14 Dec 2017

Thelma (Joachim Trier, 2017)

☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼
Not eerie enough to be labeled as horror, too cold and distancing to work as (romantic) drama, a bit murky in both direction and screenplay departments and pretty heavy-handed when it comes to symbolism and amalgamation of all the influences, Thelma still has a few merits: the well-rounded performances, austerely beautiful cinematography and hauntingly atmospheric score which altogether raise it slightly above the mediocre attempts at highly stylized reinvention of the genre (not to mention that the promo-poster is superior to the film itself).

12 Dec 2017

La Bouche (Camilo Restrepo, 2017)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼
Looking like a lost artifact from the 70s, La Bouche is the cinematic epitome of exoticism - produced in France, helmed by a Colombian-born director (with a unique voice) and starring Guinean percussion master Mohamed 'Red Devil' Bangoura and the members of his band, it plays out like a peculiar, vigorous, somewhat mystical and formally daring musical drama that utilizes tribal-like songs to portray the deteriorating mental state of a man grieving for his murdered daughter and burning with desire for revenge.

This short film which forms a 'postcolonial diptych' with Restrepo's previous work Cilaos is currently available at MUBI.

10 Dec 2017

Tam Cam: The Untold Story (Veronica Ngo, 2016)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

For her sophomore directorial effort, actress Veronica Ngo adapts The Story of Tam and Cam which is a Vietnamese version of Cinderella... until you realize there's more to it after the slipper fits and our heroine marries the king (demoted to prince-regent in the film). The poor girl is sent to death and reincarnated several times until she is back to being her old self (well, sort of) to exact a grisly revenge that involves boiling water and cannibalism on her wicked step-family.

Staying as true as possible to the original tale and simultaneously toning down its grimness, Ngo weaves in some politics, martial arts and large-scale battles into the narrative and spices up the proceedings with the scheming Magistrate who's actually a demon in disguise. Oh, and she buffs the prince's role and gives him a few sidekicks in order to promote the members of the V-pop boyband 365 she produced at the time (they went on hiatus shortly after Tam Cam was released, notwithstanding its success at home).

All of her commercial-wise slyness is matched by pretty solid helming skills and a keen sense of camp - she successfully juggles a number of subplots and tonal shifts, while portraying the vain femme fatale of a step-mother, Di Ghe, with unrestrained flamboyance. Sovereign as the antagonistic hussy, she finds her male counterpart in Huu Chau whose stylized eyebrows and evil laughter suggest that we're in the domain of fairy tale archetypes, so almost nothing should be taken too seriously. The rest of the cast also does a pretty good job, especially Ha Vi Pham debuting as the virtuous Tam and 365 singer Isaac as the prince Thai Tu who faces the loss of his beloved as well as the threat of war with the neighbouring kingdom.

However, Tam Cam's strongest assets are its sumptuous visuals - the picturesque sets, the breathtaking vistas and the exuberant costumes - that make it fall somewhere between a Disney-esque fantasy, Yimou Zhang's spectacle and Mika Ninagawa's brightly colored drama. Even the CGI flourishes that look a bit cheesy or rather, video-game-y during the decisive battle between the Magistrate's true form and Thai Tu's inner beast keep your eyes wide open. Besides, the film's budget is about ninety times lower than that of Brannagh's 'reinvention' of Cinderella, yet it still looks amazing and provides more fun.

8 Dec 2017

ArteKino Bits (The Last Family / Colo)

The Last Family (Jan P. Matuszyński, 2016)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

This Mortal Coil's Song to the Siren triggers an avalanche of emotions after two hours of a compelling, if slightly and occasionally tedious drama sprinkled with tiny and most welcome bits of keen, quirky as well as black humor in Jan P. Matuszynski's first, yet assured foray into narrative film - a moody, poignant, gray-dominated biopic of the Polish maestro of dystopian surrealism Zdzisław Beksiński.

