4th Life, The (2006)
Directed by Francois Miron
Beautiful naked women making out with one another. Eerie drone music. Strangely compelling, convoluted plotlines that take a long time to start making cohesive sense. Welcome to Quebec director François Miron’s premiere feature length effort, The 4th Life.
Sometimes deliberate elusion works to the overall benefit of the viewing experience, which is very much the case here – the carrot is dangled effectively, the context is always just out of reach. You’ll know as you watch that the crux of story is in there somewhere, maybe even right in front of your eyes without you knowing it, but this more a film about really cool visuals, atmosphere, and hypnotic sounds. Oh, and beautiful naked women making out. Did I mention that already? Because there’s a lot of it. A lot.
I don’t want to cheapen the film by making that the sole focal point, because there’s a lot more going on in The 4th Life than just that. It’s a tale of dangerously obsessive love, the abundant eros necessitates the deeply personal bonds that are broken and the sinister mayhem that ensues. And even if you were to focus on the sexual content, François Miron is a classy voyeur with great aesthetic taste – this isn’t like watching Hot Dog The Movie and desperately waiting for the next fleeting breast shot. His admiration for the female form is unapologetic, it’s as erotic as it is visually beautiful, and pretty much everything else that happens in between is engrossing and richly textured.
This surreal thriller is a highly enjoyable ride loaded to the, um ... tits (?) with visual exposition and bizarre twists and turns. Everything does eventually connect into a hazy and seemingly incomplete set of dots – you’re left with just enough to make you think (and I stress think) that you know what's going on and who is doing what (or who is doing who) and why. It’s like a reflection of a complete story in the shards of a broken mirror. The 4th Life is a movie that warrants repeat viewings and I think the director knew that full well – which is why he created so many things within it that can be enjoyed regardless of the narrative.
Miron’s background is in short experimental films, and you definitely get a sense of his personal obsessions here – stairways, light and shadow constantly in flux, variation in film form and texture, etc. He has an impressive understanding of how visuals can be driven and escalated by powerful complementary sounds. Something as simple as the landscape rolling past as viewed from a train becomes ethereal and dreamlike with Miron’s creative flourishes woven into it. However, the whole ride isn’t a zone-out – out of nowhere, you get a sledgehammer dose of super heavy stoner rock that will make your hair stand on end. One such moment featuring a girl’s ascent up a stairway while holding a candelabra is one of my favourite scenes in recent memory.
It’s hard to not bring up comparisons to David Lynch when discussing this film. The overall tone is dark and sinister, occasionally nightmarish, yet bizarrely humorous incidents and characters pop up semi-regularly to augment the nightmare with contrasting levity. An obsessive eye for nubile, lovely ladies is something these directors also share – 4th Life star Janet Lane has notable physical similarities to Lynch favorite Patricia Arquette, and the central lesbian love affair recalls Mulholland Drive. But ultimately this film stands on its own merits and its own distinctly weird variants. The best way to link these two directors? Let’s just say that if you like what David Lynch has been doing over the last decade or so, you’ll definitely like François Miron’s The 4th Life.
In closing, it has to be said that some viewers might feel frustrated by this film’s expositional tendencies. But it cannot be denied that the exposition is exquisite. If movies are viewed as intended gifts from the director to the audience, it’s understandable that some would be miffed that the contents of the opened gift seem incomplete. But then, they might not have noticed that François Miron wrapped his gift in blotter paper, ensuring that LSD will be absorbed through the fingers of the opener. This is horror, art, and erotica intertwined masterfully, a super cool and undeniably strange trip – what else could you possibly want?
4 out of 5
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