Jul 27, 2019

Auricular Confession (Martin Del Carpio, 2019)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

A spiritual sequel to both The Antiteater of Ten and Mother's Milk, the latest effort from Venezuela-born, NYC-raised musician and filmmaker Martin Del Carpio marks a significant milestone in his career. Opening with a dedication to his ailing father, and channeling the spirit of his late mother, Auricular Confession is his most personal work to date, yet it is equally universal in its exploration of innate / essential dualities of human existence. Inspired by the author's Catholic upbringing and imbued with his intense desire to relieve himself of the emotional and mental ballast, this experimental monodrama has a lot to offer.

Once again, Del Carpio orchestrates a successful collaboration with photographer William Murray who provides the film with the exquisitely composed and tightly edited B&W visuals, making the most of a claustrophobic shooting location. An almost empty room furnished with an old chair and table (with the inscription that reads 'in remembrance of me'), and an abandoned bathroom adorned with a stylish lamp are effortlessly turned into a solitary confinement for the unnamed protagonist. Almost certainly the author's alter ego, he is portrayed by Esteban Licht who often bares his all, and in such vulnerable state, pours his soul into a commanding performance ranging from expressionist to mime-like. His enigmatic character can be interpreted as a figure who is simultaneously a saint and a devil, life and death, conductor and the conducted one, which is reflected in minimalist costumes involving a plague doctor mask, inter alia, as well as in props such as tarot cards (The Moon, to be more specific).

Molded by a firm directorial hand, Auricular Confession also boasts a brooding, somewhat esoteric atmosphere established through the great synergy between Murray's adept cinematography and Del Carpio's own music which switches from eerily ambient (Camera Obscura) to - this may sound like an oxymoron - mournfully carnivalesque (El Tirano). Fascinating!

(The review is based on a private screener.)

Jul 25, 2019

The Underworld (Jann Clavadetscher, 2019)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

A more than worthy successor to Jann Clavadetscher's 2018 debut feature Kino Hospital, The Underworld takes a similar meta-fictitious approach, with a couple of EFS own filmmakers, Atoosa Pour Hosseini and Michael Higgins, joining a dangerous cave expedition led by an unnamed explorer greatly portrayed by the Irish company's regular collaborator Cillian Roche. The mission, without any doubt, mirrors the Society's exploratory endeavors, whereby a 'bizarre mutation' the protagonist undergoes stands for the(ir) cinema's transformative qualities. In fact, it appears that it is the very film that makes Roche's character go nuts.

Similarly to Phantom Islands, the line between a finished piece and 'behind the scenes' gets broken on a few occasions, the first of which sees 'Dr. Baron Von Mertzbach' himself assisting the shooting (for the uninitiated, read The Metamorphic Portrait of Jann Clavadetscher). Those spontaneous 'pokes' at the fourth wall act as the intrusions of alien forces that take possession of the explorer, and send him down the spiral of madness. They could be identified as Entity of Haze (remember the 'paradigmatic impulse' from Homo Sapiens Project?), especially considering the fact that The Underworld's author starred in Rashidi's short of the same name. Oh, the wonders of avant-garde science fiction!

Whatever the case may be, Clavadetscher's (meta)film stands tall as a riveting, mystifying and somewhat quaint audio-visual experience, boasting the suggestive, increasingly unnerving sound design and magnificent 16mm cinematography dominated by dark blues of (the color-graded) Aillwee Cave and piercing reds of the uniforms. The dense, 'patinated' texture of its dazzlingly edited imagery makes it a perfect candidate for a dream double bill with the recently reviewed Kinetics - you can bet your money that their complementary energies feel amazing on the big screen.

(The review is based on a private screener.)

Jul 24, 2019

Kinetics (Atoosa Pour Hosseini, 2018)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

A gloriously beautiful shot of the Waxing Gibbous Moon high in the dusky sky of mellow violets and soothing oranges marks the silent introduction to the latest offering by the EFS 'memory weaver' Atoosa Pour Hosseini. The memories that she weaves into a soft dream-tapestry could be interpreted as the reflections of the auteur's inner workings ('turmoil' may be too strong of a word) transformed into 'intensely lyrical explorations of displacement' through the medium of film, as noted in the official synopsis. They are carried - metaphorically speaking - on the wings of an ostensibly fragile hybrid creature (the Simurgh's long-forgotten daughter, perhaps?) who appears as a young woman wearing a golden, bird of prey mask. 

