Sep 13, 2021

3 x Nikos Papatakis

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!



Les abysses / The Depths (1963)

“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

Best Premiere Viewings of August

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.

FEATURES

1. Paul (Diourka Medveczky, 1969)


The first and only feature by Hungarian-born sculptor Diourka Medveczky (1930-2018) is a brilliant anti-materialistic allegory told (or rather shown, considering the sparseness of dialogues) from a perspective of a young man, Paul (portrayed with stoic reticence by renowned French actor Jean-Pierre Léaud), who embarks on a spiritual journey, searching for his place in the (unforgiving) society. Formally impeccable and brimful of stunning frames that appear sculpted rather than captured with the camera, Paul has a gentle, darkly melancholic heart beating under the surface of grimy grays and poetic silences. It also feels like a big step forward compared to many other New Wave pieces of the period... 

2. Batokin Yasokyoku / Nocturne of the Horse-headed Fiddle (Takeo Kimura, 2007)


(read my short review HERE)

3. War Requiem (Derek Jarman, 1989)


A riveting mélange of painterly tableaux vivants, distressing found footage and Benjamin Britten’s mournful opera, War Requiem pushes the boundaries of a traditional film, and infuses the viewer with its strong anti-war sentiment and phantasmagorical beauty. And that five-minute-long take of Tilda Swinton braiding her hair and gently emoting is pure genius. 

4. Pădureanca / The Forest Woman (Nicolae Margineanu, 1987)


Rural setting. Taut direction. Dedicated performances. Oneiric cinematography. A self-destructive (anti)hero. Heavy atmosphere portended by a nightmarish opening. And script simmering with emotions so strong you can almost smell or taste them, in wine, tears, sweat, blood, grass, smoky bar and freshly harvested wheat... 

5. The Goddess of 1967 (Clara Law, 2000)


Whimsically charming is just the right way to describe this borderline-surrealist road-movie by Macau-born, Australia-based filmmaker Clara Law, and the same goes for the leading duo of Rose Byrne portraying a blind redhead girl with a harrowing family history, Deirdre, and then first-timer Rikiya Kurokawa in the role of a Japanese IT expert and hacker, as well as a herpetophile, Yoshiyashu, who travels all the way from the Land of the Rising Sun to the Outback to buy the titular Goddess, i.e. a Citroën DS (Déesse) car.

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.

6. The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf (Kwang Il Han, 2021)


Storywise, Kwang Il Han’s feature debut may not be a prime example of inventiveness, but it is one of the most visually arresting dark fantasies of recent years, displaying the exquisite world-building, and boasting superbly animated scenes of demon-slaying and magic-conjuring action accompanied by lavish musical score, and supported by solid voice-acting. Highly recommended!

7. Cryptozoo (Dash Shaw & Jane Samborski, 2021)

“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.

8. Splendor (Gregg Araki, 1999)


You know how the story goes – two boys meet a girl, and then the third boy comes along, but threesome’s too cool to turn into foursome, and the third boy is just too perfect for the girl to marry, so she decides to live happily ever after with a double dose of imperfection (and let’s not forget her lesbian, voice-of-reason friend). In their hip, colorful, sugar-coated, Jules-and-Jim-for-the-MTV-of-the-90’s-generation world, youth appears to be eternal, and everybody is incredibly sexy, particularly Kathleen Robertson with her cute snub nose and lips of a Roy Lichtenstein’s lady. What I’m trying to say is that sometimes, you just need a glazed, jelly-filled doughnut instead of something highly nutritious, so I found Splendor immensely enjoyable.

9. Zacharaiah (George Englund, 1971)


I am not a big fan of westerns, but when you mix one with a rock musical that sort of breaks the fourth wall as the bands perform on sets, and with a soul-searching, Siddharttha-inspired road-movie introducing an old hermit as a spiritual guru (a captivating portrayal by William Challee whose smiling eyes also mark the most poignant moment in the movie), then you have my attention. It is a daring, bizarre and some might even say a goofy combination, but there’s also a sensitive, surprisingly coherent story about the power of (bromantic) friendship lying beneath its surreal, tongue-in-cheek, decidedly anachronistic surface. There are plenty of imperfections to be found here, yet director George Englund succeeds in turning them to his own advantage, and so do at the time young and obviously inexperienced actors John Rubinstein as Zachariah and Don Johnson as the hero’s best buddy Matthew. And besides, where else would you see the fastest gunslinger in the Wild West playing a killer drum-solo (the courtesy of jazz drummer Elvin Jones) after winning a duel?

