15 Jul 2019

In a Nutshell: Takatoshi Arai

Still shot from Night Mother Scent

On his right forearm, he has a Popeye tattoo that he got inked during his visit to the USA, and he wears a permanent bow tie on his chest, because of some film festivals dress codes, as he says jokingly. There's an aura of sincerity and unpretentiousness surrounding him, and just a faint hint of eccentricity which marks his works. He names Robert Bresson, Sergei Parajanov, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Aki Kaurismaki and Tsai Ming-Liang as his role models, and claims that he usually eschews screenplay, and doesn't employ metaphors in the creative process, yet his films, especially the latest and longest one, Sakana (Fish), appear as allegorical, not to mention insightful and multilayered.

His name is Takatoshi Arai and he is a young and promising Japanese indie filmmaker whose approach to cinema could be described as intuitive and impromptu, and it's pretty safe to label his methods as 'experimental'. Five of his recent shorts - ThiefColor Sex Death, Quantity Amount Quality, Night Mother Scent, and the aforementioned Fish - were screened at the Labeerint bar in my hometown of Niš last night, with the humble, yet commendable event hosted by the Taka association and their cultural exchange representative, Ms Naoko Kamba. In the Skype Q&A, the audience had the opportunity to discuss with Mr Arai himself who was eager to show a traditional bamboo flute (Shakuhachi?) utilized as a prop in Color, Sex Death, as well as frula that he bought in Belgrade a few years ago when JSFF (Japanese Serbian Film Festival) took place. He also revealed his shooting equipment - iPhone, digital camera and 'a cheap tripod', in his own words - which should've come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the shoestring budget filmmaking of our time.

Remaining secretive about the themes and meanings behind the oft-puzzling and dialogue-free juxtapositions of moving images and sounds, he asks the viewers to be active / open-minded and leaves plenty of space for their own different interpretations. The reality of his creations comes off as twisted, whether it's fragmented into a series of rhythmically edited B&W photographs (Thief) or transformed into a full-blown (introspective?) nightmare (Night Mother Scent, the most surreal of the bunch and this writer's personal favorite). In Quantity Amount Quality and Color Sex Death, Arai demonstrates childlike playfulness (or rather, impishness), applying stop-motion technique to apples and a pair of Converse shoes, respectively, whereas in Fish - his most accessible and well-rounded offering - he explores guilty conscience of his protagonist, if the google translation of the trailer description is any indication. (To my question about the possible 'Lynchian' connection between fish and ideas, he answers that he simply enjoys fishing.) Common to all of his films - reflections of his versatility - is a certain performative quality, the keen sense of visual composition, the collaboration with non-professional actors and the skill to make the most out of a tight budget. Arai currently strives to complete his first sci-fi feature, 2222, which will be followed by a horror and a comedy.

Trailer for Sakana

10 Jul 2019

L.U.X. 0: Mysterium Magnum

"Nudity is an art. Besides, art is only nudity...
Art is loneliness... Nothingness is perfect nudity."

Inspired by the above-mentioned lines from Raúl Ruiz's masterpiece Three Crowns of the Sailor (originally, Les trois couronnes du matelot, 1983), my latest artwork identifies nudity with purity, one of the prenatal kind or rather, of intact primordiality. It could be regarded as an attempt at portraying the 'parents' of a puzzling, irrational 'emptiness' by means of the archetypal imagery.

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4 Jul 2019

First Half of 2019 Top 12 Films

With the first six months of 2019 behind us, I decided to make a list of twelve features which impressed me the most, the focus being on the films released during the last three years, including a single exception. Unsurprisingly, most of the entries could be categorized as 'alternative cinema', so I guess that No. 12 is an intruder that exposes my soft spot for Far Eastern fantasies. The end of 2019 will probably see some changes in this selection, because I have great expectations for some upcoming, highly anticipated offerings, such as Scott Barley's The Sea Behind Her Head or Daniel & Clara's Plot Points.

3. Jonaki (Aditya Vikram Sengupta, 2018)
4. Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Gan Bi, 2018)
6. Delirium (Ihor Podolchak, 2013)
8. Unicórnio (Eduardo Nunes, 2017)
9. Lazzaro felice (Alice Rohrwacher, 2018)
10. Quién te cantará (Carlos Vermut, 2018)

(My aplogies for cropping some of the stills to fit into this collage.)

