Apr 9, 2021

The Wanting Mare (Nicholas Ashe Bateman, 2020)

“I'll keep you till I'm young again...”

Once upon a mirage, in a kingless kingdom far away, a ghost broke a jar of fireflies. But instead of flying away, the insects just remained there, as if frozen in time and space. Slowly, they disintegrated, giving birth to a nebulous dream that was but a curse. And when the most luminous particles of that dream crystallized, the mirror of the soul spread across the sleeping universe... 

An invitation to the land of eternal ice was written in cryptic symbols, which is why they remained in their hellbound city. Chained to the past, they accepted the future of eternal longing. Nights were longer than days, leaving their love blind amongst the dead stars...

Deliberately paced and stubbornly opaque, The Wanting Mare is an experiment in stark atmosphere, and a pretty daring one at that, considering that it is the first feature film for VFX artist Nicholas Ashe Bateman. He opts for green-screening not to create a larger-than-life spectacle for the masses, but rather to build a dark, intimate, dystopian / post-apocalyptic world teeming with hushed secrets and half-spoken truths. Its weary, soot-and-sweat-drenched inhabitants sleepwalk through the thick mist of melancholy, as life passes them by. What they deem to be the exit from their limbo may be just another chasm to fall through endlessly. Victims of both their own apathy and unenviable circumstances, these alienating, yet pity-evoking characters saunter aimlessly, with only certitude being the sense of precariousness. It feels like they are stuck in a godless myth, with no one to guide them.

Marrying his lost heroes’ saturnine situation to a luminous ambiguity, Bateman opens the portals towards the hidden recesses of a boundless mindscape, effortlessly expanding the viewer’s Imaginarium. Depriving us of clarity, the up-an-coming auteur challenges us to face our innermost being, and dive into its sublime obscurity. The stupefying cinematography (David A. Ross, turning the shivers of his handheld camerawork into simultaneously strong and delicate brushstrokes) and oneiric score (Aaron Boudreaux, gently wrapping his notes with an aura of mystery) add another layer of elusiveness to Bateman’s vision, further blurred by virtue of stream-of-conscious editing.

Apr 1, 2021

Best Premiere Viewings of March

FEATURE & MEDIUM-LENGTH FILMS

1. A dança dos paroxismos / The Dance of the Paroxysms (Jorge Brum de Canto, 1929)
Expressive close-ups. Monitory Dutch angles. Dreamy superimpositions. Hectic, jump-cutty montages. Dizzying handheld shots. Sequences played in reverse. Omniscient bird’s-eye and worm’s-eye views. Triple and quadruple screen-splits, each more playful than the last. Disorienting upside-down shots of a countryside, and brilliant use of negative space in extreme long shots... You name it, this film has it! And what makes it all the more fascinating is the fact that it was directed and edited by 19 year old (!!!) Brum de Canto (1910-1994). His youthful energy, undeniable talent and unprecedented joy of filmmaking exude from virtually every frame, not to mention that he elicits well-rounded performances from a largely non-professional cast, joining them as a knightly hero of a fairy tale-like story. The Dance of the Paroxysms is (experimental) cinema at its most rapturous. Simply brilliant!


2. Body and Soul (Robert Rossen, 1947)
Once in a while, a classic film comes along that makes me feel almost as if I’m discovering cinema for the very first time, and that sensation is priceless. One such example is Body and Soul – an ostensibly simple rise-and-fall-and-rise-again noir-drama turned sublime by virtue of a taut screenplay, brilliant performances, gorgeous cinematography, meticulous mise-en-scène, impeccable editing and above all, crystally clear and highly focused direction of brawny body and gentle soul represented respectively by John Garfield and Lilli Palmer.


3. Северный ветер / The North Wind (Рената Литвинова, 2021)
(read my review HERE)


4. Noite Vazia / Men and Women (Walter Hugo Khouri, 1964)
Unimaginatively translated as Men and Women and heavily influenced by Antonioni’s ‘trilogy on modernity and its discontents’, Noite Vazia (lit. Empty Night) is a fascinating study of bitterness and emptiness which pervade the lives of two friends, one of them a married bon vivant from a wealthy family, and a couple of prostitutes they take for a night in a desperate search for passion if not love. Chained with ennui and perfectly translated into an intoxicatingly dissonant score composed by Rogério Duprat and performed by Zimbo Trio, their incurable melancholy is densely entwined with subtle eroticism and deeply suppressed desires reflected in Rudolf Icsey’s sensually noirish cinematography. A dialogue-free scene set on a garçonnière balcony during a downpour is nothing short of anthological – it’s pure magic.


5. Летят журавли / The Cranes Are Flying (Михаил Калатозов, 1957)
Visually ravishing, technically masterful and emotionally sweeping, The Cranes Are Flying has ‘the joy of filmmaking’ imprinted in virtually every frame. Some may argue that its perspective on war is a bit ‘lighter’ than expected, somewhat ‘flimsy’ even, yet it beautifully complements both the heroine’s hopeful character (a bravura portrayal by Tatyana Samoylova), and the film’s poetic, ‘love-stronger-than-death’ tone. Standing out as the most memorable scenes are the long takes of Veronika’s pushing her way through the crowd, the air raid piano performance and its aftermath, as well as Boris’s dreamlike hallucination induced by a bullet shot...


6. Variety (Bette Gordon, 1983)

“Things are either weird or normal, and if they're normal, they tend to get boring.”

