May 7, 2021

Spoguli / In the Mirror (Laila Pakalniņa, 2020)

Snow White (originally, Schneewittchen) has to be one of the most adapted Grimm fairy tales. From J. Searle Dawley’s 1916 silent classic, to Betty Boop’s bizarre adventure in Fleischers’ 1933 short, to Disney’s highly acclaimed 1937 feature-length debut, to pornographic subversions in the 60’s and the 70’s, to the grimmest of upgrades in 1997 gothic fantasy with Sigourney Weaver, to a silly teen rom-com, Sydney White (2007), to a 2012 overkill with four diverse variants, the most unwatchable being David DeCoteau’s direct-to-video ‘horror’, to sexy dramedy Blanche comme neige (2019) feat. the brilliant Isabelle Huppert as the wicked step-mother, the fairest of them all has gone through great many transformations. If we focus solely on 2012, we will see her getting into a knight armor and wielding a sword (Snow White and the Huntsman), wearing the late Eiko Ishioka’s gorgeously extravagant dresses (Mirror Mirror), as well as waving a muleta in a bullring of 1920’s Andalusia (Blancanieves)...

Laila Pakalniņa’s post-modernist rendition – a razor-sharp satire on self-centeredness and superficial body cult – sets the story in the world of muscle-building, or to be precise, in and around a contemporary gym ruled by the king of CrossFit. Faithful to the source material, Snow White’s mother dies prematurely, so her father remarries to a beautiful, but egotistical gym queen who, in this case, is obsessed by a certain exercise. Namely, she can do 50 burpees one after another and no woman can match her performance... until her step-daughter grows up and beats her in a burpee competition, effortlessly reaching 53. Of course, this defeat sets her on a familiar path of revenge, and the first step involves a fare-hunting taxi driver who saves the young ‘princess’ from being cremated as a rabid dog confined in a wooden box. Left in the forest, Snow White reaches a glasshouse inhabited by the Seven Guys – a band of hyperactive athletes and tumblers – and there, she will be exposed to several murder attempts and repeatedly saved, while her bereaved father will join mysterious sailors on a grief-suppressing journey in an absurdly whimsical digression.

What makes Pakalniņa’s exploration of narcissism so unique is not only the fitness environment, but also a cleverly pulled cinematographic twist (or call it a gimmick, if you will) which turns the film into a formally intriguing tour de force. Entirely shot from a selfie perspective in crisp and stark B&W, with the characters taking turns at holding the camera as if attached to their cell phones, continuously breaking the fourth wall in consequence, In the Mirror reflects our reality filtered through wry, and at times, dark humor. In that way, the ‘talking heads’ convention of documentaries which the director is no stranger to is admirably transposed to a piece of anti-illusionary fiction – a fantasy, no more, no less – and by virtue of a fine balance between telling and showing (often, in long takes), it keeps its filmicity intact. Everyone comes under a spotlight in a fragmented narrative that appears like a patchwork of social media logs sewn together by visual quips and running gags, and the largely non-professional cast joined by strapping extras adds to the naïf, tongue-in-cheek tone of the proceedings, simultaneously enhancing the irony.

May 5, 2021

A Selection of Recent Artworks (VII)

Another selection of my recently created collages pulls focus on the most voluminous part of my oeuvre so far - the Bianco/Nero series which has almost reached 200 'chapters'. I take this opportunity to reveal three brand new pieces that may be deemed too provocative by social network algorithms...

Odissea / Одисеја / Odyssey

Il Dio è un Voyeur / Бог је воајер / The God is a Voyeur

Il Rebis / Ребис / The Rebis

Un Amore Contorto / Ишчашена љубав / A Twisted Love

Fumo e Vapore / Дим и пара / Smoke and Steam

Sotto la Copertura dell'Oscurità / Под окриљем таме / Under the Cover of Darkness

Eterna Assenza di Parole / Вечно одсуство речи / Eternal Absence of Words

Il Sognatore con la Cinepresa / Сањар са филмском камером / The Dreamer with the Movie Camera

Cancellatura / Брисање / Erasure

L'Ipotesi della Bellezza Autonoma / Хипотеза аутономне лепоте / The Hypothesis of Autonomous Beauty

Narciso: Apoteosi / Нарцис: Апотеоза / Narcissus: Apotheosis

Un Errore di Codice / Грешка у коду / A Code Error

May 2, 2021

Kinoskop Spinoff Vol. 5: Inside the Cine-Club

 Originally published on May 1st. Article written by Marko Milićević.

