Title: Spiritual Exercises

Also known as:
Spiritual Exercises: 10 Films by Olivier Smolders
Exercices Spirituels

Year: 2007

Genre: Collection / Art House / Drama / Experimental

Language: French

Runtime: 180 min

Director: Olivier Smolders

Writer: Olivier Smolders

IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0810564/

"Spiritual Exercises" is a collection of 10 short art house films by Olivier Smolders.

Our thoughts:
This is a DVD that I've never wanted to pick up because the front cover looks more like a cheesy horror than art house, and I'm not too big of a fan of monkey horror to be honest. When I had the chance to get this film sent to me from Cult Epics, I thought I might as well do it now since I wouldn't have to wonder about the film anymore.

The DVD collection kicks off with one hell of a sadistic film; "Adoration". It's basicly a handheld-camera-film, except it's only handheld a few times, and apparently based on true events. It starts off with an asian guy in front of the camera, and he then goes to let a woman in. They sit together on the floor as he lets her read a poem out loud from a book and into a microphone (this is the only sound we hear except for the reel in the camera). After some reading, the asian man goes away for a short while and returns with a gun that he uses to kill the woman by a shot in the back. We now follow the man as he undresses the dead woman. He takes the record player and starts playing what the woman recorded earlier before he slowly starts to eat her. In the final shot of the movie he holds the camera in something our generation would call a "myspace-angle" and cuts himself in the stomach with a knife. The camera falls to the ground. This film is only 15 minutes long but it's a fantastic film that I would love to have a longer runtime, but truth be told, the film is more effective this way. It's done very gentle and artistic, yet it's very simple with the camera mostly just standing in a corner of the room observing the man and the woman. The movie shows little to no emotion at all and is merely just showing us the events. If this film in fact is based on true events I don't know but it's a tale that's odd enough to be reality.

Second film on the DVD is "Mort a Vignole" ("Death at Vignole"). This piece of film takes a completely different route than "Adoration". It's not a brutal cannibalism story at all. It's a clip show of footage out of real life and a narrator talking about life and death. Some of the footage mixed with his narration makes this a very interesting realism film but not something I feel I wanna over-review since I think it's a film that should only be viewed by those who like to engage their mind in discussions about death and tragedy. Personally I often think of it, and I'm scared of the fact that death is coming, but I don't have a deeper thought about it.

"L'Amateurs" ("The Amateur") is a short story of an artist who's exploring the female mind and body in all ages and forms, through his art. Interesting and unique, at times erotic.

In a very poetic way, the forth short film "Neuvaine" ("Novena") tells a story about a young student that's sent to an institute and about a writer who goes there voluntairly to work on his latest book. But it goes beyond just telling the story, as usual in Olivier Smolders' work. It's more like a violent and bleak poem put on film.

"Ravissements" ("Rapture") is next in line. To the imagery of different women with blank stares looking towards the camera, a lady narrates about her love for God and how she became a believer and why, apparently taken from things written by Saint Theresa of Avila. Olivier's way to quietly film women as they stand emotionless is shown in yet another film, and when you've seen enough of his work, this becomes alot more alive than it sounds.

"Pensees et visions d'une tete coupee" translates "Thoughts and Visions of a Severed Head" and is basicly a tribute to a deceased artist, Antoine Wiertz, who's paintings showed surrealistic and haunting torments and different levels of terror. The paintings we're shown are truely powerful, and not to mention LARGE. Although many scenes takes place in the museum where his work hangs (the museum is now one of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, apparently) there's also have a few scenes that takes us away from the documentary feel that the film has. I don't know exactly why all the people in the museum were midgets, so that part was a bit weird to me. Definitely worth a watch to see some of his macabre work. Besides that, it's actually not too bad of a cultural documentary-ish short that even someone like me who doesn't really care about history or paintings can enjoy, and above that, appreciate.

"La philosophie dans le boudoir" ("Philosophy in the Boudoir") opens up with the same scenes as "Ravissements"; women in a room that are looking at the camera. Although with a different narration. The narration in this one, instead of being something written by Saint Theresa of Avila, is something by Marquis de Sade. Just like him, a known weirdo who's name actually is the source of the word "sadism", the narration is pretty bizarre. Anyone who knows of the novel "The 120 Days of Sodom" knows what I'm talking about, since he also wrote that. As we look at different men and women, the narration becomes more and more extreme and perverse.

"Point de fuite" ("Vanishing Point") is the first and only short out of these that could be considered somewhat comedic, and also one of few that's in color. This is actually very refreshing even though I'm a fan of black and white. It's about a teacher who walks into her classroom only to find the entire class standing up naked. She tells them to sit down and everything continues like usual, except that the class is naked. When the teacher asks the class a question, no one responds or reacts, except for one guy who walks upp to the board and writes "Faites comme nous", which translates "Do like us". The teacher hesitates for a while before getting undressed. When the teacher continues to teach them, it becomes more and more clear that it was all a joke on the teacher.

"L'Art d'aimer" ("The Art of Loving") is about a man's past and all the confusion that comes with it. As usual in shorts on this DVD, all the actual story-telling comes from narration.

"Seuls" ("Alone") is the final short and also the one that starts out the most interesting. With children screaming like mental patients, a very disturbing vibe is set. Through this film we see children express different sorts of mental illnesses and anguish, all filmed in very gritty black and white. Definitely one of the more interesting films on this disc in my opinion. This one also stood out because it has no narration at all and it lets the insanity of the children to the talking.

This was a very different thing for me to review, not because it's a short film collection, 'cause I've already done that with all three Cinéma Abattoir DVDs and the Usama Alshaibi DVD "Solar Anus Cinema". But this one was hard because it's not my usual type of films to review. Yes, it's art house and pretty messed up, but in a much more calm way than anything I think I've reviewed up until now. The films in this collection are without a doubt art no matter how you try to spin it, and much more so than just artistic films. These often revolve around art or artists, or are straight out tributes. They're often just narration put on top of scenes where nothing much is happening, so it becomes very important to listen (or read the subtitles in this case for me) to get any sort of reaction. Since I'm more a fan of the extremer kind of surrealism and experimental films, this isn't exactly my type of films so it's hard to be too harsch and also to give it too much love. I did find alot of it boring, but at other times I found myself amazed. It's not something I will be recommending to everyone I meet, but if you enjoy art shows and such, this is a perfect film for you because it's pretty much like stepping into an art showing.

My favorite film on this was "Adoration" since it was a pretty extreme film, especially compared to the others. It was more graphic and the way it was done made it very good. I also enjoyed "L'Amateurs" and "Point de fuite" over the rest.

Positive things:
- These are the absolute definition of art films.
- "Adoration" was brilliant. Some nudity, some gore, and just calm like hell. Wonderful short.
- As soon as I understood what kind of films Olivier Smolders did, that it was alot about the narration and art, it became better.
- The booklet that came with the DVD was better than any bonus material that was on the disc. It has an interview with Olivier Smolders that I read before watching the movie, and he is a very interesting man.
Negative things:
- It's not my type of films at all.
- Some shorts became a bit boring.
- Olivier Smolders seems to like pigs and pig slaughter. I think I saw it about 3 or 4 times on this DVD.

Gore: 1/5
Nudity: 3.5/5
Story: 2/5
Effects: 1/5
Comedy: 0.5/5

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