Sep 23, 2021
Sep 13, 2021
Impressions after first three encounters with the (magnificent!) work of Nikos Papatakis.
Oi voskoi / Thanos and Despina (1967)
A Shakespearean ‘tragedy’ goes completely nuts in Nikos Papatakis’s increasingly wild and weird rural ‘romance’ that has everyone from the Greek state to Orthodox church to both haughty rich and superstitious poor squirming under his sharp satirical blade. Given that this is my first (and most certainly not the last!) encounter with the director’s work, I can only (try to) describe it as an impish bastard child born from the orgies of Italian neo-realism, Felliniesque bizareness, Panic Movement-like chaos, and dark humor of YU Black Wave. Constantly moving into unexpected directions, with gorgeous B&W visuals and dissonantly haunting score serving as anchors, Thanos and Despina aka The Shepherds of Calamity is not only a highly sophisticated piece of cinema, it is also maddeningly entertaining!
“Who is really guilty here?”
Anarchic energy, Buñuelian provocation, Nouvelle Vague audacity, and Beckettian sense of the absurd cross paths, intertwine and collide in this discomforting, nightmarishly surrealistic anti-authoritarian masterpiece shot with an artist’s eye for composition, directed with a confrontational verve, and propelled by powerful performances, particularly from real-life sisters Francine and Colette Bergé whose rebellious, rightfully defiant characters embody loud shrieks of the exploited and oppressed.
Gloria mundi / In Hell (1976)
“No one has the right to stop the game of life and death of those who have only that.”
Almost a decade after her big screen debut in Thanos and Despina, Olga Carlatos joins Papatakis once again, in an overwhelmingly unhinged and uninhibited performance that foreshadows Isabelle Adjani’s take on the demanding role in Żuławski’s cult horror Possession. Her Palestinian actress and revolutionary character, Galai, whose humiliating treatment may be easily misinterpreted as a misogynist transgression carries a great portion of the harrowing drama that bursts with anti-colonialist anger, reprimands (or rather, gleefully pisses on, pardon my French) petty-bourgeois hypocrisy, and throws a bunch of satirical darts at arrogant movie producers.
Inflammatory and unapologetic, Gloria mundi is not an enjoyable watch – it is a gritty, grating, visceral, no-holds-barred experience that mercilessly pushes you out of your comfort zone, and as its English title suggests, plunges you into the heroine’s hell where the boundary between reality and fantasy is increasingly blurred. Intensifying discomfort is the grim setting of deliberately deglamorized Paris whose earthy palette is only occasionally punctuated with vivid colors, not to provide relief, but rather to elevate provocation to a whole new level. Grainy cinematography and dissonant soundscapes towered by tormented screams further stir up the chaos of the film’s twisted world that is both radical and shocking even today.
Sep 1, 2021
People usually go on vacation during August, but for me it has been the busiest and simultaneously most exciting month of 2021 so far. The open call for the third edition of Kinoskop - analog experimental film festival that I am co-organizing - has provided quite a number of (predominantly short) films to watch (unfortunately, I can’t reveal my favorites at this point), and I started another collaboration with composer and filmmaker Martin Gerigk, this time on the adaptation of a Walt Whitman’s poem. Being a film and collage junkie, I also managed to see more than 30 features and create a bit more than a dozen of new pieces of artwork. So, without a further ado, I present my August list.
However, the things don’t go as planned for Yoshiyashu, because he finds the car owner’s and his wife’s brains spilled all over the living room, their little daughter left with a mysterious cousin who will take him on an unusual road trip, after leaving the kid at a service station, instructing her not to trust anyone. Through a series of flashbacks, we will learn about their emotionally turbulent pasts, and feel almost as if we’re at the backseat (of the third main character), as silent companions on their journey of reconciliation.
At turns bitter and sweet, funny and disconcerting, quirky and familiar, uplifting and sad, The Goddess of 1967 touches upon some sensitive topics, yet by virtue of Law’s and her co-writer husband Eddie Fong’s clever and gentle approach, the darkness and human evil get either draped in a cloak of stars, or swept away by a pack of dingoes. Directed with a sense of ethereal lightness and shot with a keen eye for composition, capturing the breathtaking beauty of untouched nature, and the noirish intimacy of shadow-filled interiors, the film beats with an honest heart, and brims with delicately off-kilter style.
“Without dreams, there can’t be no future.”
