May 5, 2021

A Selection of Recent Artworks (VII)

Another selection of my recently created collages pulls focus on the most voluminous part of my oeuvre so far - the Bianco/Nero series which has almost reached 200 'chapters'. I take this opportunity to reveal three brand new pieces that may be deemed too provocative by social network algorithms...

Odissea / Одисеја / Odyssey

Il Dio è un Voyeur / Бог је воајер / The God is a Voyeur

Il Rebis / Ребис / The Rebis

Un Amore Contorto / Ишчашена љубав / A Twisted Love

Fumo e Vapore / Дим и пара / Smoke and Steam

Sotto la Copertura dell'Oscurità / Под окриљем таме / Under the Cover of Darkness

Eterna Assenza di Parole / Вечно одсуство речи / Eternal Absence of Words

Il Sognatore con la Cinepresa / Сањар са филмском камером / The Dreamer with the Movie Camera

Cancellatura / Брисање / Erasure

L'Ipotesi della Bellezza Autonoma / Хипотеза аутономне лепоте / The Hypothesis of Autonomous Beauty

Narciso: Apoteosi / Нарцис: Апотеоза / Narcissus: Apotheosis

Un Errore di Codice / Грешка у коду / A Code Error

May 2, 2021

Kinoskop Spinoff Vol. 5: Inside the Cine-Club

 Originally published on May 1st. Article written by Marko Milićević.

Happy International Workers' Day from the Kinoskop team, with a cinematic memory from Yugoslavia, in our 5th spin-off, Inside the Cine-Club, as part of the parallel presentation for the upcoming Oberhausen 2021 Theme programme – Solidarity as Disruption, curated by Aleksandra Sekulić and Branka Benčić.

Click on the titles below stills to watch the films!

Total running time : 79'

Starting the selection is the most haunting title of the lot. Suffused with creepy atmosphere, Sava Trifković’s legendary short Hands of Purple Distances elusively touches on subjects such as metaphysical dread, madness, and the all-engulfing enigma of memory, infused with a lot of dizzying camera work and jump-cuts, similar to the mise-en-scene of Maya Deren’s psychodrama films, or other experimental 'horrors' of the time, Zid by Kokan Rakonjac, or Triptych on Matter and Death by Živojin Pavlović. 

The famed documentarian, Krsto Papić's Special Trains, an Oberhausen winner, instead, is a Black Wave-saturated title, which has a more powerfully mundane, but also never-more-actual theme of the Yugo-gastarbeiters searching for a better existence in the West, let down by the socialist system, only to find themselves even more thwarted and dehumanised by the German authorities. 

Continuing in this particular frame, Želimir Žilnik's The Unemployed is yet another striking and brutal reflection on the 'surplus labour' and the 'solidarity in pain', focusing on the burden of existence of workers who bathe in public bathrooms and sleep in homeless centers., with a lot of camera attention on their (collective) bodies, and close-up details such as bruised feet, malnourished teeth and obesity.

More bodily fears and anxieties are present in Vlatko Gilić's Love, in a more optimistic rendering of the solidarity theme conveyed through gaze and gestures, in a no dialogue film which portrays a moment of intimacy in a harsh and mechanized world, detailing the encounter of a construction site worker with his wife for a picnic lunch. 

Ivan Martinac's Rondo also focuses on faces and close-ups, underlined with themes its author was particularly obsessed with - alienation and existential meditations, done in a fast-pace, jump-cut editing style similar to a rhythmical score, set to Beethoven's music. 

Finally, Ante Babaja's Justice delivers an adaptation of a Vladan Desnica novel, and another one of his very modernist, funky, dizzyingly edited pieces with an allegorical structure, presenting us a witty satire on the blindness of justice and Rashomon-like shift of multiple perspectives.

Sava Trifković: Ruke ljubičastih daljina / Hands of the Purple Distances (Yugoslavia, 1962, 11')

Krsto Papić: Specijalni vlakovi / Special Trains (Yugoslavia, 1972, 14')

Želimir Žilnik: Nezaposleni ljudi / The Unemployed (Yugoslavia, 1968, 13')

Vlatko Gilić: Ljubav / Love (Yugoslavia, 1972, 24')

Ivan Martinac: Rondo (Yugoslavia, 1962, 6')

Ante Babaja: Pravda / Justice (Yugoslavia, 1962, 11')

May 1, 2021

Best Premiere Viewings of April

CLASSICS

1. Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962)

While hunting for hidden gems and peculiar, weirdly shaped pieces of cinema, I have missed a plethora of ‘critic-proof’ classics, partly because of a very dense, even intimidating aura of veneration surrounding them. So, when I learned that Lawrence of Arabia was to be aired on a cable channel (which, thankfully, doesn’t run a single commercial during a film), I seized the opportunity to watch it. And I don’t regret staying up to 3 am – it is a synonym of grandeur.


