Oct 20, 2020

Lily Lane (Benedek Fliegauf, 2016)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

Lily Lane (originally, Liliom ösvény) is a peculiar beast, one with a coarse fur coat, and wounded heart beating underneath. Once again, Benedek Fliegauf - famous for the harrowing 2012 drama Just the Wind - opts for a sensitive subject matter and handles it in a rather unconventional fashion. The film focuses on a young mother, Rebeka (the oddly captivating performance by Angéla Stefanovics), who brings a heavy emotional load into the relationship with both her son, Dani (the impressive debut for Bálint Sótonyi), and her soon-to-be ex husband whom she keeps at a safe distance and whom we never see. Through a bizarre fairy tale that she puts Dani to sleep with, we learn a good deal about the ghosts from her past, especially after her mother loses the battle against cancer, which leads to the awkward meeting with her estranged father...

A melancholic, de-sentimentalized rumination on parental neglect, love(lessness) and loss, whether due to separation or death, Fliegauf's latest offering tells the story from two different, yet equally distorted and tightly knit perspectives - those of Rebeka's troubled mind and of a seven-year old child who absorbs every word with wide-eyed curiosity. Each of the leading duo's broken realities is reflected in raw, eerie and subtly intrusive home movie-like sequences, the first of which acts as an opening and sets the gloomy tone for what is to follow. Unapologetically somber and unadorned, occasionally captured in phantasmal, borderline found footage horror B&W, these 'video memories' are not gimmicks, but rather bold experiments in the depiction of unresolved issues and innermost worlds. In stark contrast, Rebeka and Dani's everyday - devoid of its prosaic aspects whenever possible - is lensed in natural light and infused with poetic beauty, the pool scene being one of the film's visual highlights. Directed at a measured pace, Lily Lane or rather, its heroine suddenly 'explodes' in a purifying, cathartic tantrum during the finale, only to be covered by the veil of silent uncertainty...

Oct 10, 2020

The Bra (Veit Helmer, 2018)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

In one of the oddest, if not the boldest deconstructions of the Cinderella story, the heroine doesn't lose her glass slipper, but a rather intimate part of her wardrobe. When the train passes through a run-down area of Baku, dangerously close to dilapidated houses surrounding the railway, her turquoise bra gets stuck to the locomotive front. An aged engine driver - compassionately portrayed by Serbian veteran actor Predrag Manojlović - embarks on an adventurous journey to find his 'princess', hoping she may put an end to his lonely existence and thus fill his retirement days with joy.

Given that the protagonist employs the same 'try on' system as the one from the original fairy tale, there are plenty of situations that produce a humorous effect, whether the visited ladies are spinsters or widows, single moms or the wives of burly (and not to mention jealous) men. And the poor guy's determination is so strong that he is willing to go to any length in order to achieve his goal, which also livens up the comedy. On top of that, Helmer's frequent collaborator Denis Lavant provides an extra dose of delightful comic relief moments, in a brilliant supporting role as an apprentice prone to buffoonery.

The quirkiness is amped up to eleven and the world of The Bra often appears as borderline fantastical, not only because the characters don't speak, or because a servant boy resides in a doghouse. Simply put, there's some kind of magic in the childlike playfulness of both direction and performances, as well as in the grainy texture of 35mm cinematography, especially during the scenes which capture bucolic beauty. (The image of Sayora Safarova as a sweet village girl holding a brown lamb amidst a vast meadow gets easily and deeply imprinted in the viewer's mind!) Bursting with colors, the film's pleasant, refreshingly retro and meticulously composed visuals are effectively complemented by a mellifluous, highly evocative score, diegetic sounds and non-verbal vocalizations, so the absence of dialogue - one of Helmer's trademarks - once again proves to be a welcome choice. The Bra is best described as an affectionately written love letter to silent cinema, and as such, it possesses a timeless quality, as well as a potential to become the future cult favorite.

Oct 1, 2020

Cinematic Favorites 09/20

Encompassing 30 films, feature-length and short, recent and old (but watched for the first time this September), the 9th listicle of 2020 opens with John Carpenter's genre-bending and genre-defining masterwork Assault on Precinct 13, and ends with a small piece of traditionally animated magic El Mago Georges, with in-betweeners ranging from a delicate modern fairy tale to highly experimental tone poems.

