Apr 26, 2017

Reflections on Rouzbeh Rashidi's "Ten Years in the Sun" and "Trailers"

Just recently, I was honored to see two of the latest works by Rouzbeh Rashidi - one of the most prominent figures of the Remodernist Film movement which emerged at the beginning of the 21st century. Both cacophonous, boldly provocative, visually opulent, decidedly non/anti-narrative, deliberately "glitchy" and directed as if they were high-brow sci-fi epics for some perverse, disoriented alien entities of an unknown dimension or simply put, mind-fuckingly great, these features inspired an article that is now released on the Experimental Film Society official page. You can read it in its entirety here: 

 (above) Still shot from Ten Years in the Sun
(below) Still shot from Trailers

Apr 21, 2017

The Garbage Helicopter (Jonas Selberg Augustsén, 2015)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

A co-production between Quatar and Sweden (where the action takes place), The Garbage Helicopter (Sophelikoptern) is best described in the opening lines of Stephen Dalton's The Hollywood Reporter review, as "a minimalist road movie with a surreal sense of humor".

Wallowing in the absurdity of everyday life, it appears as a wildly odd cross between Davide Manuli's (The Legend of Kaspar Hauser) and Roy Andersson's (A Pidgeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence) works peppered with a handful of Jarmusch-esque 'hipsterism' and tiny pinch of Lynchian... je ne sais quoi, but it's not a dream logic.

Drawing comparisons to a lesser known Buñuelean comedy Avida (by Benoît Delépine & Gustave de Kervern) as well, this hyper-deadpan first feature-length effort from Jonas Selberg Augustsén comes as a biting refreshment for the arthouse enthusiasts. Hell, there's even a building (a diner? museum? bus station? kino theater?) with a huge 'Art House' sign above its entrance!

And speaking of huge, the protagonists - three Romani siblings - keep coming upon various XL objects on their mission of returning an ancient wall clock to their grandmother who lives hundreds of miles away. Their visits to the world's biggest cheese slicer, cleaning brush and garden chair (disgracefully burned in front of their eyes because Germans made a much larger one) operate as a dry running gag amongst many others, including crosswords, bubble wrap, speed cameras and "We do speak Swedish" reply every time someone addresses them in English.

There's an overwhelming sense that the trio's quest might be a possible answer to a riddle that is posed time and again: "What keeps running but never gets anywhere?" However, after a few detours and accidents (involving cows and art thieves) during the journey, they do reach the final destination (and this is not a spoiler) where another oneiric puzzle regarding the titular aircraft awaits the viewer. What is clear, though, is that, as poker-faced as possible, Augustsén pokes at casual racism and points to the loss of cultural identity due to globalization.

Occasionally, one has the impression that the film's quirks and its pace - deliberately monotonous - outstay their welcome, but the monochrome pictures are so beautiful that you just can't stop looking at them. From the very first shot to the very last, The Garbage Helicopter is a series of meticulously composed widescreen tableaux, simultaneously funny and melancholic in their 'immobility'. Accompanied by silence or elegiac tracks and conjoined by black screen rest-points, these vignettes of high-brow WTFery are sure to induce some chuckles along the way.

At the moment of writing this article, the film is available worldwide (except Germany and Sweden) for FREE at Festival Scope, with English, Spanish, Italian, Dutch and Serbo-Croatian subtitles.

Apr 19, 2017

The Wounded Angel (Emir Baigazin, 2016)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

After a relentlessly harrowing debut feature ironically titled Harmony Lessons (2013), the up-and-coming Kazakh auteur Emir Baigazin delivers another depressing portrait of anguished youth with his equally solid sophomore film The Wounded Angel.

Drawing inspiration from the eponymous painting, as well as from the Tampere Cathedral frescoes by the Finnish symbolist Hugo Simberg, he paints the pains of growing up in the steppes of post-USSR Kazakhstan with precise and confident strokes. This time, he teams up with the Belgian cinematographer Yves Cape (Holy Motors), whilst staying true to his rigorous visual style of mostly static, yet brilliantly framed shots which mirror the characters' mental and emotional detachment.

Through four loosely connected chapters depicting inconceivably grim childhoods of pubescent boys, Baigazin explores the themes of guilt and moral corruption against the backdrop of a decaying remote village in the mid 90s. Offering no glimmers of hope for his prematurely grown anti-heroes who appear as both victims and victimizers, he weaves an austerely poetic narrative embedded with strong social commentary. Once again, he assembles the cast of non-pros whose rigid, Bressonian performances intensify the imposing, suffocating atmosphere of sparse dialogue, ruin-porn imagery and absent music.

