Sep 15, 2023

A Selection of Recent Artworks (XVIII)

With a total of 700 pieces, Bianco/Nero solidifies its place of my most voluminous project (in fact, it did that at 100 collages, I just went a bit overboard with challenging myself), posing as a vehicle for the transmutation of despair, a reflection and refraction of the innermost workings, a multitude of realities within a stubbornly pursued dream, a visual manifesto of concrete rules and ethereal transgressions. It bridges an illusory gap between the past and the future, rejecting the present for a surreal coexistence of all-time and no-time, as it feeds on unadulterated obsession, transcending its creator...

Discover more collages @ NICOLLAGE

Icaro, il Filosofo / Icarus, the Philosopher

Il Cavaliere dell'Inversione / The Knight of Inversion

Preparativi per la Fine / Preparations for the End

Melodramma Infernale / Infernal Melodrama

Pifferaia / Piper

Una Simulazione del Volo della Musa / A Simulation of the Muse's Flight

Biglietto di Sola Andata per Marte / One-way Ticket to Mars

Sep 8, 2023

A Selection of Recent Artworks (XVII)

From the latest revival of my voluminous Bianco/Nero series planned to be expanded to 700 pieces.
See more @ NICOLLAGE.

Sulla Schiena del Drago / On the Dragon's Back

Dissonnia / Dyssomnia

Forma Pura / Pure Form

Questo non Farà Male / This Won't Hurt

La Revisione delle Nuvole / Clouds Overhaul

Curiosità (Senza Gatto) / Curiosity (Sans Cat)

Tre Segreti dello Sciamano / Three Secrets of the Shaman

Farfalle / Butterflies

Nuova Realtà / New Reality
inspired by a shot from Angel's Egg (Mamoru Oshii, 1985)

Chi ha Ucciso i Conigli? / Who Killed the Rabbits?
inspired by a shot from Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)

Raccolta dell'Acqua Piovana / Collecting Rainwater

Frammenti / Fragments

Sep 1, 2023

Best Premiere Viewings of August 2023

1. El extraño caso del doctor Fausto / The Strange Case of Doctor Faust (Gonzalo Suárez, 1969)

An overdose of distilled cine-madness of Zwartjes, Jodorowsky, or Clémenti-like kind, ‘The Strange Case of Doctor Faust’ is one of the most unorthodox, and not to mention inspiring (mis)treatments of Goethe’s play. Narrated through the fourth wall by Mephistopheles himself, from a spaceship owned by ‘nameless beings from an unidentified place in the universe’, it sees Faust interrupted by a telepathic embodiment of Sphynx, and introduces us to his son Euphorion – from a marriage with Helen of Troy – who grows into an Icarus-inspired acrobat. But, recounting a story would be rather pointless, as it (smoothly!) operates like a delirious dream conveyed through the exhilarating use of distorted camera angles, bizarre montages, and cacophonous musical delights. Suárez – at what is certainly his most experimental – directs with gleeful irreverence, great energy, and childlike playfulness informed by bold disregard of conventions, creating a seductive, one-of-a-kind piece that you either unconditionally love (like this writer) or hate so much that you immediately want to unfriend whoever recommended it to you.

2. L’envol / Scarlet (Pietro Marcello, 2022)

Once again, Pietro Marcello delivers a wondrous piece of cinema that is lost and beautiful (a reference to his 2015 docu-fantasy-drama ‘Bella e perduta’, for the uninitiated) – lost in time, as it appears like a precious artifact from the 20th century, and beautiful not only on the utterly charming surface, but also at its big, unprejudiced heart. A loose adaptation of Alexander Grin’s 1923 novel ‘Scarlet Sails’, the film – in spite of its simplicity – poses a challenge when it comes to the classification, gently meandering between a period coming-of-age drama and a whimsical fairy tale, a socially conscious ode to craftsmanship and a rapturous poem of love, platonic, familial and romantic.

Set between the two World Wars, ‘Scarlet’ belongs to neither the past, nor the future, appropriating the outsider attitude of its protagonists who live modestly, yet complacently, ever-strengthening their libertarian spirit, and bonds of togetherness, guided by intuition and creative impulses. Revolving around an idealized father-daughter relationship, it portrays peculiarities of life in broad, yet sensitive strokes filled with dreams, longing and nostalgia. Its delightful 35mm cinematography lends it a soft, almost palpable texture, as well as an exquisitely painterly quality, further enhanced by seamlessly interwoven archive footage which is given a hand-tinted-like overhaul. The harmonious symbiosis of visuals and narrative evokes the delicate lyricism of Franco Piavoli, with Gabriel Yared’s emotional score bringing to mind the yearning romanticism of Jacques Demy, particularly during the musical acts of the amiable heroine, Juliette (an unaffected performance from newcomer Juliette Jouan).