2. The Thief of Bagdad (Raoul Walsh, 1924)

Once upon a time, when Hollywood spectacles were works of fine art, William Cameron Menzies designed some of the most stunning sets ever seen in a silent film. Inspired by Art Deco and oriental architecture, they defined magnificent space for an immersive, larger-than-life fantasy whose visual magic was further enhanced by Mitchell Leisen’s lavish costumes, and Arthur Edeson’s often dreamlike cinematography.


3. Roman Holiday (William Wyler, 1953)

Overflowing with charm and radiating warmth every time Audrey Hepburn graces the screen with her presence, this is a perfect spring Sunday afternoon film (and guess what, tomorrow is Sunday).


4. Murderers’ Row (Henry Levin, 1966)

Armed with wit and charm, as well as with a few nifty gadgets, Dean Martin snoops around French Riviera as a womanizing I.C.E. agent, Matt Helm, in a brilliantly funny spy-fi comedy which bursts with saturated colors and deliberately tacky one-liners. On his top secret mission of saving brilliant Dr. Solaris from a big baddie, Julian Wall (Karl Malden, playing his role with gleeful malevolence), he is joined by the good doc’s daughter – a feisty lass, Suzie (Ann-Margret, lighting up the screen with some killer dance moves). And yes, the rivaling team also has a femme fatale in its ranks – a seemingly cold and absolutely ravishing blonde, Coco Duquette (Carmilla Sparv, elevating her sex appeal with an enigmatic smile). Right from the groovy pop-art title sequence to a sequel announcement in the epilogue marked by an exciting ‘boat & hovercraft’ chase scene, Murderers’ Row is pulp cinema at its best.


5. Midnight Cowboy (John Schlesinger, 1978)

The loneliest and most unlikely friendship in the world (or at least in New York slums of the 70’s) marries naïveté to cynicism, as dreams fail to come true for both of the outcast heroes brought to bleak life by admirably committed performances from John Voight and Dustin Hoffman.

CONTEMPORARY CINEMA

1. Sententia (Dmitry Rudakov, 2020)

Kafkaesque absurdity, Lynchian uncanniness, and above all, formal rigor that would make Bresson quiver with fear densely intertwine and symbiotically merge into Dmitry Rudakov’s masterful, painfully poignant, brutally honest and heartachingly beautiful directorial debut which chronicles the last days of Russian poet, journalist, writer and GULAG survivor Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov (1907-1982), as well as two of his most devoted admirers’ endeavors in the preservation of the author’s bequest. In less than ten deliberately paced scenes, each helmed with admirable precision, unflinching confidence and heightened sensibility, Rudakov translates Shalamov’s pain of 17 years spent in forced-labor camps into a minimalist tour de force that is in equal measures poetic, cerebral, soulful and visceral. Its heavy atmosphere of Stalinist despair and impending death, particularly dense during the final twenty minutes of ominous silence, rises from the complementary fusion of the gorgeously austere 16mm cinematography (Alexey Filippov) and disquieting humming reminiscent of the muffled wailing of the winds (Stepan Sevastyanov) which keeps the psychological tension constant. Also praiseworthy is Alexandr Ryazantsev’s largely physical performance, his shriveled and battered body reflecting the protagonist’s seriously deteriorated state of mind... Sententia is easily one of the best Russian films of the last two decades and a strong contender for No. 1 of my 2021 annual list.


2. Servants (Ivan Ostrochovský, 2020)

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but in the case of Ivan Ostrochovský’s second narrative feature, virtually each shot renders you speechless, taking your breath away in the process. Superbly framed in boxy black and white of Bressonian austerity, Servants is catapulted with great force into the Pantheon of the most beautiful Eastern European films. Equally powerful as its sublimely ascetic cinematography (by Juraj Chlpik) is Cristian Lolea and Miroslav Toth’s stark, ominously brooding score of industrial drones and phantasmal chants that subtly break the quietude, and intensify the sense of dystopian paranoia and nihilist dread of the historical setting. Sullen soundscapes also weave a web of mystery around the grim, fragmented and deliberately open-ended story which blends a borderline-surreal coming-of-age drama with steely cold neo-noir, chronicling the tension between two authoritarian entities – the strict communist regime embodied in villainous Dr Ivan (Vlad Ivanov, exuding spine-tingling menace) and sneaky Catholic Church facing a deep divide within its ranks. Struggling for both their bodies and souls in such a toxic environment are Juraj and Michal (the promising first-time performances by Samuel Skyva and Samuel Polakovic) – a couple of theological seminary students whose youthful idealism gets violently crucified.