3 Jul 2019

Too Old to Die Young (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2019)

Unwatchable out of 10☼

After watching... pardon, barely sitting through the first two episodes of NWR's latest offering, 'auteur' mini series Too Old to Die Young, I feel compelled to share a few thoughts on it, especially considering that it is the first piece of cinema (now, this epithet is highly arguable) that managed to transform my frustration into an unpleasant and hence unwanted physical sensation. In a preposterous attempt to out-revolutionize David Lynch's sublime, inimitable return to Twin Peaks, the acclaimed Danish helmer overestimates his own skill and, strongly believing he is making boundary-pushing efforts of metaphysical proportions, creates a dull and listless self-parody. Uninvolving on every level imaginable, and moving slower than molasses without any rhyme or reason, it sadistically torments the viewer with unjustifiable pauses between the pulpy, B-movie-like lines delivered in a deadpan, quasi-meaningful manner, with protagonists' blank stares thrown in for good measure.

Adding to its poisonous unwatchability are the unapologetically garish, superficially attractive visuals hyper-stylized to the point of being (paradoxically) quickly stripped off their initial, somewhat forced charm, which results in the unwitting downgrading of the whole proceedings into an obnoxiously kitschy equivalent of some 'eau de parfum' commercial... and who wants to watch a vacuous, hour an a half long ad?! The worst thing about the languorous opening to this cold, epically miscalculated project is the scent or rather, stench of intolerable narcissism. Now, don't get me wrong - I'm all for boldly personal, self-indulgent filmmaking or art in general, but I'm definitely not crazy about having the artist's sticky spit of arrogance smeared all over his/her work, as in this case (or the case of that other notorious Dane's recent atrocity). So, without further ado, I'd like to put a period to my outpour of negativity, while trying to aleviate the pungent disappointment by reminding myself of how much I admire Refn's delighfully gloomy viking saga Valhalla Rising and glamorously nightmarish extravaganza Neon Demon...

2 Jul 2019

Motel Mist (Prabda Yoon, 2016)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

A bold amalgamation of slow cinema, simmering satire and pulptastic weirdness which involves sadomasochistic games, alien communication and kids' glasses with a flashy frame (that occupy the central position on the official poster for a good reason), Prabda Yoon's oblique, highly ambitious directorial debut shoots for style over substance and occasionally gets lost in own deliberate ambiguousness and sci-fi shenanigans, yet it incessantly fascinates with its lingering, meticulously framed shots of Anderson-esque pastels and lurid, neonized palette from recent Refn's offerings, as well as with Paint it Black (then watch it dry) sequences and edgy, Kubrickian use of classical music. Motel Mist definitely ain't your average revenge thriller and 'owls are not what they seem'.

1 Jul 2019

Phantom Islands at Vimeo on Demand!

"A masterwork of the (re)modern avant-garde." (pre-premiere review)

"... much like the ouroboros, it consumes itself by documenting the fiction and simultaneously fictionalizing what has been documented, and enigmatizing its own self-reflexivity." (Re-Dreaming Phantom Islands)

"... sends you into a state of dreamlike euphoria while simultaneously dreaming of you..." (capsule review)

Rouzbeh Rashidi's lyrical cine-Rebis Phantom Islands which sits on the throne of my 2018 annual list, and has its place in the Pantheon of my all-time favorite films is finally available online, for rent or purchase via Vimeo on Demand! An inspiring piece of experimental cinema which (obviously) always puts me in a panegyrical mode.

Cinematic Favorites of June

"Repetition is a form of change."
(from Sergio Caballero's Je te tiens)


Honorable mentions: a 'low key' dystopian sci-fi which also happens to be the No. 1 contender for High Life (or even Danny Boyle's Sunshine) companion piece, Aniara (Pella Kågerman & Hugo Lilja, 2018), and Una vez la noche (Antonia Rossi & Roberto Contador, 2018) - a brooding, aesthetically pleasing, yet somewhat stilted 'motion comic' which reflects on the human condition and takes the viewer on a meandering journey across the 'memoryscapes' based on real people's experiences.

