Aug 28, 2020

LOS (Martin Del Carpio, 2020)

Short collage film or rather, 'motion picture book' LOS is the second collaborative effort between NYC-based artist Martin Del Carpio (concept and direction) and myself (collage art and animation), with the ambient/minimalist score provided by Lebanese improvising guitarist Sharif Sehnaoui. It blends a sci-fi narrative and cut-out/stop-motion visuals with hints of esotericism in its portrayal of the bleak, AI-dominated future.

Synopsis (written by Frank Vasquez)

In another time, on a different world, mankind has made progress . . . Ruled by the very AI they developed and employed to set them free, humans have become slaves to their machine. We have lost friendship, love, and sex, and we are the machine labor and means of production. In a tomorrow-land without touch or value, a future very much of our making, upon which human life is transaction and output, we have lost humanity. The AI, the machine, has put us to work, and we humans do not work without it. We labor and toil for calculations and machinations logical and unfeeling, having forgotten one another and ourselves.

Yet there are the Los: the most human of us, ostracized, exiled, and refuted by the rest for knowing nature and refusing to resist intimacy and the intangible connections of life. It is the Los who would free mankind to return to their humanity and to become again the collective “we” of individuality, of love, of freedom from artificial design. The Los will go to war for the humans who were not and for the humans they are, but . . . will they save us?

You can watch LOS on Martin Del Carpio's official Vimeo channel, HERE,
or directly, via NGboo Art.

Aug 25, 2020

The Step (Aleqsandre Rekhviashvili, 1985)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

If the devil is in the detail, then a run-down appartment rented by Alexi - the protagonist of The Step (originally, Sapekhuri) - must be the residence of a whole army of little devils. There are plants in every corner, vinyl records stacked in piles, old newspapers glued to decrepit walls, bric-a-brac and trinkets wherever your eyes reach, and a huge, dust-covered travelling bag resting next to a cupboard covered with pots and pans that haven't been used in a while... On top of that, the rooms are furnished or rather, crowded with beautiful pieces of vintage furniture acting as silent and unkempt witnesses of better days. But, this micro-chaos isn't without its charms and they are recognized by both Alexi, a doctorand of botanic superbly portrayed by Merab Ninidze in a low key, and his many eccentric and/or enigmatic friends who feel at home there, frequently discovering the crib's little secrets.

From a loveless conversation between Alexi's estranged father and hissing stepmother, we learn that the young man has moved again, yet his quest for independency as well as for the place in a society seems to be at a standstill. Chained by the same old relationships deliberately depicted as opaque, and trapped in a bureaucratic loop at a research institute where he applied for a position, he resembles a Kafkaesque hero whose repetitive everyday grows increasingly surreal to the point of having a donkey as a roommate. The uneventfulness of his bizarre reality is subtly poeticized by Rekhviashvili who imbues the story with a keen sense of the absurd and spices it up with wry humor, preparing the terrain for the titular step which is supposed to lead out of the cluttered, claustrophobic spaces posing as a comfort zone. In the pivotal scene - Alexi's encounter with his favorite teacher - he suggests a comforting thought that 'one who doesn't know where he goes will get the farthest', so he lets his central character wander some more through the labyrinth of his own creation, before finally finding (what appears to be) an exit.

Just like with his previous films - The 19th Century Georgian Chronicle (1979) and The Way Home (1981) - Rekhviashvili almost completely abandons music, achieving an austere atmosphere of brooding, hypnotizing, and at times, even paralyzing stupor. Once again, he collaborates with Archil Pilipashvili behind the camera, and frames the proceedings with pictorial elegance that turns his drama into a lucid fever-dream, emphasizing the beauty of decay.

Aug 21, 2020

Iran Is My Land (Parviz Kimiavi, 1999)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

In Parviz Kimiavi's la(te)st fiction film, the books grow on trees amidst the desert, a water canal is married to a local widow for the drought to be broken, and the poets of the past haunt the present of a protagonist, Sohrab, wonderfully portrayed by Behzad Khodaveisi. While writing a thesis on Persian classic poetry, our scholar hero has to deal with a grinning Kafkaesque bureaucrat (a bravura supporting performance by Saeed Poursamimi) in order to acquire a publication license, so for that reason, he travels from the Kerman province to Tehran. However, his journey is fraught with a number of bizarre detours which turn his country into a magical and slightly disorienting realm.

Iran Is My Land (originally, Iran saray-e man ast) is a prime example of old-school cinematic surrealism that reaches all the way to the viewer's subconscious or rather soul, and gently envelops it in warmth. What's most fascinating about it is the effortless way Kimiavi manipulates time and space, blurring the boundaries between fantasy and reality, Sohrab's thoughts and actions, without ever losing the thread of his carefully measured and seemingly meandering narrative. Anyone unfamiliar with the history and cultural heritage of Iran will certainly find it ambiguous, yet the playful auteur will always make sure that the stranger feels welcome, even when the story overwhelms him/her with its exoticism. Brimful of rhyming verses and tinged with subtle humor, his dialogues are imbued with universal wisdom and simultaneously they epitomize the most personal form of filmic lyricism, which comes as no surprise, considering the poetry is the name of the game.