3. The Wanting Mare (Nicholas Ashe Bateman, 2020)

(read my review HERE)


4. The Visitor (Jukka-Pekka Valkeapää, 2008)

As if possessed by the spirits of Tarkovsky and Klimov, Jukka-Pekka Valkeapää frames virtually every shot of his debut with meticulous care and an experienced artist’s eye, delivering a film of immense lyrical power which easily overshadows his following efforts, They Have Escaped and Dogs Don’t Wear Pants. Told or rather, shown from the perspective of its mute protagonist – an unnamed boy living with his mother on a ramshackle farm – The Visitor is a visually immersive, densely atmospheric tone poem draped in a dark veil of mystery...


5. Swoon (Måns Mårlind & Björn Stein, 2019)

A delightfully quirky and lightly surreal romantic drama in the vein of Amélie is the last film you would expect to come from ‘Bergmanland’ and yet, here it is! Set in 1940 and based on the history of the Gröna Lund amusement park located on Djurgården Island in Stockholm, Swoon chronicles a charming story of forbidden love stronger than nazism and war. Introducing the language of flowers, embodying a swarm of belly butterflies and depicting a dream-duel with rose-firing guns, inter alia, it is directed as if in the state of euphoric infatuation, and photographed like a hyper-stylized fairy tale pulsating with many colors and neon lights, as its grand, sweeping music score heightens the emotional impact. Mårlind & Stein take a great deal of artistic liberty to include the period-befitting covers of singles by Abba, Bon Jovi and Beyoncé in a few unexpected anachronistic twists, and their playfulness seems to be infectious, as reflected in certain costume designs by Margrét Einarsdóttir. Swoon is pure magic and I’m head over heels for it. 


6. I Am Lying Now (Paweł Borowski, 2019)

Art imitates li(f)e imitates art... or maybe there’s no imitation at all in Paweł Borowski’s second feature which proves that artifice is a skill filmmakers should fully and firmly embrace. His weirdo meta-thriller of a Rashomon-esque structure and satirical proportions is set in a beautiful retro-futuristic dystopia where vintage fourwheelers pass and park next to Brutalist buildings, and the grooviness of the 60’s and 70’s modernism is evoked in both costume and interior designs. (Kubrick would’ve certainly approved that hotel hallway defined by curved, neon-lit walls.) A creative editing makes way for some cool optical illusions complementing Borowski’s formal trickery, as the viewer follows a taser-armed white rabbit down the hole of sex, lies and compromising video discs surrounding a film production in the hands of a mysterious puppet master (a nod to Lynch?). Add to that an exquisite cinematography, refined art direction, unobtrusive, yet effective electro-score with the 80’s vibes, and a menacing quiz/talk-show host who looks like a cross between Maleficent and Tilda Swinton, and you got yourself an entertaining and aesthetically chic reflection on the nature of cinema and reality.


7. The Man Who Knew 75 Languages (Anne Magnussen & Paweł Dębski, 2016)

“Without a native language, people are like motherless children.”

An elegant blend of rotoscoped animation (characters) and live-action (backgrounds), The Man Who Knew 75 Languages tells the story of the German publisher, poet and linguistic prodigy Georg Sauerwein (1831-1904), and his affectionate relationship with his protégé, princess Elisabeth of Wied (1843-1916), who would marry King Carol I (1839-1914) and become the Queen of Romania. Part biopic and part ‘fairy tale’, the film strikes a subtle balance between information and poetry / facts and fiction, introducing the viewer to an extraordinary man vilified in his own time, and revered as a pacifist and humanitarian today. Even though his awe-inspiring polyglottic knowledge couldn’t be fully explored within the limited time-frame of 65 minutes, we hear Robert Günschmann – voice-actor who ‘resurrects’ Sauerwein – using German, English, French, Italian, Norwegian, Lithuanian and Sorbian (spoken by a West Slavic minority, Sorbs, who live in Lusatia region of eastern Germany). Günschmann and the rest of the largely non-professional cast play their roles in a low key register, complementing the modest beauty of visuals, and the serene tone of the music score. The result is a charmingly unpretentious feature that never outstays its welcome.


8. Night in Paradise (Hoon-jung Park, 2020)

The mainstream cinema of South Korea never cease to amaze! In the latest feature penned, directed and produced by the screenwriter of I Saw the Devil, an engaging crime drama is interwoven with an icy cold revenge thriller and blood-soaked action into a tragic, not to mention nihilist gangster epic laced with bits of wry humor, concealed romance and fleeting moments of poetry. Relentlessly plunging the viewer into a grim underworld or rather, parallel reality of organized crime and corrupted police officials, it focuses on a wronged mobster, Tae-Gu (Tae-goo Eom, lending a composed bad-boy charm to the sympathetic anti-hero), and a young, terminally ill woman, Jae-Yeon (Yeo-bin Jeon, brilliantly channeling, as well as externalizing suppressed rage of her character), brought together in a game of manipulation and backstabbing played by sharks in branded suits. Although it’s tropey as almost any given genre film in recent memory, it is so well crafted that you probably won’t mind a cliché here and there...


