Jun 30, 2022

Best Premiere Viewings of June 2K22

FEATURES + MEDIUM-LENGTH FILMS

1. Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944)


Snappy dialogue, brisk pacing, taut direction, beautiful cinematography, but above all, utterly magnetic Barbara Stanwyck as one of the most fatal dames of classic noir, and – more than 50 years later – a ‘role model’ for Patricia Arquette’s character of Renee / Alice in David Lynch’s neo-noir Lost Highway.

2. El Escapulario / The Scapular (Servando González, 1968)


A mighty fine piece of zealous Mexican Gothic, The Scapular is one of those films which tend to snatch your attention from the very prologue. The preparation for an execution by a firing squad is captured in a manner that makes the inevitability of death palpable as much as the presence of something inexplicable. After a perfectly timed cut that prolongs the tension by shining a ray of hope upon the convict, the viewer is taken into the night of a small town, and put into the shoes of an unknown man (or entity?) ‘embodied’ by the very eyes of the camera that guides a young priest into the house of a dying woman. Her moribund story revolves around the titular object – believed to bring luck to its owner – and is told in flashbacks reminiscent of a subtly dark folk tale / local legend, revealing the circumstances which led to the aforementioned capital punishment. What follows is a timeless forbidden romance seasoned with some spine-tingling supernatural elements whose irrational powers come into full force during the twist ending.

Paired with Servando González’s directorial versatility that sees him crossing the genre boundaries with great ease, and seamlessly blending various influences, from (presumably) classic Hollywood to European arthouse to Japanese horror, the inspired lensing by Gabriel Figueroa turns even the most mundane portions of the narrative into micro-spectacles, with virtually every pan, zoom and canted angle impregnated with meaning. Also praiseworthy is the superb editing by Fernando Martínez allowing the action to flow smoothly and – by the standards of cinematic illusion – naturally. 

3. Zabitá neděle / Squandered Sunday (Drahomíra Vihanová, 1969)


“Silence! Forget everything you see and hear.”

Created under the regime which didn’t allow artists to think, let alone philosophy on the absurdity of life, Drahomíra Vihanová’s extraordinary feature debut was confiscated by despotic authorities, with the author herself banned from filmmaking until 1977, when she made the first out of several documentary shorts, only to return to fiction in 1994. Revolving around an apathetic army officer, Arnošt (Ivan Palúch, brilliant!), who can neither mend nor end things that bother him, Squandered Sunday balances on a tightrope between the protagonist’s realities and illusions / suicidal thoughts and drunken escapades, his twisted perspective reflected in both the heavily fragmented narrative and bold formal experimentation. From the very first scene set at the funeral of Arnošt’s mother (death portends death), it is absolutely clear that Vihanová knows the rules of the game very well, which allows her to break them in the most creative ways, pulling the viewer ever deeper into a feverish, delightfully irrational (meta)cinematic universe that evokes the likes of Godard, Chytilová and Jakubisko. Her apolitical stance is what makes the film so politically defiant, and the liberty she takes in the oft-freewheeling portraiture of metaphysical meaninglessness intensifies the confrontation. An absolute must-see for the Czech New Wave aficionados!

4. Götter der Pest / Gods of the Plague (Reiner Werner Fassbinder, 1970)

The (w)holy cinematic trinity of Fassbinder’s mesmerizing, formally seductive neo-noir, and its antithesis:

- A Godardian antihero, Fritz (stoic performance from Harry Baer), posing as an apathetic, almost desensitized embodiment of disenchanted youth, as well as of the artist’s anti-conformism. His slaps (in the dinner scene with Margarethe von Trotta and Günther Kaufmann) hurt more than bullets. / Hanna Schygulla’s very presence which brightens up the screen even when her character Johanna is struck by melancholy. Despite her deeply flawed nature, there is something saintly about her...
- Dietrich Lohmann’s rigorous, hauntingly beautiful framing, emphasizing Fritz’s nihilistic unconcern, and the society’s cold  indifference. / Upbeat soundtrack, at once complementary and opposed to the deliberate dreariness of the atmosphere. Maybe childlike innocence hasn’t died yet?
- The welcome sparseness of dialogue, allowing the viewer to feel the heavy impact of virtually every image. / The placement and movement of actors within mise-en-scène, louder than words.

5. The Element of Crime (Lars von Trier, 1984)

Kim: “Why do you keep torturing yourself?”
Fisher: “I have to. I believe in joy!”

In June, I was reading Stig Björkman’s Trier on von Trier, realizing it’s about time I checked out Lars von Trier’s early works. And what a killer feature debut The Element of Crime is! A hellish noir nightmare that proudly wears Tarkovsky influences on its long-take sleeves, and portends the immensely heavy atmosphere of Lopushansky’s Dead Man’s Letters (1986), it plunges you into its post-apocalyptic-like setting, hypnotizing you with the overwhelmingly grimy imagery soaked in the most dismal of yellows, oranges, reds and browns, as well as with the melancholy-induced sound design, particularly the cast’s voices that give off some strong ASMR vibes. It is a film which lays bare its author’s fetishistic relation to cinema and art in general, from the elaborate lighting and peculiar camera angles to literary quotes and the omnipresence of water, and as such, it makes you feel the cold, feverish sweat of its inherent mystery.