Guided by her newly awakened sexuality, a repressed young woman, Christine (Sandy McLeod, delivering a great low key performance), becomes a stalker of a sleazy and shady middle-aged man, Louie (Richard M. Davidson), who frequents a porn cinema theater, Variety, where she works as a ticket seller. Rooted in the gritty neo-noir universe of the 70s Scorcese and Ferrara’s 80s work, her grimy reality is perfectly matched to both the invitingly grainy cinematography (Tom DiCillo & John Foster) dominated by sultry reds, and the smoky jazz score with highly intoxicating effect by Jim Jarmusch’s frequent collaborator John Lurie. Long, dialogue-free sequences that take the viewer to the NYC underbelly stand as the film’s forte, lending it a meditative quality which gradually transforms its second half into a meandering dream. 

7. Fabiola (Alessandro Blasetti, 1949)

“The wheel of justice is slower than our heart, slower... and safer.”

Forbidden love, political intrigue and interreligious tensions intermingle in this sword & sandals epic that at once feels like a vague reflection of its author’s inner conflict, and an intricate exploration of flawed human nature. The film’s poetic grandeur is evoked through the soaring score, admirable cinematography, dramatic performances, exquisite production design, and Blasetti’s tautly controlled direction that shines brightest in the final, massive and still shocking scenes set in the arena.

8. Come True (Anthony Scott Burns, 2020)
Heavily influenced by early Cronenberg in its insistence on rigidly defined spaces, as well as by Carpenter in its darkly evocative synthwave score, Come True comes close to Beksiński’s art (and Silent Hill?) in its many nightmare sequences invaded by shadow figures with glowing eyes. There are also hints of Tarsem’s The Cell and Kon’s Paprika in its plot revolving around a scientific study of sleep, though the flamboyant dreamscapes from those two features make way for some gothic, anxiety-inducing recesses of the subconscious mind. Hypnos and Thanatos get involved into an incestuous liaison, with Eros occasionally joining them for a threesome romancing. The story which sees the borders between dreams and reality becoming increasingly thin until completely dissolving is told at a measured pace, preparing you for the bizarre final act that amps irrationality up to eleven. One may argue that the SMS twist is a bit too much, but there’s no denying that Anthony Scott Burns has a keen eye for austerely beautiful visuals which make the watching experience a pleasure.


9. Le combat dans l'île (Alain Cavalier, 1962)
Romy Schneider, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Henri Serre lend their exquisite acting talents to Louis Malle-supervised feature debut from Alain Cavalier. He may not be a household name such as Truffaut, Godard or Resnais, but his directing skills are on par with the most acclaimed filmmakers of La Nouvelle Vague, if judged by the very beginning of his career. Fire and Ice is an intriguing blend of political thriller (or rather, critique of right wing extremism) and love triangle drama in which tonal shifts are quite elegantly juggled with, as Pierre Lhomme frames the action in coldly beautiful, highly atmospheric B&W supported by Serge Nigg’s moody, string-heavy score. 


10. ドーターズ/ Daughters (Hajime Tsuda, 2020)
Unintended pregnancy is a topic that has been addressed countless times before, yet Hajime Tsuda’s feature debut comes across as fresh as a sakura-scented breeze. Directed with ease, utmost gentleness and respect for two heroines (Junko Abe and Ayaka Miyoshi, both excellent and showing great chemistry), Daughters flows smoothly, with its stylish, often dreamy cinematography and befittingly ethereal, swaying soundtrack (that gives off some new wave-ish vibes during the beautiful opening sequence) establishing an atmosphere of genial calm and familiar warmth.

11. Flaming Creatures (Jack Smith, 1963)
‘The queerest of the queer, the strangest of the strange, the coldest of the cool, the lamest of the lame’ are the opening words in the chorus of Garbage’s 1995 hit single Queer, but they apply pretty well to Jack Smith’s controversial 1963 experiment that appears like a drag queen cabaret from some ‘proto-Begotten’ universe... and it could also be dubbed a nutty, perverse, lipstick-fetishizing godmother of Susu Laroche’s oeuvre. Harkening back to the silent era in the most confrontational way possible, with a number of jiggling boobs and limp genitals covering parts of the screen through close-ups, this twisted fantasy or rather, ‘a comedy set in a haunted music studio’, as described by its author, marries transvestism to vampirism, features a rape scene role-play (?) that leads to an earthquake, and ends in rapturous dancing, all captured on an expired film stock which lends the visuals an ultra-grainy patina, and turns certain frames into over-exposed equivalents of abstract canvases. The dizzying camerawork gets slightly tiresome at times, although it somewhat suits the Dionysian atmosphere of the goofily salacious proceedings accompanied by an orgiastic cacophony of sounds. Boldly indecent and joyously obscene, ‘Flaming Creatures’ is a provocative, crudely poetic curiosity that every cinephile should see at least once.


12. Ekstase / Ecstasy (Gustav Machatý, 1933)
(In)Famous for showing Hedy Lamarr in nude, and subtly implying her character’s orgasm, Ecstasy caused quite a stir back in the days – it was denounced by Pope Pius XI, found morally objectionable in the States, and banned in Germany where it outraged Nazis. (Now, that’s a success!) From today’s perspective, this pro-socialist romance is a lovely and benign film which shows a simple truth – a young, handsome and virile shock worker is a much better lover than a petty, wealthy and probably impotent middle-aged capitalist. And Ms. Lamarr is ravishing, not only in appearance, but also in a display of her acting talents.


13. Der Hexer / The Mysterious Magician (Alfred Vohrer, 1964)
Everything you always wanted to know about the frequent use of phones in films, but were afraid to ask. Joking aside, The Mysterious Magician is a gorgeously photographed piece of German ‘krimi’ cinema laced with some light humor, and completely self-aware of its pulpy nature. It revolves around a world-famous, yet uncaught criminal whose identity is revealed in the final twist, after a number of bodies get piled up, poisonous snakes are taken out of the trenchcoat pockets, and our hero, Scotland Yard inspector Higgins, is beaten up by a fake priest on a couple of occasions. Three scenes mark the film’s brightest highlights – the roof chase, the getaway through subterranean labyrinth, and the underwater duel. 


