Apr 7, 2024

A Selection of Recent Artworks (XIX)

Since the beginning of 2024, my ‘Bianco/Nero’ series has been increased by more than 100 pieces on its way to a projected goal of 1001 chapters, so it’s about time I posted a dozen...

Conceived on September 30 of 2019, ‘Bianco/Nero’ has grown to become my most voluminous and obsessed-over series – a whole new mysterious, shapeshifting (meta)world of seemingly endless possibilities. Taking cues from a number of various sources – myths and fairy tales, religious, pulp and surrealist art, steam- and cyberpunk aesthetics, Brutalist architecture, alternative music and avant-garde cinema, just to name a few, it has striven to blur or erase the boundaries between personal and universal, poetic and banal, physical and spiritual, profane and sacred, real and imagined, earthbound and extraterrestrial, order and chaos, life and death, miracle and apocalypse, the past and the future.

In the course of its irregular evolution, this wild, yet hopefully refined collage-mammoth has embodied both broken and still breathing dreams, inexplicable whims, undisclosed desires, repressed memories, scattered thoughts, contrasting ideas, spatio-temporal ruptures, the elusive ‘color’ of inner voices and illusory ‘words’ from beyond the realm of possibility. A reflection and refraction of my interrelation to Art and its omnipresence, the pieces of ‘Bianco/Nero’ has often turned into a sort of a visual manifesto that stubbornly refuses to be clearly expressed. 

Based on predominantly vintage photographs found in public domain, this overgrown entity is a fractured mirror to my innermost being – often, at its most elusive / unrecognizable – and its tremulous connection to the overpowering vastness of the Unknown. It is akin to a liquid phantasm that strives to transcend or exorcise rigid dichotomies, plunging their in-betweens into a whimsical, oneiric realm, all the while remaining decidedly mystifying...

See more of my artwork @ NICOLLAGE

LAlbero della Vita / Дрво живота / The Tree of Life

Configurazione Jodorowsky / Конфигурација Ходоровски / Jodorowsky Configuration

Inizia con un Pensiero che non se ne va Mai / Почиње мишљу која никада не нестаје /
It Begins with a Thought That Never Goes Away

Vita Senza Vita / Живот без живота / Life Without Life

La Constanza dellUmore / Постојаност расположења / The Constancy of Mood

Una Notte Risonante / Резонантна ноћ / A Resonant Night

Il Sesto Portale è sia Aperto che Chiuso / Шести портал је и отворен и затворен /
The Sixth Portal Is Both Open and Closed

Non Sei Più a Gandahar / Ниси више на Гандахару / You Are No Longer on Gandahar

LOmbra del Trauma / Сенка трауме / The Shadow of Trauma

Il Semidio dellInsolenza / Полубог дрскости / The Demigod of Insolence

Irragionevole / Неразумно / Unreasonable

Quando Me ne Sarò Andato... / Када ме не буде... / When I'm Gone...

Mar 31, 2024

Best Premiere Viewings of March 2024

1. Pociąg / Night Train (Jerzy Kawalerowicz, 1959)

Almost entirely set on the train, with the passengers representing a microcosm of Polish society of the time, Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s ensemble cast drama is a psychologically probing portrait of emotional unfulfillment perfectly summarized in one of the main protagonists’ final line: “Nobody wants to love. Everybody wants to be loved.” A tautly directed examination of innate loneliness, and myopia of mob mentality, ‘Night Train’ enters the dark tunnels of human minds linked in a tightly-knit network of paranoia, as Kawalerowicz and his DoP Jan Laskowski establish the atmosphere of claustrophobia and inescapability. It is simply incredible how camera maneuvers in confined spaces of narrow corridors and crammed compartments, capturing the characters’ inner workings in acutely framed shots often focused on revealing facial landscapes. The racket of the moving train accentuates the ever-growing tension which arises from the suggestion that there may be a murderer on board, whereas the recurring jazz theme of dreamy vocalizations creates a sense of mystery, one of life’s inconclusive nature. The film can be labeled as a missing link between Hitchcock’s ‘Strangers on a Train’ and Antonioni’s ‘trilogy on modernity and its discontents’.

Watched as a part of the ‘Days of Polish Cinema’ event by Cultural Center of Niš and Polish National Film Archive. The film is available on 35mm.online, HERE.

2. Fata/Morgana / Left-Handed Fate (Vicente Aranda, 1966)

“Each murder is the story of a meeting. Each meeting is a love story.”

In dystopian Barcelona whose eerily empty streets echo with paranoia, an unnamed professor (Antonio Ferrandis, superbly forbidding) predicts that a model, Gim (Teresa Gimpera, embodying the vulnerability of beauty in her first screen appearance), is going to be killed, and yet he continually thwarts the attempts of a detective, J.J. (Marcos Martí), to reach out to her. Apart from Gim’s love interest, Álvaro (Alberto Dalbés), who takes care of one mentally unstable Miriam (Marianne Benet), all the remaining men in the city act like stalkers, which creates a simulacrum of suspense in an ambiguous story rooted in the fever-dream logic. A script that Vicente Aranda co-penned with Gonzalo Suárez unleashes a school of red herrings on the viewer, leaving you defenseless against a plethora of questions, but somehow gradually and eagerly attuning to the feature’s peculiar wavelengths that anticipate the directorial oeuvre of Alain Robbe-Grillet, all the while bouncing between the Buñuelian absurdism and Antonioni-esque dislocation. Unclassifiable in its stubborn refusal to follow any genre patterns, ‘Fata/Morgana’ plays out like a subversion of giallo (or Hitchcockian thriller?), and exists in its own meta-world of fabulous jazz music composed by Antonio Pérez Olea and austerely beautiful visuals peppered with pop-art irony, and captured by DoP Aurelio G. Larraya.

3. Rekopis znaleziony w Saragossie / The Saragossa Manuscript (Wojciech Has, 1965)

“We are like blind men lost in the streets of a big city. The streets lead to a goal, but we often return to the same places to get to where we want to be. I can see a few little streets here which, as it is now, are going nowhere. New combinations have to be arranged, then the whole will be clear, because one man cannot invent something that another cannot solve.”