3. Un lac / A Lake (Philippe Grandrieux, 2008)

Eighty minutes of sublime intensity. In mesmerizing chiaroscuro closeups. In breathtaking totals reflecting the environment’s hostility. In mystery surrounding the characters and their spatio-temporal setting. In every touch they share, and prolonged silences that shroud them. In the dense, doomy atmosphere oozing from the screen, and plunging you into a void of cinema. In soft focuses that put you in a hypnagogic state. In the tremulous camerawork, the breathy soundscape, and the micro-acting of a small, yet devoted cast...

4. Moon Garden (Ryan Stevens Harris, 2022)

In his sophomore feature, Ryan Stevens Harris casts his own daughter as a comatose girl struggling to regain consciousness after a freak accident at home. Her name is Haven Lee and she is heavenly as the five year old heroine Emma stuck in a nightmare intertwined with past events that help her find her way back to reality. A simple tale is rendered with an astounding amount of creativity that puts the viewer in Emma’s tiny shoes, chiming in with her limited perspective, and wide-eyed curiosity. And those eyes – so innocent and sincere!

‘Moon Garden’ is a dark fantasy with horror undercurrents, so there has to be a monster. That role is filled by Morgana Ignis under a heavy mask, as a void-faced boogeyman Teeth that appears like the Pale Man’s equally grotesque cousin who escaped from the hell of Phil Tippett’s masterpiece ‘Mad God’. Speaking of inspiration sources, ‘Alice in Wonderland’ is the first one that comes to mind, but think Švankmajer’s stop-motion version by way of David Lynch and Dave McKean (Mirrormask). The industrial dreamscape where Emma’s eerie adventure begins may be taking cues from Wes Craven’s seminal shocker ‘A Nightmare on the Elm Street’, whereby lighting often suggests Bava and Argento. Steampunk elements, such as a tear-collecting machine, evoke Caro & Jeunet’s ‘The City of Lost Children’, with the precious memories of time spent with mom and dad channeling Terrence Malick’s poetic sensibility. Some parallels can also be drawn with Neil Jordan’s ‘The Company of Wolves’, and there’s even that frequently quoted ‘Alien 3’ shot, but make no mistake – ‘Moon Garden’ is not just a sum of its influences.  Harris rises high above mere mimicry, delivering a film that is both visually and aurally dazzling, emotionally resonant, and tailor-made for the central performance that puts Haven Lee on the map of the finest child actors in the history of cinema.

5. Müanyag égbolt / White Plastic Sky (Sarolta Szabó & Tibor Bánóczki, 2023)

Being a sucker for both post-apocalyptic fiction and rotoscoped animation, I am utterly impressed by the first collaborative feature from Sarolta Szabó and Tibor Bánóczki. Set 100 years in the future, ‘White Plastic Sky’ explores the burning issue of ecological sustainability, proposing a society that sees humans turned into trees once they reach 50. Opening in domed Budapest where holographic flora adorns a memorial park, its melancholy-fueled story moves on to the high-security ‘Plantation’ which introduces the viewer with the process of euthanizing transmutation, and later on, across the eroded wasteland and ghost towns remaining in the aftermath of a high-level devastation. In a manner that is in equal measures thought-provoking and de-sentimentalized despite a ‘parents who lost a child’ cliché attached to the film’s emotional core, it chronicles a return to a place that may become Eden with no humans to exploit it senselessly, shining over and again in the world-building department. A seamless blend of traditional and modern techniques – reportedly, 8 years in production – results in beautiful, immersive visuals of hyper-stylized realism, with sober pacing allowing us to feel all the textures, and an unobtrusively wistful score elevating the watching experience. 

