24 May 2019

Please Speak Continuously and Describe Your Experiences as They Come to You (Brandon Cronenberg, 2019)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

Firmly standing head and shoulders above Brandon Cronenberg's feature debut Antiviral, Please Speak Continuously and Describe Your Experiences as They Come to You (what a mouthful title!) takes a simple premise (of a young woman experimented on in a psychiatric facility) and turns it into both aurally and visually resplendent nightmare which effortlessly burns itself into your memory and crawls under your skin, to make you uneasy. Gorgeously shot by none other than the Canadian enfant terrible Karim Hussain, meticulously edited by James Vandewater and drenched in hypnotically sinister droning of Raw's composer Jim Williams, this puzzling, unnerving and extremely stylish sci-fi body horror appears as a missing link between papa Cronenberg's early works and Panos Cosmatos's lurid fever dream Beyond the Black Rainbow. Art direction by Lori Atik (whose résumé includes another 9-minute short with a long title - Scarlet or: A Postmodernist Deconstruction of Young Love Under the Corpocracy of Late-Capitalism) is immaculate and practical SFX by Chris Nash add to the film's decidedly retro vibe. BC's tight, fetishistic direction makes this small, yet highly memorable piece of cinema an absolute must-see, and you can catch it (for free!) on Festival Scope until the 2nd of June.

22 May 2019

The Blind Owl (Reza Abdoh, 1992)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

Reza Abdoh (1963-1995) was an American theatre director, poet and playwright of Iranian descent known for avant-garde productions that are often described as confrontational and difficult to digest - 'a visual and aural and spiritual assault' in the words of Bidoun editor Negar Azimi. A self-proclaimed member of a TV generation, he 'voraciously incorporated varied references to music videos, variety shows, film, dance, classical texts, and BDSM into his work, with equal parts poetry and rigor' (from Rage against the Machine: The Theatrical Whirlwinds of Reza Abdoh by Krist Gruijthuijsen). However, his first and only feature takes a different approach to channeling anger that was partly caused by his exile to the USA, and not to mention the terminal disease (AIDS) he was diagnosed with.

The Blind Owl revolves around Ricky (Peter Jacobs) - an 18-year-old adolescent tending of his ill mother Anna (Paulina Sahagun-Macias) in their small LA apartment, and earning his daily bread (or rather, milk) as a prostitute, caregiver and delivery boy. His story which plays out like a quasi-social realist / coming-of-age drama peppered with the elements of wry humor and light surrealism is shaped through interactions or, as Daniel Mufson notes, 'intersections' with a wide array of slightly bizarre characters, involving a mysterious friend with a weird hairdo, Trenn (Tom Pearl), and a blind man (Anthony Torn) who is occasionally assisted by Ricky. They all inhabit a sort of a demi-monde in which an estranged father oblivious of his son's 'exploits' is just as freaky as a diabetic bisexual mortician with strange fetishes. The closest thing to father figure that the young protagonist has is a pimp-like sadist who earns comparisons to Blue Velvet's Frank.

Void of intimacy, save for a few moments of tenderness such as a slow dance with Trenn or a bath scene with the dying mother, Ricky's life is marked by failure, coldness and indifference, appearing almost like the equivalent of a Joy Division song. Its bleakness - defining of the film's numb and stifling atmosphere - is heightened by the sparseness of dialogue, deadpan performances, and the overwhelming meaninglessness of action. Even the folk songs that interrupt the narrative and act as the reminders of Anna and Ricky's ethnic background are emotionally drained, so the only relief a viewer gets is a drag queen lip-syncing to a ballad in Spanish, while Ricky's playing Street Fighter II on the arcade machine. Although inconsequential to the plot, this sequence adds a lot to the theme of cultural clash that the helmer subtly interweaves into his exploration of despair and alienation. There's raw beauty in the way he portrays the marginalized and desensitized ones, its abrasiveness reflected in the low key imagery that marries controlled theatricality to cinematic idiosyncrasy, and its peculiar relation to both diegetic ambience and the eclectic music ranging from gloomy jazzy tunes to energetic alt rock. It's a shame we will never know how the filmmaking career of Reza Abdoh would have evolved...

21 May 2019

Celestial Diptych

It’s growing... it’s growing like a tear-drenched dream under the big, yellow Moon. And it feels different than before. Truer? No, not truer, but brighter and increasingly translucent, a glittering petal in the tempest of shadows. The dolor it creates opens the gates towards the forest of seraphic mirages where the slug of oblivion hides, bleeding echoing silence. When the time comes, it will burst into ephemeral infinity... A bubbling  denouement.



