Dec 3, 2021

Crisis Jung (Baptiste Gaubert & Jérémie Hoarau, 2018)

Embodying Jungian concepts of Animus and Anima in a tragic, archetypal (super)hero named after the famed psychiatrist and forced to embark on a post-apocalyptic road of individuation (well, sort of), this short series marks the most fascinating anomaly amongst the weirdest milestones in the history of (French) animation. Madder than Mad Max, heavier than Heavy Metal, wilder than Dead Leaves (apparently, that’s also possible), and gorier than the most notorious of ultra-violent old-school anime, such as Fist of the North Star, it revels in gratuitous transgression of the John Waters kind, decidedly vulgar iconoclasm that places a glowing halo over Ken Russell’s opus, and unapologetically hyper-sexualized / gender-non-conforming imagery that reaches its climax in a coitus of divine proportions.

Armed with a sharp satirical blade, it comes across as an absurdist, steroid-fattened, pseudo-philosophical parody of every (cartoon) show based on ‘magical transformation + monster of the week’ formula, but it simultaneously pays a loving homage to all those pulp action fantasies that it unabashedly draws (read: sucks in the most perverse sense possible) inspiration from. It employs repetition to a ‘running gag’ effect, as Jung – turned by his own despair into a broken-hearted legend of the wastelands (and accompanied by trans-femme version of Mary Magdalene) – faces the demons of Tenderness, Tolerance, Confidence, Charity, Compassion, Maturity and Fortitude, before the final duel against Little Jesus (alien creature that is, ironically, colossally obese) whose pink excrement produces eggs from which the villains are hatched. Did I mention the chainsaw-dicked henchmen, spiritualization of cannibalism and poetry recited in the rain of blood? And let’s not forget the esoteric influence of The End of Evangelion and the fabulously rampant flamboyancy that brings to mind Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. If all of this sounds like too much, let me assure you it is, but it does operate like a well-oiled machine whose over-the-top / in-your-face appearance makes it one of the most boldly and subversively imaginative inventions. 

Dec 1, 2021

Best Premiere Viewings of November

OLDIES

1. Corridor of Mirrors (Terence Young, 1948)


If I were asked to describe Corridor of Mirrors in only two words, I would say something along the lines of ‘incredibly posh’ or ‘extraordinarily elegant’. A film of lush beauty, visual and aural alike, and mesmerizing atmosphere, it recounts the story of dangerous obsession and delusions in the form of a heightened Gothic melodrama which, by the end, flirts with psychological horror, filling you with a strange sense of discomfort. Gently shrouded in the veil of mystery which isn’t completely lifted even after the big reveal, this ‘noir fairy tale’ tackles the idea of a ‘previous life’ through its eccentric (anti)hero (an imposing performance from Eric Portman) whose unflinching commitment to the past is turned into a sort of a romantic fetish continuously reflected in gorgeous costume and production design. What makes the feature all the more impressive is the fact that it marked a debut for both its director Terence Young and art director Terence Verity who left an impression of more experienced artists.

2. Eye of the Devil (J. Lee Thompson, 1966)


It is for films like this that I often wish multiplex theaters in my home town were showing at least one classic a week. A highly atmospheric blend of gothic, occult and folk horror, Eye of the Devil is as stunning as Sharon Tate’s beauty, and eerily ominous as the aura surrounding her enigmatic character Odile whose archer brother is portrayed by David Hemmings at his most broodingly malevolent. Deborah Kerr’s hysteric histrionics give rise to the sense of paranoia pervading the story, with Donald Pleasence’s calm, velvety voice operating as a counterbalance that puts you in a state akin to a hypnotic trance. 

3. The Beast with Five Fingers (Robert Florey, 1946)


Despite the bits of humor and a somewhat goofy premise that most probably inspired Thing from The Adams Family franchise, The Beast with Five Finger is a prime example of Gothic elegance, primarily thanks to the combined genius of composer Max Steiner, DoP Wesley Anderson and art director Stanley Fleischer. The shadowy interiors of a sumptuous Italian villa in which the psychologically tricky story is largely set are nothing short of breathtakingly eerie, though a good deal of creepiness comes from a character played by the inimitable Peter Lorre.

4. Follow Me Quietly (Richard Fleischer, 1949)

On the surface, this early offering from Richard Fleischer whose late career involves a couple of cult sword & sorcery flicks – Conan the Destroyer and Red Sonja –  appears like a generic police procedural noir, with a hard-boiled hero in a trench coat, a nosy ‘hussy’ of a journalist, a perpetrator who operates under the moniker of ‘The Judge’, and everyone’s favorite hangout place called ‘The Tavern’ that exists in some unnamed American City. But, what elevates Follow Me Quietly above similar films are the perseverance of mystery (an important ingredient of many great pieces of art), even after the serial strangler (who kills only during the rain) is given a face, as well as intriguing details such as a creepy profiler dummy that comes to life at one point. Its economic running time of just about an hour, and the climactic ‘gas refinery’ set piece alone are reasons enough to check it out. 

Also recommended is elaborate MUBI essay Deadpan in Nulltown by B. Kite and Bill Krohn.