6. I Wonder If Daylights Were White Nights or Something Childish But Very Natural (Sibi Sekar, 2022)


(read my short review HERE)

7. Stella Polaris (Knut Erik Jensen, 1993)


During the film’s brilliant opening scene in which the unnamed heroine wanders the streets lined by mostly dilapidated and abandoned buildings, there is something coldly Żuławski-esque enveloping the gloominess at display. Then comes the awakening, and the gray nightmare turns into a memory-laced reverie set in the northmost part of Norway – the woman’s birthplace somewhere in Finnmark where the author also comes from. Her past and her present intertwine to the point where one cannot distinguish dreams from reality, and personal reflections from the universal pain, in what could be best described as an almost wordless tone poem whose unfaltering lyricism evokes the spirit of Tarkovsky. Jensen’s oneiric, stream-of-consciousness narrative plunges the viewer into the protagonist’s inner world, as the highly evocative, beautifully captured imagery of home, childhood, friendship, love, sex, work, war, death and finally, (re)birth is caressed by gently weeping strings, haunting drones and sparkling chimes...

8. Wolf Alice – Blue Weekend (Jordan Hemingway, 2022)


Gorgeously shot with an ARRI Arriflex SR3, on 500T Kodak stock by cinematographer Molly Manning-Walker, the visual version of 2021 album Blue Weekend by Londoners Wolf Alice feels like a tender, hazy yet palpable, Christopher Doyle-esque dream! Its oneiric, intoxicating, deeply immersive atmosphere – the equivalent of a night out in town turned smoky night club limbo – owes a lot to the raw warmth of grainy 16mm texture of saturated colors, distorted angles achieved through the use of wide lenses, as well as to the ethereal, caressing vocal of singer Ellie Roswell, and the band’s sultry, simultaneously mellow and edgy melodies. Whether you’re their fan or have just discovered them, you owe yourself these 45 minutes of aural and pictorial beauty. (Click on the title to watch it on YouTube.)

9. Poslednji kolosek / The Last Railway (Živorad ‘Žika’ Mitrović, 1956)


In the sophomore feature by Žika Mitrović famous for his ‘partisan westerns’, a classic Hollywood crime movie formula works amazingly well, even when Olivera Marković – superb in the supporting role of singer Olga – performs jazzy tunes in a tavern which usually has accordion folk on the menu. The noirish scenes shot at the rails during the night are the film’s main forte, with deep blacks of Dragoljub Karadžinović’s great cinematography tightly shrouding the smuggling operations by greedy railroad workers. And when the film’s polished genre surface is scratched, its political subtext shines through in its subtlety. A beautiful anomaly of Yugoslavian cinema.

10. Noita palaa elämään / The Witch (Roland af Hällström, 1952)

“In the depths of our soul, there is a junkyard filled with ghosts and horrors.”

In the horniest 50’s film that I’ve seen, horror tropes are employed as a backdrop for a spunky blend of psychosexual drama and somewhat campy comedy exploring (fatal) female seductiveness. Set in and around the manor of baron Hallberg, it follows a young woman, Birgit (Mirja Mane, quite uninhibited, with the mannerisms of a silent film star) whom the villagers believe to be a resurrected witch, and three young men – an archeologist, Hannu (engaged to one beautiful and full-of-understanding Greta), an artist, Kauko, and baron’s playboy son, Veikko – who all go mad in love or rather, burning desire for the mysterious dame. As Kari Salminen notes in his 1989 article, “conflicts between science and art, rationalism and irrationalism, the conscious and unconscious, reality and fantasy are all found hiding in its layers”, under “the most direct references to sexuality”. (At one point, Veikko says: “I’ll explode if I can’t relieve myself.” And you can’t get more to-the-point than that!) Also present are the hints of the class struggle, as both bourgeoisie and common folks are depicted through the prism of subtle mockery, Bunuelian way. Hällström directs with a keen sense of pace, even during the overwrought parts that betray the theatrical origins of the screenplay, and delivers a rousing romp, vastly superior to his 1946 noir drama The Callbird which  introduced me to his work. Not to mention that The Witch is ahead of its time in terms of nudity which – as male-gazing as it may appear – actually is not gratuitous.

11. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande (Sophie Hyde, 2022)

“Pleasure is a wonderful thing. It's something we should all have.”

