Institute Benjamenta, or This Dream People Call Human Life (Brothers Quay)

Rating: ** (out of ****)

Proof, if any were required, that "unique" doesn't necessarily equal "compelling." I'd previously seen only one of the Brothers' animated shorts, the 21-minute Street of Crocodiles; it had utterly dazzled me, and I'd been looking forward to their first feature. Having seen it, I'm now looking forward to seeing more of their animated shorts. The Quays are unrivaled in the creation of dreamlike, self-contained, creepily atmospheric, profoundly mysterious worlds; however, a little of their hermetic beauty goes a pretty long way. The first twenty minutes of Institute Benjamenta -- a live-action film concerning a butler-in-training's bizarre experiences at the eponymous institute -- are as visually stunning and freakily evocative as Street of Crocodiles. Each successive reel, however, is simply more of the same; nothing in particular happens, most of the time, and the events that do take place seem both random and opaque. Though several fine actors were employed for the production -- Mark Rylance, Alice Krige, Gottfried John -- they aren't really allowed to give what I would call "performances," and I couldn't help feeling that the Quays considered them a necessary evil. I'd rather look at a series of stills from the film than the film itself, to be honest (interestingly, this is exactly how I felt about Kids, which in every other respect is as different from Benjamenta as an avocado is from an Alfa Romeo). Intriguing, but ultimately very boring.