Apr 12, 2021

Kinoskop Spinoff Vol. 4: Cinéma du Fantastique

The fourth volume of Kinoskop spinoff opens a portal toward the realm of experimental fantasies, striving to stir up the viewer’s imagination, and allow it to soar without restraints. Taking its cue from the preceding selection, Raw Film, it opens with Bill Morrison’s found footage phantasmagoria Light is Calling in which a deteriorated print from James Young’s 1926 crime drama The Bells transforms into a liquid abstraction of mesmerizing power. Soaked in Michael Gordon’s string-heavy score that evokes a sense of nostalgia, this ‘meditation on random collisions’, as its author dubs it, explores the timeless beauty of decay, while the ‘melting’ tape becomes a living and breathing organism.

Injecting another dose of irresistible sepia tones is Lyra Hill’s The Mystic – a flickering vision of the third eye, the transcendental one that belongs to the filmmaker’s ‘crystal ball’. Photographed on a simple set, with only one actor (AJ Cesena) present, it is a great demonstration of in-camera effects achieved through some cine-alchemy of sewn sequins, paper mattes and multiple exposures. The intangible result of what could be described as the filmic equivalent of a shamanistic ritual is captured in hallucinatory, stroboscopic imagery complemented by rather uncanny soundscapes of distorted audience murmur and laughs.

A different (lighter?) kind of spell is cast by the OchoReSotto trio of Stefan Sobotka-Grünewald, Volker Paul Sernetz and Lia Rädler in the delightfully Orphic video for Son of the Velvet Rat’s single Captain’s Daughter. Most probably inspired by the Egyptian mythology, Kenneth Anger’s occult iconography, and Guy Maddin’s pastiche of silent cinema, the puzzlingly alluring B&W visuals draw you into a quirky world where the singer Georg Altziebler’s distinctive, sandy voice serves as a dandy guide. 

The monochromatic dream expands with How to Raise the Moon – Anja Struck’s calligraphically written love letter to fables and the Quay Brothers’ art. A must-see for stop-motion aficionados, it plays out like a surreal, esoteric, multi-layered mystery in which Hypnos (Fox) and Thanatos (Rabbit) fight over the soul of a sleeping young woman (Tora Balslev). Poetically and symbolically charged scenes of their Moon-raising battle take place in a dark room replete with antiquities, such as a creepy Beethoven’s bust and a mirror possessed by a harpy, which gradually come to life. By virtue of meticulous puppet and set designs, Angela Poschet’s ethereal cinematography and Marcio Doctor’s haunting music, Struck establishes an enchantingly gothic atmosphere of cleverly hidden lunar secrets.

Another entry possibly informed by a fairy tale is indie photographer Alexandra Roxo’s The Heart Is What Remains that appears like a bold subversion of Briar Rose ending – stained with blood, the wake-up kiss leads to a strong, turbulent romance of egg-squashing and (metaphorical?) murder. Love and death go hand in hand in a psychologically dense story of deep sacrifice necessary to become One with your beloved, to paraphrase the author’s words. Dialogue-free, disturbingly erotic, and at certain points, comparable to the work of David Lynch, Roxo’s handsomely lensed short also refers to both positions of the Lovers Tarot card in its bizarre examination of a relationship between a woman and a man.

Speaking of bizarreness, Mirka Morales amps it up to eleven in her ‘abstract portrait of a narcoleptic girl’, and the second stop-motion wonderwork in the selection. Sprinkled with pixie dust and submerged in kaleidoscopic colors running wild and free, Elfmädchen substitutes a prince charming with a pink dildo surrounded by Barbie dolls in glitzy dresses (or completely nude and monkey-headed), and has a worm wrangler mentioned in the end credits. Flowers and butterflies, painted stars and fake gemstones illuminate the screen in a dazzling, garishly psychedelic smorgasbord of eye-candies à la Pipilotti Rist, as the heroine’s vivid dreams spill into reality.

Total duration – 58:17

Click on the titles in stills descriptions to watch the films!

Light Is Calling | Bill Morrison | 2004 | 8:11 | 35mm | USA

The Mystic | Lyra Hill | 2011 | 7:51 | 16mm | USA

Son of the Velvet Rat – Captain’s Daughter | OchoReSotto | 2013 | 5:11 | 16mm | Austria

How to Raise the Moon | Anja Struck | 2011 | 8:48 | 35mm | Germany

The Heart is What Remains | Alexandra Roxo | 2009 | 12:08 | Super 8 | USA

Elfmädchen | Mirka Morales | 2009 | 16:08 | 16mm | USA / Puerto Rico

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


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)


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...