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14 May 2019

High Life (Claire Denis, 2018)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼
Aesthetically astute, deliberately incoherent, thematically ambiguous, unapologetically whimsical, and sparsely sprinkled with sudden bursts of violence, High Life subverts genre expectations in favor of the peculiar poetics and contemplative viewing experience. Its stubborn inaccessibility poses as a challenge rather than a disadvantage, adding to its allure, even though it tends to be slightly irritating.
Neither nihilistic, nor optimistic, this enigmatic, ambivalent sci-fi 'adventure' eschews spectacle for inner workings of its low-life characters, yet it refuses to open up much space for our sympathies, except for the hero, Monte, and his daughter, Willow. Portrayed by a weird ensemble cast, including Robert Pattinson, Mia Goth and Juliette Binoche (who boldly jumps into the uninhibited role of a 'shaman of sperm' - a witchy mad scientist striving to bring babies into the inhospitable world), the protagonists are inexperienced astronauts with criminal past on a suicide mission. As irrational as it sounds, their trip is of the 'no return' kind, but who knows - maybe a sparkle of hope can be found in a black hole they're headed to.
Imprisoned in a matchbox-shaped spacecraft with retro-futuristic / Soviet era-like interiors, they float in nothingness, their small community representing a microcosm of humanity on the verge of extinction. Speaking of their 'home' that remains highly claustrophobic, one can not help but admire Ms Denis and her cinematographer Yorick Le Saux's ability to make it constantly attractive, only through subtle changes of lighting or camera angle. Broodingly beautiful visuals are discretely matched with humming, somewhat ominous score by Stuart A. Staples, creating the dense atmosphere of a heavy dream.

9 May 2019

Rage Park (Stathis Athanasiou, 2019)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

Opening his latest offering with a Lost Highway reference, a VHS tape being replaced by a phone video message from an unknown sender, Stathis Athanasiou takes the viewer to a dark, innermost place which blooms uncontrollably with fiery red flowers when the black soil becomes oversaturated with repressed emotions. This 'abstract' locale is hosted by a lonely, unnamed woman whose posh home and garments suggest the upper middle class status, whereas her ostensibly level-headed demeanor conceals utmost unrest about to be externalized.

Exquisitely portrayed by the author's wife Serafita Grigoriadou whose performance ranges from subtle micro-expressions to full-on rampage to stoic composure, the protagonist appears as mysterious as the disturbing footage (a subconscious emission?) that haunts her and eventually breaks the thin line between her calmness and rage. Although we do not know her at all, we are immersed in her wordless 'psycho-monodrama' in any given moment, not only by virtue of Grigoriadou's versatility, but also because of the elegant visuals augmented by the intense score - a peculiar hybrid of ethereal classical music and edgy electronica composed by Stavros Gasparatos. Together with his DoP Olympia Mytilinaiou and production designer Ermina Apostolaki, Athanasiou makes the most of the spatial limitations, achieving the surreal atmosphere that is simultaneously claustrophobic and somewhat liberating.

A spiritual sequel to 2015 feature Alpha (which you can read about HERE), Rage Park operates both as a three-act short film and stylish music video, proudly wearing its influences on its sleeve. At this point, it is available on Vimeo.

8 May 2019

Bai she: yuan qi / White Snake (Amp Wong & Ji Zhao, 2019)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

You know how the story goes - a boy finds an unconscious girl by the waterfall, they fall madly for each other, but it turns out that she is a snake demon with the ability to drain your essence through her ornate jade hairpin. And if you already had your share of romantically intoned wuxia spectacles, you certainly would not have a hard time predicting the outcome of their affair. However, you may find the task of collecting your jaw off the floor slightly challenging.

The debuting directorial duo Amp Wong and Ji Zhao, as well as their equally 'green' screenwriter going under the moniker of Damao play the game of adopting a beloved old legend pretty safely, yet the emotional impact strikes home, the small portions of humor work well and the explored themes (of love, loyalty, prejudices and the importance of small things in this fleeting dream called life) are presented with frankness and great clarity, without being too on the nose. Well, even when they are served on a silver platter, their obviousness is but a minor quibble, considering how deliciously gorgeous the film looks! (Think Final Fantasy by the way of Zhang Yimou's poetic elegance.)

While the characters speak Mandarin and feel alive by virtue of excellent voice talents, the astonishing visuals are versed in various other languages. One can almost hear the exotic words in the whispers of crimson foliage, greenish-blue lakes and steep, craggy hills connected by suspension bridges, and not to mention the foreboding cries of secret underground passages and mystical riddles of a towering pagoda. Just as impressive is the surreal, shapeshifting interior of a weapon workshop owned by a shrewd fox spirit who will have you enchanted with her opium pipe in no time.

But, where this high CGI fantasy shines the brightest is action - adorned with special effects representing ancient magic, the gravity-defying sequences of 'snake fu' fighting will leave you wanting more. In one particular scene, a three-headed crane with a white lion's body is involved in all of its fury, and its rider has some neat tricks up his long sleeves. The grand finale brings a climactic, over-the-top kaiju-styled battle, soul-sucking vortexes and cool 'zhezhi' creatures with claws sharp enough to make deep (paper)cuts in scaled flesh. Both the eye-popping design bursting with colors and textures, and the evocative orchestrations which effortlessly conjure the right mood in every moment are deeply rooted in the tradition of mainland China, but the occidental audience will also find a lot to enjoy here.