14. Fuoco! / Fire! (Gian Vittorio Baldi, 1968)
Opening with a religious procession interrupted by a repeated firearm shooting, Fire! acts as a radical, no holds barred study of a seriously f*cked-up character, Mario, who doesn’t utter a single word throughout the film, which leaves the viewer swimming in sweat-drenched whys, hows and assumptions or rather, drowning in an oppressively bleak and claustrophobic atmosphere of an unbearably hot August day in a small Italian village. Almost entirely set in a ramshackle apartment where Mario holds his own wife and frequently crying baby daughter as hostages, a dead body of his mother in law lying covered with a blanket in a hallway, Baldi’s nihilist crime-drama makes the distressed antihero’s desperation almost tangible by virtue of the intimately observational camerawork and discomforting sounds that break the foreboding silence.


15. Jinzō ningen Hakaidā / Mechanical Violator Hakaider (Keita Amemiya, 1995)
(read my review HERE)

SHORT FILMS


1. Concerto mécanique pour la Folie ou la Folle mécanomorphose / Mechanical Concert of Madness (Éric Duvivier, 1963)

A man and a woman get lost in a labyrinthine, hyper-surreal robotic universe, after passing through a narrow, transparent tube coming out of a giant rotary dial telephone... is only one way of summarizing this avant-garde science-fiction short which feels like a weird, visually rambunctious and aurally cacophonous spiritual sequel to the Dadaist masterpiece Ballet Mécanique.
 

2. L'infante, l'âne et l'architecte (Lorenzo Recio, 2001)
My French is a ‘little’ rusty, yet I didn’t mind not understanding the dialogue of Recio’s visually stunning and aurally mesmerizing fairy tale about a kingdom that gradually falls into turmoil after the king’s architect presents his provocative design for a new palace. Meticulously framed, L'infante, l'âne et l'architecte appears as if Baroque art were filtered through De Chirico’s prism, with hints of Lotte Reiniger’s shadow puppetry and Jim Hanson-like dark fantasy thrown in for good measure. A must-see short!


3. Of Other Spaces (Sibi Sekar, 2021)
With his latest and longest short film, Sibi Sekar proves to be one of the most promising young voices of experimental cinema whose ‘otherness’ is emphasized time and again through both visual ‘trickery’ of deep red obfuscation, and unpredictable soundscapes oscillating irregularly around an inherently filmic dissolution of time, space and ultimately, reality. Guided by Godard’s words, he dares to jump into the void, owing no explanation to us who stand and watch him do it.


4. Supergombo – Alien Felines from Beyond the Galaxy (Peter the Moon & Ugo Vittu, 2020)
Created through the technique of collage animation that looks like a bastard brainchild of Richard Hamilton and Terry Gilliam, this retro sci-fi fantasy blends imaginative, delightfully witty visuals with Supergombo’s groovy afro-funk beats to depict an invasion of aquatic world by buff cosmic cats (with Yakuza-like tattoos). Fin-covered folks’ only hope against the furry aggressors are dolphin agents and their sharp-toothed shark collaborators. So many fish, and yet nothing is fishy about Peter the Moon and Ugo Vittu’s efforts. What a great mood lifter!


5. Mutant (Deividas Vytautas, 2021)
A lyrical sci-fi meditation which makes brilliant use of what appears like VHS-imagery...

Mar 23, 2021

Mechanical Violator Hakaider (Keita Amemiya, 1995)

Taking cues from Mad Max and The Terminator, RoboCop and Harryhausen’s stop-motion classics (mixed with an Alien influence?), Keita Amemiya subverts both Christian iconography and the naïveté of tokusatsu shows to deliver a stylish, highly entertaining post-apocalyptic actioner. He borrows the villain of the 70s TV show Android Kikaider (remade into anime series in 2000 and live action movie in 2014, both solid) and turns him into a dark hero of the anti-utopian future.

Found in a fortified underground room by a group of treasure hunters, Hakaider catches his ‘rescuers’ off guard and introduces them to gruesome deaths, prior to jumping on his Harley and riding off to Jesus Town (sic!). Once there, he joins the resistance movement – a black leather-wearing punk gang – to fight against a despotic, orchid-loving ruler, Gurjev, who looks like a seraphic singer of a New Romantic band, commands an angelic android Michael with a twisted sense of justice, and spreads love and peace through some serious brainwashing of criminals and disobedient citizens. Add to that a short-lived romance between Hakaider and a lovely rebel, Kaoru (whose dreams give off Excalibur vibes), and you have yourself a delightfully cheesy cyberpunk fairy tale.

As you may have noticed, neither subtlety nor originality are Amemiya’s strong points, yet he manages to blend everything but the kitchen sink into an idiosyncratic piece of B-cinema, immersing the viewer into a bizarre world of bulletproof cyborgs and ‘bleeding’ architecture. Guided by the rule of cool and ignoring many other rules such as continuity, he creates an audacious live-action equivalent of a 90s anime worthy of a cult status. Similarly to Walter Hill’s Streets of Fire, his fantasy is set within a teenage reality, one that uses story as an excuse for Hakaider to kick the multitude of asses in creative ways, and employs various tools – matte paintings, practical effects, digital graphics, eccentric costumes, dashes of ultraviolence and clouds of white feathers – to keep the visuals constantly engaging.

