20 Oct 2017

Taste of 30 Cinematic Obscurities

Three of my latest articles for Taste of Cinema focus on the last six decades and include thirty lesser-known feature and short films from all around the world: artist biopics, satirical dramas, sumptuous fantasies, arthouse experiments and more!


Still shot from La ville des pirates (Raúl Ruiz, 1983)

To spice things up, let's stretch the timeline to the last 100 years and add another 20 recommendations that might pique your interest:

1. Rapsodia Satanica (Nino Oxilia, 1917)
3. House of Cards (Joseph Vogel, 1947) (S)
4. Érase una vez (Alexandre Cirici Pellicer, 1950) (A)
5. Wienerinnen (Kurt Steinwendner, 1952)
6. Hakujutsumu (Tetsuji Takechi, 1964)
7. Incubus (Leslie Stevens, 1966)
8. Kureopatora (Osamu Tezuka & Eiichi Yamamoto, 1970) (A)
9. Čudo (Đorđe Kadijević, 1971)
11. A Princesinha das Rosas (Noémia Delgado, 1981)
12. El Sur (Victor Erice, 1983)
13. Macskafogó (Béla Ternovszky, 1986) (A)
14. To athoo soma (Nikos Kornilios, 1997)
15. Le temps retrouvé (Raúl Ruiz, 1999)
16. Titus (Julie Taymour, 1999)
17. Tian bian yi duo yun (Ming-liang Tsai, 2005)
18. El cielo, la tierra, y la lluvia (José Luis Torres Leiva, 2008)
20. Window Horses (Ann Marie Fleming, 2016) (A)

(A) stands for Animated, (S) for Short.

Still shot from Rapsodia Satanica (Nino Oxilia, 1917)

18 Oct 2017

Chemia (Bartosz Prokopowicz, 2015)

(1. Festival poljskog filma Visla, Niš, 17. 10. 2017)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼
 

Nakon svlačenja "poslovnog kostima" i oblačenja haljine koja, kako kasnije saznajemo, predstavlja odraz njenog karaktera, ali i gorućeg "unutrašnjeg problema", naizgled optimistična Lena (Agnješka Zulevska) daje otkaz u pisanoj formi - karminom po staklu sale za sastanke. U paralelnoj montaži, depresivni fotograf Benek (Tomaš Šuhard) dobija otkaz zbog kreativnih nesuglasica (šifra: beživotni nokti), prethodno pretvarajući svoju radnu sobu u otelovljenje naslova čuvene, višestruko obrađivane pesme Paint it Black.

Njih dvoje se sreću na parkingu, pod protivpožarnim prskalicama (a možda je u pitanju i pravi pljusak, tj. prva u nizu magično-realističnih upadica?) i rađa se neobična romansa nad kojom sve vreme bdi Tanatos. U Beneku se ponovo budi želja za životom, ali ostaje zatečen Leninim odgovorom na pitanje: "Želiš li da se udaš za mene?" Ona tvrdi da ima nekog drugog, a taj neko je već zapečatio njenu sudbinu, kao što je nagovešteno "apstraktnim" animiranim pasažima Nadije Majkol...
 
 
Govoreći iz (neprijatnog) ličnog iskustva, direktor fotografije i reditelj-debitant Bartoš Prokopovič stvara, kako sam kaže, "pozitivan vodič ka smrti" (ako je tako nešto uopšte moguće), te u svojoj priči o ljubavi jačoj od straha poručuje da je "više hrabrosti potrebno za patnju nego za umiranje". Borbu protiv opake bolesti koju je vodio sa tragično preminulom suprugom Magdom Prokopovič, inače inicijatorkom filma i osnivačicom fondacije Rak'n'Roll, prikazuje iz neznatno iščašenog ugla glavne junakinje koja se odlučuje na rizičan potez da postane majka uprkos dvostrukoj masektomiji i hemoterapiji (otud i naslov Hemija).