IN A TIME-MACHINE

1. Assault on Precinct 13 (John Carpenter, 1976)
2. Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (Benjamin Christensen, 1922)
3. The Big Night (Mauro Bolognini, 1959) - Bursting with fancy-free life of moral decadence and smoothly roaming across Rome under the energetic direction, this Pasolini-written crime-drama seduces the viewer with its propulsive jazz score, wonderful B&W cinematography and incredibly handsome cast. It is also absolutely magical in its simplicity!
4. Anaphase (Levi Zini, 1996)
5. When the Tenth Month Comes (Dang Nhat Minh, 1984) - Talented and adorable actress Lê Vân stars as a young widow, Duyên, in Dang Nhat Minh's 1984 drama When the Tenth Month Comes (originally, Bao gio cho den tháng Muoi) that wonderfully poeticizes a countryside life (and pushes it extremely close to the realm of the supernatural on a couple of occasions!) during the last days of the Vietnam War. Ms Vân's delicate performance alone is the reason enough to spend 80 minutes with this (handsomely lensed) feature.
6. Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick, 1975)
7. Finis Terrae (Jean Epstein, 1929)
8. The Secret of the Black Trunk (Werner Klingler, 1962) - Knife murders, experimental drugs, secret identities, underground labyrinths... This pulpy 'krimi' thriller has everything, even a 'sound-hound' comic-relief character! Not lacking in suspicious mugs, its twisty story is directed with a keen sense of pacing and wit, captured in beautifully noirish B&W images and accompanied by an enticingly cacophonous score.
9. The Mansion of Madness (Juan López Moctezuma, 1973) - There's a certain method to Moctezuma's creative madness that pervades his debut feature – a fairly loose adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's short story The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether. Jodorowskian in (panic movement) spirit and Felliniesque in baroque excesses, with Rafael Corkidi beautifully lensing the increasingly frantic action, The Mansion of Madness is a bizarre dark comedy which has an irreverent satire of a totalitarian regime buried under the layers of riotous eccentricities. Filmed at the attractively dilapidated locations (of an abandoned factory?), it is highly recommended for the 'ruin porn' aficionados.
10. World Gone Wild (Lee H. Katzin, 1987) - "Nothing makes sense in a world gone wild", and yet this insanely weird mélange of Seven SamuraiMad Max and Streets of Fire works like a charm, with the story dictated by the rule of cool and logic lying in pieces after being thrown out of the window. Starring Catherine Mary Stewart as a sweetheart school(bus) teacher, Michael Paré as a hunky renegade hero, Bruce Dern as a desert hippie-shaman and Adam Ant as a charismatic villain who brainwashes a choir-boy-like army with the help of The Wit and Wisdom of Charles Manson, this post-apocalyptic action flick also features the gang of almost naked cannibals and a trigger-happy explosive expert (Julius Carry) who wears a violet leotard and a mail coif. Cheesy fun and bizarre costumes abound!

