Oct 1, 2022

Best Premiere Viewings of September 2K22

1. Vesper (Kristina Buožytė & Bruno Samper, 2022)

Vesper (a brilliant low-key performance from Raffiella Chapman) is a reserved, yet resourceful wunderkind biologist surviving ‘the new dark ages’ brought about by the collapse of Earth’s ecosystem, all the while carrying about her paralyzed father. She seems to be the only glimmer of hope in the unspecified future, and a chance meeting with a secretive young woman (ethereal Rosy McEwen) from one of ‘citadels’ – domed cities for oligarchs – will prove that true...

Buožytė & Samper’s first feature film in ten years is a phenomenal tour de force of (post-apocalyptic) world building, brimming with details that introduce the viewer to new and largely hostile forms of flora, as well as to peculiar bio-tech gadgets, such as a partially organic drone that wouldn’t feel out of place in some of Cronenberg’s body horror offerings. Told in a hushed manner, and imbued with the quality of a dark fairy tale, the duo’s story – familiar, yet engaging – unfolds in an unhurried pace, with minimum exposition, allowing us to immerse ourselves in the bleakly beautiful imagery accompanied by a hauntingly atmospheric score. The desolate, beast-less vistas and rusting, octopus-like structures that permeate it make for a mighty impressive setting inhabited by humans, carnivorous plants, armor-shattering insects, genetically engineered ‘jugs’, and glowing bacteria that provide electricity. The mystery – essential to every work of art, according to the great Buñuel – is embodied by masked and silent scavengers dubbed ‘pilgrims’, as well as by skull-headed soldiers who enter the scene in the final act. In addition, the aura of otherworldliness is conveyed through the tight symbiosis between superb production design and equally attractive special effects that are never overused, with the focus being on Vesper’s wits, strengths, skills and emotional responses to the bleak surroundings, as she follows her scientific dreams.

Unlike Vanishing Waves – the first film Buožytė and Samper co-directed – which left me mostly cold, Vesper managed to pique my interest right from the get-go, and keep its grip to the poetic conclusion, so I will be looking forward to what the directors have in store next.

2. Stress-es tres-tres / Stress Is Three (Carlos Saura, 1968)

A perfect companion piece for Roman Polanski’s stunningly beautiful feature debut Knife in the Water (1962), Carlos Saura’s out-of-the-ordinary drama is, according to the author himself, ‘the study of the crisis in a seemingly developed society’ reflected through the prism of a strained marriage or rather, a love triangle that may only be the figment of the husband’s imagination. Impressively shot in stark B&W which adds to the increasing surreality of the subtly fractured story, ‘Stress Is Three’ weaves together simmering passions, undisclosed desires and fiery jealousies into a fine tapestry of psychological tension and modern alienation. Considering that it was conceived and brought to life under the Francoist dictatorship, the strength of its anticonformist attitude, as well as its somewhat experimental nature prone to deliberate ‘buffoonery’ make it all the more fascinating.

3. Three Thousand Years of Longing (George Miller, 2022)

Call it a hopelessly romantic modern fairy tale, quaint rumination on human condition, or visually dazzling ode to myths and storytelling, Miller’s latest offering is as weirdly magical as the pairing of Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba in the leading roles, continually igniting one’s sense of wonder, while the two characters open their lonely and, as the title suggests, longing hearts to each other with sincerity so often shunned by our cynical, hateful times. The silver-screen viewing is a must, and a double bill with Tarsem Singh’s The Fall would be nice.

4. Taste of Fear (Seth Holt, 1961)

Predictability feels like a minor quibble in a gothic/psychological thriller which Christopher Lee (in the role of an ostensibly sinister physician) called ‘the best film Hammer ever made’, adding that Seth Holt was ‘one of the best directors Britain ever had’. Gorgeously lensed in black and white by Douglas Slocombe (who would collaborate with Joseph Losey on his masterpiece The Servant only two years later), helmed with an assured hand and sharp sense of pacing, and elevated by credible performances, as well as by a lavish score from Clifton Parker (of Curse of the Demon and The 39 Steps fame), Taste of Fear delivers both chills and thrills and even a surprise twist or two that can’t be foreseen early on. Its deep, pitch-black shadows compel you to stare into the ‘abysses’ of the thoughtfully composed frames, making you sensitive to the slightest of movements, as prolonged silences heighten the tension. 

