28 Apr 2020

The Girl (Puriša Đorđević, 1965)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

Her name is Rain, and his name is Wind. Their love is pure, eternal and magnificent as an epic ballad whose verses explode louder than bombs, simultaneously giving birth to immaculate silence. Under its gentle touch, the bleak reality is transfigured into a powerful dreamlike illusion that distorts both space and time... Lyrically written, imbued with a subtle melancholy and directed with a keen understanding of ever-evolving film language, The Girl (originally, Devojka) is essentially a romantic story whose characters - caught in the whirlwind of war - lend their subjective experiences of the dire situation. A 'fourfold perspective' of a young partisan couple (the bravura performances by Milena Dravić and Ljubiša Samardžić), a town photographer (Siniša Ivetić) and a German officer (Rade Marković) is to blame for the film's fragmented structure which requires an active viewer, one willing to go along with the oneiric logic of the proceedings. And what makes our involvement in the puzzling narrative to grow stronger are the meaningful, meticulously composed visuals cleverly complemented by Dvořák's folk-inspired music, with each close-up intensifying the emotional impact of the scene and every full shot channeling despair and loneliness.

25 Apr 2020

Die Tote von Beverly Hills (Michael Pfleghar, 1964)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼


Uniting slapstick-imbued Surrealism to Nouvelle Vague-like technical playfulness in a naughty matrimony, Die Tote von Beverly Hills (lit. Dead Woman from Beverly Hills) plays out like a humorous, titillating, fourth wall-breaking murder mystery which Walter Potganski of the Moviemax company calls 'the most daring German film of the 60s'. Starring magnetic Heidelinde Weis as a self-confident nymphet, Lu, whose naked body is found somewhere around Hollywood, it is largely (and wittily!) told in retrospective, all according to the girl's diary that is being inspected by one of her lovers, C.G. (Klausjürgen Wussow), and a detective, Ben (Wolfgang Neuss), whose office - in one of many logic-defying instances - is located in an unfinished high-rise. Handsomely shot in noir-ish black and white, the present timeline is intercut by vivid and often dreamlike, somewhat Buñuelian Eastman Color sequences portraying Lu's libertine past involving an opera singer, eccentric painter, wealthy archeologist, Las Vegas cabaret performer and altar server turned screenwriter for westerns. What further makes the film an absorbing viewing experience is Heinz Kiessling's swinging score, as well as Michael Pfleghar's effortless direction and keen sense of pacing.

23 Apr 2020

My Darling Quarantine Short Film Festival / the 6th week

Programmed by the international short film community, My Darling Quarantine has reached the sixth week of its existence, with the latest seven shorts marking the strongest and strangest selection so far.


Suggested by Mariana Hristova of Balkans Beyond Borders & Eastern Neighbours Film Festival, the first (and the longest) entry, Hotel Rienne, could be described as the Swedish Groundhog Day, although its protagonist - a white-collar everyman named Henry Dahlberg - experiences his time in a more twisted way than Bill Murray's Phil. Co-directors Ola Simonsson & Johannes Stjärne Nilsson helm their story with assured joined hands, realizing the comic potential of Henry's stressful situation and literally toying around with the glitchy, Twilight Zone-ish chronology. The titular place is where the fellow 'time-sufferers' gather to party, after accepting the invitation from a mysterious smiling man who gives off a meek Lynchian vibe.


Following is the recommendation by Carla Vulpiani (Varicoloured), Here Come the Problems (originally, Chigger Ale) directed by Miguel Llansó (of Crumbs and Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway fame) under the moniker of Fanta Ananas. In the absurdly funny fashion that will become the norm in his two features, especially the latter one, he casts his frequent collaborator Daniel Tadesse as a Hitler impersonator who is also a laughing stock of a small, dance-loving community in Addis Ababa. What makes this eccentric anti-fascist comedy with a crazy heart quite memorable is its pop culture-related unpredictability culminating in an admirably head-scratching sci-fi epilogue.


Lotte Kircher of Internationale Kurzfilmtage Winterthur presents Carl Stevenson's dystopian fantasy Contamination which takes the viewer into a disturbing futuristic world where genetic engineering has gone seriously awry. A cat-headed pigeon lurking in a shadow-draped room during the initial half is just one of many bizarre hybrid creatures roaming the gray streets in a series of darkly surreal images. Stevenson combines 2D and 3D animation with a Super 8-like patina and brooding drones to a stunning effect, establishing a gloomy atmosphere of nature backfiring for being disrespected.


Hailing from Australia is Soda_Jerk's The Was introduced by Sigrid Hadenius of Uppsala Short Film Festival. It is the second offering to lean on pop culture (as well as hefty dose of arthouse) references and it does so in an amusing way, through a wildly cinematic collage that often feels like a movie buff's wet dream. Borrowing from various directors, including Ralph Bakshi, Jim Jarmusch, Walter Hill and Richard Linklater, just to name a few, it sees Edward Scissorhands without a ticket in a Mystery Train, John Travolta taking a subway ride with The Warriors, as well as Marge and Maggie Simpson stuck in a car surrounded by the Thrashin' baddies. And there are many more fictional characters, both live-action and animated, meeting and colliding in the imaginatively edited mash-up accompanied by The Avalanches' dreamlike 'sampledelia'.