5. Marianne de ma jeunesse / Marianne of My Youth (Julien Duvivier, 1955)


There is unabashed über-romanticism at play in Julien Duvivier’s strangely alluring fantasy drama which exists in two simultaneously shot versions – French (which I’ve seen / starring Pierre Vaneck) and German (which I’m compelled to see / with Horst Buchholz in his first big-screen role). Set in and around a Bavarian boarding school for boys, it tells a simple, yet somewhat unconventional story of a young man, Vincent, falling for a mysterious girl, Marianne (incredibly charming Marianne Hold), held captive in a supposedly haunted manor. He appears to be a magnet for both his friends (it’s hard to deny a strong homoerotic subtext in the way they all orbit around him) and entire population of deer and does who inhabit a lush surrounding forest, whereas she may only be a figment of his fertile imagination; a symbol of unattainable love/beauty. The film has a Cocteau-esque vibe attached to it, bringing to one’s mind his ‘Beauty and the Beast’ through the exquisite production design, but it also feels like there’s a Gothic horror buried deep, deep underneath the surface of a tonally elusive fairy tale. But, regardless of how you look at it, Marianne of My Youth is a cinematically inspired piece dreamily captured by the keen eye of Léonce-Henri Burel (Diary of a Country Priest).

6. Wênd Kûuni / God’s Gift (Gaston Kaboré, 1982)


A film of lyrical beauty and hushed atmosphere, this diamond in the rough from Burkina Faso plays out like a blend of pastoral drama and ethnographic documentary shrouded in a transparent veil of mystery. Directed with a gentle hand and shot with a poet’s eye, it tells a mute boy’s story in which time seems to be at a standstill. The strong feeling of authenticity which pervades it arises from the performances by the largely non-professional cast.

7. La note bleue / The Blue Note (Andrzej Żuławski, 1991)


Maddeningly fascinating in its decadent beauty, irreverent fancy and ferocious hyper-theatricality, The Blue Note reflects on the destructive power of creativity, unapologetically glorifying ‘l’art pour l’art’. Insolently whimsical and Dionysian, it swirls you around like a whirlwind of colors, textures and oscillating emotions.

8. Damen i svart / The Lady in Black (Arne Mattsson, 1958)


Sven Nykvist’s name in the credits is the reason enough to spend 100 minutes with a Sherlock Holmes-like whodunit that occasionally feels like a German krimi mixed with a proto-episode of the Scooby Doo series, thanks to the titular lady in black – a ghost who forebodes death and tragedy. The aforementioned virtuoso cinematographer provides the viewer with highly expressive visuals, often trapping the characters in door and window frames, between balusters and in deep shadows, as we’re trying to solve the mystery along with a married couple of detectives failing to enjoy their summer vacation.

THE 21st CENTURY CINEMA

1. Ryū to sobakasu no hime / Belle (Mamoru Hosoda, 2021)

The Beauty and the Beast fairy tale is relocated to online kingdom in the latest feature by Mamoru Hosoda (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars, Wolf Children), only to be subverted in the most unexpectedly poignant fashion. Exploring the duality of our identities in a digital era, the healing power of music, distances that bring us together, and transformation of pain into strength, inter alia, Belle reminds us of the forgotten art of empathy, as it sees physical and virtual realities bleed into each other like never before. Combined in perfect balance, the timelessness of a heartfelt coming-of-age dramedy and the epic sumptuousness of maximalist sci-fi/musical/fantasy provide the viewer with two hours of pure anime magic – a masterwork of hi-tech surrealism that will highly likely find its place amongst the best animated features of the current decade.

The wildly varied designs seen in the metaverse of ‘U’ where the phantasmagorical action takes place evoke comparisons to everything (but the kitchen sink) from Disney to Studio 4°C experiments, from Tatsunoko heroes such as Casshern to the 80’s shows Voltron and Jam and the Holograms, from the unforgettable parade scene in Satoshi Kon’s Paprika to Gothic aesthetics of Tim Burton’s stop-motion films, and yet, they strike us as idiosyncratic as it gets. And back in the real world, we are treated to the hyper-stylized version of a painterly Japanese countryside, with the bluest of skies and the puffiest of clouds crowning simple buildings surrounded by thick vegetation. In such a gorgeously illustrated setting supported by thematic richness and elevated by the soaring score, everything familiar feels completely new, and even a Hosoda sceptic such as myself can’t help but admire imagination and creativity at display. 

2. The Nowhere Inn (Bill Benz, 2020)

Bill Benz’s (promising) feature debut is what happens when you remove ‘vanity’ from the ‘vanity project’ equations and after filtering it through the prism of self-irony bordering self-satire, put it back in. It is a whimsical piece of fiction that strives to be a musical documentary, only to turn into a witty mockumentary gradually taking the form of a delightfully weird and oh-so-meta psychological drama/thriller dealing with identity crisis, as well as with the authenticity of our creations and reality.

The star of the film is Annie Clark better recognized by her stage persona of St. Vincent, and she is simply wonderful in her role, singing and acting alike, even though you’re never sure if she’s Annie or St. Vincent or an actress playing Annie and St. Vincent, as her film within the film grows increasingly bizarre. (And this praise comes not from a fan, but from someone who has previously played a YouTube video or two by the said musician – active for more than a decade.)

Benz directs The Nowhere Inn unpretentiously, with a keen sense of humor and cinema artifice, employing a disorienting blend of digital, 16mm and VHS footage to emphasize the highly subjective viewpoint(s). He elicits excellent ‘art-imitates-life-imitates-art’ performances from the entire cast, whether those people play themselves, their alter egos or someone else... And in times like these, one can completely identify with the ‘madness’ at display.