Spoken by a character called Don Pedro Velsaquez, these words pose as a reflection of the film’s convoluted narrative structure that is comparable to a Möbius strip, Chinese box or Matryoshka dolls. One story leads to another, then the second one gives birth to a third which may contain the clues for the resolution of the first, or open doors for the fourth, and so on, and so forth, until you find yourself lost in a labyrinth of half-told exploits. Gothic, erotic and/or picaresque, they bring together army officers, African princesses, evil spirits, Spanish inquisition, rich merchants, an old hermit, and a devilish Kabalist in lavish costume and production designs beautifully captured in stark B&W by Mieczyslaw Jahoda, and accompanied by a bizarrely eclectic score composed by Krzysztof Penderecki. It is the stuff that Raúl Ruiz’s dreams were most probably made of, at least before he released the likes of ‘Three Crowns of the Sailor’ or ‘Love Torn in a Dream’.

Watched as a part of the ‘Days of Polish Cinema’ event by Cultural Center of Niš and Polish National Film Archive. The film is available on 35mm.online, in two parts: PART 1 + PART 2.

4. Aurora’s Sunrise (Inna Sahakyan, 2022)

“As we crossed, soldiers tore children from their mothers’ arms. The river took them all...”

A heartwrenching confession of Aurora (née Arshaluys) Mardiganian (1901-1994) – a survivor of Armenian genocide during World War I, and spokesperson for the victims of the atrocities orchestrated by the Ottoman Empire, ‘Aurora’s Sunrise’ blends animated dramatization of her life, snippets of interviews recorded before her death, and scenes from 1919 feature ‘Auction of Souls’ (aka Ravished Armenia), only partially saved, in which she portrayed her own self. The detailed, painterly artwork and the simplicity of the paper cutout-like technique provide an odd, almost surreal effect, allowing Sahakyan to imbue the harrowing story with bits of alleviating poetry, given that the film is not intended to act as ‘guns and swords’, nor as the ‘little pointed crosses’ used for torture. It is only hours after watching that it begins to haunt you, and keep you reflecting not only on the events it describes, but also on all of the (in)human monstrosities throughout the history...

5. Once Within a Time (Godfrey Reggio & Jon Kane, 2022)

At once archaic and hyper-modern, Godfrey Reggio’s first ‘narrative’ film is a bizarre sensory overload that could be best described as a zany love letter to Georges Méliès, with quirky references to Kenneth Anger (caged heads), Albert Lamorisse (red balloons), Stanley Kubrick (the iPhone-smashing monkey), as well as to Bosch and Botticelli. Told from the wide-eyed perspective of a child-hero, ‘Once Within a Time’ is a strikingly playful fairy tale, an incessant stream of strong audio-visual stimuli that makes you forget its overt symbolism, and invites you to dive head-first into its cinematically exciting, delightfully carnivalesque world. Intertwining the ecological, technological and eschatological themes into a wild phantasmagorical smorgasbord of experimental techniques, the 50-minute-long featurette leaves no space for a breather, as enchanting colors of Philip Glass’s eclectic score meld into the dreamlike noise of ‘baroque’ imagery.

6. Victim (Basil Dearden, 1961)

A strong contender for the most decent and tasteful of once controversial films, ‘Victim’ thematizes what is now an antiquated law (code: blackmailer’s charter), but remains a carefully constructed character and social study that largely rests upon the shoulders of the great Dirk Bogarde in a daring, deeply personal role he addressed as ‘the wisest decision he ever made in his cinematic life’. Overcoming the obstacles of the (liberalizing!) feature’s talky nature, while accentuating the inner struggle of Bogarde’s barrister hero is the stark, noir-inspired B&W framing by Otto Heller of ‘Peeping Tom’ fame.

7. Natural Born Killers (Oliver Stone, 1994)

Some satires are like razorblades. ‘Natural Born Killers’ is the equivalent of a machete, or rather, multiple machetes posing as vanes of a giant, caseless fan. An incessant assault on the senses, it takes a ‘more is more, and that’s never a bore’ approach of tilted angles, frenzied camerawork, feverish editing, psychedelic color schemes, inebriating rear projections, wild animated intrusions, and other visually stimulating whatnots to probe into the cancerous tissue of mass media and tabloid culture. Boldly overstated in its experimentation with the music video aesthetics, it appears like a loony, MTV-informed successor to ‘A Clockwork Orange’, (paradoxically) pulling no punches in its somewhat cartoonish depictions of violence marked as ‘bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad!’ (to quote Juliette Lewis’s anti-heroine, Mallory). It plays a risky game of fighting fire with fire, but its brutally honest portrayal of societal psychoses is highly effective.

8. Le Vourdalak / The Vourdalak (Adrien Beau, 2023)

A promising feature debut from designer and scenographer turned director Adrien Beau, ‘The Vourdalak’ is a unique take on the heavily exploited vampire subgenre, with the titular creature represented by a life-sized marionette (and voiced by Beau himself) in a Carax-like twist. Bringing together its author’s ‘passion for 19th century dark romanticism and puppetry’ (as noted in the Variety interview), it is a moody and quaintly stylish adaptation of Alexeï Tolstoï’s novella ‘The Family of Vourdalak’ written in 1839, and first published in 1884. Beautifully shot on 16mm, and on a lush forest location surrounding Prieuré du Sauvage Monastery posing as unspecified somewhere in the Balkans (according to the book, Serbia), a grisly, unhurriedly paced chronicle of a peasant family torn by love (and, literally, pater familias) is told from the perspective of a French aristocrat (a funny, lampoonish performance from Kacey Mottet Klein), though the ending suggests a feminist shift in the view. Ariane Labed in the role of the unlikely hero’s romantic interest Sdenka acts as a leading violin of a fine-tuned ‘chamber ensemble’ of well-cast actors, providing – as expected from Yorgos Lanthimos’s muse – a sticky aura of charming weirdness culminating in a zany dancing scene. The carefully measured doses of wry humor are neatly interwoven into the poetic tapestry of horror, never thwarting the dense, immersive atmosphere of omnipresent evil.