In case you're looking for a perfect companion piece to White Snake, you should definitely check out another promising debut - independent cyberpunk adventure Yamasong: March of the Hollows by Sam Koji Hale who seems to be striving for the title of the new generation Jim Henson.

2 May 2019

Chrysalis: The 19th Eden

In darkness, we lick the petrifying light; under the Sun, we long for the irresolute Moon. So, why do you hate us? Why do you ignore us? Have we ever offended you? Would you like us to apologize, with our heads turned south?

You see... One is our breath and 18 is our semen. Their sum is our world torn apart, just like that, blown to smithereens. That’s why we eat its black, blood-stained pieces every day. You think you know us, yet you should be thanking your dead Lord for not facing the worst of us. And while you’re there, taste some of His rotten insides.

We dream of our Mothers, 24 frames per second, but our second lasts longer than the innate pain. Isn’t that convenient?

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1 May 2019

Cinematic Favorites of April

During the last 12 days of April, I seized the opportunity to fill in some blanks in my knowledge of the current experimental / underground cinema scene, as well as to get introduced to the works of the acclaimed Canadian independent filmmaker Mike Hoolboom. In other words, I watched more than 100 shorts and a few features, including the abridged version of the extensive Studio Diary series by Daniel Fawcett and Clara Pais, all thanks to The Hazel Eye Film Festival - a pretty cool online event currated by Eli Hayes and Jordan Mumford. So, for the starters, I present the list of 12 entries (one short film per day) most of which are available for viewing at their respective creators' official Vimeo or YouTube channels:

Day 1: Luz Interna (Gabriel Linhares Falcão, 2018)
Day 2: 1 + 1 + 1 (Mike Hoolboom, 1993)
Day 3: S.C.A.N. – Searching Alternative Nature (Dénes Ruzsa, 2015)
Day 4: La Cognizione del Calore (Salvatore Insana, 2017)
Day 5: Последняя любовь (Дмитрий Фролов, 2017)
Day 6: Outubro Acabou (Antonio Akerman Seabra, Karen Akerman & Miguel Seabra Lopes, 2015)
Day 7: Kosmos (Oo., 2017)
Day 8: Tendency to Collapse (Marta Węglińska, 2018)
Day 9: A Life in Our Times (Frank Ritz, 2019)
Day 10: Fugue (Steven Adam Renkovish, 2017)
Day 11: Forsaken Forest (Anna Baranska, 2016)
Day 12: Plateau in Ascension (Joe Hambleton, 2018)

The second list encompasses seven feature offerings - six recent films topped by Sidney Lumet's dark, (in)tense, finely nuanced, masterfully directed and brilliantly acted psychological drama/mystery Equus.

1. Equus (Sidney Lumet, 1977)
2. Ruben Brandt, Collector (Milorad Krstić, 2018)
3. Notes From a Journey (Daniel Fawcett & Clara Pais, 2019)
4. Quién te cantará (Carlos Vermut, 2018)
5. Investigating the Murder Case of Ms. XY. (Rouzbeh Rashidi, 2014)
6. The Night Comes for Us (Timo Tjahjanto, 2018)
7. Diamantino (Gabriel Abrantes & Daniel Schmidt, 2018)

27 Apr 2019

Alice in Dreamland (Kentaro Hachisuka, 2015)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

1865 novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871) have both been the subjects of numerous adaptations in various media, Jan Švankmajer’s 1988 hybrid film being a cult favorite and Tim Burton’s infamous duology being one of the most recent attempts to revive these pieces of the 19th century prose.

A serious contender for the most bizarre revamp of Lewis Carroll’s writings comes from the world of Japanese indie animation, which is hardly a surprise, considering that Japan has always been a fertile ground for the wonderfully outré cinematic offerings. Kentaro Hachisuka's crowd-funded debut anime employs a quaint, yet effective collage technique to convey the story which chronicles another of Alice’s subconscious trials and which, on the other hand, is the weakest or rather, the least surreal point of this (45 minute long) fantasy.

A pretty straightforward good vs. evil narrative plays out like a feverish fairy tale conceived by a gothic lolita girl whilst playing with her friends, the characters feeling like archetypes at best and cardboard cutouts at their worst (well, they actually are cutouts, so it’s hard to blame them for being what they are). We see Alice implored by White Rabbit to follow him once again and stop Darkness (much different than the unforgettable Devil-like antagonist of Legend) from bringing both of their worlds to the end. In a meta twist, she is fully aware that Alice in Wonderland is just a book, so initially she is reluctant to abandon her reality, but once the bunny reappears and her sister disappears, there’s no more time for shilly-shally.

