13 Oct 2017

Polina, danser sa vie (Valérie Müller & Angelin Preljocaj, 2016)

(Francuski filmski karavan, 12.10.2017, Niš)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼


Kada pomislite na balet, prvo što vam padne na pamet su verovatno tutu haljine na gracioznim devojkama, Labudovo jezero i Boljšoj teatar. Ukoliko ste filmofil, onda je vrlo moguće da ste upoznati sa imenom Pine Bauš posredstvom Vendersovog dokumentarca iz 2011, a sasvim sigurno ste gledali i psihološku dramu Crni labud Darena Aronofskog. 

Za scenaristkinju i ko-rediteljku Valeri Miler, kao i čuvenog francuskog koreografa Anželina Preljokaža, balet ili, šire posmatrano, (savremeni) ples priziva različite asocijacije.

Debi u tradicionalnoj školi kojom upravlja strogi penzionisani igrač sa burnom sovjetskom prošlošću (Aleksej Guskov kao strah i trepet ruske akademije tancovanja Božinski). Postavljanje pitanja koje učitelj naziva glupim. Skakutanje po parku nadomak nuklarnih reaktora na putu do kuće. Odlazak u lov sa ocem i (imaginarni?) susret sa irvasom. Vođenje ljubavi u garderobi Boljšoj teatra. Traganje za sopstvenim izrazom koje podrazumeva odricanje od karijere primabalerine. Posmatranje sveta koji nas okružuje, od ljudi u zadimljenom noćnom klubu do beskućnika koji se grčevito savija na stanici podzemne železnice...


Stavljajući sebe u poziciju naslovne junakinje (u izvrsnom tumačenju ljupke debitantkinje Anastasije Ševcove iz trupe Marinski), ali neretko i publike, Milerova i Preljokaž ispredaju priču o životu koji se pleše i plesu koji se živi, o strasti koja tinja čak i onda kada izgleda kao da se sasvim ugasila i padovima koji ne vode nužno do uspeha. Njih dvoje razmišljaju kao jedno, u pokretima koji mogu biti kruti ili gipki, iz srca ili iz glave, elegantni ili eksplozivni, naučeni ili improvizovani, a kojima sporadični dijalozi služe tek kao dopuna. Njihova režija je sigurna, čak i onda kada im se potkrade poneki kliše u deglamurizaciji baleta.

Polinu Šanjidze, koja se rodila 2010. u grafičkoj noveli Bastiena Vivesa, portretišu kao devojku na čije sazrevanje i stav utiču mnogi faktori, počev od gruzijsko-sibirskog porekla, preko kontradiktornih saveta, pa sve do težnje za otkrivanjem (nedokučive) osobenosti koja će je učiniti kompletnom. Od ogromnog je značaja i to što kamera Žorža Lešaptoe (Maryland, aka Disorder) obožava Ševcovu, bilo da snima njeno milo lice u krupnom planu ili je iz gornjeg rakursa posmatra na audiciji, mada ne smemo zanemariti ni hemiju koja postoji između nje i ostalih glumaca (Nils Šnajder, Žilijet Binoš) ili kolega naturščika (Žeremi Belangar).

Na putu od Istoka ka Zapadu, Polina se iz devojčice koja misli da ples "dolazi sam po sebi" preobražava u mladu ženu koja ples vidi na svakom koraku, a njen umetnički razvoj se ne završava (upečatljivim) krajem filma koji obeležava moćni, hipnotišući, gotovo nadrealni pas de deux na veštačkom snegu.

11 Oct 2017

Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Velleneuve, 2017)

☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

An ornate, resplendent mask that is this (overlong) film's mind-blowing, yet hardly groundbreaking aural and visual design conceals a thin story populated by uninvolving characters, muddled with underdeveloped subplots and deprived of deeper meanings by virtue of the 'spelling out' approach, as well as oft pretending to be more clever than it is.

Its unnecessarily lackadaisical pace is just another attempt to lull the viewers into thinking that what they are watching is a grand, highly poetic, even 'Tarkovskian' piece of cinema and not a money-grabbing spectacle with a bit more (albeit replicated) soul and intelligence than your run-of-the-mill Hollywood flick.

If it's any consolation, we get numerous (loving) homages reminding us of the original's immeasurable influence, plenty of relentless eye-candy whose sweetness looks sweeter on a big screen and some sort of an apology from Villeneuve, via the opening lines spoken by the puppy-eyed (and not to mention miscast) Ryan Gosling.

So, 'I hope you don't mind me taking a liberty' of being generous with the rating and recommending Michael Almereyda's Marjorie Prime - a quiet, dignified and sophisticated meditation on the relation between humans and technology, since it makes a much better use of sentient holograms and features the compelling performances by Lois Smith, Jon Hamm, Geena Davis and Tim Robbins.