9. Морето (Петър Донев, 1967) / The Sea (Peter Donev, 1967)

Restored last year in a collaboration between Bulgarian National Film Archive and Yugoslav Film Archive, ‘The Sea’ is a fine piece of modernist cinema that no Italian or French masters would’ve been ashamed of. Chronicling a night and day in lives of Zhana (Severina Taneva) and Toni (Stefan Danailov), this slice-of-(aimless?)-life drama seduces the viewer with its swinging atmosphere of night club flirtation that leads to an early-morning skinny dipping framed in a captivating long shot, only to take a melancholic turn in the second half, as the couple learns their drunken joyride might’ve had a tragic consequence. Donev makes the most of the economic (62-minute) running time to capture the fleeting beauty of summertime (and youth), with the eye of Boris Yanakiev’s camera often intimately lingering on attractive faces of the leading duo, in emotionally resonant medium close-ups. 

For a coastal town double bill, I propose Giuseppe Patroni Griffi’s 1962 drama whose title also translates as ‘The Sea’, or Boštjan Hladnik’s New Wave-ish feature ‘A Sand Castle’ (1962).

10. Nightmare (Maxwell Shane, 1956)

In a strange coincidence, on a day I created a collage titled ‘A Missing Candle’, I premiered a film in which the very first image is of a lit candle surrounded by darkness. ‘Nightmare’ is Maxwell Shane’s fifth and final feature, and it is the adaptation of Cornell Woolrich’s short story ‘And So to Death’ that also served as the source material for the director’s 1946 debut ‘Fear in the Night’. A neat psycho-noir-drama of steady pacing, it revolves around a young clarinetist, Stan (Kevin McCarthy, superb in channeling anxiety and paranoia), who believes that a murder he dreamed of committing actually happened, as he discovers a few tangible clues upon waking. Reluctantly helped by his brother-in-law detective Rene Bressard (ever-reliable Edward G. Robinson), he pulls the viewer into a captivating guessing game which doesn’t end even after the twisty truth is unveiled, considering that certain elements of the story seem almost surreal in their logic. Maybe Shane’s intention was not to produce a ‘could it all be but a dream’ effect, and yet ‘Nightmare’ – despite the talkiness typical for the 1950’s cinema – gives off a good deal of oneiric vibes, partly by virtue of Joseph F. Biroc’s moody cinematography. The swinging jazz score befitting of the New Orleans setting establishes a distinct atmosphere, with a mysterious melody that haunts Stan playing an important role in his ‘quest’.

11. Stopmotion (Robert Morgan, 2023)

The long-repressed inner child (Caoilinn Springall, a strong contender for the Pantheon of the creepy kids in cinema) is possessed by a Mephistophelian entity in Robert Morgan’s feature debut which takes a deep dive into the darkest waters of artists’ obsession with their work. His heroine, Ella (Aisling Franciosi, feverishly dedicated to the role), struggles with the bequest of her dying, once overbearing mother, spiraling down into madness, as her grotesque puppet creations take the most of life she has given to them. Initially operating as a dark psychological drama along the lines of ‘Repulsion’, with impulsive cuts and effective sound design emphasizing Ella’s gradually deteriorating mental state, ‘Stopmotion’ transmutes into a gooey nightmare strongly influenced by the body horror subgenre, making sure you remember the visceral ‘literalization’ of the line: “Great artists always put themselves into their work.” Embedded in live-action tissue are, of course, Morgan’s macabre ‘frame by frame’ vignettes that often remind us how PAINstaking the technique is. The film’s red-dominated coda appears to be set in the proximity of the Black Lodge.

12. The Philadelphia Experiment (Stewart Raffill, 1984)

As paradoxical as time-travel flicks usually get, ‘The Philadelphia Experiment’ turns the eponymous conspiracy theory into a neat sci-fi romp with a B-movie spirit, and ace cinematography by Ken Russell’s frequent collaborator (and DoP on Friedkin’s thrilling adventure ‘Sorcerer’) Dick Bush who appears to be in an ‘ominous red’ period. Michael Paré in his prime is partnered by ever-likable Nancy Allen in a romantic subplot, as he sheds his macho skin along with manly tears, and slips (unscratched!) through a wormhole three times, while the SFX team treats us to some (2001) stargate-inspired psychedelia.

Feb 29, 2024

Best Premiere Viewings of February 2024

1. Bride of Frankenstein (James Whale, 1935)

While ‘excavating’ for lesser-known pieces of cinema, I’ve often overlooked a number of must-see flicks, but as they say – better late, than never. When it comes to Whale’s masterful, ahead-of-its-time sequel to the most acclaimed adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel, it is easy to see (and more importantly, feel!) why it has fascinated both audience and film scholars for decades. Its lavish studio sets, expressionist lighting, and eye-popping cinematography lend iconic vibe to great many shots, with the ‘monster’ turned into the feature’s tragic hero / emotional core shining high above very human evil (partly embodied by Ernest Thesinger’s Mephistophelian doctor Pretorius). Karloff breathes soul into Frankenstein’s creation through the nuanced performance largely dependent on grunts, facial mimicry and limited wording, making you root for him, as the clever screenplay inspires diverse readings...