Based on Robert Bolesto's screenplay (his best work so far), The Last Family (Ostatnia rodzina) boasts grungy, stringent cinematography and extraordinary performances by Andrzej Seweryn, Aleksandra Konieczna and Dawid Ogrodnik whose Zdzisław, Zofia and Tomasz Beksiński, respectively, are often seen in tightly confined spaces generating the powerful atmosphere of death and claustrophobia.

Colo (Teresa Villaverde, 2017)

☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

Cracking under the pressure of real life - 'the shittiest thing ever', as one of the side characters describes it - is served as the (bitter) main course in Teresa Villaverde's relentlessly bleak and a 'tad' overlong drama of a dysfunctional family (barely holding on thanks to materfamilias) and disenchanted youth (swimming in the sea of suicidal thoughts) amidst economic depression, portrayed in austerely beautiful compositions that reflect loneliness and hopelessness of the lost characters.

The feeling of detachment pervades the mundane, yet somewhat odd story in which the most relatable character is an adolescent girl, Marta (Alice Albergaria Borges in her calling-card debut), whose love for her tiny pet bird provides some of Colo's most touching moments.

Both films can be seen at ArteKino official page,
until December the 17th (Europe only).

7 Dec 2017

The Taste of a Jubilee

My 30th list for Taste of Cinema includes ten recent lesser-known films that you might want to track down and check out. And yes, I do know that 2000 is the last year to the 20th century, but the editors probably decided to change the title because most of the entries do belong to the current century.

A snapshot from Polina (Valérie Müller & Angelin Preljocaj, 2016)

6 Dec 2017

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Yorghos Lanthimos, 2017)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

Five reasons why you should watch The Killing of a Sacred Deer and ignore Mother! (yeah, it's like comparing a refreshing, orange-flavored gelato to a disgusting rotten apple, but I just couldn't help mentioning and being negative towards that pseudo-whatever offering by the hack and former Satoshi Kon-impersonator Darren Aronofsky):

1. Barry Keoghan - The entire cast performs admirably, but this 'kid' stands out as the most brilliant actor of them all - he nails his bravura turn with the subtle micro-expressions, soul-piercing looks and amazing self-control, deep-diving into the role of a teenage boy whose presence gradually turns sinister. Each of his appearances is a scene-stealer.

2. Dark (tragi)comedy - Once again, Lanthimos succeeds in imbuing his work with the right balance of dry (or rather wry) wit, utter absurdity, sophisticated audacity and pitch-black, deadpan, sardonic humor that simultaneously makes you laugh (or chuckle, at least) and feel extremely uneasy, regardless of how comfortable your seat is.

3. Precise direction - Kubrick's spirit had been restless during the shooting of this intense, bizarre and  stone-cold psychological thriller, possessing its (methodical) director and guiding him along the way. And when the influence threats to become overwhelming, you get splashed by the awkwardness of the Greek weird wave, and it all happens in regular, hypnotic, expectation-subverting rhythm.

4. Imposing visuals - The starkly beautiful wide-frame cinematography by Thimios Bakatakis (whom Lanthimos entrusts with handling the photography for the third time and for a very good reason) perfectly captures the twisted, ironically mythologized reality of a contemporary bourgeoisie. Their clinically clean world is a slightly distorted reflection of our own, exposing all of its irrationalities with brutal honesty.

5. The soundtrack - Haunting, spine-tingling, eargasmic...

5 Dec 2017

The Rub (Péter Lichter & Bori Máté, 2018)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

By courtesy of the Hungarian filmmaker Péter Lichter (Frozen May), I present to you his sophomore feature co-directed by Bori Máté and earmarked for a 2018 release. A glimpse into the future which sort of clings to the past...

Described as 'a psychedelic retelling' of what is usually considered to be Shakespeare's greatest play, The Rub unfolds 'within the mind of the protagonist'. However, in spite of the fact, a quote from Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers is the last thing you'd expect to see in the opening epigraph (the same goes for Stalone and Schwarzenegger).