9 Oct 2017

2 x Asian Animated Film (L.O.R.D: Legend of Ravaging Dynasties / In This Corner of the World)

L.O.R.D: Legend of Ravaging Dynasties
(Jingming Guo, 2016)

☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼
 
Set in a magical world replete with the enigmatic High Lords, powerful Dukes (with disciples of their own) and Spirit Beasts, both wild and domesticated, this Chinese-Cambodian co-production tells a convoluted story of power struggle and features strong homoerotic undertones (a precedent in the wuxia cinema of mainland China), alliances forged and broken in a blink of an eye, the gorgeous if a bit video game-esque mo-cap animation, European gothic architecture, dramatic symphonic score and plenty of pretty poster-boy and poster-girl faces owned by way too many characters for a 2-hour long film built on the complex mythology and best described as a cross between Fate/Stay Night anime and Final Fantasy by the way of Zemeckis's Beowulf.
 
 
In This Corner of the World
(Sunao Katabuchi, 2016)
 
☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼
 
Centered around an admirable female protagonist, Suzu (wonderfully voiced by Rena Nōnen aka Non), In This Corner of the World (Kono sekai no katasumi ni) provides us with the off-kilter amalgamation of lighthearted slice-of-life comedy and soul-wrenching war drama told from the perspective of the abovementioned heroine whose talents for drawing and painting are reflected in the warm and gentle, frequently stylized imagery complemented by the evocative score and exquisite performances by the entire cast who make you forget you are watching a 'cartoon', turning you into a tearful emotional wreck in the superior second half of this highly recommendable film.

7 Oct 2017

Dreaming in Exile: The Alchemical Cinema of Daniel Fawcett and Clara Pais

Recently, I've been approached by the talented avant-garde directorial duo Daniel Fawcett and Clara Pais of The Underground Film Studios to write an article on six of their delightful films for a publication titled Microcinema: Artist Moving Image Then and Now (Cambridge Film Trust 2017), expected to be released mid-October. Considering that I've immensely enjoyed their inspiring works, I've gladly accepted their offer and the result of this cooperation is the essay Dreaming in Exile: The Alchemical Cinema of Daniel Fawcett and Clara Pais which you can now find and read online on their official page, HERE.

Five features and one short film included are Savage Witches (2012), Sacrificium Intellectus (2012), Splendor Solis (2015), In Search of the Exile (2016), The Kingdom of Shadows (2016) and The Quest for the Cine-Rebis (2016).

Still shot from The Quest for the Cine-Rebis

6 Oct 2017

The Girl behind the White Picket Fence (Stefanie Schneider, 2013)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

"... she is more interested with what the chance-directed appearances in her photographs portend. Schneider’s works are concerned with the opaque and porous contents of human relations and events, the material means are largely the mechanism to achieving and exposing the "ridiculous sublime" that has come increasingly to dominate the contemporary affect(s) of our world." (from Mark Gisbourne's essay The Personal World of Stefanie Schneider)


Decidedly and oh so delightfully retro, Stefanie Schneider's feature-length debut scores the highest points for its visual uniqueness. In the best tradition of cinematic photo-novels, Chris Marker's La Jetée being the most prominent example, this oneiric "suburban fantasy" (for the lack of a better term) is almost entirely composed of exposed Polaroid photos, with a few Super 8 sequences as some sort of its old-fashioned charm intensifiers.


Providing a "cryptic analysis of love back-dropped by a feeling that our future is hopeless but that it relentlessly continues", it depicts an unusual romantic triangle between the titular girl, Heather (Heather Megan Christie), a local garbage man, Hank (Kyle Larson), and a Lonely Hearts Radio DJ (Steve Marshall). Broken-hearted from a failed first relationship with an unnamed guy (Jeff Leaf), Heather returns to her late parents' travel trailer in a Californian desert, embracing solitary life, with a pet-goat as her only companion.


After finding a radio station that "speaks her language", she makes a few anonymous calls and thus, attracts the attention of Hank and the DJ, both faced with their own demons and/or ghosts from the past. Unable to continue on her own and to decide between the two men competing for her affection, she seeks help from a mysterious shaman portrayed by none other than the living legend Udo Kier.


Infused with surreal quirks, such as the laundry turning into fish (not to mention a zany dream-sequence in the finale), and peppered with slice of life nuggets, Heather's story eschews cheap sentimentality in favor of a melancholic and, to a certain extent, ironic meditation on our Sisyphean chores and pursuit of happiness. Subverting the notion of the American Dream, it seems fragmented and yet, it flows freely like a river of sunlit reveries in which the phantom-like protagonists - all of them wrapped up in their own thoughts - bathe. Their freedom is only illusory - the fence sets not only physical, but also psychological borders for Heather; Hank clings to the memories of his dead wife and is a slave to his daily routines, whereby Radio DJ hides behind his gravely voice and imitation of self-confidence.


The monologues written by the performers themselves and "improv of the first love argument" by Christie and Leaf add a personal note to Schneider's screenplay which is centered around her heroine's foibles, inexperience and uncertainties. However, the film's most fascinating aspect is its quaint aesthetics - a dreamy kaleidoscope of ethereal, feathery pictures brought to life by the low-key voice-overs, as well as the soothing "diegetic sounds" and acoustic, lullaby-esque rock. Bright and often distorted by the chemical mutations, the analogue tableaux vivants pass before your eyes like some light-bearing apparitions and guide you into a hypnotic state. And what makes them so mesmerizing and inspiring are their very imperfections.