5. Saloum (Jean Luc Herbulot, 2021)

Judging by three of his shorts available on YouTube, one being a shocking, yet compelling music video for French rapper Médine, revenge is the common denominator to the work of Congolese director Jean Luc Herbulot whose sophomore feature comes across as one of the most refreshing, not to mention effortlessly directed genre mashups in recent memory. Opening as a crime-thriller that follows a super-cool antiheroic trio of mercenaries called ‘Bangui’s Hyenas’, Saloum takes a ghastly supernatural turn halfway through, introducing something more sinister than suggestive nightmares which haunt the charismatic group leader, Chaka (superb Yann Gael). This transition into a survival, folklore-inspired horror happens so smoothly that it gives Robert Rodriguez a good run for his money, and instills a sense of awe in the viewer, deliberately leaving the mystery of unique and vicious creatures – seen in broad daylight unlike many Western offerings – up to one’s own interpretation. On top of that, the film features some breathtaking ‘God’s eye’ views of deserts and inlets that enhance the strong aura of mysticism present from the very first shot, with Reksider’s evocative score of ethereal chants and tribal beats intensifying the local flavors.

6. Station Six Sahara (Seth Holt, 1962)

Toxic masculinity soaks the desert in Seth Holt’s unconventional drama set in an oil station somewhere in the Libyan part of Sahara. Five men who run the facility as they bicker amongst themselves are all played with much gravitas and gusto by Peter van Eyck (bossy Kramer), Ian Bannen (boorish Fletcher), Denholm Elliott (uptight Macey), Hansjörg Felmy (defiant Donitz) and Mario Adorf (taciturn Santos), each actor finely tuning his performance in accordance with the very nature of his character. The unexpected arrival of a femme fatale, Catherine (Caroll Baker whose magnetism seeps off the screen, particularly in that peach-eating scene) and her sleezeball ex-husband companion (Biff McGuire) heats up the sweaty atmosphere and stirs up a sandstorm of hormones, thus increasing the simmering tension. And a poker game sequence which foreshadows this change in the narrative dynamics is a masterclass in direction and micro-acting, heightened by Gerald Gibbs’s slick B&W cinematography.

7. Birdy (Alan Parker, 1984)

“I guess it’s kinda hard to be good at something nobody wants, huh?”

An off-kilter story of big, ‘Icarian’ dreams and an unlikely, yet tightly knit friendship, coming-of-age in the late 50’s Philly, and coping with a serious post-war trauma gets a visually handsome and aurally immersive treatment in Alan Parker’s tautly directed (melo)drama Birdy which stars Matthew Modine and Nicolas Cage, the former giving a poignant performance as the titular character – a quiet, avian-obsessed and highly sympathetic introvert whose real name is never revealed, and the latter being admirably restrained in the role of an impulsive, extrovert athlete, Al. 

8. Adelheid (František Vláčil, 1970)

A cinematic equivalent of a stormy night spent in the company of a melancholic soul by the fireplace of a cozy cabin, František Vláčil’s first color film is a moody, bleakly beautiful post-war drama focused on an unlikely romance between a former Czech soldier, Viktor Chotovický, and Adelheid Heidenmann – the daughter of a Nazi baron. Set in a manor that initially belonged to a Jewish family, and was appropriated by Germans during the WWII, Adelheid comes across as a meditation on forgiveness and trust, in a somewhat mystifying atmosphere emerging from the ambiguity of the titular (anti?)heroine’s true feelings. The tension, both mental and sexual, between the two leading characters simmers at the very core of the narrative – co-written by novelist Vladimír Körner and director  himself – that moves at a steady, unrushed pace, married to Zdeněk Liška’s solemn, choral-heavy score, and dressed in a stark palette of muddy and wintry colors dominating František Uldrich’s eye-pleasing cinematography. 

9. Peppermint Frappé (Carlos Saura, 1967)

If Vertigo had been directed by Luis Buñuel (to whom Peppermint Frappé is unsurprisingly dedicated), the resulting film would’ve certainly felt like Saura’s first in a series of collaborations with actress Geraldine Chaplin – here, glowing in a dual blonde/brunette role. Often seen as an allegory (a bold one, at that!) of political, social and sexual repression of Franco’s regime, this quirky, subtly surreal psychological drama / character study is imbued with a blistering anti-chauvinist sentiment, as it explores an unhealthy obsession, fetishization of women, and the fickleness of power dynamics. Shockingly, it passed under the censors’ radar back in the dark days of Spanish history, marking the director’s first commercial success.

10. Hawk the Slayer (Terry Marcel, 1980)

(read my review HERE)

11. A Casa Assassinada / The Murdered House (Paulo César Saraceni, 1971)

“Only with beauty we can destroy lies and hypocrisy... Beauty is eternal.”