Diana Mereoiu (Vienna Shorts) singles out Mihai Grecu & Thibault Gleize's Exland that's currently available for free viewing with the stayhome code at Vimeo on Demand platform. A silent ode to the magnificence of northern landscapes and simultaneously, a critique of a consumerist society, it portrays a stoic struggle of the snow-covered fjords and mountain tops against equally monumental man-made structures of steel and neon lights that have lost their purpose in what appears as a post-apocalyptic wasteland. An alternative use of landscape - this time of the southern kind - is proposed by Canadian filmmaker Ryan McKenna in his poignant documentary Voices of Kidnaping (Voces del secuestro) which marries deeply personal radio messages to the unresponsive calm of the Amazon jungle where FARC kidnappings has been taking place. Combined with the delightfully retro 16mm cinematography, the verbalized sincerity of orginary people trying to reach their loved ones (despite the slim chances of their voices ever being heard) comes off as devastatingly outlandish.


Finally, Candice Costa and Luce Grosjean of Miyu Distribution let us discover an intimate portrait of a woman battling anorexia in Martina Scarpelli's minimalist B&W phantasmagoria Egg. The pairing of a dejected voice-over narration and body distortions achieved through the means of a highly stylized animation (think György Kovásznai's 1979 feature Foam Bath) proves potently disconcerting, with the square image format plunging us into a claustrophobic inner universe of the protagonist...

20 Apr 2020

Devil's Bride (Arūnas Žebriūnas, 1974)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼


During the 1960s and later in his career, Arūnas Žebriūnas created several films featuring children protagonists, including the adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's novella The Little Prince and a delightful B&W drama The Girl and the Echo. Devil's Bride marked his as well as his country's first foray into musicals, and is today considered one of the most successful offerings to Lithuanian cinema of the Soviet era. Based on Kazys Boruta's novel Whitehorn’s Windmill (Baltaragio malūnas) itself inspired by folk legends, the story speaks 'of the victory of love over the trickery of the Devil', as the official synopsis reveals.


After angels commit a sin against their Father (and replace their white robes with black suits and yellow dresses in the course of bacchanalia), they are expelled to Earth where they inhabit lakes. A mischievous devil, Pinčiukas (Gediminas Girdvainis), arrives to Baltaragis mill and makes a Faustian deal with its middle-aged owner (Vasyl Symchych). In exchange for his soul, the miller will marry a beautiful village girl, Marcelé, and have a daughter, Jurga (both portrayed by the same actress, Vaiva Mainelyte), who will have to become the bride of Pinčiukas once she comes of age...


But that is only the beginning of a unique pastoral rock opera that is infectiously jovial, sending strong hippie vibes and boasting the licentious direction, handsome cinematography (Algimantas Mockus) and deliberately over-the-top histrionics, especially by Girdvainis who seems to have a whale of a time fooling around in his impish role. Add to that a mixture of the hallucinatory music so typical of the 1970s and the screenplay with rather whimsical inner logic and entirely sung dialogues, and you have yourselves a wild carriage ride across the green pastures and thick forests of the authentically rustic setting. It's a miracle this vibrant, high-spirited fairy tale, psychedelic at its core, hadn't been butchered or even banned by the strict censors behind the iron curtain, considering that it involves the shots of same sex kissing and caressing in the very prologue. Although influenced by Russian fantasy films of the period, it stands out for its open-mindedness and more dynamic camera work.

14 Apr 2020

Fajr (Lois Patiño, 2016)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼


Lois Patiño's films belong to the realm of ultra-slow cinema. They radiate Calm that could easily be dubbed supernatural, and they're imbued with the special kind of non-religious spirituality that allows you to find the link between your inner self and the universe, and cross, if only for a few moments, into another dimension, equally tangible and abstract, cold and intimate.

Even in Fajr whose title has a double meaning in Arabic - 'dawn' and 'the Islamic call to prayer' (adhan), the approach to spiritual discovery is not theistic, but rather filmic. Shot in the Moroccan desert, this gorgeous tone poem sees motionless human figures punctuating the vast, surreal landscape until they begin dissolving into thin air, as if translated onto another plane of reality. Only disturbed by the wind, their stillness mystifies the viewer and their disappearance thickens the aura of enigma surrounding them.

Observed from a distance, these liminal apparitions / mystical entities / Fata Morganas of the highest order are complete in their stubbornly silent incompleteness, eternal in their transiency and resistant to our gaze. The visual compositions that they occupy breathe through subtle changes of lighting, with shadows acting as void(s) where our meandering thoughts are sucked into. Their pure, ascetic, meditative beauty transcends our perception of both time and space, hypnotizing us into zealots pursuing the secrets and dreams buried deep beneath the layers of sand...

