Oct 30, 2021

The Spine of Night (Philip Gelatt & Morgan Galen King, 2021)

It’s been a long, long while (read: almost four decades!) since a rotoscoped sword & sorcery feature hit the big screens, which is why I’ve been burning with anticipation for Gelatt & King’s dark fantasy whose seed was planted in 2013 short Exordium. And though I couldn’t see it in cinema, I immensely enjoyed it not only as an incredibly nostalgic throwback to the times when I was first discovering adult animation, but also as an unashamedly pulp and esoteric piece of (post)modern art carved with lots of love. 

Heavily influenced by Ralph Bakshi’s Fire and Ice that informs its barbaric and magical setting, as well as by Heavy Metal from which it borrows the anthology-like narrative structure, The Spine of Night delves into larger-than-life questions, earning comparison to the metaphysical works of both René Laloux, and Mamoru Oshii. (In a Letterboxd interview, the authors recommend Gandahar and Angel’s Egg, inter alia, and I wholeheartedly agree with their choices.) Told from a perspective of a swamp sorceress, Tzod (voiced by Lucy Lawless of Xena and Spartacus fame), and spanning across centuries, the unsparing story recounts the ultra-violent history of struggling against a vicious force that perverts the desire for knowledge / truth into the unquenchable thirst for ultimate power. The authors put you in turbulent medias res, wasting no time for long expositions, and simultaneously building their bleakly imaginative world which I wouldn’t want to live in, but couldn’t get enough of.

Many heroes fall in the seemingly never-ending battle – some in the most gruesome ways imaginable – so it is death that imposes as the main protagonist, and rules the cruel, bloodthirsty universe. Warriors, scholars, bird people, common folks and even gods are seen with their eyes poked, limbs torn, guts spilled, skin burned, heads decapitated or bodies split in halves, as the film’s exploitative aspect gets converted into the raw, mystical, unadulterated poetry of humans’ most primal urges. Its extremely graphic nature and aura of mythological primordiality are further emphasized by prominent displays of nudity that is decidedly non-sexualized, but rather intrinsic.

What comes as a surprise are shy glimmers of hope (and rebirth) penetrating through the thick clouds of flesh-tearing destruction, and sprinkling the eternal night with tiny drops of color. Speaking of which, the artists opt for a predominantly earthy palette, attaching a beautiful sky/electric blue to a mysterious flower – a sort of a holy grail – that is central to the plot. All the characters are given simple, yet memorable designs, with thick lines and ‘flat’ shading making them pop-up from the picturesque backgrounds that take us from snow-covered mountains to mold-infested dungeons to high-ceiling edifices inspired by Gothic architecture. Despite the obviously limited budget, The Spine of Night provides some impressive visuals, appearing like a proudly eccentric diamond in the rough amongst the over-produced CG offerings that saturate the market today. Complementing its refreshingly offbeat imagery are top-notch sound FX, solid voice-acting evocative of the 80’s, and the unobtrusive, swollen score that intensifies the film’s doomy atmosphere.

The cult status is on the horizon...

Oct 29, 2021

Dýrið / Lamb (Valdimar Jóhannsson, 2021)

Once upon a time, on an island far away, a childless couple, María and Ingvar, spent their peaceful days on a sheep farm. They rarely spoke to each other, but the spark of love twinkled in both of their eyes. More than anything in the world, they wished for a baby girl, and one fateful day their wish came true (well, sort of) – a sheep #3115 lambed a mutant ewe whom they named Ada and adopted as their own...

Taking cues from the folk tales of yore, debuting director Valdimar Jóhannsson and his co-writer – poet, novelist and lyricist Sjón – take a deep dive into the murky waters of parental anxieties, as well as of forced consolation, and emerge with a unique black pearl. The duo also addresses wicked ways of Mother Nature whose reaction to an insult adds another layer of bizarreness (not to be discussed here, so as not to spoil the fun) to the already odd proceedings. Their grimly sweet, mystically absurd, bleakly humorous and decidedly taciturn story unfolds at a finely measured pace, and allows – along with the spacious setting – its handful of characters to breathe freely and fully. Although archetypal on the surface, they do come across as believable, emotionally resonant and inevitably flawed humans, partly by virtue of outstanding low-key performances from Noomi Rapace, Hilmir Snær Guðnason and Björn Hlynur Haraldsson, as well as their interaction with a disturbingly cute creature.