Mar 12, 2021

Izložba digitalnih kolaža 'Hypnos' u Galeriji NKC-a

Večeras, 12. marta 2021, u Galeriji Niškog kulturnog centra (Bulevar Zorana Đinđića 37), pred malobrojnim posetiocima (što je donekle razumljivo s obzirom na situaciju koja neće biti imenovana, pošto je mediji ionako svakodnevno imenuju, pretvarajući ljude u statistiku) otvorena je moja treća samostalna izložba pod nazivom Hypnos, i trajaće do 30. marta. Galerija je otvorena radnim danima od 9 do 20 časova.

U nastavku možete pročitati tekst koji sam pripremio za ovu priliku...

Budući da je filmska umetnost jedan od mojih glavnih izvora inspiracije, a na izvestan način i pokretačka snaga, osvrnuću se na repliku iz sjajnog ostvarenja Puriše Đorđevića Podne: „Mnoge stvari nisu za pisanje, čak ni za govor. Nešto se mora sačuvati za sebe, jer ono skriveno u nama obično je i najbolje.“ Upravo to što je skriveno, ta tajna našeg sopstva za koju verujem da u sebi nosi i sponu sa krajnjom, nedokučivom, a univerzalnom istinom, u osnovi je mojih kolaža... ili se bar nadam da jeste. Možda takvo neodređeno polazište nije baš najbolji izbor, ali moja namera i nije da pružam odgovore, već da uporno produbljujem misteriju, odnosno proširujem sopstveni lavirint u kojem sam istovremeno i Minotaur, i Tezej, i Arijadna.

A taj lavirint gradim od snova koji su, kako Tomas Pinčon tvrdi u romanu V., pesniku hrana, pa otud i Hipnos, otelovljenje sna po grčkoj mitologiji, u nazivu moje treće izložbe. Iako svoje vizuelne pesme komponujem od pozajmljenih „stihova“, pretežno fotografija i ilustracija decenijama starijih od mene, u konačnom ishodu one su proizvod moje intuicije, imaginacije i već spomenutih snova, ne nužno kao njihove adaptacije, jer ih po buđenju neretko zaboravljam. Većina radova nastaje u procesu preobražaja različitih duševnih, katkad sukobljenih stanja i funkcioniše kao seme iz kojeg se rađaju neki novi snovi – svetla u mraku svakodnevice, kao etapa u ostvarivanju životnog sna, ali i kao ljubazan poziv na neprekidno sanjarenje. Sudeći po brojnim pozitivnim reakcijama, mnogi su već prihvatili ovaj poziv, što je dovelo do učestale saradnje sa njujorškim underground umetnikom Martinom Del Karpiom, a nedavno i sa nemačkim kompozitorom, sineastom i sinestetom Martinom Gerikom koji je svoj najnoviji kratki animirani film Otonashi (u prevodu, Bezvučnost) u potpunosti zasnovao na nekolicini mojih minimalističkih kolaža. U autorskoj izjavi, on između ostalog kaže sledeće:

„Već neko vreme poznajem dela Nikole Gocića i zaista cenim njegov izvanredan stil. Putem svojih kolaža, on iznova uspeva da izazove emocije i divljenje. Njegovoj umetnosti je inherentna naročita magija, nadrealna lepota i estetika koja budi unutrašnje priče...“

Ovakvi komplimenti daju mi snagu da nastavim da sanjam, pa makar ti snovi bili samo bledi odsjaji onog što režiser eksperimentalnih filmova i moj dragi prijatelj Ruzbeh Rašidi naziva „svetlosnom prazninom“.

Bol Bol / Dolor Dolor

Mar 6, 2021

The North Wind (Renata Litvinova, 2021)

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” – claims Tolstoy in the first sentence of his masterpiece Anna Karenina, and Renata Litvinova goes to great surreal lengths in depicting peculiar misfortunes of a matriarchal family which her third and so far most compelling feature is centered around. Occupying the role of Margarita, the glamorous head of the Northern Clan, and doing so with great gusto and graceful mannerisms that she’s recognized for, she weaves an unorthodox story of love and death, with time frozen or flowing irregularly, and both Eros and Thanatos inebriated with confusion.

The thirteenth hour on a secret lunar clock in the Clan’s garden provides immortality or at least, slows down the aging process for Margarita, her eccentric relatives, and even their assistants and shadows who gather at the dinner table on New Year’s Eve, simply because no other days seem to exist in their luxurious mansion amidst a snow-covered tundra. After their only heir, Benedict (Anton Shagin), loses his beautiful fiancée, Fanny (Litvinova’s daughter Ulyana Dobrovskaya), in a plane crash, and reluctantly marries her sister, Faina (Sofya Ernst), the promise of a fairy tale breaks into smithereens, and misery gradually seeps in through the cracks of the increasingly decaying house and its surroundings...

Litvinova’s narrative plays out like a feverish Russian classic infected with the Groundhog Day virus, Beckettian absurd and Márquez-like magic realism, but if you’re familiar with her previous work, you will notice that it pretty much operates as a natural extension of her own twisted universe where life doesn’t necessarily have to end (and when it does, it becomes another declaration of cinema’s artifice). Some of the characters’ names return along with the recurring themes, as an over-the-top familial melodrama transforms into an equally theatrical neo-noir, whereby the film’s phantasmagorical nature and self-conscious quirks are left intact. The North Wind blows as if through a dream, one that bends at will and stays with you long after the awakening, which shouldn’t come as surprise, considering its fabulous costumes and opulent set design perfectly in tune with the vaguely defined setting of velvet-cloaked decadence wonderfully ‘painted’ by Oleg Lukichyov’s camera. An omnipresent sense of grandeur that is achieved right from the get-go is continually emphasized, with many devils residing in classy details, especially during a highly memorable scene which marries impressive soprano singing (of Hibla Gerzmava) to dark, Carpenter-esque synthwave.

