May 1, 2024

Best Premiere Viewings of April 2024

1. A Streetcar Named Desire (Elia Kazan, 1951)


Whether they want to admit it or not, artists are crazy folks, and not single one of them can tolerate reality, which is why they are cursed to create their own. Just like ma’am Blanche DuBois (Vivien Lee, majestically theatrical) – the broken embodiment of their constantly dreaming souls – they want magic, even though the illusion leads them to their demise. The truth they are aware of, but afraid to face is as smelly and brutish as it gets, albeit packed in an oversexed body of Stanley Kowalski (Marlon Brando, brilliantly appalling) who holds the power in his greasy hands. All of the Stellas eventually return to him, because they have accepted his ways as an inalterable, to a certain degree tameable matter of fact, and all the Mitches cowardly agree to yet another poker party, knowing in advance that they will lose. However, this is just one viewpoint and it may be deeply flawed, but what no one can deny is the overwhelming beauty of Kazan’s elaborate character study, or rather, the strong connection between its technical and aesthetical components.

2. Strangers on a Train (Alfred Hitchcock, 1951)


Thrillers rarely get better than this one, and there aren’t many directors who could emulate, let alone surpass the cinemagic of ‘the master of suspense’. Even when taken on surface value alone, ‘Strangers on a Train’ works like a charm, keeping you on the edge of your seat, especially in the climactic carousel finale. Once you start digging deeper, the film rewards you with a cornucopia of diverse subtleties, making you wish to experience it all over again, this time from a different angle...

3. Hunted (Charles Chrichton, 1952)


The ever-reliable Dirk Bogard gives one of his best performances (but, seriously, was he ever in a bad acting shape?) as an ex-sailor fugitive, Chris, turned father substitute for a seven-year old adoptee, Robbie (Jon Whiteley, sincere in his naïveté), in a gorgeously framed road-movie noir. His (anti)hero is given a full arc, with the changes in scenery, from dark alleys of London to exuberant countryside to a small Scottish fishing port, reflecting the subtlest of nuances in his characterization, and simultaneously subverting the viewer’s expectations. As the sad yet never overly sentimental story unfolds, and the truth behind Chris’s heinous crime is unveiled, he is transformed into a victim of an uncaring society, eventually winning your sympathy. Of course, his fondness of the child running away from domestic abuse, and the boy’s attachment to this troubled man adds a lot of charm to both the protagonists and the proceedings, and makes you root for their escape. Accompanying them on their way to (the unattainable) freedom are deep and dark shadows of Eric Cross’s stunning B&W cinematography. 

4. Lola Montès (Max Ophüls, 1955)


In his symphonic swan song which also marks his only color film, Ophüls gives Powell and Pressburger a good run for their money, with the ravishing production and costume designs casting a spell on the viewer in an instant. The lush mise en scène is wonderfully matched by the elegant camerawork, and sheer magnetism of Martine Carol (wearing stunning dresses!) in the titular role. Behind the opulent surface is, however, a sad, even tragic story of ‘the world’s most famous woman of scandal’ – a proto-starlet, so to speak, but one that could trigger a revolution. Told through the prism of a (circus) spectacle in which she is the prisoner of her own memories, this biopic feels even more relevant today, with celebrity culture reaching a whole new level.

5. Singapore Sling: Ο άνθρωπος που αγάπησε ένα πτώμα /
Singapore Sling: The Man Who Loved Corpse (Nikos Nikolaidis, 1990)


In the best surrealist tradition, Nikos Nikolaidis slices the eye with the razor – metaphorically speaking, but he goes even further, shoving a red-hot poker (and I’m not referring to the plant of the same name) into the freshly pierced hole, redefining the term ‘midnight movie’. His most (in)famous feature is hard to classify, as it blends neo-noir with sexploitation, mystery, horror and pitch-black comedy into an utterly twisted, perversely uninhibited, and boldly provocative examination of the nature of cinema through a wicked story of psychopathic, not to mention incestuous mother and daughter. (Think Brass meets Borowczyk by way of Wilder’s and (Jack) Hill’s evil twins possessed by the ghost of Frank Booth from ‘Blue Velvet’... or don’t think at all!) The ladies’ latest victim turned accomplice in a series of depraved games is a detective they name Singapore Sling after a cocktail recipe they find in his notebook – he talks solely in voice-overs / inner monologues, whereas the two continuously break the fourth wall in the act of anti-illusionist consolidation of illusion. The trio – involved in everything from kiwi-masturbation to bondage ‘torture’ – tear open plenty of space for psychoANALizing, but I’ll leave that to the experts in the field, and say that ‘Singapore Sling’ is a film of stunning beauty, its lace-and-chains-decorated house setting bathed exquisitely captured in stark B&W imagery elevated by Rachmaninoff, and Julie London’s performance of jazz standard ‘Laura’.

6. Les feluettes / Lilies (John Greyson, 1996)


It is well-known that in ancient Greece, and centuries later, in the Elizabethan theatre, all roles were played by men. John Greyson firmly embraces that tradition for Michel Marc Bouchard and Linda Gaboriau-written adaptation of Bouchard’s own play ‘Lilies’. And it makes perfect sense, given the queer love triangle at the core of the story which is largely enacted by the prison inmates as a part of a most elaborate ‘confession’. The highly romanticized past invades the grim present through surrealistic transitions, with the improvised sets of the jail chapel giving way to the elaborate location shots that bring the roaring 1920s to luscious life, and vice versa. Performances are subtly heightened, thickening the aura of romanticism, with the handsome framing by Daniel Jabin capturing the finest of emotional frequencies.