Shorts (* marks the films from the Directors' Fortnight selection which played on Festival Scope from May 31 to June 16):

1. Je te tiens (Sergio Caballero, 2019)* - a gloomy, whimsical, formally engaging mystery/drama whose strong, mini-diorama visuals are perfectly matched with the evocative music, creating dense atmosphere;
2. Grand Bouquet (Nao Yoshigai, 2019)* - an 'animesque', flower-vomiting (eco-parable?) fantasy somewhat reminiscent of Hitoshi Matsumoto's Symbol (2009);
3. Movements (Dahee Jeong, 2019)* - a feel-good, beautifully animated meditation on relativity of time;
4. Olla (Ariane Labed, 2019)* - an assured, Greek Weird Wave-like debut whose main selling points are the great production design and Romanna Lobach's uninhibited performance (watch for the dance scene!);
5. Šafarikova 19 (Lana Pavkov, 2018) - a lavish absurdist drama focused on the decline of a noble family, with a great central performance from Jasna Đuričić;
6. Invincible City (David Finkelstein, 2012) - '... a beautiful place to get lost in...', read my full review HERE;
7. Piece of Meat (Jerrold Chong & Junxiang Huang, 2019)* - a solid cut-out animation laced with some edgy social commentary (and opening with a coitus between a lamb chop and a champagne bottle).

30 Jun 2019

The Missing Sun (Brennan Vance, 2017)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

Fascinated with the prospects of astral projection, as well as with the possibility of existence after our demise, Brennan Vance explores the themes of life, loss, death, identity, family strife, self-estrangement and (new age) spirituality in his mesmerizingly soothing feature debut. The 'vaporous' story, as the author himself puts it in the Kinoscope interview, revolves around an aged ex-addict, Alma (real-life painter Gera Pobuda in her powerful first-time performance that is occasionally reminiscent of Grace Zabriskie), who attempts to bring her comatose husband Terry (Lawrence Sutin in a 'handicapped' role) back from a dreamland with the help of her grief-stricken, absent-minded step-son, Thad (Peter McLarnan, excellent), and a Bhu'Janti pastor referred to as Master (Sally Wingert, extremely convincing). Ably utilizing the aforementioned fictitious religion as a narrative device, both deadly serious and with his tongue planted firmly in cheek, Vance delivers an intriguing combo of a melancholy-fueled character study and a road movie to the soul, not unlike Francisco Athié's 2003 offering Vera.

Right from the start, it is clearly implied that The Missing Sun is a mood piece, rather than a plot-driven drama, and what an odd mood it conjures! Simultaneously numb, doomy, sublime, oneiric, relaxing, mystifying, and 'named yet indefinable' just like divine light in which the Bhu'Janti followers seek for answers, the film's atmosphere is so dense, you can almost touch it. Achieved via the holy matrimony between the exquisite cinematography and meticulous sound design, it renders the viewer entranced, even falling for Master's comforting mantras. As Alma's hazy reality dissolves and turns into an out-of-body experience, we are treated to a deliberately unfolding series of wonderfully composed B&W shots (of weary faces and slumbering nature), interrupted by abstract outbursts of bright colors - probably standing for the passages to astral plane - only on two perfectly timed occasions. Most of the action takes place in what could be described as a hypnagogic reverie that emerges from the protagonist's fractured state of mind, so we're never quite sure what's real and what's the figment of her imagination, or rather when and if those couple of hallucinatory portals open. Although joy is literally gone with the passing of Terry's ex-wife and Thad's mother Joy, this low-key gem of personal indie cinema is not depressing as one might expect - in its admirable interweaving of slowly moving images and minimalist soundscapes, it comes off as healing.

26 Jun 2019

Dolor Brawler Omega

A spiritual successor to Super Muybridge Fighter VII Turbo: Fresh Challengers and the Subconscious Combat hexaptych, Dolor Brawler Omega is my latest loving parody of 2D fighting games, such as Mortal Kombat and Guilty Gear. Deliberately weird and unapologetically mystifying, it combines the cutouts from vintage photos and encyclopedias into a bizarre phantasmagoria equally inspired by silent films and '80s cartoons.