Stefanie Scheider's uncompromising approach to achieving her vision really does wonders, so we are left with a remarkable work of exotic beauty. The Girl behind the White Picket Fence is available for rent or purchase at Vimeo on Demand.

Super Dark Times (Kevin Phillips, 2017)

☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

Carried by the outstanding performances from the super young leads and supported by the admirable cinematography (kudos to Eli Born), as well as the unobtrusive, ominously brooding score (Ben Frost), Kevin Phillips's feature-length debut - a fierce, visceral coming of age / loss of innocence nightmare - grabs you from the foreboding, unforgettable prologue (featuring a moribund deer stranded in a school cafeteria) and doesn't let go until the final act in which it looses a great portion of its 'Stand by Me meets Donnie Darko under the dark clouds of guilty conscious' coolness thanks to the unconvincing psychology and some pacing issues.

1 Oct 2017

Three Lives and Only One Death (Raúl Ruiz, 1996)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

NOTE: The first four paragraphs might sound like a spoiler.


In his second to last role, Marcello Mastroianni simply excels at playing a traveling salesman, Mateo Strano, who falls under time-eating fairies' spell for twenty years, occupying an enchanted Parisian apartment that happens to be just across his previous home. In the meantime, his wife Maria (Almodóvar's regular Marisa Paredes) has been remarried to André (Féodor Atkine) whose morning hangover portends his death at Mateo's hands, after their 'chance encounter' and a strange offer.

However, maestro Mastroianni also takes the role of Georges Vickers - a respectable professor who teaches negative anthropology at Sorbonne University until he decides to assume the life of a 'clochard'. That's how he meets a kind-hearted hooker, Tania (Anna Galiena), who is actually a president of a huge corporation driven to prostitution by her perverse, stuttering ex-husband (Jacques Pieiller). Not to mention that Vickers has a frequently peevish, wheelchair-bound mother.

But wait, in the third story that is - like the abovementioned two and the one that follows - narrated by an unnamed radio announcer (Pierre Bellemare) who, almost certainly, stands as a symbol for someone or something, MM is a butler who responds only to a sound of bell (or in French, cloche) and who is actually an eccentric, filthy rich benefactor of an extremely affectionate young couple, Martin (Melvil Poupaud) and Cécile (Chiara Mastroianni).

Now, hold your breath still for yet 'another' protagonist portrayed by Mastroianni Sr. - the industrialist Luc Allamand who learns from his lawyer (Jean-Yves Gautier) that his fictive mother, sister and daughter are arriving in town. Oh, and let's not forget his 38 years younger wife Hélène (Arielle Dombasle) and the fact he may be Strano, Vicker and Butler, though it's hard to imagine him leading so many parallel lives.

So, what we have here is a delightfully schizophrenic puzzle featuring all the witty wordplay, identity shifts, barrages of dialogue, intellectual trickery, surrealistic interweavings and preposterous meta-twists you could wish for, all masterfully packed as an intriguing, light-hearted and immensely amusing prequel to Lynch's Lost Highway. (Seriously, these two complement each other like yin and yang!)

On top of that, Ruiz (who has become one of my favorite directors during September of 2017) pokes some fun at Europeanization, given that all the events are in some way related to Rue Maastricht which alludes to TEU. Identifying it as a spreading disease, he invents a phony psychoanalyst who congratulates Allamand on his vivid imagination and sees his split personality as a sign of success.

Beneath the playfulness of his tight, clever script co-written by Pascal Bonitzer (with whom he'll cooperate once more on Genealogies of a Crime), one can recognize a melancholic tale about the hardships of old age, senility in particular, which adds an emotional resonance to the irational proceedings. As the film progresses, you have an impression that you are following the protagonist down the spiral of madness while simultaneously being lifted to the realm of dreams.

This oneiric quality is supported by the entrancing visuals - Luc Chalon's meticulous, flamboyant set design (including Escher-esque bric-à-brac, as well as the prominent use of mirrors) and Laurent Machuel's stunning cinematography paired with purposely disorienting in-camera effects. Under Ruiz's watchful eye, these illusionists make wonders you are unlikely to see elsewhere... well, that is unless you're seeing some other masterpiece from Ruiz's oeuvre, such as Love Torn in a Dream.

Three Lives and Only One Death (Trois vies et une seule mort) inspires in mysterious ways, warning you that 'extreme happiness is a form of misery and extreme generosity a form of tyranny'.

25 Sep 2017

Alice in Dreamland (Kentaro Hachisuka, 2015)

Mari Shimizu's creepy-looking porcelain dolls and arai tasuku's dreamy electro-score are neatly blended in a Lewis Carroll-inspired anime which gets reviewed for Cultured Vultures. Read the article here, although it won't give you an answer to why a raven is like a writing desk.

22 Sep 2017

Genealogies of a Crime (Raúl Ruiz, 1997)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

Rooted in 'Ruizian' dream logic and rife with deceptive shadows, one-way mirrors, puzzling mind-games and switched identities, Genealogies of a Crime appears as a delirious, Hitchcockian-lite (pseudo) thriller by way of Robbe-Grillet, delivering in spades an elliptical story, eccentric characters, sharp verbal exchanges, twistedly intelligent humor, weird psychoanalytic role-play, elaborately designed sets, mystery-inducing score, outstanding camerawork for a heightened surreality and superb performances, especially from the ever-reliable Catherine Deneuve in a dual role with Freudian subtext, as well as from Melvil Poupaud as an 'innocent killer' not responsible for any of those three funerals...