Themes of censorship, persistence, introspection and re-connection with tradition are densely intertwined and explored through the prism of art, its great potency and possible meanings, whereby the film plays out like a hardly classifiable blend of a formally astute essay, a dreamlike road-movie and a peculiar brand of an anthropological documentary. Largely taking place in a desert, around ancient ruins and villages, it is dominated by the color of sand, with the characters' costumes enhancing the picturesque qualities of Mohammad Aladpoush's taut cinematography. Modest in style, the charming visuals are often complemented only by ambience sounds, their marriage establishing a mystical atmosphere that is occasionally sublimated by Hossein Alizadeh's folk-inspired score also employed as a fourth wall-breaking tool in the witty epilogue.

Aug 16, 2020

Sputnik (Egor Abramenko, 2020)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

An ambitious and confident debut from Egor Abramenko, Sputnik is an intriguing mixture of character (melo)drama, social commentary, retro sci-fi, creature feature and body horror that wears its influences, from Alien to X-Files to Arrival, pretty close to its sleeve, yet still manages to maintain a certain level of freshness (and even authenticity). The exquisite monster effects, Maxim Zhukov’s attention-grabbing cinematography and the slick, austerely beautiful production design that sends us back in time to 1983 USSR provide some memorable visuals, whereby Oleg Karpachov’s ominously brooding score establishes a dense, immersive atmosphere. The leading duo of Oksana Akinshina (of the Lilya 4-ever fame) and Pyotr Fyodorov (whom you might’ve seen in Sarancha, the first Russian erotic thriller) command the screen with strong performances, and Fedor Bondarchuk seems to have a whale of a time behind the super-serious façade of the story’s true villain.

Aug 15, 2020


The sea opened its mouth
and swallowed the butterflies of hope.
It was a day like many others,
with no Sun to whisper to
and no stars to take into your arms.
In the simmering of absolute light,
there was but amplified darkness.
Their blood turned to snow,
and the Eyes cried the nectar of thorns.
When the Being left, nothing changed.
When the Being left, everything sang.

Aug 10, 2020

The Way Home (Aleqsandre Rekhviashvili, 1981)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

Set in the 19th century southern Georgia still dominated by the Ottoman Empire, The Way Home (originally, Gza shinisaken) reimagines the historical figure of Anthim the Iberian (Antimoz Iverieli, 1650-1716) - a revered scholar, theologian, calligrapher and philosopher - as a quiet young man who tries to return home after escaping his captors. Presumably inspired by the likes of Dreyer, Bresson, Tarkovsky, and Parajanov, this peculiar, surrealistic drama turned 'road movie of the soul' daringly embraces anachronisms, as well as the unorthodox narrative patterns, mesmerizing the viewer with its lyrical story, breathtakingly beautiful B&W cinematography, and solemn silence pierced only by diegetic noise and stylized dialogue. Often appearing as a puzzling deconstruction of some local legend(s), it features a classy, tightly controlled direction from Rekhviashvili and stoically powerful performances by the entire cast, especially by Vakhtang Panchulidze who imbues the leading role with sublime mystery.

Aug 1, 2020

Cinematic Favorites 07/20

This July was hot as hell (which also reflects the current state of affairs), so I decided to make a devilish choice of 6 'old-timers', 6 recent features and 6 shorts I loved the most out of approx. 90 films I watched...


1. The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre (Joseph Stephano, 1964)

2. The Mask (Julian Roffman, 1961)

A great B-noir/horror whose highlights are three gorgeously nightmarish 3D sequences directed by Slavko Vorkapić, the co-author of 1928 experimental film The Life and Death of 9413, a Hollywood Extra. What's fascinating about these trips 'deeper into subconscious' is that you don't even need special glasses to enjoy the psychedelic imagery replete with skulls, thick fog, occult rituals and disfigured faces!

3. Oxygen (Matjaž Klopčić, 1970)

"The government is murder! The government is suicide! A revolution is the present! A revolution is excitement! It's a dance! It's a scream!"

Oxygen sees a journalist, Marko (Stevo Žigon), and his wife, Patricija (Polish actress Małgorzata Braunek who would appear in Żuławski’s The Third Part of the Night a year later), getting involved in a surreally depicted struggle between young revolutionaries and repressive establishment whose agents rarely leave the couple a moment of peace. By virtue of Milka Badjura's ingeniously hectic, dizzying and whimsical editing that would give even the Nouvelle Vague filmmakers run for their money, one gets easily disoriented in this dystopian, anti-illusionary, formally challenging, 'Kafka meets Godard under the hippie sun' drama set on an imaginary island, and playing out on the border between pamphlet and poetry, dream and reality, fiction and documentary.

