16 Sep 2020

Anaphase (Levi Zini, 1996)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

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

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

11 Sep 2020

Bacchanale (John & Lem Amero, 1970)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

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

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

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

10 Sep 2020

A Selection of Recent Artworks (V)

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


La Collettrice


Il Grande Tuffo


La Vera Levitazione


Davanti all'Ultimo Portale


La Principessa Scappa!


La Premonizione di Biancaneve


Desiderio


La Culla della Strega


La Scoperta di un'Altra Terra


Gli Schermi

1 Sep 2020

Cinematic Favorites 08/20

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

OLD-SCHOOL CINEMA


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

THE LAST DECADE OFFERINGS


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

LOCARNO TOP 5


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

SHORT FILMS


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

28 Aug 2020

LOS (Martin Del Carpio, 2020)

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

Synopsis (written by Frank Vasquez)

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

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

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

25 Aug 2020

The Step (Aleqsandre Rekhviashvili, 1985)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

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

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

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

21 Aug 2020

Iran Is My Land (Parviz Kimiavi, 1999)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

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

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

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

16 Aug 2020

Sputnik (Egor Abramenko, 2020)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

An ambitious and confident debut from Egor Abramenko, Sputnik is an intriguing mixture of character (melo)drama, social commentary, retro sci-fi, creature feature and body horror that wears its influences, from Alien to X-Files to Arrival, pretty close to its sleeve, yet still manages to maintain a certain level of freshness (and even authenticity). The exquisite monster effects, Maxim Zhukov’s attention-grabbing cinematography and the slick, austerely beautiful production design that sends us back in time to 1983 USSR provide some memorable visuals, whereby Oleg Karpachov’s ominously brooding score establishes a dense, immersive atmosphere. The leading duo of Oksana Akinshina (of the Lilya 4-ever fame) and Pyotr Fyodorov (whom you might’ve seen in Sarancha, the first Russian erotic thriller) command the screen with strong performances, and Fedor Bondarchuk seems to have a whale of a time behind the super-serious façade of the story’s true villain.

15 Aug 2020

Concelaed

The sea opened its mouth
and swallowed the butterflies of hope.
It was a day like many others,
with no Sun to whisper to
and no stars to take into your arms.
In the simmering of absolute light,
there was but amplified darkness.
Their blood turned to snow,
and the Eyes cried the nectar of thorns.
When the Being left, nothing changed.
When the Being left, everything sang.

10 Aug 2020

The Way Home (Aleqsandre Rekhviashvili, 1981)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

Set in the 19th century southern Georgia still dominated by the Ottoman Empire, The Way Home (originally, Gza shinisaken) reimagines the historical figure of Anthim the Iberian (Antimoz Iverieli, 1650-1716) - a revered scholar, theologian, calligrapher and philosopher - as a quiet young man who tries to return home after escaping his captors. Presumably inspired by the likes of Dreyer, Bresson, Tarkovsky, and Parajanov, this peculiar, surrealistic drama turned 'road movie of the soul' daringly embraces anachronisms, as well as the unorthodox narrative patterns, mesmerizing the viewer with its lyrical story, breathtakingly beautiful B&W cinematography, and solemn silence pierced only by diegetic noise and stylized dialogue. Often appearing as a puzzling deconstruction of some local legend(s), it features a classy, tightly controlled direction from Rekhviashvili and stoically powerful performances by the entire cast, especially by Vakhtang Panchulidze who imbues the leading role with sublime mystery.

1 Aug 2020

Cinematic Favorites 07/20

This July was hot as hell (which also reflects the current state of affairs), so I decided to make a devilish choice of 6 'old-timers', 6 recent features and 6 shorts I loved the most out of approx. 90 films I watched...

~OLD-SCHOOL~


1. The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre (Joseph Stephano, 1964)

2. The Mask (Julian Roffman, 1961)

A great B-noir/horror whose highlights are three gorgeously nightmarish 3D sequences directed by Slavko Vorkapić, the co-author of 1928 experimental film The Life and Death of 9413, a Hollywood Extra. What's fascinating about these trips 'deeper into subconscious' is that you don't even need special glasses to enjoy the psychedelic imagery replete with skulls, thick fog, occult rituals and disfigured faces!