This 'primeval female figure' (embodied by Katie O'Neill in a magnetic and uninhibited performance) finds herself secluded on a sunbathed island (the uninhabited Blaskets of the west Irish cost, according to Aidan Dunne's article) surrounded by the wistful blue of the sea - the central leitmotif. Simultaneously lost and deeply invested in the unfamiliar (not to mention breathtaking!) surroundings, she sets on an introspective quest that will end in a rapturous, ritualesque dance of self-discovery, at the remnants of a fortress or rather, a sacrificial ground. Through a series of elegant movements, Ms O'Neill enchants the viewer, retaining the aura of mystery which surrounds her character who, at one point, embraces her feral nature (code: a goat carcass). As day turns to night, her timidity is replaced by determination, as the piercing gaze in the final shot suggests.

From both technical and aesthetical point of view, Kinetics is nothing short of brilliant. Drenched in Karen Power's brooding score, Pour Hosseini's grainy, 16mm cinematography perfectly captures the mood of a lost time and space, turning her film into a cinematic equivalent of a deconstructed myth informed by personal experience. Engagingly edited, the delicate visuals speak eloquently and directly to one's soul. Eleven minutes of pure delight.

(The review is based on a private screener.)

Jul 22, 2019

Film Panic Q&A: Nikola Gocić

Brilliant directorial duo of Daniel Fawcett and Clara Pais who I consider the alchemists of modern cinema granted me the honor of participating in the Q&A series for the official page of their Film Panic magazine which I've recently contributed to. In this short questionnaire, I speak of my earliest cine-memories, dream double bills and profound film experiences which have influenced my collage art practice. Follow THIS LINK to find out more!

Jul 19, 2019

Variations on the Same Theme (Antouanetta Angelidi, 1977)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

Left or right?
Père ou peur?
Black or white?
Man or woman?
Abstract or rational?
Quotidian or peculiar?
Universal or individual?
Emotional or intellectual?
Natural or theatrical?
Ellipsis or horizon?
Film or metafilm?
Art or life?

Opening with a couple of symmetrical takes so stoically long that they may irritate the impatient viewer to the point of giving up after the initial five or ten minutes, Antouanetta Angelidi's debut is the epitome of daring, uncompromising experimentation with both cinematic form and content. To call it unorthodox would be a severe understatement. Semantically playful and aesthetically austere, this thesis film - a manifesto-esque, politico-poetic video essay of sorts - mesmerizes with its irregular rhythms achieved through the alternation of Greek and French lines, as well as of rigid and provoking images accompanied by on-screen text and the swaying cacophony of sounds. Subtly transgressive, apart from the scene in which a black chicken is being mercilessly plucked by a bald, god(dess)-like figure, Variations on the Same Theme (originally, Idees Fixes / Dies Irae, aka Parallages sto idio thema) revels in its razor-mouthed, post-structuralist and somewhat Dada-inspired masculinization of femininity and vice versa, managing to retain its dignity even when the auteur's tongue is planted deeply in her cheek. Recommended as a double bill with Jackie Raynal's Deux fois.

Jul 15, 2019

In a Nutshell: Takatoshi Arai

Still shot from Night Mother Scent

On his right forearm, he has a Popeye tattoo that he got inked during his visit to the USA, and he wears a permanent bow tie on his chest, because of some film festivals dress codes, as he says jokingly. There's an aura of sincerity and unpretentiousness surrounding him, and just a faint hint of eccentricity which marks his works. He names Robert Bresson, Sergei Parajanov, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Aki Kaurismaki and Tsai Ming-Liang as his role models, and claims that he usually eschews screenplay, and doesn't employ metaphors in the creative process, yet his films, especially the latest and longest one, Sakana (Fish), appear as allegorical, not to mention insightful and multilayered.