In the first episode, Fate, a rascal, Zharas, follows in the footsteps of his no-good criminal father, convinced that he can support his mother on petty frauds. Following is The Fall which chronicles the cherub-voiced Chick's 'mutation' from a promising singer into an extortionist bully much alike Bolat from Harmony Lessons. The third and longest section, Greed (which has the looks of a post-apocalyptic drama by virtue of the abandoned factory setting), focuses on an outcast, Toad, who robs a trio of glue-sniffers acting as the figures from the Simberg's work in a bleakly witty live-action 'replica'. And, lastly, comes Sin which deals with an unintended pregnancy and the growing madness of the unborn's father, Aslan, ending on a subtly surreal note.

These wounded, ostracized angels are brought together in a transfixing epilogue which removes them from the harsh reality and lets them have a few deserved moments of (illusory) piece and relief to the sounds of Chick's rapturous rendition of Ave Maria...

Apr 16, 2017

In Search of the Exile (Daniel Fawcett & Clara Pais, 2016)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

The string of (positive) reviews for the boundary-pushing films including The Suffering of Ninko, Still the Earth Moves, Sleep Has Her House and Frozen May continues with the British auteur duo Clara Pais and Daniel Fawcett's liquid, mind-blowing phantasmagoria In Search of the Exile.

Defying any categorization, this wild cinematic experiment could be described in many ways, but none of the descriptions would give the potential audience an accurate impression of the opus. As it takes you to another, mercurial world of an alternate, oneiric reality, it seems like a spiritual (and more abstract) successor to E. Elias Merhige's Begotten as seen through infrared filters - think Philippe Baylaucq's ballet fantasy ORA or Thomas Kirk's music video for Muse's Stockholm Syndrome, yet even more lavish and intense.

Elusive and enthralling, it is akin to an iridescent fairy tale which is made of divine reveries and takes place in the arcane Realm of Tarot; the complete anthology of the primordial embryo's memories or the lost collection of an ethereal being's home videos... The titular search is shared by the directors themselves, the hypnotized viewer and the protagonist referred to as the Wanderer (Fabrizio Federico) or rather, our souls and astral projections, our dream-selves and nightmare-ids. The encounters with the Witch, the Red Knight and the Lovers make us look deeper into the Subconscious and Beyond.

Drenched in screaming, hyper-saturated colors melting in front of your eyes, this avant-garde, dialogue-free mythos is an uninterrupted stream of equivocal images. Accompanied by the evocative score of familiar, yet alienating sounds, the dazzling, unearthly visuals create a whirlpool of an eternal, mysterious substance that you want to drown in.

During the watching, I thought to myself more than once: "If there is Heaven, I want it to be as immersive and stupefying as this."

(Available at Vimeo on Demand.)

Apr 14, 2017

A Cosmic Fool

A pure poem for progressive progeny
(and a spiritual successor to Eternal).

(click to enlarge)

Apr 12, 2017

Frozen May (Péter Lichter, 2017)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

"The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown." (H. P. Lovecraft)

And the presence of the unknown is sensed all throughout the feature-length debut for the Hungarian experimental filmmaker Péter Lichter. Opening with an arresting bird-view of frost-covered trees, Frozen May (Fagyott május) plunges the viewer into the hopeless, almost lifeless world of the alternative past.

Set in 1990, after the fall (of an UFO? human kind? a supreme being?), it puts you into the shoes of an unnamed protagonist who struggles to survive in a hostile (post-apocalyptic?) environment. He lives alone in a lodge and roams the woods in attempts to find another human being. After spotting a mysterious child near an abandoned summer camp, his quest leads him to a ramshackle villa. There, he begins writing the notes to his sister Anna on the fortunately discovered Commodore 64.

"It's a miracle this computer is working." - he remarks at one point, fully aware that his message probably won't reach the addressee. From his 'diary logs' rendered in a boxy and 'glitchy' 4:3 format, we learn about this man's aspirations and unenviable circumstances which cast a shadow of doubt over the said chance encounter. For all we know, it could be a mirage or the ghost of his former self that he chases after, whereby the obscured, non-linear and unconventional narrative leaves many of its questions in the dark.

A thick, impenetrable mystery and the non-specific, yet constant and intense feeling of dread are maintained by the long takes (mostly from the first-person perspective) complemented by the brooding ambient score. As the composer Ádám Márton Horváth and the sound designer Péter Benjamin Lukács 'breathe' as one, Lichter and his DoP Dávid Gerencsér realize the 'ominous potential' of a winter forest - a (grim) character on its own - to the maximum extent possible. Not to mention a great lesson in how to operate a handheld camera without inducing a headache, let alone dizziness.