Or maybe it isn't? It has been approximately two decades since I read Hamlet, so I can't say for sure whether the 'Bard of Avon' is turning in his grave or his spirit applauds or does whatever the spirits do as a sign of approval. But, what I can say is that I don't recall a bolder and more revolutionary rendition of the well-known tragedy.

Minimalist in terms of the cast, considering it stars only Szabolcs Hajdu as the voice of the royal Dane, The Rub compensates the lack of characters in the traditional sense of the word with its experimental visuals. It utilizes hand painted celluloid strips of various films, from The Tales of Hoffman to Terminator 3 to Melancholia, which erode and decompose before your eyes, establishing simultaneously trippy and contemplative atmosphere.

Technique-wise, it is a natural progression from Lichter's short films, such as Look Inside the Ghost Machine (2012), No Signal Detected (2013) or Pure Virtual Function (2015). And it looks absolutely fantastic or rather phantasmic, with its erratic, aggressive textures pulsating to hypnotizing effect, complemented by the brooding low-key monologues and miasmic soundscapes (kudos to Ádám Márton Horváth).

The intrusion of a few lo-fi (VHS?) sequences shot in an empty movie theater and its projection booth add a hint of nostalgia to the 'abstract proceedings' that seem to capture the echoes from the other side. The theme of transience is the main course or everything is just a dissolving dream which is but a shadow.

1 Dec 2017

The Other Side of the Underneath (Jane Arden, 1972)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼
"Strength, little girl, is madness. And madness is the persistent belief in one's own hatefulness."
If Inland Empire is "about a woman in trouble", according to David Lynch himself, then The Other Side of the Underneath could be labeled as a film about a woman in very, very deep shit, pardon my French. An uncompromising exploration of schizophrenia and the numerous other psychological disorders, as well as an edgy statement against the values of patriarchal norms, Jane Arden's directorial debut is indisputably one of the most unsettling pieces of underground cinema ever created.
Imbued with raw emotions which are rarely emerging from the positive spectrum, it introduces the concept of filmmaking as a group therapy, with the members of the director's feminist troupe Holocaust starring (reportedly on LSD) as mental asylum inmates. The therapist role is reserved for Arden herself who goes as far as to bring her "patients" on the verge of tears, as well as force them to externalize their innermost feelings and darkest traumas. Taking the stance of a radical anarchist, she eschews the story in favor of the boundary-pushing performances (the one by Sheila Allen as Meg the Peg being the most memorable), ear-piercing cello improvisations and grainy, gritty imagery of frequently iconoclastic beauty to pull us down the spiral of madness.

Her savage and to a certain extent exploitative, yet extremely personal experiment is like a missing link between Tom White's Who's Crazy and Frans Zvartjes's Pentimento; a spiritual predecessor to Švankmajer's Lunacy, with a dash of Jodorowsky and Russell thrown in. It blurs the boundaries between an unforgiving reality and an absurd, surreal fiction informed by Jungian symbolism, which is further emphasized with the almost Fellini-esque sequence of a "jolly picnic" shot on the hills of South Wales, with a group of tinkers, gypsies and mentally handicapped people from the area. Bold, dirty, rough and intense, The Other Side of the Underneath is not an easy watch, but then again which portrait of a distressed mind is?

21 Nov 2017

Antiporno (Sion Sono, 2016)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

When Nikkatsu studio (the very same one that once orchestrated the expulsion of the recently deceased maestro Seijun Suzuki) asked Sion Sono to contribute to their revived Roman Porno series, it must have slipped their minds he is considered the norm-breaking enfant terrible of the Japanese cinema. Or maybe it didn't? Maybe they got what they deserved... pardon, wished for?

