Sunday, March 28, 2010

"Double Take" and "Mundane History"


Double trouble Hitchcock meets himself in this allegorical satire

Double Take begins with Alfred Hitchcock explaining, in the footage of his 1966 interview with Fran├žois Truffaut, the term "MacGuffin":

It might be a Scottish name, taken from a story about two men in a train. One man says "What's that package up there in the baggage rack?", and the other answers "Oh that's a McGuffin". The first one asks "What's a McGuffin?". "Well", the other man says, "It's an apparatus for trapping lions in the Scottish Highlands". The first man says "But there are no lions in the Scottish Highlands", and the other one answers "Well, then that's no McGuffin!".
Turns out Hitchcock himself - here either played by a famed look-alike (the late Ron Burrage), or assembled from amusing fragments of his TV and other public appearances, and is pitched against a double of himself (a character that "he must kill" in an imaginative re-edit of Psycho) - is the McGuffin, in what turns out to be an impressionistic, insightful, and all-too-often hilarious commentary on Cold War politics.

Belgian filmmaker Johan Grimonprez's mockumentary charts the fierce relationship between America and Russia like a TV show: with Nixon and Nikita Khrushchev essentially cast as the fictional Hitchcock double, while, by some inspired combination of montage and voiceover, Folgers instant coffee is paralleled with murder poison, and The Birds the Cold War threat. It all culminates into Donald Rumsfeld's infamous McGuffin metaphor. Oh, who'd have thought?

On a similar if totally unrelated note, Thai director Anocha Suwichakornpong's feature debut, Mundane History, is another movie that only takes its synopsis as a jumping board to something much more profound. In this Tiger Award winner at the recent Rotterdam Film Festival, what started out as a simple story between a rich, young man (paralysed from the waist down in an accident) and his male nurse (who gradually comes to break down his patient's resentful facade) eventually turns on its head and becomes something entirely different.

While its disjointed timeline may appear gimmicky at first, Mundane History slowly reveals its (literally) cosmic scope, spinning off into a philosophically perplexing take on personal emotions and illusions, traditional family structure and class distinction, political history of power and bloodshed, as well as a shockingly hynoptic double take on life and death. The young protagonist's injury remains unexplained - the McGuffin amid Suwichakornpong's meditation of an incomparably greater scope.