3. Oxygen (Matjaž Klopčić, 1970)

"The government is murder! The government is suicide! A revolution is the present! A revolution is excitement! It's a dance! It's a scream!"

Oxygen sees a journalist, Marko (Stevo Žigon), and his wife, Patricija (Polish actress Małgorzata Braunek who would appear in Żuławski’s The Third Part of the Night a year later), getting involved in a surreally depicted struggle between young revolutionaries and repressive establishment whose agents rarely leave the couple a moment of peace. By virtue of Milka Badjura's ingeniously hectic, dizzying and whimsical editing that would give even the Nouvelle Vague filmmakers run for their money, one gets easily disoriented in this dystopian, anti-illusionary, formally challenging, 'Kafka meets Godard under the hippie sun' drama set on an imaginary island, and playing out on the border between pamphlet and poetry, dream and reality, fiction and documentary.

"Borders need to be erased. Then we will move into the world of fantasy."

4. The Detective and Death (Gonzalo Suárez, 1994)

Filmed in Poland and set over the course of one long night, this Spanish neo-noir is quite a strange, hardly classifiable beast. Featuring a superb cast led by Javier Bardem (as a no-nonsense detective, Cornelio, boldly objectified in the opening scene) and Maria de Medeiros (as a clumsy, stuttering mother, Maria, unwillingly pulled into a deviant game of shady characters), the film unfolds as a surreal, somewhat melodramatic and borderline absurd narrative in which the big, incestuous baddie portrayed by Héctor Alterio is referred to as Gran Mierda (lit. Big Shit). Puzzling and (decidedly?) incoherent, it feels like a sullen, unrhymed ode to death sung with a tongue-in-cheek attitude.

5. Song of the Forest (Viktor Ivchenko, 1961)

Starring absolutely charming and graceful Raisa Nedashkovskaya as forest spirit Mavka, this folk fairy tale brimming with dreamlike imagery is a delightful treat for the Soviet-era fantasy aficionados. 

6. Prime Cut (Michael Ritchie, 1972)

A cool, slightly off-beat gangster flick worthy of watching for Lee Marvin's bravura performance alone, and not to mention the adorable Sissy Spacek and an intense scene involving a combine harvester...

~21st CENTURY FLICKS~





4. The Tango of the Widower and Its Distorting Mirror (Raúl Ruiz & Valeria Sarmiento, 2020)

Restored by his wife Valeria Sarmiento and flawlessly dubbed thanks to a lip-reading expert, Ruiz's unfinished 1967 film is another brilliant addition to the Chilean master's opus. Part psychological drama, part black comedy (borderline horror?), and all a formally challenging piece of (nightmarish) cinema, it is soaked in a stifling, claustrophobic atmosphere achieved through the frequent use of unnerving close-ups (and creeping wigs!) accompanied by the ominously haunting score from Jorge Arriagada. Once it reaches its midpoint, the film is 'black-lodged' to the start, with parts of the Distorting Mirror half rendered in a photo-novel manner.


6. Gundala (Joko Anwar, 2019)

A refreshing take on the superhero subgenre, Gundala presents a pretty successful blend of socio-political drama and martial arts action sprinkled with some quirky humor and bits of Javanese mythology. Its greatest strengths lie in well-rounded performances, solid fighting choreography and atmospheric visuals, whereas the flaws begin to surge during the final act which introduces some new, out-of-nowhere characters who will probably be opposing Gundala or joining his ranks in the upcoming sequel(s). Even if you don’t like the movies with spandex/leather-wearing protagonists, you may want to give this one a chance...

~MINI-CINEMA~




3. JYOTI and JOYMOTI (Mehdi Jahan, 2017)

In his fascinating, cinematically eloquent debut, Mehdi Jahan blurs the boundaries between fact and fiction, life and death, personal history and that of his native region of Assam, and immerses the viewer in a dense, oneiric atmosphere effortlessly established through deliberate pacing, lyrical narrative, moody B&W visuals, elegiac flute melody and old radio broadcasts that mark the 'silent to talkie' transition. From the largely non-professional cast, he elicits powerful, borderline Bressonian performances and imbues his film with a keen sense of mystery...