U njegovom tretmanu, smrtna zaljubljenost dobija novo značenje, a drama koja je lako mogla da sklizne u patetiku zadržava zavidan nivo dostojanstva, prevashodno zahvaljujući (crnom) humoru koji je nešto suptilniji nego baratnje simbolima. Značajan doprinos pruža i dvojac Zulevska-Šuhard u odličnom tumačenju kapricioznih likova koji, uprkos prolasku kroz pakao, odnosno suočavanju sa surovom neminovnošću, uspevaju da sačuvaju prisebnost i izazovu empatiju čak i u trenucima kada iz njih pokulja ono najgore.


Svet u kojem oni žive bliži je imaginarnom nego stvarnom, posebno u prvoj polovini filma, što je i razumljivo, budući da su opsednuti jedno drugim. Daleko je to od fantazije u The Duke of Burgundy, ali dobro funkcioniše. A ta njihova "bajka", iako nema srećan kraj (i ne, nije u pitanju nikakav spojler), oslikana je "mlečnim" bojama i neretko po estetici bliska video spotovima, naročito kada se pojavi Lenin raspevani alter ego u tumačenju poljske kantautorke Natalije Grošak.
 
Saundtrek kojim dominiraju pop melodije možda je i najdiskutabilniji aspekt Hemije, pošto donekle kompromituje rediteljevo nastojanje da ne manipuliše gledaočevim osećanjima. Međutim, čudna hemija između glumaca i prelepa fotografija Prokopovičevog brata Jeremijaša dovoljno su moćni da sve nedostatke učine podnošljivijim.

13 Oct 2017

Polina, danser sa vie (Valérie Müller & Angelin Preljocaj, 2016)

(Francuski filmski karavan, 12.10.2017, Niš)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼


Kada pomislite na balet, prvo što vam padne na pamet su verovatno tutu haljine na gracioznim devojkama, Labudovo jezero i Boljšoj teatar. Ukoliko ste filmofil, onda je vrlo moguće da ste upoznati sa imenom Pine Bauš posredstvom Vendersovog dokumentarca iz 2011, a sasvim sigurno ste gledali i psihološku dramu Crni labud Darena Aronofskog. 

Za scenaristkinju i ko-rediteljku Valeri Miler, kao i čuvenog francuskog koreografa Anželina Preljokaža, balet ili, šire posmatrano, (savremeni) ples priziva različite asocijacije.

Debi u tradicionalnoj školi kojom upravlja strogi penzionisani igrač sa burnom sovjetskom prošlošću (Aleksej Guskov kao strah i trepet ruske akademije tancovanja Božinski). Postavljanje pitanja koje učitelj naziva glupim. Skakutanje po parku nadomak nuklarnih reaktora na putu do kuće. Odlazak u lov sa ocem i (imaginarni?) susret sa irvasom. Vođenje ljubavi u garderobi Boljšoj teatra. Traganje za sopstvenim izrazom koje podrazumeva odricanje od karijere primabalerine. Posmatranje sveta koji nas okružuje, od ljudi u zadimljenom noćnom klubu do beskućnika koji se grčevito savija na stanici podzemne železnice...


Stavljajući sebe u poziciju naslovne junakinje (u izvrsnom tumačenju ljupke debitantkinje Anastasije Ševcove iz trupe Marinski), ali neretko i publike, Milerova i Preljokaž ispredaju priču o životu koji se pleše i plesu koji se živi, o strasti koja tinja čak i onda kada izgleda kao da se sasvim ugasila i padovima koji ne vode nužno do uspeha. Njih dvoje razmišljaju kao jedno, u pokretima koji mogu biti kruti ili gipki, iz srca ili iz glave, elegantni ili eksplozivni, naučeni ili improvizovani, a kojima sporadični dijalozi služe tek kao dopuna. Njihova režija je sigurna, čak i onda kada im se potkrade poneki kliše u deglamurizaciji baleta.

