10 Dec 2019

Holy Sand (Miroslav Antić, 1968)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

It is only recently I learned that the prominent Serbian poet Miroslav 'Mika' Antić (1932 – 1986) directed two features which had the misfortune of being brushed under the communist carpet just like many of the Yugoslav Black Wave offerings. His debut Holy Sand (originally, Sveti pesak) - for me, the most precious blast from the past of 2019 - was not officially banned, but it never received regular theatrical distribution.

Told in a lyrical tone, the story revolves around a former political brigade commissar, Aleksandar Vinski (Čedomir Mihajlović, as worn-out as his character requires of him), who returns from the Goli Otok labor camp, only to realize he has been ostracized not only by the society, but by his comrades as well. Neither alive nor dead, he roams the sullen demimonde in the state of pseudo-existence, pushed further into despair by meaningless encounters with other lost souls.

Without any 'warning', his sparse, fragmented narrative jumps back and forth in time, establishing a disorienting atmosphere which is deepened by deliberate discordance between the image and the sound. A perfect example thereof is a brilliant cross-cutting of Aleksandar and a mysterious, mentally challenged girl frolicking around some (WWII?) ruins, and his fellow prisoner having a sexual intercourse with a flirty woman whom the protagonist previously picked up at a bar. Occasionally, the dialogue is completely muted or replaced by the incongruent noises, adding another layer of confusion and simultaneously, putting the viewer in Aleksandar's shoes or rather, head.

What's most impressive about Holy Sand is its black and white cinematography by Petar Latinović. Initially almost expressionist / noirish in its use of shadows, it takes a sharp turn into naturalistic domain, with a few scenes near the end appearing as if they were influenced by the surrealist cinema. The film's formal 'trickery' is (oddly) complemented by unaffected performances from its mostly non-professional cast, and even by a few technical downsides...

The film is available on Delta Video's official YouTube channel, but if you're not fluent in Serbian, I'm afraid that you will have to embark on a bootleg hunt...

8 Dec 2019

Forbidden Without Exception (Dejan Klincov, 1990-1999)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

Balancing on a tightrope stretched between political video art and personal experimental cinema (closer to the former point), Dejan Klincov employs dizzying / anarchical stop-frame montage of old photos and postcards, newspaper and magazine cut-outs, documents and found footage, sketches, drawings and paintings to challenge the notion of national identity, blur the lines which separate ostensibly opposed ideologies and reflect on the turbulent Yugoslavian past. The impressive number of images ranging from the depictions of WWII atrocities to Tito-iconoclasm to Makavejev references to fading memories to bridges that separate and residential complexes that alienate converge into a deliberately messy and slightly overlong, yet uncompromising piece of ‘handicapped’ animation which celebrates artistic liberties in the face of an increasingly dehumanizing society.

4 Dec 2019

Zan (Shin'ya Tsukamoto, 2018)

☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

Not bad, but neither great, the latest offering from the father of the cult-favorite Tetsuo: The Iron Man is part period drama filled with tropey and sketchy characters, part formal exercise in raw, shaky camera aesthetics and animesque violence, and all an uncompromising, if somewhat clunky deconstruction of the samurai genre that almost appears like Seven Samurai in reverse, interwoven with bizarre interludes. Although the frenzied editing, contrived emotions, fill-in-the-blanks narrative and the mystery surrounding rōnin protagonists do have some charm attached to them, the film's flat lighting often takes away from the beauty of rural locations and thick forests where the increasingly violent action is set. Its greatest selling point is most definitely a gloomy, pulsating score which is the late Chu Ishikawa's swan song. If Zan had been a firsttimer's experiment, its flaws probably wouldn't have felt so jarring... Nevertheless, one viewing won't hurt.

3 Dec 2019

Kinoskop Afterword

The inaugural (read: shoestring-budget) edition of Kinoskop - the 1st festival of analog experimental cinema and audio-visual performance on the Balkans - concluded on Sunday evening, and went pretty well (for a baptism of fire), notwithstanding some unexpected technical hiccups for which the curators, Marko Milićević and yours truly, sincerely apologize. Our profound respect goes to the audience members who were standing during the first day of screenings, because 60+ chairs didn't suffice, and our heartfelt gratitude is sent to all friendly and enthusiastic people involved in making this ambitious dream come true, from the members of the jury, Nina Lazarević, Nevena Popović and Marko Žunić, to the personnel of art space Kvaka 22 who hosted the event, to the great team of musicians and photographers who participated in the 5th anniversary celebration of Live Soundtrack, and the exhibition of analog photos and collages EndFrame(s). The visitors had the opportunity of seeing some pieces of my artwork like never before - as giant projections on the gallery wall, and I have to admit than even I was caught by surprise!