4. Songs From Far Away Land (Tuhinabha Majumdar, 2020)

A subtly surreal, profoundly poetic and deliberately paced drama boasting elegant direction by Tuhinabha Majumdar, delicate performances by the entire cast and wonderful, highly atmospheric cinematography by Sathanand Rangaraj, especially during a tracking overhead shot that captures a mesmerizing dance choreography. In its constant overlapping of dreams, memories and reality on the border between life and death, Songs From Far Away Land takes the viewer on a spiritual journey, with the ancestors' ghosts acting as sage guides. The film's soul is so big, that it is overwhelming! It would be a great companion piece to Alexander Sokurov's Mother and Son or Aditya Vikram Sengupta's Jonaki


Two usher boys seduce a mermaid, red-haired nymphs and other mythological characters with Dior's 2020-2021 Haute Couture collection in a visually splendid, dialogue-free fantasy softly veiled in evocative, ethereal music and meticulously directed by Matteo Garrone. Although an entirely different animal, it easily ranks with some other successful fashion ad films, such as David Lynch's Lady Blue Shanghai (made also for Dior) and Luca Guadagnino's The Staggering Girl (for Valentino).


Beautifully illustrated and animated, with a subtle, minimalist score to boot, Mom plunges the viewer into a cruel, desensitized dystopia that our society has dangerously approached to. Under ten minutes, firsttimer Kajika Aki Ferrazzini demonstrates lush talent, her strong, occasionally surreal visuals bringing the names of Jean Giraud Moebius, René Laloux, Satoshi Kon and Jérémie Périn (of the Lastman fame) to one’s mind.

31 Jul 2020

Valley of the Gods (Lech Majewski, 2019)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼


The Navajo mythology and an anti-capitalist parable seamlessly blend in Lech Majewski's surreal, mystical, self-reflexive and highly idiosyncratic tour de force which stars Josh Hartnett as a troubled, old-fashioned writer, John Ecas, who reluctantly accepts the challenge of embracing the absurd, and John Malkovich as an eccentric zillionaire, Wes Tauros, who can only feel peace 'when reduced to nothing', with Keir Dullea (of the 2001: A Space Odyssey fame) in the supporting role of a suave butler, Ulim. Cryptic, fragmented, uncompromising, deliberately paced and brimful of classical music and fascinating imagery ranging from imposing rocky deserts to snake limousine to flamboyant, baroque interiors of Mr. Tauros’ mountain top castle, Valley of the Gods is one of those films that you either adore unreservedly or hate the guts of. Once the credits rolled, I wished to watch it and experience its inviting strangeness again...

29 Jul 2020

The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre (Joseph Stefano, 1964)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

The sole directorial credit in the opus of Joseph 'the screenwriter of Psycho' Stefano is a supernatural horror that was planned to be a pilot episode for a new show in a similar vein as The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits (also written by Stefano), but was deemed too scary for the television and scrapped. More than half a century later, it resurfaces (partly thanks to the 2018 Blu-ray release) and it turns out to be nothing short of a flawed masterpiece.

The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre stars Martin Landau as a suave, wealthy architect, Nelson Orion (as in the constellation, in his own words), who lives in a modern and, in terms of statics, seemingly impossible house propped on a cliff over the beach. In his spare time, Mr. Orion becomes 'proto Dylan Dog' who doesn't like to be referred to as medium, and refuses to charge for his services if the haunting of his clients proves genuine. Hired by Vivia Mandore (Diane Baker, fresh out of Marnie), he is about to investigate the case of disturbing telephone calls that have been troubling Mrs. Mandore's blind husband, Henry (Tom Simcox), who believes his possessive mother is trying to control him and, what's worse, drive him mad from beyond her (open) grave. Suspiciously coinciding with this hullabaloo at the Mandore estate is the arrival of a mysterious new servant, Paulina, portrayed by Dame Judith Anderson in a menacing manner which recalls her role of Mrs. Danvers in Hitchcock's Rebecca.