20 Sep 2017

A Ghost Story (David Lowery, 2017)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

A contender for the most placid film of the year (despite that one burst of posthumous anger), this odd, quirky, steadily directed, thematically poignant and deliberately paced genre-bender might be resting on a Finisterrae-like gimmick, but it rests so well, boasting a simple, yet captivating and universal tale, some great deadpan humor, the hazy, delightfully retro visuals, the suitably melancholic, mood-setting score and the superb, almost dialogue-free performances by the magnetic Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck who conveys various emotions and mental states, even though he spends most of the time hidden behind the plainest of Halloween costumes as the titular Ghost haunted by grief and memories, time-warping accidents and the strangers intruding what was once his home.

19 Sep 2017

Who's Crazy? (Tom White, 1966)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼


Considered lost for five decades, Tom White's first and only feature Who's Crazy? resurfaced in 2015 when it was restored from a 35mm print at Colorlab in Rockville, Maryland. An avant-garde experiment in 'primal ecstasy' (in the words of Richard Brody for The New Yorker), this odd counter culture 'comedy' unleashes a relentless assault on senses that leaves the viewer smiling like a lunatic (no pun intended) at the well-minded stoners' parody of The Seventh Seal's dance of death ending.

Its plot is as simple as it gets. After a bus transporting mental asylum patients breaks down in the middle of Belgian nowhere, the inmates (all played by the members of NY's The Living Theatre troupe) evade their captors and take over a nearby vacant, yet well-supplied farm house, establishing a hippie-like commune. What follows is an incessant series of improvised antics from imitating dog howling and cat yowling to a ritualistic wedding ceremony which ends in a slapstick police raid.

The non-stop partying of unmuzzled crackpots (involving some dress-up sessions, beatnik recitals, omelette preparing, singing and screaming, a quest for water, pseudo-alchemical playing with fire and an impromptu trial to a 'catatonic' spoilsport) feels so liberating that you can almost taste the energy emanating from the screen. Most probably having a whale of a time in the rooms filled with (pot) smoke, the actors give their (un)natural best to pull you in their whacky charade.

Just like the camera of Walerian Borowczyk's frequent DP collaborator Bernard Daillencourt who captures some weirdly absorbing stuff here, the protagonists are almost never still and their frequent motion is set to the elusive rhythms of the stirring, mind-blowing free jazz score composed by Ornette Coleman and performed with gusto by his trio. Besides, if the ingenious Salvador Dalí was fascinated by this mad little film, then who are we to judge it?

And to answer the titular question: everybody involved in making and 'consuming' and avoiding this deliciously deranged piece of alternative, uncompromising, highly enthusiastic cinema is positively crazy, which also includes a woman who provided those operatic monologues.

18 Sep 2017

Bottom of the World (Richard Sears, 2017)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

Based on the script that mostly feels like a sincere, but heavy-handed love letter to Lost Highway (although it contains the bits and pieces of Jacob's Ladder, as well as of all the Lynchian and mind-boggling thrillers you can think of), Bottom of the World is a compellingly flawed (read: not as intelligent as it wants to be) indie mystery featuring some nice cinematography complemented by the moody score and starring Jena Malone at her 'unstable girlfriend turned into femme fatale next door' best and Douglas Smith who gives solid, yet 'still not quite ready for the main role' performance, both of their characters 'trapped' in a guilt-ridden identity/reality split which sees pain as 'beautiful and, in the end, the only thing we deserve'.

15 Sep 2017

Pepperminta (Pipilotti Rist, 2009)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼


Pepperminta the film is quite similar to Pepperminta the character - it's "probably like a carrot, neither too sweet, nor too sour, nor too hot, nor too salty". And it is the debut and, so far, the only feature-length offering by the Swiss visual artist Pipilotti (real name Elisabeth) Rist who is, judging by the infectious optimism and childish idealism which emanate from virtually every frame, almost certainly one of the top five most positive people living today.

So, it comes as no surprise that her titular (alter ego?) heroine sets on a mission to liberate everyone she encounters from fear, encouraging them to grab life by the balls, step out of the comfort zone and swing to the rhythm of all the colors of the rainbow. Whimsical and non-stop in touch with her puckish inner girl (Noemi Leonhard), Pepperminta (gleefully portrayed by the freckled, ginger-haired first-timer Ewelina Guzik) is a smiling, hyperactive, Pippi Longstocking-like young woman who keeps her grandma's soul in some sort of silver, apple-shaped music box, with a ballerina replaced by a rotating plastic eye.

Using "color hypnosis" she learned from her nana, she seduces a chubby mama's boy, Werwen Candrian (Sven Pippig), and a tomboy-ish florist, Edna NeinNeinNein Tulipan (Sabine Timoteo), who both help her spread joy, increase their neo-hippy "army" and paint everyone and everything that can be painted. On their quest, the trio wreaks havoc amongst some uptight professors and customers of an elite restaurant, but also manages to make a priest squeal like a seal for altar servers. They also escape a speeding penalty by virtue of a fancy snail, cellophane magic and white chickens.