His name is Takatoshi Arai and he is a young and promising Japanese indie filmmaker whose approach to cinema could be described as intuitive and impromptu, and it's pretty safe to label his methods as 'experimental'. Five of his recent shorts - ThiefColor Sex Death, Quantity Amount Quality, Night Mother Scent, and the aforementioned Fish - were screened at the Labeerint bar in my hometown of Niš last night, with the humble, yet commendable event hosted by the Taka association and their cultural exchange representative, Ms Naoko Kamba. In the Skype Q&A, the audience had the opportunity to discuss with Mr Arai himself who was eager to show a traditional bamboo flute (Shakuhachi?) utilized as a prop in Color, Sex Death, as well as frula that he bought in Belgrade a few years ago when JSFF (Japanese Serbian Film Festival) took place. He also revealed his shooting equipment - iPhone, digital camera and 'a cheap tripod', in his own words - which should've come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the shoestring budget filmmaking of our time.

Remaining secretive about the themes and meanings behind the oft-puzzling and dialogue-free juxtapositions of moving images and sounds, he asks the viewers to be active / open-minded and leaves plenty of space for their own different interpretations. The reality of his creations comes off as twisted, whether it's fragmented into a series of rhythmically edited B&W photographs (Thief) or transformed into a full-blown (introspective?) nightmare (Night Mother Scent, the most surreal of the bunch and this writer's personal favorite). In Quantity Amount Quality and Color Sex Death, Arai demonstrates childlike playfulness (or rather, impishness), applying stop-motion technique to apples and a pair of Converse shoes, respectively, whereas in Fish - his most accessible and well-rounded offering - he explores guilty conscience of his protagonist, if the google translation of the trailer description is any indication. (To my question about the possible 'Lynchian' connection between fish and ideas, he answers that he simply enjoys fishing.) Common to all of his films - reflections of his versatility - is a certain performative quality, the keen sense of visual composition, the collaboration with non-professional actors and the skill to make the most out of a tight budget. Arai currently strives to complete his first sci-fi feature, 2222, which will be followed by a horror and a comedy.

Trailer for Sakana

Jul 10, 2019

L.U.X. 0: Mysterium Magnum

"Nudity is an art. Besides, art is only nudity...
Art is loneliness... Nothingness is perfect nudity."

Inspired by the above-mentioned lines from Raúl Ruiz's masterpiece Three Crowns of the Sailor (originally, Les trois couronnes du matelot, 1983), my latest artwork identifies nudity with purity, one of the prenatal kind or rather, of intact primordiality. It could be regarded as an attempt at portraying the 'parents' of a puzzling, irrational 'emptiness' by means of the archetypal imagery.

(open in a new tab to enlarge)

Jul 4, 2019

First Half of 2019 Top 12 Films

With the first six months of 2019 behind us, I decided to make a list of twelve features which impressed me the most, the focus being on the films released during the last three years, including a single exception. Unsurprisingly, most of the entries could be categorized as 'alternative cinema', so I guess that No. 12 is an intruder that exposes my soft spot for Far Eastern fantasies. The end of 2019 will probably see some changes in this selection, because I have great expectations for some upcoming, highly anticipated offerings, such as Scott Barley's The Sea Behind Her Head or Daniel & Clara's Plot Points.

3. Jonaki (Aditya Vikram Sengupta, 2018)
4. Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Gan Bi, 2018)
6. Delirium (Ihor Podolchak, 2013)
8. Unicórnio (Eduardo Nunes, 2017)
9. Lazzaro felice (Alice Rohrwacher, 2018)
10. Quién te cantará (Carlos Vermut, 2018)

(My aplogies for cropping some of the stills to fit into this collage.)

Jul 3, 2019

Too Old to Die Young (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2019)

Unwatchable out of 10☼

After watching... pardon, barely sitting through the first two episodes of NWR's latest offering, 'auteur' mini series Too Old to Die Young, I feel compelled to share a few thoughts on it, especially considering that it is the first piece of cinema (now, this epithet is highly arguable) that managed to transform my frustration into an unpleasant and hence unwanted physical sensation. In a preposterous attempt to out-revolutionize David Lynch's sublime, inimitable return to Twin Peaks, the acclaimed Danish helmer overestimates his own skill and, strongly believing he is making boundary-pushing efforts of metaphysical proportions, creates a dull and listless self-parody. Uninvolving on every level imaginable, and moving slower than molasses without any rhyme or reason, it sadistically torments the viewer with unjustifiable pauses between the pulpy, B-movie-like lines delivered in a deadpan, quasi-meaningful manner, with protagonists' blank stares thrown in for good measure.

