|release date||November 30 1973|
|starring||John Meillon, Terry Camilleri, Kevin Miles, Rick Scully, Max Gillies|
|trailer 1||Trailer #1|
Many years ago while traveling through France, director Peter Weir was stopped by several men in orange vests, holding a stop sign. He was told he couldn’t continue down the road and would have to use a side road instead. After starting his drive down the road, Weir thought how odd it was that although he saw no visible road construction or accident, he obliged these men and took the detour. Several months later, Weir picked up an English paper and noticed that while sensational murders filled the headlines, those who had died in tragic car accidents barely got a passing mention. It then occurred to him that if you were to kill someone, staging it as a car accident would be the best way. And out of these two isolated events, THE CARS THAT ATE PARIS was born.
The Paris of the film’s title is not the French city, but a small village off the beaten path in Australia. And just how we’d like to imagine every isolated town, it has a dirty secret or two. You see, the town has a very interesting industry of causing car crashes and selling the parts for money. The townspeople don’t especially like outsiders, so those who survive the accidents are inducted in a program of human experimentation. That is, everyone except for Arthur Waldo (Terry Camilleri), who managed to make it into town relatively unharmed and is, for some unspecific reason, allowed to become a new member of the village. At the same time, the gap between generations in town is escalating into a full-on civil war, with the rebellious youngsters resembling something out of THE ROAD WARRIOR.
If I were to liken TCTAP to any film, I would say that its a lesser version of Lars Von Trier’s DOGVILLE. It manages to fully embody the small town drama of the aforementioned but doesn’t completely deliver on the quirkiness. Or entertainment.
That’s not to say that Weir’s intent went completely unrealized. Camilleri’s portrayal of Arthur gives light to a satirical view of rural life in Australia. Throughout the film, Arthur is shuffled into a variety of jobs, jabbing fun at the idea of pioneering forefathers, the balance of religion and politics and the nonsensical aspects of public ceremonies, amongst others. And, every time the rebellious youth show up to start carmageddon, we’re transported into a spaghetti western, which surprisingly gels well with the art-house drama vibe of the film.
For every pro in this film, there is a staggering con. The satire of small town life is there but, as those of us who live or have lived in one know, its not a very interesting existence. And having the plot of the film conveyed through the constant changing of jobs is, well, boring. In fact, aside from the set up and the final 15 minutes, where a Volkswagon covered in spiked makes its way into the town to wreak havoc, TCTAP is very humdrum. I also take huge issue with the unrealized aspect of the human experimentation. How about some insight into why the experimentation are going on? I’ve racked my brain trying to figure out why it was put in the film and the only reason I can come up with is that someone thought it would peak the interest of horror fans. I don’t feel this is on the same level as say, PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK, where the film’s entire level of enjoyment relies on your ability to interpret the film. It’s just a half-way developed idea, much like the communism subplot of INDY 4.
For an independent film, made in the heyday of Australian productions, THE CARS THAT ATE PARIS is certainly a competently made film, despite my issues with the finished product. For Weir enthusiasts, I would recommend seeing the film, if only to know where his sensibilities developed before he tackled bigger and more mainstream films, like the sublime WITNESS, or the award winning TRUMAN SHOW. For the rest of us though, DOGVILLE is a much better version of Weir’s premise and intentions.
None to speak of though I would like to mention the audio and video quality on this Region 2 release from Second Sight. The good news is the video looks up to par with the Region 1 release and the Region 2 Gaumont box set release. It’s widescreen (which was a problem with previous releases) and the picture isn’t washed out looking at all. The bad news is that the audio leaves a lot to be desired. I don’t know what the sound was like on the other releases but the one here goes in and out through the entire film. For several scenes, the volume on my TV was up all the way and I still couldn’t make out what was being said. It sounded like the mics were pointed away from the actors in the shot. Or they were mumbling something fierce. Either way, it was a bit frustrating.