26 Apr 2017

Reflections on Rouzbeh Rashidi's "Ten Years in the Sun" and "Trailers"

Just recently, I was honored to see two of the latest works by Rouzbeh Rashidi - one of the most prominent figures of the Remodernist Film movement which emerged at the beginning of the 21st century. Both cacophonous, boldly provocative, visually opulent, decidedly non/anti-narrative, deliberately "glitchy" and directed as if they were high-brow sci-fi epics for some perverse, disoriented alien entities of an unknown dimension or simply put, mind-fuckingly great, these features inspired an article that is now released on the Experimental Film Society official page. You can read it in its entirety here: 

 (above) Still shot from Ten Years in the Sun
(below) Still shot from Trailers

21 Apr 2017

The Garbage Helicopter (Jonas Selberg Augustsén, 2015)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

A co-production between Quatar and Sweden (where the action takes place), The Garbage Helicopter (Sophelikoptern) is best described in the opening lines of Stephen Dalton's The Hollywood Reporter review, as "a minimalist road movie with a surreal sense of humor".

Wallowing in the absurdity of everyday life, it appears as a wildly odd cross between Davide Manuli's (The Legend of Kaspar Hauser) and Roy Andersson's (A Pidgeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence) works peppered with a handful of Jarmusch-esque 'hipsterism' and tiny pinch of Lynchian... je ne sais quoi, but it's not a dream logic.

Drawing comparisons to a lesser known Buñuelean comedy Avida (by Benoît Delépine & Gustave de Kervern) as well, this hyper-deadpan first feature-length effort from Jonas Selberg Augustsén comes as a biting refreshment for the arthouse enthusiasts. Hell, there's even a building (a diner? museum? bus station? kino theater?) with a huge 'Art House' sign above its entrance!

And speaking of huge, the protagonists - three Romani siblings - keep coming upon various XL objects on their mission of returning an ancient wall clock to their grandmother who lives hundreds of miles away. Their visits to the world's biggest cheese slicer, cleaning brush and garden chair (disgracefully burned in front of their eyes because Germans made a much larger one) operate as a dry running gag amongst many others, including crosswords, bubble wrap, speed cameras and "We do speak Swedish" reply every time someone addresses them in English.

There's an overwhelming sense that the trio's quest might be a possible answer to a riddle that is posed time and again: "What keeps running but never gets anywhere?" However, after a few detours and accidents (involving cows and art thieves) during the journey, they do reach the final destination (and this is not a spoiler) where another oneiric puzzle regarding the titular aircraft awaits the viewer. What is clear, though, is that, as poker-faced as possible, Augustsén pokes at casual racism and points to the loss of cultural identity due to globalization.

Occasionally, one has the impression that the film's quirks and its pace - deliberately monotonous - outstay their welcome, but the monochrome pictures are so beautiful that you just can't stop looking at them. From the very first shot to the very last, The Garbage Helicopter is a series of meticulously composed widescreen tableaux, simultaneously funny and melancholic in their 'immobility'. Accompanied by silence or elegiac tracks and conjoined by black screen rest-points, these vignettes of high-brow WTFery are sure to induce some chuckles along the way.

At the moment of writing this article, the film is available worldwide (except Germany and Sweden) for FREE at Festival Scope, with English, Spanish, Italian, Dutch and Serbo-Croatian subtitles.

19 Apr 2017

The Wounded Angel (Emir Baigazin, 2016)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

After a relentlessly harrowing debut feature ironically titled Harmony Lessons (2013), the up-and-coming Kazakh auteur Emir Baigazin delivers another depressing portrait of anguished youth with his equally solid sophomore film The Wounded Angel.

Drawing inspiration from the eponymous painting, as well as from the Tampere Cathedral frescoes by the Finnish symbolist Hugo Simberg, he paints the pains of growing up in the steppes of post-USSR Kazakhstan with precise and confident strokes. This time, he teams up with the Belgian cinematographer Yves Cape (Holy Motors), whilst staying true to his rigorous visual style of mostly static, yet brilliantly framed shots which mirror the characters' mental and emotional detachment.

Through four loosely connected chapters depicting inconceivably grim childhoods of pubescent boys, Baigazin explores the themes of guilt and moral corruption against the backdrop of a decaying remote village in the mid 90s. Offering no glimmers of hope for his prematurely grown anti-heroes who appear as both victims and victimizers, he weaves an austerely poetic narrative embedded with strong social commentary. Once again, he assembles the cast of non-pros whose rigid, Bressonian performances intensify the imposing, suffocating atmosphere of sparse dialogue, ruin-porn imagery and absent music.