3. Gwleđđ / The Feast (Lee Haven Jones, 2021)


If Pasolini’s Teorema had been re-imagined as an anti-capitalist, ecologically conscious art/folk horror in the vein of Greek Weird Wave, but shot in Welsh... well, you can already assume how this sentence ends. The Feast may not be the subtlest of allegories – in fact, it is decidedly ‘on the nose’, but it is a visually stunning piece of cinema created with unmistakable formal discipline, great attention to detail, and strong sense of foreboding atmosphere. Its meticulous framing, cleverly used music and tautly controlled direction are only matched by the unnerving central performance from Annes Elwy whose empty/confused stares, eerie micro-expressions and odd body language betray the non-human nature of her character, Cadi. Although we never get to know the true form of a mysterious force of nature possessing Cadi’s body, our reward comes as the grisly final act seasoned with some good ol’ psychedelia. A rock-solid feature debut for Lee Haven Jones.

4. Das Mädchen und die Spinne / The Girl and the Spider (Ramon & Silvan Zürcher, 2021)


Dubbed ‘a poetic ballad about change and transience’, German-spoken Swiss drama The Girl and the Spider also operates as a fascinating character study in which glances, body gestures and micro-expressions – perfected by the entire cast – speak much louder than words... unless the protagonists are intent on keeping their secrets. They walk around the confined spaces of a few apartments in almost choreographed fashion, captured in minutely composed mid-shots and close-ups which channel their emotional states through the great use of predominantly primary colors. Moving out has never been portrayed with such lyrical simplicity that, once you scratch its surface, reveals complex psychologies and whimsical peculiarities, particularly in the quirky character of Mara who’s brought to life through a magnetic performance by Henriette Confurius. The Zürcher brothers direct the with an architectural precision, imbuing the mundane with deeply human significance.

5. Ukkili kamshat / The Owners (Adilkhan Yerzhanov, 2014)


A spiritual prequel to The Plague at the Karatas Village (originally, Chuma v aule Karatas), The Owners is a Kafkaesque black/deadpan comedy, brutally wacky, cynically surreal and cheerfully tragic (!) in its lucid exploration of poverty, corruption, nepotism, legalized crime and systematic bullying. Interrupted by some unexpected bursts of feverish dancing, it bewitches you with its unhinged weirdness and strong sense of visual composition.

6. Das kalte Herz / Heart of Stone (Johannes Naber, 2016)


Enchanted by Henriette Confurius’s performance in the Zürcher brothers’ quirky drama The Girl and the Spider, I tracked 2016 adaptation of Wilhelm Hauff’s fairy tale Heart of Stone in which she portrays the hero’s sweetheart, Lisbeth, and lights up the screen every time she’s in the frame. The story revolves around a coal miner’s son, Peter (Frederick Lau of Victoria fame), who sells his heart to a Mephistophelian figure, Dutch Michel (ever-reliable Moritz Bleibtreu), for money and power, which Johannes Naber employs to create a spiritual sequel to his tart, cynical satire of capitalism Age of Cannibals (Zeit der Kannibalen). Although he executes a 180 degrees turn in terms of aesthetics, production values and his approach to anti-corporate messaging, he delivers a tautly directed film with a heart that is definitely not of stone; a beautiful dark fantasy that doesn’t shy away from its grim aspects. Speaking of which, Naber takes liberty to spice up the whole organ-transplantation business with graphic depictions that feel closer to the Grimm brothers’ writings, and introduces Lisbeth much earlier than Hauff, allowing her character more space to breathe. The accent is on Peter, of course, and Lau does a commendable job in portraying his transformation from a kind and reticent coal boy (looking like a member of Rammstein in the music video for their single Sonne) to an unscrupulous rich man deeply steeped in greed. On top of that, Pascal Schmit as cinematographer and Julian R. Wagner as production designer provide the viewer with plenty of eye-candy, completely immersing you in the world of yore, inhabited by both humans and forest spirits, and ruled by woodcutters and glassblowers.

7. The Trouble with Being Born (Sandra Wollner, 2020)

“We were outside all day and up all night. Mum would never have allowed it. I swam until my skin turned wrinkly and my lips turned blue. But I wouldn't get out of the water.”

Thought-provoking with the emphasis on ‘provoking’ is one of the safest ways to describe the controversial, sophomore feature from Austrian filmmaker Sandra Wollner. An unsettling visit to the uncanny valley, it raises a number of ethical questions and makes some “deep cuts into ontology, memory, identity and our increasingly boundary-obliterating relationship to tech” as Jessica Kiang notes in her Variety review. It puts you in the uncomfy shoes of an android modeled after an underage girl (a stunningly cool performance from a 10-yo first-timer playing under the mask and pseudonym of Lena Watson) who we initially see living with her ‘papa’. The above-quoted words which she is pre-programmed with, along with the memories of we-better-not-know-exactly-who, get covered in a dirty patina as soon as we realize (only through implications, thankfully) that the father-daughter dynamics fall under the category of ‘techno-incest’. And what intensifies the viscerally unpleasant feeling is the fact that the ghost in the machine is not aware of the concept of consent, nor does it recognize the exploitative nature of its situation. Even after it wanders off and ends up gender-bended into an object of consolation for an old lady who lost her younger brother long ago, the viewer can not shake off the heavy gloom, as Wollner strikes us with her icy formalism. Dialogues are often eschewed in favor of lingering silences and ‘understated’, yet unforgettable imagery that establish an oppressively brooding atmosphere. The Trouble with Being Born is yin to Marjorie Prime yang.