Pistonhead vs. St. Ostrich
(at the Mountains of Sadness)

Dr Gorgon vs. Xylotrupes X
(on the Isle of the Rising Skull)

Octo-Pod vs. Mr Cocoon
(in the Town of Haze)

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18 Jun 2019

Die Angreifbaren / The Attackables (Kerstin Cmelka & Mario Mentrup, 2019)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

Now, here's something you definitely don't see every day, even if you're no stranger to both contemporary and classic experimental cinema. A majestic tour de force of deliberate (not to mention delightful) silliness paralleled by a nonstop series of unexpected narrative shifts, Die Angreifbaren follows a couple of modern-day multidisciplinary performers, Mary Blick and Zeno Conradi (portrayed by the authorial duo), whose day-to-day existence involves everything from tending their 'patchwork family' to dealing with dark, supermundane forces.

Split in four episodes, each crazier than the last, the film starts with a car ride during which we are hastily introduced to our protagonists who - dressed as some sort of post-apocalyptic barbarians - rush to their workplace. After they pick up a colleague, Max (Carsten Ludwig), wearing a costume that defies any attempt to be described, they discuss marital sex, as the radio broadcasts a talk-show on crying and hypersensitivity. Oh, and there's a phone call that interrupts their 'debate' during which we are left with a question: What does vegan food and feminism have to do with each other?

Soon, we realize that they're all the stars of an extremely eccentric re-imagination of Jean Epstein's gothic horror The Fall of the House of Usher whose director Géza Gazàr (Clauda Basrawi) shouts the gibberish version of German into her megaphone whenever she's displeased with the actors' performances. On the minimalist set, we meet acrobats and one of a few martial artists who is forced to act as a mediator in a case of domestic violence. To cut a long story shot, what follows is a precarious bicycle ride, an encounter with the Cowboy neighbor, and preparations for the grand opening of a theme park featuring illegal MMA tourneys, a clown audition, jam sessions and a milk-focused lesson in mass-building.

If this sounds like your type of shenanigans, you will certainly just go with Cmelka & Mentrup's meandering flow, enjoying their own and their Frankensteinian creation's ferocious idiosyncrasy which, for some reason, brought to this writer's mind Ulrike Ottinger's Freak Orlando as the only reference point. However, once you scratch under the burbling surface, you will notice the irony-fueled mix of biting social commentary and a droll, free-form parody of today's 'cinema of attractions', as the synopsis informs us. Although the film could have used less talking and some snipping here and there, it does manage to impress with its sheer energy or rather, hyperactivity, taking you on a wild ride against all imaginable tides. Unapologetically low-key in its aesthetics, it provides you with some pretty memorable imagery accompanied by the cool soundtrack that's as eclectic as the cast ensemble. And it proudly flaunts its many quirks.

(The review is based on a private screener.)

17 Jun 2019

Invincible City (David Finkelstein, 2012)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

Invincible City is a beautiful place to get lost in. Inhabited only by the souls of the dead and visited by a couple of friends (David Finkelstein and Ian W. Hill) who 'debate the proper approach to take towards the end of the world', as noted in the official synopsis, it effortlessly hypnotizes the viewer into an altered, somnambulist-like state. As we (sleep)walk its empty, labyrinthine streets defined by crystalline structures whose glass walls have 'a kind of clouded distortedness to them', the voices of our guides meet, collide and intertwine to create a chilly and soothing breeze. Based on an improvisation, their poetic dialogue often takes unexpected turns, pulling us closer to the well-hidden essence of the titular metropolis.

The aura of retro-futuristic mystique which envelopes Invincible City is achieved through the great use of roughly sewn CG visuals, simultaneously outdated and avant-garde, accompanied by the spacey score that eventually transforms into a cheerful and comforting melody of a bygone era. In the clash of geometric solids, volatile textures and colorful lights, the movement becomes 'an illusion created by the dizzying world it bounds', to put it in the words of Jorge Luis Borges (and in accordance with Norman Thomas di Giovanni's translation). With HOPE left on a dry beach and Aleph risen from the clay, we find the exit, but our dream lives on in a gray fog of abstraction...

(This review is based on a private screener provided by the author.)

