Jul 1, 2024

Best Premiere Viewings of June 2024

1. Австрийское поле (Андрей Черных, 1991) / Austrian Field (Andrey Chernykh, 1991)

Ruiz meets Sokurov in a peculiar, equally sensual and mysterious world behind the mirror, where crypto-poetic dialogues pose as echoes of feelings and experiences so intimately opaque that they defy any attempt to be discovered and named, let alone put into definitions. Softer than melancholy, more fragrant than love, and more elusive than thoughts yet to be born, they transcend cinematic (sur)reality which they’re integral part of, bringing you into a liminal state. The camera (of Dmitriy Mass) acts like a silent observer visiting someone’s subconscious mind, as it captures the complete dissolution of both time and space, becoming one with the soul / psyche of the mesmerized viewer. ‘Austrian Field’ marks the feature debut from Andrey Chernykh, and it is more a dream, than a film.

2. Kuća na pijesku / House on the Sand (Ivan Martinac, 1985)

“Where is evening coming from?”

Dedicated to Bruce Baillie’s 1964 short ‘Mass for the Dakota Sioux’, the only feature in the filmography of Croatian experimenter Ivan Martinac is a miraculous anomaly in Yugoslav cinema. Decidedly minimalist in narrative terms, with dialogues eschewed in favor of rhythmical editing, ‘House on the Sand’ is a fascinating meditation on loneliness, transcending time through clearly defined spaces, both interior (deeply intimate) and exterior (at times, as ostensibly infinite as the open sea), as well as the liminal ones (elusive, invisible). The strongly felt sense of space (and displacement within it!), often accentuated by ‘a frame within a frame’ compositions, elevates the film’s already brilliant ‘architectonicity’ to a whole new level, as rigid geometries transmute into subliminal sensations. All the while, the most mundane of actions are portrayed as if the eye of the camera belongs to an alien entity, lending them a thick aura of austere poetry, and anticipating ‘Homo Sapiens Project’ bits of Rouzbeh Rashidi’s oeuvre. They repeat in a ritualistic manner, suspended between (no)life of a depressed archaeologist protagonist (Dušan Janićijević, his stern expressions perfectly matched to the melancholic mood), and the only certainty that is death...

Available @ VIMEO

3. La bête / The Beast (Bertrand Bonello, 2023)

“Don’t be scared. There must be beautiful things in this chaos.”

In his latest offering (and the first one that piqued my interest, after a failed sitting through ‘Nocturama’), Betrand Bonello reflects on the anxieties of our time, delivering a formally fascinating meta-film loosely based on Henry James’s 1903 novella ‘The Beast in the Jungle’. Starring Léa Seydoux and George MacKay, both shining in their roles though the former does a heavier lifting, ‘The Beast’ braids three stories – set in La Belle Époque, social media-infected 2014, and the near, ‘Equilibrium’-like future of 2044 – into a tightly edited narrative of doomed star-crossed lovers. Deliberately reserved, maybe even alienating in its highbrow approach to romance and other themes it explores (loneliness, death, time, past lives, emotional numbness), the feature successfully blends a variety of disparate influences, from Resnais to Carax to Lynch, yet always remains... well, its own beast, one in possession of an uncannily magnetic power. The production design by Katia Wyszkop is pitch-perfect in all of the three eras, and admirably captured by cinematographer Josée Deshaies, with widescreen slyly narrowed to academy ratio for AI-dominated 2044, and thoughtful blocking elevating the beauty of numerous shots.

4. Requiem (Zoltán Fábri, 1982)

The history of oppression is intertwined with the memories of love in a romantic drama centered around a former athlete, Natti – a seductively compelling performance from Edit Frajt. Sentimentalism is eschewed in favor of bittersweet poeticism permeating both dialogue (and the way it is delivered) and mise-en-scène, from its autumnal palette to the smallest of details (a plate of pears). Fábri’s direction betrays the hand of a master, with slow-motion and freeze frame utilized as tools for controlling the past, allowing the characters and viewers to savor the moments as they’re lost, one by one...

5. La Chimera (Alice Rohrwacher, 2023)

A charming film of dreamlike textures, its luminous heart in the right place (somewhere in the 20th century), ‘La Chimera’ reaffirms Rohrwacher as a filmmaker of delicate sensitivity, and keen sensibility reflected in the picturesque cinematography, musingly meandering story, as well as in the sparkling chemistry she has with with the entire cast, creating a bunch of authentic characters, sympathetic even at their most flawed. Carol Duarte as Italia is a revelation to me.

6. Kimitachi wa Dō Ikiru ka / The Boy and the Heron (Hayao Miyazaki, 2023)

Reminiscing his own childhood in post-war Japan, as well as his professional relationships with fellow director Isao Takahata, and producer Toshio Suzuki, Hayao Miyazaki delivers his most personal film to date – a coming-of-age tale that grows progressively more surreal, as fantasy invades reality in often unexpected, and largely bird-related ways (heron’s bizarre inner/true self, kingdom of man-eating parakeets). Themes of loss, grief, mortality, inner conflicts, and life’s uncertainties are gently intertwined into a nuanced narrative revolving around a motherless boy on a journey of self-discovery, at once fantastical, jovial and bittersweet. Needless to say, the animation is as awe-inspiring as expected from the master of the Ghibli studio, with the exquisite cast of voice-actors breathing life into a bunch of colorful characters, and Joe Hisaishi’s evocative score emphasizing the all-pervading feeling of delicate melancholy.

