Oct 27, 2016

The Taste of Obscure Cinema

Fourty lesser-known live-action & twenty animated films from all around the world, just one click away at Taste of Cinema. (Well, actually, it's nine clicks or three pages per list, but we're not splitting hairs...)

Devičanska svirka / A Maiden's Music (Đorđe Kadijević, 1973)

Oct 25, 2016

Silkevejen / Silk Road (Jytte Rex, 2004)

"A lifetime is like a flash of lightning in the sky,
rushing by like a torrent down a steep mountain."

What follows Buddha's quote is a mesmerizing portrait of a terminally ill paintings restorer, Christine (Ellen Hillingsø), whose harrowing reality, lucid dreams and memories of a lover long gone are intertwined into a cinematic equivalent of a bleakly delicate hypnagogic hallucination - the art of dying is taken to a poetic extreme.

As Christine's inner world merges with the outer world, transforming its very fabric, her consciousness migrates into the ocean of the universe. The past, the present and the future become both eternal and fleeting One. By moving far, far away from the narrative conventions, Jytte Rex (Planetens spejle) creates a melancholic ode to life illuminated through the prism of death. Via double and triple superimpositions she establishes a disorienting atmosphere.

In order to depict her protagonist's state of mind crumbling under the burden of her malady, she even incorporates architectural elements and performance art. One such example is a tracking shot past the ladies of the night, a neon-tube swallower and a violinst gathered at a dimly lit waterfront, with some modern trapezoid buildings in the background. Its meaning(s) is (are) vague - actually, many scenes are quite puzzling and perplexing - yet it is beautiful in its mysteriousness!

Rex's film is, in the words of Christian Braad Thomsen, "a journey through our history of culture from Mevlana Rumis dancing dervishes in the 12th century Konya to modern ballet, from Leonardo da Vinci to Italo Calvino, from Handel to Arvo Pärt, and from the renaissance artist Sofonisba Anguissola to an astrophysicist who imagines that through a worm hole in the Andromeda galaxy we may watch the building of the Egyptian pyramids".

Thomsen's comparison with Tarkovsky is a little bit far-fetched, even though Silkevejen does have some similarities with The Mirror, but it wouldn't be wrong to say that it seems like a more fragile predecessor to Majewski's Onirica.

Oct 20, 2016


O, eksplozijo radosti,
roditeljko najcrnjih misli
i jalove materije,
otvori mi vrata drugog raja
i uvedi me na vrancu
pod okriljem noći!

A ti, usnula nakazo,
iskuj mi hiljadu bodeža
od srditoga plamena,
da posečem anđela jezike
i lažljive ih posadim
u vrtu izobilja!

Oct 17, 2016

The Sky Trembles and the Earth Is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers (Ben Rivers, 2015)

A contender for the title of the year (and a blessing for the reviewer in need of a few more words), The Sky Trembles and the Earth Is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers is unconventional, to say the least. Its intriguing, sort of meta-narrative is divided in two clearly distinct parts - initially, it keeps track of a troubled film production in Morocco, whereas during the second half, it turns into the adaptation of Paul Bowles's short story A Distant Episode.

The "making of" in question is Mimosas whose director suffers the same fate as the linguistics professor from the aforementioned literary work. After wandering off the set - irritated by the ever-growing obstacles - he is attacked by Reguibat bandits who beat him up, cut out his tongue and force him to dance in a costume covered with tin can lids. Reduced to a mute desert jester and mockingly addressed as a king, he is not only depersonilized, but dehumanized as well.

One might recognize the irony in this poor man's misfortune - after all, his collaboration with the locals - albeit not of a slave-driving kind - is for the sake of entertainment. We can go as far as to say it is a belated act of revenge against colonialism, but even so, Rivers's fellow colleague seems to be a victim to sympathize with. Another way of looking at the film is through the prism of Westerners' fear or misappreciation of an exotic, introvert culture and vice-versa. The coping with a language barrier, the pains of artistic creation and the quest for freedom along the thorny road are some of the themes this meditative, deliberately paced docu-fiction is also infused with.

As you might already guessed, The Sky... is not easily digestible, yet the visuals are frequently so hypnotizing that you lose a sense of time. Shooting on 16mm, Ben Rivers captures the austere beauty of a hostile craggy environment, ramshackle stone villages and bright yellow sunsets of both opening and closing scenes. And his protagonist's attire adds an esoteric touch to the raw poetry of images.