7. Innocent Blood (John Landis, 1992)


Has there ever been a blend of neo-noir, gangster flick, vampiric horror, dark comedy and erotically charged romance more entertaining than this one? I can’t recall of any. Admirably effortless in both tone-shifting and genre-bending, ‘Innocent Blood’ takes you on a wickedly fun nocturnal ride along a wild bunch of colorful characters frequently teetering on the verge of caricature, yet never falling into that trap. Portrayed by a cast that couldn’t be more on point, with horror icons such as Tom Savini, Dario Argento and Sam Raimi making cameos, they grace the grand-guignol-esque proceedings in most diverse ways. In her Hollywood debut, Anne Parillaud (of ‘La Femme Nikita’ fame) oozes sex appeal, playfulness and fierceness in the role of a mysterious, morally conscious bloodsucker, Marie, whereas Anthony LaPaglia elicits sympathy as not-so-average Joe – a sad-eyed cop bold enough to accept a risky undercover mission and share a bed with a lusty vampiress. However, stealing the spotlight is veteran Robert Loggia who chews the scenery with a voracious delight as a mob boss, Sal Macelli, reluctantly converted into a ‘child of the night’ going on a rampage upon learning of the newly acquired powers. Landis (An American Werewolf in London) directs the film with a flair to spare, assisted by a well-coordinated tech team.

8. Heart of Midnight (Matthew Chapman, 1988)


If ‘Repulsion’ was filtered through the prism of Italian horror, then softly imbued with a Lynchian sense of unease, the resulting film would probably feel close to ‘Heart of Midnight’. Starring Jennifer Jason Leigh as a mentally unstable young woman, Carol, faced with her fears in an inherited ex-brothel named Midnight, this film may not be the most groundbreaking of psychological (or rather, psychosexual) chillers, but it does deliver a gripping, finely balanced blend of pulp, thematic resonance and visual style. Driven by a strong central performance, slick editing (kudos to Penelope Shaw), and penchant for dreamlike irrationality that is reflected in Gene Rudolf’s labyrinthine and red-dominated set designs, Chapman’s effort deserves a wider recognition, in spite of its shortcomings. 

9. Мастер и Маргарита (Михаил Локшин, 2024) / The Master and Margarita (Michael Lockshin, 2024)


I have a feeling that on the next re-reading of Bulgakov’s masterful novel, I may see the faces of Lockshin’s cast, primarily that of August Diehl (Inglourious Basterds, A Hidden Life) who lends a magnetically elegant performance as professor Voland, i.e. the devil in disguise. Also commendable is Evgeniy Tsyganov as the dignified Master, and his closest partner, vampish (or rather, Eva Green-ish) Yulia Snigir, as Margarita who pushes her lover to write the doomed satirical novel in a metafictional story that sees two versions of the leading trio in the surrealistic (and romantic) intertwining of ‘reality’ and ‘fantasy’. The unchanged setting is Soviet Moscow, ‘Gothamized’ through the prism of Art Deco and Brutalism, yet the mockery of greed, cowardice, authoritarian power structures, and petit bourgeois hypocrisies, although not as razor sharp as its source counterpart, couldn’t be more relevant today. High production values (on a budget that is but a tiny portion of any given Hollywood blockbuster) allow Lockshin to come up with some impressive set pieces – namely, the demonstration of black magic in the theater (regrettably, with the bare-all climax excluded), and the great ball at Satan’s where the imagination of costume designers comes to the extravagantly revealing fore. The pace is borderline breakneck, even though the film is two and a half hours long, so not all of the characters have enough room to breathe, but the final result (which marks Lockshin’s sophomore feature effort) far surpasses the ‘satisfactory’ level, especially when compared to a series of lackluster adaptations in the past. There’s enough nerve and verve, boldness and competence here for a recommendation.

10. Club Zero (Jessica Hausner, 2023)


What if some (ostensibly) forward-thinking ideas are actually shallow, or even worse, harmful? One such concept is so-called ‘conscious eating’ that gradually leads to no eating at all, as promoted by a nutritionist guru, Ms Novak (an unglamorous bravura by Mia Wasikowska), in an elite boarding school. Young and susceptible minds are easy to mold, especially when there’s a huge gap between the ‘kids’ and their parents who are condescending, despotic, too busy with their own projects, or preoccupied with their ambition of climbing a social ladder. A small group of teenagers with eating disorders, under the increasingly ‘spiritual’ guidance of Ms Novak, serve Hausner and her co-writer Géraldine Bajard as subjects in the exploration of manipulation / brainwashing, and blind following. Decidedly sardonic, bitingly satirical, and delightfully awkward in its formal austerity – almost as fascinating as that of Jonathan Glazer’s ‘The Zone of Interest’, ‘Club Zero’ is an acquired taste (pun intended!), especially when the Greek Weird Wave vibes kick in. The framing by Martin Gschlacht (Goodnight Mommy, Little Joe) is a masterclass in geometric rigidity, with the modernist set design evoking Cronenberg’s ‘Stereo’ (1969) and ‘Crimes of the Future’ (1970), Markus Binder’s cacophonous score is as befittingly off-kilter as it gets, and the author is relentlessly cold in her mockery of what can be dubbed ‘post-New Age charlanatism’, delivering a cautionary tale that can be viewed as a warning of cult-like machinations by media and politics.

11. Desaparecer Por Completo / Disappear Completely (Luis Javier Henaine, 2022)


After a few shorts and a couple of feature-length comedies, Mexican filmmaker Luis Javier Henaine takes a (straight-faced) stab at a supernatural thriller, finding a link between witchcraft, tabloids and politics in what can be labelled as a cautionary tale. His (anti)hero, Santiago, is hardly a sympathetic fella – an ambitious, ethically dubious photographer prone to bribing cops in order to get exclusive crime scene material for his ‘magazine’ – and yet, this deeply flawed human being turns to be the one we’re rooting for once he’s struck by a mysterious malaise. (Santiago’s kind and soon-to-be-a-mother girlfriend may be one of the reasons why we want to see him changed and saved.) Even the monstrous sacrifice he makes believing that it will lift the curse doesn’t turn the viewer (at least, the one writing these lines) into a judgmental bastard, because we don’t know what we would do if we were gradually being deprived of our precious senses – a vegetative fate surely worse than death. And besides, Henaine manages to put us in his protagonist’s shoes, so as his time inevitably flies, the tension gets heightened. The unnerving process of ‘disappearing completely’ unfolds at a measured pace, with local folklore thrown into the mix, and the deterioration of sound and sight saved for the last and best third in which the very cinematic devices come to the fore.

