16 Sep 2020

Anaphase (Levi Zini, 1996)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

Part behind-the-scenes documentary and part 'electrifying translation' of a contemporary dance performance to the medium of cinema, as noted in the official synopsis, Anaphase is a fairly successful attempt at capturing experimental nature and manic energy or rather, lyrical forcefulness of the eponymous show conceived by renowned Israeli dancer and choreographer Ohad Naharin. By virtue of frantic editing, Levi Zini makes the images - immersive in their grainy splendor - sway in the rhythm of the Batsheva Dance Company troupers' synchronized heartbeats, pulling us into a constantly changing vortex of movement. During a couple of calmer / atmospheric rock passages, we are introduced to Mr Naharin's guitar-playing skills and velvety baritone that recalls the likes of David Bowie and Nick Cave, as well as to the impressive contralto owned by Arnan Zlotnik who gets his own 'bio-vignette', like several other of his colleagues. Accompanied by the performers' personal quotes, those brief introductions are skillfully integrated into a free-flowing 'narrative' largely told in body language and enchantingly diverse soundtrack.

Anaphase is available for buy or rent through the Vimeo on Demand platform.

11 Sep 2020

Bacchanale (John & Lem Amero, 1970)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

A guilt-ridden young woman, Ruth, who was once engaged in an incestuous relationship with her brother, Gordon, embarks on an introspective, surreally erotic journey (mis)guided by a mysterious cloaked figure, as Eros and Tanatos go 69 in this bizarre mélange of 'art' and sexploitation, with some 'psychological horror' thrown in for good measure.

Bacchanale is a decidedly adult affair in which several hardcore scenes operate as a glue of sorts or even as integral parts of 'wet nightmare' sequences involving an Escher-esque fire escape, an open coffin at a fashion party, hands coming out of the wall in a shameless instance of Repulsion (r)aping, a graveyard where Ionic pillars are more common than tombstones, and a cavernous dungeon featuring a glass cage, all posing as hidden recesses of Ruth's troubled mind.

Deeply steeped in dream logic, the 'story' - if one can call it that - has a pretty good flow, and exists only to support the naughty exhibitionism of the Amero brothers. Their ambition in blurring the boundaries between experimental cinema and pornography is admirable, and mirrored in attractive visuals tinted in various colors, from ominous greens to sultry reds. Accompanied by Lem's largely atmospheric score and some haunting soundscapes, John's 16mm cinematography complements the cheap-looking sets in a charming way, as naked bodies writhe in ecstasy. And when the film tape grain is not powerful enough to fight the budgetary constraints, joining the struggle are extra smoke or S&M action! Campy acting adds a sourly sweet flavor to the proceedings.

10 Sep 2020

A Selection of Recent Artworks (V)

Recently, I've been obsessively expanding the Bianco/Nero universe (a series of B&W collages which currently encompasses more than 70 pieces, all available HERE), and for this occasion I will share ten recent additions dominated by peculiar female forces...


La Collettrice


Il Grande Tuffo


La Vera Levitazione


Davanti all'Ultimo Portale


La Principessa Scappa!


La Premonizione di Biancaneve


Desiderio


La Culla della Strega


La Scoperta di un'Altra Terra


Gli Schermi

1 Sep 2020

Cinematic Favorites 08/20

The 8th month of 2020 is behind us and, as usual, I'm posting the list(s) of films I enjoyed the most. This time, there'll be 31 titles (out of approx. 100 seen), one for each day of August.

OLD-SCHOOL CINEMA


1. The Way Home (Aleqsandre Rekhviashvili, 1981)
2. Iran Is My Land (Parviz Kimiavi, 1999)
3. The Night of Counting the Years (Chadi Abdel Salam, 1969) / My first encounter with Egyptian cinema is the only feature film directed by Chadi Abdel Salam - an eloquently written, visually mesmerizing and sonically brooding drama soaked in mystical atmosphere...
4. The Son of the Sheik (George Fitzmaurice, 1926) / Back in the days, in order to win a girl’s heart you had to endure some serious lashing, ride across dunes through the sandstorm, engage in a sword fight against many adversaries and eventually remove your abusive father-in-law to be from the picture. All joking aside, George Fitzmaurice’s exotic, larger-than-life romance is well-worth seeing for its technical wizardry alone, especially during the scenes featuring the lead in a dual role, not to mention just the right pacing, zestful score and visual artistry, Vilma Bánky’s subtle eroticism and Rudolph Valentino’s hypnotic gaze.
5. Fantastic Night (Marcel L'Herbier, 1942) / Dressed in a film noir garment, this romantic dramedy sends its protagonist, a poor and constantly weary philosophy student, Denis (Fernand Gravey, who looks a bit too old for the role), on a surreal, oft-absurd nocturnal quest for his dream girl (Micheline Presle, sassy, mysterious and ethereal). Beginning at a dinner where some of the guests speak backwards, Denis’s oneiric adventure takes him to a glamorous Louvre party, as well as to a loony bin, with excursions to his dull reality (which forces him to work on a market) becoming increasingly sparse. A droll little romp with beautiful cinematography.
6. Love, Thy Name Be Sorrow (Tomu Uchida, 1962) / Preceding Masaki Kobayashi’s superior horror anthology Kwaidan (1964), Tomu Uchida’s excessively theatrical fantasy drama is densely packed with stunning visuals brimful of vivid colors, ornate traditional costumes and meticulously crafted studio sets which hold your attention in a firm grasp even when the story outstays its welcome.