Part fractured, borderline surreal soap-opera, and part theatrical tone poem of dense, melancholy-infused atmosphere, The Murdered House exposes the rot of traditional family values in a wickedly lyrical story of unrequited love, repressed desires, ‘disgraceful’ secrets, suicidal characters and incestuous affairs. Paulo César Saraceni directs it like Buñuel on sedatives (with a hint of Pasolini in his Teorema element?), so it takes some time to attune oneself to his bizarre wavelengths, and the patience is rewarded with a ‘grotesque truth’ coming to light in the tragicomic finale of farcical proportions and amped-up histrionics. The film’s only setting – a country mansion surrounded by a lush garden – appears like a well-concealed micro-paradise dewy with human imperfections, acting like a mentally troubled protagonist in its own right.

12. Witchcraft (Don Sharp, 1964)

Yvette Rees gives off some strong Barbara Steele vibes in the silent role of a witch who’s accidentally resurrected after a graveyard desecration due to the construction work. The eerie aura which surrounds her character, Vanessa Whitlock (buried alive 300 years in the past, so no wonder she bears a grudge), is often conveyed solely through highly expressive lighting that also brings shadows to life, establishing a haunting atmosphere. Sharper than Sharp’s solid direction of Harry Spalding’s pulpy script are the handsome B&W cinematography by Arthur Lavis, Carlo Martelli’s string-heavy, unnervingly lavish score, and a stand-out performance from Lon Chaney Jr. as the disgruntled leader of the modern-day coven of Vanessa’s followers.

13. Divina creatura / The Divine Nymph (Giuseppe Patroni Griffi, 1975)

Terence Stamp epitomizes dandyism in the role of a womanizing duke, Dani di Bagnasco, as DP Giuseppe Rotunno (The Leopard, Fellini Satyricon) masterfully captures the garishly colored decadence of the 1920’s in Italy, against the backdrop of emerging fascism. Further elevating the film’s hyper-elegant beauty is a Charlston-heavy score composed by Cesare A. Bixio, and interpreted by Ennio Morricone, though Griffi’s direction is neither smooth nor strong enough to keep you engaged in an aristocratic love triangle story for almost two hours. Out of three director’s features I’ve seen so far, his 1962 debut The Sea remains the most fascinating.

14. Bullet Train (David Leitch, 2022)

Ritchie meets Tarantino on ‘animephetamines’ in a highly enjoyable, neon-drenched romp which marries cartoonish, physics-defying violence to a twisty, fanciful story, perfectly aware of its silliness, and prone to introducing familiar faces in cameo roles. The titular setting may be limited, but Leitch delivers plenty of impressively choreographed action scenes, from sword fights to train accidents, creating characters who are almost as colorful as the garish visuals.

15. Mortal Kombat Legends: Snow Blind (Rick Morales, 2022)

Taking cues from Mad Max franchise, and every martial arts actioner in which an aged, experienced warrior trains a young, hot-headed successor-to-be, the third feature in Mortal Kombat Legends series pulls focus on Kenshi and Sub-Zero, and pits them against the Black Dragon gang led by Kano (self-promoted to tyrant king of a post-apocalyptic wasteland), as it provides the fans with gore galore, pulp shenanigans and solid animation. The story set in one of the alternative timelines in Mortal Kombat universe does a fine job in expanding the game’s twisted mythology, and is helmed with an assured hand by Rick Morales who has previously directed several of Warner Bros’ direct-to-video properties. 

Sep 6, 2022

Hawk the Slayer (Terry Marcel, 1980)

If I had seen Hawk the Slayer three decades ago, it would’ve certainly made one of the fondest memories of my childhood, so I guess that this feeling I have now could be called ‘anemoia’. A timeless story of good vs. evil and siblings rivalry, this hammy, yet immensely enjoyable and dynamically paced ‘sword & sorcery’ flick takes cues from Dungeons & Dragons lore, westerns and legends of yore, coming across as a spiritual prequel to plenty of hack and slash / beat ‘em up games of the 90’s, as well as to Record of Lodoss War anime.

A valiant, mindsword-wielding hero, Hawk (played with low-key stoicism by John Terry), seeks to avenge both his father and beloved one who died at the hands of his older brother, Voltan (Jack Palance who chews the scenery like there is no tomorrow, exemplifying evil as he so often did), and accompanying him are a motley crew (an elf, a dwarf, a giant and a warrior) guided by a blind seer / sorceress (Patricia Quinn of The Rocky Horror Picture Show fame, speaking in a mystically hushed voice). Their combined efforts are also required by a flap of nuns whose abbess has been kidnapped by the forces of darkness drawing power from a mysterious black wizard who could’ve easily inspired the Shadow Weaver character from Filmation’s ‘The Secret of the Sword’ cartoon.

