When Anton and Eva had sailed off in the direction of Tuvalu, into a sepiatone sunset, I got up, stunned, and asked a fellow audience member

The director... Who is this guy?

Tuvalu is a romantic fantasy, directed by Veit Helmer, who co-wrote it with Michaela Beck. Short, clownish, and socially inept, Anton is the Keatonesque janitor at a swimming pool. The establishment is bankrupt because the ticket seller Martha prefers compensation in the form of buttons. Anton's father Karl is the pool's blind lifeguard, fooled into pompously doing his job every day by a tape recording of splashing swimmers, and his brother Gustav schemes to have the decrepit pool torn down. Eva and her father visit the pool to swim, and for most of the movie the extent of her involvement with Anton consists of him surrepticiously sniffing her panties. A tremendous and practically animate machine that only Karl can operate resides in the basement and somehow runs everything. And of course theres a map, and on it the Pacific island of Tuvalu marked with an X.

Cowed by his Father, Boy meets Girl. Evil Brother turns Girl against Boy but in the end, of course, Boy and Girl set off for paradise together. Its a conventional plot, though exagerrated. However, despite their thoroughly predictable interactions, the characters are still wondrous to watch. Like an archetype in some traditional folk drama wearing a mask to indicate his personality, Karl wears an artificially puffed out chest that extends a foot in front of his body. An Evian commercial incarnate, Eva swims naked with her goldfish. Martha takes gum off of the undersides of benches, chews it up to soften it and uses it for glue. Overacting is rampant, and there is no dialogue- not a sentence, not even two words strung together, though each character does at some point get verbally introduced in a Me Tarzan You Jane fashion. Helmer makes no attept whatsoever at realism, so that the characters can and do utilize convoluted combinations of grunts, mumbles and pantomimes in order to avoid speaking.

As an alternative to narrative fim-making's typical reliance on declaration, Tuvalu assualts its audience with images. This is not to say that The Image is an end into itself ala Buñuel, merely that the cinematographic atmosphere is so perfect, oppressive and intense that it filled my head for hours after leaving the theater. The film was shot in black and white, and later colorized, a technique that evokes old Hollywood, and which also allowed precise control over every detail and emphasis. Each broken tile in the bathhouse is evocative and contributes to a pervasive clautrophobia; Anton seems like an alien for being so at home in such a foreign landscape. Like Brazil's duct motif, here there are pipes and tubes everywhere, as well as a shamelessly convenient network of sewers and canals seemingly connecting the swimming pool to open sea. As a corrolary to that setting, it's always raining, which only intensifies the visceral relief delivered by a dream sequence supersaturated with reverse exposed color. Tuvalu is nothing if not deliberately made- every frame could be a photograph- but it suffers from little of the drag that often plagues films that are labled as "visually stunning". Its a beautiful movie but its also funny, ridiculous, and bizarre.

2000, Kino studios (who'da thunkit)