Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Winter Quiz

Time for another of Dennis Cozzalio's quizzes - always a joy and a challenge to answer... and a joy to read through the rest..

1) What was the last movie you saw theatrically? On DVD or Blu-ray?

This is a moving target, since I take so long to answer these quizzes: but I'll say -
Theater - The Wrestler
DVD - Meet Me In St. Louis

2) Holiday movies— Do you like them naughty or nice?

Mostly nice, though naughty is nice too.

3) Ida Lupino or Mercedes McCambridge?

Ida Lupino

4) Favorite actor/character from Twin Peaks

I can't answer this. I haven't watched it since it first came on, and only watched part of the first season then. I have been waiting for all of it to be on DVD, though not paying close enough attention. Maybe next year I'll be able to answer.

5) It’s been said that, rather than remaking beloved, respected films, Hollywood should concentrate more on righting the wrongs of the past and tinker more with films that didn’t work so well the first time. Pretending for a moment that movies are made in an economic vacuum, name a good candidate for a remake based on this criterion.

This is a very interesting question, and one I am sure I have opinions on, though I fear they aren't coming now. I have always thought that Eyes Wide Shut should have been made by David Lynch, though - that might count.

6) Favorite Spike Lee joint.

Do The Right Thing

7) Lawrence Tierney or Scott Brady?

Lawrence, I think.

8) Are most movies too long?

The good ones aren't - being too long is one of the main causes of films failing, though. Way too many comedies just keep going... a lot of films aren't so much too long as they run out of ideas around the hour mark - or cut over to the PLOT, which is trite and dull. They aren't so much too long as they have nowhere to go after the first 2/3 or so.

9) Favorite performance by an actor portraying a real-life politician.

If Malcolm X counts, than Denzel Washington's performance has to rate highly here. A dark horse would be Baek Yun-shik as the assassin in the Korean film about Park Chung-hee's assasination, The President's Last Bang. Song Jae-ho as the president is quite good also.

10) Create the main event card for the ultimate giant movie monster smackdown.

The Abominable Snowman vs. Burgermeister Meisterburger! Dr. Hill (Reanimator) vs. Dr. Pretorius (Fron Beyond)! And in the finale - Asia the Invincible vs. the Bride of Frankenstein!

11) Jean Peters or Sheree North?

Jean Peters

12) Why would you ever want or need to see a movie more than once?

To memorize it.

13) Favorite road movie.

Pierrot le Fou, I'd say.

14) Favorite Budd Boetticher picture.

Seven Men From Now... Lee Marvin. Pow. Though it's hard to chose this over the Tall T.

15) Who is the one person, living or dead, famous or unknown, who most informed or encouraged your appreciation of movies?

This is a hard one to answer. Maybe Robert Altman, as his films probably did the most to make a cinephile of me. An Altman retrospctive marked a clear change inthe way I saw, thought about, etc. films...

16) Favorite opening credit sequence. (Please include YouTube link if possible.)

I should be able to come up with something off the top of my head, but I never can. It's not impossible that it's Imamura's The Pornographers - the fake porn, the fish... it's also not impossible it's Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail - Swedish llama jokes never get old.

17) Kenneth Tobey or John Agar?

I might skip this one.

18) Jean-Luc Godard once suggested that the more popular the movie, the less likely it was that it was a good movie. Is he right or just cranky? Cite the best evidence one way or the other.

There seems to be a relationship. The relationship is certainly not inverse, though. I don't know what he means by "popular" - does a box office failure that becomes widely adored (It's a Wonderful Life, say) count? The best movies tend to be modest successes, and often become immensely popular over time. So - he's being clever, and getting at a legitimate point, but it doesn't hold up to scrutiny...

19) Favorite Jonathan Demme movie.

Something Wild.

20) Tatum O’Neal or Linda Blair?

Tatum O'Neal, I think.

21) Favorite use of irony in a movie. (This could be an idea, moment, scene, or an entire film.)

Another good question. I'll pick a film I've seen recently - Oshima's Pleasures of the Flesh. Oshima lays it on very thick here: there's a student in love with a schoolgirl he tutors; he finds out she was raped as a child - her parents hire him to kill the rapist and he does. However, a crooked official saw him do the deed - and shows up with 30 million Yen (of the 00 million he stole), telling the student to hide it until he gets out of prison - if the money disappears, he will rat out the kid's murder. The student hides it - until the girl marries another man: nothing to live for! He will spend it all and kill himself! he does, spending it all on whores and bad living, though without much success. As we come to the end of the year before the crook gets out of jail, the student ends up with a mute whore and befriends her pimp boyfriend - who tells him about a guy he knew in jail who hid 30 million dollars with a student, but died before he could be released....