Right from the get-go, Stefano is determined to impress the viewer, and he does succeed in his intention, with the panoramic view of Los Angeles - initially appearing as a foggy graveyard - being 'swept away' by sea foam in a stunningly edited transition that is followed by the introduction of the protagonist and his cool, borderline surreal place of residence. But, even cooler are the Mandores' gothic manor and their family mausoleum in which shadows waltz the Danse Macabre in gorgeously lensed scenes evoking the masterpieces of German Expressionism through densely atmospheric lighting. It is there, amongst the dead (and their restless spirits), where Nelson has his first encounter with Vivia, and where Conrad Hall (who would work as DoP on the one and only Esperanto-spoken horror Incubus two years later) excels in every single frame. Those 15 minutes alone are the reason enough to watch the film, and not to mention that the rest of it is also packed with strong, engaging visuals brimming with style and as such, worthy of big-screen viewing. Their beauty is elevated by Dominic Frontiere's dramatic, tension-rising score complemented by unearthly soundscapes.

Equally captivating is a slightly pulpish story which thematizes guilt and finds its foundation in the idea that we all are, in one way or another, being haunted, whether we believe in ghosts or not, like Nelson's voice-of-reason housekeeper, Mary Finch (Nellie Burt, highly sympathetic). It is well-paced, oft-generating moments of spine-tingling eeriness, and handled with great confidence, even during the parts that seem to serve no purpose other than prolonging the running time (from TV episode to feature-length format) and/or adding a layer of quirkiness to the proceedings (code: blonde on the beach). Lending it gravitas is the entire cast who does a tremendous job of breathing life into characters most of whom are heavily burdened by their past, and are trying to escape it. Especially commendable is Landau's performance tinged with subtlety, stoicism and hints of melancholy...

Many are the qualities to cherish here, so it is such a shame that Stefano never set in a director's chair again.

27 Jul 2020

The Metaphysician's Dream (William Kersten, 2020)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼


Inspired by the work of Giorgo de Chirico, Yves Tanguy, Jean Cocteau and the Quay brothers, The Metaphysician's Dream is another superb addition to the pantheon of surreal stop-motion films. Elevating its classy appeal is the fact that it is virtually a one-man show - William Kersten is its director, animator, cinematographer, production designer and music composer, with the elegant score of oneiric proportions performed by the Vienna Symphonic Library software.

Inviting you into a vast, phantasmagorical world is a mellifluous and somewhat mysterious opening track which accompanies decidedly archaic, silent era-inspired title card, credits and epigraph, and fades to silence pierced by a subtle needle-on-a-worn-record crackling. After the curtains are drawn open, we enter a delightfully retro atelier-laboratory where a couple of scientists or rather, alchemists are about to consult their books and perform a series of puzzling experiments resulting in an interdimensional exchange of sorts. As the title suggests, a highly unconventional story plays out like a dream, so most of it is left to the viewer to decipher, or simply allow it to be smitten by its magic.

Amongst the apparatuses and contraptions of obscure purpose, neatly shelved bottles containing various potions, and concrete blocks turned cosmic kaleidoscopes, one can easily get lost, but the non-speaking protagonists seem to know exactly what they are doing. Appearing as wooden mannequin dolls with heads of expressionless Hellenistic sculptures, they may be viewed as modest embodiments of some mystical, supernatural entities who hold the secrets of the multiverse, and are in complete control of time-space. As they establish a link between the past and the future through their present (and cryptic / esoteric) actions, Kersten approaches his cosmogonic fantasy (and perfection) with high attention to details, and in a tight, fifteen-minute frame, he delivers spellbinding imagery in spades, not wasting a single frame of a wonderful old-school animation. Beiges, browns and grays of his characters' bodies and sets are beautifully complemented by vivid colors of props and lighting, whereby the soft focus is frequently used to enhance a hypnotic, ethereal atmosphere. On top of that, The Metaphysician's Dream is paced so smoothly that watching it feels like drifting on a cloud. Kersten's meticulousness, vitality and creativity are pure inspiration...

The film is available on the author's official YouTube channel:

26 Jul 2020

Knives and Skin (Jennifer Reeder, 2019)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

Firmly embracing pure, unruly weirdness and constantly pushing it to the fore, Jennifer Reeder delivers a boldly unconventional coming-of-age drama / pseudo-noir thriller in which a young girl disappearance reveals true colors of a small town community. Although they're not 'beautiful like the rainbow', the Argento-esque, vividly surreal lighting of Christopher Rejano's admirable cinematography turns the rural Midwest - the twisted story's setting - into a wondrous theatre of the absurd. The tightly-knit lives of a few highly dysfunctional families sink into small-scale chaos of perverse secrets, toxic romances and mental breakdowns, with all the characters, both adolescent and adult, hopelessly lost in their 'magical' microcosm(s). Pervaded by delicate choral covers of the 80s pop songs, the dream-reality of Knives and Skin provides the viewer with a rather bizarre experience, as the film makes its baby steps towards the cult status.