In the first episode, Fate, a rascal, Zharas, follows in the footsteps of his no-good criminal father, convinced that he can support his mother on petty frauds. Following is The Fall which chronicles the cherub-voiced Chick's 'mutation' from a promising singer into an extortionist bully much alike Bolat from Harmony Lessons. The third and longest section, Greed (which has the looks of a post-apocalyptic drama by virtue of the abandoned factory setting), focuses on an outcast, Toad, who robs a trio of glue-sniffers acting as the figures from the Simberg's work in a bleakly witty live-action 'replica'. And, lastly, comes Sin which deals with an unintended pregnancy and the growing madness of the unborn's father, Aslan, ending on a subtly surreal note.

These wounded, ostracized angels are brought together in a transfixing epilogue which removes them from the harsh reality and lets them have a few deserved moments of (illusory) piece and relief to the sounds of Chick's rapturous rendition of Ave Maria...

16 Apr 2017

In Search of the Exile (Daniel Fawcett & Clara Pais, 2016)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

The string of (positive) reviews for the boundary-pushing films including The Suffering of Ninko, Still the Earth Moves, Sleep Has Her House and Frozen May continues with the British auteur duo Clara Pais and Daniel Fawcett's liquid, mind-blowing phantasmagoria In Search of the Exile.

Defying any categorization, this wild cinematic experiment could be described in many ways, but none of the descriptions would give the potential audience an accurate impression of the opus. As it takes you to another, mercurial world of an alternate, oneiric reality, it seems like a spiritual (and more abstract) successor to E. Elias Merhige's Begotten as seen through infrared filters - think Philippe Baylaucq's ballet fantasy ORA or Thomas Kirk's music video for Muse's Stockholm Syndrome, yet even more lavish and intense.

Elusive and enthralling, it is akin to an iridescent fairy tale which is made of divine reveries and takes place in the arcane Realm of Tarot; the complete anthology of the primordial embryo's memories or the lost collection of an ethereal being's home videos... The titular search is shared by the directors themselves, the hypnotized viewer and the protagonist referred to as the Wanderer (Fabrizio Federico) or rather, our souls and astral projections, our dream-selves and nightmare-ids. The encounters with the Witch, the Red Knight and the Lovers make us look deeper into the Subconscious and Beyond.

Drenched in screaming, hyper-saturated colors melting in front of your eyes, this avant-garde, dialogue-free mythos is an uninterrupted stream of equivocal images. Accompanied by the evocative score of familiar, yet alienating sounds, the dazzling, unearthly visuals create a whirlpool of an eternal, mysterious substance that you want to drown in.

During the watching, I thought to myself more than once: "If there is Heaven, I want it to be as immersive and stupefying as this."

(Available at Vimeo on Demand.)

14 Apr 2017

A Cosmic Fool

A pure poem for progressive progeny
(and a spiritual successor to Eternal).

(click to enlarge)

12 Apr 2017

Frozen May (Péter Lichter, 2017)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

"The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown." (H. P. Lovecraft)

And the presence of the unknown is sensed all throughout the feature-length debut for the Hungarian experimental filmmaker Péter Lichter. Opening with an arresting bird-view of frost-covered trees, Frozen May (Fagyott május) plunges the viewer into the hopeless, almost lifeless world of the alternative past.

Set in 1990, after the fall (of an UFO? human kind? a supreme being?), it puts you into the shoes of an unnamed protagonist who struggles to survive in a hostile (post-apocalyptic?) environment. He lives alone in a lodge and roams the woods in attempts to find another human being. After spotting a mysterious child near an abandoned summer camp, his quest leads him to a ramshackle villa. There, he begins writing the notes to his sister Anna on the fortunately discovered Commodore 64.

"It's a miracle this computer is working." - he remarks at one point, fully aware that his message probably won't reach the addressee. From his 'diary logs' rendered in a boxy and 'glitchy' 4:3 format, we learn about this man's aspirations and unenviable circumstances which cast a shadow of doubt over the said chance encounter. For all we know, it could be a mirage or the ghost of his former self that he chases after, whereby the obscured, non-linear and unconventional narrative leaves many of its questions in the dark.

A thick, impenetrable mystery and the non-specific, yet constant and intense feeling of dread are maintained by the long takes (mostly from the first-person perspective) complemented by the brooding ambient score. As the composer Ádám Márton Horváth and the sound designer Péter Benjamin Lukács 'breathe' as one, Lichter and his DoP Dávid Gerencsér realize the 'ominous potential' of a winter forest - a (grim) character on its own - to the maximum extent possible. Not to mention a great lesson in how to operate a handheld camera without inducing a headache, let alone dizziness.

In the series of beautifully framed widescreen shots of cold light and drained colors, we are introduced to many (all frowning) faces of the foreboding locale whose chilling atmosphere is further intensified by the deathlike stillness. The aforementioned C64 'intrusions', as well as the home-video footage which embodies our unseen hero's memories provide rare moments of relief and warmth in a devastating stream of depressing images. All the while, the unknown keeps the status of the unsettling factor, sending shivers down your spine.

