1. Az itt élő lelkek nagy része / Most of the Souls That Live Here (Ivan & Igor Buharov, 2016)
Part political satire, part philosophical comedy and part surreal conspiracy anti-thriller (or something weirder along the lines), Most of the Souls That Live Here is a brilliant, uncategorizable piece of revolutionary cinema that amps up anarchic attitude to 11, dream (absence of) logic to 13.5, and absurdity to infinity divided by zero. Color me impressed by its audacity, because my mind has been fucked senseless, pardon my French.
2. Baghé sangui / The Garden of Stones (Parviz Kimiavi, 1976)
Blurring the boundaries between reality and fiction, Kimiavi delivers a surreal ethnographic docu-drama that operates as a sly allegory of the spiritual essence and primordial innocence of art, as well as of the corrupting power of human greed. In one of the most memorable scenes which sees shepherd Darvish Khan Esfandiarpoor dancing amongst impressive structures of the titular garden that he ‘raised’, the author and his hero - a deaf-mute non-professional actor - give performance artists a good run for their money.
3. La Piscine (Jacques Deray, 1969)
Embodying sex appeal in its attractive leads, Romy Schneider and Alain Delon, who have an electrifying on-screen chemistry, Jacques Deray’s carefree summer romance turned venomous crime drama perfectly exemplifies the subtleties of tension building, as it epitomizes elegance by virtue of its oh-so-chic visuals, and demonstrates the immense power of suggestion through its sparse, read-between-the-lines dialogues. Its sultry, burning hot atmosphere of sexual possessiveness, repressed jealousies and selfish desires gets cooled down by penetrating blue-eyed gazes.
4. Adventures of Don Juan (Vincent Sherman, 1948)
Don Juan: “I have loved you since the beginning of time.”
Catherine: “But you only met me yesterday...”
Don Juan: “Why, that was when time began!”
Sparkling with wit and charm, Vincent Sherman’s swashbuckler has to be one of the most delightful and visually handsome period pieces of old-school Hollywood, and it should be seen for the magnificent costume design alone. Humor, romance, political intrigue and adventurous spirit blend amazingly well, with the movie flowing as smoothly as a clear mountain river. Errol Flynn is a natural choice for the role of Don Juan, so it is impossible to imagine anyone other than him as the silver-tongued hero, whereby Viveca Lindfors graces the screen with regal demeanor and ravishing beauty as Queen Margaret.
5. Серп и молот / Hammer and Sickle (Сергей Ливнев, 1994)
Part ‘revisionist sci-fi’ (act I), part satirical dramedy (act II), and part tragic love story (act III), Hammer and Sickle is a keen and bizarre character study of a peasant woman transformed into a symbol of Soviet manhood (a magnetic performance by Aleksey Serebryakov) through a sex reassignment surgery devised by none other than Joseph Stalin himself. Subtly laced with ironic humor, the film is also a fun exploration of gender roles, identity and individuality in the era of iron fist communism that gets revived by virtue of stylish flourishes such as propaganda-like sequences, as well as through an imaginary, cleverly integrated account on the creation of the famous Worker and Kolkhoz Woman statue. The striking atmosphere of (pseudo) social realism stems from a seamless symbiosis between the de-sentimentalized production design (Yelena Dobrashkus), expressive cinematography (Sergey Machilskiy) dominated by grays and browns, and whimsical music (Leonid Desyatnikov) which underscores Livnev’s playful mischievousness.
6. Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942)
A timeless classic...
7. Spoguli / In the Mirror (Laila Pakalniņa, 2020)
Set in a fictitious Orwellian country somewhere in the Middle East, and possessed by a revolutionary spirit, Alephia 2053 is a welcome, if not too subtle addition to the world of adult animation. A grim, no-nonsense dystopian thriller, it reflects the unenviable present of many countries around the world in its envisioning of a techno-autocratic government of the future. Its slim running time of about an hour is well-spent on a briskly paced story that feels familiar, yet hits all the right notes and keeps you on the edge of your seat, as you’re treated to the excellent 2D artwork. Dominated by de-saturated colors, the film’s depressingly handsome visuals bring to mind Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade and Equilibrium with both of which it also shares thematic concerns. This Arabic-spoken neo-noir can be seen with English and French subtitles on the official YouTube channel of its production company, Spring Entertainment (click on the title).