9. The Inferno Index (Cosmotropia de Xam & Lapis Exilis, 2021)

It’s not everyday you see a Serbian soprano (Marijana Mladenov) portraying Witch who converts a young woman (Mira Kohli) to the dark side in a German underground flick which makes great use of heavy filters, on-body projections, flickering and footage played backwards. Falling somewhere between a goth-horror music video, pseudo-occult fever dream, ritualistic performance and meta-cinematic experiment, The Inferno Index boldly eschews conventional story-telling in favor of luridly spellbinding hyper-psychedelic visuals and moodily propulsive electronica veiled in haunting chants. A labor of demonic love, this experiential phantasmagoria was conceived and brought to life by a team of only six people, four of whom worked both behind and in front of the camera. 


10. Zach Snyder’s Justice League (Zach Snyder, 2021) / Mortal Kombat (Simon McQuoid, 2021)

Zach Snyder’s cut of a 2017 box office bomb is twice as grandiloquent as what you’d expect from a 4-hour-long superhero epic, brimming with VFX eye-candy and gravity-defying battles, while giving a whole new meaning to the term ‘over-the-top’. Enchantingly silly, it is never boring, and it even manages to be solemn and poignant amidst all that grand-scale destruction and slow-mo show offs, although the director’s grief stemming from the most unthinkable personal loss is not as deeply felt as intended. The murky color palette gives the proceedings a ‘faux-gotique meets poetic cinema on steroids’ vibe which works like a charm, and the ensemble cast lends some gravitas to their pulpy characters, each given just enough screen time. 

(And another thing that won’t pass unnoticed is a pectoral muscle contest between Jason Momoa and Henry Cavill...)
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One year after the first successful animated adaptation (though I must admit that I kind of liked the Saturday morning cartoon-like series from the mid-90’s), the long-running fighting game franchise once again hits the screen in all of its R-rated g(l)ory as a high-profile, technically taut B-actioner that introduces the viewers to the world(s) of Mortal Kombat and hints at the possibility of a sequel (fingers crossed, because I’d love to see Sindel and/or Kitana making their appearances). Neatly choreographed duels in which fighters exchange not only punches and kicks, but also their magical powers – here, the results of ‘awakened arcana’ – should satiate the fans, especially when they end on a Fatality note, with guts spilled or heads splashed... and that happens quite often.

The story couldn’t get any simpler – Earth is threatened by the dark, rule-breaking forces of Outworld and it’s up to a handful of ‘chosen ones’ guided by the god of thunder, Raiden, to save their homes, families and friends in a deadly, soon-to-begin tournament (think Bloodsport with the main villain being a perfidious, soul-stealing sorcerer whose henchmen include a four-armed giant and a bat-winged vampiress, among others). On the other hand, the Mortal Kombat universe – subjected to many changes over almost three decades of its existence – seems too vast for a two-hour movie, so the uninitiated may find it a bit confusing or overwhelming. Not all the characters are fully fleshed out (certain baddies serve only as cannon fodder), but they are faithful representations of their original versions, all thanks to the solid cast, beautiful costumes, trademark moves, and witty remarks. And the addition of a whole new protagonist – a former MMA champ, Cole Young – feels natural rather than forced, complementing the MK mythology in a way that suggests the film crew and game’s creators had a great collaboration which is also reflected in plethora of ‘Easter eggs’.

SHORTS


1. Elfmädchen (Mirka Morales, 2009)

(read about the film HERE)


2. Patient Love (Manja Ristić & Aleksandar Lazar, 2021)

An alchemical, aesthetically refined blend of experimental animation and haunting music which, by the end, evokes Yoshihiro Kanno’s score for Angel’s Egg, Patient Love takes you on a ‘sensory journey through the subtle layers of psyche’, as noted in the official synopsis, attuning your inner universe to its disarmingly abstract dreamscapes of synaesthetic delights. In often symmetrical visual compositions of ethereal beauty, human hands transform into amorphous organisms whose spiritual energy is draped in a silky sonic veil. And that is called magic...


3. The Wormwood Star (Curtis Harrington, 1956)

Art meets occultism in a peculiar documentary on Marjorie Cameron (1922-1975) who is best recognized for her appearance in Kenneth Anger’s masterpiece Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome.


4. The Mystic (Lyra Hill, 2011)

(read about the film HERE)


5. Darkness Falling Through Darkness (Péter Lichter, 2021)

In the latest collaboration between filmmaker Péter Lichter and musician Ádám Márton Horváth, spirits of the forest invoke ghosts of the past to join them in a hallucinatory stroll through a phantasmal space dreamed by the barren trees, and emerging from a thought-labyrinth...

