Mar 31, 2019

Floralis (Johnny Clyde, 2019)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

"Birds broke their beaks for you. Wept real stars for you..."

Somewhat reminiscent of Juraj Herz's masterful rendition of Beauty and the Beast (Panna a netvor, 1978), Floralis takes the viewer to a strange place, simultaneously unrecognizable and as familiar and comforting as home. Part eco-parable and part fairy tale-ish fantasy, it brims with kaleidoscopic visuals and dense atmosphere of profound mystery. The forest where the lyrical story is set or rather, where an androgynous protagonist (gracefully portrayed by Nina Viola) gets spirited away is rendered in all of 'the forgotten colors of dreams', with the ethereally evocative score and whispery voices serving as our guides into a sort of an inner sanctum. That darkly beautiful 'micro-universe' is protected by an enigmatic creature (the author himself, heavily disguised) who adds another layer of deep melancholy to the gloomily oneiric proceedings...

Mar 30, 2019

They Lived in a B&W Film Until...

When Subject R disappeared from Neo-Heaven, he started to panic, whereas she remained calm, because she knew pretty well that the remnants of her Luna-C would soon become brighter. The last fragmentation of the Word wasn’t as successful as they hoped for, yet the mirror before them regained its ability to show them the worlds they had never seen before. Initially skeptical, they eventually realized that Nothing brought truncated salvation.

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Mar 28, 2019

Out of Our Minds (Tony Stone, 2009)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

An integral part of a conceptual multimedia project (album + film + comic) conceived by the Canadian musician Melissa Auf der Maur (ex member of The Smashing Pumpkins and Hole) and her filmmaker husband Tony Stone, Out of Our Minds pretty much justifies its title by providing the viewer with a bewildering, dialogue-free phantasmagoria (or rather, strange ecological parable?) in which the Vikings, bleeding trees and a car crash get mystically entwined, transcending the time barriers. Drenched in a dark, ambient rock score growing progressively heavier and venturing into a psychedelic territory, the meticulously composed widescreen imagery pulls us deeper into a bleak, grungy, Twin Peaks-esque dreamworld of an enigmatic protagonist - most probably, Ms Auf der Maur's alter ego - whose near-death / past-life experience opens the portal to a new, spiritual dimension of many secrets.

This fine example of personal cinema is available on Heathen Films' official Vimeo channel.

Mar 24, 2019

'The Innate Mirror' Diptych

Down the path of severe and persistent irrationality, I often stumble across an entity which appears as an extremely blurry dream and no matter how long I look at it or how hard I try to decipher its immediate surroundings, this soft, abstract object doesn't become any clearer. In a way, it torments me, yet I find the torment irresistible, allowing myself to be completely submerged in it, regardless of the outcome. Sometimes while 'drowning', I find a lost piece of myself, but when I try to put it back where (I think) it belongs, I realize that it has already changed its shape along with the empty space that's supposed to be its 'slot'. So, I dissolve it and drink it, the honeyed poison of my own creation...

The Most Pleasurable Pain: N Pushes the Waves Away
A Dreamwalker's Deep Sway: H Invokes the Bitter Rain
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Mar 22, 2019

Simulacrum: A Rule Is an Illusion (Post-Apocalyptic Bonus)

Our sadness evolves and mutates into a pearl.
If we break open the shell, it won't disappear.
It will only grow.

My latest and one of the longest series, Simulacrum: A Rule Is an Illusion, obviously refuses to die, so I guess it won't hurt to increase the number of pieces by 2... And who knows, maybe I'll play necromancer once again?

So Eager to Start All Over Again

Under the Watchful Eye, in a Jiffy

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Mar 17, 2019

Las Meninas (Ihor Podolchak, 2008)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

As whispery, disembodied voices engulf you in a thick, almost palpable miasma, the somnambulist-like protagonists - the members of a dysfunctional family or out-of-time manifestations of an aging couple - thread their ways through moldering memories, unquenched desires and unresolved feuds reflected in the absolutely mesmerizing chiaroscuro compositions worthy of comparison to the works of Baroque masters.