After her fall through the hole (in the chest of a creepy, monumental bust), we are introduced to the titular Dreamland which is replete with landscapes looking as if straight out of Hieronymus Bosch’s or the Brothers’ Grimm nightmares, with the Mad-gone-Sad Tea Party occurring in a lush garden where Humpty and Dumpty lie squashed. The familiar inhabitants of this whimsical realm, from the Hookah-Smoking Caterpillar to the Red and the White Queen (with carousels for the legs!), are all crafted as porcelain, oft morbidly cute dolls by Mari Shimizu, then photographed and animated via stop-motion. It is obvious that the visuals are done on a very tight budget, yet they are aesthetically pleasing and not to mention refreshing, all by virtue of the veteran puppeteer’s great attention to detail. And let’s not forget a loving homage to the prominent silhouette animator Lotte Reiniger by the way of The Seventh Seal ending.

Also commendable is the superb voice acting by the experienced cast tasked with breathing life into expressionless puppets, as well as the darkly ethereal score composed by the musician working under the pseudonym of “arai tasuku”, with the suitably odd opening and ending themes performed by the neo-classical duo Kokusyoku Sumire (lit. Black Violets). However, the most beautiful figure on the film’s aural canvas is a melancholic, gently haunting track Dear Alice sung by Itaru Baba.

As you might have already guessed, Alice in Dreamland is not easy to recommend, but if you’re looking for something that is not your typical J-animation fare (or simply want to be Jabberwock-ed), you might find it right here.

(The review was originally published on Cultured Vultures.)

25 Apr 2019

Notes From a Journey (Daniel Fawcett & Clara Pais, 2019)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

Last night, I turned off all the lights, laid on the couch, tucked myself into a blanket and dreamed myself into a strange journey. Following a thin red line between reality and fantasy / raw and transfigured memories / the United Kingdom and the kingdom of shadows, I visited places unknown, yet somehow familiar. Were those the landmarks of a collective soul?

The latest mighty offering from directorial duo of Daniel Fawcett and Clara Pais is yet another triumphant piece of the experimental cinema. A bewildering formalistic exploration of inner and outer landscapes via both visual and aural means, it poses a great challenge to the viewer attempting to put the hardly describable experience into words. It starts off as a traditional travelogue, with verdant hills and pastures captured by the camera's unblinking eye through the train (or bus?) window, and accompanied by the evocative string music. But very soon, it shows the first sign of its whimsical design - a shot of a forest barely discernible in the fiery red haze. And then, in a matter of minutes, the image turns nocturnally black, Jarman-invoking blue and snow blizzard-like white - think suddenly being woken up by the blinding rays of the Sun so you might get the impression of what to expect here.

The abovementioned line dancing to the rhythmical clatter portends the mystery which transcends our understanding and harks back to the primordial times. It is the mystery that exists and burns in all of us, yet no one is capable of grasping it, despite the overwhelming sensations stemming from its flame. Maybe its resolution is hidden in the darkness of the room where we are introduced to the authors simultaneously playing themselves and the unnamed characters striving to come closer to the spirits of nature (read: the Universe). When they're not meditating in the very heart of Umbra, we can see them taking field recordings or feel them filming the footage to be 'transformed into artefacts', as they state themselves, that will have our perception tested and our dream of their film deepened or turned into stardust.

Notes From a Journey could be considered a logical continuation of their Studio Diary series, given its autobiographical roots, but it is also the meeting point for their previous features. It possesses the mutating abilities of Savage Witches, the performative rituality of Sacrificium Intellectus, the wanderer's mentality of In Search of the Exile, the alchemical qualities of The Kingdom of Shadows and the introspective, sound-only sequences of The Black Sun. (Writer's note: I still haven't seen the latter film, but I did read the extensive Exploding Appendix interview which sheds some light on it.) Part poetic documentary and part enigmatic fiction, it simultaneously externalizes the 'psychic' world and dissolves the tangible world into liquid or rather, ethereal abstract entities. Adding a lot to its peculiarity are the mound and Neolithic henge monument of Avebury - the leitmotifs of a fragmented narrative and the embodiments of invisible forces at work, not to mention those couple of scenes that wouldn't be out of place in the much loved 8th episode of Twin Peaks: The Return.

Once again, Daniel Fawcett and Clara Pais prove to be filmmakers of singular vision, so I will be eagerly looking forward to their upcoming efforts, including what appears to be the bluest of their films titled Plot Points.

19 Apr 2019

Ruben Brandt, Collector (Milorad Krstić, 2018)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

One of the most triumphant examples of style as substance (think Takeshi Koike's Redline), and another bright milestone in a long and strong tradition of Hungarian animated films, the fascinating feature debut from a Slovenian multimedia artist of Serbian origin, Milorad Krstić, packs the unique character design heavily inspired by Cubist paintings; some great voice work by both English and Hungarian cast; the eclectic soundtrack featuring Šu Šu Šumadijo by actress / pop-folk singer Olivera Katarina (of I Even Met Happy Gypsies fame) and a sexy, jazzy cover of Radiohead's Creep by Scott Bradlee's Postmodern Jukebox; a hefty dose of stunning action sequences that live-action heist movies can only dream of, as well as a myriad of wittily integrated classic art and pop-culture references (from de Chirico's surreal landscapes to Hitchcock-shaped ice cubes!) impossible to spot in just one viewing, and not to mention the seamless blend of 2D and 3D animation for equally striking nightmare sequences and noirish reality!