9. Johnny O’Clock (Robert Rossen, 1947)
As slick and suave as its titular, sexually ambiguous (anti)hero (portrayed with sarcastic verve and self-assured charm by Dick Powell), Rossen’s directorial debut has all the right noir-ingredients to make your evening. Packed with some snappy dialogues and seasoned with a lively dash of humor, it pulls you in a seedy world of gambling inhabited by wheeler-dealers, weary cops, and beautiful femmes, both ‘fatale’ and almost angelic ones. Its double mystery – a suspicious suicide and the murder of a corrupted cop – may rest on the conventional side, yet the stylish presentation never loses its magic, and sometimes, it’s only Evelyn Keyes lighting a cigarette that works like a spell.
10. Ett drömspel / A Dream Play (Ingmar Bergman, 1963)
“What is poetry? Not reality, but greater than reality. No dream, but waking dreams. And mortals think we poets only play, invent and fabricate.”
Even at his most stagey, within the confines of a TV production, Bergman delivers a visually expressive film, boasting the philosophical grandeur of the source material, August Strindberg’s 1901 play. Intricate in ‘inconsequent’ structure, and ruled by the sleeping consciousness of a dreamer, this brooding fantasy drama is a thorough study of the human psyche/soul, as well as of all of its innate contradictions. And Ingrid Thulin is magnetically ethereal as Agnes – the Vedic goddess Indra’s daughter – who comes to Earth to experience life from a mortal’s perspective, guiding us through the labyrinth of tightly knit memories and mirages existing out of time and space.
11. Undergods (Chino Moya, 2020)
Stylishly shot on locations in Serbia and Estonia, Chino Moya’s feature debut marries absurdist weirdness to doomy bleakness in a story-within-story-within-story at once devilishly opaque and strangely familiar, as the ensemble cast brings ill-omened characters to time-and-space-distorting life. Triggered by a dream of an enigmatic corpse collector in a post-apocalyptic metropolis, the flawed, yet beguiling ‘mise en abyme’ narrative comes across as a surreal mixture of cautionary tales slightly reminiscent of certain experiments by Raúl Ruiz, as well as of Roy Anderson’s dark comedies. Wojciech Golczewski’s ominous synth score serves as the voice of a mysterious force behind the bizarre events, whereby the exquisite production design by Marketa Korinková and Jo Sutherland finds a perfect match in Nikola Berček’s commendable art direction.
12. Ofrenda / Offering (Juan Mónaco Cagni, 2020)
“We must bring the voices back, the ones far away, the dead ones, and raise them in the great ritual.”
Silence is truly golden in the feature-length debut from Argentinean filmmaker Juan Mónaco Cagni. It is not the most beautiful, nor the most poetic mood piece out there, but the FEELING it so effortlessly evokes is utterly pleasant and comforting; it is the feeling of connectedness with everything – your dreaming soul and inner child, the waking spirits surrounding you and the vastness of the universe. Imagine being able to just abandon your routine-plagued life, and wander aimlessly and endlessly, alone or in a company of a special person – either close to you or a complete stranger – with whom you can keep frequently quiet, yet have a deep understanding, one that transcends the common human knowledge – it is that kind of feeling... In the lulling rhythm, space and time lose their meaning, and all that remains is the light of healing memories, and the eternal scent of nostalgia.