Happy International Workers' Day from the Kinoskop team, with a cinematic memory from Yugoslavia, in our 5th spin-off, Inside the Cine-Club, as part of the parallel presentation for the upcoming Oberhausen 2021 Theme programme – Solidarity as Disruption, curated by Aleksandra Sekulić and Branka Benčić.

Click on the titles below stills to watch the films!

Total running time : 79'

Starting the selection is the most haunting title of the lot. Suffused with creepy atmosphere, Sava Trifković’s legendary short Hands of Purple Distances elusively touches on subjects such as metaphysical dread, madness, and the all-engulfing enigma of memory, infused with a lot of dizzying camera work and jump-cuts, similar to the mise-en-scene of Maya Deren’s psychodrama films, or other experimental 'horrors' of the time, Zid by Kokan Rakonjac, or Triptych on Matter and Death by Živojin Pavlović. 

The famed documentarian, Krsto Papić's Special Trains, an Oberhausen winner, instead, is a Black Wave-saturated title, which has a more powerfully mundane, but also never-more-actual theme of the Yugo-gastarbeiters searching for a better existence in the West, let down by the socialist system, only to find themselves even more thwarted and dehumanised by the German authorities. 

Continuing in this particular frame, Želimir Žilnik's The Unemployed is yet another striking and brutal reflection on the 'surplus labour' and the 'solidarity in pain', focusing on the burden of existence of workers who bathe in public bathrooms and sleep in homeless centers., with a lot of camera attention on their (collective) bodies, and close-up details such as bruised feet, malnourished teeth and obesity.

More bodily fears and anxieties are present in Vlatko Gilić's Love, in a more optimistic rendering of the solidarity theme conveyed through gaze and gestures, in a no dialogue film which portrays a moment of intimacy in a harsh and mechanized world, detailing the encounter of a construction site worker with his wife for a picnic lunch. 

Ivan Martinac's Rondo also focuses on faces and close-ups, underlined with themes its author was particularly obsessed with - alienation and existential meditations, done in a fast-pace, jump-cut editing style similar to a rhythmical score, set to Beethoven's music. 

Finally, Ante Babaja's Justice delivers an adaptation of a Vladan Desnica novel, and another one of his very modernist, funky, dizzyingly edited pieces with an allegorical structure, presenting us a witty satire on the blindness of justice and Rashomon-like shift of multiple perspectives.

Sava Trifković: Ruke ljubičastih daljina / Hands of the Purple Distances (Yugoslavia, 1962, 11')

Krsto Papić: Specijalni vlakovi / Special Trains (Yugoslavia, 1972, 14')

Želimir Žilnik: Nezaposleni ljudi / The Unemployed (Yugoslavia, 1968, 13')

Vlatko Gilić: Ljubav / Love (Yugoslavia, 1972, 24')

Ivan Martinac: Rondo (Yugoslavia, 1962, 6')

Ante Babaja: Pravda / Justice (Yugoslavia, 1962, 11')

May 1, 2021

Best Premiere Viewings of April

CLASSICS

1. Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962)

While hunting for hidden gems and peculiar, weirdly shaped pieces of cinema, I have missed a plethora of ‘critic-proof’ classics, partly because of a very dense, even intimidating aura of veneration surrounding them. So, when I learned that Lawrence of Arabia was to be aired on a cable channel (which, thankfully, doesn’t run a single commercial during a film), I seized the opportunity to watch it. And I don’t regret staying up to 3 am – it is a synonym of grandeur.


2. The Thief of Bagdad (Raoul Walsh, 1924)

Once upon a time, when Hollywood spectacles were works of fine art, William Cameron Menzies designed some of the most stunning sets ever seen in a silent film. Inspired by Art Deco and oriental architecture, they defined magnificent space for an immersive, larger-than-life fantasy whose visual magic was further enhanced by Mitchell Leisen’s lavish costumes, and Arthur Edeson’s often dreamlike cinematography.


3. Roman Holiday (William Wyler, 1953)

Overflowing with charm and radiating warmth every time Audrey Hepburn graces the screen with her presence, this is a perfect spring Sunday afternoon film (and guess what, tomorrow is Sunday).