And so, the phantasmagorical adventure begins, taking you into a spiderweb-infested heart of the forest, a cave filled with glowing light, an ascetically furnished monastery, a Gothic arched, skull-decorated chamber of High Abbot, and a minimalist castle interior with walls covered in gold, and two gargoyles staring into a pool of smoke. The sets are obviously designed on a tight budget, but there’s something intensely charming about them, and not to mention those enchanting matte paintings and oh-so-80’s neon special effects which – supported by a groovy, delightfully off-kilter disco score (Harry Robertson) – add to the film’s irresistible naivety. Speaking of music, it is certainly a most unexpected choice, and somehow, it works admirably or rather, psychedelically well with the pseudo-medieval visuals captured in hazily dreamy cinematography by Paul Beeson. It goes without saying that an extra dose of suspension of disbelief can significantly enhance the viewing experience.

Sep 1, 2022

Best Premiere Viewings of August 2K22

1. Golem (Piotr Szulkin, 1980)

Based on Gustav Meyrink’s novel of the same name, Golem is a masterclass in feverishly disorienting atmosphere established through a puzzling, decidedly incoherent narrative, oppressive amber-green lighting, the crumbling dystopian setting of dispiriting grays, and insidiously hushed music theme which intensifies the overwhelming feeling of inescapable dread. Relentlessly irrational, to the point of distorting the viewer’s own perception of reality, this tautly directed nightmare engraves itself into one’s memory with some of the sharpest cinematic tools. 

2. Egomania - Insel ohne Hoffnung / Egomania: Island Without Hope (Christoph Schlingensief, 1986)

“I saw the Devil. He was more beautiful than me.”

A ruthlessly anarchic phantasmagoria, Egomania feels like an unholy cross between Zwartjes and Jarman, with bits of Ottinger and Żuławski thrown in for good measure. It frequently subverts your expectations and keeps you in the state of revelatory befuddlement, as it reaches the deepest and darkest levels of both your subconscious and unconscious mind. Christoph Schlingensief goes absolutely nuts with delightfully abrasive visuals, bizarre musical choices, ravingly poetic dialogue, freakishly fragmented narrative, and decidedly hectic editing, as the entire cast follows him on the bumpy path of creative lunacy. Leading his colleagues is legendary Udo Kier as Baron/Devil/Devil’s Aunt (may be one and the same character?) who munches the scenery with great gusto, and spits it all over the others, with the ethereal Tilda Swinton in an understated performance acting like his angelic counterbalance.

A suggestion for a double bill - Luminous Void: Docudrama (Rouzbeh Rashidi, 2019)

3. Czułe miejsca / Tender Spots (Piotr Andrejew, 1981)

Piotr Andrejew comes extremely close to his compatriot and namesake Szulkin in building the oppressively alluring atmosphere of growing despair in a polluted dystopia, but his unorthodox sci-fi romance is imbued with the sense of (slightly twisted) tenderness emanating from a man-child hero – ‘sentimental idealist’ Jan (the superbly whimsical performance from Michał Juszczakiewicz). Stunningly lensed in black and white that emphasizes the bleakness of the retro-futuristic setting, and backed by moody jazz & synth tunes that lend it a noirish edge, Tender Spots has its love triangle story distorted through the prism of toxic ambition embodied by Jan’s vain girlfriend Ewa, the tottering system, and unlikely friendship with a little girl who seems to be the only person – beside the protagonist, that is – rejecting conformity and seeing the UFOs...

4. Wojna światów - następne stulecie / The War of the Worlds: Next Century (Piotr Szulkin, 1981)

Kafka meets Orwell in Piotr Szulkin’s sophomore flick – yet another brilliant piece of dystopian fiction that still feels frighteningly relevant. Yes, it is quite ‘on the nose’ with its allegory of authoritarian regimes and manipulative power of the media, yet it is so well made, that you won’t be able to resist it. Instead, you will just want to keep resisting the toxic emanations from the global cesspool of defamatory information (unless you’re a white sheep). Dipped in steely grays and coolly blues, this confrontational sci-fi drama is directed with red-hot burning passion that leaves its marks in details. Also praiseworthy are superb performances, particularly from Roman Wilhelmi portraying the oppressed hero who delivers a memorable (and here, partially quoted) speech by the end:

“From the TV chaos you choose the truths you find as convenient. You accept only what confirms your conviction that passivity is a virtue and a necessity. Because this is exactly what you want to believe. You cry, you feel sorry for yourselves. And then what? You sit in front of a TV set. You feel absolved. More human than those you look at. And you look at people who are just like yourselves. Just as hypocritical, just as weak. Just as submissive...”