8. Mariphasa (Sandro Aguilar, 2017)


How does one portray the aftermath of a personal apocalypse triggered by the loss of a child? Is it even possible to find the right ‘colors’ to paint such a horrid tragedy? In his sophomore feature, Sandro Aguilar strives to answer these questions, and delivers a deeply depressing mood piece in which moving on feels like a paralyzing and suffocating stasis. A day rarely dawns, and harrowing nights drain the last drops of energy. Shadows devour the uninviting world of dimly lit spaces and miserable phantasms who inhabit it. Watching their inert ‘struggle’ can be best described as walking on the very brink of the abyss, with steely clouds of grief and pain threatening to crush you. It is only the film’s impressive (and coldly oppressive!) formal rigor that one is allowed to hold on to... 

Nov 17, 2021

Meta-Casa / Мета-Дом / Meta-Home

Marking 296th addition to my Bianco/Nero series of digital collages, Meta-Casa presents a re-imagination of the iconic pop-art piece Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing? by Richard Hamilton. It blends vintage erotica, cyberpunk elements and impossible architecture to envision a futuristic household in which physical, virtual and outer-dimensional realities meet and collide...


Meta-Casa / Мета-Дом / Meta-Home


Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing?, Richard Hamilton, 1956

Nov 14, 2021

Metak

Noćas je svinja preskočila Mesec,
i za njom je nemo uskliknulo dete:
„Gle, kako krava proždire lava,
a jelen, sav nadut i zelen
kao beskraj kroz modra usta...“

Pusta im je duša, pusta,
i prazne su im oči crne,
u tri igle udenuto, trne
sećanje na konac, zloslutni početak,
ples inog haosa k’o jedini poredak.
Gde je ta krv što miriše na počinak?

Gde su ti crvi i trag koji se mrvi,
dok u glavama gomila se mrak?
Crven i jak kao bik iz pakla,
sveti zjap za svet od stakla. 

Nov 1, 2021

Best Premiere Viewings of October

OLDIES

1. Niezwykla podróz Baltazara Kobera / The Tribulations of Balthazar Kober (Wojciech Has, 1988)


Cinema has the magical power to take the viewer to (mental / subconscious) places so fascinatingly peculiar that no destination on Earth can imitate, let alone substitute. The swan song by acclaimed director Wojciech Has sends you on a spiritually introspective, larger-than-life adventure which feels like a lucid, enlightening fever dream you continually wake from only to sink deeper into its soft, comforting embrace. Set in plague-stricken 16th century Germany inhabited by soulless priests, Jewish Cabalists, members of a secret brotherhood, and sparkling spirits of the dead, this gothic, Orphic odyssey meanders between heaven and hell, reality and fantasy, introducing an unlikely hero whose growth from a stuttering simpleton into a love-seeking rookie philosopher is assisted by Archangel Gabriel and the Devil himself. On top of that, you are treated to painterly visuals that make the viewing experience all the more immersive and mesmerizing, as the ensemble cast of both Polish and French actors dig into their roles with relish. 

2. The Servant (Joseph Losey, 1963)


“That's half the point of the game, the bending.”

Dirk Bogarde delivers a scene-stealing performance – the thrilling blend of shrewdness and resignation – as an enigmatic and sinister manservant, Barrett, in an icy cold and deeply intense psychological drama of Hitchcockian suspense and claustrophobic setting. And his colleagues – James Fox, Sarah Miles and Wendy Craig – whose characters are stuck in a complex and twisted relationship quadrangle are magically (not to mention superbly!) attuned to peculiarities of his devilishly controlling role. Joseph Losey directs with laser precision and keen eye for visual composition which plays a significant part in an intriguing study of social class deconstruction, sexual politics and continuous imbalance of power, subtly and largely imbued with queer subtext. Playing tricks on the viewer’s imagination by relying on suggestion rather than explicitness, he creates a singular film that is in equal measures baffling and disquieting.

3. Kavafis / Cavafy (Yannis Smaragdis, 1996)


“Let me submit to art...”

Imbued with a great sense of mystery, photographed with a keen painter’s eye (by Nikos Smaragdis), and embroidered with the finest musical threads woven by none other than the acclaimed composer Vangelis, Cavafy transcends the constraints of the biopic/period piece sub-genre, and pulls the viewer into the mind of Greek poet Konstantinos Petrou Kavafis (Constantine Peter Cavafy, 1863-1933). Transforming his erotic desires into a dense, all-pervasive atmosphere of heightened lyricism, this delicately sensual and evocatively dreamlike tone poem of a drama stands out as one of the most sophisticated cinematic portrayals of a (real life) gay character. Smaragdis lets his protagonist speak only in melancholic voice-overs, through his own verses, and leaves him completely silent whenever he interacts with his friends, family, lovers and one-night stands, which in return solidifies the strength of audio-visual stimuli.

4. Závrat / Vertigo (Karel Kachyňa, 1963)


A simple story of a young girl’s first crush is transmuted into a fascinating, hard-to-describe experience by virtue of purely cinematic magic which stems largely from the breathtakingly beautiful B&W imagery. The frame composition speaks in a surreal language so mellifluously poetic, that you can’t help but listen to the intoxicating music that fills the air, as its fingers strum the strings of your soul-harp...