And Jóhannsson is in firm control over virtually every aspect of his inaugural feature, particularly in terms of establishing the right mood, and making sure the tonal shifts are hard to detect. Assisted by the haunting, brooding, drone-heavy score composed by Þórarinn Guðnason and Eli Arenson’s astonishing wide-screen frames which capture the breathtaking grandeur of Iceland’s remote countryside, he pulls you into a slightly distorted reality of a quiet domestic drama draped in the veil of faux / silly happiness, and underscored by a lingering sense of foreboding. When the ominous presence finally materializes into a horrific surprise, it is too late for the surrogate parents to redeem themselves, whereby the viewer is left to contemplate over the unanswered questions...

Oct 28, 2021

Crna zemlja za žedna usta

Kao mesečar po polju od trnja
žuri nekud ovaj sat.
Da nađe zlu ženu?
Ili drvenog patuljka?

Kao zvezda se stropoštava u bezdan,
a ja ni kriv, ni nezvan,
ne znam...
Sanjam tri sna, a nijedan nije pravi.
Bar da je jedan plavi,
pa da dreknem u tri kuće iz sveg glasa.

Kupus za lek, crna zemlja za žedna usta
i odsečena tri prsta mrsna!

Kriva je luda lutka
i oskrnavljeni grob kraj puta.
Sve se iznutra mrda
i liči na vrata uzaludna.

Kad ih otvoriš, zjapi rupa ružna.
(A hobotnica se obvila oko krsta.)

kolaž: Bezimeni mozak, polimorfna duša

Oct 27, 2021


A reflection on the mystery of creation / incarnation of a creator's rapture.
The absoluteness of art, and the noisy silence of a dream.
Bitterly ethereal remedy...

Oct 18, 2021

Kinoskop 2021 : Selection

After a tough selection process which included more than 200 eligible films, as one of Kinoskop curators I am happy to reveal and send my heartfelt congratulations to all participants of Kinoskop 3! 🎉

This year’s edition of the festival will take place at Yugoslav Film Archive in Belgrade, December 10-12. The program will be curated by veteran experimental film aficionados Nikola Gocić (film writer and critic and visual artist), Marko Milićević (film author and founder of the audiovisual initiative Kino Pleme), Ejla Kovačević (member of Zagreb filmlab Klubvizija and 25FPS festival collaborator),  Aleksandra Dalichow (founder of ExperimentaL CinemA and film reviewer), and Csaba Bollók (Hungarian filmmaker and teacher of analog film). Similarly to previous years, it will encompass audio-visual performance and live soundtrack, as well  as a slot for a filmmaker in focus (to be revealed in the upcoming days!) and Q&A’s with guests of the festival. 🎥

SELECTION (in alphabetical order):

1. 31 May (A wrong Haiku) - El Zoid
2. A Castle in Spain - Max Belmessieri
3. Alizava - Andrius Žemaitis
4. Cold Meridian - Peter Strickland
5. Compos Mentis - Linda Lindenberga
6. Constant Agitation - Christopher Gorski
7. Dawn - Nona Catusanu, Katherine Castro, Liza Gipsova (Red Dawn Trio)
8. Death Valley - Grace Sloan
9. Disappearing Silence - Sarah Seené
10. Entre Les Images - Vito A. Rowlands
11. everything is ok │an ASMR to help you sleep at night - Autojektor
12. Everything We Know About You - Roland Denning
13. Hear Me Sometimes - Sofia Theodore-Pierce
14. How a Sprig of Fir Would Replace a Feather - Anna Kipervaser
15. images of the mystical symposion - Milan Milosavljević
16. Imagine none of this is real - Nicole Baker Peterson 
17. Into the Wild - Markus Maicher
18. It’s About Time - Roger Deutsch
19. Landays - Inna Dmitrieva
20. Las Sombras - Paulo Pécora
21. Le Rêve - Peter Conrad Beyer
22. Levitator And Other Sensations - Guy Trier
23. Liberty or Life - Mike Davies, James Hatton
24. Los Plateados - Mala Química
25. Lull - Mathilde Magnée
26. Mandatory Training - Patrick Tarrant
27. Mantra To Darkness - Jean Marc Loerbroks
28. Metamorphosed bodies of the star that generates us - Adina Ionescu-Muscel
29. noonwraith blues - Kamila Kuc
30. Northstarling - Trevor Mowchun, Daniel Gerson
31. Nosokomeion - Félix Caraballo
32. On Children - Justin Brown, Kamila Calabrese, Vera Hector
33. Other v.1.0.0. - Maja Milić
34. Papaya - Timmy Harn
35. Pilgrimage to Hålltjärn - Kim Ekberg, Johannes Hagman
36. Press Pound to Connect - Alexander Fingrutd
37. Self-portrait in Hell - Federica Foglia
38. Shield - Taravat Khalili
39. Shimmer - Betty Blitz
40. Shipwrecking - Natalia Lucía
41. Soleil Puissant Soleil - Andrea Saggiomo
42. That Elusive Balance - Salvatore Insana
43. That Was When I Thought I Could Hear You - Matt Whitman
44. The Big Headed Boy, Shamans & Samurais - Bibhusan Basnet, Pooja Gurung
45. The Lost Record - Ian F Svenonius, Alexandra Cabral
46. the tender place where the world breaks - Emily M Van Loan
47. The Tooth of Time - Hannu Nieminen
48. Tiger Dance - Pintér Orsolya