12. Barnvagnen / The Baby Carriage (Bo Widerberg, 1963)


In their feature debut, filmmaker Bo Widerberg and cinematographer Jan Troell come up with beautiful, yet not overly beautifying ways to translate the working class reality into cinema, as Wic Kjellin provides some stylish editing that brings to mind the earliest works of La Nouvelle Vague. A young woman’s sexuality, pregnancy and newfound independence are explored with utmost visual subtlety, jazz punctuation, straight-faced sincerity and unsentimental sympathy, which forms a patina of coldness and alienation that may turn off some viewers. Inger Tauber who would collaborate with Viderberg once again on ‘Love 65’ (originally, Kärlek 65) gives a lovably unaffected central performance, and her heroine, Britt Larsson, breathes the air of modernity into the story. 

13. Tenshi no kōkotsu / Ecstasy of the Angels (Kōji Wakamatsu, 1972)


To call ‘Ecstasy of the Angels’ provocative would be a severe understatement. As sex, violence and politics intermingle in assaults of absurd ‘poetry’, Wakamatsu explores the destructive power of radical extremism, his characters appearing like brainwashed puppets in a theater of ‘egoschismic’ anarchy. The intrusion of color scenes into a predominantly B&W reality lends a surrealistic edge to the rampant proceedings, with Yosuke Yamashita Trio elevating the chaos with their cacophonously groovy jazz score. The experience is abrasively alienating.

(Short) Honorable Mentions

Joy Street (Suzan Pitt, 1995)

Throw away your antidepressants, and watch Suzan Pitt’s masterpiece of hand-painted animation!


I have found your dream. (Johnny Clyde, 2020)

Available @ YouTube


Mabel, Betty and Bette (Yelena Yemchuk, 2020)



Ukrainian photographer Yelena Yemchuk whose directorial debut was the Fellini-inspired video for single ‘Zero’ (1996) by Smashing Pumpkins explores the ‘often elusive nature of identity’ in a twelve-minute short that couldn’t be more Lynchian. Her fashionable ‘woman in trouble’ protagonist is portrayed by Anna Domashyna who wears three different wigs as titular ‘personas’ lost in parallel universes that are based on ‘female archetypes of the Golden Age of Hollywood’. Disoriented in the threefold void of selves, she is a photo-model, an actress and a cabaret singer/dancer, each of the characters facing the dissolution of her respective reality in a series of dimly lit, dialogue-free vignettes accompanied by a vintage music theme and brooding sound design by the ballad collective.

Apr 7, 2024

A Selection of Recent Artworks (XIX)

Since the beginning of 2024, my ‘Bianco/Nero’ series has been increased by more than 100 pieces on its way to a projected goal of 1001 chapters, so it’s about time I posted a dozen...

Conceived on September 30 of 2019, ‘Bianco/Nero’ has grown to become my most voluminous and obsessed-over series – a whole new mysterious, shapeshifting (meta)world of seemingly endless possibilities. Taking cues from a number of various sources – myths and fairy tales, religious, pulp and surrealist art, steam- and cyberpunk aesthetics, Brutalist architecture, alternative music and avant-garde cinema, just to name a few, it has striven to blur or erase the boundaries between personal and universal, poetic and banal, physical and spiritual, profane and sacred, real and imagined, earthbound and extraterrestrial, order and chaos, life and death, miracle and apocalypse, the past and the future.

In the course of its irregular evolution, this wild, yet hopefully refined collage-mammoth has embodied both broken and still breathing dreams, inexplicable whims, undisclosed desires, repressed memories, scattered thoughts, contrasting ideas, spatio-temporal ruptures, the elusive ‘color’ of inner voices and illusory ‘words’ from beyond the realm of possibility. A reflection and refraction of my interrelation to Art and its omnipresence, the pieces of ‘Bianco/Nero’ has often turned into a sort of a visual manifesto that stubbornly refuses to be clearly expressed. 

Based on predominantly vintage photographs found in public domain, this overgrown entity is a fractured mirror to my innermost being – often, at its most elusive / unrecognizable – and its tremulous connection to the overpowering vastness of the Unknown. It is akin to a liquid phantasm that strives to transcend or exorcise rigid dichotomies, plunging their in-betweens into a whimsical, oneiric realm, all the while remaining decidedly mystifying...

See more of my artwork @ NICOLLAGE


LAlbero della Vita / Дрво живота / The Tree of Life


Configurazione Jodorowsky / Конфигурација Ходоровски / Jodorowsky Configuration


Inizia con un Pensiero che non se ne va Mai / Почиње мишљу која никада не нестаје /
It Begins with a Thought That Never Goes Away


Vita Senza Vita / Живот без живота / Life Without Life


La Constanza dellUmore / Постојаност расположења / The Constancy of Mood


Una Notte Risonante / Резонантна ноћ / A Resonant Night


Il Sesto Portale è sia Aperto che Chiuso / Шести портал је и отворен и затворен /
The Sixth Portal Is Both Open and Closed


Non Sei Più a Gandahar / Ниси више на Гандахару / You Are No Longer on Gandahar


LOmbra del Trauma / Сенка трауме / The Shadow of Trauma


Il Semidio dellInsolenza / Полубог дрскости / The Demigod of Insolence


Irragionevole / Неразумно / Unreasonable


Quando Me ne Sarò Andato... / Када ме не буде... / When I'm Gone...