5. The Uninvited (Lewis Allen, 1944)


An elegant blend of romantic melodrama and gothic horror laced with subtle humor, The Uninvited is grounded in engaging performances, stunning art direction, and nuanced interplay of light and shadows. I felt as if I visited the Fitzgerald siblings’ beautiful seaside mansion and experienced those eerie supernatural encounters firsthand.

6. Minagoroshi no Reika / I, the Executioner (Tai Katō, 1968)


Bursting with great examples of space manipulation within a frame, I, the Executioner hits the viewer with its relentless bleakness right from the get-go, depicting – as discreet as possible – an act of sexual violence culminating in a ‘brutal fucking murder’, to quote Grace Zabriskie’s character in Inland Empire, during the very prologue. Gradually, we learn that a misogynist perpetrator walks the path of vengeance, and is after a quintet of high middle class women whose last Mahjong gathering is marked with a darkly perverse secret which may be linked to a 16-yo boy’s suicide... Exploring the theme of ‘divine’ justice against the backdrop of moral decline or rather, ambiguity, Katō puts the viewer in heavy shoes of his mysterious, ever-frowning antihero (Makoto Satō, fearsomely superb) and consequently intensifies the feeling of uneasiness elicited through the frequent use of disorienting low angles and claustrophobic close-ups, equally fascinating and awe-inspiring. Out of shadows and set props, he creates inescapable cages for both his characters and the audience, with occasional intrusions of humor providing little to no relief from the dense, suffocating, even nihilist atmosphere of heightened psychological tension.

7. The Long, Hot Summer (Martin Ritt, 1958)


“I wish I was Ben Quick.”

Orson Welles munches on the scenery with great gusto as the pater familias of a wealthy Mississippian family in a sumptuously photographed romantic melodrama that must’ve inspired a plethora of soap operas. However, the star of this ostensibly outdated, yet tremendously entertaining flick is highly objectified Paul Newman as ambitious young drifter Ben Quick, with the sparkling chemistry or rather, heightened sexual tension between Joanne Woodward and him lighting up the screen whenever they’re sharing the scene. 

8. The Masque of Red Death (Roger Corman, 1964)


Truth hurts, but vivid colors alleviate the pain.

9. Отклонение (Гриша Островски & Тодор Стоянов, 1967) / Detour (Grisha Ostrovski & Todor Stoyanov, 1967)


I must admit that I’m not too familiar with Bulgarian cinema, but after watching ‘Detour’, I can assume that plenty of hidden gems are to be found there. In their feature debut, Ostrovski & Stoyanov provide a ‘simple’ recipe for an enjoyable film with considerable artistic value:

- a timeless and universal love / memory-reviving story laced with social(ist) commentary (kudos to poet Blaga Dimitrova who did a splendid job as a first-time screenwriter),
- two charismatic leads portraying well-defined protagonists (who once renounced personal happiness in the name of progress),
- austerely beautiful B&W cinematography à la Nouvelle Vague,
- smoky jazz score to accentuate (great) wordless sequences,
- formally playful intersection of the (enthusiastic) past and (melancholic) present.

Add to that a pinch of road-movie elements, with pedantic chefs in full control, and you’ll certainly wish to try another specialty from their kitchen.

10. L’été / Summer (Marcel Hanoun, 1968)


“Only one exists.”

Largely composed of attractive mid-shots and close-ups showing stunningly beautiful Graziella Buci (in her only film credit) smoking, drinking tea, typewriting, running around the countryside, and lying naked on her bad or in a floral dress on the grass, L’été is one of the most formally challenging pieces of the French New Wave cinema. Set sometime after May 68, it plays out like a whimsical meta-monodrama and tracks the protagonist’s introspective thoughts frequently interrupted by poetic / political / philosophical quotes, and delicately accompanied by crème de la crème of classical music. Hanoun’s masterclass editing is only matched by his painter’s eye for frame composition, although at times, his uncompromising experimentation tends to turn fascination into frustration.

2021 FEATURES

1. Mad God (Phil Tippett, 2021)


A hyper-bizarre stop-motion masterpiece, Mad God plunges you into a nightmare so labyrinthine, that you desperately keep looking for the exit long after it ended. Inhabited by grotesque creatures that often defy any attempt to be described, this sumptuously dark, relentlessly pessimistic and gorgeously morbid fantasy feels like a wayward love child of Lovecraft and Beksiński baptized in excretions of Eraserhead baby mixed with Minotaur’s blood, and thrown into a nuclear wasteland. Dialogue-free and utterly unpredictable, it provides you with a deeply visceral and hellishly transcendental viewing experience, allowing Phil Tippett entry into the Pantheon of greatest cine-alchemists.

2. Antlers (Scott Cooper, 2021)


Rooted in an indigenous folk tale, Scott Cooper’s inaugural, yet impressive venture into horror marks a potent, incessantly suspenseful blend of grim, brutal creature feature and engaging, emotionally harrowing drama of densely sinister atmosphere, boasting taut screenplay, focused direction, bleakly beautiful visuals, hauntingly evocative score, and outstanding performances, particularly from young, perfectly cast Jeremy T. Thomas whose fragile shoulders prove to be a sturdy foundation for a demanding role. On top of that, the autumnal setting of a small town towered by fog-veiled mountains becomes a character in its own right, and plays a major part not only in providing the audience with a strong sense of (deeply depressing) place, but also in immersing them completely in the story... The film resonated with me on so many levels, that mentioning something along the lines of ‘minor quibble’ would seem like an utter disregard for an intensely fulfilling sensation it left me with after the lights in the cinema theater came back on. 