10. Annette (Leos Carax, 2021)


Between the anti-illusionary prologue and post-credit scene that also breaks the fourth wall, lays a satirical musical fairy tale fondly embracing filmic artifice and puppetry, while boasting excellent performances by the entire cast (although Simon Helberg seems like an awkward choice, and I’m not a big fan of Adam Driver who pretty much carries the story). During the first half, it feels unique in its loving correspondence with the history of cinema, but the irony-fueled novelty gradually wears off, with pacing issues and watch-checking ensuing until Annette becomes a real girl (the adorable big-screen debut for Devyn McDowell) and saves the otherwise anti-climactic ending.

11. Sensuela (Teuvo Tulio, 1973)


If you ever wondered what may be common to Tchaikovsky, reindeer-neutering and surreal passage of time, you will find the answer in the provocative swan song by Finnish filmmaker Teuvo Tulio. Loosely based on Pushkin’s story The Stationmaster, as noted in the opening credits, Sensuela is a high camp combo of a cautionary tale, (s)exploitation and feminist statement that appears like a spiritual predecessor to films of Anna Biller. Dipped in saturated colors, it eroticizes Swan Lake, Op. 20, Act 2: Scene (Moderato) and jumps from the WWII Lapland setting to sexually liberated Helsinki of the 70’s, with characters ageing not a single day, let alone a quarter-century. Over-acted and directed with a twisted sense of cinematic artifice, this florid (anti)romantic melodrama may not be a masterpiece, but its lurid visuals get easily imprinted into your brain.

SHORTS

1. Saint Flournoy Lobos-Logos and the Eastern Europe Fetus Taxing Japan Brides in West Coast Places Sucking Alabama Air (Will Hindle, 1970)


With a title like this, do you really need anything else said?

2. Wade (Upamanyu Bhattacharyya & Kalp Sanghvi, 2020)


An impressive calling card for first-time helmers Upamanyu Bhattacharyya and Kalp Sanghvi, Wade is a gritty, breathtakingly beautiful short which plunges the viewer into a post-apocalyptic version of Kolkata where tigers roam the flooded streets and prey on climate change refugees. Eschewing dialogue for grim, yet stunningly animated imagery, and foreboding, tension-rising silences, it pulls no punches in its portrayal of the highly probable future, with a few pinches of mythology intensifying the already strong flavor. In terms of both style and content, there’s an enormous potential lying in ten minutes of Wade, so let’s hope its authorial duo returns with a much longer offering next time.

3. Beauty (de Schoonheid) (Johan van der Keuken, 1970)


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.

4. Cocolors (Toshihisa Yokoshima, 2017)


An impressive directorial debut for Toshihisa Yokoshima, Cocolors sucks the viewer into a bleak world of the post-apocalyptic future when toxic, flesh-melting ash falls from the sky, and people – wearing protective suits with huge, reflective helmets – are forced to live in an underground city. In such an unwelcoming, almost colorless environment beautifully designed in the vein of cyber/steampunk aesthetics, some of the greatest treasures are the intact innocence of childhood, unbreakable friendship, and rediscovering of art. Mute Fuyu and his best pal, meek Aki, are perfectly aware of these facts, and it is from their viewpoints that we follow an emotional, increasingly heart-wrenching dystopian drama. Although we never see their faces, until the very end which introduces us to sickly Fuyu who communicates solely through three tones of his flute, they are neatly fleshed out, and we find ourselves caring for their well-being. On top of that, the animators of the Kamikaze Douga production provide us with the immersive, hyper-stylized visuals created through the technique of cel-shading, and accompanied by a delicate, unobtrusive score that make this medium-length gem of an anime a pleasurable watch.

5. Doble astral (André Ruiz, 2021)


6. Les Dieux Changeants (Lucio Arese, 2021)


7. Leopard Man Study (Duo Strangloscope, 2017)


8. Site visit (Maïa Cybelle Carpenter, 1998-1999)

Aug 30, 2021

Batokin Yasokyoku / Nocturne of the Horse-headed Fiddle (Takeo Kimura, 2007)

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

Edonismo / Hedonism

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...