The rules of the abovementioned sub-genre dictate less than eighty minutes of length and a softcore sex scene every ten minutes. Indeed, Antiporno does not exceed the canonic time-frame (which makes it Sono's shortest feature to date) and there are sex scenes now and then, but they are conceived as anti-voyeuristic rather than titillating acts solely to serve the author's deconstructive agenda (think Ming-liang Tsai's The Wayward Cloud).

Speaking of deconstruction, what initially appears to be pretty close to a filmed stage play (and what a gorgeous one at that!) soon turns out to be (a mild spoiler ahead!) a film within a film within a heroine's mind or something along these lines. As the story (of a woman's emancipation, sexual awareness and repression, as well as position in Japanese movie industry and society) progresses, the viewer falls deeper and deeper through the rabbit hole of an incessantly altering reality.

The first time we meet our protagonist, Kyōko (Ami Tomite, who has lately become Sono's regular star), she lies on her bed, almost naked, as if she has just awaken after a wild night of sweaty fun. Pulling her panties up, she lazily gets up, as her chic minimalist pop-art apartment screams in primary colors (mostly yellow). Her morning routine involves peeing and talking to herself in a broken mirror, some prancing around in a fluttering tulle dress and conversing to her (imaginary?) sister about butterflies and a lizard trapped in a bottle which are clear metaphors for her virgin-whore 'condition'.

Following the arrival of her assistant, Noriko (the outstanding Mariko Tsutsui of Harmonium fame), is the no-holds-barred portrayal of their sadomasochistic relationship and Kyoko's spiraling into madness which requires both actresses baring their all, not only physical, but emotional as well. With their commitment unwavering and the eccentric, over-the-top performances by supporting (mostly female) cast, Sono delivers the most feminist work of his career which is a great accomplishment for someone who has been frequently accused of misogyny.

And make no mistake - his inner fighter for women's rights doesn't shy away from using any tool and strategy to make her point, and not to mention she couldn't care less if you call her a cruel bitch. On top of that, he has a lot to say about art in general, whether his peers and the potential audience will like it or not, and he pulls you into a relentless, somewhat absurd and highly critical game of guessing and shame. All the while, you are treated to the astonishing imagery ranging from dreamy to lucid, but always uncomfortably sensual (kudos to Takeshi Matsuzuka for the superb art direction), with the cathartic (or rather, hysterical) finale redefining the term 'eye-candy'.

16 Nov 2017

The Night I Dance With Death (Vincent Gibaud, 2017)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼
The 80s psychedelia meets Masaaki Yuasa at his most experimental (has it ever been the other way around?) in Vincent Gibaud's crowdfunded short animated film which happens to be his first post-graduation work. The Night I Dance With Death (originally, La Nuit Je Danse avec la Mort) is built around the experience, rather than the story of our protagonist - a dispirited young man, Jack, who does not hesitate too long before trying a glowing hallucinogenic substance at a party.

Initially visceral and seemingly pleasurable, Jack's trip suddenly takes a disturbingly dark turn of growing anxieties, only to transform into an electrifying wet dream (akin to Jérémy Clapin's music video for DyE's Fantasy) during the final act. Opening to 'a new field of perception and feeling', he embarks on a mind-blowing adventure which transforms his disillusionment into an orgasmic catharsis.

Gibaud couldn't have chosen a better medium to bring his extravagant vision to pulsating life. Drug-fuelled inner mechanisms are represented in grainy and constantly fidgeting kaleidoscopic imagery of neon lights, vibrant colors and abstract transitions. At times extremely violent (as in head exploding and body distorting), his restless, hyper-stylized visuals provide plenty of altered states eye-candy accompanied by throbbing electronica inspired by the retro new wave music of Perturbator and Carpenter Brut. This powerful, highly memorable fantasy which plunges us into the uncharted dimension of human subconscious is available on the author's official Vimeo channel, HERE.