Two thespians, one location, a dialogue-driven story. That doesn’t sound like my cup of tea, and yet Sophie Hyde’s sex dramedy worked like a charm for me. Directed with effortless fluency, written with honesty, wit and warmth by Katy Brand, shot with a keen eye for composition by Bryan Mason, and gently wrapped in euphonious score by Stephen Rennicks, this amusing and poignant romp is anchored in exquisite central and, most of its running time, only performances.  

Always reliable Emma Thompson who plays a widowed, sexually repressed ex-Religious Education teacher, Nancy Stokes, and Daryl McCormack in the role of a charismatic, eloquent and, as Nancy puts it, ‘clearly, aesthetically perfect’ gigolo, Leo Grande, give us believable, well-developed characters, baring their souls prior to baring their all. They have a strong on-screen chemistry, beautifully complementing each other, and allowing the humane factor that’s built upon their strengths and insecurities alike to shine through and through. And Hyde shows great understanding for both Nancy and Leo, treating them equally and giving them enough space to breathe, despite the setting limitations. Highly recommended!

12. The Shadowed Mind (Cedric Sundstorm, 1988)


Now, this is one fine B-movie! Set in a bizarre private asylum (a slightly adapted abandoned warehouse) for the ‘sexually challenged’ patients, The Shadowed Mind takes cues from giallo cinema, and assaults the viewer with a top-notch mixture of baroque lighting, stalkerish camera, sinister music, and generous amounts of nudity and knife stabbing (often combined). There’s some wonderful scenery chewing attached to leading performances, as well as wooden acting in supporting roles, but Sundstorm (who would direct two sequels in the American Ninja series!) seems to benefit from all the imperfections, and delivers both artistically satisfying and highly entertaining flick which is – according to some sources – based on a semi-improvised screenplay. 

SHORTS

1. Рози в нощта (Пенчо Кунчев, 2019) / Roses in the Night (Pencho Kunchev, 2019)


Based upon Les Chansons de Bilitis by Pierre Louys (1870-1925), Roses in the Night is an absolutely stunning piece of traditional animation, accompanied by a miraculous score from prolific and acclaimed Serbian composer Zoran Simjanović (1946-2021). Through the series of surreal transitions informed by the art of optical illusions, Bulgarian animator Pencho Kunchev plunges the viewer into a magical world straight out of a myth, depicting the sexual awakening of a young girl in Ancient Greece. Available as a part of HYBRID GENRE FRANCE: Paris VOD Film Awards at Vimeo.

2. The Fall of the House of Usher (James Sibley Watson & Melville Webber, 1928)


Wow! German expressionism meets French avant-garde in a cinematically eloquent adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story of the same name. A masterfully crafted experimental short! What a damn shame that Watson & Webber co-directed only two films – this one and utterly spellbinding Lot in Sodom (1933).

3. Le monde en soi / The World Within (Sandrine Stoïanov & Jean-Charles Finck, 2020)


A brilliant use of the medium of animation in an almost wordless exploration of artist’s heightened anxiety. Watched at Festival Scope.

4. MeTube (Daniel Moshel, 2013,2016,2020)


MeTube is a series (at this point, trilogy) of extremely weird and highly memorable music videos created by Vienna-based director Daniel Moshel who boldly blends SFX, opera, techno, retro-futurism, absurd comedy, queer art and S&M aesthetics into one hell of an audio-visual smörgåsbord. It revolves around Nerd (Swiss tenor August Schram) and his elderly mother (Elfriede Wunsch, appearing in Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise: Faith) – one of the coolest grumpy characters ever, and follows their cosmic adventure in remixing famous arias – in the cozy atmosphere of their home, as street performers, and eventually, as guerilla artists who crash the production of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore at the theatre. Has to be seen to be believed!


5. Equilibrium (Kasey Brodwater, 2022)


A meditative 16mm dive into a natural world, wrapped in a veil of dreamy music.

6. Loose Joints (Clemens Tolstrup, 2022)


Clemens Tolstrup gently and beautifully captures human faces (of whom I presume to be his friends) in his 16mm short debut produced by European Film College (Denmark), and accompanied by ethereal music that evokes the sense of mystery. 

7. Dream of Kafka (David Babayan, 2019)


A computer-animated nightmare laced with absurd humor.
Watched at Festival Scope.

Jun 5, 2022

I Wonder If Daylights Were White Nights or Something Childish But Very Natural (Sibi Sekar, 2022)

A hypnotizing, four-minute-long sequence of abrasive audio-visual abstractions soaked in shadows and blue lights opens a portal into a strange, mysterious world which exists (and resists) in the intersection of cinema, our reality, the author’s creative imagination, and the very concept of spectatorship. This resolutely defiant ‘microcosm’ is a non-time-space parallel to, or rather, emerging from and collapsing into what filmmaker and founder of Experimental Film Society Rouzbeh Rashidi calls Luminous Void.