Oct 14, 2016

Panna a netvor (Juraj Herz, 1978)

Pored Miloša Fromana, Vere Hitilove, Jana Nemeca, Františeka Vlačila, Štefana Uhera, Juraja Jakubiška i drugih, za jednog od najistaknutijih predstavnika čehoslovačkog novog talasa smatra se i Juraj Herc, poznat po kultnom filmu Kremator (Spalovač mrtvol). Tri decenije nakon Žana Koktoa, ovaj rođeni Slovak pronalazi nadahnuće u čuvenoj francuskoj bajci Lepotica i zver, preobražavajući je u mračnu, visceralnu i volšebnu gotsku fantaziju.
Od samog prologa, sjajne uvodne špice i naturalističke scene priprema za gozbu (čitaj: žrtvovanja pernate živine, koza, svinja i ovaca), jasno je kao dan da smo trinaest godina udaljeni od verzije iz studiija Dizni. Povorku kočija koja prolazi kroz crnu, maglom (i glasinama) obavijenu šumu preleće jato vrana pod olovnosivim nebom. Kako nešto kasnije saznajemo, u prtljazima koje konji vuku po blatu nalaze se venecijanska ogledala, briselska čipka, indijski začini, kineski porcelan, japanski biseri i amsterdamski brilijanti - ukratko, miraz za dve starije kćeri imućnog trgovca (Vaclav Voska). Međutim, dragocenosti ne stižu na svoj cilj, što vodi ka bankrotu dotičnog buržuja, a zatim i njegovoj poseti naizgled napuštenom zamku i otkidanju zlosrećnog cveta ruže... 
U nastavku, priča je uglavnom verna originalnoj, ali uprkos tome deluje osvežavajuće u svojoj neodoljivoj sumornosti - kao da je adaptacija nekog od najgrozomornijih zapisa braće Grim. Naslov koji u bukvalnom prevodu sa češkog glasi Devica i čudovište ukazuje na temu nevinosti protiv okrutnosti, kao i na "izopačenost" romanse glavnih junaka. Herc koristi svaku priliku da naglasi njihovu različitost, vodeći računa o tome da zveri ostavi dovoljno ljudskosti i "opravda" stokholmski sindrom. Kad god je moguće izbegava klišee, ali odlučuje da zadrži onaj o moći žene "da muškarca koga voli učini lepim".

Zdena Studenkova poseduje sve što je potrebno za rolu čedne lepotice Julije, dok njenog nakaznog Romea tumači glumac, plesač i koreograf Vlastimil Herapes pod inovativnom maskom mešanca čoveka i ptičurine. Njihova ljubav rađa se u truleži "jazbine" po kojoj se, oko kreveta nalik mrtvačom sanduku, statua prekrivenih mahovinom i fontana ispunjenih gusto-žabokrečinasto-isparavajućom tečnošću, vrzmaju crni đavolci. Dominantan zvuk orgulja i šaputavi unutrašnji glas zveri upotpunjuju atmosferu pritajene jeze, a Julijin anđeoski izgled i bele haljine, ali i njen svetlošću okupan san i završnica stvaraju protivtežu...

Oct 10, 2016

The Girl Without Hands (Sébastien Laudenbach, 2016)

One of the lesser known Brothers Grimm fairy tales gets a remarkable adaptation with the hyper-stylized feature debut for French animator Sébastien Laudenbach. Rendered as a fauvist version of Asian ink wash paintings, The Girl Without Hands (La jeune fille sans mains) revolves around the impoverished miller's daughter (soothingly voiced by Anaïs Demoustier) who loses hands under her father's axe all because of his mindless contract with the Devil (Philippe Laudenbach).

The leisurely paced three-act story of goodness vs greediness and the onerous journey called life has a universal appeal, but the instances of full-frontal nudity, sex and violence (which involves a bit more than the aforementioned chopping) make it not quite suitable for the youngest. Notwithstanding this barrier, the film has a lot to offer, especially to the audience interested in the artistic portrayal of "Old Scratch" as well as the Faustian pact and its consequences.

There also appears to be a feminist subtext to the narrative, given that the heroine is abandoned at her most vulnerable: firstly, when she leaves the mill and, subsequently, with a newborn child. Fortunately, she is graced by the River Goddess (Elina Löwensohn) and later helped by the Gardener (Sacha Bourdo) who are both a welcome change from the source work. Eventually - as a reward for her suffering - she meets a happy ending with a compassionate Prince (Demoustier's real life darling Jérémie Elkaïm). This is a fairy tale, after all.