2. Poor Things (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2023)

Even at his most accessible, Lanthimos is weird as fu*k... pardon, ‘furious jumping’. A bizarrely constructed vehicle for Emma Stone’s bold, uninhibited performance, ‘Poor Things’ is a delightful blend of audacious sex comedy and sumptuous steampunk fantasy, striking the right balance between a raunchy crowd-pleaser and thought-out arthouse treat. Brimming with quotable, oft-irreverently / provokingly funny lines magically matched to whimsical, invasively tempting cacophonies by Jerskin Fendrix, this prurient beast of a feature eschews politeness in favor of cinematic excess, in equal measures overwhelming and engaging. Its costume (Holly Waddington) and set design (Shona Heath & James Price) bring forth an alternative, cotton-candied version of Victorian period straight out of a deranged fairy tale told from the distorted (fish-eye) perspective of its heroine, Bella. Stunningly framed by DoP Robbie Ryan, her emancipatory (r)evolution begins with an accidental discovery of ‘keeping oneself happy’ through a genital stimulation, and culminates in fluent French, social mindedness, the discovery of cynicism, and the pursuit of a medical career, as Lanthimos and screenwriter Tony McNamara play jokes on all men who want to control her.

3. The Zone of Interest (Jonathan Glazer, 2023)

Kubrickian perfectionism meets the formal austerity of Haneke in a petrifying portrait of normality that is anything but normal, and of evil so immense that it staggers the mind, as it instills discomfort in your very viscera. That evil is not banal, as some reviewers have branded it, but rather horrifically and grandiosely absurd in its meticulously planned monstrosity / calculated absence of compassion. The atrocities it brings forth remain unseen – literally, behind the tall, concrete wall that separates the garden of earthly delights from hell, but they are strongly and insidiously felt in every fiber of your being, if your being hasn’t been robbed of humanity... Glazer’s vision – founded in history’s tendency to repeat itself – is unfaltering; his tautly unsentimental direction finely attuned to Mica Levi’s solemnly moaning score, Johnnie Burn’s eerily haunting sound design, and Lukasz Zal’s stunningly oppressive framing of ugliness that ferments under the pretty surface.

4. Banel e Adama / Banel & Adama (Ramata-Toulaye Sy, 2023)

An aesthetically triumphant debut for Senegalese filmmaker Ramata-Toulaye Sy, ‘Banel and Adama’ exists in a liminal zone between the reality and a fairy tale, as it deals with the conflict of collective superstition set in the stone of reactionary customs, and individual open-mindedness embodied by a headstrong woman. Mythically archetypal in its nature, with raw energies of non-professional actors igniting the emotional core, this simple, yet highly poetic drama also reflects on climate changes, and the power(lessness) of love in the face of nature’s harshness. The drought-stricken village whose sandy monotony is broken by colorful drapes and costumes provides a borderline surreal mise en scène expertly framed by DP Amine Berrada, and gently veiled in a delicate aural tapestry by composer Bachar Khalifé. 

5. La fille aux yeux d'or / The Girl with the Golden Eyes (Jean-Gabriel Albicocco, 1961)

In Jean-Gabriel Albicocco’s entrancing debut that appears as mature as a peculiar mixture of Antonioni and Resnais with the hints of Cocteau and Franju, love is in equal measures folie and melancholy; as bizarre as pigeons suddenly appearing and flying around the bedroom, and as clichéd as raindrops sliding down the window-glass. It feels like a slap in the face, as well as like a snow of feathers from a torn pillow; it makes one inebriated, and the other mysterious, while both fall victims of obsession. But, above all, it brings forth a super-reality (or rather, surreality?) in which lovers and the viewer get lost, until it starts disintegrating once the third player joins the whimsical romance.

A modernization of Honoré de Balzac’s 1835 novella of the same name, ‘The Girl with the Golden Eyes’ is one of the most gorgeously photographed films, by virtue of the director’s cinematographer father Quinto Albicocco. Its elegant, shadowy film-noir looks subtly complemented by wistful acoustic guitar of Spanish virtuoso Narciso Yepes establish a dense, dreamlike atmosphere so seductive and immersive that you often find the dialogue transformed into cryptic, irrational codes under the weight of the mesmerizing images. The admirable stylistic artifice is further elevated by the leading trio of Marie Laforêt, Paul Guers and Françoise Prévost whose performances are perfectly attuned to the poetic sensibility of their characters.

6. Plein soleil / Purple Noon (René Clément, 1960)

Filmed as an invitation to a summer holiday in Italy (if only time travel were possible, to experience it in the 60’s), ‘Purple Noon’ is a loose adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 novel ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley’. I haven’t read the book, and I’d have to re-watch the 1999 film to make comparisons, but Clément’s version – a stark character study – appears tailor-made for Alain Delon, as everything and everyone gravitate towards him, or rather, the dangerous, yet fascinating antihero that he portrays. Largely reliant on the actor’s natural charisma and glassy, penetrating gaze, his performance is the very definition of magnetism, making the viewer root for this bad, devilishly clever boy, and thus challenging one’s own moral code. As compelling as Delon’s Tom Ripley is Clément’s assured direction, so neatly synergized with Nino Rota’s authentic score, seductive Mediterranean locations, and Henri Decaë’s handsome cinematography, elevating a crime story.

7. Le orme / Footprints on the Moon (Luigi Bazzoni, 1975)

Befittingly named Alice, an Italian translator – portrayed with utmost dedication and gripping intensity by Florida Bolkan – falls into the rabbit hole of her own deteriorating sanity. Plagued by a B&W nightmare in which an astronaut is left on the Moon under the command of Dr. Blackmann (an imposing cameo of Klaus Kinski), and suffering a memory loss of the past three days, she travels to the (fictitious) town of Garma (pictured in a torn postcard), in hope of figuring out what the hell has happened to her. Some of the locals there, including a red-haired horror-regular Nicoletta Elmi, believe she is a woman called Nicole, and seem to know more about her than she is willing to accept. The struggle between her conscious and unconscious mind, as well as the clash between her and others’ perceptions of not only her identity, but reality as well are distinctly mirrored in beautifully captured and strongly felt spaces, initially defined by rigid geometries of modern interiors and exteriors, and then increasingly ‘softened’ through curvier lines of Islamic architecture (Garma is represented by Turkish locations), natural environment (beach and forest), and stained glasses in the style of Art Nouveau. Luigi Bazzoni’s unhurried direction, Vittorio Storaro’s breathtaking framing, and Nicola Piovani’s haunting melodies create a dense, entrancing, at times stifling atmosphere that put you in the paranoid heroine’s shoes, and leave you with a bitter, yet satisfying aftertaste. ‘Footprints on the Moon’ may not be a masterful psychological drama, but it is a noteworthy fusion of substance and style; an obscure anomaly from the period largely remembered by black leather gloves and brightly colored blood.