But, what is the meaning of the whole proceedings? Considering the year in which the film takes place and which is also one of the turning points in Hungarian history, there has to be a social commentary hidden in this bold, patience-testing subversion of the 'cabin' subgenre...

7 Apr 2017

Taste of Cinematic Weirdness

Two of my latest lists for Taste of Cinema present 40 (mostly obscure) films for the fans of the cinematically weird, including anime, surreal, arthouse, experimental, genre-defying and worthy-of-the-cult-status works. The first one focuses on the last decade, whereby the second one expands this period back to 2000. (There's a couple of mistakes in the title which reads 'the 21st century' and in the introduction which doesn't mention 2010s and here we end the hair-splitting.)


Tojin Kit (from Genius Party Beyond, 2008)
by Tatsuyuki Tanaka

5 Apr 2017

Southland Tales (Richard Kelly, 2006)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

Nek ovaj (nadam se, bar malo) šaljiv prevod (adaptacija i dopuna) vrlo pozitivne recenzije Dana katastrofe (koji sam reprizirao, čini mi se, po treći put) bude najava moje predstojeće liste za Taste of Cinema.

Drugo, žestoko potcenjeno dugometražno ostvarenje Ričarda Kelija, poznatog po već kultnoj SF-drami/misteriji Doni Darko, sebe baš i ne uzima ozbiljno, a smrtno je ozbiljno u svojoj slasnoj besmislenosti. Nastalo prema scenariju koji odaje utisak kao da je pisan pod uticajem halucinogenih pečuraka, ono je čista i predivna zbrka; postorgazmični san ambicioznog ludaka; papazjanija od raznorodnih ideja, linčovskih omaža, bizarnih kameo pojavljivanja, nerazumljivog tehničkog žargona, britke društvene satire, pop-kulturnih referenci i sprdnje koja neretko poprima bibljiske razmere.

Usredsređujući se na akcionu zvezdu sa amenzijom i snažnim političkim vezama (Dvejn 'Stena' Džonson sa nenormalno belim zubima), njegovu devojku koja je bivša porno glumica, starleta, pevačica i voditeljka rijaliti tok šoua (Sara Mišel Gelar), kao i na policajca (Šon Vilijam Skot u ulozi karijere) koji je ključni igrač u velikoj zaveri republikanaca i ludog naučnika, ova potpuno otkačena, hotimično nekoherentna i prefinjeno trešasta ekstravaganca okuplja jednu od najneverovatnijih glumačkih ekipa ikada. (Zbog dužine prethodne rečenice, neomarksisti su morali biti ostavljeni sa strane.)

Sačinjen od jevanđelja prema ratnom veteranu Pilotu Abilenu (Džastin Timberlejk sa gotivnim ožiljkom na licu), Southland Tales je dementno, deluziono i dekadentno remek-delo haosa koji se danas olako prihvata kao nekakav poredak. A treba ga gledati kada...

... vam kažu 'belo', a vi vidite 'crno' sa roze flekama.
... još jedan marvelozni strip biva adaptiran za veliko platno.
... primetite da vam je smisao za humor iščašeniji nego ranije.
... Majkl Bej istrajava u silovanju vaših omiljenih sećanja na detinjstvo.
... poželite da čujete obradu američke himne u izvođenju Rebeke del Rio koja vas je već raspametila u Bulevaru zvezda (a ako vam ne smeta izvlačenje iz konteksta, tu je YouTube).
... živite u zemlji koju vode uglađeni fašisti i njihovi moronski, moralno i etički posrnuli lakeji-ulizice.
... odlučite da izvršite samoubistvo, ali se predomislite u poslednjem trenutku, zato što "makroi ne izvršavaju samoubistvo".
... shvatite da "svetu ne dolazi kraj uz cviljenje, već sa praskom".

Osim toga, postoji nešto neopisivo lepo u tvrdom akcentu zmijaste Bai Ling, surferskoj odvažnosti kojom odišu pojedine scene i Kelijevoj drskosti da umesto ljudskog snošaja prikaže kresanje para automobila napunjenih tečnom karmom...

31 Mar 2017

Les guerriers de la beauté (Pierre Coulibeuf, 2003)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

Mahniti vitez obračunava se sa nevidljivim zmajem. Nevesta traga za nekim ili nečim, a kako kasnije saznajemo, sasvim je izvesno da nisu ni bidermajer, niti muž u pitanju. Proganja je crna ptica.

Slepac broji od jedan do devet na nemačkom, izjavljuje da je prorok i pleše. Devojka drži vinsku čašu prislonjenu dnom na uvo, otvara usta, a iz njih izlaze insekti. (Ovo nije jedina scena u kojoj će gledaoci koji pate od entomofobije zažmuriti na jedno oko, a možda i na oba.)