4. Murderers’ Row (Henry Levin, 1966)

Armed with wit and charm, as well as with a few nifty gadgets, Dean Martin snoops around French Riviera as a womanizing I.C.E. agent, Matt Helm, in a brilliantly funny spy-fi comedy which bursts with saturated colors and deliberately tacky one-liners. On his top secret mission of saving brilliant Dr. Solaris from a big baddie, Julian Wall (Karl Malden, playing his role with gleeful malevolence), he is joined by the good doc’s daughter – a feisty lass, Suzie (Ann-Margret, lighting up the screen with some killer dance moves). And yes, the rivaling team also has a femme fatale in its ranks – a seemingly cold and absolutely ravishing blonde, Coco Duquette (Carmilla Sparv, elevating her sex appeal with an enigmatic smile). Right from the groovy pop-art title sequence to a sequel announcement in the epilogue marked by an exciting ‘boat & hovercraft’ chase scene, Murderers’ Row is pulp cinema at its best.


5. Midnight Cowboy (John Schlesinger, 1978)

The loneliest and most unlikely friendship in the world (or at least in New York slums of the 70’s) marries naïveté to cynicism, as dreams fail to come true for both of the outcast heroes brought to bleak life by admirably committed performances from John Voight and Dustin Hoffman.

CONTEMPORARY CINEMA

1. Sententia (Dmitry Rudakov, 2020)

Kafkaesque absurdity, Lynchian uncanniness, and above all, formal rigor that would make Bresson quiver with fear densely intertwine and symbiotically merge into Dmitry Rudakov’s masterful, painfully poignant, brutally honest and heartachingly beautiful directorial debut which chronicles the last days of Russian poet, journalist, writer and GULAG survivor Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov (1907-1982), as well as two of his most devoted admirers’ endeavors in the preservation of the author’s bequest. In less than ten deliberately paced scenes, each helmed with admirable precision, unflinching confidence and heightened sensibility, Rudakov translates Shalamov’s pain of 17 years spent in forced-labor camps into a minimalist tour de force that is in equal measures poetic, cerebral, soulful and visceral. Its heavy atmosphere of Stalinist despair and impending death, particularly dense during the final twenty minutes of ominous silence, rises from the complementary fusion of the gorgeously austere 16mm cinematography (Alexey Filippov) and disquieting humming reminiscent of the muffled wailing of the winds (Stepan Sevastyanov) which keeps the psychological tension constant. Also praiseworthy is Alexandr Ryazantsev’s largely physical performance, his shriveled and battered body reflecting the protagonist’s seriously deteriorated state of mind... Sententia is easily one of the best Russian films of the last two decades and a strong contender for No. 1 of my 2021 annual list.


2. Servants (Ivan Ostrochovský, 2020)

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but in the case of Ivan Ostrochovský’s second narrative feature, virtually each shot renders you speechless, taking your breath away in the process. Superbly framed in boxy black and white of Bressonian austerity, Servants is catapulted with great force into the Pantheon of the most beautiful Eastern European films. Equally powerful as its sublimely ascetic cinematography (by Juraj Chlpik) is Cristian Lolea and Miroslav Toth’s stark, ominously brooding score of industrial drones and phantasmal chants that subtly break the quietude, and intensify the sense of dystopian paranoia and nihilist dread of the historical setting. Sullen soundscapes also weave a web of mystery around the grim, fragmented and deliberately open-ended story which blends a borderline-surreal coming-of-age drama with steely cold neo-noir, chronicling the tension between two authoritarian entities – the strict communist regime embodied in villainous Dr Ivan (Vlad Ivanov, exuding spine-tingling menace) and sneaky Catholic Church facing a deep divide within its ranks. Struggling for both their bodies and souls in such a toxic environment are Juraj and Michal (the promising first-time performances by Samuel Skyva and Samuel Polakovic) – a couple of theological seminary students whose youthful idealism gets violently crucified.


3. The Wanting Mare (Nicholas Ashe Bateman, 2020)

(read my review HERE)


4. The Visitor (Jukka-Pekka Valkeapää, 2008)

As if possessed by the spirits of Tarkovsky and Klimov, Jukka-Pekka Valkeapää frames virtually every shot of his debut with meticulous care and an experienced artist’s eye, delivering a film of immense lyrical power which easily overshadows his following efforts, They Have Escaped and Dogs Don’t Wear Pants. Told or rather, shown from the perspective of its mute protagonist – an unnamed boy living with his mother on a ramshackle farm – The Visitor is a visually immersive, densely atmospheric tone poem draped in a dark veil of mystery...