Mar 31, 2024

Best Premiere Viewings of March 2024

1. Pociąg / Night Train (Jerzy Kawalerowicz, 1959)


Almost entirely set on the train, with the passengers representing a microcosm of Polish society of the time, Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s ensemble cast drama is a psychologically probing portrait of emotional unfulfillment perfectly summarized in one of the main protagonists’ final line: “Nobody wants to love. Everybody wants to be loved.” A tautly directed examination of innate loneliness, and myopia of mob mentality, ‘Night Train’ enters the dark tunnels of human minds linked in a tightly-knit network of paranoia, as Kawalerowicz and his DoP Jan Laskowski establish the atmosphere of claustrophobia and inescapability. It is simply incredible how camera maneuvers in confined spaces of narrow corridors and crammed compartments, capturing the characters’ inner workings in acutely framed shots often focused on revealing facial landscapes. The racket of the moving train accentuates the ever-growing tension which arises from the suggestion that there may be a murderer on board, whereas the recurring jazz theme of dreamy vocalizations creates a sense of mystery, one of life’s inconclusive nature. The film can be labeled as a missing link between Hitchcock’s ‘Strangers on a Train’ and Antonioni’s ‘trilogy on modernity and its discontents’.

Watched as a part of the ‘Days of Polish Cinema’ event by Cultural Center of Niš and Polish National Film Archive. The film is available on 35mm.online, HERE.

2. Fata/Morgana / Left-Handed Fate (Vicente Aranda, 1966)


“Each murder is the story of a meeting. Each meeting is a love story.”

In dystopian Barcelona whose eerily empty streets echo with paranoia, an unnamed professor (Antonio Ferrandis, superbly forbidding) predicts that a model, Gim (Teresa Gimpera, embodying the vulnerability of beauty in her first screen appearance), is going to be killed, and yet he continually thwarts the attempts of a detective, J.J. (Marcos Martí), to reach out to her. Apart from Gim’s love interest, Álvaro (Alberto Dalbés), who takes care of one mentally unstable Miriam (Marianne Benet), all the remaining men in the city act like stalkers, which creates a simulacrum of suspense in an ambiguous story rooted in the fever-dream logic. A script that Vicente Aranda co-penned with Gonzalo Suárez unleashes a school of red herrings on the viewer, leaving you defenseless against a plethora of questions, but somehow gradually and eagerly attuning to the feature’s peculiar wavelengths that anticipate the directorial oeuvre of Alain Robbe-Grillet, all the while bouncing between the Buñuelian absurdism and Antonioni-esque dislocation. Unclassifiable in its stubborn refusal to follow any genre patterns, ‘Fata/Morgana’ plays out like a subversion of giallo (or Hitchcockian thriller?), and exists in its own meta-world of fabulous jazz music composed by Antonio Pérez Olea and austerely beautiful visuals peppered with pop-art irony, and captured by DoP Aurelio G. Larraya.

3. Rekopis znaleziony w Saragossie / The Saragossa Manuscript (Wojciech Has, 1965)


“We are like blind men lost in the streets of a big city. The streets lead to a goal, but we often return to the same places to get to where we want to be. I can see a few little streets here which, as it is now, are going nowhere. New combinations have to be arranged, then the whole will be clear, because one man cannot invent something that another cannot solve.”


Spoken by a character called Don Pedro Velsaquez, these words pose as a reflection of the film’s convoluted narrative structure that is comparable to a Möbius strip, Chinese box or Matryoshka dolls. One story leads to another, then the second one gives birth to a third which may contain the clues for the resolution of the first, or open doors for the fourth, and so on, and so forth, until you find yourself lost in a labyrinth of half-told exploits. Gothic, erotic and/or picaresque, they bring together army officers, African princesses, evil spirits, Spanish inquisition, rich merchants, an old hermit, and a devilish Kabalist in lavish costume and production designs beautifully captured in stark B&W by Mieczyslaw Jahoda, and accompanied by a bizarrely eclectic score composed by Krzysztof Penderecki. It is the stuff that Raúl Ruiz’s dreams were most probably made of, at least before he released the likes of ‘Three Crowns of the Sailor’ or ‘Love Torn in a Dream’.

Watched as a part of the ‘Days of Polish Cinema’ event by Cultural Center of Niš and Polish National Film Archive. The film is available on 35mm.online, in two parts: PART 1 + PART 2.

4. Aurora’s Sunrise (Inna Sahakyan, 2022)


“As we crossed, soldiers tore children from their mothers’ arms. The river took them all...”

A heartwrenching confession of Aurora (née Arshaluys) Mardiganian (1901-1994) – a survivor of Armenian genocide during World War I, and spokesperson for the victims of the atrocities orchestrated by the Ottoman Empire, ‘Aurora’s Sunrise’ blends animated dramatization of her life, snippets of interviews recorded before her death, and scenes from 1919 feature ‘Auction of Souls’ (aka Ravished Armenia), only partially saved, in which she portrayed her own self. The detailed, painterly artwork and the simplicity of the paper cutout-like technique provide an odd, almost surreal effect, allowing Sahakyan to imbue the harrowing story with bits of alleviating poetry, given that the film is not intended to act as ‘guns and swords’, nor as the ‘little pointed crosses’ used for torture. It is only hours after watching that it begins to haunt you, and keep you reflecting not only on the events it describes, but also on all of the (in)human monstrosities throughout the history...