22) Favorite Claude Chabrol film.

Haven't seen enough - but Les Cousins, probably, among the ones I have seen.

23) The best movie of the year to which very little attention seems to have been paid.

I think Momma's Man sort of faded into obscurity rather quickly. And Ballast, though it gets a fair amount of attention, sometimes seems to be treated as if it were just another indie film.

24) Dennis Christopher or Robby Benson?

I can't say that I care right now.

25) Favorite movie about journalism.

His Girl Friday.

26) What’s the DVD commentary you’d most like to hear? Who would be on the audio track?

Others have mentioned Sam Fuller - absolutely. I can't think of anyone who could have done better commentaries. For anyone's films! He'd be better than Werner Herzog, and that is going a long way. I wish David Lynch did commentaries - he's another endlessly interesting talker...

27) Favorite movie directed by Clint Eastwood.

A good question - High Plains Drifter? or Bird? I think if you treated Flags of our Fathers and Sands of Iwo Jima as one film, that might do it.

28) Paul Dooley or Kurtwood Smith?

Kurtwood Smith.

29) Your clairvoyant moment: Make a prediction about the Oscar season.

I won't watch it?

30) Your hope for the movies in 2009.

I just hope a bunch of good foreign films get released - starting with The Headless Woman, Tokyo Sonata, and Secret Sunshine.

31) What’s your top 10 of 2008? (If you have a blog and have your list posted, please feel free to leave a link to the post.)

I'll answer this separately. I haven't done this quite yet...

BONUS QUESTION (to be answered after December 25):

32) What was your favorite movie-related Christmas gift that you received this year?

Nothing specific - though I got a neat monkey grip for a camera. That should come in handy.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Winter Wonderland

I guess you can fairly say winter is here. Yesterday gave us this:

Leaving this sort of result:

It's all very lovely, and at least in this neck of the woods, hasn't done an awful lot of harm. Just snow, white and clean and cold. And oh so Christmasy.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Quick Bloggage

The holiday season is here in all its time consuming glory. With weather promised for tomorrow - fun fun! I have been eye deep in Oshima for the last couple weeks - almost over, though there are a few shows left. Including Diary of a Shinjuku Thief, which is one of the 2 or 3 I most wanted to see - but won't be around for. Blast it. But the rest has been glorious. I will try to post comments - whether capsules or mini-essays or just, I don't know - something - we'll see. If it wasn't 11:30 PM, I might try something quick now - I'd note, say - the way he seems to pick a style, a formal principal, with every film, and see what he can do with it. His career is wildly eclectic - I mean, his style shifts with almost every film (though some things remain the same: gorgeous compositions, radical storytelling, political engagement, distancing devices) - one may be rough and loosely structured and the next tight and carefully laid out; one may be color the next black and white; one may be tightly scripted the next semi-improvised - but the shifts are from film to film. Within films, he's very consistent - along with the widescreen compositions, which are always impeccable, he sets himself a fairly well defined set of devices that he uses: the cool formalism of Boy and Ceremony; the disruptive editing in Violence at Noon; the use of lighting and theater in Night and Fog in Japan - and so on.... It's good to see him getting some airing - I think this series is traveling - I hope others get to see it, beyond NY and Boston. And I hope Diary of a Shinjuku Thief comes back to Boston soon...

Meanwhile, before I go - a few links to tide you over....

James Urbaniak on Peter Schiff's prescience. This is as close as I have seen to what it would look like if a time traveler came back in time and went on Fox news. It looks like a fake - Schiff basically describes the summer and fall of 2008 in 2006, and a bunch of nitwits laugh at him. Oops! Oddly, the same morons are still on TV - hasn't Ben Stein been banished yet?

David Cairns on Brazil.

What the hell? The Bush family Christmas video card - starring a dog, though not a shoe, at least not in the minute or so I lasted...