Picked amongst 220 offerings which met our Call for Entries requirements, more than 50 films were shown in seven selections of the main program and four acts of Live Soundtrack. One particular ciné-thingamajig was bestowed with loud ovations, which is why we decided to have another award in addition to the Grand Prix, Best Original Soundtrack and Audience Favorites (to be announced very soon!). Judging by the post-festival commentary, best-received were the alchemical experiments and sci-fi deconstructions, although the subtleties of micro-poetics, non-human explorations and acts of found-footage sabotage, as well as the diversity of documentaries also garnered positive reactions. The highlight of the festival was the aforementioned Live Soundtrack which opened with metaphysical musings of a hyper-cosmic expanded cinema trance Elementary Particles / Where Do We Come From? from the minds of Aleksandar Lazar and Marko Milićević. This hypnotizing, brilliantly conceived multi-channel experience was followed by the powerful post-industrial performance from Tearpalm - Marko Dabetić's one-man project - whose crescendos must've reached the stars along with Emmanuel Piton's Exposed and Müge Yıldız's A Trip to the Moon. Telemach Wiesinger's Wings to Hear was given the dark, moody and, in a way, post-apocalyptic sonic treatment by Dobrivoje Milijanović and Vladimir Riznić of their fresh collaboration Falling Elevator Music, and the last, but most definitely not the least was the masterful improvisation on analog synthesizer by our guest from Brazil Marcelo Armani (under the moniker of Elefante Branco). Giving each film from the medley of political and personal cinema a new aural identity, ranging from edgy (Window Shopping by Michael Woods) to ethereal (Camelia Mirescu's Telluric Beats of Veil), he succeeded in creating a rhythmically compact oneness - a minimalist, contemplative soundscape...

29 Nov 2019

Cinematic Favorites of November

The monthly listicle for November comes earlier than it should, because the beginning of December will certainly be marked by more talks about Kinoskop inaugural edition which is happening this weekend! Considering the activities regarding the festival organization and my ever-growing obsession with collage art, the number of watched films dropped significantly, yet I did manage to compile a diverse selection of nine features and one (animated) short which left me with a strong impression (in one way or another).

The most alchemical piece of cinema / absolute fascination:

A different kind of Russian magic / stylish & jovial rock biopic-musical: 
Leto (Kirill Serebrennikov, 2018)

The finest oldie / a younger, jazz-obsessed brother of The Medusa Raft (1980):
Rdeči boogie ali Kaj ti je deklica (Karpo Aćimović Godina, 1982)

The best short / Surrealism meets film noir in a metaphorical puzzle:

Austere art served unapologetically cold / a glum take on mental illness and suppressed sexuality:
The Mountain (Rick Alverson, 2018)

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned / a solid, but not flawless revenge double bill:
Ready or Not (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett, 2019)
The Nightingale (Jennifer Kent, 2019)

Fantasy pack / a bunch of winged creatures & animated, bloodthirsty demons:
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (Joachim Rønning, 2019)
Constantine: City of Demons – The Movie (Doug Murphy, 2018)

Cheesy, derivative and somewhat diverting / psychotic imaginary friends or the evil within:

28 Nov 2019

Autumnal Sleeps (Michael Higgins, 2019)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

How do you begin to describe a beautiful (celluloid) dream, one you can't remember in its entirety, yet you're absolutely positive about the firm hold it had over you? Maybe with another turn of an old vinyl whose soft crackling transfigures your memory?

A hushed voice which may be an emanation from another world tells us: "I've been here a long time. How long, I have no idea. I don't remember." And right from the get-go, it sets the ethereal atmosphere of wonder. We don't know where exactly is here, and neither who or what lies beneath the pile of dry foliage on a sofa, yet we feel the warmth of hazy imagery of earthy tones in the subsequent montage which suggests hypnagogical illusion.

Very soon, we are introduced to the strange characters existing at the dawn of cinema, yet simultaneously belonging to one of its many dusks. A wealthy eccentric right out of a steampunk fantasy, Dr. Epstein (Alain Servant), conducts a series of uncanny experiments, subjecting his own adopted sons wittily named Pete and Re-Pete (Henrik Garo and John Linnane), as well as his "darling flapper" Baby Dee (Natasha Everitt) to various tasks. Together with a lady credited as The Somnambulist (Ambra Gatto Bergamasco) whose mental state appears to be deteriorating, they inhabit a remote rural estate. The arrival of The Whisperer (Conn Rogers) and a mysterious couple (Enda Moran and Trish Murphy) who wouldn't be out of place in some diabolic carnival leads to the awakening of an creepy figure, The Widow (Cillian Roche), whose haunting presence brings forth the nightmare...

