Thirty years ago, a gem of a film called Favorites of the Moon was released to wide international acclaim. The Cohen Film Collection has released the debut of this fairly obscure film on DVD and Blu-ray, finally allowing citizens of the United States to see a remastered version of Otar Iosseliani’s unique, impressive, ambitious, sprawling mosaic of a surreal comedy.
The film follows several characters, with the narrative focal point being two objects: a set of 18th century china and a 19th century painting. Three eras of history overlap from time to time, and seemingly disparate characters interact in various, sometimes extended, ways, usually involving the aforementioned objects. It plays almost like Jacques Tati meets Robert Altman. It’s a total “kitchen sink” film, bursting at the seams with dozens of inspired moments and ideas. The narrative is kind of all over the place—there’s lots of activity, very busy—but it’s highly focused in unexpected ways. There’s an efficiency to every aspect of it, despite its casual strangeness and anarchic nature, everything feels so specific, so controlled: from colors to prop placement to camera movements, etc. It’s a completely original film that’s built from the ground up by something of a visionary, and it unfolds like a carefully structured dream.
The comedy in the film is really surprising, and not in any way an American sense of humor. It’s European absurdity, primarily just observing behavior, but spiking it with comedic left turns that are often funny in their strangeness or simply funny because of circumstance. Nothing is forced, the film flows organically, relishing in human interconnectedness on every level, but hardly ever crowbarring the content to fit that mold. Things just sort of happen, but they happen in a way that is curious enough to keep one’s attention and make one wonder what it’s all about.
What is it about? Well, criminals, prostitutes, inventors, anarchists, thieves, musicians, drunks, beauticians, art dealers, philanderers, entrepreneurs, and plenty more. And those are just the characters. What does it all add up to? Well, that’s a tougher question, and is one that nags at the viewer throughout—and beyond—the viewing. I’ll ultimately leave that up to the individual to decide, but in broad terms, it’s about similarities between people and things throughout history, about what a small world we live in, about how good and bad things happen to good and bad people, and much, much more. It could be seen as cynical, if it wasn’t so embracing of the wonderful insanity of the world.
If you’re wondering why I’ve neglected specific plot details, it’s because this a difficult film to summarize in those terms. It’s understood best by its elements, aesthetics, and technique, and less by what actually happens—at least as far as the real take away is concerned. Sure, there is a plot, but the ingredients surrounding it dominate the movie such that you anticipate the next connecting idea, as opposed to the next part of the story. There are explosions, though it’s not even remotely an action film. There are plenty of criminals, but it’s hardly a crime film. There are musicians—lots of singing, choirs, a string quartet, a punk band—but it’s certainly not a musical. Almost every location is full of unique touches—houses filled with colorful details, tons of paintings, unconventional settings (like a warehouse where they make explosives, for instance), which only adds to its part realism, part surrealism tone. When the time line shifts to previous centuries, it’s silent, grainy black and white footage, while the rest of the film is in color and has sound. It’s definitely greater than the sum of its parts, but its parts keep things thought provoking, visually exciting, and consistently watchable. It needs to be seen by more people.
Favorites of the Moon is now available on Blu-ray and DVD through Cohen Media Group.