The inert, elliptical, highly lyrical, psychosexually charged and unapologetically hermetic 'narrative' swings you between the de-sentimentalized past and the unconscious, hallucinatory present, simultaneously pulling you into the quicksand of continually thwarted attempts to rationalize it. (Think being suffocated inside of the gelatinous embodiment of a recurring nightmare that, for some strange reasons, feels comforting... like the ultimate truth frozen in the moment of death.)

On top of that, Oleksandr Shchetynsky and Yuriy Yaremchuk provide a dissonant, haunting, disturbingly sensual score in which cello and piano act like lovers whose passion often borders violence, deepening the disorienting effect of inspired, yet tricky visuals. Soft focuses, elongated shadows, disquieting close-ups, distorted camera angles, and the brilliant use of mirrors create the atmosphere of inescapable claustrophobia and stark hopelessness, with only a few brief moments of (exterior) relief during the prologue and epilogue.

Certainly an acquired taste, Las Meninas is one of those films that will either frustrate you or plunge you into a state of ecstatic trance. It makes a great companion piece to Raul Ruiz's surreal fantasy-drama On Top of the Whale, Aleksandr Sokurov's period piece Mournful Unconcern, Oliver Smolders's brooding mystery Nuit noire or Daniel Fawcett and Clara Pais's alchemical phantasmagoria The Kingdom of Shadows.

The film can be viewed HERE.

Mar 14, 2019

Unicórnio (Eduardo Nunes, 2017)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

In his (mighty impressive!) sophomore fiction film, Eduardo Nunes delivers a lyrical meditation on love, life, death and God, masterly blurring the lines between fantasy and reality, while providing the viewer with an immersive sensory experience. Based on short stories by the acclaimed Brazilian writer Hilda Hilst and told or rather, depicted from the perspective of an adolescent protagonist, Maria (an assured debut by Bárbara Luz), this fairy tale-ish psychological / coming-of-age drama eschews plot in favor of jaw-dropping visuals and dense, somewhat ambiguous mood. Leaving you with questions rather than answers, Unicórnio (Unicorn) progressively pulls you deeper into a dream-like state by virtue of its long takes, sparse dialogue and languorous pacing which surely demands an extra dose of patience. The awe-inspiring, ultra-wide screen imagery oft-bursting with highly saturated colors (many kudos to cinematographer Mauro Pinheiro Jr.) is nothing short of magical, transforming even the most banal of actions into a pure poetry heightened by Zé Nogueira's evocative score.

Mar 13, 2019

God Ends Here (Njoroge Muthoni, 2019)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

In his short debut which is dedicated to the Danish provocateur Lars von Trier, an up-and-coming Kenyan visual artist, Njoroge Muthoni (aka Njoroge Kelvin), competently portrays the last moments of a young revolutionary who is wrongly accused and sentenced to death. As the author notes in the official synopsis, the pour soul ‘reflects on the pain, vanity and the absurdity of the life he led fighting for justice’, with his words draped in the dense, oppressive darkness of minimalistic, impressively composed imagery. Although the protagonist’s thick English accent occasionally stands in the way of understanding his partly poetic and partly down-to-earth monologue, one can not help but admire the sheer power of Kiragu Wanjiku’s stark cinematography paired with the intense sound design. Chilling screams of social unrest fiercly penetrate the deathlike silence, as a fragmented narrative adopted from the essay Dead Men by Jante Juma leads us to a visceral denouement. The shocking found footage seen during the final seconds is stylistically out of sync with the rest of the film, yet it simultaneously feels like a logical conclusion of the irate tirade.

Mar 12, 2019

Capharnaüm / Capernaum (Nadine Labaki, 2018)

☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

A fine example of what one could dub as 'pamphlet filmmaking disguised as art', Capernaum explores or rather, exploits its sensitive theme of (extreme) child neglect in a 'bulletin news accompanied by weeping violins' manner, often appearing as banal, prosaic, impersonal, manipulative, on-the-nose, unintentionally toxic and not to mention sycophantic towards the occidental bourgeoisie craving for a 'poverty porn' fix, with some redeeming qualities found in the impressively nuanced performance by a young first-timer, Zain Al Rafeea, the presence of his sweet, one-year-old baby partner Boluwatife Treasure Bankole, as well as in Christopher Aoun's dynamic camerawork.