Ed Howard cites Alison Bechdel's rule for movies - 2 women in the film, who talk to one another, about something other than a man. Oshima doesn't come off too well, though he sometimes seems to critique the social patterns that cause this kind of problem, isolation of women from one another etc. Night and Fog in Japan makes an interesting point, a bit accidentally - there are two major women characters, who don't speak to each other and only speak to the crowd about their relationships to the men (to Nozawa, the communist turned journalist who is marrying one of them.) There's also another woman, an older woman, who stands with the girl getting married in the film - she never says a word - she just drifts through the shots - though at the end, during the Stalinist's harangue, she gets a lot of the camera time - it's as if Oshima is making a note of her, of her silence and marginality here... Though he never really makes films about women, the way Ozu or Imamura, let alone Naruse and Mizoguchi did. All fo them have their issues, but they hit this standard a few times....

And finally - the Film of the Month Club is back inaction, with Absolute Beginners as this month's film. A neat choice for a host of reasons,bot least, the consideration of the 80s' place in film history. It's ging to be a while before I get to see the film - but it's a good discussion going on....

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Rachel's Christmas Wedding Tale (Reviews, sort of)

I've been promising this for a whole, and better do it - the holidays are coming fast (with the Oshima series in town, they're already here! that's pretty much my schedule for the next week...), and time is getting short... So, as noted in my Synecdoche NY post, there have been some interesting films this fall - here are a couple in particular I liked, a bit more than the Kaufman film... Namely, Rachel Getting Married and A Christmas Tale. [I noticed: there are spoilers below - I don't know if these films are still creeping around the country - they might be, and I imagine lots of people will only get the chance to see them on DVD; I'm not sure there's any way around this, though, not for me - I'm not much of a reviewer: I want to talk about their stories and story telling, and I am pretty sure that requires talking about some things that are revealed over time in the films - I don't know if I'd call them surprises, but, the revelation is part of the way the stories are told... so... be warned, I guess.]

These two films go together rather well - in both, a black sheep character turns up at a family gathering and raises hell - reopening old wounds and restarting old fights, by acting like a jerk, etc. Some resolutions are reached, though that isn't quite the point (Rachel ties everything up much neater than the Desplechin film - the dead child is her fault, the characters sort of work through things to something like peace, etc. - none of which happens, exactly, in A Christmas Tale)... The biggest differences are in the style - Demme adopts a cinema verite style, handheld camera, prowling about, the loose scripting and acting, and so on; and in the near total focus on the main character. Desplechin adopts more or less every style known to film, theater television and arts undiscovered, and hops around all over the place. That's where the main difference lies, though - in who the film follows.

Rachel Getting Married sticks pretty close to Anne Hathaway's Kym. The film follows her through the weekend, and gives what she sees. (This is one reason the criticism of the film for presenting a racial paradise are a bit off - everything we see, we see through Kym, and her personality - her solipsism, her own capacity for stirring up drama wherever she goes, tends to blot out other issues and contentions. Whatever racial tensions there might be at this wedding, we aren't going to see, because all we see is centered on Kym. Now this focus is, I think, both a strength and a weakness. One thing I like about it is that it runs counter to films like Synecdoche NY (with its self-pitying, self-destructive male lead character) - it's centered on a disruptive, not all sympathetic woman - a female anti-hero. This is rare - I am not sure how rare, but it is rare enough that it feels far less predictable (even when things are running pretty much to form) than the Kaufman film. Obnoxious guys are a dime a dozen; obnoxious (but charismatic) women are a bit of a novelty. It's enough, buy itself, to make a middle of the pack story seem a bit more important. The politics matters. The structural style - attaching the narrative point of view very closely to a character, like this, tends to run with that kind of character - whether the film filters the world through the character's eyes (as in most Kaufman films), or structures what it shows around the character, as in Rachel, it depends on the limited POV and the attitude of the character....

Which helps show what makes Arnaud Desplechin such a marvellous filmmaker. A Christmas Tale also features a disruptive character - like Synecdoche, a middle aged man, an artist - but unlike either of the American films, Desplechins does not stay there. The style, of course, is all over the place - there are handheld scenes, with plenty of camera prowling, but also plenty of more carefully composed shots, plenty of interruptions - Desplechin never lets things get too documentary like. You get direct addresses - sometimes to the camera, sometimes to a kind of implied audience, you get inserted speeches, you get puppet plays, you get diegetically inserted plays - you get the danmed works.

