Jun 9, 2023

A Selection of Recent Artworks (XVI)

 Some recent pieces of the extensive Bianco/Nero series...

La Viscosità dello Spazio / Вискозност простора / The Viscosity of Space

Adattamento della Disperazione / Адаптација очаја / Adaptation of Despair

Una Chiamata dall'Altra Parte / Позив са друге стране / A Call from the Other Side

Davanti al Meraviglioso Cuore del Nulla / Пред чудесним срцем Ништавила / Before the Wondrous Heart of Nothingness

Alla Ricerca dell'Antidoto / У потрази за противотровом / In Search of the Antidote

La Trasformazione Chiave / Кључни преображај / The Key Transformation

La Protesta / Протест / The Protest

Estate Sbagliata / Погрешно лето / Wrong Summer

Ostacoli / Препреке / Obstacles

Come un Sorriso / Као осмех / Like a Smile

La Libertà 3.2 / Слобода 3.2 / Liberty 3.2

Estrema Vulnerabilità / Екстремна рањивост / Extreme Vulnerability

Paralleli / Паралеле / Parallels

Jun 1, 2023

Best Premiere Viewings of May 2023

1. La Notte / The Night (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1961)

Unlike a writer protagonist of ‘The Night’, I still have both inspiration and memories (or at least, I think that I do), and yet, I could relate to his (fleeting? somnambulist?) state of mind, as well as to despair felt by his wife. In fact, I found myself being one with the film and the dense aura of melancholy that permeates it, as if having both lucid and elusive dream in which everything appears more palpable and labyrinthine than reality. It’s quite a challenge to find the right words to describe the experience of watching it, but I will give it a try by saying that I was aware of the spirit of cinema’s presence in the room, holding me in its firm embrace... Or maybe that was ‘only’ the grand, dignified, overwhelming beauty of blocking, lighting, framing and jazz vibes in perfect sync with my inner workings? 

2. Suzume no Tojimari / Suzume (Makoto Shinkai, 2022)

Growing along with its young heroine, the latest offering from Makoto Shinkai – a household name in the world of japanimation – portrays grieving process and nostalgia for the faithful departed in an equally poignant and clever fashion, with a quirky sense of humor keeping sentimentality at bay. Oh, and the animation is positively dazzling!

3. Moment to Moment (Mervyn LeRoy, 1966)

The uplifting spirit of the French Riviera in the 60’s couldn’t be more inviting in Mervin LeRoy’s final film – a stark blend of heightened romantic melodrama and somewhat farcical Hitchcockian thriller – that sees Jean Seberg and Sean Garrison as an adulterous wife, Kay, and young navy officer, Mark, falling for each other while touring around Nice. Yes, it is all but a cinematic illusion, as glaringly obvious rear projections often remind us, but what an utterly magical illusion it is! Brimming with earthy, at times bright colors, tactile textures and even immersive scents carried on the soft wings of Henry Mancini’s suave, tender score, it makes you wish it were possible to travel back to the period and attempt to re-create those very same moments. Not even the gusts of mistral can spoil the mood! Seberg is nothing short of radiant in her take on desirous Kay, with elegant YSL’s costumes accentuating her natural magnetism, and Garrison’s distinctive baritone adds volumes to his charm, whether he’s speaking smoothly or bursting with a hurt lover’s pride. Stealing a few scenes in supporting roles are Honor Blackman as Kay’s hedonist neighbor, Daphne, and Grégoire Aslan as a sarcastic inspector, DeFargo. LeRoy’s strong sense of artifice is beautifully matched to Harry Stradling’s taut framing.

4. A zsarnok szíve, avagy Boccaccio Magyarországon /
The Tyrant’s Heart, or Boccaccio in Hungary (Miklós Jancsó, 1981)

The most stagey (and in a way, claustrophobic) of Jancsó’s productions, ‘The Tyrant’s Heart’ channels the spirit of Pasolini through Ninetto Davoli’s presence (and naked extras), as well as of Shakespeare, by way of a Hamlet-esque story that sees a young prince involved in the games of power struggle, in 1400’s Hungary. Of course, both the camera and actors’ movements are smoothly and symbiotically choreographed, while being captured in mesmerizing long takes of predominantly earthy colors, with splashes of red in costume design as ‘treachery markers’. Virtually no one is to be trusted, especially when the back-stabbing reaches surreal heights, and the fourth wall gets rammed through, emphasizing the metafilmic nature of the whole proceedings.