And that is exactly why Lauren Gray – a vet and the keeper of cryptids – embarks on a rescue mission to save the dream-and-nightmare-eating being Baku from the US military that wants to weaponize its (or rather her) power. Following the adventurous story that feels Hollywood-familiar, yet sets to undermine capitalist ‘values’ and practices, Cryptozoo boasts highly trippy visuals that correspond with its late 60’s setting in an alternate universe where mythological creatures walk, slither and fly amongst us. Featuring the voice talents of ensemble cast including Grace Zabriskie, Peter Stormare, Michael Cera and Yorgos Lanthimos’s frequent collaborator Angeliki Papoulia as Medusa, this adult fantasy is a non-stop sensorial barrage of vivid patterns and kaleidoscopic hallucinations. Its off-kilter artwork and jerky, cutout-like animation take some time to get used to, but once you do, your imagination will run wild, keeping you in a state of wide-eyed wonder.
This short got me utterly baffled (which is the very reason why I loved it!), and it often felt like a proto-version of a piece created in the laboratories of Experimental Film Society.
Aug 30, 2021
Takeo Kimura (1918-2010) was a Japanese art director who started his career in the 1940’s and worked on more than 200 films, most famously along Seijun Suzuki (1923-2017), before making a directorial debut, Nocturne of the Horse-headed Fiddle, at the age of 89. After coming across the trailer, I’ve been trying to track it down for years, so imagine my happiness when I finally found it at Vimeo on Demand! Even though it is available with no subtitles and I could only understand a few words of Japanese, such as ‘jigoku (hell)’, ‘kami (God)’ and ‘tenshi (angel)’, I immensely enjoyed its operatic score and experimental visuals merged into an avant-garde musical phantasmagoria.
A prime example of low budget gorgeousness, this 55-minute-long feature reflects on the atomic bombing of Nagasaki in which Ōura Cathedral (The Basilica of the Twenty-Six Holy Martyrs of Japan) – designated as a National Treasure in 1933 – was damaged, and borrows the motif of Lourdes water that flows from a spring in the Grotto of Massabielle in the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes, France. Boldly subverting the traditional grammar of cinema, it reaches your subconsciousness by virtue of obviously foil-and-cardboard sets bathed in dynamic, colorful lighting and enhanced through aquarelle-inspired rear projections and CGI interventions that, paradoxically, evoke the fantasies of the silent era. Adding to its esoteric beauty are the lavish costumes worn (and designed?) by model and actress Sayako Yamaguchi (1949-2007) who appears as mysterious, shamisen-playing Zarome, with Seijun Suzuki, Mitsuru Chiaki and Hikaru Harada co-starring. Nocturne transcends both space and time, as it spirits you away to the world of heightened imagination.
Aug 15, 2021
Featuring most if not all of the recurring elements in the Bianco/Nero series, the 250th chapter in a still growing esoteric saga breaks the standard size rule, and (hopefully) marks a new milestone in my exploration of the farthest, most inaccessible reaches of the subconscious, and their relation to outer limits of our knowledge and imagination. Its ‘truth’ eludes even me, yet it gives me great pleasure to fall into its trap and feel the coldness of its infinite chains slithering around my inner being...
Aug 11, 2021
It was in the worm’s radiant warmth that I noticed the shadow of my insignificance. The river didn’t hear my thoughts, and the brightest of stars couldn’t understand my silent plea. There was nothing but infinite delusion left in their hearts, and a semblance of reality simmering in my own. I wanted to become a ghost, yet I couldn’t find the potion She had hidden before she left for Oblivion – a strange place where all clocks tick off-key to invoke the cacophony of ultimate solitude. And that’s when I realized – the pain which I shared with the last specimen of the Albino Devil had already been sold at an unreasonable price.
Aug 3, 2021
Daliah Levi’s beauty is only matched by her great talent, as she devotes herself with burning passion (and contortionist abilities!) to the demanding role of a peasant woman, Purificazione, whose unrequited love for an engaged man, Antonio (Frank Wolff), turns her into a witch... at least, in the eyes of other villagers. Her repressed libido (quite possibly joined by madness) is mistaken for a demonic possession by the patriarchal, narrow-minded and extremely superstitious environment, so even she falls under the spell of mob-mentality believing that evil resides within her soul. Approaching the subject from a combined perspective, as an artist, intellectual, ethnographer and mystic, Brunello Rondi shrouds the story in a fine veil of ambiguity, and delivers an astounding and deeply unsettling psychological drama of immense, hypnotizing aural and visual power. The film’s cultural authenticity is derived from the cast populated by numerous non-professionals, as well as from the shooting location – the hill village of Montescaglioso in the southern Italy.