Apr 12, 2021

Kinoskop Spinoff Vol. 4: Cinéma du Fantastique

The fourth volume of Kinoskop spinoff opens a portal toward the realm of experimental fantasies, striving to stir up the viewer’s imagination, and allow it to soar without restraints. Taking its cue from the preceding selection, Raw Film, it opens with Bill Morrison’s found footage phantasmagoria Light is Calling in which a deteriorated print from James Young’s 1926 crime drama The Bells transforms into a liquid abstraction of mesmerizing power. Soaked in Michael Gordon’s string-heavy score that evokes a sense of nostalgia, this ‘meditation on random collisions’, as its author dubs it, explores the timeless beauty of decay, while the ‘melting’ tape becomes a living and breathing organism.

Injecting another dose of irresistible sepia tones is Lyra Hill’s The Mystic – a flickering vision of the third eye, the transcendental one that belongs to the filmmaker’s ‘crystal ball’. Photographed on a simple set, with only one actor (AJ Cesena) present, it is a great demonstration of in-camera effects achieved through some cine-alchemy of sewn sequins, paper mattes and multiple exposures. The intangible result of what could be described as the filmic equivalent of a shamanistic ritual is captured in hallucinatory, stroboscopic imagery complemented by rather uncanny soundscapes of distorted audience murmur and laughs.

A different (lighter?) kind of spell is cast by the OchoReSotto trio of Stefan Sobotka-Grünewald, Volker Paul Sernetz and Lia Rädler in the delightfully Orphic video for Son of the Velvet Rat’s single Captain’s Daughter. Most probably inspired by the Egyptian mythology, Kenneth Anger’s occult iconography, and Guy Maddin’s pastiche of silent cinema, the puzzlingly alluring B&W visuals draw you into a quirky world where the singer Georg Altziebler’s distinctive, sandy voice serves as a dandy guide. 

The monochromatic dream expands with How to Raise the Moon – Anja Struck’s calligraphically written love letter to fables and the Quay Brothers’ art. A must-see for stop-motion aficionados, it plays out like a surreal, esoteric, multi-layered mystery in which Hypnos (Fox) and Thanatos (Rabbit) fight over the soul of a sleeping young woman (Tora Balslev). Poetically and symbolically charged scenes of their Moon-raising battle take place in a dark room replete with antiquities, such as a creepy Beethoven’s bust and a mirror possessed by a harpy, which gradually come to life. By virtue of meticulous puppet and set designs, Angela Poschet’s ethereal cinematography and Marcio Doctor’s haunting music, Struck establishes an enchantingly gothic atmosphere of cleverly hidden lunar secrets.

Another entry possibly informed by a fairy tale is indie photographer Alexandra Roxo’s The Heart Is What Remains that appears like a bold subversion of Briar Rose ending – stained with blood, the wake-up kiss leads to a strong, turbulent romance of egg-squashing and (metaphorical?) murder. Love and death go hand in hand in a psychologically dense story of deep sacrifice necessary to become One with your beloved, to paraphrase the author’s words. Dialogue-free, disturbingly erotic, and at certain points, comparable to the work of David Lynch, Roxo’s handsomely lensed short also refers to both positions of the Lovers Tarot card in its bizarre examination of a relationship between a woman and a man.

Speaking of bizarreness, Mirka Morales amps it up to eleven in her ‘abstract portrait of a narcoleptic girl’, and the second stop-motion wonderwork in the selection. Sprinkled with pixie dust and submerged in kaleidoscopic colors running wild and free, Elfmädchen substitutes a prince charming with a pink dildo surrounded by Barbie dolls in glitzy dresses (or completely nude and monkey-headed), and has a worm wrangler mentioned in the end credits. Flowers and butterflies, painted stars and fake gemstones illuminate the screen in a dazzling, garishly psychedelic smorgasbord of eye-candies à la Pipilotti Rist, as the heroine’s vivid dreams spill into reality.

Total duration – 58:17

Click on the titles in stills descriptions to watch the films!

Light Is Calling | Bill Morrison | 2004 | 8:11 | 35mm | USA

The Mystic | Lyra Hill | 2011 | 7:51 | 16mm | USA

Son of the Velvet Rat – Captain’s Daughter | OchoReSotto | 2013 | 5:11 | 16mm | Austria

How to Raise the Moon | Anja Struck | 2011 | 8:48 | 35mm | Germany

The Heart is What Remains | Alexandra Roxo | 2009 | 12:08 | Super 8 | USA

Elfmädchen | Mirka Morales | 2009 | 16:08 | 16mm | USA / Puerto Rico

Apr 9, 2021

The Wanting Mare (Nicholas Ashe Bateman, 2020)

“I'll keep you till I'm young again...”

Once upon a mirage, in a kingless kingdom far away, a ghost broke a jar of fireflies. But instead of flying away, the insects just remained there, as if frozen in time and space. Slowly, they disintegrated, giving birth to a nebulous dream that was but a curse. And when the most luminous particles of that dream crystallized, the mirror of the soul spread across the sleeping universe... 