Simultaneously a witty meta-deconstruction of film and brooding Orwellian psychodrama with an essayistic twist, the intriguingly titled medium-length offering from Sibi Sekar – a young and extremely talented director from India – blasts its way into the pantheon of bold ‘cinexperiments’. As its characters – lovers Regina Olsen and Man Ray – become aware of being nothing but ‘portraits’ under our Gaze turned into a (non)entity antagonist, we are treated to a fascinating series of predominantly bleak / dystopia-evoking visual compositions ranging from the fourth-wall breaking tableaux shot in front of the projection screens to loving tributes paid to auteurs such as Marguerite Duras and Jean-Luc Godard. Intoxicatingly sinister soundscapes (many kudos to Marius Paulikas!) thicken the atmosphere that stems from the oppressive power of observation emphasized by Mahesh Mani’s expressively moody, dimly lit cinematography.

I Wonder If Daylights Were White Nights or Something Childish But Very Natural is not childish at all, despite the playfulness at display – it is a thought-provoking, anti-illusory work of art that strives to awaken the film’s hidden potentials, with the intention of incessant re-evaluation, and involve the viewer much deeper than any given mainstream flick.

Note: The review is based on a screener provider by the author.

Jun 1, 2022

Best Premiere Viewings of May 2K22

1. A titokzatos stylesi eset / The Mysterious Affair at Styles (Péter Lichter, 2022)


Quite possibly the boldest adaptation of Agatha Christie’s first published (or any other) novel, the latest feature offering from Hungarian filmmaker Péter Lichter is a brilliant piece of experimental (and essayistic) cinema. Created out of archive (i.e. found) footage extracted from dozens of films released between 1895 and 1933, it also blends – and it does so effectively – vintage computer graphics and excerpts from pre-2000 video games into mesmerizing collage and comic-like compositions. Each one more playful and unpredictable than the next, they bring forth the visual – and intrinsically filmic – mystery and mastery, as we’re guided through the story of Mrs. Inglethorp’s murder by inspector Poirot, that is the immersive voice-over by actor Pál Mácsai invoking the spirit of radio dramas. Gently shrouded in droning, almost imperceptible soundscapes, the dynamic images – an unstoppable parade of imaginative split-screens, frame-within-frame / ‘mise en abyme’ phantasms, and hallucinogenic superimpositions – pull us ever deeper into the seemingly bottomless rabbit hole of Lichter’s brainchild.

2. Everything Everywhere All at Once (Daniels, 2022)


A heady, no-holds-barred mix of absurdist comedy (that often made me cry with laughter), lush postmodern fantasy of ‘anything goes with a tongue-in-cheek’ kind, superbly choreographed martial arts actioner, self-conscious meta-cinematic extravaganza, and above all, poignant, deeply humane family drama with a big, bagel-shaped nihilist heart, ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ is a triumph of sheer creative madness. I’m afraid Daniels won’t be able to outdo themselves in their future endeavors.

3. Zbehovia a pútnici / The Deserter and the Nomads (Juraj Jakubisko, 1968)

“You’re not God, because God is darkness. And that darkness has no end. And children of God are born in it.”

On his ‘Worldwide Celluloid Massacre’ webpage, film reviewer Zev Toledano uses the term ‘Kusturica-esque’ to describe The Deserter and the Nomads which is kind of funny, and not to mention disrespectful, because last time I checked, Emir Kusturica was only 14 when Jakubisko’s anti-war drama had its premiere, and his short debut would be released in 1978, with his subsequent work majorly influenced by Jakubisko; so, something along the lines of ‘proto-Kusturica’ may have worked much better.

Directed with unrestrained anarchic energy and heightened sense of raving poeticism, or simply put, in a fit of creative madness, The Deserter and the Nomads is an unadulterated cinematic nightmare, in equal measures dizzying and disorienting, electrifying and overwhelming in its incessant barrage of audio-visual stimuli melded with allegorical mayhem into a feverish stream-of-conscious narrative. Always set at the end – of the WWI, the WWII and the world – it depicts the accelerated corrosion of human civilization in broad and sweeping strokes through three chapters interconnected by the figure of Death perfectly embodied by bald and square-jawed Augustín Kubán. A spiritual predecessor to Żuławski’s On the Silver Globe and Lopushansky’s A Visitor to a Museum, it provides the viewer with an intense experience.

4. Ilargi Guztiak / All the Moons (Igor Legaretta, 2020)

“Always is too much time.”

Shot in Basque language and told from the perspective of an orphaned vampire girl (Haizea Carneros, in a magnetic debut performance beyond her age), All the Moons brings a twist to the ‘bloodsuckers’ lore, eschewing horror in favor of sympathy for ‘the children of the night’. The word ‘vampire’ is not uttered at all, and the film comes across as a slow-burn gothic fairy tale, with the little heroine learning life, love and familial bonds, while seeking to regain her mortality in turbulent times of Spanish history. Legaretta directs the film with a keen sense of pathos and pacing, often allowing his DoP Imanol Nabea to put a spell on the viewer with his stunning widescreen compositions beautifully complemented by Pascal Gaigne’s ethereally evocative score.