5. Swoon (Måns Mårlind & Björn Stein, 2019)

A delightfully quirky and lightly surreal romantic drama in the vein of Amélie is the last film you would expect to come from ‘Bergmanland’ and yet, here it is! Set in 1940 and based on the history of the Gröna Lund amusement park located on Djurgården Island in Stockholm, Swoon chronicles a charming story of forbidden love stronger than nazism and war. Introducing the language of flowers, embodying a swarm of belly butterflies and depicting a dream-duel with rose-firing guns, inter alia, it is directed as if in the state of euphoric infatuation, and photographed like a hyper-stylized fairy tale pulsating with many colors and neon lights, as its grand, sweeping music score heightens the emotional impact. Mårlind & Stein take a great deal of artistic liberty to include the period-befitting covers of singles by Abba, Bon Jovi and Beyoncé in a few unexpected anachronistic twists, and their playfulness seems to be infectious, as reflected in certain costume designs by Margrét Einarsdóttir. Swoon is pure magic and I’m head over heels for it. 


6. I Am Lying Now (Paweł Borowski, 2019)

Art imitates li(f)e imitates art... or maybe there’s no imitation at all in Paweł Borowski’s second feature which proves that artifice is a skill filmmakers should fully and firmly embrace. His weirdo meta-thriller of a Rashomon-esque structure and satirical proportions is set in a beautiful retro-futuristic dystopia where vintage fourwheelers pass and park next to Brutalist buildings, and the grooviness of the 60’s and 70’s modernism is evoked in both costume and interior designs. (Kubrick would’ve certainly approved that hotel hallway defined by curved, neon-lit walls.) A creative editing makes way for some cool optical illusions complementing Borowski’s formal trickery, as the viewer follows a taser-armed white rabbit down the hole of sex, lies and compromising video discs surrounding a film production in the hands of a mysterious puppet master (a nod to Lynch?). Add to that an exquisite cinematography, refined art direction, unobtrusive, yet effective electro-score with the 80’s vibes, and a menacing quiz/talk-show host who looks like a cross between Maleficent and Tilda Swinton, and you got yourself an entertaining and aesthetically chic reflection on the nature of cinema and reality.


7. The Man Who Knew 75 Languages (Anne Magnussen & Paweł Dębski, 2016)

“Without a native language, people are like motherless children.”

An elegant blend of rotoscoped animation (characters) and live-action (backgrounds), The Man Who Knew 75 Languages tells the story of the German publisher, poet and linguistic prodigy Georg Sauerwein (1831-1904), and his affectionate relationship with his protégé, princess Elisabeth of Wied (1843-1916), who would marry King Carol I (1839-1914) and become the Queen of Romania. Part biopic and part ‘fairy tale’, the film strikes a subtle balance between information and poetry / facts and fiction, introducing the viewer to an extraordinary man vilified in his own time, and revered as a pacifist and humanitarian today. Even though his awe-inspiring polyglottic knowledge couldn’t be fully explored within the limited time-frame of 65 minutes, we hear Robert Günschmann – voice-actor who ‘resurrects’ Sauerwein – using German, English, French, Italian, Norwegian, Lithuanian and Sorbian (spoken by a West Slavic minority, Sorbs, who live in Lusatia region of eastern Germany). Günschmann and the rest of the largely non-professional cast play their roles in a low key register, complementing the modest beauty of visuals, and the serene tone of the music score. The result is a charmingly unpretentious feature that never outstays its welcome.


8. Night in Paradise (Hoon-jung Park, 2020)

The mainstream cinema of South Korea never cease to amaze! In the latest feature penned, directed and produced by the screenwriter of I Saw the Devil, an engaging crime drama is interwoven with an icy cold revenge thriller and blood-soaked action into a tragic, not to mention nihilist gangster epic laced with bits of wry humor, concealed romance and fleeting moments of poetry. Relentlessly plunging the viewer into a grim underworld or rather, parallel reality of organized crime and corrupted police officials, it focuses on a wronged mobster, Tae-Gu (Tae-goo Eom, lending a composed bad-boy charm to the sympathetic anti-hero), and a young, terminally ill woman, Jae-Yeon (Yeo-bin Jeon, brilliantly channeling, as well as externalizing suppressed rage of her character), brought together in a game of manipulation and backstabbing played by sharks in branded suits. Although it’s tropey as almost any given genre film in recent memory, it is so well crafted that you probably won’t mind a cliché here and there...