From the puddle splashing and fruit squishing introduction and all the way to the excessively happy ending, Pepperminta plays out like a wet kaleidoscopic magic-realist dream bristling with overwhelming energy. Delightfully chaotic and weird as blue spaghetti or as pressing a doorbell with your tongue, it provides plenty of succulent eye-candy, whether through the strawberry-fueled stop-motion or via wildly imaginative set and costume design paired with POV and underwater shots, surreal rear projections or twisted and upside-down camera angles. The eccentric, orgasmic, psychedelic visuals are complemented by the unpredictable score featuring a few musical numbers that help "night and darkness suddenly vanish from our minds".

Rist delivers a carefree adventure, setting her own rules, challenging negative body image and dyeing feminist themes in menstrual blood-red, while overcoming the ickiness of drinking the just mentioned fluid as a part of the healing process. She says that "it's always the right time to be born" and depicts the world (and even death) through rose- and the-rest-of-the-spectrum-colored glasses which may turn off some of the most cynical viewers. On the other hand, those who are in the mood for the total opposite of doom and gloom will get a good dose of exhilaration from her Looney Tunes-esqe protagonists and the wacky proceedings akin to a thrill ride in a yellow dumpster.

12 Sep 2017

Free Fire (Ben Wheatley, 2016)

☼☼☼ of 10☼

Cartoonish in the worst possible sense of the word, Ben Wheatley’s latest opus left me frequently yawning, eye-rolling, time-checking and not caring about who’s who and what’s what, as it provided me with nothing more than a messy, unfunny, mind-numbing, ridiculously boring hour and a half shoot-out and not to mention ‘crawl-out’ between the annoying caricatures of the ‘characters’ (played by a solid ensemble cast, but to no avail), some classy cinematography by Laurie Rose and somewhat interesting 70s setting being rare redeeming factors.

11 Sep 2017

Vanishing Point (Raúl Ruiz, 1984)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼


Vanishing Point (originally, Point de fuite) has to be one of the most absurd dreams ever captured on screen. Described as 'a B-side to his (Raúl Ruiz's) magnum opus City of Pirates' at MUBI where it's currently playing, this experimental 'mystery drama' (for the lack of a better term) revels in bewildering non sequiturs involving an unnamed protagonist portrayed by Steve Baës (who's called by his first name by Ana Marta's enigmatic faux femme fatale).

At the beginning, he arrives on an island by cab (!), his head wrapped in bandages. Later, he says he had an accident at work, but soon after we see him making sketches for the cover of a book that will contain the islanders' stories (or something along these lines). In the meantime, he frequently plays cards with his landlord (Paulo Branco) and has plenty of strange encounters - several with Anne Alvaro's poker-faced secretary-like character who fills him in on the doctor's arrival and tells him about her weird nightmare. There's a couple of siblings living down the street and a murder occurs or is imagined by Steve.

And before you can say 'a boat turned into a pencil turned into a shark, as a sea turned into a Chinese soup, but not a bamboo one', you have been mind-boggled to the point of no return or rather, vanishing point. The preposterous dialogues that at times seem to be improvised and at other times pretty melodramatic sound exactly like utter balderdash one conjures up during REM phase. Complemented by the disorienting score and grainy grays of splendid B&W cinematography, they raise not only eyebrows, but many questions as well.

Who is the actual hero/dreamer of a puzzling story - Baës or Ruiz? Is he the illustrator or someone else illustrates him? What's with all the hate for eggs and chickens and is it the reason to leave the States? Would you accept fish from a stranger - a red herring, perhaps? Why would anyone stick a love letter into a bottle of beer? If your uncle Olaf speaks Italian, does that make him a traitor? In case you don't have uncle Olaf and do have a sister, has she ever asked you to promise her you'll go to hell? Who is a hermit lying on the rocks? Do answers even matter? Does anything at all matter?

As you might have already guessed, Vanishing Point is a tricky illusion and not a movie you can munch popcorn along with, because there's a great chance you end up with salt in your eye...

5 Sep 2017

Residue (Rusty Nixon, 2017)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

An evil, Necronomicon-like journal possessing time-warping and soul-corrupting powers, a down-on-luck private eye with an estranged adult daughter (finely portrayed by James Clayton and Taylor Hickson, respectively) and William B. Davis (better known as X-Files’ Smoking Man) as an enigmatic puppet-master kingpin converge in this neatly crafted, 80-minutes long mixture of comic-book-like neo-noir and light-Lovecraftian B-horror which boasts some black humor, nice practical effects and beautifully lighted scenes in a Twilight Zone-esque story whose beginning is the end is the beginning.

4 Sep 2017

A Silent Scream for L.

Last night, I had this dream. My hair was long and heavy and I was trying to make a bun, all in vain. When I looked into the mirror, my own shadow screamed at me. I also wanted to scream, but I just couldn’t, because my voice was lost in the cloud of despair floating above me.

Someone knocked at the door three times. The first knock was a joke, the second filled me with sadness and the last one echoed. There was no one standing on the other side, I knew that...