18 Apr 2019

Investigating the Murder Case of Ms. XY. (Rouzbeh Rashidi, 2014)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

When venturing into Rashidilandia, one has to be fully prepared to face the Unknown, firmly embrace it and eventually, get completely lost in it. Even then, there are no guarantees that one will be accepted by the strange forces in charge of the tingling audio-visual stimuli stemming from and returning to the Luminous Void. Investigating the Murder Case of Ms. XY. - a German-Irish co-production - makes no exception, with the inexpressible taking us to an unexplored terrain.

The single hint of narrative revealed in the title of 'this cosmically disconcerting film', as Maximilian Le Cain puts it, compels the viewer to believe that the leading duo of Mario Mentrup and Olympia Spanou portray the (interstellar?) detectives tasked with solving the murder of Ms. XY. They could be the predecessors to a couple seen (and most intensely played by Daniel Fawcett and Clara Pais) in Phantom Islands, and it's quite likely that they originate from the Moon which is given a prominent role in the mystery. However, what we are shown is not the police procedural, but rather a hypnotizing and somewhat unsettling portraiture of their Earth-selves caught by the ever-watchful eye of the camera and trapped in the victim's limbo. Essentially, this means that Ms. XY is the embodiment of Queen Cinema, so her death has to be a paradox, because she is immortal as long as there are filmmakers willing to break the rules in their search for her essence.

Whatever the case may be (no pun intended), one thing remains clear and that is Rouzbeh Rashidi's unfaltering love for and great understanding of (filmic) silence whose overwhelming power is strongly felt in almost every second of his stark, uncompromising exploration. Eschewing action in favor of observation, he goes on the hunt for Mentrup's and Spanou's thoughts via their penetrating gazes, subtle micro-expressions, superhuman concentration and deliberately muted words in four long, contemplative takes linked with the scenes of mundane ennui, religious procession and wintry landscapes, as well as with found footage of walking on the Moon and, why not, ballet dancing. Very much like the installments of Homo Sapiens Project, these 'bridges' - albeit grounded in our reality - appear alien and to a certain degree sinister, all by virtue of chilling drones accompanying oft-minimalist, austerely beautiful B&W compositions. A short sequence through which we are guided by a smiling nun, and the close-up of Mentrup's character bursting into laughter are the perfect reflections of the film's uncanny side (not to mention those phantasmal superimpositions).

Offering a false sense of calm is the melancholic finale which adds to the surrealism / idiosyncrasy of the atmosphere, and leaves us not only with many questions unanswered, but also with a unique, recognizably Rashidian experience.

(The film is available at Vimeo on Demand, for rent and purchase.)

14 Apr 2019

Syllabus of Joy / Dangerous Speed

Syllabus of Joy (originally, Slabikář radosti) is the title of the latest short, currently in post-production, by Czech filmmaker Petr Makaj. I can't reveal much about the project, but I can say that the author trusted me, inter alia, with a design for the poster of a fictious B-movie, Dangerous Speed, which plays a significant role in the (fantastical) story, and hangs in the company of various non-fictitious posters from the mid 20th century. Today, Makaj shared a bunch of production stills with me, so I'm presenting the print for the aforementioned design, and apologize to the readers of NGboo Art for the nine-day long silence (due to reasons I won't go into here).

5 Apr 2019

'Pear Crisis' Diptych

A smile under the caged skies
or a breath lost in concrete paradise?

 Is She a Secret Divine...

... or a Simple Dream of Mine? 

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3 Apr 2019

The Night Comes for Us (Timo Tjahjanto, 2018)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

Following a simple story of redemption and revenge (or something along these lines), the latest offering by the Indonesian filmmaker Timo Tjahjanto (Headshot) eschews plotting in favor of the hyper-stylized cinematography and heavy doses of visceral, over-the-top action. Written in (ridiculous amounts of) blood, with a broken tibia used as a pen, The Night Comes for Us is a passionate love letter to John Woo's gangster flicks, ultraviolent anime and video games, best described as a spiritual sequel to The Raid movies. By virtue of deep bodily wounds treated as mere bruises and scratches, it savagely pushes the boundaries of suspension of disbelief, boasting the characters with superhuman stamina who keep fighting even after their guts are literally spilled. They may be cartoonish, distilled through the 'rule of cool' filter, however when it comes to kicks, punches and blades of various shapes and sizes, their 'eloquence' is unmatched. It will probably sound crazy, but there's a certain poetry - irreverent, yet morbidly alluring - in Tjahjanto's fetishization of flesh carving and bone crunching which brings forth a flawed, yet highly memorable martial arts B-movie, one thunder god short of being the best Mortal Kombat adaptation.

