INSTITUTE BENJAMENTA; OR THIS DREAM PEOPLE CALL HUMAN LIFE
Institute Benjamenta takes place in a fantasy landscape that is a self-contained almost-familiar world, not unlike the creations of writers like James Branch Cabell and Mervyn Peake. Like all the Quay Brothers films, the decor is the star and the film is exquisitely designed a world of cavernous corridors, rooms that have ridiculously low ceilings yet domed skylights. Luminous flows of light play like molten gold. Much 19th Century Teutonic architecture has been replicated, even down to exquisitely scripted copperplates in German. In the midst of this, we see people caught in endless and lifeless repetition without communication. There is a love story that tries to ignite but this is drowned by the very weight of the lifeless past that is being repeated. Promising stuff there is something of Mervyn Peakes fabulous Gormenghast trilogy, which was badly filmed as Gormenghast (2000), here.
However, Institute Benjamenta is also dull to the point of inertia. It is like a fly caught in amber you can see each exquisite detail in every respect but it is without any sign of life. The film comes with a driving sense of mystery of Jakobs desire to discover the mysteries in the depths of the Institute (this being the nearest the film comes to developing a plot). When revealed, the mystery of the Institute proves to be an empty room containing a bizarrely-designed fishtank. In other words, a joke on itself and its audience but by about then one has ceased to care.
The Brothers Quay subsequently went onto make a further feature film with the equally surrealistic The PianoTuner of EarthQuakes (2005). They have also made a further 25 short films since 1979.
(Nominee for Best Cinematography at this sites Best of 1995 Awards).