After jumping through the window, I fell on the bed covered in blue rose petals. Next to it, there was another me, completely naked, standing and repeating the same inaudible word over and over. His hair was red and short. Suddenly, a blonde woman entered the darkened room and stabbed my doppelgänger right through his navel. They exchanged gentle glances before disappearing in thin air.

Back in the bathroom again, I could swear I felt my own breath on my neck, exhaling loudly...

... and the Sequoia tree was too high to jump over it.

Twin Peaks / Episode 8 (David Lynch, 2017)

1 Sep 2017

Alchemy on the Amstel (Janja Rakuš, 2016)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼
 
"Art is to console those who are broken by life."
Vincent van Gogh

Alchemy on the Amstel I

And that is exactly what Alchemy on the Amstel does - employing the river's natural painting and storytelling talents, it consoles. A work of delicate visual poetry, it is composed of three short films, whereby in the first two chapters, water acts "as a liquid mirror, visual oracle that reflects Parallel Universe of the Amsterdam city" (in the words of the author herself), only to let her limpid dreams, hazy memories and free flowing thoughts do the talking (or rather, showing) in her deeply-felt absence during the final act.

Alchemy on the Amstel II

In the interview for Clara Pais and Daniel Fawcett's fanzine Film Panic, Janja Rakuš calls her fluid muse, protagonist and alchemist "eye of the earth, substantial Monastery that with its prayer improves time's looks and beautifies the future", allowing her to be the guide, the guru. Inspired by the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard's teachings, she goes as far as to deify her, so the water transcends both life and death and intoxicates the viewer with its sublime qualities - spiritual essence and painterly soul, above the others.

Alchemy on the Amstel III

Speaking the universal language of Nature, Amstel also becomes the portal leading to a mythological realm wherein the tangible transforms into the elusive, with the legends woven out of the very reveries. A whole new world of rich textures and simmering lights lies beneath its surface, waiting to be explored. Our reality perishes and über-reality emerges. "The first view that the universe has of itself" appears as an impressionist abstraction, eternal and ethereal...

31 Aug 2017

Atomic Blonde (David Leitch, 2017)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼


I shall start this review by saying that Atomic Blonde is hands down the most fulfilling cinema experience I've had this year so far. Despite the fact that action spy thrillers are not my cup of tea (I don't remember the last time I sit through a James Bond flick), I just couldn't take my eyes off of the screen - the movie is as gorgeous as its star.

In his first solo directorial venture, David Leitch finds a fiery, feisty, ass-kicking muse in Charlize Theron whose magnetic physical presence, disarming charisma, scene-stealing performance and even charmingly fake British accent give the most (if not all) of her 007 colleagues a run for their money. With stately grace and (ostensibly) frigid stoicism, she portrays an MI6 agent, Lorraine Broughton, who will use everything at her disposal, from red high-heels to a rubber hose, in order to defeat the seemingly stronger opponents standing in the way of her mission.

And speaking of mission, she is sent to Berlin during the Cold War and tasked with investigating the murder of a fellow agent (and possibly a lover, as we are informed via dreamy flashbacks), James Gasciogne (Sam Hargrave), and retrieving a compromising list of double agents, in days preceding the Fall of the Wall. Partnered with a rogue-ish station chief, David Percival (James McAvoy, sporting a Sinead O'Connor hairdo, at the top of his game) and tailed by an enigmatic woman (Sofia Boutella's seductive Delphine Lasalle), as well as by the savage Eastern Bloc spies, she navigates through a risky, dangerous game of politics and intrigue including a healthy dose of double-crossing and back-stabbing.


A simple, yet a bit convoluted story - adopted by Kurt Johnstad of 300 fame from Antony Johnston and Sam Hart's graphic novel The Coldest City - is the film's least hard-hitting aspect and plays out as a campy version of any given Bond or Bourne scenario. However, Leitch helms with such verve, energy, lightness and confidence that the film remains incessantly engaging and exciting, whether it's vintage cars rolling over or Lorraine (frequently) lighting a cigarette that we are shown. Not to mention his mind-blowing style over substance approach never fails.

For this ex-stuntman turned director, Lorraine's character is a logical progression and a much cooler creation than Keanu Reeves's John Wick of the eponymous 2014 elite assassin fantasy which he is uncredited for. His hot and extremely skilled blonde appears capable of stopping an atomic disaster if needed, even though she's not adorned with any super powers that would help her bruises heal faster (since icy baths rarely do the trick). Indeed, the fashionable heroine is represented through the male gaze, especially in the Blue is the Warmest Color-esque sequence of, ahem, extracting a piece of information, yet Theron's gravitas, self-esteem and intelligence form a sort of feminist armor around her.

As commendable as Ms Broughton's fighting maneuvers (where Leitch truly shines) are Johathan Sela's astonishing cinematography and the authentic, slightly modernized throwback to the late, simultaneously glamorized and deglamorized 80s, replete with musical hits of the time, weirdly juxtaposed 99 Luftballons being the stand-out. Combined with beautifully designed costumes, both steely grays of Berlin's exteriors and the neonized (or just saturated) colors of classy interiors provide loads of shots worthy of a gallery wall. With eye-candy in abundance, the monochrome imagery of the debriefing room - that serves as a 'red-herring teaser' and sees Toby Jones and John Goodman as Lorraine's superior and CIA agent, respectively - waters down the overwhelming sweetness and allows the viewer to catch a breath.