An invitation to the land of eternal ice was written in cryptic symbols, which is why they remained in their hellbound city. Chained to the past, they accepted the future of eternal longing. Nights were longer than days, leaving their love blind amongst the dead stars...

Deliberately paced and stubbornly opaque, The Wanting Mare is an experiment in stark atmosphere, and a pretty daring one at that, considering that it is the first feature film for VFX artist Nicholas Ashe Bateman. He opts for green-screening not to create a larger-than-life spectacle for the masses, but rather to build a dark, intimate, dystopian / post-apocalyptic world teeming with hushed secrets and half-spoken truths. Its weary, soot-and-sweat-drenched inhabitants sleepwalk through the thick mist of melancholy, as life passes them by. What they deem to be the exit from their limbo may be just another chasm to fall through endlessly. Victims of both their own apathy and unenviable circumstances, these alienating, yet pity-evoking characters saunter aimlessly, with only certitude being the sense of precariousness. It feels like they are stuck in a godless myth, with no one to guide them.

Marrying his lost heroes’ saturnine situation to a luminous ambiguity, Bateman opens the portals towards the hidden recesses of a boundless mindscape, effortlessly expanding the viewer’s Imaginarium. Depriving us of clarity, the up-an-coming auteur challenges us to face our innermost being, and dive into its sublime obscurity. The stupefying cinematography (David A. Ross, turning the shivers of his handheld camerawork into simultaneously strong and delicate brushstrokes) and oneiric score (Aaron Boudreaux, gently wrapping his notes with an aura of mystery) add another layer of elusiveness to Bateman’s vision, further blurred by virtue of stream-of-conscious editing.

Apr 1, 2021

Best Premiere Viewings of March

FEATURE & MEDIUM-LENGTH FILMS

1. A dança dos paroxismos / The Dance of the Paroxysms (Jorge Brum de Canto, 1929)
Expressive close-ups. Monitory Dutch angles. Dreamy superimpositions. Hectic, jump-cutty montages. Dizzying handheld shots. Sequences played in reverse. Omniscient bird’s-eye and worm’s-eye views. Triple and quadruple screen-splits, each more playful than the last. Disorienting upside-down shots of a countryside, and brilliant use of negative space in extreme long shots... You name it, this film has it! And what makes it all the more fascinating is the fact that it was directed and edited by 19 year old (!!!) Brum de Canto (1910-1994). His youthful energy, undeniable talent and unprecedented joy of filmmaking exude from virtually every frame, not to mention that he elicits well-rounded performances from a largely non-professional cast, joining them as a knightly hero of a fairy tale-like story. The Dance of the Paroxysms is (experimental) cinema at its most rapturous. Simply brilliant!


2. Body and Soul (Robert Rossen, 1947)
Once in a while, a classic film comes along that makes me feel almost as if I’m discovering cinema for the very first time, and that sensation is priceless. One such example is Body and Soul – an ostensibly simple rise-and-fall-and-rise-again noir-drama turned sublime by virtue of a taut screenplay, brilliant performances, gorgeous cinematography, meticulous mise-en-scène, impeccable editing and above all, crystally clear and highly focused direction of brawny body and gentle soul represented respectively by John Garfield and Lilli Palmer.


3. Северный ветер / The North Wind (Рената Литвинова, 2021)
(read my review HERE)


4. Noite Vazia / Men and Women (Walter Hugo Khouri, 1964)
Unimaginatively translated as Men and Women and heavily influenced by Antonioni’s ‘trilogy on modernity and its discontents’, Noite Vazia (lit. Empty Night) is a fascinating study of bitterness and emptiness which pervade the lives of two friends, one of them a married bon vivant from a wealthy family, and a couple of prostitutes they take for a night in a desperate search for passion if not love. Chained with ennui and perfectly translated into an intoxicatingly dissonant score composed by Rogério Duprat and performed by Zimbo Trio, their incurable melancholy is densely entwined with subtle eroticism and deeply suppressed desires reflected in Rudolf Icsey’s sensually noirish cinematography. A dialogue-free scene set on a garçonnière balcony during a downpour is nothing short of anthological – it’s pure magic.


5. Летят журавли / The Cranes Are Flying (Михаил Калатозов, 1957)
Visually ravishing, technically masterful and emotionally sweeping, The Cranes Are Flying has ‘the joy of filmmaking’ imprinted in virtually every frame. Some may argue that its perspective on war is a bit ‘lighter’ than expected, somewhat ‘flimsy’ even, yet it beautifully complements both the heroine’s hopeful character (a bravura portrayal by Tatyana Samoylova), and the film’s poetic, ‘love-stronger-than-death’ tone. Standing out as the most memorable scenes are the long takes of Veronika’s pushing her way through the crowd, the air raid piano performance and its aftermath, as well as Boris’s dreamlike hallucination induced by a bullet shot...