But it's the story telling that makes this such a delight. Desplechin does structure the story around Henri (Matthieu Amalric's madman) - his coming and going is where the film starts and stops. (It starts, in cold fact,with his birth, which coincides with the fatal illness of the missing brother; the action of the film proper is set up by his mother's illness, but really starts with his arrival at the house - everything else had been preparing for that, and of course he is linked as explicitly as such figures get, to her disease.) But Desplechin never gives the film completely to Henri - it constantly spins away from him, and not just toreturn. but it spends a great deal of time elsewhere. Most of the other characters get moments alone, with nothing to do with Henri; Elizabeth, Paul, Faunia all take over the narrative for stretches of time - and then, probably oddest of all, the last third is dominated by the story of Sylvia and Simon, a story line that has next to nothing to do with the main plot line (Junon's illness, Henri's place in the family) - it has nothing to do with Henri or Junon at all. Deplechins in always an adventurous story teller: he sometimes follows a single character, sometimes concentrates on one character over others, but sometimes, of course, heads off in all directions. Kings and Queen, say, among its many virtues, has this - a narrative divided between a man and woman who are no longer a couple, and not going to become a couple ever again. That is very strange: it is not about a breakup, it is not about forming a couple - it is about 2 people who were a couple, who have ties even now - but who are now living their separate lives, and are going to continue to live them. But the film follows both of them, as if both of them matter - how strange!

Anyway - A Christmas Tale is a marvel indeed. And Rachel Getting Married is no slouch. They are both far more satisfying that Synecdoche NY - just as ambitious and smart, and really a good deal less conventional. Rachel probably benefits as much from who it follows as from the material itself (and from the performances and Demme's direction, yes...); A Christmas Tale earns it on the merits. They've been bit of bright spot in what feels like a fairly dul year, so far... Though there havebeen other good films - if I were more ambitious I might poke into a couple of the other films I've liked this fall - Ballast was pretty inspiring as well. It's another film that seems to follow a fairly conventional pattern, but glides in different directions than you expect. Characters seem to be one thing and aren't - Lawrence particularly; scenes seem to be heading in one direction, but swerve... and - true to Lance Hammer's debt to the Dardennes brothers - the kind of film where heading off to work is made to seem heroic... as for the best (new) film I've seen this year - The Headless Woman - that I have to see it again to say anything coherent about it....


I have misssed a couple anniversaries already this week - (Pearl Harbor!? John Lennon's death) - so I don't want to miss this one: Manoel de Oliveira's birthday! 100 Years old and still at it, with what appears to be another film about doomed love in production.... (Thanks to Tativille for the reminder.) He's had an astonishing career and life - how many filmmakers' centennial's are celebrated with the filmmaker still around? let alone still working, and working steadily... And while he sometimes gets more attention for being the Oldest Living Filmmaker, he deserves more for being one of the best living filmmakers - I admit that his work can be a bit uneven, but everything I've seen has been intriguing, and at his best, he's among the best....

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Oshima Series

I forgot to post this over the weekend - the Harvard Film Archive is currently showing a complete retrospective of feature films by Nagisa Oshima. This is a fine way to close out the year. I've seen a few of his films, 8-10, but not enough, and most of them from the margins of his career - very beginning and the end. I'm particularly looking forward to seeing more of the films from the late 60s - the two I have seen (Death by Hanging and The Man Who Left his Will on Film) were outstanding... this is a good thing.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Friday Miscellany

Friday night - I'm fighting off a cold, feeling tired and icky... I hope to put up another sort-of-review post soon - real content! a novelty! Having done a certain amount of self-medicating with the good Dr. Macallan (not much better than scotch for this kind of low key, nagging cold), I'm not up for anyting too taxing to the brain or fingers: instead, let's try some links and maybe a Friday Random Ten.

Links? Start with Slacktivis - Fred Clark's weekly Left Behind posts have turned to the movie- a godawful wreck, that manages to improve on the books (though how could it not) - and to catch, every now and then, a moment of near competence - the end of this week's installment is, in fact, The Rapture itself - which is handled with quite surprising grace. We see Captain Rayford Steele about the kiss Mrs. Kirk Cameron - we cut to an old woman, waking up - she turns, doesn't see her husband - chats with Cameron "Buck" Williams, Ace Reporter, and tell him her husband has "gone off naked" - in sum, a quiet, creepy, disorienting little scene, nothing new, but pretty much how you slip into something like that.... The rest of the clip is more the kind of hackwork you expect... Anyway - always a good read...

