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Published on February 22nd, 2011 | by Lisa McInerney


Pretentious? Moi?

There was great rejoicing in my house recently when, on a few days off from work, I decreed that we would watch lots of movies.

Possibly Himself thought that this would be his great opportunity to catch up on the latest big-name blockbusters; I didn’t think to ask. Then again, neither did he. Perhaps he didn’t qualify my definition of “movie” because he already knows what an off-centre thinker I am when it comes to visual entertainment. Either or, our recent popcorn session was spent over Black Swan, Winter’s Bone, and the like, films you need a coffee and a pompous chat after. Oh, and Afterschool. I’d been desperate to watch Afterschool for quite some time.

We had a very loud sort of pompous chat after, because Himself took an immediate dislike to it. He found it disjointed, overblown, too stylised, and ultimately unfulfilling. Pretentious, I think was a term spat more than once. On the other hand, I loved it, and defended it passionately. I thought that the hand-held camera, long, static landscape shots, super-off-kilter-close-ups, and cameraphone sequences all factored into the sense of isolation and fragmented identity of our protagonist. I thought his zombie-like reactions to the machinations of his “superiors” very telling, and very realistic. I probably ranted on quite a bit about it, now that I think of it. The film finished up around midnight, and Himself was in a catatonic state on the floor when I next looked at the clock and realised it was February.

Anyway, it made me think – what makes a film definitively pretentious? Is it the empty triumph of style over substance? Is it the director’s champagne ideas on his lemonade budget? Or is it (more often than not, I fear) a lack of open-mindedness for unconventional storytelling on the viewer’s part? Is it simply that those who complain that a movie is pretentious are those that didn’t quite get what the director was after? Is it, on that note, the director’s responsibility to make sure his message gets across to his audience, whether they’re already on his wavelength or not?

“Pretentious” films – that is, artier, indier flicks that my companions have found less than impressive – I’ve argued on behalf of include Irreversible, Mean Creek and Brick. Those I’ve argued against include Martyrs, The Squid and The Whale, and .. oh, gosh, I might just have to add in Black Swan here, because I’ve had a good think about it since watching it and wonder if its entire merit is based on the performances of its four main actors? Anyway, I’m of the opinion that whether or not one finds a film pretentious probably hugely depends on whether or not one was in the mood for it in the first place. And taking into account that opinion is subjective no matter how informed it is, are there any movies out there we can safely call “a steaming pile of pretentious shite” without fear of recrimination from … well, the likes of me?

Over to you, then. What’s the most “pretentious” movie you’ve seen?

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About the Author

That cranky young wan from award-winning blog, Arse End Of Ireland, Lisa’s also noted for her dedication to cobbling together unrelated imprecations to make new and bemusing insults, mostly because she’s not eloquent enough to otherwise explain her deep-seated terror of genre fiction and Fianna Fail. In 2006, The Irish Times called her “… the most talented writer at work in Ireland today”, and her mam still can’t understand why this is better than being the new Marian Keyes. Which it totally is. Alright? Website Twitter: @SwearyLady Facebook.com/sweary Last FM: LeislVonTrapp

7 Responses to Pretentious? Moi?

  1. Darren Byrne says:

    I love movies that make you think, that you can talk about afterwards. I was full of ideas and questions after Black Swan. Similarly, some of my favourite films include Eternal Sunshine, Brick, Donnie Darko, Lost in Translation, Crash (both Crashes) and Citizen Kane.

    However, there are some films that just hurt my brain they are so bad. People claim they’re wonderful, artistic masterpieces, but I just want to throw stones at the screen.

    The Royal Tenenbaums, Adaptation, The Fountain, Dr. Strangelove, Antichrist, Dogville and a load of others just annoy me.

  2. emordino says:

    Oh, it’s a horribly overused word. Most of the time it’s just a catch-all term for “thing I don’t like”. I’ve a canned response for whenever someone tries to use it on me:

    1) ask them to explain exactly what pretence they’re referring to;
    2) watch them stare blankly;
    3) point out that they’re the ones being pretentious by using big words they don’t understand;
    4) tweak their nose Stooges-style and disappear into the night.

  3. emordino says:

    Oi. You wash your mouth out, Byrne. Antichrist is the best thing in the world ever.

  4. Darren Byrne says:

    Colm, the B&W slo-mo sex scene that opens the movie…seriously? The toddler dying at the same moment the washing machine finishes its cycle and both Gainsbourg and Dafoe orgasm. Um…moving stuff?

  5. Sweary says:

    Ah, Dazzy, you’ve ruined it for me now! Seriously though, and I may be shot down for suggesting it, but I felt the same way about horror classic Don’t Look Now. All the way through it, I shouted, “What’s this toss?!” Maybe that’s why I didn’t get it – I couldn’t hear anything over my own shouting about what toss it was.

    Emordino, I shall be adopting your process from here on in should someone refer to one of “my” movies as pretentious. I mean, I already do, for the most part. Apart from the nose-tweaking thing.

    I actually just thought of “A Serbian Film” there. I haven’t seen it yet. Any interview with the director I’ve read tells me that there’s artistic merit to the film and that I should see it. Then I read the synopsis, and … I don’t know if I could watch something like that. It sounds HORRIBLE. And if the director is claiming it’s horrible because it’s Art, that’d make him pretty pretentious. Horribly, horribly pretentious.

    I should see it, in order to make my mind up. But I don’t know if I ever could.

  6. Swe.Ge says:

    Pretentious moi ?
    I didn’t like Afterschool. I just didn’t. It did nothing for me. It didn’t make me feel like an Nihilist, and that camerawork was just fucking boring. It had some interesting ideas about information technology, and the deadening ennui that it engenders in over- privileged teenagers, but that was it. Dull as ditchwater, otherwise.

  7. Emlyn says:

    Agreed Darren, Dogville and Antichrist both seriously made my brain hurt. I think Von Trier just enjoys wrecking people’s heads. There’s also a sadistic quality to his stuff (Dancer In The Dark and Breaking The Waves) i just don’t like.

    I’d begrudgingly have to say 2001, though visually and technically it is a masterpiece. And Eyes Wide Shut…otherwise known as What The F***?

    Most David Lynch movies, though there’s some sort of mad genius to them.

    Most Wes Anderson stuff, though i do like Rushmore. And parts of The Life Aquatic.

    But probably the most pretenious ever for me is Southland Tales…have seen it twice, hoping i’d understand it second time around. But nope. A complete and utter up-it’s-own-bum mess. Though i LOVE Donnie Darko (don’t ever watch the wretched sequel though).

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