6. Variety (Bette Gordon, 1983)

“Things are either weird or normal, and if they're normal, they tend to get boring.”

Guided by her newly awakened sexuality, a repressed young woman, Christine (Sandy McLeod, delivering a great low key performance), becomes a stalker of a sleazy and shady middle-aged man, Louie (Richard M. Davidson), who frequents a porn cinema theater, Variety, where she works as a ticket seller. Rooted in the gritty neo-noir universe of the 70s Scorcese and Ferrara’s 80s work, her grimy reality is perfectly matched to both the invitingly grainy cinematography (Tom DiCillo & John Foster) dominated by sultry reds, and the smoky jazz score with highly intoxicating effect by Jim Jarmusch’s frequent collaborator John Lurie. Long, dialogue-free sequences that take the viewer to the NYC underbelly stand as the film’s forte, lending it a meditative quality which gradually transforms its second half into a meandering dream. 

7. Fabiola (Alessandro Blasetti, 1949)

“The wheel of justice is slower than our heart, slower... and safer.”

Forbidden love, political intrigue and interreligious tensions intermingle in this sword & sandals epic that at once feels like a vague reflection of its author’s inner conflict, and an intricate exploration of flawed human nature. The film’s poetic grandeur is evoked through the soaring score, admirable cinematography, dramatic performances, exquisite production design, and Blasetti’s tautly controlled direction that shines brightest in the final, massive and still shocking scenes set in the arena.

8. Come True (Anthony Scott Burns, 2020)
Heavily influenced by early Cronenberg in its insistence on rigidly defined spaces, as well as by Carpenter in its darkly evocative synthwave score, Come True comes close to Beksiński’s art (and Silent Hill?) in its many nightmare sequences invaded by shadow figures with glowing eyes. There are also hints of Tarsem’s The Cell and Kon’s Paprika in its plot revolving around a scientific study of sleep, though the flamboyant dreamscapes from those two features make way for some gothic, anxiety-inducing recesses of the subconscious mind. Hypnos and Thanatos get involved into an incestuous liaison, with Eros occasionally joining them for a threesome romancing. The story which sees the borders between dreams and reality becoming increasingly thin until completely dissolving is told at a measured pace, preparing you for the bizarre final act that amps irrationality up to eleven. One may argue that the SMS twist is a bit too much, but there’s no denying that Anthony Scott Burns has a keen eye for austerely beautiful visuals which make the watching experience a pleasure.


9. Le combat dans l'île (Alain Cavalier, 1962)
Romy Schneider, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Henri Serre lend their exquisite acting talents to Louis Malle-supervised feature debut from Alain Cavalier. He may not be a household name such as Truffaut, Godard or Resnais, but his directing skills are on par with the most acclaimed filmmakers of La Nouvelle Vague, if judged by the very beginning of his career. Fire and Ice is an intriguing blend of political thriller (or rather, critique of right wing extremism) and love triangle drama in which tonal shifts are quite elegantly juggled with, as Pierre Lhomme frames the action in coldly beautiful, highly atmospheric B&W supported by Serge Nigg’s moody, string-heavy score. 


10. ドーターズ/ Daughters (Hajime Tsuda, 2020)
Unintended pregnancy is a topic that has been addressed countless times before, yet Hajime Tsuda’s feature debut comes across as fresh as a sakura-scented breeze. Directed with ease, utmost gentleness and respect for two heroines (Junko Abe and Ayaka Miyoshi, both excellent and showing great chemistry), Daughters flows smoothly, with its stylish, often dreamy cinematography and befittingly ethereal, swaying soundtrack (that gives off some new wave-ish vibes during the beautiful opening sequence) establishing an atmosphere of genial calm and familiar warmth.

11. Flaming Creatures (Jack Smith, 1963)
‘The queerest of the queer, the strangest of the strange, the coldest of the cool, the lamest of the lame’ are the opening words in the chorus of Garbage’s 1995 hit single Queer, but they apply pretty well to Jack Smith’s controversial 1963 experiment that appears like a drag queen cabaret from some ‘proto-Begotten’ universe... and it could also be dubbed a nutty, perverse, lipstick-fetishizing godmother of Susu Laroche’s oeuvre. Harkening back to the silent era in the most confrontational way possible, with a number of jiggling boobs and limp genitals covering parts of the screen through close-ups, this twisted fantasy or rather, ‘a comedy set in a haunted music studio’, as described by its author, marries transvestism to vampirism, features a rape scene role-play (?) that leads to an earthquake, and ends in rapturous dancing, all captured on an expired film stock which lends the visuals an ultra-grainy patina, and turns certain frames into over-exposed equivalents of abstract canvases. The dizzying camerawork gets slightly tiresome at times, although it somewhat suits the Dionysian atmosphere of the goofily salacious proceedings accompanied by an orgiastic cacophony of sounds. Boldly indecent and joyously obscene, ‘Flaming Creatures’ is a provocative, crudely poetic curiosity that every cinephile should see at least once.