All the while, Michael Higgins - "the Vagabond of Experimental Film Society" (according to Donal Foreman) - demonstrates the magic of creating hypnotizing moving images on an expired 35mm film loaded into a 50-yo Soviet camera! Although the silent era is where the bulk of his inspiration comes from, one can't help but recognize a myriad of other possible and seamlessly assimilated influences, ranging from Italian horror to Wojciech Has or even Seijun Suzuki. ('Tis all just an assumption, but for some reason, The Hourglass Sanatorium and Taishō Trilogy popped into my mind more than once.) The strong fragrance of nostalgia that both the antiquated technology and cinematic role models emanate with never wears off - instead, it is gradually infused with sharp hints of (post)modernity, which as a result has Autumnal Sleeps transforming into a timeless work of esoteric avant-garde. In other words, while relying on the ghosts of the past, Higgins invokes the phantasms of the future.

Bleeding colors, grainy textures and striking compositions make virtually every shot worthy of framing and mounting on the wall of an art gallery, whereby the overwhelming power of the lavish visuals is further enhanced by the somber gothic-industrial score laced with effervescent vintage tones. In the alchemical fusion thereof, the evocative, sublimely lurid phantasmagoria is born.

(This review is based on the private screener provided by the author.)

26 Nov 2019

Listen Little Man (Marko Žunić, 2019)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

One of the most experimental Serbian films not only of our but of all time, Listen Little Man (originally, Čuj mali čoveče) marks a significant milestone - inscribed with 'feature debut' - for up-and-coming independent filmmaker Marko Žunić. A follow-up to his short and wordless dystopian romance, Bright Future My Love, which boasts superb aesthetics, this film breaks the shackles of an orthodox narrative in favor of interconnected series of surreal, angst-fueled vignettes. We follow a young man credited only as Nenormalni (lit. abnormal / aberrant; a bold, uninhibited, largely physical performance by Filip Galen) whose world is turned upside-down and inside-out, as he refuses to kneel before the God of Conformism.

A universal story of a struggle against the currents of widespread babbitry is seasoned with local flavors, especially during the sequences of a high middle class dinner (not unlike the Slava) which unapologetically mocks the small-talk banalities, gradually transforming into a perturbing homage to the orgiastic Vienna actionists séance of Dušan Makavejev's inimitable Sweet Movie. (A comparison with the funeral feast of Ilya Khrzhanovsky's 4 wouldn't be out of place either, but Žunić haven't seen it yet.) The naïveté of the non-professional cast provides these scenes with a sort of a low-key humor and brings the films of Želimir Žilnik to one's mind, whereas the subsequent dubbing adds the layer of Felliniesque strangeness to the dizzying proceedings.

Developing in (justified) discordance with the irreverent, if a bit overt parody of our reality are phantasmagorical reflections of the sapped and anguished protagonist's inner workings occasionally dipped in metafilmic interventions (shot at the cinema venue of Student's City Cultural Center in Belgrade). At one point, they are externalized in a volcanic burst of exasperation which joins guerilla performance and mockumentary in an unholy matrimony. Often dialogue-free, draped in deep shadows and imbued with Lynchian madness, these bizarre, nightmarish flourishes operate as 'enhancers' of the film's YU Black Wave-like nature, adding a spicy 'je ne sais qoi' ingredient to the wild and weird mix.

A white catsuit which Galen wears in his character's twisted world makes him almost naked in appearance - he is a tabula rasa on which the audience can project their own thoughts. The costume also makes him look fragile, soon to be crushed under the pressure of the oppressive surroundings, or rather, under the influence of archetypal characters such as Businessman (Strahinja Bičanin), Priest (Vukašin Kerkez) and Girlfriend (Jovana Kerkez). He desperately tries to escape the ugliness and hypocrisy of so-called normality which are captured in gloomily beautiful, hectically edited monochromatic imagery, with a few shots in color emphasizing the author's contempt for certain new age phenomena. Abrasive soundscapes of brooding drones and ear-piercing noise complement the visuals and establish a delirious atmosphere.

Taking all of the creative control in his hands, as writer, director, producer, cinematographer, editor, sound artist and even actor, Marko Žunić demonstrates an enviable level of artistry (and energy!), and despite the budgetary constraints, delivers a highly recommendable piece of work bound to provoke polarizing opinions.