5. We Can’t Go Home Again (Nicholas Ray, 1973)

Nicholas Ray and his students form some sort of a filmmaking commune that anticipates the collaborative dynamics of Experimental Film Society, with their combined efforts operating as a spiritual predecessor to Rouzbeh Rashidi’s ‘Luminous Void: Docudrama’, and certain installments of his ‘Homo Sapiens Project’. Way ahead of its time, ‘We Can’t Go Home Again’ is simultaneously a film and its very absence, emerging from nothingness of chaotic reality and dissipating into the intrinsic (non or omni?) verity of moving images through the anti-illusory confirmation of illusion. As baffling as it sounds, this boldly non-conformist piece of experimental cinema is rebellious with a good cause, resisting continuity as much as the boundaries of the frame, while reframing the personal into the political and vice-versa. Inspired in its anarchism or rather, trip-inducing non-sequiturs that make brilliant use of various shooting formats and a video synthesizer, it tends to put the viewer’s patience to the test, but in return, it provides you with a poignant sense of liberation.

6. The Last Picture Show (Peter Bogdanovich, 1971)

There are films that feel like emotional rollercoasters, and then, there are films that come across as cinematic equivalents of long, pensive walks during a gray, lonely autumnal day, with the simplest of sights suddenly revealing its otherwise unnoticeable beauty. ‘The Last Picture Show’ is one of the latter kind – synonymous with bittersweetness that accompanies the coming of age; often melancholic or plain sorrowful without ever turning pathetic. And it’s absolutely captivating to look at, whether its black and white pictures move to the vinyl sounds, or grab your attention in complete silence, all the while setting the atmosphere of seemingly endless longing, as well as capturing the ‘charms’ of a small town in 50’s Texas...

7. AmnesiA (Martin Koolhoven, 2001)

Fedja van Huêt (whose 20-year older version you probably didn’t forget, if you watched last year’s chiller Speak No Evil) assuredly takes on a dual role of twin brothers Alex and Aram in an idiosyncratic, slow-burning psychological drama that often betrays the influence of David Lynch at his most humorously absurd. Imbued with mystery presumably embodied by Carice van Houten (utterly magnetic as a sad-faced, out-of-nowhere girlfriend, Sandra), and giving off distorted neo-noir vibes, ‘AmnesiA’ goes from slightly off-the-wall to super-weird in its reflection on sibling rivalry, and inability to cope with a shared childhood trauma. Farcically surreal and syntactically twisted, the film is partly anchored in a bold color-and-texture palette of Floris Vos’s remarkable production design beautifully captured by Menno Westendorp’s camera, and turned into protagonists’ bewildering mindscape through the brooding drones of Fons Merkies. The immersively uncanny mood is anticipated by the very first shot – an imposing darkroom close-up of Alex, with a barely audible humming intensifying fiery reds.

8. Looking for Langston (Isaac Julien, 1989)

by Langston Hughes

Now dreams
Are not available
To the dreamers,
Nor songs
To the singers.

In some lands
Dark night
And cold steel
But the dream
Will come back,
And the song
Its jail.

Neither a documentary, nor a biopic, ‘Looking for Langston’ is a ‘meditation on Langston Hughes (1902-1967) and the Harlem Rennaisance’, as clearly noted in one of the opening title-cards. Set to the verses from poems of Langston’s contemporaries Bruce Nugent (1906-1987) and James Baldwin (1924-1987), as well as of gay activist Essex Hemphill (1957-1995), this medium-length film amalgamates (to great effect!) archive footage, Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs and dreamlike vignettes that pull focus on the poet’s closeted homosexuality. Smoky B&W visuals gently draped in soulful jazz notes with an anachronistic ‘house twist’ in the epilogue, beautifully capture the elegance of a posh nightclub, the subtle eroticism of bedroom scenes, and the mysterious allure of the night. Like the most skillful of sculptors, director/writer Isaac Julien and cinematographer Nina Kellgren seek for the hidden (lyrical?) qualities of the male faces and bodies, finding their truth in 16mm grain and expressive lighting. 

9. Flic Story (Jacques Deray, 1975)

There’s a cool sense of effortlessness pervading the entirety of Jacques Deray’s cop vs. gangster flick, from Delon and Trintignant’s tone-perfect performances to Théobald Meurisse’s austerely stylized production design that revives the post-WWII period in all the shades of autumnal gloom. Based on a real-life case as chronicled in the autobiography of police detective Roger Borniche, ‘Flic Story’ elevates the simplicity of its neo-noir-ish narrative by virtue of combined technical prowess and aesthetic elegance.