13 Jun 2019

A Musical Interlude + the Latest Collage (soon to be replaced by another latest)

When the thermometer starts reading 30°C or more during the day, I like to go for long and contemplative evening strolls around my neighborhood, accompanied only by my MP3 player. Now, this may sound strange or even crazy, but I often feel like being whisked away into a different, more meaningful reality, especially while passing by the meadows which still haven't been sold to greedy building contractors (who specialize in exploitation of young architects). Scorched by the Sun and dimly lit by street lights, the grassy, somewhat sorrowful scenery 'reminds me of a lightbulb universe', as noted in the Agent Fresco's song 'Silhouette Palette'... Hereafter, you'll find my latest 'walking ritual' playlist dominated by powerful female vocals, such Anneke van Giersbergen and Amanda Somerville, the tracks ranging from Brazilian melodic death metal to sympho-metal cover of pop hits.

And if this compilation is not your cup of tea, you might enjoy my latest artwork inspired by Rouzbeh Rashidi's exquisite cinematic experiment Phantom Islands which is the only film reviewed three times on NGboo Art (pre-premiere article, re-dreaming and capsule review). The piece got its name after last night's re-watch of the German Expressionist masterwork Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari - one of the intertitles read 'zwangsvorstellung' (obsession) and it just clicked with me. Its original size is 45x30cm, and it's about... well, certainly not the same thing for everyone.

Zwangsvorstellung: Never Alone on a Phantom Island

12 Jun 2019

A Selection of Recent Artworks

As you've probably noticed, NGboo Art has been sparsely updated with film articles of late, the main reason being my ever-blooming obsession with collages. At once the reflections of my inner world, the carriers of encoded (subconscious?) messages and the links to whichever truths lie beyond our knowledge, my artworks have also become a shield in facing hectic, high-pressured reality of long series of (regular) job rejections and, even worse, lack of responses which both have severely damaged my confidence. So, without further ado (or rather, whining), here are some of my recent pieces, along with the reminder that you can follow my work via Facebook, place orders at Fiverr or make donations through Ko-Fi.

Beauty Rides the Chaos Machine

Wolves With Ties Must Die

Star Devourer (The Butterfly Apocalypse)
(a thank you collage for 600 followers of Nicollage)

Waiting...(Love Sick)
(the official cover for the latest single by NYC-based artist Martin Del Carpio)

Illuminate Thy Void (The Final Pas de Deux)
(the epilogue of a fictitous ballet in seven acts)

A Sophisticated Vampire

Dolor Brawler Omega: Pistonhead vs. St. Ostrich

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4 Jun 2019

Ghost of the Golden Groves (Harun-Al-Rashid, 2019)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

"The collared cow is not a cow, it's a bird you see
In Wall Street, in Harry's office, yeah, that's where he will be."

Working under the moniker of Harun-Al-Rashid - the character from One Thousand and One Nights - to 'create an aura of mystery' around their work, Aniket Dutta and Roshni Sen deliver one of the most striking feature debuts in recent memory. Leading both the unprepared viewer and their protagonists to the heart of Shonajhuri (golden grove) forest, they weave a fantastical story in which the playfully ominous spirits from the past and the future take over the film's present and plunge it into a sort of a surreal turmoil.

Set in the 1960s that, so to say, keep the young auteurs in touch with their Nūberu bāgu role models, namely Suzuki, Shindo and Teshigahara, Ghost of the Golden Groves (originally, Shonajhurir Bhoot) is split into two seemingly unrelated parts eventually coming together in a fourth wall-breaking dimension. The first (and shorter) chapter titled The Polymorph focuses on a survey officer from Kolkata, Promotho, who brings deforestation plans to the rural Bengali area, only to find himself a victim of the locals' superstition and bizarre, inexplicable occurrences. In the second, deliberately paced segment Maya, a poor cook, Bibhuti, accepts a caretaker job in an abandoned villa owned by an eccentric millionaire and situated deep in the woods, gradually falling under the peculiar spell of a beautiful, enigmatic woman and the 'others'...