In the series of beautifully framed widescreen shots of cold light and drained colors, we are introduced to many (all frowning) faces of the foreboding locale whose chilling atmosphere is further intensified by the deathlike stillness. The aforementioned C64 'intrusions', as well as the home-video footage which embodies our unseen hero's memories provide rare moments of relief and warmth in a devastating stream of depressing images. All the while, the unknown keeps the status of the unsettling factor, sending shivers down your spine.

But, what is the meaning of the whole proceedings? Considering the year in which the film takes place and which is also one of the turning points in Hungarian history, there has to be a social commentary hidden in this bold, patience-testing subversion of the 'cabin' subgenre...

Apr 7, 2017

Taste of Cinematic Weirdness

Two of my latest lists for Taste of Cinema present 40 (mostly obscure) films for the fans of the cinematically weird, including anime, surreal, arthouse, experimental, genre-defying and worthy-of-the-cult-status works. The first one focuses on the last decade, whereby the second one expands this period back to 2000. (There's a couple of mistakes in the title which reads 'the 21st century' and in the introduction which doesn't mention 2010s and here we end the hair-splitting.)


Tojin Kit (from Genius Party Beyond, 2008)
by Tatsuyuki Tanaka

Apr 5, 2017

Southland Tales (Richard Kelly, 2006)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

Nek ovaj (nadam se, bar malo) šaljiv prevod (adaptacija i dopuna) vrlo pozitivne recenzije Dana katastrofe (koji sam reprizirao, čini mi se, po treći put) bude najava moje predstojeće liste za Taste of Cinema.

Drugo, žestoko potcenjeno dugometražno ostvarenje Ričarda Kelija, poznatog po već kultnoj SF-drami/misteriji Doni Darko, sebe baš i ne uzima ozbiljno, a smrtno je ozbiljno u svojoj slasnoj besmislenosti. Nastalo prema scenariju koji odaje utisak kao da je pisan pod uticajem halucinogenih pečuraka, ono je čista i predivna zbrka; postorgazmični san ambicioznog ludaka; papazjanija od raznorodnih ideja, linčovskih omaža, bizarnih kameo pojavljivanja, nerazumljivog tehničkog žargona, britke društvene satire, pop-kulturnih referenci i sprdnje koja neretko poprima bibljiske razmere.

Usredsređujući se na akcionu zvezdu sa amenzijom i snažnim političkim vezama (Dvejn 'Stena' Džonson sa nenormalno belim zubima), njegovu devojku koja je bivša porno glumica, starleta, pevačica i voditeljka rijaliti tok šoua (Sara Mišel Gelar), kao i na policajca (Šon Vilijam Skot u ulozi karijere) koji je ključni igrač u velikoj zaveri republikanaca i ludog naučnika, ova potpuno otkačena, hotimično nekoherentna i prefinjeno trešasta ekstravaganca okuplja jednu od najneverovatnijih glumačkih ekipa ikada. (Zbog dužine prethodne rečenice, neomarksisti su morali biti ostavljeni sa strane.)

Sačinjen od jevanđelja prema ratnom veteranu Pilotu Abilenu (Džastin Timberlejk sa gotivnim ožiljkom na licu), Southland Tales je dementno, deluziono i dekadentno remek-delo haosa koji se danas olako prihvata kao nekakav poredak. A treba ga gledati kada...

... vam kažu 'belo', a vi vidite 'crno' sa roze flekama.
... još jedan marvelozni strip biva adaptiran za veliko platno.
... primetite da vam je smisao za humor iščašeniji nego ranije.
... Majkl Bej istrajava u silovanju vaših omiljenih sećanja na detinjstvo.
... poželite da čujete obradu američke himne u izvođenju Rebeke del Rio koja vas je već raspametila u Bulevaru zvezda (a ako vam ne smeta izvlačenje iz konteksta, tu je YouTube).
... živite u zemlji koju vode uglađeni fašisti i njihovi moronski, moralno i etički posrnuli lakeji-ulizice.
... odlučite da izvršite samoubistvo, ali se predomislite u poslednjem trenutku, zato što "makroi ne izvršavaju samoubistvo".
... shvatite da "svetu ne dolazi kraj uz cviljenje, već sa praskom".

Osim toga, postoji nešto neopisivo lepo u tvrdom akcentu zmijaste Bai Ling, surferskoj odvažnosti kojom odišu pojedine scene i Kelijevoj drskosti da umesto ljudskog snošaja prikaže kresanje para automobila napunjenih tečnom karmom...