1 Apr 2019

Cinematic Favorites of March

The March edition of Cinematic Favorites encompasses ten films - five shorts and five features one of which is a weirdo blast from the past. The greatest viewing experience was provided by Rouzbeh Rashidi's latest offering, Luminous Void: Docudrama, which I described as 'a beautiful, genre-defying (and genre-redefining) chimera' in my pre-premiere review, with Ihor Podolchak's feverish cine-dream Las Meninas and Johnny Clyde's ambiguous eco-fairy tale Floralis coming very close to blowing my mind, so to speak. An honorable mention goes to the Love Death + Robots series, for being one of the b(old)est animated experiments in recent memory. Without further ado, here's the top 10 list.

31 Mar 2019

Floralis (Johnny Clyde, 2019)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

"Birds broke their beaks for you. Wept real stars for you..."

Somewhat reminiscent of Juraj Herz's masterful rendition of Beauty and the Beast (Panna a netvor, 1978), Floralis takes the viewer to a strange place, simultaneously unrecognizable and as familiar and comforting as home. Part eco-parable and part fairy tale-ish fantasy, it brims with kaleidoscopic visuals and dense atmosphere of profound mystery. The forest where the lyrical story is set or rather, where an androgynous protagonist (gracefully portrayed by Nina Viola) gets spirited away is rendered in all of 'the forgotten colors of dreams', with the ethereally evocative score and whispery voices serving as our guides into a sort of an inner sanctum. That darkly beautiful 'micro-universe' is protected by an enigmatic creature (the author himself, heavily disguised) who adds another layer of deep melancholy to the gloomily oneiric proceedings...

30 Mar 2019

They Lived in a B&W Film Until...

When Subject R disappeared from Neo-Heaven, he started to panic, whereas she remained calm, because she knew pretty well that the remnants of her Luna-C would soon become brighter. The last fragmentation of the Word wasn’t as successful as they hoped for, yet the mirror before them regained its ability to show them the worlds they had never seen before. Initially skeptical, they eventually realized that Nothing brought truncated salvation.

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28 Mar 2019

Out of Our Minds (Tony Stone, 2009)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

An integral part of a conceptual multimedia project (album + film + comic) conceived by the Canadian musician Melissa Auf der Maur (ex member of The Smashing Pumpkins and Hole) and her filmmaker husband Tony Stone, Out of Our Minds pretty much justifies its title by providing the viewer with a bewildering, dialogue-free phantasmagoria (or rather, strange ecological parable?) in which the Vikings, bleeding trees and a car crash get mystically entwined, transcending the time barriers. Drenched in a dark, ambient rock score growing progressively heavier and venturing into a psychedelic territory, the meticulously composed widescreen imagery pulls us deeper into a bleak, grungy, Twin Peaks-esque dreamworld of an enigmatic protagonist - most probably, Ms Auf der Maur's alter ego - whose near-death / past-life experience opens the portal to a new, spiritual dimension of many secrets.

This fine example of personal cinema is available on Heathen Films' official Vimeo channel.

24 Mar 2019

'The Innate Mirror' Diptych

Down the path of severe and persistent irrationality, I often stumble across an entity which appears as an extremely blurry dream and no matter how long I look at it or how hard I try to decipher its immediate surroundings, this soft, abstract object doesn't become any clearer. In a way, it torments me, yet I find the torment irresistible, allowing myself to be completely submerged in it, regardless of the outcome. Sometimes while 'drowning', I find a lost piece of myself, but when I try to put it back where (I think) it belongs, I realize that it has already changed its shape along with the empty space that's supposed to be its 'slot'. So, I dissolve it and drink it, the honeyed poison of my own creation...

The Most Pleasurable Pain: N Pushes the Waves Away
A Dreamwalker's Deep Sway: H Invokes the Bitter Rain
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22 Mar 2019

Simulacrum: A Rule Is an Illusion (Post-Apocalyptic Bonus)

Our sadness evolves and mutates into a pearl.
If we break open the shell, it won't disappear.
It will only grow.

My latest and one of the longest series, Simulacrum: A Rule Is an Illusion, obviously refuses to die, so I guess it won't hurt to increase the number of pieces by 2... And who knows, maybe I'll play necromancer once again?

So Eager to Start All Over Again

Under the Watchful Eye, in a Jiffy

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17 Mar 2019

Las Meninas (Ihor Podolchak, 2008)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

As whispery, disembodied voices engulf you in a thick, almost palpable miasma, the somnambulist-like protagonists - the members of a dysfunctional family or out-of-time manifestations of an aging couple - thread their ways through moldering memories, unquenched desires and unresolved feuds reflected in the absolutely mesmerizing chiaroscuro compositions worthy of comparison to the works of Baroque masters.