8. Glitterbug (Derek Jarman, 1994)

A punk patchwork of Super 8 ‘sketches’ captured in the period of almost two decades, Derek Jarman’s swan song is a cornucopia of filmmaking techniques; a poignant, if distorted self-portrait that transcends its essayistic form, erasing the boundaries between the private life and cinema. Featuring many of the director’s friends, from William S. Burroughs to Tilda Swinton, ‘Glitterbug’ is a sparkling, wordless stream of grainy imagery that flows whimsically across an infinite, melancholic soundscape composed by Brian Eno, evoking the sublime feeling of sadness, at once crippling, romantic and liberating. It is the angelic conversation of the creator and creation, in the shadow of the Sun that acts like the tempest...

9. All of Us Strangers (Andrew Haigh, 2023)

A deeply moving story of loss, grief, love and loneliness, ‘All of Us Strangers’ is firmly anchored in stellar performances and convincing chemistry of the leading duo, Andrew Scott and Paul Mescal, spellbinding you with its delicate emotional textures bathed in warm lighting of Jamey Ramsay’s dreamy cinematography, and interwoven with soft aural threads of Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch’s melancholic score. The thick aura of nostalgia that envelopes the gently-paced proceedings materializes from the 80’s pop tunes which magically awaken the ghosts from the pasts for one last goodbye. If approached with a pure, sincere heart, this queer fairy tale provides a rewarding experience.

10. Pequeños milagros / Little Miracles (Eliseo Subiela, 1997)

“I have no philosophy, I have senses...
If I speak of Nature it’s not because I know what it is
But because I love it, and for that very reason,
Because those who love never know what they love
Or why they love, or what love is.

To love is eternal innocence,
And the only innocence is not to think...”

― Fernando Pessoa, The Keeper of Sheep II

The sweetest and most humane of four Subiela’s films that I’ve seen, ‘Little Miracles’ is a sensitive ode to (demure) adults who never lost their inner child. Directed with a keen sense of wonder, no trace of irony, and great sympathy for the characters, it follows a couple of lonely, lovely souls – a young supermarket cashier, Rosalía (Julieta Ortega, embodying innocence), who believes to be a fairy, and volunteers as a reader for the blind, and a nerdy scientist, Santiago (Antonio Birabent at his most introvert) who lives with his basset hound Lola, and works in the Institute for Radio-Astronomy, searching for extraterrestrial intelligence. Connected only through a web-camera installed at a bus-station in what can be labeled as ‘a subversion of voyeurism through romantic yearning’, the two go about their lives as the viewer roots for their encounter, basking in the warmth of Daniel Rodríguez Maseda’s cozy cinematography, poetic quotes from Fernando Pessoa, and euphonious score by Alex Khaskin and Osvaldo Montes. Magic does exist.

11. Reflections in a Golden Eye (John Huston, 1967)

Beautifully framed in gilded widescreen, while swarming with suggestive lines, and overt symbolism, John Huston’s naughty melodrama eschews subtlety in favor of a stark, daring exploration of repressed desires – homosexual in the case of Marlon Brando’s character, major Weldon Penderton, and heterosexual for a reticent soldier, L.G. Williams, in a stoic, virtually dialogue-free portrayal by Robert Forster. Entangled in a sticky web of simmering emotions, Weldon lusts for private (parts of) Williams who embarks on nocturnal adventures that involve sniffing the lingerie of Mrs. Penderton (Elizabeth Taylor, camping things up) who enjoys riding her white stallion and ‘picking blueberries’ along with her next-door neighbor, Colonel Morris Langdon (Brian Keith). Mrs. Langdon (Julie Harris) suffers from deep, nipple-cutting depression after losing a child, and finds comfort in her gay Pinoy manservant, Anacleto (Zorro David), much to the annoyance of her cheating husband. Such a set-up can only lead to tragedy portended by a quote from Carson McCullers whose 1941 novel of the same name is adapted by first-time writers Gladys Hill and Chapman Mortimer, to be subjected to firmly held directorial reins or rather, horsewhip. In someone else’s hands, ‘Reflections in a Golden Eye’ would’ve easily slipped out of control, but Huston nails just the right tone in the depiction of painful yearning, voyeurism, sadism, but above all, his main protagonist’s fallout, with Brando’s superbly committed performance lending gravitas to the gold-cold proceedings.

12. Le règne animal / The Animal Kingdom (Thomas Cailley, 2023)

The beauty of the beast and the ugliness of discrimination. A genre-bending examination of otherness and our relation to it, refracted through dichotomies – parent/child, society/individual, acceptance/rejection, cruelty/compassion. Coming-of-age drama whose fantastical premise is treated with the utmost realism, and tonal shifts handled with great skill. Cailley elicits extraordinary performances from his cast, with 22-yo Paul Kircher standing out in his full-fledged portrayal of a conflicted teenager whose transition to adulthood is made extra difficult through a lupine twist. The protagonist and other mutants of ‘The Animal Kingdom’ may bring to mind films such as ‘Nightbreed’ and/or ‘X-Men’, but what we have here is... well, a different animal, flawed, yet lovable.

13. Brzezina / The Birch Wood (Andrzej Wajda, 1970)

The film is Polish, but the colors of Zygmunt Samosiuk’s spellbinding cinematography speak a variety of languages, so the intense palette – a reflection of seasonal changes – alone is the reason enough to spend 90 minutes with it. An ode to life sung from the perspective of a tuberculosis-stricken musician, Stanislaw (Olgierd Łukaszewicz), and continually interrupted by the mournful sulking of his older brother, Boleslaw (Daniel Olbrychski), ‘The Birch Wood’ washes over the viewer like a fever dream of repressed emotions and incestuous desires. Oscillating between Stanisław’s lustful optimism and Bolesław’s fierce irritability, all the while squeezed between the two wars, this heightened, somewhat mannered drama strikes you as both deeply melancholic and broodingly joyful, fortified by ardent central performances.