3. The Spine of Night (Philip Gelatt & Morgan Galen King, 2021)


(read my review HERE)

4. Titane (Julia Ducornau, 2021)


Assisted by her daring star, Agathe Rousselle (demonstrating awe-inspiring versatility in her magnetically uninhibited big-screen debut), Julia Ducornau creates one of the most authentic and enigmatic (anti)heroines in both recent and remote memory, directing her technically taut and emotionally disturbing film with firm hand, burning passion, and sharp sense of dark humor. Part off-kilter body horror, part feminist parable and part twisted family drama (which introduces another engagingly f*cked-up character brilliantly portrayed by Vincent Lindon), Titane abolishes the boundary between pleasure and pain, assaulting you with its visceral, no-holds-barred power contained in oft-strikingly bizarre imagery which reconfigures the notions of beauty. It made me laugh, squirm, confusingly stare at it, and almost cry during the epilogue, which sums up as one of the most impressive cinematic experiences of the year.

5. Dýrið / Lamb (Valdimar Jóhannsson, 2021)


(read my review HERE)

6. The Suicide Squad (James Gunn, 2021)


If someone had told me that I would get attached to a domesticated CGI rat called Sebastian, as well as to a man-eating anthropomorphic shark that may be a descendant of an ancient god, I would’ve probably called them crazy. But, hey, it’s a James Gunn’s film, and he has already proved that the characters who exist only in a digital space can be just as sympathetic as the flesh & blood ones. After a couple of colorful features for the Marvel studios, he applies the ‘superhero outcasts’ formula to the so-called DC Extended Universe, and delivers a highly entertaining over-the-top actioner that appears like a live-action equivalent of a delirious, rule-of-cool cartoon. Skillfully laced with cheeky humor, and slyly imbued with anti-imperialist sentiment, The Suicide Squad bursts with bloody, high-octane energy and eventually explodes into a surreal madness of kaiju proportions that is most probably inspired by 1956 tokusatsu offering Warning from Space. Gunn is given a pretty good amount of not only long greens, but creative freedom as well, and he employs it with a childlike glee that happens to be dangerously infectious.

7. The Night House (David Bruckner, 2021)


Rebecca Hall shoulders the movie with great confidence and conviction as edgy, depressive, grief-stricken widow Beth whose mourning after a recently deceased husband gets increasingly stained with fear and anger, as dark secrets from her loved one’s past begin to surface. The haunted house which her struggling heroine inhabits may not be built on the sturdiest of foundation, yet it’s the best work by Collins & Piotrowski duo (Siren, Super Dark Times), and David Bruckner (The Ritual) maintains it with proper care, delivering some hair-raising scares unlike most of recent horror offerings. In establishing an eerily unnerving atmosphere, he relies heavily on the power of suggestion (and optical illusions) rather than jump scares, and in doing so, he manages to induce goosebumps through the very thought that nothing is out there...

8. The Card Counter (Paul Schrader, 2021)


Oscar Isaac commands the viewer’s attention with his magnetically subdued performance in Paul Schrader’s subtly menacing spiritual sequel to First Reformed. Although his character – going under the moniker of William Tell – isn’t particularly sympathetic (even less so when we’re introduced to ghosts of his past), he is extremely cool in an ‘old-school movie bastard’ way that pulls you out of your comfort zone, yet you can’t help rooting for him, as you follow him on his path of redemption. Partnered with nonchalantly superb Tiffany Haddish as instantly amiable gambling financier La Linda – a spark of light in the glum, sullen universe of The Card Counter, and stellar Tye Sheridan whose troubled and extremely vulnerable Cirk (pronounced as Kirk) shares the common enemy with Tell, Isaac confidently leads this odd trio throughout the film, often conveying the burden carried by his slick antihero only through micro-expressions of his eyes. And veteran Paul Schrader directs his austere, smoothly paced drama (leaning towards revenge thriller) with an unwavering hand, painting the decline of the American society in the background of William Tell’s bleak, melancholic, decidedly rigid portrait, once again assisted by Alexander Dynan behind the camera. 

9. The Blazing World (Carlson Young, 2021)


I’m a sucker for ‘a troubled woman falling down the rabbit hole’ type of stories, and when the stand-in for the White Rabbit is a creepy, mysterious man whose name reads ‘Denial’ backwards and is played by the legendary Udo Kier, you can already color me impressed. In her (promising) directorial feature debut, Carlson Young stars as a depressed twentysomething, Margaret, whose reality begins to dissolve under the pressure of a shocking childhood trauma – the loss of an identical twin sister, until she is whisked away into an alternate dimension, with the aforementioned Lained as her only guide. This strange new universe – a simulacrum of a troubled mind, no doubt – betrays a variety of possible influences, ranging from German expressionism and Bava/Argento-inspired lighting to Dave McKean-like riddles and Tarsem’s sense of fantasy twisted by del Toro-esque grotesque, and yet, it feels unique in its fairy-dust-sprinkled surreality. Even when you recognize a very Lynchian night club in the prelude to the phantasmagorical adventure, as well as an homage to the iconic ‘elevator of blood’ sequence from The Shining in the film’s finale, you find it hard to resist the imaginative way these pastiches are stitched together into an ambitious, aurally and visually arresting – if flawed – piece of post-modern cinema. And wasn’t it Bergman who said:

“I believe we’re all part of a great hodgepodge, so we take from each other, and I’ve always been completely uninhibited in that regard. If I see something good, I steal it and make it my own.”