Polinu Šanjidze, koja se rodila 2010. u grafičkoj noveli Bastiena Vivesa, portretišu kao devojku na čije sazrevanje i stav utiču mnogi faktori, počev od gruzijsko-sibirskog porekla, preko kontradiktornih saveta, pa sve do težnje za otkrivanjem (nedokučive) osobenosti koja će je učiniti kompletnom. Od ogromnog je značaja i to što kamera Žorža Lešaptoe (Maryland, aka Disorder) obožava Ševcovu, bilo da snima njeno milo lice u krupnom planu ili je iz gornjeg rakursa posmatra na audiciji, mada ne smemo zanemariti ni hemiju koja postoji između nje i ostalih glumaca (Nils Šnajder, Žilijet Binoš) ili kolega naturščika (Žeremi Belangar).

Na putu od Istoka ka Zapadu, Polina se iz devojčice koja misli da ples "dolazi sam po sebi" preobražava u mladu ženu koja ples vidi na svakom koraku, a njen umetnički razvoj se ne završava (upečatljivim) krajem filma koji obeležava moćni, hipnotišući, gotovo nadrealni pas de deux na veštačkom snegu.

11 Oct 2017

Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Velleneuve, 2017)

☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

An ornate, resplendent mask that is this (overlong) film's mind-blowing, yet hardly groundbreaking aural and visual design conceals a thin story populated by uninvolving characters, muddled with underdeveloped subplots and deprived of deeper meanings by virtue of the 'spelling out' approach, as well as oft pretending to be more clever than it is.

Its unnecessarily lackadaisical pace is just another attempt to lull the viewers into thinking that what they are watching is a grand, highly poetic, even 'Tarkovskian' piece of cinema and not a money-grabbing spectacle with a bit more (albeit replicated) soul and intelligence than your run-of-the-mill Hollywood flick.

If it's any consolation, we get numerous (loving) homages reminding us of the original's immeasurable influence, plenty of relentless eye-candy whose sweetness looks sweeter on a big screen and some sort of an apology from Villeneuve, via the opening lines spoken by the puppy-eyed (and not to mention miscast) Ryan Gosling.

So, 'I hope you don't mind me taking a liberty' of being generous with the rating and recommending Michael Almereyda's Marjorie Prime - a quiet, dignified and sophisticated meditation on the relation between humans and technology, since it makes a much better use of sentient holograms and features the compelling performances by Lois Smith, Jon Hamm, Geena Davis and Tim Robbins.

9 Oct 2017

2 x Asian Animated Film (L.O.R.D: Legend of Ravaging Dynasties / In This Corner of the World)

L.O.R.D: Legend of Ravaging Dynasties
(Jingming Guo, 2016)

☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼
 
Set in a magical world replete with the enigmatic High Lords, powerful Dukes (with disciples of their own) and Spirit Beasts, both wild and domesticated, this Chinese-Cambodian co-production tells a convoluted story of power struggle and features strong homoerotic undertones (a precedent in the wuxia cinema of mainland China), alliances forged and broken in a blink of an eye, the gorgeous if a bit video game-esque mo-cap animation, European gothic architecture, dramatic symphonic score and plenty of pretty poster-boy and poster-girl faces owned by way too many characters for a 2-hour long film built on the complex mythology and best described as a cross between Fate/Stay Night anime and Final Fantasy by the way of Zemeckis's Beowulf.
 
 
In This Corner of the World
(Sunao Katabuchi, 2016)
 
☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼
 
Centered around an admirable female protagonist, Suzu (wonderfully voiced by Rena Nōnen aka Non), In This Corner of the World (Kono sekai no katasumi ni) provides us with the off-kilter amalgamation of lighthearted slice-of-life comedy and soul-wrenching war drama told from the perspective of the abovementioned heroine whose talents for drawing and painting are reflected in the warm and gentle, frequently stylized imagery complemented by the evocative score and exquisite performances by the entire cast who make you forget you are watching a 'cartoon', turning you into a tearful emotional wreck in the superior second half of this highly recommendable film.