7 Apr 2020

Sol Levante (Akira Saitoh, 2020)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼


The first hand-drawn anime with 4K HDR quality, Akira Saitoh's directorial debut favors hyper-style over substance, placing the emphasis on the showcase of technological prowess. Dazzlingly beautiful, it plunges the viewer into a magical world where a one-eyed heroine and her raven familiar face larger-than-life creatures and ancient spirits in a seemingly never-ending battle.

Given the film's brief running time (only three minutes sans the ending credits), this flamboyant fantasy leaves you craving for more, and with no answer to who or what is Sol Levante, although the literal translation from Italian (Rising Sun) indicates the new dawn for Japanese animation. It can also be interpreted as a sketch portrayal of the struggle with one's inner demons, or as a metaphor for the search of god, one's true self or something highly esoteric else.

Replete with delicate linework and brimming with colors oft-bathed in light, its crisp and kinetic visuals possess the spirituality of Mamoru Oshii's Open Your Mind and the imagination of the most phantasmagorical bits of Keiichi Sato's Karas. Their elegance is complemented by Emily Rice's score which captures the mysterious tone of the opening, heightened tension of the action-oriented mid-section, and the transcendental calm of the sublime conclusion. 

1 Apr 2020

Cinematic Favorites 03/20

The first (and probably not the last) quarantine edition of Cinematic Favorites will be marked by short films which have been ruling internet during these days of pandemic lockdown, primarily thanks to independent artists and many festivals switching to live online streaming or offering their entire programs from the past years. (And not to mention that having numerous cinephiles as Facebook friends equals a continuous influx of recommendations.) But, before focusing on these small, yet valuable pieces of cinema, the easier part - ten of the most memorable recent features, ranging from weird arthouse to commercial flicks which I found immensely enjoyable despite low expectations.


1. The Bottomless Bag (Rustam Khamdamov, 2017)
2. Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway (Miguel Llansó, 2019) 
3. Diner (Mika Ninagawa, 2019)
4. The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil (Won Tae-Lee, 2019)
5. Altered Carbon: Resleeved (Takeru Nakajima & Yoshiyuki Okada, 2020)
6. Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (Cathy Yan, 2020)
7. The Manslayer/The Virgin/The Shadow (Sulev Keedus, 2017)
8. To Your Last Death (Jason Axinn, 2019)
9. Swallow (Carlo Mirabella-Davis, 2019)
10. Underwater (William Eubank, 2020)

And now, arranged in four categories, top 40 out 100+ shorts watched in March.

MUSICAL INTERLUDE


1. Never Forever (Lily X. Wahrman, 2013)
2. Coma (Pedro Cornetta, 2013)
3. El Búho - Aguas Claras (Víctor Hugo Espejo & Jessica Lopez, 2018)
4. Spiritbox - Blessed Be (Versa Films, 2020)

NOT ALL TOONS ARE FOR KIDS


1. Two Grim Ravens (Mihajlo Dragaš, 2019)
2. The Past Inside the Present (James Siewert, 2016)
3. The External World (David O’Reilly, 2011)
4. The Burden (Niki Lindroth von Bahr, 2017)
5. There Were Four of Us (Cassie Shao, 2019) (trailer)
6. How to Disappear (Merlin Flügel, 2011)
7. Flut (Malte Stein, 2018)
8. Schirkoa (Ishan Shukla, 2016)
9. Shehr e Tabassum (Arafat Mazhar, 2020)
10. The Ride (Huh Hyunjung, 2019) (trailer)
11. Symbiosis (Nádja Andrasev, 2019) (official page)
12. Familiar Strangers (Murat Sayginer, 2020)
13. Granny (Sandro Katamashvili, 2013)

CINE-LAB REVERIES


1. Witches Walk (Daniel & Clara, 2012)
2. Me the Seagull and the Sky (Chris O’Neill, 2012)
3. }Oo( (A.J. Gomez, 2016)
4. Soul Cages (Phillip Barker, 2000)
5. Zang Tumb Tumb (Tias Banerjee, 2018)
6. Night People (Daniel Fawcett, 2000)
7. 3 Dreams of Horses (Mike Hoolboom, 2018)
8. The Walking Ink (Thomas Barndt, 2006)
9. Image of Myself as Act (Wolfgang Lehmann, 2002)
10. Sightings (Kent Tate, 2013)
11. Mindscapes (Muriel Paraboni, 2018)
12. Astrology (Brittany Gravely, 2018)
13. Cassette (Péter Lichter, 2011)

MELANCHOLIA / ANTI-UTOPIA


1. The Process (Vallo Toomla, 2010)
2. 2045 (Maja Prelog & Blaž Murn, 2016)
3. The Day the Beans Ran Out (Guðný Rós Þórhallsdóttir, 2018)
4. Parachutes (Wendy Pillonel, 2012)
5. The Forest (Lia Tsalta, 2017) (trailer)
6. Jana (Freddie Favar, 2018)
7. Habana (Edouard Salier, 2014)
8. Submarine (Mounia Akl, 2016)
9. Bon Appétit (Erenik Beqiri, 2017)
10. Nation Estate (Larissa Sansour, 2013)