Mar 9, 2019

NEKO-MIMI (Jun Kurosawa, 1993)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

A provoking, sublimely anarchic post-Terayama cine-dream with hints of Beckettian absurd and Zwartjes-like psychosexual nightmare, Jun Kurosawa's first and only feature imposes itself as a bold, unapologetic, formally challenging exploration of the medium, with performative, ritualesque games of its four young and willingly ostracized protagonists (whose distorted utopia is disrupted by a suicidal woman, as the official synopsis notes) depicted in a dizzying series of peculiar images, both monochromatic and color-filtered, imbued with palpable energy and then drenched in alienating, ear-shattering noise that is periodically 'softened' by liquid, hauntingly ethereal ambient textures...

(At this point, the film can be viewed on YouTube.)

Mar 7, 2019

Simulacrum: A Rule Is an Illusion (the Final 6)

Deeply immersed in our oldest thoughts,
We burn at the stake of the Sevenfold Dreams,
Their blood limpid and their matter black.
Countless and restless are our Sundays
And the hopelessness of our serenity enchants us. 
Who will sing about the end of this world?

The final six collages of the Simulacrum series (Part I / Part II) refuse to provide any resolution - instead, they deepen the enigma and reach for the most inaccessible recesses of the subconscious. What if the answer floats beyond death?
Innermost Forever: Indiscretion Guaranteed

A Second Prior to the Rose Opening

Switching the Roles / The Millennial Intermezzo

Like Walking on Water in Early Morning

Another Five Minutes of a Contemplative Nap

Yellow Omega or a Belated Apocalypse?

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Mar 4, 2019

Luminous Void: Docudrama (Rouzbeh Rashidi, 2019)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼
“Let me take you by the hand, away from here to another land...”
(from Put Me Down by The Cranberries)

It may seem strange to begin the review of an EFS offering with the opening lyrics from one of The Cranberries’ earliest songs, but then again, why not? On the one hand, there’s the “Irish connection” between the band and the production, and on the other... well, it’s partly due to personal reasons and partly due to Rouzbeh Rashidi’s ability of invoking some unusual associations in his viewer’s mind. And besides, his works frequently take you – metaphorically speaking – to another land or rather, plunge you into another universe through a black hole where “you are not only pulled apart but also crushed from below” (Luminous Void: Experimental Film Society Documents, 2017).

The same applies to misleadingly titled Luminous Void: Docudrama – a meta-mutant-film which marks a significant milestone for both its own creator(s) and the contemporary experimental cinema. Teased with the stylized behind-the-scene stills, it initially subverts our expectations, only to exceed them by far, as the film evolves into a beautiful, genre-defying (and genre-redefining) chimera – a light-breathing monster with a documentary-turned-neo-noir head and anachronistic period drama body sporting expressionist wings, bizarre avant-horror scales and a stingy tail of an erotic, occult fantasy. However, this phantasmagorical description doesn’t do any justice to a unique (ineffable?) experience of watching it, all the while wondering if there was an alien or Raúl Ruiz’s restless spirit involved in its conception. So, it comes as no surprise that the film is dedicated to none other than the late Chilean master director.

But, make no mistake – despite many homages and references, as well as the priceless contributions by other EFS auteurs, LV:D is as idiosyncratic as it gets; “a mysterious object drifting in the void of deep space”, with “both the filmmaker and the audience as satellites floating around this strange entity, trying to decipher it in their own way”, as Rashidi himself notes in the abovementioned book. A new culmination of his practice, it appears to be a condensation of the Homo Sapiens Project and the logical continuation of a revolution that started with Trailers and has kept gaining momentum, pushing the boundaries of what one considers a piece of the seventh art should be.

