Institute Benjamenta, or This Dream People Call Human Life (1995)

Institute Benjamenta, or This Dream People Call Human Life (1995)

The Brothers Quay fascinates and befuddles in their unsettling first live-action feature

7.6

Movie

Germany, Japan
Afrikaans, English, German
Drama
1995
STEPHEN QUAY, TIMOTHY QUAY
Alice Krige, César Saratxu, Daniel Smith
104 min

TLDR

Do I know what the hell happened here? No. But is it a good movie to watch? Yes, if you’re open to the strange and creepy images the Brothers Quay has to offer.

What it's about

To learn how to become a servant, Jakob arrives at the Institute Benjamenta, an unusual oppressive boarding school run by siblings Johannes and Lisa Benjamenta. His arrival challenges the siblings, their perspective, and the way they handle school operations.

The take

Upon the first few minutes of Institute Benjamenta, or This Dream People Call Human Life, it’s obvious that the Brothers Quay’s first live-action film is highly unusual. First, it’s entirely black and white, with embellished, serif subtitles translating the initial German. Second, many of the film’s shots take the form of moody, gothic close-ups, reminiscent of 1920s silent films, like when Johannes examines his new pupil’s health, or when Lisa directs Jakob with an animal’s hoof next to his cheek. And third, the plot itself is strange, as the students are taught not to think anything of themselves, with only Jakob questioning their instruction. But there’s a certain beauty in the surreal approach the Brothers Quay takes in adapting the Swiss-German novel, a certain intuitive feel that allows the story to expand past its stilted movement, restrained frames, and the school’s oppressive tutelage. Institute Benjamenta is bizarre, but it’s undeniably a fascinating film, even at its most disturbing.

What stands out

The way the Brothers Quay establishes a creepy, mysterious vibe all throughout their images and sound design is something to be studied.

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