14 Nov 2017

Više od stvarnosti

"Film je danas za nas isto što i poezija. Da bismo imali istinsku sponu sa tim, mi moramo ići u koliziju sa razumom. Razum je uvek, ma koliko bio razložan, prilično indiferentan. On je hladan, a ovde se radi o toplim stvarima." (Đorđe Kadijević)
Niška promocija knjige Više od istine: Kadijević o Kadijeviću koja je nastala u saradnji pisca, filmskog i književnog kritičara, prevodioca i esejiste Dejana Ognjanovića i Đorđa Kadijevića, istoričara umetnosti, likovnog kritičara, reditelja, scenariste i odnedavno književnika, spada u domen nadrealnih kulturnih događaja, ma koliko to pretenciozno i/ili čudno zvučalo. Održana juče, 13. XI 2017, pred manje od dvadeset ljudi, na mene je ostavila toliko snažan utisak, da sam delo zavoleo i pre nego što sam zavirio u tekst između korica. (A kada sam zavirio, otkrio sam i zabeležio obilje vrednih citata već na prvih pedeset strana!)

Kadijevićevi opširni odgovori, protkani smislenim digresijama, izneseni su sa takvom sugestivnošću, da je čitavo veče (prikladno) delovalo kao filmsko, sasvim nalik na gledanje kakvog autobiografskog dokumentarca u "realnom vremenu", sa primesama pravog horora, suptilne komedije i dirljive drame. Pri opisivanju jedne halucinogene, nažalost nesnimljene scene za seriju Vuk Karadžić, osetio sam istinsku jezu; iskreno sam se osmehivao duhovitim opaskama, a malo je falilo da pustim suzu na priču o usamljenosti i tragičnim gubicima. Bio je to emotivni rolerkoster na šinama od čiste poezije koju "u hodu" stvara jedan erudita, ali nadasve veliki čovek iza koga su decenije znanja i iskustva. Nema tih reči koje bi precizno oslikale moju opčinjenost i onaj lucidan san...

9 Nov 2017

The Limehouse Golem (Juan Carlos Medina, 2016)

☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼
Karl Marx, as well as two other historical figures (Dan Leno and George Gissing) are murder suspects in Juan Carlos Medina's highly watchable, if 'slightly' predictable, sophomore offering - a Victorian whodunit thriller based on Peter Ackroyd's 1994 novel and starring the veteran Bill Nighy as the inspector John Kildare in charge of the titular case, featuring theatrical performances from the up-and-coming cast (including Olivia Cooke and Douglas Booth) and boasting great production values, with 'Bava-esque' lighting of certain scenes, the befittingly ominous score by Johan Söderqvist (of Let the Right One In fame) and the eye-pleasing cinematography being the most commendable aspects.

5 Nov 2017

#Beings (Andrei Stefanescu, 2015)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

Philippe Grandrieux meets Šarūnas Bartas under a leaden sky in Andrei Stefanescu's sophomore feature - a lyrical, genre-defying meditation on love, guilt, distress, solitude, friendship, madness and the irreversible loss of oneself during the unstoppable decent into nothingness.

A spiritual sequel to an off-kilter, nihilistic, (anti)romantic 'drama' Sleep Awake (Dormi Trezeste-te), #Beings is a highly unconventional piece of (no-budget) cinema; an almost wordless, unapologetically gloomy poem which plunges you into the innermost depths of human soul.

It focuses on three young people who seem to have been stripped of their very essence and turned into somnambulists, completely unaware of the unforgiving reality. Teo (Catalin Jugravu) is a photographer who is so enamored with his job, he barely notices his girlfriend Eva (Doro Höhn) and their mutual friend Ana (Andrea Christina Furrer). They look for affection, yet they ostracize each other in times of need, isolating themselves in the suffocating cocoons of despair.

Although we know nothing about them, their pain is almost tangible, materialized in the air surrounding both them and us, the viewers. It is hardly a pleasant experience, but it is deeply felt, especially if you are prone to fits of melancholy. And the moody atmosphere - supported by ominous humming and occasionally bordering psychological horror - is so thick you can taste its bitterness.