Revealing more about the two (poor) guys' predicaments would have us treading the spoiler territory, so let's just say that we're provided with the singular, delightfully disorienting experience. If one were to describe the film in the shortest way possible, it would probably go like this: "Kafka meets Lynch in a sci-fi folk tale of an alternate, Holy Motors-like universe." However, it does much more than wearing the numerous influences, from Indian tradition and outré cinema to absurdist theatre and dystopian literature, on its sleeve, although it's pretty hard to pinpoint what that is exactly. Call it 'je ne sais quoi' or the amorphous (or rather, polymorphous) result of a deeply intuitive process, but you simply can't deny its strong presence rendering the whole proceedings fairly dreamlike, very 'meta' and occasionally humorous, especially during Bibhuti's encounters of the weird (and not to mention unexpected) kind.

Technically apt and formally exciting, Ghost of the Golden Groves captivates from the initial, beautifully composed and optically tricky shot (which introduces us to Promotho) and keeps us in its grip until the closing credits. DoP Basab Mullick does a wonderful job at capturing the magic (and ominousness) of Shonajhuri forest, as well as the 'ruin porn' glory of the aforementioned villa, using perfectly timed intrusions of color (a giallo-esque one being the most memorable) to underline ruptures in the film's twisty reality. Equally engaging is the eclectic soundtrack by Aniket Dutta - a bold mixture of jazz, rock, folk, dance and ambient music that establishes the atmosphere of irrational exuberance, spicing up this charming ode to filmmaking with farcical music video interludes. Add to that the impressive synergy between the co-directors and the great cult potential their first offering brims with, and you have yourself a highly recommendable piece of modern cinema.

1 Jun 2019

Cinematic Favorites of May

Being increasingly addicted to collages, I watched less films than usual during May, yet there were enough memorable experiences to compile two top ten lists for the latest, 'the end of the (rainy) spring' edition of Cinematic Favorites. The first one's a rather eclectic selection of features both old and new, highly experimental and commerical, from a surreal, Kafkaesque adventure to a puppet steampunk fantasy, whereas the second one focuses on more recent shorts (made in 2010s), including a 360° documentary and a couple of impressively animated music videos.

1. Последний сон Анатолия Васильевича (Владимир Кобрин, 1990)
2. Prípad pro zacínajícího kata (Pavel Jurácek, 1970)
3. The Blind Owl (Reza Abdoh, 1992)
4. Bai she: yuan qi (Amp Wong & Ji Zhao, 2019)
5. Scarlet Street (Fritz Lang, 1945)
6. Yamasong: March of the Hollows (Sam Koji Hale, 2017)
7. High Life (Claire Denis, 2018)
8. The Book of Birdie (Elizabeth E. Schuch, 2017)
9. Hai Phuong (Le-Van Kiet, 2019)
10. Greta (Neil Jordan, 2018)

31 May 2019

Lui Lack, tú no tienes la culpa (Stefan M. Mladenović, 2019)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

Two years after a promising debut, Quiero decirte (lit. I Want to Tell You), which tells a coming-out story in a 'confession meets allegorical fantasy' fashion, a young and ambitious actor turned filmmaker from Niš, Stefan M. Mladenović, delivers another remarkable short, this time focusing on a sensitive topic of child sexual abuse. Inspired by Tatiana Maslany's multi-performance in Canadian TV series Orphan Black, as he states in an interview for Ananas Magazin, he portrays seven characters, in addition to writing, directing and producing.

Lui Lack is a psychotherapist burdened by a traumatic childhood experience which he has been suppressing for years, hiding from judgmental eyes. Together with his six clients, one of them being a sexually confused protagonist from Quiero decirte, Alejandro, he will find a way to 'solve a rebus', as the official synopsis notes, and move on with his life. Although the second part of the title - which translates as 'it is not your fault' - reveals the solution, it is still fascinating to see the up-and-coming auteur shifting between the roles effortlessly and with great gusto. Approaching the disquieting theme from seven different angles, with hints of tastefully integrated humor, he addresses the most unpleasant act as the first game which his 'alter egos' lost, yet he never diminishes its unquestionable monstrosity.