13. Nadzieja / Hope (Stanislaw Mucha, 2007)
The third part in the Heaven, Hell and Purgatory trilogy by screenwriter Krzysztof Piesiewicz (Dekalog, The Double Life of Véronique, Three Colors), Hope could be categorized as a ‘metaphysical thriller’ that also plays out like a character study focusing on a young man, Franciszek, whose angelic looks are matched only by his sharp wits and dangerous lack of fear. Helmed with an assured hand, and anchored by excellent performances, the film successfully blends intrigue (surrounding a stolen painting) with hints of mysticism, remaining deliberately opaque even when certain answers are provided. Its clean cinematography (by late Krzysztof Ptak who often collaborated with the Polish master of magic realism, Jan Jakub Kolski) and oft-dramatic score (Max Richter) provide a number of pleasing audio-visual moments.
14. Edogawa Rampo no injū / Edogawa Rampo’s Beast in the Shadows (Tai Katō, 1977)
Central to Tai Katō’s second to last fiction film – an adaptation of Edogawa Rampo’s novel, as the original title suggests – is a murder mystery involving sexual repression, sadomasochism, and the rivalry between a creator of ‘serious mystery novels’ and up-and-coming sensationalist writer hiding behind a pseudonym. Brimful with intrigue and red herrings, the story is pretty much a standard detective fare, but making it stand out is not what it is about and who the perpetrator is, but how it is filmed. Placing the viewer in the position of a voyeur antagonist who lurks in the shadows, Tai Katō and his cinematographer Keiji Maruyama often ‘trap’ the characters within door and window frames, between the stair balusters and inside a ceiling crack, or by covering parts of the screen with various objects, from lamps to books to furniture pieces. In addition, they opt for strange, most of the time low angles, keeping the tension high and your interest sharp through the visuals alone, with Hajime Kaburagi’s peculiar, dissonant blend of traditional music, wailing strings and alarming electronica reflecting the clash of Japanese and Western culture of the period.
15. Lebenszeichen / Signs of Life (Werner Herzog, 1968)
When your feature debut’s key selling point is a breathtaking (B&W) cinematography, it is a good sign of a promising career and... well, it’s one of the most lauded German filmmakers we’re talking about here. Set on the Greek island of Kos during the WWII, yet coming across as a rather peaceful cine-oddity (that shows some of its teeth after a protagonist called Stroszek goes nuts), Signs of Life is at turns contemplatively detached, psychologically tense, delightfully absurd and funny as a cockroach trap or a chicken hypnotized by a chalk line, which results in a peculiar watching experience. Parts of the story which would’ve benefited from a shorter running time are revealed by a deadpan voice-over that comes across as both hindering and stylistically justified, whereas the beautiful locations with rich history, and the score evocative of the Greek folklore provide an authentic atmosphere.
16. Playdurizm (Gem Deger, 2020)
Drawing from camp cinema, the neon-and-synth-choked 80’s aesthetics, and at times, body horror, young Turkish-Czech writer, director and actor Gem Deger plunges the viewer in a hyper-surreal, genre-bending, darkly humorous queer phantasmagoria whose glitz and glitching marks the new reality for his meek and mousy hero, Demir. What we see through Demir’s amnesiac eyes comes across as wickedly whimsical, yet we go along with it, while his not-so-fond memories (slyly hinted at through many details) gradually creep in, to inject a hefty dose of pain into a glaring congregation of salacious pinks and moody indigo blues that dominate Jitka Sivrova’s eye-popping production design. Not unlike Eduardo Casanova of Pieles fame, Deger boldly embraces artifice, as he imbues his ‘escapist simulacrum’ with references to the painter Francis Bacon, and David Cronenberg’s Videodrome, which results in a flawed but fascinating debut ruled by violence, lust and fear.
17. Dorian Gray im Spiegel der Boulevardpresse / Dorian Gray in the Mirror of the Yellow Press (Ulrike Ottinger, 1984)
“Politics is taboo. X equals U.”