In order to capture the protagonists' tortured mental and emotional states reflected on their faces - in subtle microexpressions and/or eyes gazing into foggy distance - Stefanescu mostly employs close-ups and mid-shots to great effect. His portraiture is simultaneously intimate and cold, his film immersive and alienating, set in the world of eternal grays.

There is not even a glimmer of hope on the horizon, which is aptly emphasized by the poignant, disturbingly calm finale playing out against the backdrop of sunset over Teufelsberg...

3 Nov 2017

Yesterday I Was Wonder (Gabriel Mariño, 2017)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

Filmed in awe-inspiring B&W, with virtually every shot worthy of being framed and hanged in a gallery, Yesterday I Was Wonder (Ayer Maravilla Fui) initially appears as a depressing meditation on old age, only to turn into a melancholia-fueled lesbian love story after an aged man with a bad case of Parkinson's, Emilio (Rubén Cristiany), wakes up as a young and pretty healthy woman, Ana (Sonia Franco).

Both Emilio and Ana gravitate towards a hair salon in which a beautiful, sad-eyed hairdresser, Luisa (Siouzana Melikian), earns her crust. Their loneliness is the main course here and it is served in an intimate and hypnotizing atmosphere of profound silence occasionally pierced by the second movement of Schubert's Piano Sonata in A Minor, D. 959. When Ana turns into Pedro (Hoze Meléndez), the sense of isolation becomes heightened and we realize that the side dish comes along with many questions regarding human essence and emotional involvement.

Who or what 'invades' the bodies of Mexico City denizens, earning the film a place in the pantheon of arthouse sci-fi, remains a puzzle, though he/she/it doesn't seem to be malevolent, considering that its physical inconstancy does not affect his/her/its feelings. This mysterious entity means no harm, but some harm is done nonetheless or maybe, it's the other side (Luisa) who is to blame for not recognizing the soul, looking for the face instead.

Not bothering with explaining the uncontrollable transmigration of his protagonist, Gabriel Mariño creates a sincere, contemplative chamber drama with great tranquilizing powers stemming from its deliberate pace, mostly static takes and the sparseness of dialogue. Supporting his efforts is the considerable chemistry between the actors, simmering beneath the sleepy surface of their characters' insipid existence.
Yesterday I Was Wonder could be described as Momir Milošević's Open Wound meets Sion Sono's The Whispering Star meets Philip Kaufman's The Invasion of the Body Snatchers with horror replaced by elegiac poetry. It is available for FREE viewing on Festival Scope, as a part of the Morelia IFF selection, until the 9th of November.

1 Nov 2017

Three Crowns of the Sailor (Raúl Ruiz, 1983)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

"If all the jerks spread their wings, we’d never see the Sun."

Under the purple skies, an infinite number of doorways (do not) exist and each entrance leads into a labyrinth which has no end, myriad of cul-de-sacs and unattainable possibilities forged in a bottomless dream. Once you find yourself inside of it, your only companion is N (as in Nihil) who is not to be trusted even though everything he says seems to be truer than truth. Hear him whisper poisonous secrets into your ear, as the river of Styx turns into a vast sea.

His stories always begin, but they never reach their epilogues and why should they? His characters are phantoms, because he is a phantom as well; a butterfly that has been trapped in the chrysalis state forever, alone in its pain, in life that's nothing but an absurd wound. But still, let him guide you further and further, let him show you the old, fading portraits of a nameless mariner sailing with the (un)dead; the double-tongued Blindman and a virgin courtesan, Maria; an immortal child of Singapore and two brothers from Tangier; a beautiful, yet mean exotic dancer, Mathilda, and the black doctor who knows Bible by heart.

Forget the past, the present and the future, as they merge into One that simultaneously was (not), is (not) and will (not) be inscribed in the absence of time buried in deep waters. Abandon the language of reality and embrace the cryptic symbols of a sublime, transcendental fantasy in which there is a place that is both no place and all places - a whole new Universe worth exploring and getting yourself lost in.