5. Ana no Kiba / The Fang in the Hole (Seijun Suzuki, 1979)


Green dominates the screen in this wittily peculiar mix of yakuza pulp-noir, New Wave-like radicalism and supernatural mystery presented in a hyper-theatrical style which will reach its highest peak in Suzuki’s late-career masterpiece ‘Pistol Opera’. Appearing like a feature-length film compressed to 45 minutes, ‘The Fang in the Hole’ can be a great starting point for those willing to delve into the author’s singular oeuvre.

6. Flight to Mars (Lesley Selander, 1951)


Screenplay-wise, this pulpy sci-fi romp hasn’t stood the test of time, but it has one of the most beautifully balanced color palettes that I’ve seen in a piece of classic cinema. The groovy retro-futuristic costumes and geometric set designs that seem to take cues from German expressionism aren’t without their charms either.

7. Pahanhautoja / Hatching (Hanna Bergholm, 2022)


The opening of Hanna Bergholm’s feature-length debut brings to mind the prologue of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, with an idealized vision of American suburbia giving way to the fake, ad-like imagery of ‘lovely everyday life of an ordinary Finnish family’, and with a black bird acting as a stand-in for slithering insects hiding under the green lawn. However, Hatching is quite a different animal – one that mutates alongside a pre-teen gymnast girl, Tinja (talented first-timer Siiri Solalinna), who witnesses a poor crow getting its neck snapped by her own influencer mother just because it broke some bric-a-brac in her Bravacasa living room. This unpleasant incident triggers a whole lot of changes in docile and confused Tinja who – breaking under the pressure of pathological ambition, peers’ teasing, hormones surging, and growing up next to a weakling father and a spoiled brat of a little brother – hatches a bizarre creature out of an orphaned egg. It is glaringly obvious that her ‘pet-child’ who looks straight out of a Jim Henson’s nightmare is a multifaceted metaphor / the embodiment of her coming-of-age hell, but Bergholm’s competent helming aided by neat aesthetics, technical skillfulness and excellent performances provides a fun 80-minute ride. 

8. Never Here (Camille Thoman, 2017)

“I like to allow circumstances to present themselves, and then I rise up to meet them. Circumstances are the dictators of my work. Like a piece of string, I pick it up and follow it along... and see where it takes me.”

In Camille Thoman’s promising, if flawed fiction feature debut, the boundaries between art and life / stalker and stalked get progressively blurred, as we follow a conceptual artist, Miranda Fall (excellent performance by velvet-voiced Mireille Enos), down her very own rabbit hole. With Lynch’s influence written all over it, particularly in the moody interior lighting, this ‘woman in trouble’ slow-burner provides a dense, yet not always immersive atmosphere of voyeuristic predation, exploring the theme of dissolving identity by way of a mind-bending puzzle brimful of red herrings. At times, the film’s ambiguity just doesn’t work in its favor, and Sam Shepard (1943-2017) feels somewhat miscast (exhausted?) in his final role of the heroine’s dealer and secret lover, Paul Stark. Nevertheless, Never Here shows enough of its author’s potential, so let’s hope she makes better use of it next time around... 

May 30, 2022

A Selection of Recent Artworks (XIV)

Il Cielo degli Specchi / Небо огледала / The Sky of Mirrors

La Nostra Stanza sull'Orlo di un Buco Nero / Наша соба на ивици црне рупе / Our Room at the Verge of a Black Hole

La Sesta Dimensione / Шеста димензија / The Sixth Dimension

Super-Paradosso / Супер-парадокс / Super-Paradox

dedicato a M.C. Escher e Richard Hamilton / посвећено Морису Ешеру и Ричарду Хамилтону /
dedicated to M.C. Escher (1898 - 1972) & Richard Hamilton (1922 - 2011)

Una Scoperta Accidentale / Случајно откриће / An Accidental Discovery

Ferocia Sofisticata / Префињено дивљаштво / Sophisticated Savagery

Follow me @ Nicollage

May 21, 2022

A Selection of Recent Artworks (XIII)


Sacrificio / Жртва / Sacrifice


Canto Triangolare / Троугаона песма / Triangular Song


La Sua Onnipresenza / Њена свеприсутност / Her Omnipresence


L'Età d'Oro / Златно доба / The Golden Age


Barca a Vela Celeste / Небеска једрилица / Celestial Sailboat


Telecinesi / Телекинеза / Telekinesis


Lucidità / Луцидност / Lucidity


Il Sogno del Centauro / Кентауров сан / The Centaur's Dream


Sei Prima di Quarantadue / Шест пре четрдесет два / Six Before Forty-Two

Follow me @ Nicollage

May 1, 2022

Best Premiere Viewings of April 2K22

1. Последняя ‘Милая Болгария’ (Алексей Федорченко, 2021) /
The Last Darling Bulgaria (Aleksey Fedorchenko, 2021)

