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‘L’Ange’ and ‘Rehearsal for Extinct Anatomies’ (NR)

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 28, 1990

The Quay Brothers' "Rehearsals for Extinct Anatomies" is a black dream sprung from a quivering heart. This amazing animated movie, which is only 14 minutes long, has a jolting density. The Quays' films defy explication or interpretation, but there's an inscrutable authenticity in their work that seems beyond the reach of art and creates some more direct psychological connection. The Quays' art is based on the unlocking of secrets so obscure they still exist in their raw, preconscious, reptilian state. The images from their films seem to bypass your retina entirely and feed directly into your spider consciousness. Watching, you feel as if you had arrived at some private chamber at the dark end of the psyche, the place where the germs of madness are incubated.

From their warehouse-like studio in London, these American-born, identical-twin brothers hammer together puzzling, incalculable visions, like a pair of supremely though perversely gifted surgeons. Each of the Quays' films creates its own hermetic realism. At the center of this film's universe is a creature made of bone and tangled wires. Set above its single, palpitating eyeball is a fleshy growth -- is it a mole? -- adorned with a single, intense hair that the creature fingers with a constant, feverish obsessiveness. Inspired partly by Fragonard's "Le Verrou" and set to a score by the Polish composer Lech Jankowski, the film is better described in terms of themes and variations than narrative. Yet its puppet characters do seem engaged in some dark, ritualistic ceremony, which, while not entirely accessible to sense, conveys a mysterious logic all its own.

On the other hand, Patrick Bokanowski's "L'Ange," which is ostensibly the feature attraction in this animation program at the Biograph, seems to intentionally obfuscate its meanings. Or worse, to contain little or no meaning at all. Though a double-bill of these two films may have seemed fitting, it has the unfortunate effect of exposing the weaknesses and pretensions of the longer work.

Bokanowski, who lives and works in France, aspires to the same enigmatic, metaphoric grandeur the Quays have achieved. His film is made up of five more or less unrelated sequences connected by strobe-lit shots of dark corridors and stairwells. In one, a brightly lit room, a man with a saber lunges violently, time and time again, at a doll that hangs from the ceiling by a string. In another, a charwoman places a ceramic jug of milk onto a table, walks away, only to have the jug crash to the floor and break. In each of these sequences, the action -- what there is of it -- is repeated over and over again in a kind of continuous loop.

But the overwhelming effect in each case is that of tedium. After the first of the sequences, a profound numbness sweeps over you at the thought that the same banalities will have to be examined from every conceivable perspective. Working with his wife Michele, who contributed the score, he achieves gorgeous visual effects. The Quays, too, give their films an astounding surface brilliance, but their work transcends mere technical facility. Their animated creations pulse and fret like toys left all alone at night. They live a life of their own imagining.

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