Tuesday, September 6, 2011

#394: Woman in the Dunes

(Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1964)

Like Teshigahara's first film, the elusive Pitfall, Woman in the Dunes is a neo-realist allegory, a fable told in earth-bound cinematic language. But where Pitfall managed to tie its strange occurrences into the world around it, Woman in the Dunes creates a self-contained world, a purgatory literally within the earth.

The film begins in the real world, following a bug expert as he treks his way through the desert to find a rare beetle he can call his own. But even in these early scenes the film's star is the sand, shifting and undulating against a washed-out sky - later, it sticks to flesh as the heat closes in and the film's scope tightens. The movie is about sand like no other movie - it's erotic, it's threatening, it's futile, and finally it is life.

Woman in the Dunes is the first film that is mentioned when Teshigahara's name comes up, and this is not surprising. While I may have enjoyed Pitfall a touch more, the director's follow-up is sexual, philosophical, and incredibly alive with texture and grit - it's clearly a masterpiece. Where Pitfall had so many open windows to crawl out of its logic, Woman in the Dunes manages to gain status as a surreal epic while still being tight as hell. It's a thoroughly impressive feat, and I'm looking forward to watching this one again to see how it's all done.

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