THE 21st CENTURY CINEMA

1. Angel (Harry Cleven, 2016) - Highly poetic, daringly gentle, hopelessly romantic, heartachingly beautiful and incredibly sensorial, Angel (originally Mon ange) is a modern fairy tale which succeeds where many features of our time fail – to revive the magic of classic cinema in an almost effortless manner. Its delicate, admirably sensual cinematography by young, yet extremely talented Juliette Van Dormael lends it an absorbing, dreamlike atmosphere complemented by caressing string score and whispery, low key performances by minimal cast including Elina Löwensohn (reliable as ever) and Fleur Geffrier (absolutely enchanting). Both actresses are faced with the challenge of performing next to an 'invisible' partner who represents the former's son and the latter's lover (voiced by excellent Gauthier Battoue in adulthood), whereby director Harry Cleven is up to the task of showing us this character who cannot be seen. In achieving what seems impossible, he makes brilliant use of close-ups, soft focuses and gauzed lenses, intensifying the pervading and already strong feeling of intimacy...
2. Its Existence Commenced This Hour (Wolfgang Lehmann, 2019) - Behind the liquid curtain of multicolored abstractions, the nature sinks into a trembling dream and becomes one with it. Strengthened by haunting, borderline alien soundscapes, their unity rips the fabric of reality... I only wish it were possible to touch the incessantly mutating images.
3. Luz: The Flower of Evil (Juan Diego Escobar Alzate, 2019) - The ever-growing madness of religious zealotry and the incredibly lush verdancy of Eden-like mountain setting contrast and complement each other in one of the most visually stunning feature debuts of recent years. Boasting temperamental performances, especially from Conrado Osorio who portrays a false prophet addressed only as El Señor, and brilliant color-grading which makes virtually every shot worth framing and hanging on your wall (many kudos to another firsttimer, Felipe Martinez), Luz feels as if The VVitch were retouched by Jodorowsky in his prime, and impregnated with Bergmanesque questioning of faith...
4. Kasper Bjørke Quartet: The Fifty Eleven Project Full Visual Album (Justin Tyler Close, 2018) - Danish musician Kasper Bjørke's five-year-long struggle with cancer is tenderly reflected in a meditative anthology of music videos turned experimental tour de force imbued with striking imagery of dreamlike quality. Various influences, ranging from Terrence Malick to Pina Bausch to Butō dance, are seamlessly blended in a haunting, highly interpretive film marked by an exemplary wordless performance from Kristján Ingimarsson. Also praiseworthy is dancer Bobbi Jene Smith in an uninhibited role of Mother Nature.
5. Human Lost (Fuminori Kizaki, 2019) 
6. Hoffmaniada (Stanislav Sokolov, 2018)
7. Birthday Wonderland (Keiichi Hara, 2019) - In the latest offering from Keiichi Hara (of Colorful and Miss Hokusai fame), Alice in Wonderland is re-imagined for the umpteenth time, with a mustached alchemist by the name of Hippocrates (sic!) as a stand-in for the White Rabbit. Not the first, and most probably not the last anime about a girl who gets 'spirited away' to another world in order to become a better person, Birthday Wonderland pulls the viewer in by virtue of lavish animation and great attention to detail, but comes off as a bit generic in terms of story and characters. Although its magic gradually wears off during the second hour, there's still a lot to enjoy here...
8. Dogs Don't Wear Pants (J.-P. Valkeapää, 2019)
9. Acid (Aleksandr Gorchilin, 2018) - With a naked drugged out guy gone crazy and some foursome action featured in the first 15 minutes, Acid appears to be quite bold by Russian cinema standards. As Gorchilin's provocations grow increasingly milder, the film loses its steam meandering through 'rebelliously' aimless everyday of disenchanted bourgeois youth. And yet, by virtue of Kseniya Sereda's crisp widescreen cinematography and magnetic performances, it remains strangely captivating all throughout the end which begins with a funny dream (or trip?) sequence involving a toilet. Thinly-cut slices of empty lives are served along with a cup of cold and bitter tea, but it wouldn’t hurt to have a little jar of jam to dip your fingers in...
10. Metamorphosis (Hong-seon Kim, 2019)

SHORT FILMS, OLD & NEW

1. Eventide (Muriel Paraboni, 2016) - Stunningly beautiful widescreen compositions, haunting music and lyrical voice-overs interweave into a lush, delicate tapestry of lucid dreams, elusive emotions and lingering memories, as Muriel Paraboni dives into the subconscious of his characters, enveloping them in an aura of secrecy. In his exploration of their transfiguring innerscapes, he employs B&W to intense color transitions, as well as the surroundings – vast open spaces and minimalist interiors where shadows grow more intense. This way, he establishes an oneiric, meditative atmosphere which provides you with a peculiar mélange of melancholy and solace acting as an equivalent of a soul-healing potion. Decidedly abstract in its treatment of the physical world – nature, humans and artifacts of their creation – his Eventide is a ravishing tone poem, with moving images turned into its verses.
2. The Arrival (Justin Tyler Close, 2019) - Dedicated to installation and environmental artist, painter and sculptor Lita Albuquerque whose daughter, Jasmine, and first grandson, Adé, appear in the film, The Arrival is a moving, hyper-poetic reflection on grief, loss and rebirth. Shot around the ruins of Ms Albuquerque's home-studio lost in the Woolsey Fires in 2018, it marries a surreal, childlike performance to an experimental, post-apocalyptic fantasy, featuring an inviting 16mm cinematography by Jeremy Cox and evocative cello-score by Lo Fang.
3. Black Angel (Roger Christian, 1980)
4. On Floating Bodies (Sibi Sekar, 2020) - Soaked in dense, unforgiving shadows which at times seep in from the darkest recesses of Lynchian realm, On Floating Bodies is a mysterious, devastatingly beautiful tone poem of obscure images, evocative words and haunting music slowly waltzing into the great nothingness, equally frightening and comforting. An impressive calling card for 23-yo filmmaker Sibi Sekar.
5. Fountain of Dreams (Jordan Belson, 1984)
6. The Sower (Janja Rakuš, 2020) - Sowing seeds of a mysterious cosmic color that is all colors at once and no color at all, Janja Rakuš grows an abstract phantasmagoria of mesmerizing power. As the amorphous images of her short film 'bleed' and 'melt' before your eyes, they remain constant in their emanation of obscure light, evoking time in a standstill, and space outside of the physical one. If The Sower were a living entity, it would most probably act as a portal towards eternity...
7. Suspense (Phillips Smalley & Lois Weber, 1913) - A home invasion, a car chase and the brilliant triangular split-screen - all in an early, ten-minute thriller by the first American woman director Lois Weber who also plays the wife role.
8. My Brain is Screaming to Rest (Josh Parmer, 2020)
9. Saturn Returns (Dan Siegelman, 2018)
10. El Mago Georges (Kati Egely, 2020)

Sep 27, 2020

Birds of Turmoil (Through the Mirror)

 Burn this house of lies and its gilded secrets.
Burn the ground they walk on and let their children
Cry until all of their dreams drown in tears.

