QUICK AND DIRTY: LIVE FROM TALLINN
Your eyes are not deceiving you. The Ghosts Cult And Big Brother: Mad On The Final Black Night is the name given to director Green Geng’s dissertation on pesticide and war (and if you’re finding it difficult to swallow, you’re far from the only one.) Originally constucted as a five hour piece, the film was edited down to a more commercial 120 minute runtime in the hope of winning over Western audiences. But given the non-linear narrative, abstract visuals and general sense of abnegation, I still think it’s going to be a hard sell. At the Q&A I attended, Geng commented on the film’s depiction of child nudity, and acknowledged that Western audiences find it harder to accept than Asian ones.
Personally, I didn’t have a problem with this aspect of the film (there’s nothing sexual to it in any way), particularly as it throws these children headfirst into the middle of a conflict. What the conflict is, I can’t tell you because the film doesn’t hold a plot in a conventional sense. Instead, it’s a collection of disparate events that demonstrates and comments on the rise of fascism. We find one character informing his students that the world outside is too perilous for them to venture (apparently, he’s the “thirteenth son of God” to boot.”) There’s a soldier, lost in a forest, weeping at the war that his consumed him; there’s a woman caught between sleep and solitude, craving the dress she will wear to her grave; and then there’s a child, unusually fat for his age, who wears a swastika on his belly.
Between the set pieces, the film centres on brainwashing, bullying and book-burning, the latter a vile practice that happens too openly in 2023 for comfort. I myself asked the director if he was inspired by Francis Ford Coppola, particularly Apocalypse Now and Rumble Fish – to my surprise, Geng was only familiar with The Godfather (there are no decapitated horses in the film, although we do see some sausages that are meant to symbolise disembodied penises.)
The film is uncompromisingly Asian in it’s resolve, which might explain why there’s an ornate nature to the picture that is rarely seen in Hollywood flicks. I spent much of the time scouring the screen for hidden detail: From the myriad paintings symbolising fallen soldiers to the facsimile portraits of Christ that hang on school walls. What the film provides isn’t answers, but guidance, applying our reality to the suffering depicted on the big screen. In some ways, it feels like the gap between theatre and cinema, applying the gravitas of the stage with the luxuriance of the big screen.
Geng, who induced mood aplenty in the opening moments with his black and white montage punctuated by splashes of reds painted onto lips, here presents a world divided by resonance. The characters aren’t sure whether to “kill” or “love” men, whether to feast or spit on the “blood of virgins”, or fight against the “king of hell” in an effort to bring more stability to their domestic lives. The children, admittedly undressed, spend their time playing hide and seek, before coming face to face with the adults who will probably kill them when they’re older.
Geng is a visualist extraordinaire, and utilises a variety of cuts, fade outs and close-ups to deliver the emotion needed for each disparate scene.And the huge support cast fleshes out the world with substance, shape and colour. Yes, there’s too much going on – I can’t imagine the malaise lasting for three extra hours – but by the closing shot, you do feel that Geng has made his point about the world. And even if you don’t understand the point – I’m still pondering on it, two hours after watching the film – you cannot help but marvel at the construction and colour of the work.
The Ghosts Cult And Big Brother: Mad On The Final Black Night just premiered in the Rebels With a Cause Competition of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.