5. Szenvedély / Passion (György Fehér, 1998)

Based on James M. Cain's novel The Postman Always Rings Twice and co-written by Béla Tarr whose influence is obvious right from the opening, 6-minute-long one-taker, György Fehér’s swan song – a rural neo-noir – is a film of immense formal strength, depressingly and stiflingly poetic in its languorous pacing, constant raining, foreboding silences and grainy chiaroscuro visuals. Counteracting the tension concentrated in the shadows as dark as the abyss of human treachery is a sole breather that sees the lovers bathed in light peacefully reclining in bed.

6. Calm with Horses (Nick Rowland, 2019)

What a powerful debut! Nick Rowland delivers an intense and engaging character study, eliciting excellent performances from his entire cast, particularly from Cosmo Jarvis in the impressive leading role. Supported by always reliable Barry Keoghan, and utterly charming Niamh Algar, Jarvis portrays antihero Douglas ‘Arm’ Armstrong – an ex-boxer enforcer for a drug-dealing family – with a rugged sincerity, pronounced physicality and deeply felt emotion. All the subtleties of his and his colleagues’ micro-acting are captured with clockwork precision in Piers McGrail’s eye-catching cinematography that emphasizes the magnificent beauty of Irish countryside, and ostensible peacefulness of a small town where the (brutal and tragic) story is set. On top of that, an unobtrusive, yet evocative score by Blanck Mass serves not only as a complement of the tip-top visuals, but also as a brooding soundscape for Arm’s deteriorating inner state.

7. The Ultimate Warrior (Robert Clouse, 1975)

Yul Brynner and Max von Sydow lend some serious gravitas to this slightly pulpy, yet mighty fine piece of post-apocalyptic cinema, the former portraying a stoic, knife-wielding fighter, Carson, and the latter in the role of an intelligent leader of a small commune living from hand to mouth in dilapidated New York. A simple story of survival – penned and helmed with cool effortlessness and keen sense of pacing by the father of the cult martial arts flick Enter the Dragon – commands the viewer’s attention even in its most prosaic portions turned into stylish scenes by virtue of Gerald Hirschfeld’s strikingly grungy 35mm cinematography. However, what makes The Ultimate Warrior stand out from similar offerings, as it anticipates Hill’s The Warriors and Miller’s Mad Max, is Gil Mellé’s brilliant experimental jazz score coming into eargasmic prominence whenever the tension rises, particularly during the film’s final and most exciting third set in the underground tunnels.

8. Ornamento e Crime / Ornament and Crime (Rodrigo Areias, 2015)

Boasting a hyper-style to die for, and oozing with dense, smoke-filled atmosphere, Ornament and Crime plays (amazingly well!) like an extended riff on or rather a passionate love letter to film-noir aesthetics, with its trench-coated (anti)hero, shifty femme fatales, and pretty much everyone and everything else deeply planted in the blackest of shadows. Perfectly complemented by moodily experimental music from Paulo Furtado and Rita Redshoes, Jorge Quintela’s stunning cinematography grabs the viewer’s attention right from the get go – a symmetrical medium shot of the protagonist’s back against the distant city lights – and never loosens its grip. His camera rarely moves, yet it plunges you with great force into each of meticulously composed tableaux vivants, as the deliberately stilted narrative blends Godardian irreverence, de Oliveira-esque coldness, and hints of Lynchian absurd. It goes without saying that what Areias created here is an acquired taste – a cinematic treat for the open-minded.

9. Earwig (Lucile Hadzihalilovic, 2021)

Across the waveless sea of ambiguity,
Shady ciphers are floating aimlessly...

The latest offering from Lucile Hadzihalilovic (Innocence, Evolution) is an aesthetically triumphant mystery (with a capital M), daring, stubborn and uncompromising in its following of the dream / nightmare / fairy tale logic, as well as in its deliberate pace, at the expense of its immersiveness. A weird premise of a meek and reticent girl whose dentures are made of her own frozen saliva (!), and a bizarre subplot which involves her ever-frowning guardian, a waitress with a disfigured face, and a Mephistophelian figure that binds them through distorted time, open portal to a dreary, eerily surreal world where silence shrouds all meanings and answers (to some sinister, undefined conspiracy) in an opaque veil. Its aftertaste is one of utter bewilderment and inexplicably sweet fear that reality may dissolve any minute...