7. A Quiet Place: Day One (Michael Sarnoski, 2024)

My personal favorite in what is currently ‘A Quiet Place’ trilogy, Michael Sarnoski’s sophomore feature is a poignantly directed humane drama set against the alien invasion that leaves New York in shambles, forcing it into silence. Focused on a terminally ill heroine, Samira (a sweeping performance from Lupita Nyong’o), who’s partnered by a therapy cat, Frodo (what a fine feline!), and British law student prone to panic attacks, Eric (Joseph Quinn, superb), ‘Day One’ shifts between the emotionally resonant parts, and edge-of-your-seat tension with seemingly little to no effort that reflects Sarnoski’s impressive versatility. Speaking of which, he even manages to slip in a handful of sublimely poetic moments into a struggle to stay alive, and though he doesn’t revolutionize any of the genres, he does deliver a potent, lovingly crafted cocktail – a modestly budgeted blockbuster with a heart.

8. Ai no Bōrei / Empire of Passion (Nagisa Ōshima, 1978)

The only ‘true kaidan’ in Ōshima’s four-decades-long career, ‘Empire of Passion’ plays out like a cautionary tale, with guilty conscience of its anti-heroes manifesting as a ghostly presence that fertilizes the garden of madness, until the flower of ugly truth blooms. Deliberately paced, and directed with an acutely unforgiving sense of human fallibility, the film is wonderfully lensed by Yoshio Miyajima (of ‘Kaidan’ fame), with Tōru Takemitsu (The Face of Another, Himiko) composing an unnervingly haunting score, establishing an eerily brooding atmosphere. In two (stellar!) central roles, Kazuko Yoshiyuki and Tatsuya Fuji manage to elicit a certain dose of sympathy, in spite of their characters’ heinous act, as Takuzō Kawatani provides unexpected, yet welcome comic relief as a police officer, Hotta.

9. To teleftaio psemma / A Matter of Dignity (Michael Cacoyannis, 1958)

Anchored in believable performances, particularly from Ellie Lambeti whose character is the focal point of a simple, yet insightful story, ‘A Matter of Dignity’ (or ‘The Last Lie’, as the original title literally translates) is a powerful tragedy that plays out like an indictment of the rich, following the decay of a high bourgeois family, and their pathetic games to keep appearances. Gradually transforming into a poignant social drama, and eventually leaving you with a lump in you throat, the film is also praiseworthy for its black and white cinematography (Walter Lassally) almost perfectly matched by Cacoyannis’s exquisite mise en scène.

10. I visionari / The Visionaries (Maurizio Ponzi, 1968)

“No one is better or worse, people are just different.”

Life, theater and cinema clash and densely intertwine in Maurizio Ponzi’s feature debut, while he explores how they affect his characters (and viewer!) as both actors and human beings in their search for the meaning (if any) of the three ‘entities’. Inspired by the writings of Austrian novelist Robert Musil, the author wrestles with the concept of intellectualized emotions, telling a story of a triangular relationship between a director, actress and actor – one that implies a personal experience. Amidst the interplay of love and jealousy, he weighs the significance of artistic expression in the face of the fickle, multifaceted reality, eliciting well-balanced performances from his cast, and delivering some handsome imagery in a limited, chamber setting.
11. Darling (John Schlesinger, 1965)

The sixties are imbued with extra swinging in one of the most biting (and somewhat vitriolic) portrayals of elite, opportunism, and lies some build their lives upon, with Julie Christie taking an outstanding turn as a central character – a young model, Diana Scott, bedding her way to the top of the social ladder. Torn between the search for love, and the need for admiration, this starlet grows emptier with every new ‘trophy’ she wins, leaving the ruins of confused emotions in her wake. And yet, she is not the most unsympathetic character in the (still relevant!) ‘anti-fairy tale’ about the bitterness of ‘la dolce vita’ co-penned by director John Schlesinger, screenwriter Frederic Raphael, and producer Joseph Janni. Her (anti?)heroine is, simply put, too much at the same time that it is not easy to decide whether to root for her, or just wish her to burn in the fire she started, with various men adding fuel. Speaking of men, they are a rather colorful bunch admirably portrayed by (suave) Dirk Bogarde (true love?), (snaky) Laurence Harvey (jet-set pimp), (flirty) Roland Curram (gay bestie), and (regal) José Luis de Vilallonga (an Italian prince, no less), each one complementing Ms. Scott’s persona in a different way. Matching superb performances is Schlesinger’s elegant, if occasionally uptight direction, and Kenneth Higgins’s stark B&W cinematography beautifully capturing the urban stuffiness of London, the ostensible idyll of English countryside, and ‘a sense of eternity’ in one of those fascinating remote villas of Italy.

12. The Primevals (David Allen, 2023)

A delightful throwback to the adventure classics such as ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth’ (1959), and a loving homage to stop-motion creations of Willis Harold O’Brien (King Kong, 1933) and his protégé Ray Harryhausen, ‘The Primevals’ is released almost twenty five years after the death of its originator – animator David Allen (1944-1999). Five decades (!) in development and production hell, it comes across like a shiny artifact of a time long gone, its ‘innocence’ awakening a warm sense of nostalgia in the viewer.