"Borders need to be erased. Then we will move into the world of fantasy."

4. The Detective and Death (Gonzalo Suárez, 1994)

Filmed in Poland and set over the course of one long night, this Spanish neo-noir is quite a strange, hardly classifiable beast. Featuring a superb cast led by Javier Bardem (as a no-nonsense detective, Cornelio, boldly objectified in the opening scene) and Maria de Medeiros (as a clumsy, stuttering mother, Maria, unwillingly pulled into a deviant game of shady characters), the film unfolds as a surreal, somewhat melodramatic and borderline absurd narrative in which the big, incestuous baddie portrayed by Héctor Alterio is referred to as Gran Mierda (lit. Big Shit). Puzzling and (decidedly?) incoherent, it feels like a sullen, unrhymed ode to death sung with a tongue-in-cheek attitude.

5. Song of the Forest (Viktor Ivchenko, 1961)

Starring absolutely charming and graceful Raisa Nedashkovskaya as forest spirit Mavka, this folk fairy tale brimming with dreamlike imagery is a delightful treat for the Soviet-era fantasy aficionados. 

6. Prime Cut (Michael Ritchie, 1972)

A cool, slightly off-beat gangster flick worthy of watching for Lee Marvin's bravura performance alone, and not to mention the adorable Sissy Spacek and an intense scene involving a combine harvester...


4. The Tango of the Widower and Its Distorting Mirror (Raúl Ruiz & Valeria Sarmiento, 2020)

Restored by his wife Valeria Sarmiento and flawlessly dubbed thanks to a lip-reading expert, Ruiz's unfinished 1967 film is another brilliant addition to the Chilean master's opus. Part psychological drama, part black comedy (borderline horror?), and all a formally challenging piece of (nightmarish) cinema, it is soaked in a stifling, claustrophobic atmosphere achieved through the frequent use of unnerving close-ups (and creeping wigs!) accompanied by the ominously haunting score from Jorge Arriagada. Once it reaches its midpoint, the film is 'black-lodged' to the start, with parts of the Distorting Mirror half rendered in a photo-novel manner.

6. Gundala (Joko Anwar, 2019)

A refreshing take on the superhero subgenre, Gundala presents a pretty successful blend of socio-political drama and martial arts action sprinkled with some quirky humor and bits of Javanese mythology. Its greatest strengths lie in well-rounded performances, solid fighting choreography and atmospheric visuals, whereas the flaws begin to surge during the final act which introduces some new, out-of-nowhere characters who will probably be opposing Gundala or joining his ranks in the upcoming sequel(s). Even if you don’t like the movies with spandex/leather-wearing protagonists, you may want to give this one a chance...


3. JYOTI and JOYMOTI (Mehdi Jahan, 2017)

In his fascinating, cinematically eloquent debut, Mehdi Jahan blurs the boundaries between fact and fiction, life and death, personal history and that of his native region of Assam, and immerses the viewer in a dense, oneiric atmosphere effortlessly established through deliberate pacing, lyrical narrative, moody B&W visuals, elegiac flute melody and old radio broadcasts that mark the 'silent to talkie' transition. From the largely non-professional cast, he elicits powerful, borderline Bressonian performances and imbues his film with a keen sense of mystery...

4. Songs From Far Away Land (Tuhinabha Majumdar, 2020)

A subtly surreal, profoundly poetic and deliberately paced drama boasting elegant direction by Tuhinabha Majumdar, delicate performances by the entire cast and wonderful, highly atmospheric cinematography by Sathanand Rangaraj, especially during a tracking overhead shot that captures a mesmerizing dance choreography. In its constant overlapping of dreams, memories and reality on the border between life and death, Songs From Far Away Land takes the viewer on a spiritual journey, with the ancestors' ghosts acting as sage guides. The film's soul is so big, that it is overwhelming! It would be a great companion piece to Alexander Sokurov's Mother and Son or Aditya Vikram Sengupta's Jonaki

Two usher boys seduce a mermaid, red-haired nymphs and other mythological characters with Dior's 2020-2021 Haute Couture collection in a visually splendid, dialogue-free fantasy softly veiled in evocative, ethereal music and meticulously directed by Matteo Garrone. Although an entirely different animal, it easily ranks with some other successful fashion ad films, such as David Lynch's Lady Blue Shanghai (made also for Dior) and Luca Guadagnino's The Staggering Girl (for Valentino).

Beautifully illustrated and animated, with a subtle, minimalist score to boot, Mom plunges the viewer into a cruel, desensitized dystopia that our society has dangerously approached to. Under ten minutes, firsttimer Kajika Aki Ferrazzini demonstrates lush talent, her strong, occasionally surreal visuals bringing the names of Jean Giraud Moebius, René Laloux, Satoshi Kon and Jérémie Périn (of the Lastman fame) to one’s mind.