10. Baagh / Tiger (Sourish Dey, 2022)

Something is rotten in the state of India whose national animal – represented by a folk actor who performs as a tiger – is subjected to a Kafkaesque process conducted by sinister Mr. Jaiswal aka the Goat in the formally bold sophomore feature from Sourish Dey. Filtered through the prism of the Beckettian absurd, the fractured, off-kilter narrative is built on the vicious loops of oppression, seeing a bunch of bizarre characters – all turned into symbols and ciphers – desperately trying to define or at least express themselves reflecting upon the figure of Tiger. They are pulled together through a series of visually alluring vignettes, raging from theatrical (feat. the King with his Assistant, and evoking Majewski’s Gospel According to Harry with its outdoor set design) to Godardian to Avikunthak-like, all captured in crisp B&W, and occasionally overlaid by SMPTE color bars, as if indicating those poor souls are being tested by both the (simulacrum of) society, and some higher power(s). Dey elicits solid performances from his cast, particularly from Biswanath Basu (as Tiger) whose sweaty, tortured face easily burns into one’s memory.

11. Day Shift (J.J. Perry, 2022)

Stunt-master J.J. Perry delivers plenty of (summer) fun in his self-consciously goofy directorial debut that follows a Streets of Fire-like rule of cool, replacing leather jackets with aloha shirts, and biker gangs with vampire cartels. A highly energized blend of buddy comedy, martial arts, car chases and gory mayhem that sees a great number of contortionist bloodsuckers ruthlessly shot, dismembered and/or decapitated, Day Shift boasts some gripping set pieces and great chemistry between the cast members fronted by Jamie Foxx and Dave Franco. It made me wish it were longer, with its ‘mythology’ surrounding the baddies deepened.

12. Delta of Venus (Zalman King, 1995)

Audie England and Costas Mandylor engage in a ‘seductive pouting’ competition throughout Zalman King’s sultry pre-WWII melodrama which blends softcore eroticism, saucily saccharine poetry and the atmosphere of portending doom to surprisingly solid effect. As it touches upon the themes of communism, fascism and same-sex relationships at the dawn of chaos, Delta of Venus provides the viewer with handsome visuals whose allure doesn’t depend solely on the actors’ pulchritude. Cinematographer Eagle Egilsson does a commanding job in his first feature film, with George S. Clinton’s subtly sentimental score enveloping the autumnal imagery in a soft aural veil.

Aug 26, 2022

A Selection of Recent Artworks (XV)

It's been a while since I posted on the blog, so here are the latest 13 pieces of my voluminous, recently revived Bianco/Nero series of digital collages which blend various influences, ranging from mythology to Brutalism to cyberpunk, into a whole new, mysterious universe of electric dreams and alchemical visions.

Il Triangolo Divino / Божански троугао / The Divine Triangle

Voci Morte / Мртви гласови / Dead Voices

Ritorno all'Innocenza / Повратак невиности / Return to Innocence

Bellezza e Malinconia / Лепота и меланхолија / Beauty and Melancholy

Il Gabinetto di un Alchimista / Кабинет једног алхемичара / The Cabinet of an Alchemist

La Nostra Casa nel Mezzo del Sogno / Наша кућа усред Сна / Our House in the Middle of the Dream

L'Arte dell'Osservazione / Уметност посматрања / The Art of Observation

L'Estrazione dell'Essenza / Екстракција суштине / The Extraction of Essence

Fragilità / Крхкост / Fragility

La Protettrice / Заштитница / The Protectress

Apri il Tuo Ombrello / Отвори свој кишобран / Open Your Umbrella

Il Libro dei Simboli / Књига симбола / The Book of Symbols

La Vita di un'Immagine / Живот једне слике / The Life of an Image

Jul 31, 2022

Best Premiere Viewings of July 2K22

1. Neptune Frost (Anisia Uzeyman & Saul Williams, 2021)

Cinema is not dead – it is alive and rejuvenated in the first collaborative effort of Anisia Uzeyman and Saul Williams. A strong contender for the coolest film of the year, Neptune Frost is a strong, marvelous piece of Afrofuturism, bold in its anti-establishment attitude, thematic richness and heightened lyricism. Anchored in creative visuals bursting with colors, and quirky, oft-cryptic dialogue that hacks your subconsciousness, this off-kilter sci-fi musical possesses the qualities of a shamanistic ritual and appears as if it belongs to another dimension, partly due to the electrifying fusion of ethereal trip-hop and rebellious tribal music. Its narrative – about the union between escaped coltan miners and techno-spiritual resistance movement – flows like a glitchy dream which strives to invoke primordial African spirit.

2. The Timekeepers of Eternity (Aristotelis Maragkos, 2021)

An experimental re-imagination (and significant condensation!) of 1995 TV mini-series The Langoliers, The Timekeepers of Eternity utilizes laborious collage / stop-motion animation of previously scanned and printed frames to mesmerizing effect. This ‘found footage’ technique – also wonderfully exemplified by artist Anna Malina – does wonders in deepening the mystery and increasing tension by way of meta-trickery, simultaneously reflecting the antagonist Mr Toomey’s (memorable Bronson Pinchot) obsession with paper strips, and his mental breakdown that becomes central to the plot. As the imagery quivers and wrinkles, and gets perforated to reveal hidden layers in a tactile B&W reality, Pinchot’s terrific scenery-chewing or rather, scenery-tearing superbly complements the film’s materiality. Another advantage of this recontextualization – more imaginative than the original work – is the replacement of awfully outdated CGI creatures with retro, yet timeless practical effects which emphasize the power of something as simple as paper.