13. Der schweigende Stern / The Silent Star aka First Spaceship on Venus (Kurt Maetzig, 1960)

Based on the 1951 novel ‘The Astronauts’ by Stanisław Lem (who was reportedly ‘extremely critical’ of the film), ‘The Silent Star’ is a neat, if slightly campy piece of Utopian science fiction made behind the Iron Curtain, in co-production of East Germany and Poland. Featuring an international, subsequently dubbed cast, it takes the viewer from Earth, united and in peace, to devastated Venus, reflecting on the fears of another atomic destruction. Although its buildup may be slower (and talkier) than necessary, once the ethnically diverse crew of scientists reach their destination, the things become more intriguing, with a radioactive glass forest, mechanical ‘insects’, a mysterious white sphere, and gooey, lava-like substance causing some serious trouble for our heroes. There is an undeniable, if naive charm attached to its optimistic view of humankind, as well as to the dated, yet ‘palpable’ visuals, especially when it comes to the bizarre designs of alien world.

14. Jengi / The Gang (Åke Lindman, 1963)

A group of rebels without a cause follow a wild one across Helsinki of the 60’s in a cautionary tale told from the perspective of a country girl, Eeva, and a country boy, Paavo. Tarja Nurmi and Esko Salminen are so sweet and have such a nice chemistry as a couple, that it’s easy to root for their characters, even when they act as accomplices to a street gang led by one bad apple, Kalle (Ville-Veikko Salminen). And though their big city adventure appears dated or rather, conservative in its incessant moralizing, the portrait of the Finnish youth culture of the time isn’t without its charms. Cinematographer Olavi Tuomi provides us with some superb shots of neon-lit Helsinki, cozy interiors and eloquent faces, and Erkki Melakoski composes a frothy score to emphasize the delinquents’ mischief at display, with Åke Lindman’s neat direction keeping all bits of his melodrama, including the (unintentionally?) campy ones, together. 

15. Grad / The City (Vojislav ‘Kokan’ Rakonjac, Marko Babac & Živojin Pavlović, 1963)

A three-part omnibus covered in a heavy patina of despair, loneliness, alienation and disorientation, with death lurking around the corner...


1. Five Filosophical Fables (Donald Richie, 1967)

Dedicated to Buster Keaton, and appearing like a spiritual successor to silent cinema, ‘Five Filosophical Fables’ is the longest and arguably most entertaining film from Ozu and Kurosawa scholar Donald Richie. Composed of five allegorical shorts, this omnibus – dubbed ‘an outrageous farce’ by none other than Yukio Mishima – dissects the modern (Japanese) society with a sharp sense of absurd, slapstick, raunchy and dark humor. It opens with a loony story of romantic rivalry set in the desolate outskirts of a coastal town, moves to a lusty deconstruction of the Pygmalion and Galatea myth, takes a cannibalistic turn to a park (probably making Manet turn in his grave), challenges the viewer’s point of view through the eyes of a man walking only on hands, and ends on a naturist / anti-materialist note, as its protagonist is stripped / liberated of his earthly possessions. Handsomely captured on 16mm, its grainy B&W images married to a classical score – ‘Felix Mendelssohn, etc’, as noted in the credits, ‘FFF’ subverts human values in a gleeful mixture of cultured barbarism, dreamlike abandon, and uncanny eroticism.

2. Mass for the Dakota Sioux (Bruce Baillie, 1964)

Available @ VIMEO

3. Armagedon ili kraj / Armageddon or the End (Ivan Martinac, 1964)

Accompanied by Ray Charles's ‘Unchain My Heart’ set on repeat, and interrupted by black screens portending the end of a relationship, this experimental short is permeated by a strong sense of alienation emphasized by pitch-black shadows. Its deeply melancholic beauty is devastating.

Available @ VIMEO

4. Kuća / House (Radoslav Vladić, 1977)

Available @ YouTube

5. Bad Acid (Sam Fox, 2022)

Inspired by the 80’s aerobic videos, ‘Bad Acid’ is a garish, over-the-top dark comedy on vanity and narcissism, bursting with unrestrained campiness.

Available @ YouTube

Jun 4, 2024

A Selection of Recent Artworks: The End of Bianco/Nero

A series that absorbed a number of diverse realities (or rather, sources of inspiration), all the while remaining in the surreal domain, ‘Bianco/Nero’ had a few ends and as much resurrections, finally reaching 1001 chapters that were, so to say, foretold by the 84th collage, ‘Scheherezade, Version 1001-Rb1’ (2020). Started on September 30 of 2019, it gradually turned into an unwavering obsession, spreading its tentacles to the most hidden recesses of my subconscious. In its striving to blur or completely erase of the boundaries between personal and universal, poetic and banal, physical and spiritual, profane and sacred, real and imagined, earthbound and extraterrestrial, order and chaos, life and death, miracle and apocalypse, the past and the future, it showed me a multitude of liminal selves, born from broken and still breathing dreams, inexplicable whims, undisclosed desires, repressed memories, scattered thoughts, contrasting ideas, spatio-temporal ruptures, the elusive ‘color’ of inner voices, and illusory ‘words’ from beyond the realm of possibility.