Iz rupe na svodu ispada obnaženi baletan. Dok ga par žena (jedna sa levkom na glavi) premazuje krvlju (kečapom, zapravo, ali ovako zvuči intrigantnije), patuljak u gaćama laje, krećući se na sve četiri. Mudrac je pospan, ali su zato ludaci neumorni. Iguana u brašnu...

I tako, u nizu neobičnih jukstapozicija, dadaističkih nepodudarnosti i najrazličitijih iznenađenja, francuski (post)modernist Pjer Kulibef (koji je prethodno sarađivao sa Marinom Abramović na biografskom filmu Balkanski barok) prenosi na celuloidnu traku potpuno otkačeni nonsens-performans kontroverznog belgijskog umetnika Jana Fabrea.

Kao u transu, savitljivi "igrači" se grče, lome, migolje, preobražavaju u simbole nejasnih značenja i ostavljaju dušu na "pozornici" ograničenoj oronulim zidovima u statičnim, ali atraktivnim tableaux vivants koji su uhvaćeni oštrim okom direktora fotografije Iva Kapa (Sveti motori). Život i smrt i ono treće, kao i kamene noge o kojima Andrejevljev đavo govori u Sataninom dnevniku postoje istovremeno i ne postoje uopšte.

Predivno pretenciozna na zabavan i zbunjujuć način, ova iščašena, duhovita i sardonična (?) fantazija traje taman toliko da anglosaksonsku frazu "outstay its welcome" možemo da napišemo u negativu. U nešto više od 60 minuta, Ratnici lepote učestvuju u igri koja naizgled nema pravila i koja povremeno podseća na umetničku revoluciju (koja će pojesti svoju decu i ispljunuti ih žive i zdrave), a neprestano aludira na slobodu (izražavanja). Da se okarakterisati kao žitka lepljiva provokacija (valjda zbog sitofilije sa džemom u završnici) ili kao duhovni nastavak Makavejevljevog Slatkog filma (ali bez bečkih akcionista i koprofilije) ili čak Barnijevog Ciklusa Kremaster. Apsurdna kao san, poseduje kvalitet bošovskog rituala u bezizlanom lavirintu nadahnjujuće perverzije. 

28 Mar 2017

Nova Seed (Nick DiLiberto, 2016)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

Sometimes, they DO make them like they used to.

If Nova Seed had been released in the 80s, many of the thirtysomething year olds of today would have cherished it as one of the most precious memories of their childhood. A labor of true love and commitment, this 'little' rough gem of retro animation is mostly done by only one man.

The Japan-based Canadian animator Nick DiLiberto dedicated four years of his life to hand-draw every frame of his 64-minute feature debut, in spite of the blisters (and band-aids used to cover them). With that in mind, a viewer has to be amazed by his achievement worthy of all the superlatives that the reviewers has bestowed on it so far.

Storywise, the author employs sci-fi, fantasy and adventure tropes and archetypes, offering a compelling, if not original mélange of ideas. A mad scientist, Doctor Mindskull, wants to use a mysterious force, Nova Seed, embodied in a fragile-looking girl to conquer the unnamed alien planet which might be post-apocalyptic Earth as well. Standing in his way is a NAC (Neo-Animal Combatant) - a reluctant lion-man hero who's all action and no words. With a kind heart beating in his large, yellow chest, he breaks free from the confines of the gladiatorial prison, beats up a troop of human soldiers, saves Nova more than once (and falls for her), jumps from one aircraft to another in the heat of a dogfight, gets shot, bruised and battered (occasionally by a tenacious bounty hunter), and still manages to save the day!

Even though the 'day' lasts too short, DiLiberto's nostalgia-driven opus brims with inventiveness: bizarre characters, odd paraphernalia, colors that speak several languages (louder than words), larger than mutated life sequences of hybrid vs. human battles and, ultimately, a monster 'of Ghibli-esque grandeur' (in the words of Andrew Mack). The themes of ecology, societal decadence, as well as the corruptive and destructive nature of power are intertwined in a work which is best described as a Saturday Morning Cartoon meets Heavy Metal meets Rock & Rule meets Mad Max meets Masaaki Yuasa's anime by the way of René Laloux. But, the 'substance' does not matter as much as the trippy aesthetics.

There's a special charm in the 'beat-boxed' sound effects (a boy would produce whilst playing with his toys) and ragged, pulsating lines of a bit crude, yet delightful traditional animation which is a so much needed breath of fresh air in the age of glossy CGI. Sincere in its 'awkwardness', it takes us to a high-tech laboratory, busy scrapyard, sunlit desert and all the way to a dark, underground lair, constantly keeping us or rather, our inner child, in the state of wide-eyed curiosity.