Mar 3, 2021

Kinoskop Spinoff Vol. 3: Raw Film

Introduction by Kinoskop founder Marko Milićević.

The third Kinoskop spinoff focuses on the 'raw' materiality of film, introducing some of the titles in which dancing film strips and flying sprocket holes make the narrative, transform the visual-scape, or further break the illusionism of cinema. 

First in line is the masterful Films to Break Projectors by Iloobia, which uses digital stop-motion animation to show what analog projectors can't possibly handle, in which its author intervenes with his meta-cinematic 'Magick Hand' to create a new media-scape, made of surreal collages / film loops driven by a quirky / absurdist soundtrack. 

At the forefront of contemporary found footage experimentation, widely acclaimed Outer Space by Peter Tscherkassky examines the hauntological ghost of cinema and the carcass of the film apparatus, through a meta-horror narrative made of Barbara Hershey's performance in The Entity, translated into a claustrophobic visual cell in which each of her screams is punctuated by a scratch on the film, a gaping void of the film sprocket, or the sounds of the abrasive optical soundtrack.

More spicy analog experimentation is present in Nanolab founder, Richard Tuohy's Ginza Strip, centered on the particular 'Chromaflex' process which allows parts of the film to turn out colour positive, colour negative, or black and white, thus creating myriad of ways to transform a walk through Tokyo's Ginza district into a lush and ever-changing visual carousel. 

Péter Lichter's Look Inside the Ghost Machine further explores the mechanical apparatus of the cinema with a magnifying glass, by presenting us a surreal ballet of 'pure cinema', made of flickering, dancing film strips and end frames dug from early cinema, vivisecting the celluloid ghosts from the past in a manner which is surgically precise and hypnotically messy at the same time.  

Finally, closing the selection is Ernesto Baca's Atrapado en el sueño de otro, a vivid cornucopia of hand-painted images, flickering animation, collage of film strips, dreamy material images and characters, in a particularly haunted filmscape which is looking for signifiers. 

Click on the titles to watch the films!
Total duration: 31'

Films to Break Projectors (Iloobia, 2016)

Outer Space (Peter Tscherkassky, 1999)

Ginza Strip (Richard Tuohy, 2014)

Look Inside the Ghost Machine (Péter Lichter, 2012)

Atrapado en el sueño de otro (Ernesto Baca, 2020) 

Mar 1, 2021

Best Premiere Viewings of February

Half of 50 films I watched during February gets a mention on the latest monthly listicle.

FEATURES

1. Záhrada / The Garden (Martin Šulík, 1995)


“Finally all is the way it ought to be.”

Concluding on a very Tarkovskian note – and that’s not a spoiler, because you’ll see a loving homage to the ‘Mirror’ levitation scene on the film’s poster – The Garden is a prime example of both magical realism and poetic cinema delicately laced with absurd humor. Divided in fourteen novel-like chapters announced by an unknown narrator, it revolves around a man-child teacher, Jakub (Roman Luknár, brilliant), who moves or rather, escapes from his father’s flat (and a relationship with a married woman) to his late grandfather’s old, decrepit house in the countryside where a series of odd encounters changes his views on life. Firstly, he discovers his gramps’ diary that has to be read with a mirror, then he meets a mysterious girl, Helena (Zuzana Sulajová, veiled in an angelic aura), who has a way with animals, and in the following days of warm early autumn, his newfound idyll is interrupted by St. Benedict, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Ludwig Wittgenstein... or at least, some trio of wisecrackers. As his garden of earthly delights – an apple orchard, to be precise, because of its heavy symbolism – transforms into a gonzo-paradise of pure emotions, we are reminded that great beauty is often contained within small, ostensibly inessential things. And sometimes, such a simple truth is most refreshing.

2. Hikaru Onna / A Luminous Woman (Shinji Sōmai, 1987)


To call Luminous Woman an oddity would be a huge understatement, given that it simultaneously evokes comparisons to Bloodsport (yes, the very B actioner starring JCVD!), and the experimental work of Shūji Terayama, and not to mention that it was penned by Yōzō Tanaka who also wrote Seijun Suzuki’s (highly recommended!) Taishō Roman Trilogy.

Chronicling an off-kilter love story of a burly highlander, Sensaku (pro-wrestler Keiji Mutō who portrays the character with imposing physicality, great bravado and childlike innocence), the film pulls the viewer into a bizarre world of the Tokyo underground where no-rules fighting matches have opera singers, circus acrobats, drag queens and classical ballet dancers performing as sideshow attractions. The reason for our hero’s arrival from Hokkaido to Japan’s capital is his beloved, Kuriko, who had previously come for studies and stayed for nightlife, but fate has other plans for him, and they involve a melancholic beauty, Yoshino, who owns a glass-breaking soprano (the superb debut for magnetic singer-songwriter Michiru Akiyoshi).

In someone else’s hands, Sensaku’s ‘big city adventure’ might’ve turned into a conventional melodrama, but Shinji Sōmai firmly embraces its quirks, and in addition demonstrates a distinctive visual flair, employing eye-catching purple filter to establish a sultry, oneiric atmosphere, as well as distorted angles and playful camera movements during numerous continuous takes to enhance it. During one particularly memorable (and very Suzuki-like) scene involving a telephone conversation between Kuriko and Yoshino, he creates an illusion of set / space dissolving before our eyes, with actresses gliding in and out of the frame. Marrying fiery reds to moody blues that threaten to pop out of the screen, he intensifies the already strong ‘violetness’ of his imagery, until the pastoral epilogue that removes this phantasmagorical patina.