However, the strength of Laudenbach's bittersweet fantasy lies within its minimalist, yet arresting visuals which demonstrate his brisk sense of line and color. Pulsating, intentionally "sketchy" and nearly abstract drawings are complemented by the delicate, unexpected brushstrokes to create the poetic, multi-layered pictures. It proves to be a powerful way of conveying the action and the characters' mental, emotional and physical state. (Think Isao Takahata's The Tale of the Princess Kaguya with even "airier" aesthetics or a "softer" and less malignant Belladonna of Sadness.) And with a musical veneer that is Olivier Mellano's dreamy post-rock score, The Girl Without Hands is infused with an atmosphere of gentle, calming melancholy and transformed into a modern classic.

Oct 7, 2016

NGboo @ Taste of Cinema

The trilogy of cinematic weirdness from the pen of yours truly - three lists containing sixty "outré" feature and animated films from all around the world. Comment, share, enjoy! :)
Finisterrae (Sergio Caballero, 2010)

Oct 4, 2016

Arte Kino Festival (Wild / John From / Lost and Beautiful)

The following short reviews are for the three out of ten films which are being screened (for free!) at Arte Kino Festival (click for more details) until October 9th. A few days left, so book your ticket!

In Wild by German actress-turned-director Nicolette Krebitz, young IT specialist Ania (Lilith Stangenberg) meets a wolf at the outskirts of her drab town, on the way to work. Progressively, her fascination with the beast transmutes into a dangerous obsession, so she, burdened with family issues and by a position of a lowly lapdog-secretary for her boss Boris (Georg Friedrich), decides to cut all ties to civilization.

What could have easily become an urban fairy tale - a twisted version of Little Red Riding Hood or The Beauty and the Beast - stays deeply rooted in reality until the credits roll. And to make us sure we're not in a realm of fancy, Reinhold Vorschneider keeps the visuals intentionally murky (and not very attractive). The story of liberating oneself from all the inhibitions could be read from a feminist point of view, as it raises a question of woman's survival amongst the human predators. It seems simple and yet it brings a psychologically complex and disturbingly erotic drama, whose forte lies in a brave performance by Standenberg. In the course of a "bestial" romance blooming, the audience is faced with a dilemma: Is it madness, true freedom or even both that we see? The answer probably lies within Ania's enigmatic smile.

John From by a Portuguese director João Nicolau explores the theme of obsession as well, albeit in a lighter fashion. Set to the rhythm of a bored young heart, this quirky romantic drama focuses on a fifteen year old Rita (Julia Palha in her first big screen role) who develops a crush on a new neighbor - a much older professional photographer Filipe (Filipe Vargas). After visiting the exhibition of his shots in Melanesia, Rita sees him as the adventurer and with that image in her mind she slowly slips away into the world of unrestrained imagination.

Brimming with colors which reflect the joy of youth, this lovely film gets progressively weirder and, eventually, it morphs into a surreal and exotic fantasy, but keeps its charms and candidness intact. Beautifully framed, an idiosyncratic portrait of maturing and sexual awakening radiates innocence not entirely lost. Rita's "partner in crime" is her best redhead friend Sara (Clara Riedenstein, another debutant), with whom she develops a "secret language" and treats their favorite songs' titles as an oracle. The great chemistry between the two talented actresses, complemented by an infectious deadpan energy of Nicolau's direction, makes for a pleasant viewing experience.

And the best for the last is Pietro Marcello's Lost and Beautiful (Bella e perduta) which was conceived as a documentary on farmer Tommaso Cestrone, known in Italy as the Angel of Carditello, but was reimagined as a unique docu-fantasy hybrid told from a perspective of a buffalo Sarchiapone (voiced by Elio Germano), after poor Cestrone's death of a heart-attack during the filming.

In the rearranged story, the aforementioned animal is taken on a long journey and by none other than Pulcinella who is tasked with honoring Tommaso's last wish. As soon as you see this classical commedia dell'arte character and his brethren playing cards for green beans (!), you realize that you're in for something different, if not special. Meandering in its nature and yet quite eloquent, especially in the breathtaking imagery, this piece of cinematic peculiarity is reminiscent of Bresson's Au hasard Balthazar and almost as equally poignant as that B&W masterpiece.

Marcello is concerned with a dichotomy of cruelty and kindness / life and death, whereby he deals with time's transience and reflects upon the notion of a soul as not exclusively human. The straightforwardness of his message is by no means a fatal flaw, given that it comes from a sentimental buffalo on his way to the abattoir.

For the most of its running time, Lost and Beautiful perfectly embodies its title - shot on expired 16mm stock which wonderfully matches the beauty of derelict vistas it looks like it belongs to a long-forgotten era. The film has a certain je ne sais qoi, whereas its naturalness stems from the ingenuous performances of non-professionals entrusted with the majority of roles.