THE LAST DECADE OFFERINGS


1. Adam’s Passion (Andy Sommer, 2015) / "... is the moving first collaboration between two 'masters of slow motion who harmonize perfectly with each other' (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung). In the spectacular setting of a former submarine factory, American director and universal artist Robert Wilson creates a poetic visual world in which the mystical musical language of the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt can cast its meditative spell. Three of Pärt’s major works - Adam’s Lament, Tabula rasa, and Miserere, as well as Sequentia, a new work composed especially for this production - are brought together here using light, space, and movement to create a tightly-woven Gesamtkunstwerk in which the artistic visions of these two great artists mirror each other." 'Transcendental' is just the right word to describe both the performance and the experience of watching Andy Sommer's recording of it - an utterly mesmerizing 'über-documentary'. (I can only imagine how it must've felt for those lucky ones who heard and saw it live!) The concentration and stamina of the dancers is awe-inspiring, especially in the case of Michalis Theophanous who initially wears only his birthday suit.
2. The Scream (Phillipe Grandrieux, 2019) / A bold new experiment from the French provocateur is a distillate of primordial emotions. Almost as uncontrollable as a force of nature, it overwhelms you with its raw power.
3. The Last Fiction (Ashkan Rahgozar, 2018)Although traditional and CG animation don't seamlessly blend at all times, whereby the Cinesquare VoD platform offers only English dubbing, Rahgozar's 'historical fantasy' is quite enjoyable. Essentially, it is a good vs. evil tale replete with heroic characters, bloody battles and demonic possessions, all borrowed from long epic poem Shahnameh written by the Persian poet Ferdowsi. Boasting beautiful artwork reminiscent of some old-school anime, and magnificent score pervaded by some goosebump-inducing traditional songs, The Last Fiction is an impressive calling card for its young director.
4. Tesla (Michael Almereyda, 2020) / Michael Almereyda takes a lot of risk in his latest offering, but it does pay off to have Anne Morgan (Eve Hewson, utterly magnetic) as a narrator recommending some Google search, Thomas Edison (Kyle MacLachlan, as reliable as ever) pulling out a smartphone at the World’s Fair, the pulsating 80s synthpop portending the encounter of Sarah Bernhardt and Nikola Tesla, and the great scientist (subtly portrayed by Ethan Hawke in a hushed voice) heartbreakingly singing the cover of Tears for Fears' Everybody Wants to Rule the World in his final dream. He also opts for some bold stylistic choices, such as the extensive use of rear projections, delivering a witty, playful, formally exciting biopic in which cinematic artifice and philosophical dialogues go hand in hand, with the boundary between facts and legends completely blurred.
5. Island Songs (Baldvin Z & Ólafur Arnalds, 2017) / Joining forces with filmmaker Baldvin Zophoníasson, the young and talented Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnalds delivers a lovely mélange of a music album and a documentary, 'painting' a heartfelt portrait of his homeland through collaborations with fellow artists living in different parts of the island. In-between the seemingly impromptu interviews, they immerse you into particular 'sonic fantasies' supported by softly lit visuals, and performed with so much gusto that you almost feel the notes reaching your inner self...
6. Beasts Clawing at Straws (Kim Yong-hoon, 2020) / Based on Keisuke Sone’s novel of the same name, Beasts Clawing at Straws is a pretty impressive feature debut for Kim Yong-hoon whose tightly adapted screenplay and sure-handed direction give the impression of a far more experienced helmer. Structured like Pulp Fiction and often soaked in neon lights providing a multitude of visually pleasing shots, this darkly humorous neo-noir revolves around a Louis Vuitton bag full of money which has a colorful band of characters, from a struggling sauna janitor to a psychopathic loan-shark's henchman, pulled into a twisted game of greed. A lot of double-crossing and back-stabbing ensues, and we've all seen that countless times before, yet Yong-hoon and his great ensemble cast keep us glued to the screen, entertained by even the most dangerous of the 'beasts'.
7. Sputnik (Egor Abramenko, 2020) / An ambitious and confident debut from Egor Abramenko, Sputnik is an intriguing mixture of character (melo)drama, social commentary, retro sci-fi, creature feature and body horror that wears its influences, from Alien to X-Files to Arrival, pretty close to its sleeve, yet still manages to maintain a certain level of freshness (and even authenticity). The exquisite monster effects, Maxim Zhukov's attention-grabbing cinematography and the slick, austerely beautiful production design that sends us back in time to 1983 USSR provide some memorable visuals, whereby Oleg Karpachov's ominously brooding score establishes a dense, immersive atmosphere. The leading duo of Oksana Akinshina (of the Lilya 4-ever fame) and Pyotr Fyodorov (whom you might've seen in Sarancha, the first Russian erotic thriller) command the screen with strong performances, and Fedor Bondarchuk seems to have a whale of a time behind the super-serious façade of the story's true villain.
8. Amulet (Romola Garai, 2020) / Garai's slow-burning horror debut is stubbornly, yet admirably ambiguous for most of its running time, its mystery looming over you long after the 'big reveal' which is followed by a highly memorable bizarro finale. Its forte lies in well-rounded performances by an ensemble cast and handsome visuals.
9. Muse: Simulation Theory (Lance Drake, 2020) / With an arcade machine acting as an interdimensional portal, multiple 'simulations' collide in Muse’s spectacular 2019 concert transformed into a flamboyant sci-fi film which pays a loving homage to the 80s and eerily corresponds with our times, questioning our perception of reality. Despite the on-the-nose metaphors, weak recent songs and 'vanity project' vibes, Simulation Theory is an impressive, if a bit over-produced feat which probably already enjoys the cult status amongst the most avid of the band's fans.
10. All the Gods in the Sky (Quarxx, 2018) / A visceral, genre-bending study of guilt that leaves you with a lasting impression, even though it tends to stretch the viewer's suspension of disbelief a bit too thin.

