house

Joaquín Cociña and Cristóbal León's Chilean film The Wolf House is a twisty nightmarish vision and one of upmost artistic wizardry. If one is looking for a plot, it could be described as a young woman who flees her German colony with a wolf on her heels, taking refuge in an abandoned home in the woods. But The Wolf House isn't so much about plot as it is about its political undertones and the astounding intricacies of its visuals and aurals, which unravel, replicate and renew at a seemingly non-stop pace in a one-shot feel.

In order to truly grapple with this tough film, one has to delve into its history--of the Colonia Dignidad (something I admittedly did not know of until researching and watching this work of art) under Pinochet's rule in Chile. With shrill, distorted choral music, the movie begins with savage irony using vintage clips of this colony: "The dark legend that has been created around us is mainly due to ignorance. They are ignorants ... who fear a community that remains isolated and pure," its narrator presenting The Wolf House as a film "rescued from the vaults."

The ensuing piece is of the main character, Maria, embodying a sense of relentless isolation, recalling elements of the Creation and also of Alice in Wonderland, becoming the house itself at times--paintbrushings emerging as a face in the walls and the doors, biting into an apple. In dollhouse views, roaches scatter, sound effects buzz and whirl, the body continuously morphs from the flat into the three-dimensional--straw-blond hair, blue eyes, and red lips. There are mounds of dirt, creaking doors, chittering birds and insects, sink water that turns plastic-wrap in the basin, flickering candles that populate then disappear, a fuzzy TV hums. And snorting pigs that the protagonist, creating her own "colony," turns into pig-"people" (Pedro and Ana)--with hands and feet. These are some of the more comical and disturbing moments of the film. If they represent the Chilean "peasants" noted in the introduction that the German colony prides on living in so-called harmony with, or as victims of white cultural violence, these primitive creatures molt into more human forms, until they ultimately emerge as waxy, blond, blue-eyed entities "immersed" in Maria's "sweet honey." Maria remarks on Pedro's "progress" in speaking "correctly" and admonishing that he talks "too slow." Meanwhile Pedro and Ana incessantly speak of how happy they are in their existence, to an almost brainwashed, banal degree. What in time happens to Pedro and Ana is a both an upending and embracing of the traditional folktale. Throughout, "the wolf" is a taunting, threatening disembodied voice in Spanish that haunts Maria. The fairy tale references are familiar--from The Three Little Pigs to Hansel & Gretel to the mirror reflections of Snow White to its storybook motif of escaping and returning home. Though what settles as "home" is ultimately ambivalent in this breached landscape. As it closes with warped strains of Wagner, Joaquín Cociña and Cristóbal León's film is an intense, uneasy ride, with sharp moments of black humor and trenchancy. ***

-Jeffery Berg

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