Using three of the year’s best films as examples, Amy Britton explores the current preponderance of magic realism in modern day cinema.

The film world is buzzing at the moment with the news that Quentin Tarantino is making a sci-fi film. Interesting news considering that Tarantino is really just a genre in himself, rather than a “genre filmmaker.” But something interesting is happening in film at the moment. Some of our most distinct directors are drawing from genre films – fantasy, sci-fi, and horror – and spinning it into something entirely new, beyond genre. As 2014 is shaping up to be a vintage year in film, distinguished by this particular style, perhaps it is wrong to class them as genre in fantasy / horror / sci-fi terms? Instead, I think the term “magic realism” which has been such a popular expression in literature (used to describe the likes of Angela Carter, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Salman Rushdie at his finest) has finally become applicable to film. Already, there have been three films this year which fulfil this, making use of different “genres.”

The Gothic Horror – more specifically, the “Vampire Film,” a concept which has truly had its credibility pretty much evaporated in recent years – was the first this year to get the interesting, hipster treatment with Jim Jarmusch’s “Only Lovers Left Alive”. People flinched at the idea of Jarmusch dealing with what has become such a maligned concept (largely due to the likes of the Twilight Saga), but carried by beautifully moody direction evoking its real, international settings more than any type of horror underworld, powerhouse performances from Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton and John Hurt, and knowing humour fuelled by sly in-jokes, this could be the film to make vampires credible.

Then came the new take on science fiction with Jonathan Glazer’s compulsive striking, “Under The Skin.” I’ve actually only just got round to seeing it, giving me plenty of time to not be influenced by the hype which surrounded it, and it really is worth the critical applauding it received. Starring Scarlett Johanssen as a sensual cyborg, the sci-fi theme is never too bogged down in the clinical scientific settings which are the usual backdrop for sci-fi films. Instead the setting of modern-day Glasgow is what gives this film a hard and credible edge, which acts to reinforce the striking “abnormal paradigm” scenes (which manage to be creepy and weirdly beautiful at the same time) even more. Johanssen’s character has no empathy, as to be expected from a man-made creation, but in this age of Thatcherism Part Two she also holds up a disturbing mirror to those kinds of actual human beings we have in society. This is no doubt the kind of sci-fi that Ballard was intending to write when he said he “wanted to rub the human voice and force it to look in  the mirror.”

After all this darkness must come some light, and the actual deciding factor in me deciding to write this piece was Michel Gondry’s latest film, the visually stunning Mood Indigo; the film most fulfilling of his music video director credentials, it brims with the utterly fantastical. Pretty much nothing in the film could happen in real life, and yet the heart of it is a sentimental love story. Where some directors are taking film genres and adding an edge of realism, like the aforementioned, Gondry has taken something quite real and turn it into a dizzying fantasy (yes, it is adapted from a Boris Vian novel, but the visual displays which make the film what it is are all Gondry’s own imaginations.) There is more than one way to be part of cinema’s new Magic Realism.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a realistic gritty kitchen sink drama, but there is something really exciting about this current style in cinema. Its clearly international as well (the films I have named are respectively American, Scottish, and French.) And with the news of a new David Lynch film being made from unused Twin Peaks footage, it seems that dreams, the psyche and the slightly magical all blended in with a mix of realism and “genre” is the shape of film in 2014.

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All words by Amy Britton. More from Amy can be found at her Author Archive.

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