A loose, punkish, gender-bender adaptation of Wilde’s well-known novel, Dorian Gray in the Mirror of the Yellow Press puts an excessively campy garment on a sharp, yet on-the-nose (and a bit overlong) media satire which appears more relevant today than back in the 80’s. Although more accessible and less weird than its superior predecessor Freak Orlando, it holds quite a number of wildly surreal surprises, marrying decadent beauty to iconoclastic absurdity. And it also has brilliant Delphine Seyrig bringing witchy energy and wickedness to the role of trilingual media mogul called Frau Dr. Mabuse.
18. The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (Gordon Hessler, 1973)
Although not as good as its 1958 predecessor, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Hessler’s film is still an entertaining, larger-than-life adventure carried by solid performances and featuring some great costume and production designs. As usual, stop-motion creations by the legendary Ray Harryhausen awake the sense of wonder, particularly by the end when we are treated to a fascinating wrestling match between a one-eyed centaur and a griffin...
19. Breathless (Jim McBride, 1983)
Despite being one of the earliest and most influential examples of Nouvelle Vague, À bout de souffle is not my favorite Godard film, so I didn’t mind at all seeing it adapted to the Black Wave in Young and Healthy as a Rose (Jovan Jovanović, 1971), or re-imagined as a conventional, yet highly cinematic and weirdly engaging crime romance in Jim McBride’s Breathless. Richard Gere bristles with energy and bad-boy charm as a ‘jinxed’, happy-go-lucky swindler and Silver Surfer fan, Jesse, so it’s no wonder that a smart, sexy and adventurous student of architecture, Monica (French actress Valérie Kaprisky), falls so deep for him that her decisions seem irrational. Both of them often heat up the screen, and there are some visuals flairs (code: red light) to be found in-between, but it is the soundtrack that takes the greatest role in defining the cool atmosphere, and complementing the well-paced story.
20. Oxygen (Alexandre Aja, 2021)
Set entirely in a cryogenic pod, and resting upon the shoulders (or rather, confined body) of Mélanie Laurent who demonstrates a range of emotions from despair to resolve, Alexandre Aja’s existential sci-fi drama sees the depletion of air and the twist quantity in an inversely proportional relationship, occasionally demanding an increased dose of both patience and suspension of disbelief. Technically accomplished and directed with an assured hand, Oxygen would’ve benefited from a shorter running time, and an ending that leaves a stronger impression than the first five minutes of red-lit ‘haute tension’.
In a series of formally refined vignettes set in the real world, but following the logic of dreams, a young woman named Alice (the highly sympathetic performance by Alice Garner) slips down the hole of her own subconscious mind, and takes the viewer along. Subtly laced with the absurd, bizarre proceedings see her chased by a menacing jogger after the queen’s chamber mini-concert, only to find Mr Right in a crowded discotheque decorated by vintage mirrors. As we ask ourselves where did the White Rabbit go (or was he there to begin with), and what happened to Alice’s hat from the initial chapter of genre-bending nature, a surreal, non-sequitur adventure delights us with its quirks, under Marie Craven’s taut direction. The warmth, grain and strong colors of Nicolette Freeman’s beautiful 35mm cinematography enhance the weird magic...
2. The Dark Forest (Martin Del Carpio, 2021)
To honor the memory of his father who passed away in 2019, Martin Del Carpio opts for the medium of film once again, and delivers his most lyrical work to date. At once deeply personal, carefully veiled in a delicate fabric of pure emotions, and absolutely immersive in its dreamlike, mysterious beauty, The Dark Forest transmutes its author’s innermost life into an admirable piece of introspective cinema. Opening with Dante Alighieri’s quote which inspired the title, it takes the viewer on a short, yet transcendent journey through the bushes of symbols and trees of thoughts, in the company of a lovely (and cunning?) forest spirit embodied by Carly Erin O’Neil whose poise and grace translate as otherworldly. The enchanting imagery that we see on our way is the result of another tight-knit collaboration between writer / director Del Carpio and DoP / editor William Murray, whereby the dense atmosphere of meditative seclusion is complemented by Dan Shaked’s ruminative voice-over and M. Nomized’s haunting score which occasionally gives off some strong ‘classic Hollywood’ vibes...