3. Nippon no akuryo / Evil Spirits of Japan (Kazuo Kuroki, 1970)

A simple, yet heavily fragmented or rather, obscured story of switched identities sees strangely charismatic Kei Satō dandily smirking in a dual role of yakuza and detective, as Kazuo Kuroki employs virtually every trick from the film grammar book, delivering a visually stimulating and formally playful piece of New Wave cinema. Interspersed by the 4th-wall-breaking, at times politically charged musical interludes performed by singer-songwriter Nobuyasu Okabayashi, Evil Spirits of Japan provides a somewhat subversive blend of crime drama and pinku eiga, defying description and amplifying your taste for filmic weirdness.

4. Serpentário / Serpentarius (Carlos Conceição, 2019)

Preceded by a series of provocative (queer) shorts, such as Carne (The Flesh, 2010), Boa Noite Cinderela (Goodnight, Cinderella, 2014) and Coelho Mau (Bad Bunny, 2017), Serpentarius comes across as an (attractive) anomaly in the director’s career. A meditative autobiographical essay that crosses the genre-boundaries with great ease, Carlos Conceição’s feature-length debut introduces the viewer to some stunning locations of Angola and Namibia, turning them into the (imposing) characters in their own right. A simple story of a young man searching for the ghost of his mother (and a parrot she left behind for him) in Africa becomes a post-apocalyptic tone poem, in equal measures mesmerizing and deeply melancholic. Guiding us through desolate landscapes – reminders of nature’s beauty and cruelty, as well as through the protagonist’s mind are poetic voice-over musings on the wide variety of topics including colonialism, human condition, the prospects of future, and reconciliation with death. Accompanied by eclectic score which fuses everything from tribal drums to psychedelic electronica to solemn classical tunes to ambient noises (or rather silences), the softly spoken words bring forth a radiant aural cocoon in which the breathtaking (and predominantly analog?) images are gently layered.

5. Cynga (Leszek Wosiewicz, 1991)

Caught on the Polish-Ukranian border and suspected of espionage by NKVD, a young Varsovian, Andrzej (the bold, magnificent debut for Tomasz Lysiak) ends up in a Siberian camp where he spends most of the war as an inmate of a makeshift psychiatric hospital. In a dense, claustrophobic, inescapable atmosphere of totalitarian violence, both mental and physical, his descent into madness and slow journey back to sanity are starkly depicted as a grotesque, yet deeply immersive nightmare pierced by black humor and ‘alleviated’ by sparse moments of oneiric beauty one of which is a loving homage to the levitating scene from Tarkovsky’s Mirror. Assisting Leszek Wosiewicz in bringing the adapted screenplay to (disturbing, yet fascinating) life are Krzysztof Ptak’s attention-grabbing cinematography, and Henryk Kuźniak’s whimsically melancholic score, as well as sequences composed of archival footage.

You can watch the film (with English subtitles) HERE.

6. Licem u lice / Face to Face (Branko Bauer, 1963)

Some animals have always been more equal than others, but there was a time when hard-working critters could raise their voices together against a high-handed beast, with the prospects of optimism guiding them on the way. Branko Bauer’s political drama points at many irregularities of self-governing socialism, caused by both human weaknesses and disparity between the theory and practice, all the while being grounded in extraordinary performances and nuanced characterization of the construction company employees stuck at a seemingly endless council meeting. Cinematographer Branko Blažina makes the most out of a very limited setting, imbuing the proceedings with noirish vibes intensified by internal monologues and Branimir Sakač’s unobtrusive score. Often compared to Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men, Face to Face is an intriguing predecessor to the Yugoslav Black Wave.

7. Le roi danse / The King Is Dancing (Gérard Corbiau, 2000)

An (in)toxic(ating) ‘historical fairy tale’ which focuses on Louis XIV’s art patronage, The King Is Dancing boasts decadently beautiful set & costume designs, outstanding performances, zestful score and excellent cinematography which shines brightest in the symmetrically composed shots of dancing and theater scenes. Emphasizing the baroque extravagance of the period, it places the (haughty) aristocracy somewhere between admiration and condemnation, impressively peacocking with its memorably lavish style.