And don’t be sorry – the shadows don’t feel.
And don’t be holy – the first snow will bleed
And lead you into a new labyrinth
Where you’ll be as lost as you’ve ever been.

Raise the dead of your vivid memories,
Invoke the black clouds from your reveries,
And sing for the infernal rain never to stop falling.

(At midnight, we’ll turn into reflections of our pain.
In the morning, we will pass through the mirror.)

Sep 22, 2020

Human Lost (Fuminori Kizaki, 2019)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

Inner demons externalize as borderline-Lovecraftian monsters in Fuminori Kizaki's latest anime feature which turns its source material - namely, Osamu Dazai's highly acclaimed novel No Longer Human - on its head (as well as inside-out) - a pretty daring move from screenwriter Tow Ubukata (Le Chevalier D'Eon, Mardock Scramble, Ghost in the Shell: Arise). Filtered through the prism of adrenaline-pumping cyberpunk-action, original story is kept on a life support machine, as its rebellious spirit roams wild and free through Tokyo of the not-so-distant (and not-so-utopian) future.

The year is 2036 (Showa 111) and diseases are the thing of the past thanks to the breakthroughs in medical technology, i.e. the S.H.E.L.L. (Sound Health and Everlasting Long Life) system of nanomachines that allows even death to be reversed. However, the power lies in the hands of a selected few elders who rule the elite of 'Inside', whereas the city outskirts are inhabited by hoi polloi who are to be exploited in their longevity, being denied the full benefits of the abovementioned system. Those who try to disconnect forcefully from H.U.M.A.N. network transform into savage atrocities called 'Lost', and are 'processed' by the troopers of the H.I.L.A.M. (Human Intelligence, Laboratory, Mechanist) agency.

The ensuing economical disparity and the possibility of complete organic overhaul lead to the rise of revolutionary movements one of which instigates a kamikaze-like assault on Inside in a memorable bike-chase sequence inviting comparison to the cult favorite Akira. Recruited by a mysterious string-puller, Masao Horiki, and his best friend Takeichi, a depressed, drug-addicted artist, Yozo Oba, finds himself amidst the mess, only to have his super-special ability awaken... with a little help of S.H.E.L.L.'s 'applicant' Yoshiko Hiiragi. What follows is 'a battle between Yoshiko’s pure hearted idealism, Oba’s despair-fuelled cynicism, and Masao’s embittered nihilism' (as Hayley Scanlon words it for Windows on Worlds) painted as a larger-than-life and stronger-than-death sci-fi extravaganza.

Exploring or at least touching upon the themes of societal injustice, generational conflict, scientific progress with its upsides and downsides, alienation in the technologically advanced era, and knowing one's true self no matter how frightening it is, Kizaki anchors the narrative in a familiar, yet uncanny reality of nightmarish proportions. Although he favors style over substance, his film - moving at brisk pace - raises a number of questions impossible to be answered unambiguously, providing the viewer with just enough food for thought to keep him/her engaged in the bombastic proceedings. 

On frequent ventures into his protagonists' minds (or hearts!), he resorts to some good ol' 'tricks' which open doors towards innermost, void-like spaces of non-existent gravity - we've seen those 'locales' countless times before, yet they never seem to get worn-out! Equally surreal and physics-defying are over-the-top action set-pieces where Kizaki and his team of animators shine brightest, but this doesn't mean they have nothing to show during more reflective parts that allow us to take a breath. On the contrary, there are loads of eye-candy in both character and background design, including, inter alia, an abandoned temple (as the revolutionaries' hideout), sterile laboratories of S.H.E.L.L., neon-lit skyscrapers evoking vistas of Blade Runner, and impressive holograms inspired by traditional Japanese art and architecture. And let's not forget the psychedelic imaging of Losts' point of view, and delightfully morbid pieces of Yozo's artwork! Complementing the lavish cel-shaded visuals is a dramatic score featuring some pounding techno/rock tracks as excitement intensifiers.

If you're fond of the 80s and 90s dark cyberpunk anime (regardless of the cheesy factor), there's a fair chance that Human Lost will trigger some precious memories, notwithstanding its glossy, CG-heavy glaze, so don't miss it.

Sep 16, 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.

Sep 11, 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.