Nova Seed enchants, inspires and entertains in equal measures; it puts a big smile on your face, occasionally mystifies and, when the credits roll, makes you want more. Let's hope DiLiberto doesn't stop here.

27 Mar 2017

Endless Poetry (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 2016)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

The Chilean mystic, cinema virtuoso, spiritual guru and living legend Alejandro Jodorowsky continues his self-healing semi-autobiographical saga with the second entry in a proposed cycle of five films. Taking over exactly where The Dance of Reality (La danza de la realidad) left off, Endless Poetry (Poesía sin fin) chronicles the years of the artist's youth in 'surrealized' Santiago of the 40s.

Once again, Pamela Flores lends her soprano as Alejandrito's (the curly-haired Jeremias Herskovits and later, Adan Jodorowsky) opera-singing mum Sara, whereby Brontis Jodorowsky reprises the role of his father's father Jaime with the same kind of mocking, fascist-like strictness. The auteur himself returns as his younger self's guardian angel / voice of reason in a couple of silly and somewhat moving situations.

And another 'self' can be utilized as a suffix for 'indulgent' in describing this flamboyant familial phantasmagoria with a Freudian twist in which Flores also appears as Alejandro's first love Stella Díaz Varín (1926-2006). Through the dreamlike reminiscences, she is reimagined as a virginal, beer-guzzling and hard-punching muse who sports body paint and fiery red wig, and keeps her hymen for 'the man with the divine forehead who will descend from the mountains'.

It is thanks to his gay cousin Ricardo that 'Jodo' comes in contact with Stella, as well as with the rest of bohemian artists of the time, breaking free from the confines of Jaime's despotism. His friends belong to a colorful, Felliniesque 'demimonde' of clowns, dwarves, cripples and eccentric liberals who have their own rituals and walk straightforward, no matter what obstacles lie ahead. All of their lives are transformed into bold, rebellious, 'joie de vivre' poetry (hence the title) in which sex during menstruation and tarot divination assisted by an erected, hypnotized man are not there for the mere shock value - they are the unrhymed verses of insolent and provocative beauty.

Notwithstanding these 'excesses' and the narrative's episodic structure, Jodorowsky's latest offering is 'the most accessible' yet, as many critics put it. However, prior knowledge of his oeuvre wouldn't hurt, even though the thick layer of esotericism is almost completely lifted from both the story and (inspired) visuals. The maverick's memoirs brim with bizarre, exciting, anachronistic, carnivalesque imagery captured by the keen eye of the prominent DP Christopher Doyle and accompanied by Adanowsky's charismatic lead performance and eclectic score.

Coming from an octogenarian filmmaker, Endless Poetry is quite vital and energizing in its blending of cinema, theatre and circus, yet there are ten minutes or so of the material that could have been snipped...

25 Mar 2017

Looping (Leonie Krippendorff, 2016)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

A promising debut for the German writer/director Leonie Krippendorff, Looping brings together three superb actresses in a sympathetic study of love, longing and (inner) loneliness. In another display of incredible talent, Jella Haase (Lollipop Monster) plays a melancholic, motherless adolescent, Leila, who becomes a victim of rape and ends up in a (quite liberal) mental institution. There, she meets an enigmatic middle-aged patient, Ann (the brilliant Marie-Lou Sellem of Tykwer's Winter Sleepers fame), and later, a young, bulimic saxophonist, Frenja (Lana Cooper, almost unrecognizable and far removed from her role in Love Steaks), and BANG! - a bond between them is formed.

Although these women come from different milieus, they do have one thing in common - being lost to themselves and to those around them. With profound sadness in her eyes, Leila recklessly sleepwalks through her life, frequently dreaming of the past; Frenja gives everything for her family's happiness to the point of self-destruction, while Ann whose background remains foggy even after being shed some light on conceals suicidal thoughts under her hardened expression. The desire to make their crippled souls whole again does come true, but for how long? Well, Krippendorff does not give a clear answer, leaving the oneiric ending open to viewer's interpretation.

In fact, she favors the silence of images over explanations and avoids most of the melodramatic trappings in the psychological exploration of her fucked-up characters and the dynamics of their relationship. On top of the excellent, believable performances, she and her DP Jieun Yi (also a newcomer to keep an eye on) provide a bunch of beautifully lit and handsomely composed shots, with many close-ups which reflect the protagonists' fragility. The solid editing and atmospheric, unobtrusive music by Jihyeon Park and Tammy Ingram, respectively, elevate the film even more, beyond its minor flaws.