9. The Inferno Index (Cosmotropia de Xam & Lapis Exilis, 2021)

It’s not everyday you see a Serbian soprano (Marijana Mladenov) portraying Witch who converts a young woman (Mira Kohli) to the dark side in a German underground flick which makes great use of heavy filters, on-body projections, flickering and footage played backwards. Falling somewhere between a goth-horror music video, pseudo-occult fever dream, ritualistic performance and meta-cinematic experiment, The Inferno Index boldly eschews conventional story-telling in favor of luridly spellbinding hyper-psychedelic visuals and moodily propulsive electronica veiled in haunting chants. A labor of demonic love, this experiential phantasmagoria was conceived and brought to life by a team of only six people, four of whom worked both behind and in front of the camera. 


10. Zach Snyder’s Justice League (Zach Snyder, 2021) / Mortal Kombat (Simon McQuoid, 2021)

Zach Snyder’s cut of a 2017 box office bomb is twice as grandiloquent as what you’d expect from a 4-hour-long superhero epic, brimming with VFX eye-candy and gravity-defying battles, while giving a whole new meaning to the term ‘over-the-top’. Enchantingly silly, it is never boring, and it even manages to be solemn and poignant amidst all that grand-scale destruction and slow-mo show offs, although the director’s grief stemming from the most unthinkable personal loss is not as deeply felt as intended. The murky color palette gives the proceedings a ‘faux-gotique meets poetic cinema on steroids’ vibe which works like a charm, and the ensemble cast lends some gravitas to their pulpy characters, each given just enough screen time. 

(And another thing that won’t pass unnoticed is a pectoral muscle contest between Jason Momoa and Henry Cavill...)
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One year after the first successful animated adaptation (though I must admit that I kind of liked the Saturday morning cartoon-like series from the mid-90’s), the long-running fighting game franchise once again hits the screen in all of its R-rated g(l)ory as a high-profile, technically taut B-actioner that introduces the viewers to the world(s) of Mortal Kombat and hints at the possibility of a sequel (fingers crossed, because I’d love to see Sindel and/or Kitana making their appearances). Neatly choreographed duels in which fighters exchange not only punches and kicks, but also their magical powers – here, the results of ‘awakened arcana’ – should satiate the fans, especially when they end on a Fatality note, with guts spilled or heads splashed... and that happens quite often.

The story couldn’t get any simpler – Earth is threatened by the dark, rule-breaking forces of Outworld and it’s up to a handful of ‘chosen ones’ guided by the god of thunder, Raiden, to save their homes, families and friends in a deadly, soon-to-begin tournament (think Bloodsport with the main villain being a perfidious, soul-stealing sorcerer whose henchmen include a four-armed giant and a bat-winged vampiress, among others). On the other hand, the Mortal Kombat universe – subjected to many changes over almost three decades of its existence – seems too vast for a two-hour movie, so the uninitiated may find it a bit confusing or overwhelming. Not all the characters are fully fleshed out (certain baddies serve only as cannon fodder), but they are faithful representations of their original versions, all thanks to the solid cast, beautiful costumes, trademark moves, and witty remarks. And the addition of a whole new protagonist – a former MMA champ, Cole Young – feels natural rather than forced, complementing the MK mythology in a way that suggests the film crew and game’s creators had a great collaboration which is also reflected in plethora of ‘Easter eggs’.

SHORTS


1. Elfmädchen (Mirka Morales, 2009)

(read about the film HERE)


2. Patient Love (Manja Ristić & Aleksandar Lazar, 2021)

An alchemical, aesthetically refined blend of experimental animation and haunting music which, by the end, evokes Yoshihiro Kanno’s score for Angel’s Egg, Patient Love takes you on a ‘sensory journey through the subtle layers of psyche’, as noted in the official synopsis, attuning your inner universe to its disarmingly abstract dreamscapes of synaesthetic delights. In often symmetrical visual compositions of ethereal beauty, human hands transform into amorphous organisms whose spiritual energy is draped in a silky sonic veil. And that is called magic...


3. The Wormwood Star (Curtis Harrington, 1956)

Art meets occultism in a peculiar documentary on Marjorie Cameron (1922-1975) who is best recognized for her appearance in Kenneth Anger’s masterpiece Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome.


4. The Mystic (Lyra Hill, 2011)

(read about the film HERE)


5. Darkness Falling Through Darkness (Péter Lichter, 2021)

In the latest collaboration between filmmaker Péter Lichter and musician Ádám Márton Horváth, spirits of the forest invoke ghosts of the past to join them in a hallucinatory stroll through a phantasmal space dreamed by the barren trees, and emerging from a thought-labyrinth...