Sergei Eisenstein (portrayed by Aleksandr Blinov and instantly recognizable in spite of remaining unnamed) appears like a Looney Tunes character in a farcically surreal tragicomedy that sees him assisting a young fruit breeder, Leonid (Ilya Belov), in his attempts to unveil the true cause of death of a depressed writer, Semyon Kurochkin, while also carrying on his own father’s apple-growing legacy. Kurochkin is one of the pseudonyms of the Russian writer, satirist and translator Mikhail Zoshchenko (1894-1958) whose novella Before Sunrise serves as the main source of inspiration for Aleksey Fedorchenko and Lidia Kanashova’s intricately woven screenplay indulging in a plethora of eccentricities and mockeries.

A deep, headfirst dive into Kurochkin’s writings (almost burned on a cold, rainy night) treats the viewer with a fascinating series of wonderfully composed split-screen tableaux vivants in which facts and fiction, dreams and memories, cinema and reality become inseparable from each other, as the bright-colored veneer sprinkled with great, somewhat irreverent humor gently covers dark periods of the 20th century history. The film bounces back and forth between the 1920s and 1943, without ever losing the thread or the heart of the story, keeping you invested by means of its formal playfulness. In equal measures wildly entertaining and boldly experimental, The Last Darling Bulgaria (whose title references a made-up apple variety) operates as a celebration of creativity and obsession – a kind of madness that keeps an artist sane.

2. Rara (Sylvano Bussotti, 1969)


Wow! A reflection on / exploration of the corporeality of music (and spiritual potentials of the body?), the first feature from Sylvano Bussoti (1931 – 2021) – an Italian composer, painter, writer, stage and costume designer, opera director and manager – is a mighty fine piece of the 60’s underground cinema. Operating on the same wavelengths as the works of Anger, Schroeter, Jarman and Pasolini, Rara can also be seen as the queer predecessor to the offerings of Experimental Film Society, particularly of its founder Rouzbeh Rashidi, as it seems to embrace a very similar approach to filmmaking. Rather than employing images and sounds to illustrate the scripted story, it lets the abstract narrative(s) emerge from their interaction, or rather occasional, unexpected intersections of the two independent, free-wheeling entities. It starts as a documentary of sorts, but gets increasingly chimeric (and formally challenging) with its DADA-esque mysticism, transcendental eroticism, and cacophonous congregation of haunting piano strokes, delirious violin solos, and uncannily immersive vocalizations.

3. Hotel Poseidon (Stefan Lernous, 2021)

Just when I thought that I had seen the greatest among the weirdest films there were to see, Hotel Poseidon came along with its crushing waves of absurdity, surrealism, existential dread and misery porn mixed with insane amounts of dirt as in ‘wanna take a shower, wash the clothes & dishes that have already been washed, and get a tetanus shot only ten minutes into it’.

Think Lynch at his most eccentric meeting Andersson at his most depressingly humorous in a suffocatingly claustrophobic setting which parallels the twisted world of Jeunet and Caro’s Delicatessen, all filtered through the prism of the Buharov brothers (!), yet somehow idiosyncratically bizarre in its bold, uninhibited, genre-defying what-the-fuckery. Creating a brimful of oddball characters who feel like ciphers when they’re not grotesque caricatures (such as a bartender who was forced-fed the pages of kids’ Bible in her childhood), actor-turned-director Stefan Lernous employs a number of formal and structural tricks to make the pulling of the rug under your feet go smoothly every time he does it... and he does it often. On top of that, he is in absolute control of both aural and visual aspects of his feature debut, with heavy drones and ominous strings inflating the atmosphere of inevitability, and excellent camerawork turning decrepitude into beauty.

4. After Blue (Paradis sale) / After Blue (Dirty Paradise) (Bertrand Mandico, 2021)

“Our conscience makes cowards of us all.”

In Bertrand Mandico’s exquisite sophomore feature, Kate Bush is not the English singer-songwriter with an impressive vocal range, but the moniker of Katarzyna Buszowska – a dangerous, mysterious, wish-fulfilling criminal on a distant planet of After Blue inhabited only by women (all men died because their hair grew inside). She has a third eye between her legs, and gets released from the sand prison by a naive village girl, Roxy (nicknamed Toxic by her frenemies), only to wreak havoc. Now, it is up to Roxy and her hairdresser mother Zora to go after her into the poisonous mountains, and eliminate her with a custom-made shotgun.