6. Baron Prášil / The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (Karel Zeman, 1962)

You can never go wrong with Karel Zeman – one of the greatest cine-mages of the last century, especially if you’re into Jules Verne’s writing, Gustave Doré’s artwork, and/or Georges Méliès’s innovations in the field of film. A lavish ode to the highest form of imagination, the fanciful adventure that is ‘The Fabulous Baron Muchausen’ is larger than both life and death, flying you all the way to the Moon where Cyrano de Bergerac resides, and taking you on a dive into the ocean depths, amongst the mermaids and four-legged seahorses. Its intricate amalgam of live-action and animation, with actors in lavish costumes parading against deliberately unrealistic matte paintings, and across engraving-like sets, is the stuff that dreams are made of, constantly keeping you in the state of wide-eyed wonder. And the lies served by Zeman’s hero, a benign romancer, ring truer than those of ‘dangerous fantasists’ in our post-truth times...

7. Peščeni grad / A Sand Castle (Boštjan Hladnik, 1962)

Made under the strong influence of French New Wave and other modernist tendencies of the time, ‘A Sand Castle’ operates as a sunny ode to joy (of youth and freedom), but hiding behind its smiling mask, and often rearing their ugly heads are fear, anxiety and disenchantment. (Nevertheless, the bleak epilogue still comes across as a slap in the face.) The aura of carefreeness emanating from simple pleasures on an aimless off-road adventure gets mixed with an air of bitter melancholy or rather, premonitory signs not only of a protagonist trio’s personal collapse, but also of the society’s decline in the following decades. Normalcy and happiness embodied by Milena Dravić’s troubled character both fall under the category of illusion, one that crumbles as soon as real life kicks in. But, this mirage is beautiful and energizing while it lasts, its transience bewitchingly captured by the eternity of cinema.

8. Dani / Days (Aleksandar Petrović, 1963)

At his most Antonioni-esque, Aleksandar Petrović – best known for ‘I Even Met Happy Gypsies’ (1967) – weaves a tone poem of big city loneliness, and the magic of human contact, both transient and transcendent. In psychologically penetrating close-ups, he captures the emptiness that has been consuming the two leading characters, Nina (Olga Vujadinović) and Dragan (Ljubiša Samardžić), and saves them – if only for a day – from their own, disoriented selves. Through the masterfully composed bird-views of crowded marketplace and streets (many kudos to DoP Aleksandar Petković), he emphasizes the alienating, labyrinthine nature of the (modern) world that surrounds them, and allows them a cathartic release of emotional tension in a few scenes, the most memorable being the one towards the end, of driving across an empty airfield, and yelling from the top of their lungs. Their escape from the everyday routine – starting with a chance meeting – may be short, but it provides a new (and anti-conformist) outlook at both life and art. 

9. Kapi, vode, ratnici / Raindropas, Waters, Warriors
(Živojin Pavlović, Marko Babac & Vojislav ‘Kokan’ Rakonjac, 1962)

The influence of La Nouvelle Vague is strongly felt in one of the pioneering works of Yugoslav Black Wave – a formally balanced omnibus synergized by the theme of death, and beautiful B&W cinematography by Aleksandar Petković. It opens on a borderline-surreal note, with a word-free segment ‘Live Waters’ (Živojin Pavlović), set in a poor, muddy settlement by the river, while focusing on a young girl who lives there, and a stranger running away from the police. The pervading silence is disturbed only by ambient noise, shouting children in paper masks (who give off some serious ‘Lord of the Flies’ vibes), and towards the end, dramatic score and gunshots which destroy a warm, yet short-lived connection between the two characters. A truly fascinating experiment wholly dependent on the actors’ body language, and the eloquence of superbly edited imagery. Marko Babac’s ‘Small Square’ – a clever allegory on the effects of propaganda – comes across as the most accessible in the ‘triptych’, depicting a clash between optimist and pessimist perspectives in the confines of a hospital room. Marked by the brilliant use of (claustrophobic) close-ups, it is also memorable for its dark sense of humor demonstrated in a scene of deliberate incongruence between visuals and music. The last, but not least is Kokan Rakonjac’s ‘Raindrops’ – a Godardian take on a dying romance between an alcoholic and his girlfriend, featuring a painting by great Ljuba Popović in the antihero’s apartment. Olga Vujadinović is as charming as Jean Seberg in ‘À Bout De Souffle’ or Ana Karina in ‘Vivre sa vie’, and the jazzy, oh-so-60’s atmosphere easily finds its way into a cinephile’s heart.

