Friday, August 3, 2012

Milestones of the "Budget Challenged" Cinema: De Duva (1968)

Although we can all agree that the best and most important films in the history of the cinema generally involve giant robots beating the shit out of each other, although this may vary by cultural context as I will argue in a future post, e.g. a different culture might use a synoptic variant, for example "the car chase" as a structural equivalent of the giant robot fight. Even so, we must grudingly acknowledge that there is a minor role to be played by low-budget films and the occasional short film, which may not contain the otherwise all-critical fight between giant robots and at least $10-20 million in gratuitous visual effects.

I wish to showcase such a film here: the 1968 film De Duva by Coe and Lover.

In this short film, shot in grainy black & white, told entirely as a flashback, the protagonist is being driven to give a lecture at a university and being in the twilight of his life he decides spontaneously to visit his childhood home, which is on the way to the University.  There, in the outhouse, he remembers a time in his childhood when he and his sister, Inge, were visited by a cloaked figure who has come to take Inge away.  This figure is of course Death.  Our protagonist challenges Death to a game of badminton for the life of Inge, if he wins Inge may live, but if he loses, Death will take both of them.   In a transcendent moment, he wins the game against Death through the intervention of nature in the form of a bird who drops birdshit on Death at a critical moment, causing Death to miss his shot.  The play on the bird causing Death to miss the "birdie" is just one aspect of this many layered and important film.   The characters speak in an original faux-swedish dialect with English subtitles, for example the pen used to sign the contract with Death is memorably spoken as "phallic-symbol-ska?" with the subtitle "Pen ?"

The film was regularly shown as a short feature along with genuine Ingmar Bergman films in what were known as repertory theatres, usually near college campuses.  Many in the audience would, supposedly, think this was a real Bergman short until several minutes into the film when the bad, fake Swedish with inappropriate subtitles was too blatant to ignore.

The film was nominated for an Academy Award in 1968 in the short film category.

The film does not seem to be available on the Internet, but you can read more about it here.

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