14. Jigokumon / Gate of Hell (Teinosuke Kinugasa, 1953)

The first color film for the Daiei Film studio, ‘Gate of Hell’ appears like a Japanese art scroll brought to life and then gently injected with the concentrated solution of George Barnard’s ‘Harmonious Arrangement of Pigments’, transfixing the viewer’s gaze with the spellbinding costume design alone. But make no mistake, the 12th century tale presented here is not a ‘jidaigeki’ spectacle, but rather a sternly solemn meditation on destructive obsession, unrequited passion, and the nature of honor. Its serene or rather, extremely disciplined surface conceals a torrent of conflicting emotions threatening to break the shackles of intense formality, yet the mask of quietude never cracks, primarily by virtue of Kinugasa’s unhurried, methodical direction, and mannered, dignified performances from his cast, especially by Machiko Kyō of ‘Rashomon’ fame.

15. Spider Baby, or the Maddest Story Ever Told (Jack Hill, 1967)

One of the most enjoyable pieces of camp cinema I’ve ever seen, ‘Spider Baby’ delivers a splendidly twisted blend of humor and horror, with its setting – a creaky, shadow-infested mansion of ‘impossible’ architecture – creating a ton of spooky atmosphere, and the trio of Jill Banner, Beverly Washburn and Sid Haig giving mischievously stellar takes on demented siblings at the core of the story. At once cartoonish and disturbing, the film is elevated to a whole new level by virtue of Lon Chaney Jr.’s emotive performance in the role of Bruno – a chauffeur turned guardian of family secrets, and it even dares to veer into a sexploitation territory, the courtesy of Carol Ohmart (House on Haunted Hill) in black lingerie that anticipates Victoria’s Secret. It gives the impression that both the cast and behind-the-camera crew had a whale of time shooting it, limited by the shoestring budget, but liberated by their combined creative energies.

Honorable mention (short):

Last Spring (François Reichenbach, 1954)

A cinematically eloquent portrait of longing, as well as a historically significant piece of queer cinema, ‘Last Spring’ is a mighty fine example of visual storytelling, greatly influenced by Jean Cocteau, particularly in the dream sequence that comprises the second half of the film, with James Dean’s movie persona inspiring the appearance of two lovers (played by non-professional actors, no doubt). Tamer than its colorful, boldly homoerotic counterpart ‘Nus masculins’ (produced in the same year), this romantic drama eschews dialogue in favor of inventive camerawork (intimate close-ups, suggestive low angles, melancholy-infused long shots, oneiric superimpositions, etc), anticipating the free-wheeling tendencies of the New Wave.

Feb 1, 2024

Best Premiere Viewings of January 2024

1. O fovos / The Fear (Kostas Manoussakis, 1966)

A stunning closure of a regrettably short filmography (Kostas Manoussakis made only three features), ‘The Fear’ is a stark, psychologically uneasy portrayal of sexual frustration and patriarchal pathogeny. Set against the pastoral Greek countryside, to a superb, unnervingly pulsating score by Yannis Markopoulos, it tells a grim story of a heinous crime and its aftermath, plunging the viewer into the twisted mind of a villain – the son of a wealthy farmer – portrayed with chilling austerity by Anestis Vlahos. Both the build up to his appalling act (rape & murder), and the ensuing downfall of the family turned accomplices are gripping in equal measures by virtue of Nikos Gardelis’s gorgeous, high-contrast B&W cinematography, with Giorgos Tsaoulis’s dramatic editing heightening the tension. The film’s most memorable highlights are dialogue-free sequences, such as the ‘staring clash’ between Vlahos and Elena Nathanail (who plays the perpetrator’s half-sister, Anna) in the wheatfield, and the very epilogue – a dizzying dance montage fraught with symbolism.

2. Nar-o-nay / Pomegranate and Cane (Saeed Ebrahimifar, 1989)

“... And a shadow of my father’s hand was in the cupboard.”

Permeated by a bittersweet scent of nostalgia, and gently illuminated by elements of magic realism, Saeed Ebrahimifar’s debut is one of those films that make you deeply fall in love with cinema once again. A silky tapestry of one stranger’s memories as experienced through the imagination of a photographer protagonist, this tone poem of life and ennobling nature of art reaches the very depths of one’s soul, bringing to mind the likes of Mani Kaul and Sergei Parajanov. Its potent and sublime lyricism emerges from the knowing use of elegantly framed imagery in an oneiric fusion with poignant silences, sparse dialogues, introspective voice-over, and melancholic score of largely traditional melodies. That highly memorable tracking shot through the hospital corridor which takes us from the (bleak) present to the (romaticized) past gives the impression of a master, and not a beginner behind the camera.

3. Chłopi / The Peasants (DK Welchman & Hugh Welchman, 2023)

The directorial duo behind ‘Loving Vincent’ makes a triumphant return with an adaptation of Władysław S. Reymont’s Nobel prize-winning novel of the same name. Once again, their team pushes the boundaries of rotoscope animation, delivering a film in which literally every frame is an oil painting. When viewed on the big screen, it creates an overwhelming experience of poignant beauty, regardless of your attitude towards the art of realism. Nothing short of breathtaking, ‘The Peasants’ represents a combined effort of more than one hundred painters from Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine and Serbia, with their painstaking brush strokes stirring a symphony of emotions. Wonderfully complemented by Lukasz Rostkowski’s evocative score inspired by traditional music, the deeply immersive visuals also serve as an ‘absorbent’ for the ugliness of human nature that is reflected in the characters’ hypocrisies and actions. Orbiting around an independent-thinking heroine, Jagna (Kamila Urzędowska whose magnetic presence is only matched by her acting talent), the villagers are portrayed as a colorful, if eventually appalling bunch, their herd mentality – a seemingly incurable malady even in this day and age – subjected to the Welchmans’ critical blade.