Edonismo / Хедонизам / Hedonism

Aug 11, 2021

The Rabbit Was Sharpening His Teeth, but There Were no Eclipses to Hide His Fear

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

Best Premiere Viewings of July

CLASSICS

1. Il demonio (Brunello Rondi, 1963)


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.

2. Eltávozott nap / The Girl (Márta Mészáros, 1968)


(read my review HERE)

3. East of Eden (Elia Kazan, 1955)


A masterfully directed, emotionally stirring, oft-breathtakingly beautiful classic that had me fall head over heels every time the camera was subtly and ever so slightly tilted to signify that something was wrong, and made me wish that at least one of the three multiplex venues in my hometown were a cinematheque.

4. Night Tide (Curtis Harrington, 1961)

“Guess we’re all a little afraid of what we love.”

And the one that gradually awakens the feeling of fear in a besotted young sailor, Johnny (portrayed by 25-yo Dennis Hopper), is a beautiful and mysterious young woman, Mora (perfectly cast Linda Lawson), who may also be a real mermaid and not only a fake sideshow attraction. (Superstitious Slavs well-familiar with their mythology would be alarmed by the girl’s name alone.) The leading duo is so magnetic that one can’t be bothered by weaker supporting performances (nor by a rubber octopus in a nightmare sequence), and besides, the opening jazz club scene that just oozes with vintage coolness puts you under the spell to be continually strengthened by beautiful B&W imagery and some strong ‘Twilight Zone’ vibes. Night Tide is quite an impressive B-movie that marks a feature debut for Curtis Harrington who previously collaborated with American artist Cameron on an experimental documentary The Wormwood Star (1956).

5. Princess (Herman Wuyts, 1969)


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.

6. Unter den Brücken / Under the Bridges (Helmut Käutner, 1946)


Filmed during the final days of WWII, but not released until 1950, Helmut Käutner’s romantic drama comes across as an anomaly of sorts – a delightful piece of cinema created in an alternate universe where all that senseless destruction of the 1940’s had never happened. A simple, yet universal and timeless story involving a couple of bargee friends and a young woman they both fall for contains not a single hint of propaganda, pulling focus on the transformative power of love, and expressing hopefulness all the while keeping maudlin sentimentality at bay. Part of its magic lies in utterly charming performances by Hannelore Schroth, Carl Raddatz and Gustav Knuth whose sympathetic, well-rounded characters exist in a bubble of their emotions which imbues the film with a sense of highly subjective reality. Unpretentiously poetic and compassionately intelligent, Under the Bridges is also packed with quite a number of visually striking shots some of which wouldn’t feel out of place in a noir masterpiece.

7. La cripta e l'incubo / Crypt of the Vampire (Camillo Mastrocinque, 1964)


An old castle owned by Cristopher Lee’s count protagonist, beautiful ladies in fluttering white nightgowns, an entrancing B&W cinematography, a darkly haunting score and a witch’s curse make for a wonderfully atmospheric piece of Italian gothic pulp laced with occult elements, as well as subtle lesbian undertones, and most probably inspired by Mario Bava’s Black Sunday (originally, La maschera del demonio).

8. Danza Macabra / Castle of Blood (Antonio Margheriti & Sergio Corbucci, 1964)


A haunted castle infested with cobwebs, and brimming with candlesticks and squaky doors is just a perfect setting for a pulpy, psychosexual, highly atmospheric, and gorgeously chiaroscuro gothic horror starring Barbara Steele and Margrete Robsahm as a phantasmal beauty duo with quite a past and Georges Rivière as a young journalist who accepts a palace-related wager after a short conversation with E.A. Poe (because you can’t spell poetic without Poe).

9. Dementia (John Parker & Bruno VeSota, 1955)


Flowing like (and following the logic of) a fever dream, Dementia can be described as a proto-Lynchian B-movie told or rather, shown from the distorted perspective of a young (murderous?) gamin descending into madness. Made on a tight budget with a largely non-professional cast, this offbeat/experimental horror-noir - an allegory of patriarchal repression – is virtually a continuous stream of expressive nocturnal imagery soaked in the blackest of shadows, and wonderfully complemented by an intense score of darkly avant-garde pieces tinged with eerily ethereal vocalizations that take a smoky jazz turn in the final act. It may not be exemplary in the acting department, but it still stands as one of the most cinematically articulate features of its time. 