5. Once Within a Time (Godfrey Reggio & Jon Kane, 2022)


At once archaic and hyper-modern, Godfrey Reggio’s first ‘narrative’ film is a bizarre sensory overload that could be best described as a zany love letter to Georges Méliès, with quirky references to Kenneth Anger (caged heads), Albert Lamorisse (red balloons), Stanley Kubrick (the iPhone-smashing monkey), as well as to Bosch and Botticelli. Told from the wide-eyed perspective of a child-hero, ‘Once Within a Time’ is a strikingly playful fairy tale, an incessant stream of strong audio-visual stimuli that makes you forget its overt symbolism, and invites you to dive head-first into its cinematically exciting, delightfully carnivalesque world. Intertwining the ecological, technological and eschatological themes into a wild phantasmagorical smorgasbord of experimental techniques, the 50-minute-long featurette leaves no space for a breather, as enchanting colors of Philip Glass’s eclectic score meld into the dreamlike noise of ‘baroque’ imagery.

6. Victim (Basil Dearden, 1961)


A strong contender for the most decent and tasteful of once controversial films, ‘Victim’ thematizes what is now an antiquated law (code: blackmailer’s charter), but remains a carefully constructed character and social study that largely rests upon the shoulders of the great Dirk Bogarde in a daring, deeply personal role he addressed as ‘the wisest decision he ever made in his cinematic life’. Overcoming the obstacles of the (liberalizing!) feature’s talky nature, while accentuating the inner struggle of Bogarde’s barrister hero is the stark, noir-inspired B&W framing by Otto Heller of ‘Peeping Tom’ fame.

7. Natural Born Killers (Oliver Stone, 1994)


Some satires are like razorblades. ‘Natural Born Killers’ is the equivalent of a machete, or rather, multiple machetes posing as vanes of a giant, caseless fan. An incessant assault on the senses, it takes a ‘more is more, and that’s never a bore’ approach of tilted angles, frenzied camerawork, feverish editing, psychedelic color schemes, inebriating rear projections, wild animated intrusions, and other visually stimulating whatnots to probe into the cancerous tissue of mass media and tabloid culture. Boldly overstated in its experimentation with the music video aesthetics, it appears like a loony, MTV-informed successor to ‘A Clockwork Orange’, (paradoxically) pulling no punches in its somewhat cartoonish depictions of violence marked as ‘bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad!’ (to quote Juliette Lewis’s anti-heroine, Mallory). It plays a risky game of fighting fire with fire, but its brutally honest portrayal of societal psychoses is highly effective.

8. Le Vourdalak / The Vourdalak (Adrien Beau, 2023)


A promising feature debut from designer and scenographer turned director Adrien Beau, ‘The Vourdalak’ is a unique take on the heavily exploited vampire subgenre, with the titular creature represented by a life-sized marionette (and voiced by Beau himself) in a Carax-like twist. Bringing together its author’s ‘passion for 19th century dark romanticism and puppetry’ (as noted in the Variety interview), it is a moody and quaintly stylish adaptation of Alexeï Tolstoï’s novella ‘The Family of Vourdalak’ written in 1839, and first published in 1884. Beautifully shot on 16mm, and on a lush forest location surrounding Prieuré du Sauvage Monastery posing as unspecified somewhere in the Balkans (according to the book, Serbia), a grisly, unhurriedly paced chronicle of a peasant family torn by love (and, literally, pater familias) is told from the perspective of a French aristocrat (a funny, lampoonish performance from Kacey Mottet Klein), though the ending suggests a feminist shift in the view. Ariane Labed in the role of the unlikely hero’s romantic interest Sdenka acts as a leading violin of a fine-tuned ‘chamber ensemble’ of well-cast actors, providing – as expected from Yorgos Lanthimos’s muse – a sticky aura of charming weirdness culminating in a zany dancing scene. The carefully measured doses of wry humor are neatly interwoven into the poetic tapestry of horror, never thwarting the dense, immersive atmosphere of omnipresent evil.

9. Морето (Петър Донев, 1967) / The Sea (Peter Donev, 1967)


Restored last year in a collaboration between Bulgarian National Film Archive and Yugoslav Film Archive, ‘The Sea’ is a fine piece of modernist cinema that no Italian or French masters would’ve been ashamed of. Chronicling a night and day in lives of Zhana (Severina Taneva) and Toni (Stefan Danailov), this slice-of-(aimless?)-life drama seduces the viewer with its swinging atmosphere of night club flirtation that leads to an early-morning skinny dipping framed in a captivating long shot, only to take a melancholic turn in the second half, as the couple learns their drunken joyride might’ve had a tragic consequence. Donev makes the most of the economic (62-minute) running time to capture the fleeting beauty of summertime (and youth), with the eye of Boris Yanakiev’s camera often intimately lingering on attractive faces of the leading duo, in emotionally resonant medium close-ups. 

For a coastal town double bill, I propose Giuseppe Patroni Griffi’s 1962 drama whose title also translates as ‘The Sea’, or Boštjan Hladnik’s New Wave-ish feature ‘A Sand Castle’ (1962).

10. Nightmare (Maxwell Shane, 1956)


In a strange coincidence, on a day I created a collage titled ‘A Missing Candle’, I premiered a film in which the very first image is of a lit candle surrounded by darkness. ‘Nightmare’ is Maxwell Shane’s fifth and final feature, and it is the adaptation of Cornell Woolrich’s short story ‘And So to Death’ that also served as the source material for the director’s 1946 debut ‘Fear in the Night’. A neat psycho-noir-drama of steady pacing, it revolves around a young clarinetist, Stan (Kevin McCarthy, superb in channeling anxiety and paranoia), who believes that a murder he dreamed of committing actually happened, as he discovers a few tangible clues upon waking. Reluctantly helped by his brother-in-law detective Rene Bressard (ever-reliable Edward G. Robinson), he pulls the viewer into a captivating guessing game which doesn’t end even after the twisty truth is unveiled, considering that certain elements of the story seem almost surreal in their logic. Maybe Shane’s intention was not to produce a ‘could it all be but a dream’ effect, and yet ‘Nightmare’ – despite the talkiness typical for the 1950’s cinema – gives off a good deal of oneiric vibes, partly by virtue of Joseph F. Biroc’s moody cinematography. The swinging jazz score befitting of the New Orleans setting establishes a distinct atmosphere, with a mysterious melody that haunts Stan playing an important role in his ‘quest’.