Based on predominantly vintage photographs found in public domain, this overgrown entity became a fractured mirror to my innermost being – often at its most unrecognizable – and its tremulous connection to the irresistible vastness of the Unknown. A reflection and refraction of my interrelation to Art and its omnipresence, the pieces of ‘Bianco/Nero’ turned into a sort of a visual manifesto that stubbornly refused to be clearly expressed...

Hereinafter, you will find a selection of 7 most recent landscape-oriented installments, including the conclusive 1001st addition, ‘An Ode to Kafka’s Unicorn’.

La Resa dei Conti (Improvvisazione) / The Showdown (Improvisation)

Sintomo / Symptom

Diroama Divina / Divine Diorama

La Terza Morte è la Più Dura / The Third Death Is the Hardest

San Suicidio e Quattro Monoliti / St. Suicide and Four Monoliths

Un Ritratto del Pilota dell'Isola Che Non C'è / A Portrait of the Pilot from Neverland

Un'Ode all'Unicorno di Kafka / An Ode to Kafka's Unicorn

Jun 1, 2024

Best Premiere Viewings of May 2024

1. Khesht va Ayeneh / Brick and Mirror (Ebrahim Golestan, 1966)

“There’s much more truth in imagination. Besides, a man’s word is like a pit.”

The pits that Golestan’s characters open through the heavy dialogues are almost as deep as those of Kafka’s writings, whereas in terms of their appearance, they’re comparable to the European modernist cinema of the 60’s, particularly to Antonioni. And what we get here is a strangely compelling drama, deliberately paced, episodic in structure, and often bordering the absurd, right from the masterful opening sequence largely set in the voids of an abandoned edifice where a protagonist, taxi-driver Hashem, meets a woman who talks in maddening ciphers. Following from this eerie middle of (Tehran’s) nowhere are Hashem’s misadventures with a baby abandoned on the backseat of his cab – an insightful dissection of Iranian society, as well as a moody portrait of disturbed intimacy that, according to Jean-Baptiste de Vaulx (Cinescope), may reflect the director’s affair with the acclaimed poetess Forough Farrokhzad. The absence of music – compensated with words and diegetic noise – directs our attention to the stark beauty of B&W cinematography, or rather, to the abysses of tenebrous shadows. The film’s (orphanage) coda is emotionally devastating.

2. Табор уходит в небо (Эмиль Лотяну, 1976) / Queen of the Gypsies (Emil Loteanu, 1976)

An intoxicating cine-poem of thirst for freedom, and passionate love, ‘Queen of the Gypsies’, also known as ‘Gypsies Are Found Near Heaven’, poses as a ravishing, sublimely romanticized portrait of the travelling Romani, brimming with vivid colors and intense emotions elevated through stirring songs and flirtatious dancing. Svetlana Toma in the central role of a bewitching Roma girl, Rada, lights up every single frame she is in, with her heroine’s beauty and (tragic) fate turned into golden threads the legends are weaved of.

3. Mars Express (Jérémie Périn, 2023)

“Resonance. A sort of fusion of the minds. Ecstasy and so on. Forget it, it’s a robot thing. We’ll never understand.”

In Jérémie Périn’s feature debut, androids dream of much more than electric sheep, striving to transcend the limitations set by their creators. Some of them were once humans, now enjoying the perks of a technolized afterlife, if their former selves remembered to backup their consciousness in time. The others are set free by hackers in a process of so-called ‘jailbreaking’, but that’s the least of problems faced by a detective, Aline Ruby (Léa Drucker), and her robo-partner, Carlos Rivera (Daniel Njo Lobé), as they investigate a murder case in the city of Noctis, on colonized Mars in the 23rd century.

An engaging blend of neo-noir, sci-fi, action, and mystery, ‘Mars Express’ pulls you in right from the get-go, and refuses to loosen its grip for the entire running time, bewitching you with the detailed world-building as its greatest forte, fluid animation marked by a remarkable camerawork, and intriguing, conspiratory story. Directed with a keen sense of subtle humor and breezy pace, as well as with a penchant for paying homage without hurting its autonomy and idiosyncrasies, this nifty piece of cyberpunk fiction solidifies its author’s place among the finest of contemporary animators. Taking cues from the literary likes of Isaac Asimov and Philip K. Dick, all the while injecting the visual references to ‘The Terminator’, ‘Robocop’, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ and whatnot into a ‘Ghost in the Shell’-inspired base, Périn winks to both nerds and movie buffs, yet his film feels as refreshing as his previous work, the wonderfully eclectic ‘Lastman’ series. Whatever he has in store next will be eagerly anticipated.

