Painful viewing

Sometimes the measure of a film’s effectiveness is the degree to which it hurts its viewer, that is to say, the amount of pain—psychological or visceral—it inflicts upon her. After all, only suckers think that works of art are objects designed and produced to arouse pleasure on the part of the spectator.

If the above is true, then Ronald Bronstein’s “Frownland” (2007) is about as blissfully excruciating a movie as you’ll ever see. It isn’t frustrating like, say, Larry David is frustrating; it’s much closer to having rock-laden sand kicked in your face repeatedly for 107 minutes. But, as they say, therein lies the point: “Frownland”‘s portrayal of a small network of individuals who each embody the grotesque in uniquely cringe-inducing ways is one of the more affecting cinematic experiences I’ve had in a good long while. Bronstein presents the flesh as a nerve-ridden pincushion, the intellect as a machine for manufacturing fashionably right-sounding pseudo-wisdom (when it’s functioning smoothly, that is) and the city as a gargantuan, claustrophobic, candlelit asylum. Not a pretty picture, but it’s got truth oozing from its pores.

When my viewing of “Frownland” ended last night, my curious (and probably disturbed) roommate asked me “What the hell were you just watching?” I replied with something to the effect of “Oh, some movie. One minute, I need to get it out of our apartment.” And with that I rushed out to return it to Four Star Video Heaven (where it just recently arrived on DVD). In its absence, my apartment became a considerably more pleasant environment.

So yeah, I’d be very interested in revisiting it sometime—just not sometime soon.

Here’s a trailer for the film… with French subtitles, of course.


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