Elsewhere - a new Girish post, rounding up good online reading.

And at Screengrab, Leonard Pierce promises a 12 Days of Christmas series of Christmas movie posts, starting with the excellent A Nightmare Before Christmas.

And The Bioscope offers a neat post about George Bernard Shaw and the movies.

Roger Ebert let's us know what he thinks of Expelled.

David Bordwell on Douglas Fairbanks.

And Tom the Dancing Bug explains a comic, in great detail.

And I run iTunes:

1. The Beatles - Here Comes the Sun
2. The Melvins - Lizzy
3. Sleater Kinney - Ironclad [not a big fan of this record - still got a great sound, did they, but sounds to me like they were running out of things to say. The last 2 records sort of continued the slow fade...]
4. Erase Errata - C. Rex
5. Keiji Haino/Tatsuya Yoshida - Gheuebhessip [just got this, haven't really listened to it, though a couple songs have come up on the iPod: it sounds like it's pretty good stuff - they're first rate performers, in their very strange way... this one has a flute in it!]
6. Leo Kottke - Embryonic Journey [I keep forgetting I have some Leo Kottke on the machine - I should try tolisten to this more...]
7. Fugazi - Facet Squared [I can't say I love Fugazi, but they are absolutely reliable - anything they do is worth listening to...]
8. The Magnetic Fields - In an Operetta [I haven't warmed to them, as I have to some of the bands they are compared to.... but they are pretty good.]
9. Neil Young - Old Man [well, obviously a great song.]
10. Tragically Hip - At the Hundredth Meridian [I like this song - I like this record,but it's the only Tragically Hip record I ever bothered to buy, not sure why.... get Ry Cooder to say my eulogy...]

And YouTube says: Richard Thompson - the live version of Shoot Out the Lights, from his Austin City Limits record a couple years ago came up on the iPod tonight - ah: I can't get it out of my head. (And really, the whole post is here because I wanted to post a video of it.) I couldn't find any video of it, but this is a decent substitute. There are a few good versions of the song on YouTube - this one has some of the jaggedy guitar playing he really expands on the Austin record...

Monday, December 01, 2008

Synecdoche Review (plus)

I need to get back to actually writing - and posting - about films. It has been a while. It's also been a somewhat more promising last couple months - over all, this has not been a very impressive year for films. I've liked a fair number of films, but haven't been blown away by much. (The Headless Woman, basically.) Maybe it's too soon - the best films tend to show up at the end of the year and the beginning of the new year - might happen this year. And - to some extent - it has been happening this year. Moving into fall, a number of interesting fiction films came out (most of the best films before that were non-fiction: My Winnipeg; Man on Wire) - moving into September, October, things got decidedly more appealing...

But it's not just quality of the films - it's the appearance of films that I want to write about. Films that do something interesting - even if I'm not convinced by it. Like Synecdoche, New York - pretty much the definition of a film that's more interesting to write about than watch. I don't mean I didn't enjoy it - it was amusing, sometimes moving, sometimes clever, and sometimes its cleverness clicked - especially the beginning, those slippery time frames... And it resonated - it happened that the poetry class I mentioned was reading The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock the week I saw the film: it's almost a blueprint. Kaufman has always packed in his literary allusions, almost as tight as Eliot and company. That might make a subject for a post... But not this one. No: because while I enjoyed the film enough, I didn't find it to be anything special - clever, a bit obvious, a bit of a gimmick. The odd thing is, the more praise I read for the film, the less I liked it. And I saw a lot more praise than abuse, from all over the place - Ebert, Walter Chaw - and most of all, Filmbrain - twice! Maybe that will change - the film will go into wider release and start pissing people off more visibly - I suspect when that happens I will change sides and start defending it. It's that kind of film.

But we're not there yet. It's hard to say what I don't like about it - how it fails. Or no - that's not it, that's not what I mean. It is, in fact very easy to say where it lost me: the question is whether it's a fair criticism. I mean - I suspect I may be condemning it for not being another movie. A very great offense. But what can you do?

I can single out what loses me: Catherine Keener. It has the same problem Hamlet 2 had - the film gives us a mopey middle aged guy main character, who, mopy or not, may be worth following - then we meet his wife: it's Catherine Keener! Who is (actress and character) funnier, cooler, sexier and more interesting than the main character - but the film keeps following the schlub! And then Keener runs off with the boarder! And we’re stuck with the schlub!