The (impressive!) use of Spanish for which he consulted a lector from Barcelona and Argentinean colleagues may appear like a gimmick to some viewers, but if it makes him feel 'natural, tranquil, rebellious, powerful, happy, special and excited', in his own words, then why not? Besides, it emphasizes the strangeness or rather, uncanniness that a young mind gets drown in, when having its innocence disintegrated. Speaking of strangeness, there's a highly memorable, delightfully weird and somewhat eerie 'swine dance' scene which breaks the film's 'talking heads' structure, imbues it with surrealistic quality and pushes MORA's dark, quietly simmering score forefront, to goosebump-inducing effect. The haunting vocal of the band's singer Zorana Ignjatović gives a sense of much needed cathartic release, especially during the closing credits. Also commendable is DoP Miroslav Mitić who provides crisp, carefully composed shots despite obvious budgetary restraints.

The review is based on the pre-premiere screening at PozitivNI street festival in Niš, May 30, 2019.

30 May 2019

The Explorer of the Ethereal Planes

Today, I am extremely delighted to announce that during the first eight months of its existence, Nicollage has reached 500+ followers!

With my latest piece titled The Explorer of the Ethereal Planes, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to everyone who has supported my efforts so far, and recognized my artworks as a labor of passion.

It is no secret that collage-making of mine started as a joke of sorts, but gradually that practice transformed into a zealous obsession which still grows, day by day. Striving for the purity of the ineffable or rather, for the transcendent, I am guided by irrational forces and intuition, myths, dreams and mystery, in order to build an endless labyrinth in which even I can get lost. Unable to afford travelling around the world, I am compelled to embark on frequent journeys to the farthest reaches of the inner universe, and bring a tiny piece of my anima every time I emerge back to the surface. If some of you can see a reflection of yourself in any of these ‘souvenirs’, or at least hear the echo of their whispers, my mission is not futile...

Finally, I would like to send very special thanks to...

... Voyka Milovanovic, Sara Meli Melo, Blanka Konárková and Rouzbeh Rashidi for the recommendations of my page;

... Martin Del Carpio, Péter Lichter and Petr Makaj for involving me in their personal, music and/or film projects via the poster orders;

... Daniel Fawcett, Clara Pais, Elizabeta Petković, Želmira Mikljan and Predrag Karanjac for lending their appearances in, respectively, The Grain of Ultimate Silence, Glow Night and the Seven Owl-Men and Echo Drains Ancient Magic from Hypnotized Narcissus Through Mirror Illusion;

... Njoroge Kelvin for the Minus Zodiac adventure;

... Rouzbeh Rashidi and Maximilan Le Cain for purchasing The Grain of Ultimate Silence, and Cheryl and Kent Tate for purchasing Instructional Manual for the Superstitious;

...  Ko-fi donators, particularly Cynthia Hollinghead;

... and of course, all of my friends, including fellow collagists, and many kind strangers whose positive reactions, comments and shares give me a much needed boost to move on, despite the prosaic difficulties!

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29 May 2019

Greta (Neil Jordan, 2018)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

Absolutely not to be taken seriously, Neil Jordan's latest offering feels like a deliberate retread of a very familiar territory that is the 80s and 90s cheesy thrillers, and plays out like an urban fairy tale in which the ever-reliable Isabelle Huppert portrays a psychotic stalker (from the title) by way of an evil surrogate mother, and has a whale of a time with the role. Her magnetic, delightfully campy, occasionally over-the-top performance is the film's chief selling point, as well as a lesson in versatility for the sweet and talented Chloë Grace Moretz whose innocent character Frances falls prey to Greta's claws. Highly predictable, yet tense and entertaining, neatly shot and directed with a tongue-in-cheek whimsy, this feature is light years away from revolutionizing the genre (or saying anything novel about loneliness, friendships and helping elderly strangers), but it is a must-see for Huppert completists.

28 May 2019

F Mode

Fog, fish, film, fear, freak, flame, final, flower, future, fetish, fertile, forever, freedom, fantasy, fortitude, fascination, forgiveness, forgetfulness, fragmentation... All of these and great many other words start with F, and hold different meanings marked by futility when it comes to expressing what cannot be fathomed. From the foam of their failure, fanciful imagery is born and flourishes in spite of the formidable forces...

In the illusion of a distant universe,
Perverse thoughts traverse the emptiness.

There’s a lot of walking and thankfully not much talking,
And the beautiful dream of... What is the dream about?

Oh yes, half-born, half-dead,
With a thorn inside its head,

It grows and it knows that there are no words,
There is no Sun - only the third Moon
And the proximity of distance...

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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.)