22 Mar 2017

Sleep Has Her House (Scott Barley, 2016)

"Deep into that darkness peering,
long I stood there wondering, fearing..."
(excerpt from Raven by Edgar Allan Poe)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼
Probably the blackest film about (the soul/essence/silence/grim side? of) Mother Nature, Sleep Has Her House marks a fascinating feature debut for the Welsh-born, London-based artist Scott Barley. Plunging us as deep as possible into the darkness both frightening and intimate, he provides one of the most unique watching experiences in years. And the keyword is definitely 'experience'.

Describing his genre-and-boundary-defying experiment is quite a task, but let's try something along these lines: If Béla Tarr (of some parallel universe) had been asked to create an hour and a half intermission for the National Geographic after-midnight broadcast, the resulting opus would have certainly felt close to Barley's cinematic phantasm in which "the shadows of screams climb beyond the hills".

In the seamless blend of intricate artwork and long, static shots of a lake, river, waterfall, night sky and thick coniferous forest shrouded in fog, there is an unknown entity hiding in the air, behind the trees and below the water surface. Once you sense Its presence, It sends shivers down your spine and, simultaneously, you find comfort in letting It grab you and consume you entirely. Is it the energy emerging from Cosmos dreaming or the whisper of a dead, ancient God? Or could It be the negative reflection of Lovecraftian dread? It's hard to tell.

To paraphrase Nietzsche: if you gaze long into the abyss (of Barley's swell illusion), the abyss will gaze back into your dormant anima, giving her nightmares above any mortal's comprehension. As you might have guessed so far, there's no conventional narrative or characters in this exploration of cloaked, tenebrous, impenetrable 'otherness'. The very notion of those aspects is obscured by the Moon's timid rays, an owl's piercing eyes, the stillness of roe's corpse, the soaring thunder which announces the End and even by the small intrusions of light.

Slow, moody, brooding, mystical, occasionally eerie and yet, soothing and life-affirming in its death-like stupor, the oddly titled Sleep Has Her House inspires another rephrasing, this time of van der Rohe's slogan: dark is more.

(The film is intended to be seen in complete darkness,
with headphones.)

17 Mar 2017

The Last Honeymoon in Hell

I see you standing there,
holding onto a black blanket,
silver angels fucking senslessly.

Dye your hair in red!
The ants are coming.
The swallows are nesting.
So, why don't you put
a tree in your mouth?

(click to enlarge)

15 Mar 2017

Ra: Path of the Sun God (Lesley Keen, 1990)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

"All acts spring from the will of Ra. He sees all things.
All thoughts are in the heart of Ra."

For her debut and so far, unfortunately, only feature, Lesley Keen shifts focus from Ancient Greece to Egypt, giving birth to one of the most astonishing classic animated films. Consulting with the Egyptologist Dr Geraldine Pinch, she honors the rich cultural heritage of the said land in a sumptuous fantasy that is unfairly forgotten today.

A passion project four years in the making, Ra: Path of the Sun God reflects its author's intelligence and skill, expansive vision and fertile imagination. Divided in three acts, it initially merges several genesis myths into a single one, focusing on Isis and Osiris and their battle against Set (Dawn: The Creation). The next part is Noon: The Year of the King which depicts the birth and life of the Pharaoh whom Ancient Egyptians believed to be the son of Ra. Finally, in Night: The Gates of the Underworld, we follow the Pharaoh on his afterlife journey in the boat of Ra and witness his resurrection at dawn of the new day.

Once again, Keen does writing, directing and animating, but this time, her team is twice as large, with Mike Campbell behind a rostrum camera - a specially designed device which provides great optical effects and seamlessly combines them with traditional animation techniques. The gorgeous imagery (slightly reminiscent of some Ishu Patel's works) rests upon the Egyptian fresco and papyrus painting with all their distinctive traits. However, the artist allows herself freedom to modernize it to a certain extent, giving it the looks of a neon-lit, frequently psychedelic and occasionally abstract phantasmagoria of hypnotic transitions and transfigurations that occur in the blink of an eye.

Accompanied by the ethereal, drone-like music and sublimely soothing narration (the impressive voice-over debut by Tamara Kennedy who's later assisted by Michael Mackenzie), Keen's glowing line work against the black backdrop appears as embedded with mystical qualities. As 'history of Gods' repeats, so does certain scenes replay in what may be described as a deliberately paced dream of the Divine King's soul. Ra is pure audio-visual poem of spiritual, otherworldly beauty.

This film is available on VOD for $6.50 (rent) or $15.00 (purchase), and on YouTube 'for educational purposes only'.

14 Mar 2017

Orpheus and Eurydice (Lesley Keen, 1984)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼
If you ever wanted to see a piece of ancient Greek pottery brought to life, Orpheus and Eurydice is your dream (short) film. Written, directed and brilliantly visualized by the Scottish animator Lesley Keen, this rendition of the famous myth is as close to perfection as one can get in six minutes.