The first and, thanks to the prevailing conservatism of the time, the last feature by Belgian filmmaker Herman Wuyts (1927-1986) is a droll, provocative, mischievously playful mélange of romance, exploitation, slapstick, James Bond parody, New Wave shenanigans, and satire on celebrity culture. It follows a simple plot about a freelance photographer, Mark, who sets out to make a series of commercial photo novels based on his writer buddy Walter’s failed book, starring his British sweetheart, Margie, and featuring gratuitous nudity, over-the-top shoot-outs and numerous car chases often ending in explosions. (And let’s not forget a foamy scene involving a blonde-wigged gang of all-female baddies in skimpy outfits swapping bang-bang for some kiss-kiss!) The popularity of the project has its downfalls, of course, jeopardizing both the couple’s relationship, with Margie feeling abused, and the friendship between Walter and Mark who lets success go to his head. As for Wuyts, he is remarkably assured in directing his tongue-in-cheek vision, presenting us with a twisted version of reality in a hyper-stylized fashion that pushes his creative editing to the forefront. Supported by seductive B&W cinematography and eclectic score worthy of the film’s genre-bending nature, he achieves a fine balance of (pop) art and (pulp) entertainment. Also worth mentioning is that the writing credits include the name of Harry Kümel of Malpertuis and Daughters of Darkness fame.
A delightful tribute to Jules et Jim and The Dreamers, this playful, bittersweet, multilingual drama exudes delicate sensuality, understated poignancy, controlled spontaneity, and the restlessness of youth, as it lifts your spirit to the love-intoxicated, enjoy-the-moment heights of a seemingly unbreakable ménage à trois that finds a common ground in art, sex, political protest and, generally speaking, views on life. Anchored in Cvetko’s freewheeling direction and irresistible cinematography of soft grays, fairly diversified soundtrack, and breakout performances by Cristina Rambaldi, Neyssan Falahi and Mattia Minasi, Show Me What You Got is a gently shaped piece of cinematic illusion which, once it dissolves, engraves itself in your heart. Every generation needs a film like this one.
After Abraham Linkoln gets his throat ripped by werewolf Benedict Arnold, Martha Washington performs an unplugged cover of The Bangles’ Eternal Flame at his funeral where it’s easy to spot John F. Kennedy and Rambo amongst the mourners (as well as an electric guitar that is a gift from Mozart himself). She persuades her future husband, chainsaw-wielding George Washington, to lead the revolution and make Abe’s dream come true, so he joins forces with beer-lovin’ bro Samuel Adams of Delta Iota Chi (i.e. ΔIX) fraternity, scientist Thomas Edison who is a Chinese immigrant woman almost burned at the stake, fast-and-furious jockey Paul Revere whose horse speaks with a Spanish accent, and chief Geronimo (or just Geronimo), introduced in a Lorenzo-Lamas-starring-the-Renegade-series style. Together, they will try to stop the tea-infused British-ization led by extremely obese King James whose pet is a flesh-eating soccer-ball named Manchester. Add to that a great number of anachronisms often reflected in pop-culture references ranging from Star Wars to Robocop to Magic Mike, wrap it all up in irreverently crude humor (that doesn’t always hit the mark) and some superbly animated, blood-soaked action sequences, and you got yourself a self-ironic or rather, self-consciously silly satire of American heritage. Appearing as if written during an alcohol-soaked college party, America: The Motion Picture pulls no punches and spares no one in poking fun at the USA birth, coming across as one of the most over-the-top and anarchic animated features in recent memory.
Visually reminiscent of Roy Andersson’s Living Trilogy, Hannah Dörr’s feature debut is a wry and bone-dry crime-comedy which revolves around a bizarre case of decapitations committed by horse-riding Huns in modern-day Anröchte, with a surreal scene that could be an absurd reference to Smurfs easily outweirding the plot. It goes without saying that this German cine-oddity is an acquired taste.
Up-and-coming young actress Sandra Guldberg Kampp portrays a mysterious teenage girl living in a remote farmhouse, together with a sinister, blood-drinking creature/entity whose true identity remains attached to a missing piece of a Philip Ridley-esque coming-of-age drama/horror puzzle. What sets this short apart from other vampire-themed films is the complete absence of dialogue which allows us to immerse ourselves in Sebastian Bjerregaard’s quaintly beautiful 16mm cinematography and Toke Brorson Odin’s eerily foreboding soundscapes whose synergy creates a dense, haunting atmosphere. Nicolai G.H. Johansen is a name to watch out for.
(Quinzaine des Réalisateurs 2021)
A highly atmospheric mystery drama, playing as a part of Curtas Vila do Conde 2021 program at Festival Scope, until August 6.
HONORABLE MENTION for animated series