10. Hanka (Slavko Vorkapić, 1955)

Vera Gregović is absolutely ravishing in the titular role of the final offering from Slavko Vorkapić who’s widely recognized for ‘The Furies’ intro of 1934 flick ‘Crime Without Passion’. Imbuing her character with keen fervor of a non-professional, she portrays a proud, desirable young woman in a tragic story of love, hate and revenge among the Romani people in Bosnia under Austro-Hungarian rule. Based on true events chronicled by writer Isak Samokovlija, ‘Hanka’ often comes across as a cinematic equivalent of ‘sevdalinka’ that bridges the gap between the authentic local flavors and classic Hollywood-esque glamour, with superb Jovan Milićević (as a charcoal maker, Sejdo) standing for an archetypal macho (anti)hero, and Mira Stupica stealing a few scenes as a femme fatale, Ajkuna. The film’s undeniable charm owes a lot to handsome B&W cinematography by Milenko Stojanović (who debuted on the cult fantasy ‘The Magic Sword’ from 1950), as well as to unobtrusively melodramatic score by Ilija Marinković.

11. Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein, 2023)

(read my short review HERE)

12. Kenpei to yūrei / Ghost in the Regiment (Nobuo Nakagawa, 1958)

Guilty conscience of the main antagonist, Lieutenant Namishima (portrayed with a serpentine malignity by Shigeru Amachi), manifests itself through some disturbing visions, though labeling the film as horror seems a bit far-fetched to me. A better way to categorize it would be a blend of psychological drama and spy-noir set during the WWII, and subtly imbued with the elements of the aforementioned genre. A stark examination of human evil, ‘Ghost in the Regiment’ anticipates Nakagawa’s 1960 cult classic ‘Jigoku’ (Sinners of Hell), and finds its anchor in Tadashi Nishimoto’s highly expressive cinematography, illustrating the brilliant use of lighting/shadows and diverse camera angles.

13. Goto, l'île d'amour / Goto, the Island of Love (Walerian Borowczyk, 1969)

On Goto, everyone’s name starts with ‘G’, only the history of the island itself is taught in schools, and even the pettiest of crimes are punishable by death. But, there’s a catch – the convicts engage in public duels the winners of which are pardoned by the queen. One such lucky bastard is a cunning simpleton thief, Grozo, who falls for the despotic ruler’s beautiful wife, and decides to rise up the ranks by the dirtiest of means, in order to eventually conquer her. (Something like this is actually possible, and often encouraged in a certain Banana Republic.) His story – one of politico-allegorical qualities, and peppered with absurd ideas along the lines of Jarry’s ‘Ubu Roi’ and Kafka – is easy, yet unpleasant to follow, with steely grays of meticulously framed visuals emphasizing the desperation that keeps the reactionary society of Goto in shackles. There’s no escape which the queen Glossia – in an adulterous love affair with lieutenant and riding instructor Gono – will learn the hardest of ways, and the sense of perennial imprisonment is conveyed through the set designs depicting the advanced state of decrepitude. Borowczyk’s past in the world of animation is reflected in many scenes arranged as two-dimensional drawings, with actors moving almost like cut-outs, thus enhancing the surreal artifice of this bizarre, idiosyncratic feature debut.

14. É Noite na América / It Is Night in America (Ana Vaz, 2022)

I’ve never labeled any film as depressingly soothing, but there’s a first time for everything, as the saying goes. And Ana Vaz’s inconspicuous feature debut feels that way. A peculiar mélange of slow-burning tone poem and eco-documentary that favors animal over human perspective, ‘It Is Night in America’ captures the muffled cry of nature on expired 16mm dipped in brooding drones, ominous groans and elegiac brass arrangements. As the camera lingers over beasts on the verge of extinction, it is impossible to remain indifferent to the sadness reflected in their eyes, with an ever-expanding metropolis dissolving hope by means of its cold lights. There’s an ominous, almost pre-apocalyptic vibe to the whole proceedings that turns the viewing experience discomforting, a welcome relief arriving in the ethereal waterfall epilogue that evokes the opening of Scott Barley’s highly acclaimed mood piece ‘Sleep Has Her House’.

15. Renfield (Chris MacKay, 2023)

A strong contender for the pulpiest (and funniest) film of the year, ‘Renfield’ sees co-writers of ‘Invincible’ animated series deconstructing the Dracula myth from his familiar’s perspective, and filtered through the superhero prism, all the while mocking at the new age psychotherapy. Their comedic timing is on point, and MacKay’s direction is briskly paced, supported by a dazzlingly colorful production design that underscores the cartoonishness of splatter violence. (I could swear someone from the team is a huge Mortal Kombat fan.) There’s a sparkling chemistry between the whole cast, particularly when it comes to the powerhouse leading duo of Nic(h)olases and seriously awkward Awkwafina, with Cage chewing or rather, sucking just enough of the scenery without choking on a caricature. Enhancing the film’s gonzo vibes are some weird picks for the soundtrack, as well as a loving homage paid to classic Dracula flicks.