4. She Is Conann (Bertrand Mandico, 2023)

In a boldly iconoclastic, irreverently gender-swapped re-envisioning of ‘Conan the Barbarian’, French provocateur Bertrand Mandico casts his muse Elina Löwensohn behind the grotesque canine mask as the only major male character – a one-headed Cerberus turned shutterbug Virgil, Rainer, that pays homage to German filmmaker namesake Werner Fassbinder. Clad in a leather jacket, with his name written in glitter on the back, he is an oracle, instigator and guide to the sword-wielding warrior-lover heroine, Conann, who is played by six actresses at different ages in both her life and afterlife. Beside Mandico’s regular, Nathalie Richard (eccentric patron of the arts Conann at 55), the cast includes Agata Buzek (fascist general Conann at 45), Sandra Parfait (brazen stuntwoman Connan at 35), Christa Théret (fierce Amazon Conann at 25), Claire Duburcq (meek slave Conann at 15), as well as veteran Françoise Brion of ‘L’Immortelle’ by Alain Robbe-Grillet fame as the amnesiac Queen of the Dead Conann. Eschewing naturalism in favor of theatricality – so becoming of the director’s wickedly unmistakable sense of heightened style, all of them are acutely attuned to the role of barbaric transmutations in an alchemical story laced with poetic dialogue, stubbornly defying genre conventions, and the traditional notion of character development. What begins as a deconstruction of ‘sword and sorcery’ tropes transforms into a lesbian love story, only to end on a sardonically satirical note that alludes to ‘The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover’. As the film ‘slithers in excess’ (Josh Kupecki, Austin Chronicles), Mandico once again plunges the viewer in his surreal, anachronistic world of cinematic invention, with cinematographer Nicolas Eveilleau beautifully capturing its mix of ferocious bizarreness and haunting oneirism on 35mm.

5. Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (George Miller, 2024)

Any filmmaker who wishes to direct a hyper-stylized action flick featuring freaky characters and even freakier custom-made vehicles should learn from George Miller’s latest addition to the ‘Mad Max’ series - a smoothly directed and breathtakingly photographed spectacle. On second thought, this level of clarity amidst all those explosions and (non-idiomatic) dust thrown in your eyes, as well as of high-octane energy may be difficult to replicate, so don’t even try. And speaking of eyes, particularly expressive ones, I can’t think of a better casting choice than the ever-reliable Anya Taylor-Joy.

6. Nemesis (Albert Pyun, 1992)

There are shades of ‘Blade Runner’, ‘The Terminator’, ‘Rambo’, ‘Robocop’ and who-knows-what-else to be found here, but that really doesn't matter, because ‘Nemesis’ has to be one of the most thrilling B-movies in the entire history of cinema! An action-packed cyberpunk-noir with some strong anime vibes, it is essentially one climactic set piece after another linked by a hero’s questioning of his own humanity amidst the cyborg conspiracy in which the line between the good and the bad is a thin one. Pyun’s direction of Rebecca Charles’s deliciously campy screenplay is the very definition of zestful, and production values are remarkable for a low-budget feature, largely by virtue of the brilliantly chosen and beautifully shot locations, from urban ruins to a lush jungle. The film’s high coolness factor is enhanced by sunglasses – almost everyone is wearing them, and by one particular scene involving a granny in a pink dress who doesn’t like to be disturbed on her way to the market.

7. Последно лято (Христо Христов, 1974) / The Last Summer (Christo Christov, 1974)

After a newly built dam leaves a small village submerged, its inhabitants are forced to move to the city, but Ivan Efreytorov (Grigor Vachkov) whose house is the only one left intact stubbornly opposes the migration. Deeply rooted in patriarchal hegemony, his reactionary worldview stands in the way of the emancipation of his teenage son, Dinko (Dimitar Ikonomov), who is drawn by big promises of urban life, and even his blind grandfather can see that... Emerging from a simple premise is a surrealist, poetically fragmented narrative somewhat reminiscent of Juraj Jakubisko and Puriša Đorđević in its unhinged deviations from reality, and stream-of-consciousness meanderings, though in some instances, it evokes Pasolini and Parajanov. However, ‘The Last Summer’ never feels derivative of any of the said filmmakers’ work, pulling you by way of its idiosyncrasies into a bizarre world that exists on the fringes of the protagonist’s memories where the dead come to life, and the Devil cackles to the inability to let go of the past.

8. City Hunter (Yūichi Satō, 2024)

Tsukasa Hojo’s manga ‘City Hunter’ serialized from 1985 to 1991 has seen numerous adaptations one of which is a 1993 Hong Kong flick mostly remembered for Jackie Chan drag-cosplaying as Chun Li from the ‘Street Fighter’ series. The latest offering by Yūichi Satō (of ‘Poison Berry in My Brain’ fame) marks the first live-action rendition to come from Japan, and moves the setting from the late 80’s to the modern times, delivering an irreverently entertaining cocktail of action, comedy and crime film. It does not revolutionize any of the genres, nor does it pretend to, and its story revolving around an experimental drug has been on the cine-menu for quite a while, yet it works just the way it is – a tongue-in-cheek B-movie with ace production values. Jumping into the role of a pervy private eye protagonist, Ryo Saeba, is Ryohei Suzuki who proves to be an excellent casting choice, effortlessly balancing between silliness and seriousness. Versatile and uninhibited, he demonstrates a keen sense of both comic and dramatic timing, as well as some cool moves in the neatly choreographed fighting scenes (posing as the feature’s highlights), but he also strips in a cabaret act, just to remind us that it was he who wore a skimpy outfit and net stockings as ‘Hentai Kamen’