LOCARNO TOP 5


1. O Black Hole! (Renee Zhan, 2020)
2. Cloud of the Unknown (Gao Yuan, 2020)
3. Spotted Yellow (Baran Sarmad, 2020)
4. The End of Suffering (A Proposal) (Jacqueline Lentzou, 2020)
5. 1978 (Hamza Bangash, 2020)

SHORT FILMS


1. Nectar (Lucile Hadžihalilović, 2014)
3. LOST HOUSES ( I am not ) (Roland Quelven, 2014)
4. The Lost Trace (Debraj Naiya, 2020)
5. Imaginarium of the Unknown Traveler (David King, 2020)
6. Light Ghazal (Marie Craven, 2018)
7. In the Night (Brian Ratigan, 2018)
9. The Asphodel Phases (Edwin Rostron, 2019)
10. The Mayflower (Chris Goodman, 2017)

28 Aug 2020

LOS (Martin Del Carpio, 2020)

Short collage film or rather, 'motion picture book' LOS is the second collaborative effort between NYC-based artist Martin Del Carpio (concept and direction) and myself (collage art and animation), with the ambient/minimalist score provided by Lebanese improvising guitarist Sharif Sehnaoui. It blends a sci-fi narrative and cut-out/stop-motion visuals with hints of esotericism in its portrayal of the bleak, AI-dominated future.

Synopsis (written by Frank Vasquez)

In another time, on a different world, mankind has made progress . . . Ruled by the very AI they developed and employed to set them free, humans have become slaves to their machine. We have lost friendship, love, and sex, and we are the machine labor and means of production. In a tomorrow-land without touch or value, a future very much of our making, upon which human life is transaction and output, we have lost humanity. The AI, the machine, has put us to work, and we humans do not work without it. We labor and toil for calculations and machinations logical and unfeeling, having forgotten one another and ourselves.

Yet there are the Los: the most human of us, ostracized, exiled, and refuted by the rest for knowing nature and refusing to resist intimacy and the intangible connections of life. It is the Los who would free mankind to return to their humanity and to become again the collective “we” of individuality, of love, of freedom from artificial design. The Los will go to war for the humans who were not and for the humans they are, but . . . will they save us?