10. Ercole al centro della Terra / Hercules in the Haunted World (Mario Bava, 1961)


A bit heavy on exposition, and wooden when it comes to the central performance (by bodybuilder turned actor Reg Park), Hercules in the Haunted World more than compensates with an incessant and relentless barrage of dazzling imagery whose beauty owes a lot to Bava’s elaborate (and largely influential!) lighting schemes™. Both shot and directed with an unmistakable sense of larger-than-life fantasy, as well as strong love for gothic horror, this sword-and-sandal epic is not perfect, but it does provokes the envy of Olympian gods, burning itself into your memory and rekindling your imagination.

CONTEMPORARY CINEMA

1. Far From the Apple Tree (Grant McPhee, 2019)

“I find it hard to differentiate myself from my work. I thrive on this confusion.”

Far From the Apple Tree has been on my list of highly anticipated films for quite a while, which is why I was overwhelmed with joy to find it finally available at Vimeo on Demand platform. On a purely cinematic level, it is one of the most exciting and stylish hybrids of art/experimental film and (meta?) psychological drama/horror, exploring one’s own identity, creators’ (umbilical) connection to their creations, as well as the thin line between art and witchcraft. By virtue of Grant McFee’s bold, clever and playful use of various formats, including 35mm, 16mm, 8mm, home processing, betamax, Pixelvision and Red, it boasts dazzling, dreamlike visuals which are perfectly complemented by the equally oneiric, ethereal music score composed by Rose McDowall & Shawn Pinchbeck, and highly comparable to the brilliant collaboration between Julee Cruise, Angelo Badalamenti and David Lynch.

According to the author, it is majorly influenced by Valerie and Her Week of Wonders – one of the finest offerings of Czechoslovak New Wave movement, but it’s easy to spot some other sources from which it may have taken its cues, such as hauntology, the Bluebeard tale, Argento’s Suspiria, Sokurov-like anamorphic distortions, and Lynchian brand of surrealism. However, Far From the Apple Tree is far from being a mere homage – it ably interweaves all of the familiar (and mystery!) elements into a refreshing cine-cocktail that adds a bit of cool to a hot summer day. Oozing with dense, increasingly ominous atmosphere, the film puts the viewer in the shoes of a troubled heroine, Judith (Sorcha Groundsell’s nuanced, subtly magnetic performance), and pulls you down the rabbit hole of her deteriorating mind. Also memorable is Victoria Liddelle in the role of a prominent, yet extremely secretive artist, Roberta Roslyn, who takes Judith under her wing, and whose intentions remain a puzzle in a constant collision of reality and fantasy.

2. Hogtown (Daniel Nearing, 2014)


(read my review HERE)

3. Безразличие (Олег Флянгольц, 2010) / Indifference (Oleg Flyangolts, 2010)


Originally conceived and partly shot in 1989 as a (hip!) ‘declaration of love’ for Italian cinema, Moscow architecture and a beautiful girl, the sole feature by Oleg Flyangolts was finished two decades later, merging – in the author’s own words – ‘1960’s romanticism, 1980’s recklessness and 2000’s wisdom’. Its sketchy plot about young man Petya’s attempts to win over a girl, Zhuzha, whom he met on a dance floor, serves as an excuse for bold formal experimentation and stylistic flourishes, whereby the subplot revolving around a runaway dog trained for space-travel provides good chunks of cartoonish humor. By virtue of both stock and original footage captured on 35mm, it looks like a recently unearthed gem from the 60’s upgraded with cool animated sequences in which even the CGI is covered in grain to appear vintage. Possessed by the spirit of La Nouvelle Vague, Indifference portrays the apathy of a few young souls whose lives intersect through ennui-induced encounters in a drama of absurd proportions and unsentimental nostalgia betrayed only by the intoxicating jazz soundtrack.

4. Show Me What You Got (Svetlana Cvetko, 2019)


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.



On my Facebook page, I wrote several entries on Rashidi’s most ambitious (and longest) film to date, and HERE you can read my impression on its first 2 out of 19 hours.