21 Jul 2020

Call for Dreams (Ran Slavin, 2018)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

"Is the dreamer dreaming the dream? Or is the dream dreaming the dreamer?"


Great many are the filmmakers (or artists, in general) who have attempted to provide the answers to the quoted questions, and yet these questions stubbornly keep lingering without any definite answers. In case of Ran Slavin's sophomore feature which teases the prospect of parallel realities, they can be rephrased as following: "Is the viewer watching/dreaming the film? Or is the film watching/dreaming the viewer?" 

There's no doubt the Israeli visual artist and composer is enamored or rather, obsessed with the borderless kingdom ruled by Hypnos, considering that Call for Dreams explores the very same ideas found in his debut The Insomniac City Cycles. However, his second venture into the world emerging from the REM phase proves to be more successful than the previous one, resulting in an enigmatic, phantasmagorical neo(n)-noir that twists and breaks the thin line between video art and (experimental) cinema.


Set during the rain-drenched nights in Tokyo, an unruly, highly unconventional story revolves around a lonely Japanese woman, Eko (the admirable low-key portrayal by the firsttimer Mami Shimazaki), who runs an unusual call service for dreamers, while a worn-out detective, Ruven (Yehezkel Lazarov, excellent), investigates a murder case in Tel Aviv. The two are connected via an intricate web of dreams enacted in a series of surreal rituals, part Lynchian, part Matthew Barney-esque, and inhabited by a mysterious middle-aged man (murderer?), Russian mobster and his bodybuilder henchwoman, as well as an eccentric security guard who lives by samurai code, but also loves to spy on his neighbor.

When and where the reality ends and the fantasy begins is hard to tell, and for that very reason, Call for Dreams is incessantly intriguing. Slavin boldly refuses to adhere to a three-act structure so instead, he opts for a lyrical, borderline abstract narrative in which the main protagonist could be an elusive, "master dream" entity in control of individual dreams. From that perspective, Eko, Ruven and the rest of the gang are but puppets in the "hands" of that undefined force (the joint soul of the aforementioned cities?) who seems to act in accordance with the adventurous helmer, pulling us deeper into its/his/her extremely oneiric game of ever-changing rules.

The experience of playing this game is comparable to the falling through a bottomless rabbit hole, yet knowing that you are perfectly safe, because there is no beginning and no end, only the soft, mesmerizing, ostensibly infinite middle. And what makes your fall so pleasing is the surrounding imagery - crisp, meticulously composed, bathed in colorful lights and complemented by moody score. Even the obviousness of computer-generated effects works to the advantage of vivid visuals, and emphasizes the film's enticing artifice, whereby the sparseness of dialogue intensifies the strong flavor of eye-candy, and leaves you with plenty of space for contemplation. I will be eagerly looking forward to Slavin's following dream...


The film can be streamed @ Vimeo on Demand and Amazon Prime.

17 Jul 2020

Between the Shadows (Alice Guimarães & Mónica Santos, 2018)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

Once in a while, a (short) film comes along and steals your heart. In this particular case, heart-stealing is also the trigger of a quirky story told from the perspective of a protagonist, Natália (Sara Costa). Stuck in a dead-end job (that requires an extra pair of attachable hands), she is a clerk in a bank where people deposit their hearts instead of money. After being contacted by an enigmatic private eye (Gilberto Oliveira), her tedious life gets injected with a risky dose of excitement and eventually, she is faced with a choice of giving up her own heart or keeping it for herself.

As we follow our heroine and her newfound friend evading some pesky shadow agents, Guimarães and Santos pull us ever-deeper into a surreal world that is an overt, passionately written love letter to the 1940s film-noir and art-deco aesthetics. They make brilliant use of a bewitching combination of stop-motion animation and live-action imagery gorgeously photographed by Manuel Pinto Barros, and perfectly complemented by decidedly retro, smoky-jazz-bar-esque score by Pedro Marques. Aware that every second matters in a tight time-frame, they resort to witty and imaginative transformations of the intricately crafted mise en scène, frequently relying on dream logic. To put it simply - their work oozes with so much (hyper)style that it can easily act as a substitute for substance. Add to that many bizarre details with little devils in them and you have yourself a definite must-see!