You can watch LOS on Martin Del Carpio's official Vimeo channel, HERE,
or directly, via NGboo Art.

25 Aug 2020

The Step (Aleqsandre Rekhviashvili, 1985)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

If the devil is in the detail, then a run-down appartment rented by Alexi - the protagonist of The Step (originally, Sapekhuri) - must be the residence of a whole army of little devils. There are plants in every corner, vinyl records stacked in piles, old newspapers glued to decrepit walls, bric-a-brac and trinkets wherever your eyes reach, and a huge, dust-covered travelling bag resting next to a cupboard covered with pots and pans that haven't been used in a while... On top of that, the rooms are furnished or rather, crowded with beautiful pieces of vintage furniture acting as silent and unkempt witnesses of better days. But, this micro-chaos isn't without its charms and they are recognized by both Alexi, a doctorand of botanic superbly portrayed by Merab Ninidze in a low key, and his many eccentric and/or enigmatic friends who feel at home there, frequently discovering the crib's little secrets.

From a loveless conversation between Alexi's estranged father and hissing stepmother, we learn that the young man has moved again, yet his quest for independency as well as for the place in a society seems to be at a standstill. Chained by the same old relationships deliberately depicted as opaque, and trapped in a bureaucratic loop at a research institute where he applied for a position, he resembles a Kafkaesque hero whose repetitive everyday grows increasingly surreal to the point of having a donkey as a roommate. The uneventfulness of his bizarre reality is subtly poeticized by Rekhviashvili who imbues the story with a keen sense of the absurd and spices it up with wry humor, preparing the terrain for the titular step which is supposed to lead out of the cluttered, claustrophobic spaces posing as a comfort zone. In the pivotal scene - Alexi's encounter with his favorite teacher - he suggests a comforting thought that 'one who doesn't know where he goes will get the farthest', so he lets his central character wander some more through the labyrinth of his own creation, before finally finding (what appears to be) an exit.

Just like with his previous films - The 19th Century Georgian Chronicle (1979) and The Way Home (1981) - Rekhviashvili almost completely abandons music, achieving an austere atmosphere of brooding, hypnotizing, and at times, even paralyzing stupor. Once again, he collaborates with Archil Pilipashvili behind the camera, and frames the proceedings with pictorial elegance that turns his drama into a lucid fever-dream, emphasizing the beauty of decay.

21 Aug 2020

Iran Is My Land (Parviz Kimiavi, 1999)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

In Parviz Kimiavi's la(te)st fiction film, the books grow on trees amidst the desert, a water canal is married to a local widow for the drought to be broken, and the poets of the past haunt the present of a protagonist, Sohrab, wonderfully portrayed by Behzad Khodaveisi. While writing a thesis on Persian classic poetry, our scholar hero has to deal with a grinning Kafkaesque bureaucrat (a bravura supporting performance by Saeed Poursamimi) in order to acquire a publication license, so for that reason, he travels from the Kerman province to Tehran. However, his journey is fraught with a number of bizarre detours which turn his country into a magical and slightly disorienting realm.

Iran Is My Land (originally, Iran saray-e man ast) is a prime example of old-school cinematic surrealism that reaches all the way to the viewer's subconscious or rather soul, and gently envelops it in warmth. What's most fascinating about it is the effortless way Kimiavi manipulates time and space, blurring the boundaries between fantasy and reality, Sohrab's thoughts and actions, without ever losing the thread of his carefully measured and seemingly meandering narrative. Anyone unfamiliar with the history and cultural heritage of Iran will certainly find it ambiguous, yet the playful auteur will always make sure that the stranger feels welcome, even when the story overwhelms him/her with its exoticism. Brimful of rhyming verses and tinged with subtle humor, his dialogues are imbued with universal wisdom and simultaneously they epitomize the most personal form of filmic lyricism, which comes as no surprise, considering the poetry is the name of the game.

Themes of censorship, persistence, introspection and re-connection with tradition are densely intertwined and explored through the prism of art, its great potency and possible meanings, whereby the film plays out like a hardly classifiable blend of a formally astute essay, a dreamlike road-movie and a peculiar brand of an anthropological documentary. Largely taking place in a desert, around ancient ruins and villages, it is dominated by the color of sand, with the characters' costumes enhancing the picturesque qualities of Mohammad Aladpoush's taut cinematography. Modest in style, the charming visuals are often complemented only by ambience sounds, their marriage establishing a mystical atmosphere that is occasionally sublimated by Hossein Alizadeh's folk-inspired score also employed as a fourth wall-breaking tool in the witty epilogue.