6. Майор Гром: Чумной Доктор (Олег Трофим, 2021) / Major Grom: Plague Doctor (Oleg Trofim, 2021)

Set in a morally gray zone where the thin line between heroes and anti-heroes is often blurred if not erased, Major Grom: Plague Doctor is an impressive piece of (post?)postmodern cinema that at once heavily relies on conventions of the action / superhero flicks, and subconsciously deconstructs them through unobtrusive meta-filmic ‘maneuvers’. Politically incorrect towards both the corrupt system and its increasingly violent opposition, it compels the viewer to think beyond the extremely limiting ‘choosing the side’ frame, and reflects upon the themes of (blind) justice, inequality and social media, proudly wearing its many influences – including the James Bond and Lethal Weapon series, Nolan’s Batman trilogy, V for Vendetta and Joker, to name a few – on its sleeve. It boasts high production values by virtue of which Saint Petersburg shines in its full (classical) glory, yet it doesn’t shy away from depicting the city’s underbelly as well, and delivers a good deal of memorable set-pieces that rival Hollywood offerings. Maxim Zhukov’s handsome cinematography and Roman Selivyorstov’s broad-ranging score provide the glossy veneer, and set the right mood for each scene, whereby the entire cast headed by charismatic Tikhon Zhiznevskiy (boldly objectified on a couple of occasions) does a fine job in imbuing their archetypal characters with believable humanity.

7. How the Sky Will Melt (Matthew Wade, 2015)

Feature-length films shot on Super 8 are extremely rare beasts these days, which makes How the Sky Will Melt quite a special feat, particularly given its half-dreamed delirium quality (and winks to David Lynch here and there). The hyper-grainy aesthetics provided by the ‘outmoded’ format are not merely a gimmick – on the contrary, they actually make you believe that you are watching a lost, dusted off artifact from the past. Strengthening this illusion is the great, throwback-to-the-80’s production and costume design by Sara Lynch (also jumping into the lead role), as well as the sinister synth-heavy score composed by Wade himself, and most probably inspired by the work of John Carpenter.

Meandering in a limbo-like zone between a deadpan existential drama (of a paranoid rock musician, Gwen) and increasingly weird sci-fi mystery bordering time-and-space-distorting horror (involving a man who falls from the sky and insists on being fed with colors), this quirky piece of underground cinema is nothing short of an acquired taste. Initially, it lingers on the small town banalities, providing only the slightest of hints that something strange may be going on, and then it boldly takes some unexpected, mind-fucking turns, messing with the chronology of bizarre events. Speaking of which, all that happens on-screen could be nothing more than a (distorted) reflection of augmented reality witnessed through retro-futuristic goggles that operate on audio-cassettes, and are often used by the mentally and emotionally troubled protagonist. But, who knows – maybe quails do lay RGB eggs? 

8. American Satan (Ash Avildsen, 2017)

Think of the cheesiest sex, drugs & (modern) rock’n’roll story inspired by the timeless Faust legend, add Malcolm McDowell as a Mephistophelian figure who goes by the name of Mr. Capricorn, and Bill Duke as a guardian angel sharing inspirational quotes such as “perception is not reality / it’s what you feel, not what you see”, and you got yourself a nice little cine-provocation called American Satan. But, you know what? Sometimes ‘cheesy’ proves to be more fun than ‘classy’, and Ash Avildsen’s thrilling drama shows some great style as well along the way, with cleverly used lighting providing a number of hellishly good imagery. The film’s title refers to the debut album for a fictitious band, The Relentless, whose rise and fall tracks a familiar path of groupie orgies, heroine abuse and all the counterculture-surrounding controversy, yet there’s a lot of energy to keep you invested in the increasingly crazy goings-on that may or may not be puppet-mastered by the Devil. Personally, I wish the music were louder and cockier, with more edge to it, but it’s just a minor quibble... Oh, and I almost forgot to mention Denise Richards playing mom to The Relentless’ frontman Johnny Faust (portrayed by Black Veil Brides’ singer Andy Biersack), as well as the fact that Avildsen is the son of Rocky and The Karate Kid director. 

The film is available at TUBI.

9. America: The Motion Picture (Matt Thompson, 2021)


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.

10. Das Massaker von Anröchte / The Massacre of Anroechte (Hannah Dörr, 2021)


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.