11. Stopmotion (Robert Morgan, 2023)


The long-repressed inner child (Caoilinn Springall, a strong contender for the Pantheon of the creepy kids in cinema) is possessed by a Mephistophelian entity in Robert Morgan’s feature debut which takes a deep dive into the darkest waters of artists’ obsession with their work. His heroine, Ella (Aisling Franciosi, feverishly dedicated to the role), struggles with the bequest of her dying, once overbearing mother, spiraling down into madness, as her grotesque puppet creations take the most of life she has given to them. Initially operating as a dark psychological drama along the lines of ‘Repulsion’, with impulsive cuts and effective sound design emphasizing Ella’s gradually deteriorating mental state, ‘Stopmotion’ transmutes into a gooey nightmare strongly influenced by the body horror subgenre, making sure you remember the visceral ‘literalization’ of the line: “Great artists always put themselves into their work.” Embedded in live-action tissue are, of course, Morgan’s macabre ‘frame by frame’ vignettes that often remind us how PAINstaking the technique is. The film’s red-dominated coda appears to be set in the proximity of the Black Lodge.

12. The Philadelphia Experiment (Stewart Raffill, 1984)


As paradoxical as time-travel flicks usually get, ‘The Philadelphia Experiment’ turns the eponymous conspiracy theory into a neat sci-fi romp with a B-movie spirit, and ace cinematography by Ken Russell’s frequent collaborator (and DoP on Friedkin’s thrilling adventure ‘Sorcerer’) Dick Bush who appears to be in an ‘ominous red’ period. Michael Paré in his prime is partnered by ever-likable Nancy Allen in a romantic subplot, as he sheds his macho skin along with manly tears, and slips (unscratched!) through a wormhole three times, while the SFX team treats us to some (2001) stargate-inspired psychedelia.

Feb 29, 2024

Best Premiere Viewings of February 2024

1. Bride of Frankenstein (James Whale, 1935)


While ‘excavating’ for lesser-known pieces of cinema, I’ve often overlooked a number of must-see flicks, but as they say – better late, than never. When it comes to Whale’s masterful, ahead-of-its-time sequel to the most acclaimed adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel, it is easy to see (and more importantly, feel!) why it has fascinated both audience and film scholars for decades. Its lavish studio sets, expressionist lighting, and eye-popping cinematography lend iconic vibe to great many shots, with the ‘monster’ turned into the feature’s tragic hero / emotional core shining high above very human evil (partly embodied by Ernest Thesinger’s Mephistophelian doctor Pretorius). Karloff breathes soul into Frankenstein’s creation through the nuanced performance largely dependent on grunts, facial mimicry and limited wording, making you root for him, as the clever screenplay inspires diverse readings...

2. Poor Things (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2023)


Even at his most accessible, Lanthimos is weird as fu*k... pardon, ‘furious jumping’. A bizarrely constructed vehicle for Emma Stone’s bold, uninhibited performance, ‘Poor Things’ is a delightful blend of audacious sex comedy and sumptuous steampunk fantasy, striking the right balance between a raunchy crowd-pleaser and thought-out arthouse treat. Brimming with quotable, oft-irreverently / provokingly funny lines magically matched to whimsical, invasively tempting cacophonies by Jerskin Fendrix, this prurient beast of a feature eschews politeness in favor of cinematic excess, in equal measures overwhelming and engaging. Its costume (Holly Waddington) and set design (Shona Heath & James Price) bring forth an alternative, cotton-candied version of Victorian period straight out of a deranged fairy tale told from the distorted (fish-eye) perspective of its heroine, Bella. Stunningly framed by DoP Robbie Ryan, her emancipatory (r)evolution begins with an accidental discovery of ‘keeping oneself happy’ through a genital stimulation, and culminates in fluent French, social mindedness, the discovery of cynicism, and the pursuit of a medical career, as Lanthimos and screenwriter Tony McNamara play jokes on all men who want to control her.

3. The Zone of Interest (Jonathan Glazer, 2023)


Kubrickian perfectionism meets the formal austerity of Haneke in a petrifying portrait of normality that is anything but normal, and of evil so immense that it staggers the mind, as it instills discomfort in your very viscera. That evil is not banal, as some reviewers have branded it, but rather horrifically and grandiosely absurd in its meticulously planned monstrosity / calculated absence of compassion. The atrocities it brings forth remain unseen – literally, behind the tall, concrete wall that separates the garden of earthly delights from hell, but they are strongly and insidiously felt in every fiber of your being, if your being hasn’t been robbed of humanity... Glazer’s vision – founded in history’s tendency to repeat itself – is unfaltering; his tautly unsentimental direction finely attuned to Mica Levi’s solemnly moaning score, Johnnie Burn’s eerily haunting sound design, and Lukasz Zal’s stunningly oppressive framing of ugliness that ferments under the pretty surface.

4. Banel e Adama / Banel & Adama (Ramata-Toulaye Sy, 2023)


An aesthetically triumphant debut for Senegalese filmmaker Ramata-Toulaye Sy, ‘Banel and Adama’ exists in a liminal zone between the reality and a fairy tale, as it deals with the conflict of collective superstition set in the stone of reactionary customs, and individual open-mindedness embodied by a headstrong woman. Mythically archetypal in its nature, with raw energies of non-professional actors igniting the emotional core, this simple, yet highly poetic drama also reflects on climate changes, and the power(lessness) of love in the face of nature’s harshness. The drought-stricken village whose sandy monotony is broken by colorful drapes and costumes provides a borderline surreal mise en scène expertly framed by DP Amine Berrada, and gently veiled in a delicate aural tapestry by composer Bachar Khalifé. 