And let's not forget the tight editing (kudos to Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir) and that crazy, totally unexpected homage to Tarkovsky which is also one of Atomic Blonde's highlights.

29 Aug 2017

A Double Dose of Short Film (Lust Bath / Solar Soliloquy)

Lust Bath / Dutch Cave at Noon (Janja Rakuš, 2012)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼


So simple and yet so effective. The Slovenian writer, filmmaker, visual and performing artist Janja Rakuš erases the (thick) line between the parietal and contemporary art, spinning a multilayer fantasy by using a single image. A blue-orange scene which depicts a bicycle rider pedaling away from a group of angry prehistoric hunters is animated via effects mimicking waves of different amplitudes and accompanied by the atmospheric, somewhat uncanny sounds of bubbling water and distant wind howling (John Watermann).

Is it just a stylistic exercise, a witty homage to the earliest bursts of creativity or a comment on narrow-mindedness preventing progress? It could also be viewed as an attempt to envision an alien force examining some forgotten earthly artifact or as a joke played on the viewer over-analyzing it. (Hell, maybe the rider is a bad guy!) Whatever the case may be, Lust Bath is an inspired piece of experimental cinema.



Solar Soliloquy (Garrick J Lauterbach, 2015)
 
☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼
 
 
Whether he's visualizing a song for the mad French genius Igorrr (Opus Brain) or making an essay documentary on the Swiss artists couple Silvia Gertsch and Xerxes Ach (Everything That We Saw, originally Alles was wir sahen, highly recommended!), Garrick J Lauterbach makes sure to put you in a contemplative mood.

In an aural, trip-hop sci-fi mystery Solar Soliloquy, he collaborates with Audio Dope (Mischa Nüesch), taking high art approach to directing a music video. His lyrical story opens with a nebula of colors suddenly turning grayish white as the sky above the metropolis of glass, steel and concrete constructions. The imagery of imposing rocky hills intrudes and we witness the birth or rather, the arrival of a blonde young man who is presumably an alien being (angel?) in human guise or a dead soul resurrected for a few fleeting moments back amongst the living.
 
What follows is the unidentified protagonist's experience on Earth, involving a box match (we only see the aftermath of) and a wild night at a dance club which ends in re-merging with the Universe, all beautifully captured with the keen eye of DoP Tobias Kubli. Lending his unusual physiognomy and giving the expressive performance is Benjamin Jäger in the starring role.


25 Aug 2017

Our Lady of Hormones (Bertrand Mandico, 2015)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼ 


'Conjuring up the combined memories' of several films (such as Wilder's masterpiece Sunset Boulevard) that deal with 'the twilight of an actress or artistic menopause', as Mandico himself puts it, this French auteur delivers a half-hour tour de force of bizarre neo-surrealism, disturbing eroticism and Nouvelle Vague homages.

Out Lady of Hormones (originally, Notre-Dame des Hormones) recounts the extremely vivid and not to mention unapologetically eccentric tale of rivalry, jealousy, primeval desires and human inability to domesticate the basic impulses. Two actresses portrayed with wicked glee and self-deprecating humor by Elina Löwensohn and Nathalie Richard roam a magical forest, rehearsing a play which involves aged Oedipus sporting elongated nipples (no joke). After they discover a hairy and amorphous creature adorned with a phallic excrescence (and making the console from eXistenZ look cute in comparison), they become entrapped in the endless cycle of mutual distrust, murder and miraculous resurrection.


As Löwensohn and Richard have a whale of a time bringing their zany characters to fantastical life and pulling the viewer into their burlesque realm, we are treated to the arresting visuals drenched in sultry purples and captured on 16mm tape which lends the picture a soft 'patina'. The exquisite costume and production design, coupled with quaint, yet oh-so refreshing practical effects, provide plenty of succulent eye-candy and quite a unique viewing experience, despite the myriad of fine art and cinematic influences, from Gabrielle d'Estrées et une de ses soeurs to Harry Kümel's Daughters of Darkness.

To paraphrase my comment on Mubi where this avant-garde fantasy is currently playing, it feels like Guy Maddin meets David Cronenberg at his peak in a phantasmagoric world ruled by That Obscure Object of Desire which shares the perverse mindset of Alain Robbe-Grillet and has Jean Cocteau's holy saliva smeared all over it. Genre-defying and 'very French', Our Lady of Hormones displays 'the dignified decadence' of a bygone era, establishing a dreamlike or rather, nightmarish atmosphere of sourly sweet nostalgia.