3. L’extraordinaire voyage de Marona / Marona’s Fantastic Tale (Anca Damian, 2019)


They say that canines are color-blind, yet this bittersweet tale told from the perspective of a female mongrel makes the viewer intoxicated with its dizzying colorfulness and ever-changing palettes. Gently reflecting on loss, loneliness, transience, as well as humaneness and joy exuding from all the precious moments we experience during our time on earth, Marona’s Fantastic Tale has its title justified in every single frame of distorted perspectives and transmogrifying shapes, not unlike György Kovásznai’s 1980 animated comedy Habfürdö. Appearing as a series of most phantasmagorical Fauvist paintings coming to life, it constantly reinvents itself, and unfolds as an intricate visual tapestry interwoven with the silky threads of a dreamy art-pop score featuring the voice of Swedish-born, Paris-based singer, composer and improviser Isabel Sörling. If you are a dog person or an experimental animation aficionado (preferably both), this charming little film will certainly conquer your heart.

4. The Burial of Kojo (Blitz Bazawule, 2018)


Shot in Ghana on a micro-budget, Blitz Bazawule’s little gem of a feature debut is brimful of stunningly framed imagery tucked into an eclectic, stream-of-consciousness score composed by the director himself. Unfurling like a vivid dream, The Burial of Kojo has a big, gentle heart beating under its highly poetic tableaux vivants, and it belongs to a young woman who fondly reminisces her late father. Set in both real and spiritual world invaded by a mysterious crow figure, as well as on their blurred borderline, the film feels like a magical / surreal, melancholy-infused journey across the vast waters of childhood.

5. Jiang Ziya / Legend of Deification (Teng Cheng & Li Wei, 2020)


Once again, Chinese animators draw inspiration from the rich mythology of their homeland, delivering an epic, visually dazzling piece of CGI cinema – a compromise between high and dark fantasy replete with gravity-defying action that sees gods, demigods and demons face off in fierce duels. Transcendentally spectacular, Legend of Deification opens with a gorgeous, traditionally animated prologue and boasts a stunning color palette of icy blues (of Beihai), blazing reds (of the big bad nine-tailed fox, in one of her most fearsome incarnations), velvety indigo tones (of the night and stone forest), and sunny oranges and yellows (in the desert and at Ruins of Return, during the reincarnation scene).

In stark contrast, the titular hero Jiang Ziya – designed as a Keanu Reeves look-alike (but please, Hollywood, don’t even consider a remake) – is dressed in earthy grays that correspond well with his modest character and composure. Together with an adorable mini-dragon that later transforms into a Miyazaki-esque stag and a mysterious girl who’s bound to the abovementioned fox spirit, he runs into many obstacles on a redeeming adventure, forced to choose between saving an innocent or destroying one life for the greater good. It is, no doubt, a familiar / archetypal story, but it is presented in such a marvelous fashion that you simply surrender to the overwhelming power of eye-candy.

6. Blanche comme neige / Pure as Snow (Anne Fontaine, 2019)


Fully in command of every single frame she graces with her presence, Isabelle Huppert brings the inimitable composure, as well as a wide range of trademark micro-expressions and impenetrable glances that speak several languages to the role of the wicked stepmother, Maud, in Anne Fontaine’s naughty modern take on the Grimm Brothers’ most adapted (and my personal favorite) fairy tale. And when she is out of the picture, so to say, utterly magnetic Lou de Laâge as Claire (i.e. this version’s very own Snow White), seduces seven suitors and the viewer not only with her gorgeous looks, but also with an intoxicating aura of overwhelming daintiness, burgeoning desirability and youthful energy, as her heroine – surrounded by an aura of innermost light – explores the newly discovered lust for life.

At turns dark and funny, innocent and sexy, mysterious and mundane, slyly highbrow and deliciously campy, Pure as Snow interweaves the age-old themes of vanity and jealousy with that of female sexuality and liberation, subtly reconfiguring the original story for the post-feminist times. Fontaine’s playful and to a certain degree quirky direction with occasional winks to Breillat, De Palma and Ozon finds a perfect match in Yves Angelo’s striking cinematography which beautifully captures the crimson reds of Maud’s garments and perpetuates breathtakingly verdant vistas surrounding a cozy, inviting mountain town whose men fall under Claire’s spell. As they make love to her, some literally, others through soothing conversation (biker priest) or sensual Bach-playing (hypochondriac cellist), their weaknesses emerge to the surface in quite sympathetic ways, making the girl of their dreams even more ethereal.

7. Night Has Come (Peter van Goethem, 2019)


“Maybe everything is about to be lost... Maybe everything will begin again.”

Ruminating on the fragility, variability and volatility of human memories, Peter van Goethem makes a confident (and exceptionally glum) debut composed entirely of found footage – the courtesy of the Royal Belgian Film Archive – that beautifully and, in a way, tragically corresponds with the theme of memory-erasing virus dubbed ‘The Night’. Children playing on the beach, a couple strolling through the forest, men involved in destructive riots, a surgical intervention on the brain, a rumble through the rubbles of a bombed city... Are those the scenes from the (unreliable) narrator’s past or some half-remembered dreams implanted during the government’s experiments? No clear answers are provided in this hypnotic tone poem / lyrical essay, and vagueness is the glue that holds seemingly unrelated imagery together, as the viewer “drifts in and out of consciousness” (in the words of Chris Evangelista for Slashfilm). But one thing is clear – the end is inevitable, no matter how hard we try to resist it.