8. Flux Gourmet (Peter Strickland, 2022)

Directing as if high on a hybrid concentrate of Eurotrash, Giallo and Greek Weird Wave, Peter Strickland delivers a wry, deliberately silly dark/deadpan comedy grounded in superb performances from an entire cast – led by the director’s muse Fatma Mohamed – portraying highly eccentric, skillfully caricatured characters. Told from the perspective of a funny, slightly incompetent little man suffering gastrointestinal issues, this self-ironic and self-referential satire of performance art laces fart jokes with subtlety and dresses scatological provocation with smooth style. Entirely set in a villa posing as a place of residence for a three-member band of ‘sonic caterers’, Flux Gourmet takes the most of the setting limitations and provides some memorable imagery, particularly during the dreamily erotic ‘audience tribute’ sequences, accompanied by some strong aural stimuli marked by the author’s sound fetishism.

9. Bubble (Tetsurō Araki, 2022)

Mind-blowing, gravity-defying parkour action meets a bold re-imagination of The Little Mermaid in a post-apocalyptic fantasy which boasts jaw-droppingly beautiful animation, as it fizzes with youthful energy and poppy tunes. Although its story and characters rarely burst the generic bubble, so to say, there’s a warm emotional core to be found underneath the glossy, brightly colored surface, and it is embodied in the quirky, non-human, yet most humane heroine, Uta (literally, Song).

10. Do widzenia, do jutra... / Good Bye, Till Tomorrow (Janusz Morgenstern, 1960)

Janusz Morgenstern’s debut is a lovely, New Wave-ish, if a a bit cliché story of fleeting love wonderfully shot in stark B&W and elevated by cool jazz score, some delightful Gdańsk locations and a protagonist’s experimental theater background. Leads Teresa Tuszynska (absolutely magnetic!) and Zbigniew Cybulski (of Ashes and Diamonds fame) have sweet chemistry, so the whimsical romance between their characters sparkles like stars in the sultry summer night. A faintly dreamy quality of the film can be attributed to the unreliable narrator.

You can watch the film (with English subtitles) HERE.

11. Bunker palace hôtel (Enki Bilal, 1989)

Starring red-and-short-haired Carole Bouquet of That Obscure Object of Desire fame, and recently deceased Jean-Louis Trintignant (completely bald, playing mysterious and ominous Mr. Holm), Enki Bilal’s directorial debut eschews both story and characterization in favor of dense atmosphere, hyper-stylized visuals and sheer quirkiness that involves an imaginary language. Filmed in Belgrade, it features a bunch of then Yugoslavian actors, from Mira Furlan to Dragomir Felba, in supporting roles of big shots hiding from acid rain and a burgeoning revolution, in the titular Bunker Palace Hotel. This place – appearing as a microcosm of a country that would soon fall apart – is serviced by malfunctioning androids allowing some slight comic relief in a bleak dystopian setting clearly inspired by imposing Brutalist aesthetics of the socialist era. And the minimized action or rather stasis that outlines the spy thriller-like proceedings creates ever-increasing tension eventually manifesting in a physical space, through the crumbling walls, and black liquid flowing out of the faucets. The accelerated decay of the underground edifice also reflects the mental and emotional states of the (unsympathetic) group trapped in their own creation. 

12. Beyond Skyline (Liam O’Donnell, 2017)

A surprisingly good direct sequel to rather clunky Skyline (2010), Beyond Skyline is a solid, B-movie genre-mashup that borrows elements from various flicks – Cloverfield, War of the Worlds, Children of Men, Independence Day, Predator, Alien and even Matrix – and successfully blends them into a fun and exciting little romp that features everything from brain-ripping to martial arts action during which one can only admire the speed at which Iko Uwais (of The Raid fame) delivers punches to crooked-legged invaders from space. Another reason for the film’s superiority over its predecessor is a more involving cast of characters led by a cool and charismatic, if archetypal hero, Mark, portrayed by Frank Grillo, as well as a welcome change of scenery from Los Angeles to Indonesia by virtue of ‘alien airlines’ – an impressively designed spaceship where gray matter is cropped and fast-growing, partly alien babies are born. Yes, there’s a lot of CGI involved, just like in many summer blockbusters, but it is almost as eye-pleasing as those jungles surrounding gorgeous Prambanan Temple in Yogyakarta, so the audience can easily surrender to their suspension of disbelief, and if needed, give it a little boost.

13. Awans / Promotion (Janusz Zaorski, 1975)

Tradition and superstition clash with modernization and academicism in an anti-capitalist satire directed with verve and good sense of humor targeted at both the reactionary forces and the prophets of progress. Zaorski elicits great performances from his cast and creates some authentic characters whom the non-Slav viewers may find quite exotic. A lighthearted, yet intriguing film.

You can watch the film (with English subtitles) HERE.