The film can be rented @ Vimeo on Demand platform for a very affordable price.

7 Jul 2020

Homo Sapiens Project (200) (Rouzbeh Rashidi, 2000-2020)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼


Imagine finding yourself amidst a foggy forest of barren trees or a ghost town tucked away in the mist. Although you can barely see your hand in front of your face, somehow you do know the way and you're also familiar with how long and arduous it is. All of the sudden, you can discern a ball of white light in the distance, and as you walk towards it, it keeps getting smaller. Once you finally reach it, the luminous sphere is the size of a pill, floating in the air. You're tempted to swallow it and when you really do, a cloud of velvet darkness engulfs you in an instant, sending you straight to the heart of the void. Gradually, your weakened body disintegrates, with your mind and your spirit attuned to the dreamlife's abyss, at once disquieting and comforting. Then, you open your eyes and for the first time you see the nothingness of everything...


And that's the closest I can get in describing the mentally and emotionally demanding experience of watching Rouzbeh Rashidi's latest (and so far, lengthiest) addition to the already colossal Homo Sapiens Project. Composed of 40 short films created in the period 2000-2010 and now eternally integrated into a powerful and mysterious entity, the 8-hour feature provides the viewer with an immediate insight into the artist's formative years, plunging you into a vast and peculiar realm of melancholic grandeur. It often appears as an extremely fragmented, chronologically meandering and unstoppably mutating psychological drama whose protagonist is portrayed by several actors, every one of them bringing a heavy load of real-life issues to the table. Occasionally, the intrusions of other genres or rather, the subverted versions of the genres (such as sci-fi, horror, documentary and romance), break the flow to make it irregular, but that's where the film's attraction lies - in its ever-unexpected metamorphosis.


In equal measures profoundly personal, decidedly alienating and out of synch with the accelerated rhythms of our present, HSP (200) is the last, indecipherable word in the intimate diary lost in an Inland Empire of The Twilight Zone; a Ritual in Transfigured Time carefully performed on the outskirts of the Alphaville ruins; a storm-taming stone rolling back and forth across the meadow of silence and leaving the traces of loneliness behind... Through its strong interconnectedness with the history of (experimental) cinema, particularly the structuralist film, it washes over you with crushing waves of raw inscrutability which springs from the symbiotic relationship between its own and the filmmaker's micro- and macrocosm. And it shows you many facets of Cinema - embodied in people, objects, places and actions (even the most banal ones, such as sleeping or waiting for the bus) - a gentle spirit and relentless oppressor, rejuvenating potion and life-draining toxin, calming refreshment and boiling frustration... and during the last twenty minutes of perverse recontextualizations, a deranged and purifying catharsis.


Through the multitude of evocative, long-take close-ups, the camera of HSP (200) makes love to its 'subjects', reaching for their essence and their subconsciousness, and yet, they all remain distant and alone, trapped in a limbo that exists and persists 24 frames per second. Sometimes, it is due to the deliberately mismatched soundscapes of non-diegetic noise, doomy drones or classical music that they turn into disoriented ghosts. The grainy texture of the predominantly black and white imagery binds them to the past from which they will be constantly emerging, like unforgettable memories, to reshape the future, at least when it comes to any relevant discourse of the 21st century avant-garde film.


The film is available for rent / buy at very affordable price at Vimeo on Demand platform.

1 Jul 2020

Cinematic Favorites 06/20

The sixth listicle of this (tiresome) year encompasses 12 films (out of approx. 80 watched) - 7 features, a medium-length offering and 4 shorts arranged in order of preference.

