Institute Benjamenta, Or This Dream People Call Human Life (1996), directed by The Brothers Quay
I have started watching this again, and have made it through about the first 20 minutes or so. I've seen this only once before, but it was so long ago I don't remember that much about it. The Brothers Quay do some interesting stop-motion animation films (some of which I like, some I don't like), but this is, I believe, their first actual film with people. There is another one called The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes, which I have on request, but have not yet seen.
I need to finish this film again before I comment on what it is about, but let me say this: The cinamatography alone is reason enough to see this, even it you don't "get it" as a film.
Heralded as "the strangest, prettiest, most mesmerizing debut since Eraserhead" by the Village Voice, Institute Benjamenta is the first live action feature from acclaimed animators The Brothers Quay (Street of Crocodiles).
Institute Benjamenta combines the fantastic, the mystical and the fairytale in a beautiful, shadowy reverie as astonishing and unique as any of the Quays' animations. The titular academy is a dilapidated, moribund boarding school for the training of servants, whose curriculum consists of the endless repetition of one single lesson. Jakob (Mark Rylance of Angels and Insects) enrolls at the Institute and becomes embroiled in the world of his fellow pupils and that of the siblings Lisa Benjamenta (Alice Krige) and her brother (Fassbinder regular Gottfried John, also seen in The Ogre) who run the school.
Inspired by the writings of the Swiss author Robert Walser (also an inspiration for Guy Maddin's Careful), and gorgeously photographed by Nic Knowland, Institute Benjamenta lures the audience through the labyrinthine corridors of the Institute and the entangled lives of its haunted occupants.
It is fairly rare that moving pictures are made with real artistic value in mind and even more rare when the endeavor pays off. Well, The Quay brothers' Institute Benjamenta is one such picture. At first sight it might appear a little too pretentious with an abounding array of hidden symbolism of a strange and antique meaning but then again, the basic thread of the picture is as old as humanity itself, pointing back to the ancestral roots of what makes us human: to love and to loose. It is remarkable the technique and the rendering of the camera in the Quay brothers' masterpiece. You cannot but help wondering if the images themselves are not centuries old and, in a sense, that is exactly the aim of the picture, to make itself look old and timeless, at the same time. I urge anyone who is really looking for that special feeling films give us, far from commercialism and hollywoodia, to see this movie. Sure, most of you will find it a little bit hard to watch but if you give it patience and let the mood of the picture fill you from within your imagination then I think this will be a rewarding cinematic experience.