5. La fille aux yeux d'or / The Girl with the Golden Eyes (Jean-Gabriel Albicocco, 1961)


In Jean-Gabriel Albicocco’s entrancing debut that appears as mature as a peculiar mixture of Antonioni and Resnais with the hints of Cocteau and Franju, love is in equal measures folie and melancholy; as bizarre as pigeons suddenly appearing and flying around the bedroom, and as clichéd as raindrops sliding down the window-glass. It feels like a slap in the face, as well as like a snow of feathers from a torn pillow; it makes one inebriated, and the other mysterious, while both fall victims of obsession. But, above all, it brings forth a super-reality (or rather, surreality?) in which lovers and the viewer get lost, until it starts disintegrating once the third player joins the whimsical romance.

A modernization of Honoré de Balzac’s 1835 novella of the same name, ‘The Girl with the Golden Eyes’ is one of the most gorgeously photographed films, by virtue of the director’s cinematographer father Quinto Albicocco. Its elegant, shadowy film-noir looks subtly complemented by wistful acoustic guitar of Spanish virtuoso Narciso Yepes establish a dense, dreamlike atmosphere so seductive and immersive that you often find the dialogue transformed into cryptic, irrational codes under the weight of the mesmerizing images. The admirable stylistic artifice is further elevated by the leading trio of Marie Laforêt, Paul Guers and Françoise Prévost whose performances are perfectly attuned to the poetic sensibility of their characters.

6. Plein soleil / Purple Noon (René Clément, 1960)


Filmed as an invitation to a summer holiday in Italy (if only time travel were possible, to experience it in the 60’s), ‘Purple Noon’ is a loose adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 novel ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley’. I haven’t read the book, and I’d have to re-watch the 1999 film to make comparisons, but Clément’s version – a stark character study – appears tailor-made for Alain Delon, as everything and everyone gravitate towards him, or rather, the dangerous, yet fascinating antihero that he portrays. Largely reliant on the actor’s natural charisma and glassy, penetrating gaze, his performance is the very definition of magnetism, making the viewer root for this bad, devilishly clever boy, and thus challenging one’s own moral code. As compelling as Delon’s Tom Ripley is Clément’s assured direction, so neatly synergized with Nino Rota’s authentic score, seductive Mediterranean locations, and Henri Decaë’s handsome cinematography, elevating a crime story.

7. Le orme / Footprints on the Moon (Luigi Bazzoni, 1975)


Befittingly named Alice, an Italian translator – portrayed with utmost dedication and gripping intensity by Florida Bolkan – falls into the rabbit hole of her own deteriorating sanity. Plagued by a B&W nightmare in which an astronaut is left on the Moon under the command of Dr. Blackmann (an imposing cameo of Klaus Kinski), and suffering a memory loss of the past three days, she travels to the (fictitious) town of Garma (pictured in a torn postcard), in hope of figuring out what the hell has happened to her. Some of the locals there, including a red-haired horror-regular Nicoletta Elmi, believe she is a woman called Nicole, and seem to know more about her than she is willing to accept. The struggle between her conscious and unconscious mind, as well as the clash between her and others’ perceptions of not only her identity, but reality as well are distinctly mirrored in beautifully captured and strongly felt spaces, initially defined by rigid geometries of modern interiors and exteriors, and then increasingly ‘softened’ through curvier lines of Islamic architecture (Garma is represented by Turkish locations), natural environment (beach and forest), and stained glasses in the style of Art Nouveau. Luigi Bazzoni’s unhurried direction, Vittorio Storaro’s breathtaking framing, and Nicola Piovani’s haunting melodies create a dense, entrancing, at times stifling atmosphere that put you in the paranoid heroine’s shoes, and leave you with a bitter, yet satisfying aftertaste. ‘Footprints on the Moon’ may not be a masterful psychological drama, but it is a noteworthy fusion of substance and style; an obscure anomaly from the period largely remembered by black leather gloves and brightly colored blood.

8. Glitterbug (Derek Jarman, 1994)


A punk patchwork of Super 8 ‘sketches’ captured in the period of almost two decades, Derek Jarman’s swan song is a cornucopia of filmmaking techniques; a poignant, if distorted self-portrait that transcends its essayistic form, erasing the boundaries between the private life and cinema. Featuring many of the director’s friends, from William S. Burroughs to Tilda Swinton, ‘Glitterbug’ is a sparkling, wordless stream of grainy imagery that flows whimsically across an infinite, melancholic soundscape composed by Brian Eno, evoking the sublime feeling of sadness, at once crippling, romantic and liberating. It is the angelic conversation of the creator and creation, in the shadow of the Sun that acts like the tempest...

9. All of Us Strangers (Andrew Haigh, 2023)


A deeply moving story of loss, grief, love and loneliness, ‘All of Us Strangers’ is firmly anchored in stellar performances and convincing chemistry of the leading duo, Andrew Scott and Paul Mescal, spellbinding you with its delicate emotional textures bathed in warm lighting of Jamey Ramsay’s dreamy cinematography, and interwoven with soft aural threads of Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch’s melancholic score. The thick aura of nostalgia that envelopes the gently-paced proceedings materializes from the 80’s pop tunes which magically awaken the ghosts from the pasts for one last goodbye. If approached with a pure, sincere heart, this queer fairy tale provides a rewarding experience.

10. Pequeños milagros / Little Miracles (Eliseo Subiela, 1997)

“I have no philosophy, I have senses...
If I speak of Nature it’s not because I know what it is
But because I love it, and for that very reason,
Because those who love never know what they love
Or why they love, or what love is.

To love is eternal innocence,
And the only innocence is not to think...”