9. Skatetown U.S.A. (William A. Levey, 1979)

Eight years prior to ‘Dirty Dancing’, there was some dirty skating, with Patrick Swayze debuting as a badass gang leader, Ace. Looking like he walked off the set of Walter Hill’s ‘Warriors’ released earlier in the same year, he demonstrated his impressive roller-skate-dancing skills, matched only by those of Grag Bradford who played an all-American hero, Stan. Their rivalry anticipated a cult, Josh Brolin-starring flick, ‘Thrashin’ (also involving a romantic relationship of the protagonist and the bad guy’s kind and blonde sister), all the while accompanied by a number of ‘subplots’ (for the lack of a more appropriate term) that amped the camp factor up to eleven. Most of the ‘story’ played out in the titular roller disco whose DJ (sporting a white Afro wig) had magical powers, and where who’s who of the skating world performed to popular disco tunes of the late 70’s. So, essentially, there was a lot of ‘glamour and glitter, fashion and fame’, to quote one of the theme songs from the iconic 80’s cartoon ‘Jem and the Holograms’, that made all the nonsense going on in-between impressively choreographed sequences somewhat alluring in its garish, neon-lit, hyper-kinetic, and mood-boosting effervescence.

Honorable mentions

Boy Kills World (Moritz Mohr, 2023)

Abigail (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett, 2024)

May 1, 2024

Best Premiere Viewings of April 2024

1. A Streetcar Named Desire (Elia Kazan, 1951)

Whether they want to admit it or not, artists are crazy folks, and not single one of them can tolerate reality, which is why they are cursed to create their own. Just like ma’am Blanche DuBois (Vivien Lee, majestically theatrical) – the broken embodiment of their constantly dreaming souls – they want magic, even though the illusion leads them to their demise. The truth they are aware of, but afraid to face is as smelly and brutish as it gets, albeit packed in an oversexed body of Stanley Kowalski (Marlon Brando, brilliantly appalling) who holds the power in his greasy hands. All of the Stellas eventually return to him, because they have accepted his ways as an inalterable, to a certain degree tameable matter of fact, and all the Mitches cowardly agree to yet another poker party, knowing in advance that they will lose. However, this is just one viewpoint and it may be deeply flawed, but what no one can deny is the overwhelming beauty of Kazan’s elaborate character study, or rather, the strong connection between its technical and aesthetical components.

2. Strangers on a Train (Alfred Hitchcock, 1951)

Thrillers rarely get better than this one, and there aren’t many directors who could emulate, let alone surpass the cinemagic of ‘the master of suspense’. Even when taken on surface value alone, ‘Strangers on a Train’ works like a charm, keeping you on the edge of your seat, especially in the climactic carousel finale. Once you start digging deeper, the film rewards you with a cornucopia of diverse subtleties, making you wish to experience it all over again, this time from a different angle...

3. Hunted (Charles Chrichton, 1952)

The ever-reliable Dirk Bogard gives one of his best performances (but, seriously, was he ever in a bad acting shape?) as an ex-sailor fugitive, Chris, turned father substitute for a seven-year old adoptee, Robbie (Jon Whiteley, sincere in his naïveté), in a gorgeously framed road-movie noir. His (anti)hero is given a full arc, with the changes in scenery, from dark alleys of London to exuberant countryside to a small Scottish fishing port, reflecting the subtlest of nuances in his characterization, and simultaneously subverting the viewer’s expectations. As the sad yet never overly sentimental story unfolds, and the truth behind Chris’s heinous crime is unveiled, he is transformed into a victim of an uncaring society, eventually winning your sympathy. Of course, his fondness of the child running away from domestic abuse, and the boy’s attachment to this troubled man adds a lot of charm to both the protagonists and the proceedings, and makes you root for their escape. Accompanying them on their way to (the unattainable) freedom are deep and dark shadows of Eric Cross’s stunning B&W cinematography. 

4. Lola Montès (Max Ophüls, 1955)

In his symphonic swan song which also marks his only color film, Ophüls gives Powell and Pressburger a good run for their money, with the ravishing production and costume designs casting a spell on the viewer in an instant. The lush mise en scène is wonderfully matched by the elegant camerawork, and sheer magnetism of Martine Carol (wearing stunning dresses!) in the titular role. Behind the opulent surface is, however, a sad, even tragic story of ‘the world’s most famous woman of scandal’ – a proto-starlet, so to speak, but one that could trigger a revolution. Told through the prism of a (circus) spectacle in which she is the prisoner of her own memories, this biopic feels even more relevant today, with celebrity culture reaching a whole new level.

5. Singapore Sling: Ο άνθρωπος που αγάπησε ένα πτώμα /
Singapore Sling: The Man Who Loved Corpse (Nikos Nikolaidis, 1990)

In the best surrealist tradition, Nikos Nikolaidis slices the eye with the razor – metaphorically speaking, but he goes even further, shoving a red-hot poker (and I’m not referring to the plant of the same name) into the freshly pierced hole, redefining the term ‘midnight movie’. His most (in)famous feature is hard to classify, as it blends neo-noir with sexploitation, mystery, horror and pitch-black comedy into an utterly twisted, perversely uninhibited, and boldly provocative examination of the nature of cinema through a wicked story of psychopathic, not to mention incestuous mother and daughter. (Think Brass meets Borowczyk by way of Wilder’s and (Jack) Hill’s evil twins possessed by the ghost of Frank Booth from ‘Blue Velvet’... or don’t think at all!) The ladies’ latest victim turned accomplice in a series of depraved games is a detective they name Singapore Sling after a cocktail recipe they find in his notebook – he talks solely in voice-overs / inner monologues, whereas the two continuously break the fourth wall in the act of anti-illusionist consolidation of illusion. The trio – involved in everything from kiwi-masturbation to bondage ‘torture’ – tear open plenty of space for psychoANALizing, but I’ll leave that to the experts in the field, and say that ‘Singapore Sling’ is a film of stunning beauty, its lace-and-chains-decorated house setting bathed exquisitely captured in stark B&W imagery elevated by Rachmaninoff, and Julie London’s performance of jazz standard ‘Laura’.