Two perfect companion pieces for Night Has Come are Jóhann Jóhannsson’s wonderful swan song Last and First Men and Salvatore Insana’s I Stared Fire Forever – the Grand Prix awardee at the second edition of Kinoskop.

8. The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey (Vincent Ward, 1988)


Told from the perspective of a clairvoyant boy, Griffin, The Navigator follows a band of five villagers on a larger-than-life or rather, ‘test of faith’ adventure that takes them – through an underground tunnel – from the 14th century England to the 20th century New Zealand, as they try to evade the Black Death. The spatiotemporal displacement is not employed for a comic effect, as it would be, let’s say, five years later in Les Visiteurs, but rather as a clever way of showing fantastical elements of the story without resorting to special effects. Vincent Ward’s taut direction, Davood A. Tabrizi’s evocative score permeated with Gregorian chants, and Geoffrey Simpson’s expressive, painterly cinematography of B&W splendor (for the Medieval age) and deep colors (in the scenes that take place in the present) are the film’s major strengths.

9. Ventajas de viajar en tren / Advantages of Travelling by Train (Aritz Moreno, 2019)


Structured as a possessed Matryoshka doll and adapted for the screen by Javier Gullón (of Villeneuve’s Enemy fame), a twisted, surprising, daringly surrealist story in Advantages of Travelling by Train is recounted from the perspective of a few unreliable (and brilliantly acted!) narrators who take you to some pretty dark places stained by madness or pure evil, and ‘illuminated’ with spots of black humor. Beneath the baroque veneer of saturated colors popping out of stylishly framed shots submerged in haunting soundscapes, lie acrid social commentary and self-ironizing contemplation on the artifice of cinema and, generally speaking, art. A very promising feature debut for Moreno!

10. The Night (Kourosh Ahari, 2020)


Dark secrets and troubled conscience of ‘freshly baked’ parents, Babak and Neda (gripping performances by Shahab Hosseini and Niousha Noor), come to ghostly life during the night spent in a ‘haunted’ hotel. Never lifting the veil of mystery completely, Kourosh Ahari takes cues from Kubrick’s rendition of The Shining, J-horror atmospherics and Lynch’s mind games to deliver some genuine, goosebump-inducing scares in his first venture into psychological horror. The hair-raising sensation is underscored by Maz Makhani’s shadow-drenched cinematography and Nima Fahkrara’s skin-crawling score, whereby a loving homage to Magritte’s 1937 painting Not to Be Reproduced plays a heavily symbolic role.

11. Jedini izlaz / The Only Way Out (Darko Nikolić, 2021) 


I must admit that the great majority of recent Serbian films lose me at hello, but I was very curious to see The Only Way Out (which is the name of a fictitious cafe, btw) for two reasons – it is a thriller (genre offerings are extremely rare beasts around these parts), and it is starred by an actress famous for comedic roles (Anđelka Prpić, whose micro-expressions lend gravitas to numerous close-ups). And I’m happy that I checked it out on the big screen, because it was my first visit to cinema after a year or so, not to mention that I could fully enjoy the stylish cinematography by Miljan Milovanović – the memorable imagery captured by his camera wouldn’t feel out of place in a Spanish or Scandinavian productions that seem to both the director and the writer (Marko Popović) main sources of inspiration. By no means a groundbreaker, The Only Way Out provided me with an enjoyable viewing experience, so I will be looking forward to seeing what Nikolić has in store next.

12. La decima vittima / The 10th Victim (Elio Petri, 1965)


Both dressed and in the state of undress (as in the unforgettable killer-bra scene), Ursula Andress is utterly magnetic and appears to have a whale of a time in Elio Petri’s decidedly campy sci-fi satire turned romantic comedy peppered with dark humor and spy movie-like action. Her partner – bleached Marcello Mastroianni – amps his nonchalance up to eleven to play the role of the titular 10th victim in a reality show game of cat and mouse that supposedly satisfies violent urges and prevents wars sometime in the 21st century. And while the two of them engage in the ‘gladiatorial’ sport of outwitting each other, we are treated to in-vogue pop-art visuals of garish colors, and irresistibly groovy, oh-so-60s score that succeed in diverting the viewer’s attention from a few plodding parts of the story. 

13. Mazeppa (Bartabas, 1993)


In his directorial debut, horse trainer Bartabas borrows motifs from the Ukrainian legend of Ivan Mazeppa and Lord Byron’s narrative poem inspired by it to show & tell a fictionalized or rather, ‘surrealized’ account on the French painter and lithographer Théodore Géricault. Heavily influenced by Peter Greenaway, he pulls the viewer into a bizarre, oft-grotesque, darkly sensual, occasionally visceral and psychologically intense world of circus acrobats whose breathtaking equestrian show is knowingly integrated into a bleak, unnerving story. The film’s increasingly stifling atmosphere imperceptibly puts us in the artist’s shoes, providing us with a not-so-pleasant experience of sliding down the spiral of lunacy.

Fine mares and steeds populate the screen with utmost elegance, whether they work as entertainers, together with their ‘masters’, or copulate before a group of children with Down syndrome, all following a shockingly naturalistic prologue of horse meat being processed. Bartabas holds the reins firmly, eliciting excellent performances from both beautiful animals and his ensemble cast, jumping into the role of a cruel, mysterious, leather mask-wearing ringmaster Franconi, and focusing on visuals and motion with more zeal than certain professional filmmakers. Assisted by DoP Bernard Zitzermann and Emile Ghigo’s impeccable art direction, he boasts a keen aesthetic sensibility, creating some elaborate tracking shots of mesmerizing power.