Detailed info coming soon... Stay tuned!

Oct 1, 2021

Best Premiere Viewings of September

For the September lists of favorite first-time viewings, I will focus on the feature-length offerings, attempting to rank all five films by nonconformist maestro Nikos Papatakis (1918-2010), as well as to spark slight controversy with a selection of 13 titles so varied, that they barely hold together... 😃


(short reviews of Thanos and Despina, Les abysses and Gloria mundi can be read HERE.)

1. Les abysses / The Depths (1963)

2. Oi voskoi / Thanos and Despina (1967)

Les équilibristes / Walking a Tightrope (1991)

In his swan song which also marks his most accessible offering, Nikos Papatakis interweaves the themes of (tormented) love, (fluid) sexuality, (institutional) racism, class inequality, artistic emancipation, thorny path to glory, and anti-conformity as a lifestyle, eliciting superb performances from Michel Piccoli as a famed pederast writer with the criminal past, Marcel (alter ego of the director’s friend Jean Genet), and Lilah Dadi as a young circus worker, of German and Arabic origin, Franz Ali, who dreams of becoming the greatest tightrope walker in the world. Also praiseworthy are Polly Walker and Doris Kunstmann in supporting roles of, respectively, ex-ballerina who pimps handsome men for her best friend Marcel, and Franz Ali’s alcoholic ex-wrestler mother Christa. Visually arresting and technically taut, this sternly sensual and impressively controlled melodrama eschews anarchic energy of the author’s early work in favor of strong emotions simmering under the calm surface, and waiting to explode.

4. Gloria mundi / In Hell (1976)

5. I fotografia / The Photograph (1986)

An innocent lie gives birth to obsessive love leading to a small-scale chaos which Papatakis turns into a tragicomic, anxiety-inducing drama set in a village of junta-ruled Greece and the unwelcoming version of Paris. Eliciting magnificent performances from Aris Retsos and Hristos Tsagas, he directs the film with great skill and his usual disdain for authorities.

TOP 13

1. Vigil (Vincent Ward, 1984)

Not to be confused with the recently released (mediocre) horror The Vigil (2019), Vincent Ward’s feature-length debut is a one of the most grandiose coming-of-age tales to ever grace the big screen. Filmed on an isolated farm in Northern Taranaki, New Zealand, where time appears to flow differently than elsewhere, it turns the gloomily breathtaking location into a character in its own right that joins a perfectly cast quartet of young Fiona Kay, and her more experienced colleagues – Penelope Stewart, Bill Kerr and Frank Whitten. Told from a perspective of a budding girl, Lisa (nicknamed Toss), with an imagination as wild and wide as her surroundings, this engagingly strange drama vividly captures the verdant nature in the astonishing, state-of-the-art cinematography (many kudos to Alun Bollinger), and employs mud – oft-glued to its protagonists’ clothes, hands and faces – as a poetic leitmotif. On an aural level, it provides a mystifying mix of intense silences, broodingly bizarre score (Jack Body) and cacophony of diegetic sounds, pulling you deeper both into its forbidding physical world and Lisa’s wondering and wandering thoughts...

2. Free Guy (Shawn Levy, 2021)

A strong contender for the most pleasant surprise of the year, Free Guy effortlessly blasts away all of its blockbuster competitors of recent years, especially those who have toyed with the idea of burring/erasing the boundaries between a film and a video game. (Sorry, Mr. Spielberg, but this neat ‘little’ flick is everything that Ready Player One wanted to be and much MORE!) Behind the flashy, over-the-top special effects, the stardom of Ryan Reynolds who readily jumps into the comedic role of the (virtual) good guy, and the raising popularity of Taika Waititi who chews the scenery with gusto as the (real world) antagonist, there’s a big heart strongly beating, and a clever mind slyly subverting the entertainment industry. That is a pretty bold, if risky and antithetical move, but it works like a charm!