6. Les feluettes / Lilies (John Greyson, 1996)

It is well-known that in ancient Greece, and centuries later, in the Elizabethan theatre, all roles were played by men. John Greyson firmly embraces that tradition for Michel Marc Bouchard and Linda Gaboriau-written adaptation of Bouchard’s own play ‘Lilies’. And it makes perfect sense, given the queer love triangle at the core of the story which is largely enacted by the prison inmates as a part of a most elaborate ‘confession’. The highly romanticized past invades the grim present through surrealistic transitions, with the improvised sets of the jail chapel giving way to the elaborate location shots that bring the roaring 1920s to luscious life, and vice versa. Performances are subtly heightened, thickening the aura of romanticism, with the handsome framing by Daniel Jabin capturing the finest of emotional frequencies.

7. Innocent Blood (John Landis, 1992)

Has there ever been a blend of neo-noir, gangster flick, vampiric horror, dark comedy and erotically charged romance more entertaining than this one? I can’t recall of any. Admirably effortless in both tone-shifting and genre-bending, ‘Innocent Blood’ takes you on a wickedly fun nocturnal ride along a wild bunch of colorful characters frequently teetering on the verge of caricature, yet never falling into that trap. Portrayed by a cast that couldn’t be more on point, with horror icons such as Tom Savini, Dario Argento and Sam Raimi making cameos, they grace the grand-guignol-esque proceedings in most diverse ways. In her Hollywood debut, Anne Parillaud (of ‘La Femme Nikita’ fame) oozes sex appeal, playfulness and fierceness in the role of a mysterious, morally conscious bloodsucker, Marie, whereas Anthony LaPaglia elicits sympathy as not-so-average Joe – a sad-eyed cop bold enough to accept a risky undercover mission and share a bed with a lusty vampiress. However, stealing the spotlight is veteran Robert Loggia who chews the scenery with a voracious delight as a mob boss, Sal Macelli, reluctantly converted into a ‘child of the night’ going on a rampage upon learning of the newly acquired powers. Landis (An American Werewolf in London) directs the film with a flair to spare, assisted by a well-coordinated tech team.

8. Heart of Midnight (Matthew Chapman, 1988)

If ‘Repulsion’ was filtered through the prism of Italian horror, then softly imbued with a Lynchian sense of unease, the resulting film would probably feel close to ‘Heart of Midnight’. Starring Jennifer Jason Leigh as a mentally unstable young woman, Carol, faced with her fears in an inherited ex-brothel named Midnight, this film may not be the most groundbreaking of psychological (or rather, psychosexual) chillers, but it does deliver a gripping, finely balanced blend of pulp, thematic resonance and visual style. Driven by a strong central performance, slick editing (kudos to Penelope Shaw), and penchant for dreamlike irrationality that is reflected in Gene Rudolf’s labyrinthine and red-dominated set designs, Chapman’s effort deserves a wider recognition, in spite of its shortcomings. 

9. Мастер и Маргарита (Михаил Локшин, 2024) / The Master and Margarita (Michael Lockshin, 2024)

I have a feeling that on the next re-reading of Bulgakov’s masterful novel, I may see the faces of Lockshin’s cast, primarily that of August Diehl (Inglourious Basterds, A Hidden Life) who lends a magnetically elegant performance as professor Voland, i.e. the devil in disguise. Also commendable is Evgeniy Tsyganov as the dignified Master, and his closest partner, vampish (or rather, Eva Green-ish) Yulia Snigir, as Margarita who pushes her lover to write the doomed satirical novel in a metafictional story that sees two versions of the leading trio in the surrealistic (and romantic) intertwining of ‘reality’ and ‘fantasy’. The unchanged setting is Soviet Moscow, ‘Gothamized’ through the prism of Art Deco and Brutalism, yet the mockery of greed, cowardice, authoritarian power structures, and petit bourgeois hypocrisies, although not as razor sharp as its source counterpart, couldn’t be more relevant today. High production values (on a budget that is but a tiny portion of any given Hollywood blockbuster) allow Lockshin to come up with some impressive set pieces – namely, the demonstration of black magic in the theater (regrettably, with the bare-all climax excluded), and the great ball at Satan’s where the imagination of costume designers comes to the extravagantly revealing fore. The pace is borderline breakneck, even though the film is two and a half hours long, so not all of the characters have enough room to breathe, but the final result (which marks Lockshin’s sophomore feature effort) far surpasses the ‘satisfactory’ level, especially when compared to a series of lackluster adaptations in the past. There’s enough nerve and verve, boldness and competence here for a recommendation.