24 Aug 2017

7 Randomly Picked Recent Films I Watched in August Reviewed as Shortly as Possible in Chronological Order

1. Human Core (Manfre & Iker Iturria, 2011) - Experiments on human specimens in a well-controlled (and superbly designed!) environment. It feels like Jørgen Leth's absurdly funny pseudo-documentary Good and Evil filtered through the lens of Luc Besson mimicking George Lucas's THX 1138 and some futuristic reality show hosted by a devil-in-disguise kinda guy (bravura by Demian Sabini). Available for free viewing through Vimeo. (7+)


2. Fugue (Jorge Torres-Torres, 2015) - A solid arthouse mystery drama with a fragmented low-key narrative that focuses on a girl, Claire (the unaffected performance by Sophie Traub), who suffers dissociative fugue and wanders amongst wild horses on a sunbathed Puerto Rican island. Everything (or the most of what) we are shown might be just happening in her head, during a hypnosis session... Available for free viewing through Vimeo. (7)


3. Trent (Curtis James Salt, 2015) - Shot for 12 grands only, with the cast of non-professional actors, this stylish psychological horror doesn't reach the heights of Polanski's Repulsion (probably one of Salt's sources of inspiration), yet it provides some trippy visuals (especially during the the ambiguous conclusion's incandescent black & red sequence) which reflect the sustained interweaving of the titular protagonist's realities, memories/flashbacks and paranoid hallucinations. Available for free viewing through Vimeo. (7+)


4. Bitcoin Heist / Sieu Trom (Ham Tran, 2016) - My first encounter with the Vietnamese cinema is a glossy heist movie that employs all of the subgenre tropes and almost turns into torture porn at one point, only to switch back to being Asian version of The Italian Job or some such Hollywood flick. The impressive cinematography and ensemble cast (including the charismatic real-life magician Petey Majik Nguyen) save it from lapsing into mediocrity. (6+)


5. Some Freaks (Ian MacAllister McDonald, 2016) - A poisonous and slightly overrated romantic dramedy which is neither very romantic, nor particularly funny in its reveling in the adolescents' agony. Thomas Mann and Lily Mae Harrington as a one-eyed boy and an overweight girl in (turbulent) love lend some gravitas to their hissing characters. (5)


6. Fist & Faith (Zhuoyuan Jiang, 2017) - The tagline for Jiang's cool, hyper-stylized sophomore effort could be: "Let me read or die!" Set in Japanese-occupied Manchuria, it recounts a passionate, Crows Zero-like coming-of-age tale packed with great action scenes and seasoned with a few pinches of anachronisms and slapstick humor, until things get bloody serious. The animated prologue and epilogue vignettes add an extra oomph to the proceedings which involve gang battles and secret reading societies, occasionally in a painted, 3D comic book-like environment. (8-)


7. Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars (Shinji Aramaki & Masaru Matsumoto, 2017) - No Verhoeven, no fun. Even though Ed Neumeier returns as the screenwriter, this CGI sequel lacks the satirical edge of the original film and plays out like a long high-budget video game cutscene. Yes, it does look really good (apart from the lip-sync issues), but the same applies to Resident Evil: Vendetta which is, despite its flaws, more successful in delivering monster B-movie entertainment. For the most dedicated fans only. (5)

21 Aug 2017

The Capsule (Athina Rachel Tsangari, 2012)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼
 
 
For starters, let me be honest - I am not an admirer of Athina Rachel Tsangari's feature films. Quite the contrary, I find Chevalier unbearably flat, excruciatingly tedious and not even a teensy bit funny, whereas Attenberg left me struggling between 'wow, that's weirdly fascinating' and 'now, that's just plain frustrating'. 
 
The Capsule, on the other hand, is a pure delight. In under 40 minutes of its running time, it packs more punch than the above-mentioned dramas put together. Part haute couture fever dream, part allegorical performance and part absurd, neo-gothic fantasy, it drops some edgy commentary on women's essence, sexuality and role in society through the ages, bringing to life several bizarre paintings by the Polish artist and Tsungari's co-writer Aleksandra Waliszewska.


Set in 'a mansion perched on a Cycladic rock', the cyclical story revolves around the daily rituals of six ethereal young ladies (Clémence Poésy of In Bruges fame and Isolda Dychauk from Sokurov's Faust, among the others) supervised by the Mother Superior-like figure (the ominously seductive Ariane Labed from Attenberg). The utterly odd proceedings involve The Exorcist-style head spinning followed by heavy grimacing, late dinners involving raw quail eggs, walking the baby goats and free dancing to the low-key cover of America's A Horse With No Name while wearing a skimpy, movement-restricting 'attire'. Think Hadžihalilović's Innocence playing out in a witches' convent invaded by nightmarish, Bosch-esque visions and you might get the idea of what to expect.

Boldly experimenting, eschewing dialogue for the astonishing imagery (kudos to DoP Thimios Bakatakis who also collaborated with Yorgos Lanthimos on Dogtooth and The Lobster) and mystifying soundscapes, Tsangari imbues her work with both twisted, self-conscious humor and surreal, hypnotic atmosphere. Her enigmatic characters - 'born' in the strangest interior places - appear as simultaneously fragile, innocent and capable of realizing their darkest desires confessed in one of the most whimsical scenes. Their costumes carry a symbolic meaning and the same goes for their 'home' and its stone-cold surroundings in which they remain mentally, physically and spiritually entrapped.

This remarkable 'fashion film' is a great companion piece for Lynch's Dior commercial turned mystery Lady Blue Shanghai.