What superficially seems to be the ultimate love story, as the official synopsis notes, can be interpreted as the battle of Art vs. Death, or rather the portrayal of an artists' efforts to overcome life's finality. Its universal appeal and timelessness come not only from its archetypal ingredients, but also from the simple, yet beautiful fantastic imagery that respectfully mimics and slightly upgrades the scenes from the vases of the 'red-figure' period. Actually, the 'living' characters and various other details are tinted in yellowish-orange on the black background, as their 'ancestors' appear these days.

Orpheus's ordeal is depicted without a single dialogue in a 'long-take sequence' that predates the belt-scrolling method used in classic beat 'em up games from the 90s. The descent into the underworld 'unfurls' from right to left until the hero finally reaches Hades and Persephone, whereby the subtle change in floral frame decor signifies the switching of realms. Big kudos to both Keen and her cameraman Donald Holwill for the hyper-stylish 'no cuts' effect.

And since the creative team behind this little masterpiece is comprised of only five members, everybody else also deserves to be mentioned. The exquisite drawings are complemented by Alan Mason's ink and paint work, as well as by Lyell Creswell's haunting, unearthly electronic score which features ethereal soprano vocalizations by Heather Coates. 

Orpheus and Eurydice is available on VOD (Vimeo on Demand) for $1.00.

12 Mar 2017

Sizif K. (Filip Gajić, 2015)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) od 10☼

"Pozivamo Smrt da se javi na broj 0900-0905-945."

Debitantski film pozorišnog reditelja Filipa Gajića, odnedavno dostupan i na YouTube kanalu autora, predstavlja pravo osveženje u srpskoj kinematografiji, a sudeći po prvonavedenom kuriozitetu sa zvaničnog sajta, i u svetskoj. Dekonstruisan i kafkijanskim apsurdom začinjen mit o Sizifu izmešten je iz Antičke Grčke u alternativnu modernu Srbiju, a prepliće se sa autobiografskom doku-dramom o samom Gajiću koji taj mit želi da prenese na filmsku traku (tj. digitalni zapis).

"Unazađen" na položaj pastira, Sizif (Bojan Dimitrijević) živi pokraj reke gde obeščašćuje Eginu (Milena Jakšić), kćer Asopovu (Bane Vidaković). Nakon što je Zevs (Andrija Kovač) kidnapuje, a on ga ocinkari kod oca obljubljene, gnevni bog na njega šalje Tanatosa (Marija Pikić / Hana Selimović) kako bi mu se osvetio. Međutim, Sizif uspeva da okuje Smrt (koja ima i treće lice, u tumačenju Gorana Jevtića) u vinskom podrumu gostionice Hipnosove (Vahid Džanković), a kasnije i da joj se pridruži u krevetu, nehotice proizvodeći haos.

Paralelno se odvija (meta?) priča o stvaralačkoj opsesiji i vezi/braku na daljinu između Lucije Šerbedžije i Gajića, koga posmatramo kao brižnog oca, voljenog supruga, dobrog prijatelja, ali i čoveka/umetnika/boema duboko zamišljenog nad sopstvenom i sudbinom ljudi koji ga okružuju.

Granica koja razdvaja fikciju od stvarnosti, odnosno naš od filmskog univerzuma je neretko zamagljena ili izbrisana (telefonski poziv sa Olimpa i crno-bela "epizoda" na groblju) u jedinstvenom simulakrumu koji istovremeno postoji ispred i iza (probijenog) četvrtog zida, sada i u prošlosti. Za enigmatičnu fantaziju o Sizifu Gajić primenjuje postupak koji donekle podseća na Metamorfoze Kristofa Onorea, s obzirom na već spomenuto "preseljenje" radnje, kao i na to da se smrtnici i viša bića ne razlikuju čak ni po pomalo ekscentričnim kostimima. Tako, na primer, Zevs paradira poput maršala u belom šinjelu, a par pripadnika njegove tajne policije izgleda kao da je zalutao iz noara nastalog 40-ih. Planina bogova zamenjena je napuštenom fabrikom u čijoj oronuloj lepoti će uživati ljubitelji "ruin porn"-a, dok je monumentalni mauzolej na Avali iskorišćen kao presto grčkog Gromovnika.

Izjednačavajući život i proces nastajanja umetničkog dela sa sizifovskim poslom, Gajić traga za odgovorom (ili bolje reći, odgovorima) na pitanje smrti i pritom (ne baš najsrećnije) citira antologijsku scenu iz Sedmog pečata, sa Rambom Amadeusom kao vitezom i Emo-tizovanim Jevtićem kao Sablasnim Kosačem. Radijske vesti (na više jezika, od italijanskog do japanskog) o Sizifovom "zločinu" pretvara u sjajan "running gag" koji sadrži i društveni komentar, dok za lajtmotiv prisvaja čuvenu narodnu i na nekoliko načina serviranu pesmu Jutros mi je ruža procvetala. Iako snima na vrlo tesnom budžetu sa još uvek "zelenom" Marinom Perović iza kamere, uspeva da priušti obilje atraktivnih kadrova, naročito u segmentima koji se odigravaju "na Olimpu". "Razvučeno" lično i "sažeto" univerzalno spaja u čudno, ćudljivo, prilično ambiciozno i na trenutke teatralno arthaus ostvarenje u kojem je i svaki kamen spoticanja fino isklesan.