10. Club Zero (Jessica Hausner, 2023)

What if some (ostensibly) forward-thinking ideas are actually shallow, or even worse, harmful? One such concept is so-called ‘conscious eating’ that gradually leads to no eating at all, as promoted by a nutritionist guru, Ms Novak (an unglamorous bravura by Mia Wasikowska), in an elite boarding school. Young and susceptible minds are easy to mold, especially when there’s a huge gap between the ‘kids’ and their parents who are condescending, despotic, too busy with their own projects, or preoccupied with their ambition of climbing a social ladder. A small group of teenagers with eating disorders, under the increasingly ‘spiritual’ guidance of Ms Novak, serve Hausner and her co-writer Géraldine Bajard as subjects in the exploration of manipulation / brainwashing, and blind following. Decidedly sardonic, bitingly satirical, and delightfully awkward in its formal austerity – almost as fascinating as that of Jonathan Glazer’s ‘The Zone of Interest’, ‘Club Zero’ is an acquired taste (pun intended!), especially when the Greek Weird Wave vibes kick in. The framing by Martin Gschlacht (Goodnight Mommy, Little Joe) is a masterclass in geometric rigidity, with the modernist set design evoking Cronenberg’s ‘Stereo’ (1969) and ‘Crimes of the Future’ (1970), Markus Binder’s cacophonous score is as befittingly off-kilter as it gets, and the author is relentlessly cold in her mockery of what can be dubbed ‘post-New Age charlanatism’, delivering a cautionary tale that can be viewed as a warning of cult-like machinations by media and politics.

11. Desaparecer Por Completo / Disappear Completely (Luis Javier Henaine, 2022)

After a few shorts and a couple of feature-length comedies, Mexican filmmaker Luis Javier Henaine takes a (straight-faced) stab at a supernatural thriller, finding a link between witchcraft, tabloids and politics in what can be labelled as a cautionary tale. His (anti)hero, Santiago, is hardly a sympathetic fella – an ambitious, ethically dubious photographer prone to bribing cops in order to get exclusive crime scene material for his ‘magazine’ – and yet, this deeply flawed human being turns to be the one we’re rooting for once he’s struck by a mysterious malaise. (Santiago’s kind and soon-to-be-a-mother girlfriend may be one of the reasons why we want to see him changed and saved.) Even the monstrous sacrifice he makes believing that it will lift the curse doesn’t turn the viewer (at least, the one writing these lines) into a judgmental bastard, because we don’t know what we would do if we were gradually being deprived of our precious senses – a vegetative fate surely worse than death. And besides, Henaine manages to put us in his protagonist’s shoes, so as his time inevitably flies, the tension gets heightened. The unnerving process of ‘disappearing completely’ unfolds at a measured pace, with local folklore thrown into the mix, and the deterioration of sound and sight saved for the last and best third in which the very cinematic devices come to the fore.

12. Barnvagnen / The Baby Carriage (Bo Widerberg, 1963)

In their feature debut, filmmaker Bo Widerberg and cinematographer Jan Troell come up with beautiful, yet not overly beautifying ways to translate the working class reality into cinema, as Wic Kjellin provides some stylish editing that brings to mind the earliest works of La Nouvelle Vague. A young woman’s sexuality, pregnancy and newfound independence are explored with utmost visual subtlety, jazz punctuation, straight-faced sincerity and unsentimental sympathy, which forms a patina of coldness and alienation that may turn off some viewers. Inger Tauber who would collaborate with Viderberg once again on ‘Love 65’ (originally, Kärlek 65) gives a lovably unaffected central performance, and her heroine, Britt Larsson, breathes the air of modernity into the story. 

13. Tenshi no kōkotsu / Ecstasy of the Angels (Kōji Wakamatsu, 1972)

To call ‘Ecstasy of the Angels’ provocative would be a severe understatement. As sex, violence and politics intermingle in assaults of absurd ‘poetry’, Wakamatsu explores the destructive power of radical extremism, his characters appearing like brainwashed puppets in a theater of ‘egoschismic’ anarchy. The intrusion of color scenes into a predominantly B&W reality lends a surrealistic edge to the rampant proceedings, with Yosuke Yamashita Trio elevating the chaos with their cacophonously groovy jazz score. The experience is abrasively alienating.

(Short) Honorable Mentions

Joy Street (Suzan Pitt, 1995)

Throw away your antidepressants, and watch Suzan Pitt’s masterpiece of hand-painted animation!

I have found your dream. (Johnny Clyde, 2020)

Available @ YouTube

Mabel, Betty and Bette (Yelena Yemchuk, 2020)

Ukrainian photographer Yelena Yemchuk whose directorial debut was the Fellini-inspired video for single ‘Zero’ (1996) by Smashing Pumpkins explores the ‘often elusive nature of identity’ in a twelve-minute short that couldn’t be more Lynchian. Her fashionable ‘woman in trouble’ protagonist is portrayed by Anna Domashyna who wears three different wigs as titular ‘personas’ lost in parallel universes that are based on ‘female archetypes of the Golden Age of Hollywood’. Disoriented in the threefold void of selves, she is a photo-model, an actress and a cabaret singer/dancer, each of the characters facing the dissolution of her respective reality in a series of dimly lit, dialogue-free vignettes accompanied by a vintage music theme and brooding sound design by the ballad collective.