3. Kinoskop Spin-Off No. 5: Inside the Cine-Club
still from Ante Babaja’
(check out the entire ex-YU selection HERE
4. Razor Blades (Paul Sharits, 1968)
After watching Razor Blades, I think that my left brain hemisphere is covered in polka dots, whereas the right one flickers in stripes, and from now on, I’ll probably see melting dolls and astronauts every time I brush my teeth. (No one is safe in a banana-shaped universe!)
5. Cage (Du Pengpeng, 2015)
A thesis work at Pratt Institute’s Department of Digital Arts, Cage takes a dreamlike look at geisha’s constrained life, and represents it in a wordless blend of enchanting animation and evocative music both of which are heavily influenced by the Chinese traditional art.
6. Deep Blue (Springs and Apneas Between Worlds) (Sebastian Wiedemann, 2020)
A calming, meditative, underwater cine-dream of our umbilical connection to the Universe...
Eduardo Casanova of Pieles fame blends eroticism, occult iconography and satin ribbons coming out of the singer’s larynx and navel in a gorgeously minimalist, YSL-sponsored music video for an ethereal and utterly hypnotizing single Las Montañas by Spanish-Italian electronic project Delaporte (Sandra Delaporte and Sergio Salvi).
8. Sometimes a little Sin is good for the Soul (Alex Beriault, 2020)
... and shooting on 16mm is always good for the viewer’s soul. Alex Beriault’s cryptic experimental short introduces three women (the author herself and a couple of pole dancers, Tahnee Reyes & Eman Hillawi) confronted with the rigid architecture (and primary colors) of interior spaces, as well as with the languorous pace of the film’s own inner life. Partly immobilized by their immediate surroundings, they (willfully or unwillingly?) remain suspended in time, subjected to the idea of inescapability. A hypnotizing atmosphere is established by an immersive amalgam of ‘velvetine’ cinematography capturing the intimate minimalism of visual composition, and ruminative silence that is subtly broken by droning sounds of unknown origin.
9. Flora (Mischa Dols, 2020)
A failed mission on the planet of Venus sees a member of a small crew, Adam, developing erotic love for a mysterious forest in a low budget sci-fi comedy that blends absurd humor and alluring visuals to great effect. Claustrophobic reality of a spaceship life is beautifully captured in square, neon-lit imagery, whereas virtual simulations get a retro, 80’s-inspired CG treatment, with the dreamy epilogue evoking the artifice and queer sensibility of Bertrand Mandico.
10. 3,2,1 (Khashayar Kalantari, 2019)
An exploration of ‘anti-drama’, as noted in the official synopsis, 3,2,1 successfully blends vivid colors, formal rigor, and absurd humor à la Roy Andersson in three one-take vignettes, the second of which boasts the exquisite set design by Mohammad Ali Mir Soltani.
11. Energy (Martin Gerigk, 2017)
An essayistic tone poem which depicts various aspects of energy by entangling the anthropocene imagery of micro- and macro-cosmos in a dense, electrified web of sounds produced by 12 cellos and nature.
Demonstrating superb creativity on a shoestring budget, Ferguson packs his short, loud yet dialogue-free horror with stark B&W visuals, and dense atmosphere of anxiety and paranoia.
13. Rever / See Again (Raquel Gandra, 2020)
A fleeting reverie or rather, an introspective ritual, Raquel Gandra’s three-minute short invites the viewer to take a second look at seemingly ordinary things and meaningless gestures, simultaneously deriving a poetic language thereof. Interweaving the 16mm imagery as faded as our memories with a whispery, intentionally vague voice-over, and ethereal score that enhances the dreamlike nature of the proceedings, Rever appears like a hallucinatory projection of its author’s innermost thoughts.
A loving and magical homage to the artistry of Mœbius and Hayao Miyazaki.
By virtue of abstract CGI, the body’s transience gets transformed into transcendence...