7 Oct 2017

Dreaming in Exile: The Alchemical Cinema of Daniel Fawcett and Clara Pais

Recently, I've been approached by the talented avant-garde directorial duo Daniel Fawcett and Clara Pais of The Underground Film Studios to write an article on six of their delightful films for a publication titled Microcinema: Artist Moving Image Then and Now (Cambridge Film Trust 2017), expected to be released mid-October. Considering that I've immensely enjoyed their inspiring works, I've gladly accepted their offer and the result of this cooperation is the essay Dreaming in Exile: The Alchemical Cinema of Daniel Fawcett and Clara Pais which you can now find and read online on their official page, HERE.

Five features and one short film included are Savage Witches (2012), Sacrificium Intellectus (2012), Splendor Solis (2015), In Search of the Exile (2016), The Kingdom of Shadows (2016) and The Quest for the Cine-Rebis (2016).

Still shot from The Quest for the Cine-Rebis

6 Oct 2017

The Girl behind the White Picket Fence (Stefanie Schneider, 2013)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

"... she is more interested with what the chance-directed appearances in her photographs portend. Schneider’s works are concerned with the opaque and porous contents of human relations and events, the material means are largely the mechanism to achieving and exposing the "ridiculous sublime" that has come increasingly to dominate the contemporary affect(s) of our world." (from Mark Gisbourne's essay The Personal World of Stefanie Schneider)


Decidedly and oh so delightfully retro, Stefanie Schneider's feature-length debut scores the highest points for its visual uniqueness. In the best tradition of cinematic photo-novels, Chris Marker's La Jetée being the most prominent example, this oneiric "suburban fantasy" (for the lack of a better term) is almost entirely composed of exposed Polaroid photos, with a few Super 8 sequences as some sort of its old-fashioned charm intensifiers.


Providing a "cryptic analysis of love back-dropped by a feeling that our future is hopeless but that it relentlessly continues", it depicts an unusual romantic triangle between the titular girl, Heather (Heather Megan Christie), a local garbage man, Hank (Kyle Larson), and a Lonely Hearts Radio DJ (Steve Marshall). Broken-hearted from a failed first relationship with an unnamed guy (Jeff Leaf), Heather returns to her late parents' travel trailer in a Californian desert, embracing solitary life, with a pet-goat as her only companion.


After finding a radio station that "speaks her language", she makes a few anonymous calls and thus, attracts the attention of Hank and the DJ, both faced with their own demons and/or ghosts from the past. Unable to continue on her own and to decide between the two men competing for her affection, she seeks help from a mysterious shaman portrayed by none other than the living legend Udo Kier.


Infused with surreal quirks, such as the laundry turning into fish (not to mention a zany dream-sequence in the finale), and peppered with slice of life nuggets, Heather's story eschews cheap sentimentality in favor of a melancholic and, to a certain extent, ironic meditation on our Sisyphean chores and pursuit of happiness. Subverting the notion of the American Dream, it seems fragmented and yet, it flows freely like a river of sunlit reveries in which the phantom-like protagonists - all of them wrapped up in their own thoughts - bathe. Their freedom is only illusory - the fence sets not only physical, but also psychological borders for Heather; Hank clings to the memories of his dead wife and is a slave to his daily routines, whereby Radio DJ hides behind his gravely voice and imitation of self-confidence.


The monologues written by the performers themselves and "improv of the first love argument" by Christie and Leaf add a personal note to Schneider's screenplay which is centered around her heroine's foibles, inexperience and uncertainties. However, the film's most fascinating aspect is its quaint aesthetics - a dreamy kaleidoscope of ethereal, feathery pictures brought to life by the low-key voice-overs, as well as the soothing "diegetic sounds" and acoustic, lullaby-esque rock. Bright and often distorted by the chemical mutations, the analogue tableaux vivants pass before your eyes like some light-bearing apparitions and guide you into a hypnotic state. And what makes them so mesmerizing and inspiring are their very imperfections.

Stefanie Scheider's uncompromising approach to achieving her vision really does wonders, so we are left with a remarkable work of exotic beauty. The Girl behind the White Picket Fence is available for rent or purchase at Vimeo on Demand.