Tell your inner philosopher to keep silent and behold his/her glorious, wordless tirade transforming into La Poesía, singular and rebelliously surreal. Only three Danish crowns to repel the shadows, but be careful - Enigma must not die...

27 Oct 2017

Lastman (Jérémie Périn, 2016)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

Lastman is the prequel to the comic book series of the same name co-authored by Bastien Vivès, Michaël Sanlaville and Yves Bigerel aka Balak, the last of whom is also credited as one of the screenwriters. According to its creators, it is the result of attempting the impossible - daring to make an adult animated TV show despite the unfavorable situation at home. Thanks to a successful crowdfunding campaign (with more than 3000 backers), the impossible is made possible and now we have this ultimate smorgasbord of ideas and genres to enjoy and admire.

The story is set in a fictional city of Paxtown brimming with dangers. Getting into trouble more often than anyone else is Richard Aldana - a cheeky, stubborn, impulsive, hotheaded and incredibly gifted bruiser with a heart of gold who would rather idle than put on a satin outfit to compete in the UFC-esque Fist Fight Funeral Cup. When his best friend and owner of a boxing club, Dave McKenzie, gets murdered, status quo begins to crack and all of the sudden, mobsters' threat seems like 'a walk in the park' compared to the mysterious 'Order of the Lion'. These guys mean serious paranormal business and they're after Dave's adopted daughter Siri whose nightmares indicate that she is an integral part of the narrative. With a possible apocalypse at hand, Richard reluctantly accepts the role of Siri's protector and they are both plunged into an adventure that will challenge their perception of reality...

Pulling you in instantly, Lastman puts a firm grip on you and keeps it all the way to the last episode, and throws 'everything but the kitchen sink' at you without ever feeling overstuffed or unfocused. It proudly wears all of its influences on its sleeve, including action, horror and blaxploitation movies, mixed mythology, bandes dessinées, dark fantasy anime and fighting video games (speaking of which, there is a 3D arena brawler inspired by the same source material, developed and published by Piranaking) and yet, it is its own animal, wild-spirited and pretty peculiar. Initially puzzling and 'retrograde' in its nostalgic approach, it gradually reveals the answers regarding the abovementioned order, Siri and the so-called Valley of Kings (briefly introduced in the prologue), while lacing the dynamic proceedings with tongue-in-cheek humor and half-serious social commentary to great effect. Add to that a good deal of twists, homages and references and you're in for loads of fun.

But the amusement doesn't end there, as Lastman comes with involving or, at worst, slightly intriguing characters - a motley crew of neatly developed, if a bit archetypal protagonists, bad guys who turn out to be not-so-bad after all (and vice versa), as well as 'disposable', broadly sketched villains whose outlandish powers are linked to their true (and not to mention monstrous) forms. The focus is set on Richard and Siri, so it is no surprise the two of them get the largest portions of screen time, but there are some memorable, scene-stealing side-players, such as the aspiring singer and Aldana's love interest Tomie Katana, the fiery Grace Jones look-alike boxing coach or the obese Godfather-like figure accompanied by a couple of twin gangsters at all times. Regarding the otherworldly creatures dubbed Kinglets, watch for a representative of 'abstract neo-formalist' who holds a terrifying many-headed secret.

And 'watch' is the keyword here, as the most inviting aspect of Lastman is the crisp and clean artwork which remains très cool and 'gritty' all throughout the series, whether it's the noirish urban mise-en-scène or the freaky supernatural menace at display. Jérémie Périn is no stranger to the latter, given that he has already proven his penchant for bizarre or rather, grotesque imagery in the provocative, 'teen erotica meets Lovecraftian dread' music video for DyE's Fantasy. Supported by a stellar team of artists - Baptiste 'Gobi' Gaubert as the character designer and studio Tchak of April and the Extraordinary World fame creating the backgrounds, among the others - he delivers stylish visuals and doesn't shy away from the graphic depiction of violence.