Similarly to its predecessors, it acts as a medium between our world and the domain ruled by the specters of cinema; it is a session during which the ghosts of many film pioneers are simultaneously invoked, celebrated, communicated with and expelled. Existing on each side of the fourth wall, it could also be interpreted as a vivid, yet impossible cosmic dream, or even dubbed Phantom Islands’ deranged twin sister who’s actually a genius hermaphrodite embodying the Ultimate Elusiveness. Delirious and oblivious to any narrative conventions, it rips the fabric of time and space, imbuing its  characters with the enigma(s) of the Luminous Void, while turning them into arcane symbols which are meticulously woven into the lavish audio-visual tapestry. Replete with oneiric superimpositions, daring juxtapositions, unapologetic format changes and incessantly transmogrifying soundscapes, it comes dangerously close to perfection.

Transcendentally orgasmic, in equal measures abstract and organic, this performative docudrama burns brightly with passion and eventually becomes passion itself – an impressive result of having modus vivendi and modus operandi tightly knit.

Mar 3, 2019

Simulacrum: A Rule is an Illusion (the 2nd Batch)

The abandoned planet vivisects the horizon,
Setting the Mechanism of Perfect Blemishes in motion.
When the Loop opens, the earth trembles.

As we lay completely forgotten by our gods,
Their murderous intentions become clear as a child's tear.
There is no higher truth than this Arcanum.

A continuation of the Simulacrum series brings six more pieces that obstinately defy clarification, plunging the couple of unnamed characters deeper into a feverish delirium of uncontrollable abstractions...

The Final Recognition of a New Dawn

Eons Later, Above the Sea of Undreamed Souls

Sailing the Clouds of Yesterday

Penetrating the Fabric of the Future

Instant Crystalization of the Now

Shadowless Hours in Full Bloom

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Mar 1, 2019

Cinematic Favorites of February

The intensive collage-making and, to a certain degree, my first solo exhibition which ended yesterday didn't leave me much time for film-watching, yet I managed to check out twenty something features and a dozen shorts. When it comes to the latter category, the absolute winner is Czech filmmaker Petr Makaj whose densely atmospheric 'mystery dramas' (for the lack of a better term) gave me strong Lynchian vibes, whereby his 2014 debut Eleanor (shot in Sarajevo, with Béla Tarr as the executive producer) sent some serious chills down my spine. So, keeping my fingers firmly crossed, I'm looking forward to our collaboration on his next project.

As far as 'theatrical films' are concerned, Gan Bi's sophomore effort Long Day’s Journey Into Night (originally, Di qiu zui hou de ye wan) which is heavily influenced by Tarkovsky had me completely immersed in its oneiric, labyrinthine narrative, magical 'ruin porn' / pre-apocalyptic-like aesthetics, and hypnotizing hour-long single take which marks or rather, makes its second half. A meditative exploration of abstract notions such as time, space, (lost) love and memory, this extremely lyrical (not to mention melancholic) tour de force could also be interpreted as the quest for the essence of cinema.

On the following list (which focuses on recent titles), you'll also find the latest offering from the cult director Nobuhiko Ōbayashi (Hausu) - a weird, playful and colorful, if slightly overlong ode to youth affected by war, as well as an enigmatic and unapologetically disorienting stop-motion fantasy from Chile, The Wolf House (La Casa Lobo), which takes a lot of cues from the renowned surrealist Jan Švankmajer.

1. Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Gan Bi, 2018)
2. Where the Night Ends (Petr Makaj, 2018)
3. Empty Horses (Péter Lichter, 2019)
4. Wildlife (Paul Dano, 2018)
5. Green Book (Peter Farrelly, 2018)
6. The Wolf House (Joaquín Cociña & Cristóbal León, 2018)
7. Hanagatami (Nobuhiko Ōbayashi, 2017)
8. Last Sunrise (Wen Ren, 2019)
9. Alita: Battle Angel (Robert Rodriguez, 2019)
10. Braid (Mitzi Peirone, 2018)