7 Mar 2017

Still the Earth Moves (Pablo Chavarría Gutiérrez, 2017)

This film is a part of FICUNAM selection, available for FREE viewing on Festivalscope until March 14, 2017.
☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10 ☼
"The earth still moves, under the torsion of the serpent."
The film is first and foremost a VISUAL MEDIUM, and Pablo Chavarría Gutiérrez - a self thought filmmaker with a degree in Biology - knows and understands that pretty well. Favoring associative imagery over all other aspects and defying the conventions of dramatic structure (in a similar, yet different way than his fellow countryman Carlos Reygadas), he creates a new cinematic language, both universal and obscure.
Still the Earth Moves (La tierra aún se mueve) is akin to a foggy and occasionally nightmarish dream replete with disorienting déjà vus and non-sequiturs. Deliberately paced, decidedly non-narrative, with sparse dialogue and absolutely no characters in a traditional sense, it is "the neverending simulacrum" of what "just burns and can't be said"; "the excess of life" as seen through the eyes of an alien or a supreme entity suffering from an unknown psychological disorder. A love-or-hate affair, it is a work of abstract art featuring dancing lights, a dead baby bird, people at a busy fair and a turtle laying eggs (framed from the most unpleasant of angles), inter alia.

In one particular scene which oozes with Lynchian dread, a man enters a pitch-black zone of a curved street and comes out as a dog, while a phantom car freezes after passing by a lamppost. Soon afterwards, a young woman stares through the window, waiting, hoping, yearning and/or mourning in a passing moment of self-reflection... Oft-blurred and rippled, these tableaux vivants seem simultaneously poetic, elusive and meditative, and even when they depict the most banal situations, there's something awfully off about them.
One can say that Gutiérrez tries to reach for the ultimate answers hiding in the dark, given that most of the action happens during the night. It's quite possible that he reminds us of the irrelevance of human beings, while chasing after shadows. Whatever the case of his pushing the limits of cinema may be, the trippy, otherworldly experience he provides is of a rare kind these days. Also commendable is his ability to make the most of a tight budget and deliver plenty of great-looking shots, intensifying the (pseudo) mystery surrounding his visions with the immersive cacophony of sounds.

William, the New Judo Master (Omar Guzmán & Ricardo Silva, 2016)

This film is a part of FICUNAM selection, available for FREE viewing on Festivalscope until March 14, 2017.

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10 ☼
"... and from the guts, from the shit, we were born."

In the second collaboration project between the (daring) newcomers Omar Guzmán and Ricardo Silva, the Devil sports a hairy face, beige suit and white boots. He observes the peculiar proceedings from behind the glass held by a couple of buff, bare-chested men, so he has to be "an eternal being" mentioned in the official synopsis.

"The search for love and the fight against oblivion" is explored through the episodic, unconventional story in a genre-defying blend of queer fiction and two meta/quasi-documentaries, interrupted by seemingly random vignettes of a whale corpse, ghost ship, drunk octopus hunters, dusty 4-wheeler races and a tree with nine-millennia-old roots.

The oblivion bits and pieces refer to the Swedish-American folk-singer William Clauson who's famous for La Bamba and is now leading a hermit's life in a dilapidated garage in Tijuana, Mexico. We meet him as he is about to get bathed by a geriatric nurse and later, his sweet home filled with scattered memories is torn apart by repossessors (?) who also attempt to open his mysterious safe. (Even explosives don't work.)

The other "narrative thread" follows Edward Coward - a middle-aged actor whose last name contradicts the role of Clauson's alter-ego in a fourth-wall-breaking scenario which involves a large wooden box and three male prostitutes paid to love. To quote Shirley Manson (Garbage) - the trick is to keep breathing.

Tinged with a great deal of irony and spiced with a pinch of wry humor, William, the New Judo Master (William, el nuevo maestro del judo) is quite an ambitious piece of avant-garde cinema that touches upon a variety of themes (along with the abovementioned), such as the human nature and that of a creative/filmmaking process. Featuring beautiful cinematography by DP Adrian Durazo - the team's third most important novice, as well as the quirky musical intrusions, it is a nice, sourly sweet treat for anyone with an acquired taste.

Coming up next... a review for Still the Earth Moves.