I Go Seek | The Scenic Route | Transfiguration: Slow Approximation

1. Я иду искать / I Go Seek (Vladimir Fessenko, 1992) - The game of hide-and-seek is transmuted into one of the most surreal, visually inspired pieces of short animation to come from Russia! 10 minutes that, simply put, have to be seen!
2. The Scenic Route (Mark Rappaport, 1978) (click on the title for a short review)
3. Transfiguration: Slow Approximation (Wolfgang Lehmann, 2020) - Draped in long, fluttering veils of haunting, otherworldly vocalizations, the incessantly trembling and inwardly decomposing images create the immaculate illusion of a transcendental experience. Each shot appears like a fading memory of an abstract impressionist painting gradually and mysteriously mutating as the film progresses, whereby the screen gets transformed into a liquid, rippled surface brimming with vivid colors. Seen in fleeting glimpses, naked bodies act as vessels for ancient souls, eternally wandering between the spiritual dimension and nature's subconscious mind...
4. In Vitro (Søren Lind & Larissa Sansour, 2019) - A ruminative and gorgeously shot post-apocalyptic short which makes great use of split-screen, as it deals with themes of memory, nostalgia and exile. The brutalist architecture of the underground compound where it is set intensifies the pervading sense of crippling melancholia... A perfect match for a double-bill with Jóhann Jóhannsson's Last and First Man.
5. Shell and Joint (Isamu Hirabayashi, 2019) (click on the title for a short review)
6. Le cortège / The Procession (Pascal Blanchet & Rodolphe Saint-Gelais, 2019) - A bautifully retro, elegantly animated pseudo-noir told from the beyond by a victim of a car acident, Catherine, whose love for her grieving husband, Philip, in a way blurs the boundaries between life and death.

The Palace | On the Comet | Stranger on the Third Floor

7. Palac / The Palace (Tadeusz Junak, 1980) - If you like your Eastern European gothic decadently surreal, unapologetically fragmented and feverishly nightmarish, then Tadeusz Junak’s puzzling, psychologically intense drama is the right film for you. Cinema at its most delirious!
8. Na kometě / On the Comet (Karel Zeman, 1970) - From the opening credits wonderfully stylized as postcards all the way to the slightly rushed ending, this oneiric, anti-war fantasy is a pure delight to watch. And it's often pretty funny too (code: pots and dinosaurs)! Putting you in a state of wide-eyed wonder, it will stay with you long after you left its phantasmagorical world...
9. Stranger on the Third Floor (Boris Ingster, 1940) - Exploring the theme of guilty conscience gradually mutating into paranoia, the first 'true' film-noir mesmerizes with its 'artifice' reflected in heavy, unnatural shadows and other hallmarks of the said sub-genre. Peter Lorre is utterly creepy as the titular enigma of a character.
10. Puccini e la fanciulla / Puccini and the Girl (Paolo Benvenuti, 2008) - Recounting the events which led to the suicide of a young maid, Doria Manfredi, who was falsely accused of being Puccini’s mistress, Paolo Benvenuti’s period drama pays a loving homage to silent cinema. Almost wordless, with only music, letter readings and sounds of nature piercing the solemn quietude, Puccini and the Girl is characterized by a meticulous frame composition which lends a painterly quality to virtually every scene. Its visual eloquence is so awe-inspiring, that you frequently forget you’re watching a story of adultery which is but a shameful episode from the famous composer’s life...
11. Zombies (Baloji, 2019) - Brimming with vivid colors, vibrant energy and outlandish costume design (which I'm not gonna spoil describing!), Zombies is a hyper-stylized musical critique of selfie-culture slightly reminiscent of Khavn De La Cruz's films, with the exception of a discotheque scene which gives off a Nicolas Winding Refn vibe. Although the music is not my cup of tea, I felt like dancing to it!
12. Pinocchio (Matteo Garrone, 2019) - A classic fairy tale gets an endearing, decidedly (and even refreshingly!) traditional adaptation in Matteo Garrone's latest, visually striking offering directed with a keen sense of (slightly grotesque) fantasy which evokes childhood memories. Its biggest drawback lies in a fact that it is released into a desensitized society used a bit too much to cheap thrills and provocations...

27 Jun 2020

A Selection of Recent Artworks (IV)

The skies turn chocolate brown...
(All pieces are originally 40x50cm / 300dpi in size.)

 The Spacecraft Is Always on Time

The 13th Labour of Hercules: Machina Ex Deo

The Utopian

The Golden Bird Has Always Been There...

Persistence / Impermanence

The Triumph of Art

Golden Mutation in Front of the Window of Time