14. Le regine / Queens of Evil (Tonino Cervi, 1970)


In a bold deconstruction of the Goldilocks fairy tale, a young hippie biker (Ray Lovelock, who also lends his vocals for a couple of songs on the soundtrack) falls under the spell of three gorgeous sisters (Haydée Politoff as Liv, Silvia Monti as Samantha and Evelyn Stewart as Bibiana), after fleeing from the scene of car accident in which an eccentric and preachy rich man (Gianni Santuccio) gets killed. It goes without saying that the latter is a Mephistophelian figure, whereby the siblings who live in a rural cottage deep in a forest have a decidedly witchy air about them, which posits the story firmly in the realm of an increasingly dark fantasy laced with horror elements. But instead of taking a highly exploitative direction as one may expect from a ‘man vs. three women’ situation, Tonino Cervi blends soft, tasteful eroticism with a mysterious mood in his thought-provoking exploration of (non)conformism, gender and class clash, bourgeois envy and vanity, as well as of the dire consequences of betraying one’s own ideals. Assisted by the exquisite costume and production design of, respectively, flowery power and pop art splendor, beautiful cinematography by Sergio D’Offizi, and dreamy score by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino, he provides a rather stylish package for his cautionary story.

15. The Wild One (László Benedek, 1953)


The classic ‘rule of cool’ cinema at its cheekiest.

SHORTS

1. Death of the Gorilla (Peter Mays, 1966)


Tarzan on speed dreams of King Kong being disintegrated through seven dimensions of cinema in a ritual conducted by Kenneth Anger’s astral projection. An incessant and relentless assault of multiple, frenetically edited superimpositions pull you in a whirlwind of kaleidoscopic euphoria and spin you across the liquid field of your subconscious mind. What a fantabulous experiment!

2. Duotone (Alexander Isaenko & Yanina Boldyreva, 2012)


The stark and unnerving symbiosis between dizzying montage, multiple superimpositions and uncanny sonic emanations transform naked human bodies (Denis Alemaev & Evgenia Pechen) into ghostly apparitions trapped in a dissolving liminal space, as Isaenko and Boldryeva explore the duality of human nature, blurring or completely erasing the boundaries between internal and external spaces / feminine and masculine aspects of one’s persona(lity). Their hectic, paranoid, hallucinatory visuals appear as reflections of innermost feelings or extreme mental states, washing over the viewer with great intensity. The oppressive atmosphere of metaphysical uncertainty is amplified by Alexey Borisov’s otherworldly score. 

3. The Rabbit Hunters (Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson & Galen Johnson, 2020)


Guy Maddin’s latest short stars Isabella Rossellini as maestro Federico Fellini falling deeper into a peculiar dream within a dream that feels like an appendix to The Forbidden Room – for versed cinephiles, nuff said.

4. Visa de censure n°X (Pierre Clémenti, 1967)


Pierre Clémenti and co. get naked in a happy, pseudo-occult hippy trip turned cinematic experiment which dazzles and delights with both its aural and visual space-psychedelics, and has credits appearing halfway through the film. Very much a product of its time, this groovy counterculture phantasmagoria must’ve been shot with the entire team high on acid, as the official synopsis suggests. The white rabbit approves the fall down the hole of lucid reveries.

5. A Visit from the Incubus (Anna Biller, 2001)


Dominated by eye-piercing reds, bold and bright colors of wonderful DIY sets and costumes rule in Anna Biller’s delightfully campy western fantasy that serves female empowerment as the main dish. You can watch it as a part of Anna Biller: The Short Film Collection at Vimeo on Demand.

6. Le château du tarot (Matteo Garrone, 2021)


Several Major Arcana characters come to (feminine) life in the second collaboration between Christian Dior fashion house and Italian filmmaker Matteo Garrone, with the former’s lavish garments and the latter’s keen sense of fantasy magically matched. Almost wordless, The Castle of Tarot traces an enchanting journey of self-discovery, marrying baroquely beautiful visuals to a delicate, euphonious score...

7. Unmistaken Hands: Ex Voto F.H. (Stephen & Timothy Quay, 2013)


Borrowing motifs from the work of Uruguayan magic realist writer Felisberto Hernández, the Quay Brothers pose a tricky formal challenge in this gloomy, ethereal, slow-burn mystery that is best described as a stop-motion equivalent of an Alexander Sokurov’s film. Soaked in deep shadows or blinding light, their bizarre, borderline creepy puppets and meticulously designed sets suggesting dust and decay are poetically or rather, oneirically captured in a gauzy cinematography subtly accompanied by a haunting score, whispery voice-overs and cicadas’ soporific crepitation. 

8. That Elusive Balance (Salvatore Insana, 2021)


Suggesting that the search for happiness is nothing but the search for balance, Salvatore Insana employs home videos from the library of one of the most loathed historical figures (code: Eva Braun), and subverts them through ‘flickery’ editing (impossible to capture in stills) and distorted classical music. The twisted marriage of smiling faces and irregular rhythms simultaneously amuse and perturb, throw you off balance and make you daydream 24 frames per second. A bold and powerful anti-fascist provocation.

9. Moods Clairvoyant I (Sebastián Jiménez Galindo & Time Viewers, 2021)


Oneiric soundscapes and the immersive, high-contrast B&W imagery prove to be a sturdy support for a contemplative poem passionately recited by David Stobbe, and occasioanlly evoking Borges’ writings.

“My reflection comes and goes
outside of itself
as if in a hurry to be born.”

10. Green Thoughts (William Hong-Xiao Wei, 2020)


A tender, dreamy, highly sensorial, if slightly overlong romance heavily influenced by Alexander Sokurov’s blurred and distorted visuals. 

Honorable mention: German mini-series Hausen (Thomas Stuber, 2020) (read my review HERE).