4. Il nido del ragno / The Spider Labyrinth (Gianfranco Giagni, 1988)

In his fascinating debut – a beautifully photographed love letter to the masters of Italian horror, Gianfranco Giagni transforms Budapest into a mystical maze, employing the city’s distinct, kaleidoscopic architectural character as a ‘thickening agent’ for the immersively foreboding atmosphere. That alone is reason enough to see this lesser known piece of gothic/occult cinema that brings to mind both Bava and Argento by way of its stylish lighting, and anticipates ‘The Ninth Gate’ through the narrative structure. Justifying its title, ‘The Spider Labyrinth’ weaves a sticky web of intrigue and secrecy around its protagonist Alan Whitmore (the first out of only three screen appearances of Roland Wybenga) – a young professor of oriental languages, and pulls him ever deeper into a surreal nightmare that evokes his childhood phobia. Ancient evil lurks behind every corner or rather, in a courtyard surrounded by ramshackle walls, among the tables and chairs of a posh hotel restaurant, above the spiral staircase, inside a windowless room and in a well-hidden antique shop, with the brilliant production design by art director Stefano Ortolani keeping you glued to the screen. Even the aged stop-motion effects, and creature animatronics in the finale add to the film’s irresistibly esoteric charm, whereby Wybenga and his partner Paola Rinaldi (as one enigmatic Genevieve) elevate its sexiness in a couple of steamy scenes.

5. El lado oscuro del corazón / The Dark Side of the Heart (Eliseo Subiela, 1992)

“Today’s man, as evolved as he thinks he is, hasn’t totally accepted his sexuality as God intended. Most of our problems are caused by people who haven’t had a good fuck. Badly fucked army officers and politicians... The masses are fucked too, but they are unable to find answers to the sexual violence of exploitation.”

The elements of magic realism appear as completely natural in the cinema of a country that gave us Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986). Knowingly incorporated into a (romantic) story revolving around a young idealist poet, Oliveiro (Darío Grandinetti, superb), here they manifest themselves through wry humor, carnal desires, and gusts of melancholy, oft-elevating the most banal situations into the realm of the sublime. As we follow the disheveled, rebellious, Mario Benedetti-quoting protagonist on his quest for a woman who can fly, not metaphorically, but literally, we see him disposing of one-night stands through a bed trap-door, conversing with Death (Nacha Guevara, at her most goth) who wields job ads instead of scythe, pulling a nine-feet tall statue of... ahem... guess-what through the streets of Buenos Aires, and tearing out his heart for a pragmatic, well-read prostitute, Ana (Sandra Ballesteros, utterly magnetic), the only one who meets his high standards of ecstatic levitation. At turns decidedly ridiculous, poetically salacious, nonchalantly philosophical, and emotionally resonant, ‘The Dark Side of the Heart’ is the film tailor-made for artistic, as well as other weird and passionate souls whose fire melts the shackles of mundanity, and rips open the portals to new realities. In the rare moments of outstaying its welcome, it still manages to keep you involved by virtue of Subiela’s keen sense of style, Hugo Colace’s handsome lensing, and/or enchanting soundtrack by Osvaldo Montes.

6. Dust (Marion Hänsel, 1985)

Jane Birkin’s astute portrayal of Magda – a sexually frustrated spinster going through a mental breakdown – imposes as the major focal point in Marion Hänsel’s adaptation of J. M. Coetzee’s 1977 novel ‘In the Heart of the Country’. Bound by servitude to her domineering father (Trevor Howard), Magda is a tragic heroine whose unreliable narration raises questions about what is real and what is but a figment of her imagination, leaving the viewer emotionally conflicted about her. The claustrophobic tone which Hänsel sets throughout the film, with a small, semi-desert farm setting mirroring the protagonist’s troubled state of mind, intensifies the viewing experience, in equal measures fascinating and harrowing. Not even the warmest hues of Walther van den Ende’s entrancing cinematography can conceal, let alone absorb the dry, overwhelming distress that weighs upon this stark character study, as it slowly creeps into you...

7. Faraon / Pharaoh (Jerzy Kawalerowicz, 1966)

At once alienating and fascinating, Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s vision of ancient Egypt – an adaptation of the 19th century novel of the same name by Bolesław Prus – recounts a timeless tale of power struggle, boasting a state-of-the-art production and costume design in beautifully harmonized shades of sand, gold and bronze, with a decidedly stilted performances lending the film a dense aura of solemn ritual. Cinematically engaging in its carefully measured use of symmetrical composition and God’s eye view, tracking and subjective shots, subtle and overt eroticism, diegetic sounds and operatic chants, ‘Pharaoh’ can be labeled as a ‘Brutalist epic’ whose very scope demands the viewer’s appreciation.

8. The Mystical Rose (Michael Lee, 1976)

Holy penis of Yeshua Ha-Nozri, what did I watch?! A freewheeling hybrid of cut-out animation à la Larry Jordan by way of Terry Gilliam, live-action sequences ranging from a masturbation to a sheep slaughter to a religious procession, and archive footage serving as a witty break from the overload of sexually suggestive imagery (that brings to mind Marcel Mariën’s obscure 1959 short ‘The Imitation of Cinema’), ‘The Mystical Rose’ is a singular piece of (wildly!) experimental cinema which can probably be used in a fertility ritual... if screened backwards. Playfully subversive, ravingly iconoclastic and seductively arrhythmical, it provides you with a non-stop barrage of surrealistic / stream-of-conscious / symbolic visuals that evoke hippy trips of Pierre Clémenti at their most psychedelic, and appear to take cues from the likes of Luis Buñuel, Kenneth Anger and Fernando Arrabal when it comes to transgression tactics. 