10. Carro rei / King Car (Renata Pinheiro, 2021)


We had a killer car in Christine, car accident fetishists in Crash, a surreal girl-to-car transformation in 1999 anime Adolescence of Utena, and this year, a young woman gets pregnant by a car in Titane, whereas King Car introduces a talking automobile that falls in love with a daring performance artist and starts a social revolution! Exploring the dynamics within the human-technology-nature triangle from an eco-socialist-feminist angle, Renata Pinheiro creates a quirky modern fairy tale whose thematic richness is both its forte and major drawback. Her characters fall into one of two categories – archetypes and eccentrics, with the latter being more memorable thanks to a family idiot turned mad scientist turned complete lunatic, Zé Macaco (Matheus Nachtergaele giving a bizarre, ‘Denis Lavant by way of Jack Black’ performance). The story takes some unexpected turns and keeps you involved by its sheer weirdness or rather, magic-realist treatment, yet there’s a little something left to be desired which is to a certain degree compensated by stylish imagery. 

Oct 30, 2021

The Spine of Night (Philip Gelatt & Morgan Galen King, 2021)


It’s been a long, long while (read: almost four decades!) since a rotoscoped sword & sorcery feature hit the big screens, which is why I’ve been burning with anticipation for Gelatt & King’s dark fantasy whose seed was planted in 2013 short Exordium. And though I couldn’t see it in cinema, I immensely enjoyed it not only as an incredibly nostalgic throwback to the times when I was first discovering adult animation, but also as an unashamedly pulp and esoteric piece of (post)modern art carved with lots of love. 

Heavily influenced by Ralph Bakshi’s Fire and Ice that informs its barbaric and magical setting, as well as by Heavy Metal from which it borrows the anthology-like narrative structure, The Spine of Night delves into larger-than-life questions, earning comparison to the metaphysical works of both René Laloux, and Mamoru Oshii. (In a Letterboxd interview, the authors recommend Gandahar and Angel’s Egg, inter alia, and I wholeheartedly agree with their choices.) Told from a perspective of a swamp sorceress, Tzod (voiced by Lucy Lawless of Xena and Spartacus fame), and spanning across centuries, the unsparing story recounts the ultra-violent history of struggling against a vicious force that perverts the desire for knowledge / truth into the unquenchable thirst for ultimate power. The authors put you in turbulent medias res, wasting no time for long expositions, and simultaneously building their bleakly imaginative world which I wouldn’t want to live in, but couldn’t get enough of.

Many heroes fall in the seemingly never-ending battle – some in the most gruesome ways imaginable – so it is death that imposes as the main protagonist, and rules the cruel, bloodthirsty universe. Warriors, scholars, bird people, common folks and even gods are seen with their eyes poked, limbs torn, guts spilled, skin burned, heads decapitated or bodies split in halves, as the film’s exploitative aspect gets converted into the raw, mystical, unadulterated poetry of humans’ most primal urges. Its extremely graphic nature and aura of mythological primordiality are further emphasized by prominent displays of nudity that is decidedly non-sexualized, but rather intrinsic.

What comes as a surprise are shy glimmers of hope (and rebirth) penetrating through the thick clouds of flesh-tearing destruction, and sprinkling the eternal night with tiny drops of color. Speaking of which, the artists opt for a predominantly earthy palette, attaching a beautiful sky/electric blue to a mysterious flower – a sort of a holy grail – that is central to the plot. All the characters are given simple, yet memorable designs, with thick lines and ‘flat’ shading making them pop-up from the picturesque backgrounds that take us from snow-covered mountains to mold-infested dungeons to high-ceiling edifices inspired by Gothic architecture. Despite the obviously limited budget, The Spine of Night provides some impressive visuals, appearing like a proudly eccentric diamond in the rough amongst the over-produced CG offerings that saturate the market today. Complementing its refreshingly offbeat imagery are top-notch sound FX, solid voice-acting evocative of the 80’s, and the unobtrusive, swollen score that intensifies the film’s doomy atmosphere.

The cult status is on the horizon...

Oct 29, 2021

Dýrið / Lamb (Valdimar Jóhannsson, 2021)

Once upon a time, on an island far away, a childless couple, María and Ingvar, spent their peaceful days on a sheep farm. They rarely spoke to each other, but the spark of love twinkled in both of their eyes. More than anything in the world, they wished for a baby girl, and one fateful day their wish came true (well, sort of) – a sheep #3115 lambed a mutant ewe whom they named Ada and adopted as their own...

Taking cues from the folk tales of yore, debuting director Valdimar Jóhannsson and his co-writer – poet, novelist and lyricist Sjón – take a deep dive into the murky waters of parental anxieties, as well as of forced consolation, and emerge with a unique black pearl. The duo also addresses wicked ways of Mother Nature whose reaction to an insult adds another layer of bizarreness (not to be discussed here, so as not to spoil the fun) to the already odd proceedings. Their grimly sweet, mystically absurd, bleakly humorous and decidedly taciturn story unfolds at a finely measured pace, and allows – along with the spacious setting – its handful of characters to breathe freely and fully. Although archetypal on the surface, they do come across as believable, emotionally resonant and inevitably flawed humans, partly by virtue of outstanding low-key performances from Noomi Rapace, Hilmir Snær Guðnason and Björn Hlynur Haraldsson, as well as their interaction with a disturbingly cute creature.

