May 31, 2019

Lui Lack, tú no tienes la culpa (Stefan M. Mladenović, 2019)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

Two years after a promising debut, Quiero decirte (lit. I Want to Tell You), which tells a coming-out story in a 'confession meets allegorical fantasy' fashion, a young and ambitious actor turned filmmaker from Niš, Stefan M. Mladenović, delivers another remarkable short, this time focusing on a sensitive topic of child sexual abuse. Inspired by Tatiana Maslany's multi-performance in Canadian TV series Orphan Black, as he states in an interview for Ananas Magazin, he portrays seven characters, in addition to writing, directing and producing.

Lui Lack is a psychotherapist burdened by a traumatic childhood experience which he has been suppressing for years, hiding from judgmental eyes. Together with his six clients, one of them being a sexually confused protagonist from Quiero decirte, Alejandro, he will find a way to 'solve a rebus', as the official synopsis notes, and move on with his life. Although the second part of the title - which translates as 'it is not your fault' - reveals the solution, it is still fascinating to see the up-and-coming auteur shifting between the roles effortlessly and with great gusto. Approaching the disquieting theme from seven different angles, with hints of tastefully integrated humor, he addresses the most unpleasant act as the first game which his 'alter egos' lost, yet he never diminishes its unquestionable monstrosity.

The (impressive!) use of Spanish for which he consulted a lector from Barcelona and Argentinean colleagues may appear like a gimmick to some viewers, but if it makes him feel 'natural, tranquil, rebellious, powerful, happy, special and excited', in his own words, then why not? Besides, it emphasizes the strangeness or rather, uncanniness that a young mind gets drown in, when having its innocence disintegrated. Speaking of strangeness, there's a highly memorable, delightfully weird and somewhat eerie 'swine dance' scene which breaks the film's 'talking heads' structure, imbues it with surrealistic quality and pushes MORA's dark, quietly simmering score forefront, to goosebump-inducing effect. The haunting vocal of the band's singer Zorana Ignjatović gives a sense of much needed cathartic release, especially during the closing credits. Also commendable is DoP Miroslav Mitić who provides crisp, carefully composed shots despite obvious budgetary restraints.

The review is based on the pre-premiere screening at PozitivNI street festival in Niš, May 30, 2019.

May 30, 2019

The Explorer of the Ethereal Planes

Today, I am extremely delighted to announce that during the first eight months of its existence, Nicollage has reached 500+ followers!

With my latest piece titled The Explorer of the Ethereal Planes, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to everyone who has supported my efforts so far, and recognized my artworks as a labor of passion.

It is no secret that collage-making of mine started as a joke of sorts, but gradually that practice transformed into a zealous obsession which still grows, day by day. Striving for the purity of the ineffable or rather, for the transcendent, I am guided by irrational forces and intuition, myths, dreams and mystery, in order to build an endless labyrinth in which even I can get lost. Unable to afford travelling around the world, I am compelled to embark on frequent journeys to the farthest reaches of the inner universe, and bring a tiny piece of my anima every time I emerge back to the surface. If some of you can see a reflection of yourself in any of these ‘souvenirs’, or at least hear the echo of their whispers, my mission is not futile...

Finally, I would like to send very special thanks to...

... Voyka Milovanovic, Sara Meli Melo, Blanka Konárková and Rouzbeh Rashidi for the recommendations of my page;

... Martin Del Carpio, Péter Lichter and Petr Makaj for involving me in their personal, music and/or film projects via the poster orders;

... Daniel Fawcett, Clara Pais, Elizabeta Petković, Želmira Mikljan and Predrag Karanjac for lending their appearances in, respectively, The Grain of Ultimate Silence, Glow Night and the Seven Owl-Men and Echo Drains Ancient Magic from Hypnotized Narcissus Through Mirror Illusion;

... Njoroge Kelvin for the Minus Zodiac adventure;

... Rouzbeh Rashidi and Maximilan Le Cain for purchasing The Grain of Ultimate Silence, and Cheryl and Kent Tate for purchasing Instructional Manual for the Superstitious;

...  Ko-fi donators, particularly Cynthia Hollinghead;

... and of course, all of my friends, including fellow collagists, and many kind strangers whose positive reactions, comments and shares give me a much needed boost to move on, despite the prosaic difficulties!

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May 29, 2019

Greta (Neil Jordan, 2018)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

Absolutely not to be taken seriously, Neil Jordan's latest offering feels like a deliberate retread of a very familiar territory that is the 80s and 90s cheesy thrillers, and plays out like an urban fairy tale in which the ever-reliable Isabelle Huppert portrays a psychotic stalker (from the title) by way of an evil surrogate mother, and has a whale of a time with the role. Her magnetic, delightfully campy, occasionally over-the-top performance is the film's chief selling point, as well as a lesson in versatility for the sweet and talented Chloë Grace Moretz whose innocent character Frances falls prey to Greta's claws. Highly predictable, yet tense and entertaining, neatly shot and directed with a tongue-in-cheek whimsy, this feature is light years away from revolutionizing the genre (or saying anything novel about loneliness, friendships and helping elderly strangers), but it is a must-see for Huppert completists.