Now, I’ve never played simulation or open world games (I’m mostly into fighters and beat ‘em ups), yet I had a whale of a time watching Free Guy, frequently laughing WITH (and not AT) it, while Levy made me root for the unlikely hero that didn’t even exist within the (imaginative) universe of the film itself, because he was a non-playable character of a zany Sim City parody. On top of that, I felt invigorated and inspired, at once like a child discovering (multi-genre) cinema for the first time, and like an experienced cinephile who is occasionally in a desperate need of a cinematic chewing gum whose taste lasts much longer than expected. Besides, how can anyone resist such sweet, sweet, yet ironically/irreverently tongue-in-cheek use of Mariah Carey’s 1995 single Fantasy? It is highly possible that I am giving Free Guy more credits than it deserves, but my inner nerd still screams of happiness and excitement, so I just can’t help it.

3. The Rainbowmaker (Nana Dzhordzhadze, 2008)

In Nana Dzhordzhadze’s surreal, absorbing and bitterly sweet dramedy, Death (Nino Kirtadze in a scene-stealing performance) is a flirtatious lady who wears white dress, sports golden afro curls, adores late-night snacks, and has a soft spot for old Georgi (Ramaz Chkhikvadze, brilliantly funny) who takes care of his mischievous grandchildren, a girl and a boy (adorable first-timers Elene Bezarashvili and Iva Gogitidze). Georgi’s tall tales of their father and his son Datho (superb Merab Ninidze) make the kids’ imagination run wild, while the unfortunate (falsely accused) man actually serves his time in prison. Once Datho returns home, the little ones refuse to accept him, and he finds his enchanting wife Elene (magnetic Anja Antonowicz) in the embrace of a brutish fire-eater, Zorab (Tom Urb, ominously seductive). But everything changes after he gets struck with a ball of lightning, and a mysterious pilot, Lia (always reliable Chulpan Khamatova), brings some love from the sky...

Brimming with strange, yet infectious energy and re-kindling your admiration for cinema in virtually every frame, The Rainbowmaker is a dreamlike, briskly paced fable with a big heart of gold, and directed with a keen sense of magic realism. Its childlike innocence is warmly complemented by burning passion and whimsical attitude that together elevate a simple story to poetic heights. The charming seaside setting adds an extra layer to its modest, yet captivating beauty.

4. Prisoners of the Ghostland (Sion Sono, 2021)

... and the award for the most bonkers meta-neon-chambara-pseudo-apocalyptic-camp-western-comedy-mystery with the elements of dream-logic fantasy and a pinch of body horror goes to Sion Sono for PRISONERS OF THE GHOSTLAND! In other words, it’s a WTF-did-I-just-watch masterpiece!

5. The House That Eats the Rabbit (Cosmotropia de Xam, 2021)

If Lewis Carroll and Jean Rollin had been raised from the dead to collaborate on a trippy phantasmagoria commissioned by Experimental Film Society, the result of this necromantic act would’ve most probably turned into something akin to Cosmotropia de Xam’s latest feature offering. Heavily influenced by the 70’s esoteric cinema, as well as by novels Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, The House That Eats the Rabbit is a bewitching experiment of resplendent, faux vintage imagery, haunting, hypnotically spacey soundtrack, and distorted, time-bending narrative deeply rooted in dream logic. In its psycho-philosophical meanderings and fetishistic approach to the ritualization of film, it reaches for the viewer’s subconscious where it imprints itself, and attempts to melt it the same way analog photographs dissolve in the epilogue...

6. Junk Head (Takahide Hori, 2017)

Piotr Kamler meets Jan Švankmajer in a labyrinthine underground of a perilous post-apocalyptic world inhabited by creatures that look as if they wandered in from the combined imagination of H.R. Giger and Clive Barker, with hints of Pixar-esque cuteness, and Shin’ya Tsukamoto’s brand of cyberpunk madness and dizzying editing thrown in for good measure. And yet, Takahide Hori’s feature debut – a fascinating passion project seven years in the making – firmly stands on its own feet with all of its quirks and idiosyncrasies, wry humor and meanderings through the bizarre and adventurous story that explores the dynamics between the creator and the creation. An impressive upgrade of 2013 short Junk Head 1, this genre-bending stop-motion extravaganza is pretty much the showcase of Hori’s multiple talents as a writer, director, voice actor, cinematographer, editor, animator, puppet sculptor, production designer, composer and sound FX specialist (how cool is that?!). So, it’s a shame that it had to end so abruptly... 

7. Jìyuántái qihào / No. 7 Cherry Lane (Yonfan, 2019)

“... in that past era, all was elegant, all was leisurely.”

