Nov 1, 2020

Cinematic Favorites 10/20

Thanks to the overwhelming response to an open call for the second edition of the Kinoskop festival I've been co-curating, and partly to my cine-appetite, I watched over three hundred shorts during this October, ranging from an occultish, rambunctiously psychedelic phantasmagoria to a surrealistic, absurdly funny rom-com to a good number of archival footage films that must be originating from the Twilight Zone. However, for this edition of Cinematic Favorites, I will focus solely on feature-length offerings, both oldies and newbies, which made my moody autumnal days.


1. Faust (F.W. Murnau, 1926) - Nothing short of pure magic!
2. Osessione (Luchino Visconti, 1943) - Although I'm rarely attracted to the films of Italian neorealism, I was deeply impressed by Visconti's debut, right from the foreboding theme in the opening credits, and all the way to technical, formal and metaphorical subtleties at display. A wonderful piece of classic cinema!
3. Fire with Fire (Duncan Gibbins, 1986) - From an elaborate proto-selfie inspired by Sir John Everett Millais's painting Ophelia, and taken by Virginia Madsen's heroine Lisa (epitomizing other-worldly beauty!) to the action-packed finale which features hints of First Blood (believe it or not!), forbidden-love drama Fire with Fire is a charming, engaging and highly entertaining  re-imagination of Romeo and Juliet that left me – one of the 80s children – utterly enchanted. I can't remember the last time I wanted to cheer aloud for the protagonists to have a happy ending, partly due to the sparkling chemistry between Ms. Madsen and her partner Craig Sheffer who look adorable together, channeling extremely subtle eroticism and being pretty believable as late teens (both of them were in their mid-20s back then). Also praiseworthy is Jon Polito's performance – he excels in chewing the scenery, creating one of those sleazy cop characters that you just love to hate!

4. Bullet Ballet (Shin'ya Tsukamoto, 1998) - An exemplary piece of unadulterated cine-madness, Bullet Ballet plunges the viewer, along with its self-destructive protagonist, into the boiling vortex of violence, assaulting your senses with dizzying camerawork, hectic editing and energizing score, while coming across as a drugged out version of Taxi Driver. The all-pervading nihilist attitude is greatly complemented by highly expressive black & white cinematography, yet no stills could do it justice – the film should be seen in its frenetic motion.
5. Jubilee (Derek Jarman, 1978) - Chewing scenery can be a major distraction in some movies, but not in Derek Jarman's sophomore feature in which overacting should be embraced as an integral part of its glamorously raw style (Jack Birkett as Borgia Ginz is a blast!). Densely packed with colorful, unruly imagery and loud punk-rock songs, Jubilee is a queer, irreverent, anarchistic and confrontational fantasy that could easily provoke an outrage within certain circles even today. 
6. The Savior (Michel Mardore, 1971) - Part teen-girl sexual fantasy and part reflection on horrors of war, Michel Mardore's feature debut chronicles a twisted love story between sweet and naïf Nanette and a wounded partisan, Claude, portrayed, respectively, by 19-yo first-timer Muriel Catalá and thirtysomething Horst Buchholz, both completely uninhibited in their roles. Nicely paced, slightly exploitative and aesthetically pleasing, the film takes a sharp turn when the 1943 reality kicks in, turning wet dream into a nightmarish tragedy.
7. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Jacques Demy, 1964) - The phrase 'bursting with colors' appears like a severe understatement when it comes to Demy's lauded musical. And Catherine Deneuve looks like an angel, whether her costume is peach or sky blue, beige or magenta...


1. (ex aquo)

Black Sun (Daniel & Clara, 2017)
Commissioned to write an essay on the occassion of celebrating Daniel & Clara's decade-long career, I had the honor of seeing their boldest, most secretive and challenging piece, Black Sun, and you will be able to read about it tomorrow, on November 2, when the article is scheduled for release...

Desire Path (Marjorie Conrad, 2020)
Fear and desire become opaque and obscure One in Marjorie Conrad's uncompromising sophomore feature – a deliberately paced, relentlessly elliptical and formally adventurous de(con)struction of the vampire subgenre. Almost completely wordless and featuring a minimal cast of three (Amy Deanna, Otto von Schirach and Andrew Banewicz, more ciphers than characters), this cryptic experimental horror plays out like a densely atmospheric tone poem which will certainly provoke extremely polarizing reactions. So, I am speaking for myself when I say that its peculiar blend of heavily brooding drones and oppressively tenebrous visuals slowly but assuredly creeps its way under the viewer's skin and stays there for who knows how long. What I particularly like about it are unforeseen changes in image format, fetishist approach to both soft focus and flickering, as well as the frequent 'leaps into the void' (i.e. black screen intrusions) that intensify its mysteriousness and turn the experience of watching it into an eerie encounter with some alien / demonic entity.
2. Spontaneous (Brian Duffield, 2020) - ... is not 'high art'. But, in all honesty, I don't give a damn, because it is the most entertaining coming-of-age story I've seen in years, and it works like a cinematic antidote for the vitriolic, f*cked-up reality of 2020, without being too escapist! An emotional roller-coaster that's exciting from the first to the last minute, it is a seamless blend of teen romance, dark comedy and contemporary fantasy which has an absurd mystery (of senior high-schoolers spontaneously exploding) at its core. Featuring adorable leading duo and brimming with youthful energy and film-related jokes and references (which appear to be Duffield's fetish of sorts, judging by his previous screenplays), it firmly embraces (pop-)punkish attitude and successfully treads the line between bitter and sweet, subtle and crude, tender and edgy, trivial and profound, life-affirming and death-embracing. Quite a calling for its first-time director!
3. Paul Keller: Silence in the Scream (Axel Loh, 2020) - Shot on a 16mm camera from the 60s and enhanced with bits of post-war found footage, Paul Keller has the looks, but also the heart of a retro B-movie. Part love letter to Hitchcock's Psycho, and part twisted mystery seasoned with subtly tongue-in-cheek humor, it boasts an admirable performance from its lead actor, Fabian Dünow, and enchants with its beautifully composed frames.

4. The Bra (Veit Helmer, 2018) - read my review HERE.
5. Lily Lane (Benedek Fliegauf, 2016) - read my review HERE.
6. Love and Monsters (Michael Matthews, 2020) - Another surprisingly engaging movie penned by Brian Duffield, Love and Monsters is a romantic, larger-than-life adventure set in the post-apocalyptic USA infested with mutated (and not to mention enormous!) insects, crustaceans and amphibians conjured through Harryhausen-inspired CGI. 
7. Koko-di Koko-da (Johannes Nyholm, 2020) - the less you know about the loopy hell of this Scandinavian genre-bender, the better...

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