Symbol (2009)

A man awakens in a large, empty, white room. There are no doors in the room, no windows and, seemingly, no ceiling. Eventually the man discovers a small protuberance, like a little toggle-switch atop a balloon. Does he touch the object? Should he?

Meanwhile, in a dusty small town in Mexico, a pudgy, masked Luchador prepares for a tag-team wrestling match.

The two narratives seem completely unconnected and, indeed for much of the movie, they are. The two stories inevitably collide into each other but in a completely unexpected and bizarre way. There are absolutely no clues as to how this will happen until it happens and then, strange and wacky as it is, it all makes perfect sense.

Symbol is everything you’d expect in a follow-up to comedian Hitoshi Matsumoto’s debut Big Man Japan: strange; occasionally impenetrable; wise; gut-bustingly funny. Imagine, if you can, the movie that would have resulted had Jacques Tati made 2001: A Space Odyssey and you’ll begin to understand where this film is coming from. It’s an exploration of not only symbology but of the effects our actions have on others, a butterfly effect that affects on a cosmic level. And it’s the most consistently, laugh-out-loud comedy since Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

Writer/director Matsumoto stars as the trapped man, an idiot in colourful jim-jams learning how to connect the dots of a world he has neither the intelligence or guile to understand. With a haircut the Coen brothers would be proud of and a face young enough to express the joys and frustrations of an infant, old enough to know better he is Hulot exploring the house of tomorrow with the problem-solving skills of Stan Laurel.

While the majority of the laughs come from the physical comedy of Matsumoto there are delicious sprinkles of gut-busting humour throughout the rest of the film (there’s a beautiful throwaway gag in a Kiss-style drummer’s makeup; some brilliantly funny small talk between the Luchador and his daughter, a chain-smoking, hard-driving and permanently angry nun).

Fans of Tati or Roy Andersson (A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, Songs From the Second Floor) are going to love Symbol. Fans of Will Ferrell or Jim Carrey are going to be left scratching their heads (unless they’re coming from the direction of Stranger Than Fiction or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). It feels like a film that was made just for me. I love it.

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