In accordance to this line, Yonfan delivers a classy film of pacing so deliberate, that the characters blink, talk and walk as if they have not only all the time in the world, but whole eternity as well (and in a certain way, they do). A simple love triangle story set in a turbulent period of Hong Kong history is presented as a sumptuous slow-motion dream that plays out like a hopelessly romantic, decidedly melodramatic ode to cinema, or rather, a surreal mélange of heightened sensuality and intellectual lyricism that is not afraid to visit some unexpectedly weird places (code: cats & nipples). Unapologetically erotic in its portrayal of the late 60’s, and subtly laced with bits of bizarre humor, No. 7 Cherry Lane brims with a ‘cult favorite’ potential, as well as with frames of breathtaking beauty. Although traditional artwork and computer-generated animation don’t always blend seamlessly, one can not help but admire the artists’ attention to detail that makes the visuals constantly fascinating.

8. The Lost Record (Ian F Svenonius & Alexandra Cabral, 2020)

Being one of the Kinoskop curators, I had the honor of seeing this bizarre dystopian fantasy that explores the notion of an art piece as a trigger of revolutionary changes. Boasting a drowsy atmosphere and deadpan performances, it operates both as an authentic homage to the early 70’s art/cult cinema, and as a statement against conformism and consumerism.

9. The Green Knight (David Lowery, 2021)

Boldly taking a plethora of creative liberties, and eliciting magnetic performances from his ensemble cast, David Lowery delivers a visually captivating and aurally haunting epic of measured pacing and ambiguous meanings; a dreamlike adventure that is concerned with inner workings of a flawed, not-so-chivalric human rather than his exploits and escapades. Simultaneously introspective and, in a certain way, transcendental, The Green Knight may appear hermetic in its stubborn refusal to provide clearly defined answers, but it is certainly a film not to be missed, especially if you favor esoteric to mainstream cinema.

10. Zygfryd (Andrzej Domalik, 1986)

Andrzej Domalik’s big screen debut which, inter alia, thematizes beauty and man’s quest to immortalize oneself feels like a spiritual predecessor to Nikos Papatakis’s 1991 drama Walking a Tightrope, considering that its story revolves around an aged, misanthropic erudite becoming a patron to a young, uneducated circus acrobat whose heart-stopping act portends a tragedy. Although not quite as refined as the aforementioned film, Zygfryd possesses many strengths – from quotable lines to broodingly autumnal cinematography (Grzegorz Kedzierski) to elegant, atmosphere-defining score (Jerzy Satanowski) to Gustaw Holoubek’s superbly controlled performance – which make it a highly recommended watch.

11. Invisible Alien (Jintao Lu & Dawei Zhang, 2021)

Being a sucker for cinematic oddities, I found myself hopelessly infatuated with a heady, off-the-wall mix of a metaphysical tone poem, socialist allegory and love letter to post-Alien B-movies (and anime) of the 80’s that Lu and Zhang deliver in their collaborative feature debut. Only an hour long, Invisible Alien wastes no time for character introductions – after all, they’re all only ‘the products of the universe’ – dropping the viewer in medias res, then gradually providing you with certain answers, while simultaneously deepening the mystery that surrounds the intelligent life form from the title. Mandatory tropes, dreamlike irrationality and twisty chronology of the story (told from the perspective of an unreliable narrator) take you to a familiar, yet uncanny territory, as you are seduced by beautiful space-themed imagery conjured in spades.

12. Limbo (Soi Cheang, 2021)

Exposing the dark, violent, misogynistic and not to mention incredibly dirty underbelly of Hong Kong, Soi Cheang delivers a disconcerting thriller of visceral intensity and over-the-top grittiness in which the line between art and exploitation / pulp stereotypes and stylistic choices ceases to exist. The cumulative despair of the three main characters – a hardened cop (Ka Tung Lam), his inexperienced colleague (Mason ‘son of Ang’ Lee) and a forgiveness-seeking ex-convict (Yase Liu) – threatens to spill out of the screen, in a river of rainwater mixed with piled-up garbage, while it’s incessantly underlined by decidedly excessive production design and sumptuous B&W cinematography. What you’re getting here could be described as Hard to Be a God filtered through the Fincher’s prism and transformed into a relentlessly grungy neo-noir... 

13. Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms (Ethan Spaulding, 2021)

A direct sequel to Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge – the first animated film that did the popular video game series justice, Battle of the Realms appears a bit rushed, especially if you’re not familiar with the source material, but it delivers plenty of pulpy fun, with trademark ‘fatalities’ often painting the screen red with blood. To describe it as over-the-top would be a severe understatement.