Now - Steve Coogan and Philip Seymour Hoffman are fantastic actors, and can carry this sort of thing as far as it is possible to go with it. But why on earth do we have to see another film about middle aged male self-pity? Or - why on earth should we treat another film about this very well covered field as though it were going to tell us anything new? or do anything unexpected or revealing or anything else? And especially why do we have to see this film, again, when we could be watching a film about Catherine Keener? Why can't we follow her instead? or even better - why can't we follow both? Is this an American thing? might be - though the best Americans managed to get out of it (Lynch; Altman; the young Americans are in danger of getting into it - Anderson and Anderson, though they haven't hit middle age yet - they also haven't quite succumbed to the utter identification with the self-pity of these characters... But that too is another post.)

I know it is a sin to complain that a film is not a different film, but it can't be helped. There are films that do this right - A Christmas Tale came out this month, and it is a fine example: it too is centered on a middle aged male loser, but it does not stay with him - it heads out in every direction away from him. [And deserves its own post: which will come (soon, I hope) after this one. Along with comments on another film, Rachel Getting Married - which basically does reverse the SNY pattern and follows a crazy woman instead of a crazy man. which by itself more than justifies its existence.] Actually, of Desplechin's films, Kings and Queen is a better comparison - same depressed, middle aged guy, a loser, though (like Hoffman and Coogan), talented and imaginative, in his weird way. But it gives us Emmanuelle Devos as well. That alone is enough to make it a better film - any film that puts her, or Catherine Keener, on screen for half its running time is going to be more than watchable by that fact alone. But the divided story creates something far more interesting - it breaks the self-pity of the men, opens the story up. Amalric and Devos both have their troubles - but they compliment each other, and complicate each other - the alternation keeps either his or her self-pity from taking over the film. We keep seeing them from a different angle. It cuts off their tendency to drown in their own vanities. That’s how Desplechin generally works: most of his films follow multiple characters, even if one is more important than the rest - there are always strong counterlines going on.

I admit, my prejudices are showing: subjectivity is not that interesting. The inside of someone's head is not that interesting. What goes on between people is interesting: intersubjectivity is interesting. Desplechin is hard to beat - but that's not the only way to get out of your character's heads: stick to Charlie Kaufman - take Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. This is a far more satisfying film - probably the only Kaufman film I think completely works. Why? I think the reason is clear enough: though the film is set in Jim Carrey’s head, what we see in Jim Carrey’s head is his relationship with Kate Winslet. So though it is solipsism incarnate, it is also not solipsistic - in story terms, this is because it is all about the intractability of relationships, of our connections to other people, in this case, about his connection to Winslet’s character. And in cinematic terms, it is because this structure keeps Kate Winslet on screen, and usually makes her resist the ways the film and story (and the SF device) reduce her to a function of his imagination. We shouldn't underestimate that - films giving us things to look at, things to listen to, things happening - and the value of contrast: Carrey and Winslet, Amalric and Devos, etc.

But it also does a better job, I think, of getting at the basic fact that human beings are not subjects, we are intersubjects. We exist through relationships to the world. And I admit: if and when I change my mind about Synecdoche NY it will be because I will be convinced by the ways Kaufman represents Cotard's subjective mind in objective terms: the signs and artifacts of his mind. Texts are made of other texts; minds are made of other minds - of words, memories of things, stories, images, sensations. And - that's here too. In the eruption of Cotard's body into his consciousness; in the way personality and consciousness, in this film, are brought into actuality - as theater, as sets and actors and roles, etc. The problem is - I see it now as being a film about the mind splitting off its signs: eliminating them, rather than - relating to them. It feels like a retreat from lived life toward felt life. I don't know if that makes sense quite. Maybe this: it seems that, for all the proliferation of characters and actors and signs and voices, they are all, in the end, inside Cotard's head.

It didn't have to be. It could have split the narrative - followed more than one character. Or split worlds, a la Inland Empire. Or just made the phantoms inside of Cotard's head seem more alive, independent. I don't know. Partly because I'm writing a thousand words explaining why I think a good film isn't a great film (the way Kings and Queen or Inland Empire are great films, and Eternal Sunshine and A Christmas Tale are almost great films.)