Adding to its poisonous unwatchability are the unapologetically garish, superficially attractive visuals hyper-stylized to the point of being (paradoxically) quickly stripped off their initial, somewhat forced charm, which results in the unwitting downgrading of the whole proceedings into an obnoxiously kitschy equivalent of some 'eau de parfum' commercial... and who wants to watch a vacuous, hour an a half long ad?! The worst thing about the languorous opening to this cold, epically miscalculated project is the scent or rather, stench of intolerable narcissism. Now, don't get me wrong - I'm all for boldly personal, self-indulgent filmmaking or art in general, but I'm definitely not crazy about having the artist's sticky spit of arrogance smeared all over his/her work, as in this case (or the case of that other notorious Dane's recent atrocity). So, without further ado, I'd like to put a period to my outpour of negativity, while trying to aleviate the pungent disappointment by reminding myself of how much I admire Refn's delighfully gloomy viking saga Valhalla Rising and glamorously nightmarish extravaganza Neon Demon...

Jul 2, 2019

Motel Mist (Prabda Yoon, 2016)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

A bold amalgamation of slow cinema, simmering satire and pulptastic weirdness which involves sadomasochistic games, alien communication and kids' glasses with a flashy frame (that occupy the central position on the official poster for a good reason), Prabda Yoon's oblique, highly ambitious directorial debut shoots for style over substance and occasionally gets lost in own deliberate ambiguousness and sci-fi shenanigans, yet it incessantly fascinates with its lingering, meticulously framed shots of Anderson-esque pastels and lurid, neonized palette from recent Refn's offerings, as well as with Paint it Black (then watch it dry) sequences and edgy, Kubrickian use of classical music. Motel Mist definitely ain't your average revenge thriller and 'owls are not what they seem'.

Jul 1, 2019

Phantom Islands at Vimeo on Demand!

"A masterwork of the (re)modern avant-garde." (pre-premiere review)

"... much like the ouroboros, it consumes itself by documenting the fiction and simultaneously fictionalizing what has been documented, and enigmatizing its own self-reflexivity." (Re-Dreaming Phantom Islands)

"... sends you into a state of dreamlike euphoria while simultaneously dreaming of you..." (capsule review)

Rouzbeh Rashidi's lyrical cine-Rebis Phantom Islands which sits on the throne of my 2018 annual list, and has its place in the Pantheon of my all-time favorite films is finally available online, for rent or purchase via Vimeo on Demand! An inspiring piece of experimental cinema which (obviously) always puts me in a panegyrical mode.

Cinematic Favorites of June

"Repetition is a form of change."
(from Sergio Caballero's Je te tiens)


Honorable mentions: a 'low key' dystopian sci-fi which also happens to be the No. 1 contender for High Life (or even Danny Boyle's Sunshine) companion piece, Aniara (Pella Kågerman & Hugo Lilja, 2018), and Una vez la noche (Antonia Rossi & Roberto Contador, 2018) - a brooding, aesthetically pleasing, yet somewhat stilted 'motion comic' which reflects on the human condition and takes the viewer on a meandering journey across the 'memoryscapes' based on real people's experiences.

Shorts (* marks the films from the Directors' Fortnight selection which played on Festival Scope from May 31 to June 16):

1. Je te tiens (Sergio Caballero, 2019)* - a gloomy, whimsical, formally engaging mystery/drama whose strong, mini-diorama visuals are perfectly matched with the evocative music, creating dense atmosphere;
2. Grand Bouquet (Nao Yoshigai, 2019)* - an 'animesque', flower-vomiting (eco-parable?) fantasy somewhat reminiscent of Hitoshi Matsumoto's Symbol (2009);
3. Movements (Dahee Jeong, 2019)* - a feel-good, beautifully animated meditation on relativity of time;
4. Olla (Ariane Labed, 2019)* - an assured, Greek Weird Wave-like debut whose main selling points are the great production design and Romanna Lobach's uninhibited performance (watch for the dance scene!);
5. Šafarikova 19 (Lana Pavkov, 2018) - a lavish absurdist drama focused on the decline of a noble family, with a great central performance from Jasna Đuričić;
6. Invincible City (David Finkelstein, 2012) - '... a beautiful place to get lost in...', read my full review HERE;
7. Piece of Meat (Jerrold Chong & Junxiang Huang, 2019)* - a solid cut-out animation laced with some edgy social commentary (and opening with a coitus between a lamb chop and a champagne bottle).