May 28, 2019

F Mode

Fog, fish, film, fear, freak, flame, final, flower, future, fetish, fertile, forever, freedom, fantasy, fortitude, fascination, forgiveness, forgetfulness, fragmentation... All of these and great many other words start with F, and hold different meanings marked by futility when it comes to expressing what cannot be fathomed. From the foam of their failure, fanciful imagery is born and flourishes in spite of the formidable forces...

In the illusion of a distant universe,
Perverse thoughts traverse the emptiness.

There’s a lot of walking and thankfully not much talking,
And the beautiful dream of... What is the dream about?

Oh yes, half-born, half-dead,
With a thorn inside its head,

It grows and it knows that there are no words,
There is no Sun - only the third Moon
And the proximity of distance...

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May 24, 2019

Please Speak Continuously and Describe Your Experiences as They Come to You (Brandon Cronenberg, 2019)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

Firmly standing head and shoulders above Brandon Cronenberg's feature debut Antiviral, Please Speak Continuously and Describe Your Experiences as They Come to You (what a mouthful title!) takes a simple premise (of a young woman experimented on in a psychiatric facility) and turns it into both aurally and visually resplendent nightmare which effortlessly burns itself into your memory and crawls under your skin, to make you uneasy. Gorgeously shot by none other than the Canadian enfant terrible Karim Hussain, meticulously edited by James Vandewater and drenched in hypnotically sinister droning of Raw's composer Jim Williams, this puzzling, unnerving and extremely stylish sci-fi body horror appears as a missing link between papa Cronenberg's early works and Panos Cosmatos's lurid fever dream Beyond the Black Rainbow. Art direction by Lori Atik (whose résumé includes another 9-minute short with a long title - Scarlet or: A Postmodernist Deconstruction of Young Love Under the Corpocracy of Late-Capitalism) is immaculate and practical SFX by Chris Nash add to the film's decidedly retro vibe. BC's tight, fetishistic direction makes this small, yet highly memorable piece of cinema an absolute must-see, and you can catch it (for free!) on Festival Scope until the 2nd of June.

May 22, 2019

The Blind Owl (Reza Abdoh, 1992)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

Reza Abdoh (1963-1995) was an American theatre director, poet and playwright of Iranian descent known for avant-garde productions that are often described as confrontational and difficult to digest - 'a visual and aural and spiritual assault' in the words of Bidoun editor Negar Azimi. A self-proclaimed member of a TV generation, he 'voraciously incorporated varied references to music videos, variety shows, film, dance, classical texts, and BDSM into his work, with equal parts poetry and rigor' (from Rage against the Machine: The Theatrical Whirlwinds of Reza Abdoh by Krist Gruijthuijsen). However, his first and only feature takes a different approach to channeling anger that was partly caused by his exile to the USA, and not to mention the terminal disease (AIDS) he was diagnosed with.

The Blind Owl revolves around Ricky (Peter Jacobs) - an 18-year-old adolescent tending of his ill mother Anna (Paulina Sahagun-Macias) in their small LA apartment, and earning his daily bread (or rather, milk) as a prostitute, caregiver and delivery boy. His story which plays out like a quasi-social realist / coming-of-age drama peppered with the elements of wry humor and light surrealism is shaped through interactions or, as Daniel Mufson notes, 'intersections' with a wide array of slightly bizarre characters, involving a mysterious friend with a weird hairdo, Trenn (Tom Pearl), and a blind man (Anthony Torn) who is occasionally assisted by Ricky. They all inhabit a sort of a demi-monde in which an estranged father oblivious of his son's 'exploits' is just as freaky as a diabetic bisexual mortician with strange fetishes. The closest thing to father figure that the young protagonist has is a pimp-like sadist who earns comparisons to Blue Velvet's Frank.

Void of intimacy, save for a few moments of tenderness such as a slow dance with Trenn or a bath scene with the dying mother, Ricky's life is marked by failure, coldness and indifference, appearing almost like the equivalent of a Joy Division song. Its bleakness - defining of the film's numb and stifling atmosphere - is heightened by the sparseness of dialogue, deadpan performances, and the overwhelming meaninglessness of action. Even the folk songs that interrupt the narrative and act as the reminders of Anna and Ricky's ethnic background are emotionally drained, so the only relief a viewer gets is a drag queen lip-syncing to a ballad in Spanish, while Ricky's playing Street Fighter II on the arcade machine. Although inconsequential to the plot, this sequence adds a lot to the theme of cultural clash that the helmer subtly interweaves into his exploration of despair and alienation. There's raw beauty in the way he portrays the marginalized and desensitized ones, its abrasiveness reflected in the low key imagery that marries controlled theatricality to cinematic idiosyncrasy, and its peculiar relation to both diegetic ambience and the eclectic music ranging from gloomy jazzy tunes to energetic alt rock. It's a shame we will never know how the filmmaking career of Reza Abdoh would have evolved...