Also commendable is the score by Fred Avril and Philippe Monthaye who go for an '80s rock and synth sound mixed with modern electronica - a befitting choice for a show immersed in pulp sensibilities. Encore, s'il vous plaît!

23 Oct 2017

Subimago (Christophe Leclaire, 2017)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

An old bridge hangs in the midst of the woods. Its rusted, ramshackle construction is repaired by an engineer (Frantz Herman) who lives in a small nearby cabin. The vague images emerging in his recurring dream reveal a body submerged in the river, as well as an enigmatic light. 

One night, he encounters a wounded woman (Cindy Rodrigues) on the bridge and helps her, only to find her gone the next morning. Doubts in what he has been doing so far begin to rise...

Leaving many 'whos', 'whys' and 'whats' unanswered, Christophe Leclaire tells or rather, shows an elliptical, metaphorical story (presumably) of transformation (if its title is any indication) with utmost economy. As methodical as his unnamed hero, he eschews dialogue in favor of the beautifully crafted visuals and hauntingly minimalist score, establishing a contemplative atmosphere so dense you can cut it with a knife.

Driven by the feelings of despair, loneliness, absurdity and existential dread, his promising (and puzzling) feature debut hypnotizes with both its refined aesthetics and measured pace that makes the time seem to stand still. With great meticulousness, Leclaire renders the most banal of actions as utterly enthralling and always finds a new angle to shoot the Sisyphean chores, alleviating their repetitiveness in the process.

In the dimly lit, sepia-toned interior adorned with various notes and blueprints, he creates a claustrophobic realm of deep, almost tangible melancholia that also spreads over the natural and somewhat mystical surroundings of lush greenery. And yet, the bleakness of the engineer's situation comes off as calming, rather than stifling.

Although little to no information is given about this character (for all we know, he could be the embodiment of some abstract concept), we are able to connect with him, at least on a subconscious level. Paired with his ambiguity, the film's spatial and temporal indeterminacy adds another layer of mystery to the whole proceedings which might turn away the viewers who expect explanation(s).

Subimago is available for rent or purchase at Vimeo on Demand

20 Oct 2017

Taste of 30 Cinematic Obscurities

Three of my latest articles for Taste of Cinema focus on the last six decades and include thirty lesser-known feature and short films from all around the world: artist biopics, satirical dramas, sumptuous fantasies, arthouse experiments and more!

Still shot from La ville des pirates (Raúl Ruiz, 1983)

To spice things up, let's stretch the timeline to the last 100 years and add another 20 recommendations that might pique your interest:

1. Rapsodia Satanica (Nino Oxilia, 1917)
3. House of Cards (Joseph Vogel, 1947) (S)
4. Érase una vez (Alexandre Cirici Pellicer, 1950) (A)
5. Wienerinnen (Kurt Steinwendner, 1952)
6. Hakujutsumu (Tetsuji Takechi, 1964)
7. Incubus (Leslie Stevens, 1966)
8. Kureopatora (Osamu Tezuka & Eiichi Yamamoto, 1970) (A)
9. Čudo (Đorđe Kadijević, 1971)
11. A Princesinha das Rosas (Noémia Delgado, 1981)
12. El Sur (Victor Erice, 1983)
13. Macskafogó (Béla Ternovszky, 1986) (A)
14. To athoo soma (Nikos Kornilios, 1997)
15. Le temps retrouvé (Raúl Ruiz, 1999)
16. Titus (Julie Taymour, 1999)
17. Tian bian yi duo yun (Ming-liang Tsai, 2005)
18. El cielo, la tierra, y la lluvia (José Luis Torres Leiva, 2008)
20. Window Horses (Ann Marie Fleming, 2016) (A)

(A) stands for Animated, (S) for Short.

Still shot from Rapsodia Satanica (Nino Oxilia, 1917)