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...

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