May 21, 2019

Celestial Diptych

It’s growing... it’s growing like a tear-drenched dream under the big, yellow Moon. And it feels different than before. Truer? No, not truer, but brighter and increasingly translucent, a glittering petal in the tempest of shadows. The dolor it creates opens the gates towards the forest of seraphic mirages where the slug of oblivion hides, bleeding echoing silence. When the time comes, it will burst into ephemeral infinity... A bubbling  denouement.



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May 14, 2019

High Life (Claire Denis, 2018)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼
Aesthetically astute, deliberately incoherent, thematically ambiguous, unapologetically whimsical, and sparsely sprinkled with sudden bursts of violence, High Life subverts genre expectations in favor of the peculiar poetics and contemplative viewing experience. Its stubborn inaccessibility poses as a challenge rather than a disadvantage, adding to its allure, even though it tends to be slightly irritating.
Neither nihilistic, nor optimistic, this enigmatic, ambivalent sci-fi 'adventure' eschews spectacle for inner workings of its low-life characters, yet it refuses to open up much space for our sympathies, except for the hero, Monte, and his daughter, Willow. Portrayed by a weird ensemble cast, including Robert Pattinson, Mia Goth and Juliette Binoche (who boldly jumps into the uninhibited role of a 'shaman of sperm' - a witchy mad scientist striving to bring babies into the inhospitable world), the protagonists are inexperienced astronauts with criminal past on a suicide mission. As irrational as it sounds, their trip is of the 'no return' kind, but who knows - maybe a sparkle of hope can be found in a black hole they're headed to.
Imprisoned in a matchbox-shaped spacecraft with retro-futuristic / Soviet era-like interiors, they float in nothingness, their small community representing a microcosm of humanity on the verge of extinction. Speaking of their 'home' that remains highly claustrophobic, one can not help but admire Ms Denis and her cinematographer Yorick Le Saux's ability to make it constantly attractive, only through subtle changes of lighting or camera angle. Broodingly beautiful visuals are discretely matched with humming, somewhat ominous score by Stuart A. Staples, creating the dense atmosphere of a heavy dream.

May 9, 2019

Rage Park (Stathis Athanasiou, 2019)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

Opening his latest offering with a Lost Highway reference, a VHS tape being replaced by a phone video message from an unknown sender, Stathis Athanasiou takes the viewer to a dark, innermost place which blooms uncontrollably with fiery red flowers when the black soil becomes oversaturated with repressed emotions. This 'abstract' locale is hosted by a lonely, unnamed woman whose posh home and garments suggest the upper middle class status, whereas her ostensibly level-headed demeanor conceals utmost unrest about to be externalized.

Exquisitely portrayed by the author's wife Serafita Grigoriadou whose performance ranges from subtle micro-expressions to full-on rampage to stoic composure, the protagonist appears as mysterious as the disturbing footage (a subconscious emission?) that haunts her and eventually breaks the thin line between her calmness and rage. Although we do not know her at all, we are immersed in her wordless 'psycho-monodrama' in any given moment, not only by virtue of Grigoriadou's versatility, but also because of the elegant visuals augmented by the intense score - a peculiar hybrid of ethereal classical music and edgy electronica composed by Stavros Gasparatos. Together with his DoP Olympia Mytilinaiou and production designer Ermina Apostolaki, Athanasiou makes the most of the spatial limitations, achieving the surreal atmosphere that is simultaneously claustrophobic and somewhat liberating.

A spiritual sequel to 2015 feature Alpha (which you can read about HERE), Rage Park operates both as a three-act short film and stylish music video, proudly wearing its influences on its sleeve. At this point, it is available on Vimeo.

May 8, 2019

Bai she: yuan qi / White Snake (Amp Wong & Ji Zhao, 2019)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

You know how the story goes - a boy finds an unconscious girl by the waterfall, they fall madly for each other, but it turns out that she is a snake demon with the ability to drain your essence through her ornate jade hairpin. And if you already had your share of romantically intoned wuxia spectacles, you certainly would not have a hard time predicting the outcome of their affair. However, you may find the task of collecting your jaw off the floor slightly challenging.