SHORTS

1. Acariño galaico (De barro) / Galician Caress (of Clay) (José Val del Omar, 1961/1982/1995)


To call this film a documentary would be a severe understatement, because Galician Caress (of Clay) is much closer to a highly poetic, metaphysical/transcendental mystery boasting a dense, oneiric atmosphere established through the brilliant use of distorting lenses, stream-of-conscious montages, and a hypnotizing interplay of light and shadows. Also praiseworthy are Water-Mirror of Granada (Aguaespejo granadino) and Fire in Castilla (Tactilvision from the Moor of the Fright) (Tactilvisión del páramo del espanto. Fuego en Castilla) that complement Val del Omar’s utterly fascinating Elementary Triptych of Spain (Tríptico Elemental de España).

2. Inherent (Nicolai G. H. Johansen, 2021)



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.

3. The Windshield Wiper (Alberto Mielgo, 2021)


A highly enjoyable, gorgeously animated meditation on (various kinds of) love.
(Quinzaine des Réalisateurs 2021)

4. Cerulia (Sofìa Carrillo, 2017)


Mexican filmmaker Sofía Carrillo needs no introduction. All of her intricately made stop-motion pieces, including Cerulia, are fascinating gothic phantasies exploring innermost worlds...

5. Noir-soleil (Marie Larrivé, 2021)


Noir-soleil is a deeply melancholic piece of expressive, painterly animation which tells the story of estranged father and daughter who are brought together by a ghost or rather (washed-ashore) body from the past. In the author’s own words, it takes compositional cues from the paintings of Edvard Munch, and ‘pays tribute to the particular painful beauty that exists in the words that are not said and the secrets that will never be revealed’. Both the actors’ voices and Marie Larrivé’s direction exudes calmness, with the painstaking technique she employs resulting in frames of arresting visual power.

6. The Vandal (Eddie Alcazar, 2021)


An expressive, darkly atmospheric tribute to classic Hollywood presented in ‘meta-scope’ - a grungy blend of live-action and stop-motion - starring Bill Duke of Predator fame and featuring Harry ‘Twin Peaks Andy’ Goaz in one of the supporting roles. (Quinzaine des Réalisateurs 2021)

7. The Mermaid (Thomaz Labanca, 2016)


A spiritual, dialogue-free predecessor to Guilermo Del Toro’s (inferior) fantasy drama The Shape of Water.

8. Lethes (Eduardo Brito, 2021)



A highly atmospheric mystery drama, playing as a part of Curtas Vila do Conde 2021 program at Festival Scope, until August 6.

9. Puting Paalam / White Funeral (Sari Raissa Lluch Dalena, 1997)


Inspired by passages from the Old Testament books, White Funeral incorporates performance art, modern dance, stop-motion animation and, quite possibly, bits of local folklore into a surreal, dialogue-free narrative of life, death and rebirth depicted from the perspective of Bride / Harlot / Prophetess who is portrayed by pioneering independent Filipina dancer Myra Beltran. Largely set in a desert surrounded by verdant hills, the film boasts some stunningly composed frames captured on grainy 16mm, as well as a stirring, unpredictable score in which ambient / ritualesque / avant-garde / neofolk pieces make way for Vivaldi’s sweeping choral works, providing the viewer with a unique experience.

10. Mythology of Memory (Justin Brown, 2021)


An oneiric piece of found footage reconstruction.

HONORABLE MENTION for animated series

Masters of the Universe: Revelation (Kevin Smith, 2021)

There are pretty good reasons why there’s ‘Revelation’, yet no ‘He-Man’ present in the title of the popular (and my personal favorite) 80’s animated franchise revival. The first episode pays a great, loving homage to the original series, and in a peculiar way, the following episodes continue to do so, through specific humor, occasionally rhyming lines, and the admirable reimagination of the beloved characters and phantasmagorical setting. However, before you know it, the creators subvert your expectations relentlessly, taking the story into a new, darker direction, suggesting that the show had to grow up together with the fans who will either embrace the (brilliantly!) bold changes, or curse Kevin Smith for the rest of their lives, stubbornly clinging onto nostalgia. Without revealing any spoiler details, I will say that Smith & co. got me fully immersed into the borderline-apocalyptic adventure that keeps the (last ember of) magic alive, and deepens the Masters of the Universe mythology in a way that brings to mind an ancient odyssey by way of a ‘planetary romance’, as the beautiful artwork, stellar voice-acting and lavish orchestral score provide the epic feeling. So, for the love of Grayskull, release the second season as soon as possible!