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.

(open in a new tab to enlarge)

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).