The inert, elliptical, highly lyrical, psychosexually charged and unapologetically hermetic 'narrative' swings you between the de-sentimentalized past and the unconscious, hallucinatory present, simultaneously pulling you into the quicksand of continually thwarted attempts to rationalize it. (Think being suffocated inside of the gelatinous embodiment of a recurring nightmare that, for some strange reasons, feels comforting... like the ultimate truth frozen in the moment of death.)

On top of that, Oleksandr Shchetynsky and Yuriy Yaremchuk provide a dissonant, haunting, disturbingly sensual score in which cello and piano act like lovers whose passion often borders violence, deepening the disorienting effect of inspired, yet tricky visuals. Soft focuses, elongated shadows, disquieting close-ups, distorted camera angles, and the brilliant use of mirrors create the atmosphere of inescapable claustrophobia and stark hopelessness, with only a few brief moments of (exterior) relief during the prologue and epilogue.

Certainly an acquired taste, Las Meninas is one of those films that will either frustrate you or plunge you into a state of ecstatic trance. It makes a great companion piece to Raul Ruiz's surreal fantasy-drama On Top of the Whale, Aleksandr Sokurov's period piece Mournful Unconcern, Oliver Smolders's brooding mystery Nuit noire or Daniel Fawcett and Clara Pais's alchemical phantasmagoria The Kingdom of Shadows.

The film can be viewed for free on Ihor Podolchak's official YouTube channel.

14 Mar 2019

Unicórnio (Eduardo Nunes, 2017)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

In his (mighty impressive!) sophomore fiction film, Eduardo Nunes delivers a lyrical meditation on love, life, death and God, masterly blurring the lines between fantasy and reality, while providing the viewer with an immersive sensory experience. Based on short stories by the acclaimed Brazilian writer Hilda Hilst and told or rather, depicted from the perspective of an adolescent protagonist, Maria (an assured debut by Bárbara Luz), this fairy tale-ish psychological / coming-of-age drama eschews plot in favor of jaw-dropping visuals and dense, somewhat ambiguous mood. Leaving you with questions rather than answers, Unicórnio (Unicorn) progressively pulls you deeper into a dream-like state by virtue of its long takes, sparse dialogue and languorous pacing which surely demands an extra dose of patience. The awe-inspiring, ultra-wide screen imagery oft-bursting with highly saturated colors (many kudos to cinematographer Mauro Pinheiro Jr.) is nothing short of magical, transforming even the most banal of actions into a pure poetry heightened by Zé Nogueira's evocative score.

13 Mar 2019

God Ends Here (Njoroge Muthoni, 2019)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

In his short debut which is dedicated to the Danish provocateur Lars von Trier, an up-and-coming Kenyan visual artist, Njoroge Muthoni (aka Njoroge Kelvin), competently portrays the last moments of a young revolutionary who is wrongly accused and sentenced to death. As the author notes in the official synopsis, the pour soul ‘reflects on the pain, vanity and the absurdity of the life he led fighting for justice’, with his words draped in the dense, oppressive darkness of minimalistic, impressively composed imagery. Although the protagonist’s thick English accent occasionally stands in the way of understanding his partly poetic and partly down-to-earth monologue, one can not help but admire the sheer power of Kiragu Wanjiku’s stark cinematography paired with the intense sound design. Chilling screams of social unrest fiercly penetrate the deathlike silence, as a fragmented narrative adopted from the essay Dead Men by Jante Juma leads us to a visceral denouement. The shocking found footage seen during the final seconds is stylistically out of sync with the rest of the film, yet it simultaneously feels like a logical conclusion of the irate tirade.

12 Mar 2019

Capharnaüm / Capernaum (Nadine Labaki, 2018)

☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

A fine example of what one could dub as 'pamphlet filmmaking disguised as art', Capernaum explores or rather, exploits its sensitive theme of (extreme) child neglect in a 'bulletin news accompanied by weeping violins' manner, often appearing as banal, prosaic, impersonal, manipulative, on-the-nose, unintentionally toxic and not to mention sycophantic towards the occidental bourgeoisie craving for a 'poverty porn' fix, with some redeeming qualities found in the impressively nuanced performance by a young first-timer, Zain Al Rafeea, the presence of his sweet, one-year-old baby partner Boluwatife Treasure Bankole, as well as in Christopher Aoun's dynamic camerawork.

9 Mar 2019

NEKO-MIMI (Jun Kurosawa, 1993)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

A provoking, sublimely anarchic post-Terayama cine-dream with hints of Beckettian absurd and Zwartjes-like psychosexual nightmare, Jun Kurosawa's first and only feature imposes itself as a bold, unapologetic, formally challenging exploration of the medium, with performative, ritualesque games of its four young and willingly ostracized protagonists (whose distorted utopia is disrupted by a suicidal woman, as the official synopsis notes) depicted in a dizzying series of peculiar images, both monochromatic and color-filtered, imbued with palpable energy and then drenched in alienating, ear-shattering noise that is periodically 'softened' by liquid, hauntingly ethereal ambient textures...