10. Vital (Shin’ya Tsukamoto, 2004)

Shin’ya Tsukamoto trades the frenetic energy of his most famous works for the meditative calm in brooding psychological drama ‘Vital’ that sees a young amnesiac, Hiroshi (portrayed with melancholic detachment by Tadanobu Asano), facing the loss of his (death-obsessed) girlfriend, Ryōko (the sole acting credit for dancer Nami Tsukamoto). The fragmented and deliberately paced story of grieving and regaining memories takes a subtly morbid twist with another woman, enigmatic Ikumi, and anatomy classes in a medical school, yet the elements of body horror for which the author is recognized remain but an echo muffled by bleakly poetic reveries. For that reason, the most avid fans of the ‘Tetsuo’ trilogy may be caught completely off guard by this peculiar piece of cinema which cuts deep into one’s psyche, rather than flesh, as it blurs the boundaries between the real and imagined. Although there are a few sequences of hectic montages, ‘Vital’ is dominated by a funereal mood – the courtesy of haunting soundscapes and austerely composed visuals, landing a strong emotional punch in its denouement.

11. Barbie (Greta Gerwig, 2023)

‘Barbie’ is a film that shouldn’t work, and yet it does – so admirably! Elaborate in its simplicity, and quite clever behind its silly facade, it examines a number of topics, from feminism and self-actualization to love, death and existential crisis, in a package that is blatantly sincere, thoroughly entertaining, laugh-out-loud funny and dazzlingly beautiful. It wears its numerous and incongruous influences on its sleeve, proudly and fabulously, reflecting on real and imaginary worlds of our creation, in a fashion that is equally satirical and escapist, decidedly on-the-nose, yet strangely sophisticated, and brimming with glittery self-irony. Gerwig’s direction couldn’t be more playful and the casting choice of Margot Robbie couldn’t be more on point, with both of these women’s hearts in the right place.

(This mini-review was not sponsored or endorsed by Mattel.)

12. Die Nackte und der Satan / The Head (Victor Trivas, 1959)

Anticipating ‘The Brain That Wouldn’t Die’ with several of key plot devices, ‘The Head’ shares one of its production designers, Hermann Warm, with the quintessential piece of silent horror cinema, ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’, cinematographer Georg Krause with Kubrick’s ‘The Paths of Glory’, and sees veteran Swiss-French actor Michel Simon (L’Atalante) as the (unfortunate) head from the English version of the title. That is quite a pedigree for a B-movie based on a silly premise treated mostly with a straight face, and directed by an Academy Award nominee who collaborated with Orson Welles! Anyhow, the film looks beautiful, with its Bauhaus-esque functionality filtered through the prism of German expressionism, which lends it a dense neo-noir atmosphere complemented by a compelling jazz score, in turns mysterious and swinging. An extra dose of mystery is provided by its villain, Dr. Ood, portrayed by steely-eyed Horst Frank whose magnetic performance ranges from subtly creepy to a raving madman predating the ‘Cage rage’.

13. Trotocalles / Streetwalker (Matilde Landeta, 1951)

A cautionary tale from one of the first Mexican women who successfully fought their way to the director’s chair, ‘Streetwalker’ is an elegantly crafted melodrama anchored in Landeta’s artfully composed helming, the powerhouse central performance from Miroslava (who would tragically end her own life in 1955), with a perfect counterbalance in Elda Peralta’s Maria/Azalea, and captivating, film noir-influenced cinematography by Rosalío Solano.  

14. Brigitte Bardot cudowna / Brigitte Bardot Forever (Lech Majewski, 2021)

Reminiscing his childhood and adolescence in Poland behind the Iron Curtain, Lech Majewski adapts his novel ‘Pilgrimage to the Tomb of Brigitte Bardot the Wonderful’ into an increasingly surreal drama that sees his alter ego, Adam, on a quest for truth about his pilot father. While watching Godard’s ‘Contempt’ in the cinema, the boy is teleported into Brigitte Bardot’s dressing room which opens the doorway into a world where Cézanne and Tagore coexist with The Beetles, Liz Taylor (as Cleopatra), Raquel Welch (in iconic fur bikini) and Roger Moore’s Simon Templar. Adam’s reveries – which, inter alia, include Ms. Bardot using a magic wand to turn her interviewer into a pig – are brought to vivid life through excellent production design and handsome cinematography, though comparisons with Majewski’s earlier works make his latest offering less appealing. Nevertheless, ‘Brigitte Bardot Forever’ provides an enjoyable viewing experience blanketed in warmth and nostalgia, with Kacper Olszewski – looking at least five years younger than he actually is – delivering a sympathetic performance in the central role. Now I wonder if my impression would’ve been the same, if the subtitles had been available...