And Jóhannsson is in firm control over virtually every aspect of his inaugural feature, particularly in terms of establishing the right mood, and making sure the tonal shifts are hard to detect. Assisted by the haunting, brooding, drone-heavy score composed by Þórarinn Guðnason and Eli Arenson’s astonishing wide-screen frames which capture the breathtaking grandeur of Iceland’s remote countryside, he pulls you into a slightly distorted reality of a quiet domestic drama draped in the veil of faux / silly happiness, and underscored by a lingering sense of foreboding. When the ominous presence finally materializes into a horrific surprise, it is too late for the surrogate parents to redeem themselves, whereby the viewer is left to contemplate over the unanswered questions...

Oct 28, 2021

Crna zemlja za žedna usta

Kao mesečar po polju od trnja
žuri nekud ovaj sat.
Da nađe zlu ženu?
Ili drvenog patuljka?

Kao zvezda se stropoštava u bezdan,
a ja ni kriv, ni nezvan,
ne znam...
Sanjam tri sna, a nijedan nije pravi.
Bar da je jedan plavi,
pa da dreknem u tri kuće iz sveg glasa.

Kupus za lek, crna zemlja za žedna usta
i odsečena tri prsta mrsna!

Kriva je luda lutka
i oskrnavljeni grob kraj puta.
Iznutra...
Sve se iznutra mrda
i liči na vrata uzaludna.

Kad ih otvoriš, zjapi rupa ružna.
(A hobotnica se obvila oko krsta.)


kolaž: Bezimeni mozak, polimorfna duša

Oct 27, 2021

Bliss


A reflection on the mystery of creation / incarnation of a creator's rapture.
The absoluteness of art, and the noisy silence of a dream.
Bitterly ethereal remedy...

Oct 18, 2021

Kinoskop 2021 : Selection

After a tough selection process which included more than 200 eligible films, as one of Kinoskop curators I am happy to reveal and send my heartfelt congratulations to all participants of Kinoskop 3! 🎉

This year’s edition of the festival will take place at Yugoslav Film Archive in Belgrade, December 10-12. The program will be curated by veteran experimental film aficionados Nikola Gocić (film writer and critic and visual artist), Marko Milićević (film author and founder of the audiovisual initiative Kino Pleme), Ejla Kovačević (member of Zagreb filmlab Klubvizija and 25FPS festival collaborator),  Aleksandra Dalichow (founder of ExperimentaL CinemA and film reviewer), and Csaba Bollók (Hungarian filmmaker and teacher of analog film). Similarly to previous years, it will encompass audio-visual performance and live soundtrack, as well  as a slot for a filmmaker in focus (to be revealed in the upcoming days!) and Q&A’s with guests of the festival. 🎥

SELECTION (in alphabetical order):

1. 31 May (A wrong Haiku) - El Zoid
2. A Castle in Spain - Max Belmessieri
3. Alizava - Andrius Žemaitis
4. Cold Meridian - Peter Strickland
5. Compos Mentis - Linda Lindenberga
6. Constant Agitation - Christopher Gorski
7. Dawn - Nona Catusanu, Katherine Castro, Liza Gipsova (Red Dawn Trio)
8. Death Valley - Grace Sloan
9. Disappearing Silence - Sarah Seené
10. Entre Les Images - Vito A. Rowlands
11. everything is ok │an ASMR to help you sleep at night - Autojektor
12. Everything We Know About You - Roland Denning
13. Hear Me Sometimes - Sofia Theodore-Pierce
14. How a Sprig of Fir Would Replace a Feather - Anna Kipervaser
15. images of the mystical symposion - Milan Milosavljević
16. Imagine none of this is real - Nicole Baker Peterson 
17. Into the Wild - Markus Maicher
18. It’s About Time - Roger Deutsch
19. Landays - Inna Dmitrieva
20. Las Sombras - Paulo Pécora
21. Le Rêve - Peter Conrad Beyer
22. Levitator And Other Sensations - Guy Trier
23. Liberty or Life - Mike Davies, James Hatton
24. Los Plateados - Mala Química
25. Lull - Mathilde Magnée
26. Mandatory Training - Patrick Tarrant
27. Mantra To Darkness - Jean Marc Loerbroks
28. Metamorphosed bodies of the star that generates us - Adina Ionescu-Muscel
29. noonwraith blues - Kamila Kuc
30. Northstarling - Trevor Mowchun, Daniel Gerson
31. Nosokomeion - Félix Caraballo
32. On Children - Justin Brown, Kamila Calabrese, Vera Hector
33. Other v.1.0.0. - Maja Milić
34. Papaya - Timmy Harn
35. Pilgrimage to Hålltjärn - Kim Ekberg, Johannes Hagman
36. Press Pound to Connect - Alexander Fingrutd
37. Self-portrait in Hell - Federica Foglia
38. Shield - Taravat Khalili
39. Shimmer - Betty Blitz
40. Shipwrecking - Natalia Lucía
41. Soleil Puissant Soleil - Andrea Saggiomo
42. That Elusive Balance - Salvatore Insana
43. That Was When I Thought I Could Hear You - Matt Whitman
44. The Big Headed Boy, Shamans & Samurais - Bibhusan Basnet, Pooja Gurung
45. The Lost Record - Ian F Svenonius, Alexandra Cabral
46. the tender place where the world breaks - Emily M Van Loan
47. The Tooth of Time - Hannu Nieminen
48. Tiger Dance - Pintér Orsolya

Detailed info coming soon... Stay tuned!