12. Ekstase / Ecstasy (Gustav Machatý, 1933)
(In)Famous for showing Hedy Lamarr in nude, and subtly implying her character’s orgasm, Ecstasy caused quite a stir back in the days – it was denounced by Pope Pius XI, found morally objectionable in the States, and banned in Germany where it outraged Nazis. (Now, that’s a success!) From today’s perspective, this pro-socialist romance is a lovely and benign film which shows a simple truth – a young, handsome and virile shock worker is a much better lover than a petty, wealthy and probably impotent middle-aged capitalist. And Ms. Lamarr is ravishing, not only in appearance, but also in a display of her acting talents.


13. Der Hexer / The Mysterious Magician (Alfred Vohrer, 1964)
Everything you always wanted to know about the frequent use of phones in films, but were afraid to ask. Joking aside, The Mysterious Magician is a gorgeously photographed piece of German ‘krimi’ cinema laced with some light humor, and completely self-aware of its pulpy nature. It revolves around a world-famous, yet uncaught criminal whose identity is revealed in the final twist, after a number of bodies get piled up, poisonous snakes are taken out of the trenchcoat pockets, and our hero, Scotland Yard inspector Higgins, is beaten up by a fake priest on a couple of occasions. Three scenes mark the film’s brightest highlights – the roof chase, the getaway through subterranean labyrinth, and the underwater duel. 


14. Fuoco! / Fire! (Gian Vittorio Baldi, 1968)
Opening with a religious procession interrupted by a repeated firearm shooting, Fire! acts as a radical, no holds barred study of a seriously f*cked-up character, Mario, who doesn’t utter a single word throughout the film, which leaves the viewer swimming in sweat-drenched whys, hows and assumptions or rather, drowning in an oppressively bleak and claustrophobic atmosphere of an unbearably hot August day in a small Italian village. Almost entirely set in a ramshackle apartment where Mario holds his own wife and frequently crying baby daughter as hostages, a dead body of his mother in law lying covered with a blanket in a hallway, Baldi’s nihilist crime-drama makes the distressed antihero’s desperation almost tangible by virtue of the intimately observational camerawork and discomforting sounds that break the foreboding silence.


15. Jinzō ningen Hakaidā / Mechanical Violator Hakaider (Keita Amemiya, 1995)
(read my review HERE)

SHORT FILMS


1. Concerto mécanique pour la Folie ou la Folle mécanomorphose / Mechanical Concert of Madness (Éric Duvivier, 1963)

A man and a woman get lost in a labyrinthine, hyper-surreal robotic universe, after passing through a narrow, transparent tube coming out of a giant rotary dial telephone... is only one way of summarizing this avant-garde science-fiction short which feels like a weird, visually rambunctious and aurally cacophonous spiritual sequel to the Dadaist masterpiece Ballet Mécanique.
 

2. L'infante, l'âne et l'architecte (Lorenzo Recio, 2001)
My French is a ‘little’ rusty, yet I didn’t mind not understanding the dialogue of Recio’s visually stunning and aurally mesmerizing fairy tale about a kingdom that gradually falls into turmoil after the king’s architect presents his provocative design for a new palace. Meticulously framed, L'infante, l'âne et l'architecte appears as if Baroque art were filtered through De Chirico’s prism, with hints of Lotte Reiniger’s shadow puppetry and Jim Hanson-like dark fantasy thrown in for good measure. A must-see short!


3. Of Other Spaces (Sibi Sekar, 2021)
With his latest and longest short film, Sibi Sekar proves to be one of the most promising young voices of experimental cinema whose ‘otherness’ is emphasized time and again through both visual ‘trickery’ of deep red obfuscation, and unpredictable soundscapes oscillating irregularly around an inherently filmic dissolution of time, space and ultimately, reality. Guided by Godard’s words, he dares to jump into the void, owing no explanation to us who stand and watch him do it.


4. Supergombo – Alien Felines from Beyond the Galaxy (Peter the Moon & Ugo Vittu, 2020)
Created through the technique of collage animation that looks like a bastard brainchild of Richard Hamilton and Terry Gilliam, this retro sci-fi fantasy blends imaginative, delightfully witty visuals with Supergombo’s groovy afro-funk beats to depict an invasion of aquatic world by buff cosmic cats (with Yakuza-like tattoos). Fin-covered folks’ only hope against the furry aggressors are dolphin agents and their sharp-toothed shark collaborators. So many fish, and yet nothing is fishy about Peter the Moon and Ugo Vittu’s efforts. What a great mood lifter!


5. Mutant (Deividas Vytautas, 2021)
A lyrical sci-fi meditation which makes brilliant use of what appears like VHS-imagery...