The debuting directorial duo Amp Wong and Ji Zhao, as well as their equally 'green' screenwriter going under the moniker of Damao play the game of adopting a beloved old legend pretty safely, yet the emotional impact strikes home, the small portions of humor work well and the explored themes (of love, loyalty, prejudices and the importance of small things in this fleeting dream called life) are presented with frankness and great clarity, without being too on the nose. Well, even when they are served on a silver platter, their obviousness is but a minor quibble, considering how deliciously gorgeous the film looks! (Think Final Fantasy by the way of Zhang Yimou's poetic elegance.)

While the characters speak Mandarin and feel alive by virtue of excellent voice talents, the astonishing visuals are versed in various other languages. One can almost hear the exotic words in the whispers of crimson foliage, greenish-blue lakes and steep, craggy hills connected by suspension bridges, and not to mention the foreboding cries of secret underground passages and mystical riddles of a towering pagoda. Just as impressive is the surreal, shapeshifting interior of a weapon workshop owned by a shrewd fox spirit who will have you enchanted with her opium pipe in no time.

But, where this high CGI fantasy shines the brightest is action - adorned with special effects representing ancient magic, the gravity-defying sequences of 'snake fu' fighting will leave you wanting more. In one particular scene, a three-headed crane with a white lion's body is involved in all of its fury, and its rider has some neat tricks up his long sleeves. The grand finale brings a climactic, over-the-top kaiju-styled battle, soul-sucking vortexes and cool 'zhezhi' creatures with claws sharp enough to make deep (paper)cuts in scaled flesh. Both the eye-popping design bursting with colors and textures, and the evocative orchestrations which effortlessly conjure the right mood in every moment are deeply rooted in the tradition of mainland China, but the occidental audience will also find a lot to enjoy here.

In case you're looking for a perfect companion piece to White Snake, you should definitely check out another promising debut - independent cyberpunk adventure Yamasong: March of the Hollows by Sam Koji Hale who seems to be striving for the title of the new generation Jim Henson.

May 2, 2019

Chrysalis: The 19th Eden

In darkness, we lick the petrifying light; under the Sun, we long for the irresolute Moon. So, why do you hate us? Why do you ignore us? Have we ever offended you? Would you like us to apologize, with our heads turned south?

You see... One is our breath and 18 is our semen. Their sum is our world torn apart, just like that, blown to smithereens. That’s why we eat its black, blood-stained pieces every day. You think you know us, yet you should be thanking your dead Lord for not facing the worst of us. And while you’re there, taste some of His rotten insides.

We dream of our Mothers, 24 frames per second, but our second lasts longer than the innate pain. Isn’t that convenient?

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May 1, 2019

Cinematic Favorites of April

During the last 12 days of April, I seized the opportunity to fill in some blanks in my knowledge of the current experimental / underground cinema scene, as well as to get introduced to the works of the acclaimed Canadian independent filmmaker Mike Hoolboom. In other words, I watched more than 100 shorts and a few features, including the abridged version of the extensive Studio Diary series by Daniel Fawcett and Clara Pais, all thanks to The Hazel Eye Film Festival - a pretty cool online event currated by Eli Hayes and Jordan Mumford. So, for the starters, I present the list of 12 entries (one short film per day) most of which are available for viewing at their respective creators' official Vimeo or YouTube channels:

Day 1: Luz Interna (Gabriel Linhares Falcão, 2018)
Day 2: 1 + 1 + 1 (Mike Hoolboom, 1993)
Day 3: S.C.A.N. – Searching Alternative Nature (Dénes Ruzsa, 2015)
Day 4: La Cognizione del Calore (Salvatore Insana, 2017)
Day 5: Последняя любовь (Дмитрий Фролов, 2017)
Day 6: Outubro Acabou (Antonio Akerman Seabra, Karen Akerman & Miguel Seabra Lopes, 2015)
Day 7: Kosmos (Oo., 2017)
Day 8: Tendency to Collapse (Marta Węglińska, 2018)
Day 9: A Life in Our Times (Frank Ritz, 2019)
Day 10: Fugue (Steven Adam Renkovish, 2017)
Day 11: Forsaken Forest (Anna Baranska, 2016)
Day 12: Plateau in Ascension (Joe Hambleton, 2018)

The second list encompasses seven feature offerings - six recent films topped by Sidney Lumet's dark, (in)tense, finely nuanced, masterfully directed and brilliantly acted psychological drama/mystery Equus.

1. Equus (Sidney Lumet, 1977)
2. Ruben Brandt, Collector (Milorad Krstić, 2018)
3. Notes From a Journey (Daniel Fawcett & Clara Pais, 2019)
4. Quién te cantará (Carlos Vermut, 2018)
5. Investigating the Murder Case of Ms. XY. (Rouzbeh Rashidi, 2014)
6. The Night Comes for Us (Timo Tjahjanto, 2018)
7. Diamantino (Gabriel Abrantes & Daniel Schmidt, 2018)