Once again working alongside an all-female cast (and a blind, sexless android, Louis Vuitton, equipped with tentacles), Mandico delivers another quaint, chimeric, highly eccentric film, both genre- and gender-fluid; an uninhibited neo-western/fantasy mutant that firmly embraces all the freedom and dreaminess Cinema can offer. Armed with a keen sense of camp and humor, he imbues it with the velvet darkness extracted from fairy tales, subtly twisted eroticism of the 70’s Eurotrash, and psychedelic scenery that wouldn’t feel out of place in a René Laloux’s sci-fi flick or some surreal piece of Japanese animation. Assisting him in bringing his boldly fetishistic vision to bizarre life is, of course, his muse Elina Löwensohn (portraying Zora), as well as his frequent DoP collaborator Pascale Granel who wonderfully captures the otherworldly set design, and fashionable costumes, with Pierre Desprats providing a sultry electric score.

5. Uski Roti / His Daily Bread (Mani Kaul, 1970)


One of the strongest feature debuts in the history of (slow-burn) cinema, His Daily Bread is a tour de force of visual poetry which ‘out-Bressons’ Bresson whom it is undoubtedly inspired by. Through its author’s unmistakable control over mise-en-scène, it effortlessly transcends banalities (and waitings) of everyday life, with the simplest of actions turned into sublime micro-poems. Brimful of lingering, stunningly beautiful close-ups of women’s faces, and gently interwoven with deep, poignant silences, this formally ambitious drama isn’t about WHAT it shows, but HOW it is shown.

6. Napló gyermekeimnek / Diary for My Children (Márta Mészáros, 1984)


Personal and collective history clash and intertwine in the first entry of the Diary trilogy by the acclaimed Hungarian filmmaker Márta Mészáros. Even if you’re not familiar with the story of the director’s life, you can easily recognize or rather, deeply sense autobiographical elements in a film-loving protagonist, Juli (a fascinating performance by 17-yo Zsuzsa Czinkóczi), whose strong will and rebellious nature are nothing short of inspiring. The young heroine is all the more sympathetic thanks to her confrontational perseverance in the unwelcoming post-WWII environment in Hungary, with Stalinist madness on the rise, and hypocrisy raring its ugly head behind every corner. The harshness of her reality is only alleviated by idyllic memories (growing bleaker towards the end) and the darkness of the cinema venue, as well as by all the small perks of coming-of-age, such as the first love. And it is with great skill, not to mention confidence and gentleness that Mészáros balances between the private and the political / poetic and prosaic, making her 80’s drama appear like a lost artifact from the 50’s or 60’s by virtue of (her son) Nyika Jancsó’s absorbing B&W cinematography.

7. You Won’t Be Alone (Goran Stolevski, 2022)


(read my short review HERE)

8. Re Granchio / The Tale of King Crab (Alessio Rigo de Righi & Matteo Zoppis, 2021)


In their first fiction feature that also marks (brilliant!) on-screen debut for filmmaker Gabriele Silli and the great majority of non-professional cast members, Rigo de Righi and Zoppis elicit authentic performances, and seamlessly blend a number of disparate influences – Pasolini, Azevedo Gomes, Herzog, Rohrwacher & Leone – into a familiar, yet spellbinding two-act folktale of forbidden love, rebellion, greed and redemption, capturing the spirit of the 19th century, and framing the action, particularly of the romantic first half, as true masters of painting, with the 16mm texture lending warmth to their potent, meticulously composed shots.

9. Where Is Anne Frank (Ari Folman, 2021)


My encounter with Ari Folman’s three animated features could be described as ‘the Goldilocks experience’, with the first one being too hot, the second one too cold, and the latest one just right. Simultaneously poetic and didactic, personal and political, Where Is Anne Frank does a remarkable job at bridging the gap between the past and the present, reality and fantasy, trauma and comfort. From the very moment Anne’s imaginary friend Kitty materializes out of ink in Amsterdam of our times, the film casts a spell on the viewer with its lush, elegantly stylized visuals which – complemented by Karen O’s dreamy vocals on the delicate score – guide you through the bittersweet ode to imagination, compassion and the power of memories. Its emotional punch may not be as strong as that of Ivan’s Childhood, Grave of the Fireflies or any other masterpiece portraying children in war, but it will certainly reach both the minds and hearts of people who haven’t fallen into the hateful pits of Holocaust denial.

10. Bina / The Antenna (Orçun Behram, 2019)

“One gets used to rotting. I also like silence, you know...”

Slowly and insidiously, dread creeps or rather, drips into the bleak lives of apathetic high-rise inhabitants in Orçun Behram’s promising, formally disciplined feature debut – a conspicuous allegory of a totalitarian, media-controlled society set in an unnamed city, during unspecified time that gives off the 80’s-behind-Iron-Curtain vibes. Taking cues from Polanski’s psychological thrillers, Cronenberg (Videodrome, in particular) and Nakata (Dark Water), the author demonstrates impressive talent in visualizing his ideas which – despite their on-the-nose nature – never stand in the way of establishing a dense atmosphere of increasing paranoia, as well as of producing some effective, skin-crawling moments. Assisted by cinematographer Engin Özkaya, he treats us to a copious amount of taut, tension-filled shots, with the sound design team and first-time score-composer Can Demirci submerging the viewer in ominous soundscapes. And that synthwave crescendo à la Carpenter adds some extra oomph to the unnerving proceedings.