9. Eileen (William Oldroyd, 2023)

They don’t make them like they used to... and then, this flick comes along. Set in 60’s Massachusetts, and feeling like a lost, at once offbeat and suave artifact from the past, ‘Eileen’ is a tautly controlled amalgam of an intriguing character study, stylish Hitchcockian thriller and latent lesbian romance, with a dash of delicious pulp spicing up the placidly paced proceedings. Its silent forte lies in the opposed, yet superbly harmonized central performances from Anne Hathaway and Thomasin McKenzie whose (anti?)heroine has such a vivid imagination, that you are left questioning the reliability of the whole story. Behind the quaint veneer of a small town, William Oldroyd conceals some perverse secrets, subverting the American myth of familial love, and delivering a down-to-earth neo-noir of attractively grainy visuals complemented by a cool jazzy score.

10. Le Cœur battant  / The French Game (Jacques Doniol-Valcroze, 1960)

Call me old-fashioned, overly nostalgic or just plain silly, but I find it utterly charming when actors in old movies talk on rotary telephones, making the use of mobiles in modern cinema appear borderline vulgar. And when you have Françoise Brion and Jean-Louis Trintignant in their prime holding handsets, the sight comes across as more electrifying than usual. With sparkling chemistry, sheer elegance and great charisma, the duo portray gallerist assistant Dominique and abstract painter François in a sweet romantic dramedy of subtle humor and breezy atmosphere that elevate even the most uneventful portions of the story. Two sides of a love triangle, they play quirky little games during a holiday spent in a seaside resort, which allows DoP Christian Matras to treat us to some beautiful shots of a couple on a (magically) vacant beach. That doesn’t mean the imagery captured in a hotel and narrow streets around it is any less attractive – on the contrary, his camera transmutes the most banal of scenes into visual poetry so seductive that you’re rarely bothered by how saccharine Michel Legrand’s score sounds...

11. Door (Banmei Takahashi, 1988)

A Japanese answer to giallo and home invasion flicks, ‘Door’ plays out like a reserved, yet pretty unnerving psychological thriller for the first hour, only to go off the rails in the most viscerally rewarding way possible during the final third. Takahashi (whose pinku background is barely hinted at) puts his heroine, a paranoid (and often lonely) homekeeper, Yasuko, on equal footing with her stalker, a door-to-door salesman turned psycho, making their intense, cinematically unhinged clash a (queasy) delight to behold, and eliciting superb performances from the leading duo. The imposing formal austerity of the build-up is gradually ‘loosened’, with wry humor and unexpected stylistic flourishes seeping in through a hole chainsawed in the bathroom door, and the eye of Yasushi Sasakibara’s camera beautifully capturing the dominating greens of Yasuko’s meticulously furnished apartment.

12. Lone Star (John Sayles, 1996)

Veteran Kris Kristofferson portrays one of the slimiest Texan sheriffs in flashbacks of a cleverly written, austerely directed and tightly edited drama advocating an anti-racist attitude, and featuring smooth-as-silk in-camera transitions between the scenes of the present and the past. Also praiseworthy for their unaffected performances are the rest of the cast, from Elizabeth Peña to Chris Cooper to Frances McDormand in her bravura cameo role, all with a well-defined place in a story rich with subplots and hidden truths. Best viewed with fresh eyes, ‘Lone Star’ can be labeled as an examination of the sense of justice and its complexities, as well as an ode to the legends we weave to protect ourselves or the people we hold dear. 

13. Luminous Procuress (Steven Arnold, 1971)

Cross-dressing glee of Jack Smith’s ‘Flaming Creatures’, diluted solution of Kenneth Anger’s magick, and uninhibited flamboyance of Fellini’s ‘Satyricon’ are mixed, shaken and stirred in Steven Arnold’s first and only feature that elevated him to the rank of Salvador Dalí’s protégé. Coming across as a cacophonous ode to pansexuality, ‘Luminous Procuress’ is a phantasmagorical document of a saucy, LSD-infused burlesque by San Francisco-based theater troupe ‘The Cockettes’. Led by drag performer Pandora in the role of the titular character, the members of the group appear – often undressed or semi-nude, and sporting face paint – in a series of peepshow-like vignettes observed by a couple of friends in what can be described as a rite of passage through the mirror of gender fluidity. Apart from a hardcore sex scene (involving a straight couple), the proceedings largely play out like a queer farce, not without its flaws, but earning extra points by virtue of its sheer, perverse audacity. The hyper-colorful visuals brimming with outrageous hairdos, glittery makeup, and stupendous costumes inspired by diverse cultures are soaked in effervescent noises of Warner Jepson’s radical synth score and multilingual mumbling that, reportedly, replaces the poor sound recorded on the set (Arnold’s warehouse home).

14. Hung cheuk wong ji / Peacock King (Ngai Choi Lam & Biao Yuen, 1988)

A live-action adaptation of Makoto Ogino’s manga of the same name (serialized between 1985 and 1989), ‘Peacock King’ is a bombastic amalgam of wuxia action, high fantasy, horror and comedy in which twin monks, Peacock and Lucky Fruit (in English translation), are tasked with stopping the apocalyptic revival of Devil King. On their perilous quest from Tokyo to Hong Kong to Tibet, they will have to pass a handful of challenges posed by Raga Witch who looks like a singer of an 80’s hair metal band until she transforms into a gnarly, vagina-faced monster straight out of a ‘Giger meets Harryhausen in Wicked City’ nightmare. That and a couple of possessed dinosaur models in a department store are not exactly typical Buddhist exorcist affairs, but as long as the set-pieces are the tongue-in-cheek peak of B-moviemaking, bring it on! Ngai Choi Lam – best known for the cult action splatter ‘Story of Ricky’ – directs this extravaganza with briskness and flair, assisted by one of the stars, Biao Yuen, who peacocks in his role with a self-confident grin. Fine-tuning the leading duo is Hiroshi Mikami whose composed character take things more seriously, which is why his performance lends some stoic elegance to the flamboyant proceedings. If you’re looking for a deliciously cheesy companion piece to ‘Big Trouble in Little China’ or ‘The Golden Child’, you will certainly it here.