(At this point, the film can be viewed on YouTube.)

7 Mar 2019

Simulacrum: A Rule Is an Illusion (the Final 6)

Deeply immersed in our oldest thoughts,
We burn at the stake of the Sevenfold Dreams,
Their blood limpid and their matter black.
Countless and restless are our Sundays
And the hopelessness of our serenity enchants us. 
Who will sing about the end of this world?

The final six collages of the Simulacrum series (Part I / Part II) refuse to provide any resolution - instead, they deepen the enigma and reach for the most inaccessible recesses of the subconscious. What if the answer floats beyond death?
Innermost Forever: Indiscretion Guaranteed

A Second Prior to the Rose Opening

Switching the Roles / The Millennial Intermezzo

Like Walking on Water in Early Morning

Another Five Minutes of a Contemplative Nap

Yellow Omega or a Belated Apocalypse?

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4 Mar 2019

Luminous Void: Docudrama (Rouzbeh Rashidi, 2019)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼
“Let me take you by the hand, away from here to another land...”
(from Put Me Down by The Cranberries)

It may seem strange to begin the review of an EFS offering with the opening lyrics from one of The Cranberries’ earliest songs, but then again, why not? On the one hand, there’s the “Irish connection” between the band and the production, and on the other... well, it’s partly due to personal reasons and partly due to Rouzbeh Rashidi’s ability of invoking some unusual associations in his viewer’s mind. And besides, his works frequently take you – metaphorically speaking – to another land or rather, plunge you into another universe through a black hole where “you are not only pulled apart but also crushed from below” (Luminous Void: Experimental Film Society Documents, 2017).

The same applies to misleadingly titled Luminous Void: Docudrama – a meta-mutant-film which marks a significant milestone for both its own creator(s) and the contemporary experimental cinema. Teased with the stylized behind-the-scene stills, it initially subverts our expectations, only to exceed them by far, as the film evolves into a beautiful, genre-defying (and genre-redefining) chimera – a light-breathing monster with a documentary-turned-neo-noir head and anachronistic period drama body sporting expressionist wings, bizarre avant-horror scales and a stingy tail of an erotic, occult fantasy. However, this phantasmagorical description doesn’t do any justice to a unique (ineffable?) experience of watching it, all the while wondering if there was an alien or Raúl Ruiz’s restless spirit involved in its conception. So, it comes as no surprise that the film is dedicated to none other than the late Chilean master director.

But, make no mistake – despite many homages and references, as well as the priceless contributions by other EFS auteurs, LV:D is as idiosyncratic as it gets; “a mysterious object drifting in the void of deep space”, with “both the filmmaker and the audience as satellites floating around this strange entity, trying to decipher it in their own way”, as Rashidi himself notes in the abovementioned book. A new culmination of his practice, it appears to be a condensation of the Homo Sapiens Project and the logical continuation of a revolution that started with Trailers and has kept gaining momentum, pushing the boundaries of what one considers a piece of the seventh art should be.

Similarly to its predecessors, it acts as a medium between our world and the domain ruled by the specters of cinema; it is a session during which the ghosts of many film pioneers are simultaneously invoked, celebrated, communicated with and expelled. Existing on each side of the fourth wall, it could also be interpreted as a vivid, yet impossible cosmic dream, or even dubbed Phantom Islands’ deranged twin sister who’s actually a genius hermaphrodite embodying the Ultimate Elusiveness. Delirious and oblivious to any narrative conventions, it rips the fabric of time and space, imbuing its  characters with the enigma(s) of the Luminous Void, while turning them into arcane symbols which are meticulously woven into the lavish audio-visual tapestry. Replete with oneiric superimpositions, daring juxtapositions, unapologetic format changes and incessantly transmogrifying soundscapes, it comes dangerously close to perfection.

Transcendentally orgasmic, in equal measures abstract and organic, this performative docudrama burns brightly with passion and eventually becomes passion itself – an impressive result of having modus vivendi and modus operandi tightly knit.

3 Mar 2019

Simulacrum: A Rule is an Illusion (the 2nd Batch)

The abandoned planet vivisects the horizon,
Setting the Mechanism of Perfect Blemishes in motion.
When the Loop opens, the earth trembles.

As we lay completely forgotten by our gods,
Their murderous intentions become clear as a child's tear.
There is no higher truth than this Arcanum.

A continuation of the Simulacrum series brings six more pieces that obstinately defy clarification, plunging the couple of unnamed characters deeper into a feverish delirium of uncontrollable abstractions...

The Final Recognition of a New Dawn

Eons Later, Above the Sea of Undreamed Souls

Sailing the Clouds of Yesterday

Penetrating the Fabric of the Future

Instant Crystalization of the Now

Shadowless Hours in Full Bloom

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