11. Misiunea spațială Delta / Delta Space Mission (Mircea Toia & Călin Cazan, 1984)


René Laloux meets Vladimir Tarasov in the first Romanian animated feature – a beautiful, if a bit rough-around-the-edges cosmic adventure in which a diamond-shaped super-intelligent computer of Delta research station falls for an intergalactic journalist with a turquoise skin and face straight out of a Modigliani painting, Alma. This crush leads to the clash between human(oid)s and robots, but thankfully, Alma’s best friend Tin – an alien dog that looks like a two-legged frog with a cow tail – has ‘a bad habit of chewing metals’...

Recently remastered and released on blu-ray and Amazon Prime platform by Deaf Crocodile Films, Delta Space Mission blasts its way to the viewer’s heart with its colorfully wobbly, often psychedelic imagery wonderfully complemented by a bizarre, pulsating synth score that ‘sounds like a cross between Tangerine Dream and a malfunctioning Atari 2600’ (George J .Smalley, 366 Weird Movies). Its flat-shaded character designs and kaleidoscopic backgrounds depicting Delta’s high-tech interiors, futuristic cities and surrealistic jungles reflect both the artists’ wild imagination, and ‘sweet tooth’ for pulp sci-fi. Adding an extra layer of strangeness is mostly deadpan delivery of lines, as well as a healthy dose of offbeat humor.

Imagine an early 80’s Eastern European space-prog album high on sugary breakfast cereal, ‘Heavy Metal’ magazine, Hanna-Barbera cartoons and 8-bit arcade games like Galaxian and Asteroids, and you have some idea of the otherworldly weirdness of the Romanian animated sci-fi film DELTA SPACE MISSION. (Deaf Crocodile Films)

12. Storia di una monaca di clausura / Story of a Cloistered Nun (Domenico Paolella, 1973)


One of the most eye-pleasing and least sleazy nunsploitation flicks, Story of a Cloistered Nun follows a young aristocrat, Carmela (ethereally beautiful Eleonora Giorgi), who is forced into a convent only because she opposed a marriage arranged when she was but an infant. Once in her new home, she faces jealousy and hypocrisy, humiliation in the name of temptation, as well as a different kind of forbidden love than the one she experienced in her former life. It is in a debauched sister, Elisabeth (excellent Catherine Spaak who unfortunately passed away just yesterday), that she finds a sole friend... unaware of her vengeful character. Reportedly inspired by the authentic 17th century chronicles, Carmela’s bittersweet drama is helmed with an assured hand, but it is the trinity of Cristina Lorenzi’s extravagant costumes, Piero Filippone’s terrific production design and Armando Nannuzzi’s painterly cinematography that keep taking your breath away.

13. The Lost City (Aaron and Adam Nee, 2022)


It’s been a long while since we had a love letter to Romancing the Stone and its one year younger sequel The Jewel of the Nile, so The Lost City comes across as a welcome, nostalgia-fueled refreshment in the mainstream cinema. This action-adventure rom-com is perfectly aware of its unrestrained goofiness and delightful cheesiness, and everybody plays their parts accordingly. As the main baddie, Daniel Radcliffe relishes in nibbling on the scenery, and the starring duo of Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum firmly embrace self-parody, with their screwball chemistry often lighting up the screen. Increasing the star-power is always reliable Brad Pitt in an über-cool cameo role. Some of the jokes don’t hit the intended mark, but the ones that do made me laugh till I had to pull out the paper handkerchief and wipe the tears to enjoy the beautifully captured Caribbean locales.

14. The Sadness (Rob Jabbaz, 2021)


What happens when a mysterious virus awakens the very literal worst in most of the people? The answer marked by outbursts of physical and sexual violence lies within the blood-and-gore-soaked madness of The Sadness – the feature shocker-debut from Canadian-Taiwanese filmmaker Rob Jabbaz. Informed by the Covid-19 pandemic, with the incompetent governments, conspiracy theorists and pretty much the rest of our society subjected to criticism, this bold deviation of the zombie subgenre is one of the most visceral cinematic offerings in recent memory. What makes it highly memorable are brilliantly sickening practical effects, and Tzu-Chiang Wang’s admirably psychotic performance as the Businessman. ‘Not for the faint of heart’ goes without saying.

15. The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (Eugène Lourié, 1953)


“This is such a strange feeling. I feel like I am leaving a world of untold tomorrows for a world of countless yesterdays.”

Nothing says ‘charming’ like Ray Harryhausen’s wonderful stop-motion creation wrecking everything from boats to a lighthouse to New York locales, and inspiring a number of giant monster features, most famously the long-running ‘Godzilla’ series.