― Fernando Pessoa, The Keeper of Sheep II


The sweetest and most humane of four Subiela’s films that I’ve seen, ‘Little Miracles’ is a sensitive ode to (demure) adults who never lost their inner child. Directed with a keen sense of wonder, no trace of irony, and great sympathy for the characters, it follows a couple of lonely, lovely souls – a young supermarket cashier, Rosalía (Julieta Ortega, embodying innocence), who believes to be a fairy, and volunteers as a reader for the blind, and a nerdy scientist, Santiago (Antonio Birabent at his most introvert) who lives with his basset hound Lola, and works in the Institute for Radio-Astronomy, searching for extraterrestrial intelligence. Connected only through a web-camera installed at a bus-station in what can be labeled as ‘a subversion of voyeurism through romantic yearning’, the two go about their lives as the viewer roots for their encounter, basking in the warmth of Daniel Rodríguez Maseda’s cozy cinematography, poetic quotes from Fernando Pessoa, and euphonious score by Alex Khaskin and Osvaldo Montes. Magic does exist.

11. Reflections in a Golden Eye (John Huston, 1967)


Beautifully framed in gilded widescreen, while swarming with suggestive lines, and overt symbolism, John Huston’s naughty melodrama eschews subtlety in favor of a stark, daring exploration of repressed desires – homosexual in the case of Marlon Brando’s character, major Weldon Penderton, and heterosexual for a reticent soldier, L.G. Williams, in a stoic, virtually dialogue-free portrayal by Robert Forster. Entangled in a sticky web of simmering emotions, Weldon lusts for private (parts of) Williams who embarks on nocturnal adventures that involve sniffing the lingerie of Mrs. Penderton (Elizabeth Taylor, camping things up) who enjoys riding her white stallion and ‘picking blueberries’ along with her next-door neighbor, Colonel Morris Langdon (Brian Keith). Mrs. Langdon (Julie Harris) suffers from deep, nipple-cutting depression after losing a child, and finds comfort in her gay Pinoy manservant, Anacleto (Zorro David), much to the annoyance of her cheating husband. Such a set-up can only lead to tragedy portended by a quote from Carson McCullers whose 1941 novel of the same name is adapted by first-time writers Gladys Hill and Chapman Mortimer, to be subjected to firmly held directorial reins or rather, horsewhip. In someone else’s hands, ‘Reflections in a Golden Eye’ would’ve easily slipped out of control, but Huston nails just the right tone in the depiction of painful yearning, voyeurism, sadism, but above all, his main protagonist’s fallout, with Brando’s superbly committed performance lending gravitas to the gold-cold proceedings.

12. Le règne animal / The Animal Kingdom (Thomas Cailley, 2023)


The beauty of the beast and the ugliness of discrimination. A genre-bending examination of otherness and our relation to it, refracted through dichotomies – parent/child, society/individual, acceptance/rejection, cruelty/compassion. Coming-of-age drama whose fantastical premise is treated with the utmost realism, and tonal shifts handled with great skill. Cailley elicits extraordinary performances from his cast, with 22-yo Paul Kircher standing out in his full-fledged portrayal of a conflicted teenager whose transition to adulthood is made extra difficult through a lupine twist. The protagonist and other mutants of ‘The Animal Kingdom’ may bring to mind films such as ‘Nightbreed’ and/or ‘X-Men’, but what we have here is... well, a different animal, flawed, yet lovable.

13. Brzezina / The Birch Wood (Andrzej Wajda, 1970)


The film is Polish, but the colors of Zygmunt Samosiuk’s spellbinding cinematography speak a variety of languages, so the intense palette – a reflection of seasonal changes – alone is the reason enough to spend 90 minutes with it. An ode to life sung from the perspective of a tuberculosis-stricken musician, Stanislaw (Olgierd Łukaszewicz), and continually interrupted by the mournful sulking of his older brother, Boleslaw (Daniel Olbrychski), ‘The Birch Wood’ washes over the viewer like a fever dream of repressed emotions and incestuous desires. Oscillating between Stanisław’s lustful optimism and Bolesław’s fierce irritability, all the while squeezed between the two wars, this heightened, somewhat mannered drama strikes you as both deeply melancholic and broodingly joyful, fortified by ardent central performances.

14. Jigokumon / Gate of Hell (Teinosuke Kinugasa, 1953)


The first color film for the Daiei Film studio, ‘Gate of Hell’ appears like a Japanese art scroll brought to life and then gently injected with the concentrated solution of George Barnard’s ‘Harmonious Arrangement of Pigments’, transfixing the viewer’s gaze with the spellbinding costume design alone. But make no mistake, the 12th century tale presented here is not a ‘jidaigeki’ spectacle, but rather a sternly solemn meditation on destructive obsession, unrequited passion, and the nature of honor. Its serene or rather, extremely disciplined surface conceals a torrent of conflicting emotions threatening to break the shackles of intense formality, yet the mask of quietude never cracks, primarily by virtue of Kinugasa’s unhurried, methodical direction, and mannered, dignified performances from his cast, especially by Machiko Kyō of ‘Rashomon’ fame.

15. Spider Baby, or the Maddest Story Ever Told (Jack Hill, 1967)


One of the most enjoyable pieces of camp cinema I’ve ever seen, ‘Spider Baby’ delivers a splendidly twisted blend of humor and horror, with its setting – a creaky, shadow-infested mansion of ‘impossible’ architecture – creating a ton of spooky atmosphere, and the trio of Jill Banner, Beverly Washburn and Sid Haig giving mischievously stellar takes on demented siblings at the core of the story. At once cartoonish and disturbing, the film is elevated to a whole new level by virtue of Lon Chaney Jr.’s emotive performance in the role of Bruno – a chauffeur turned guardian of family secrets, and it even dares to veer into a sexploitation territory, the courtesy of Carol Ohmart (House on Haunted Hill) in black lingerie that anticipates Victoria’s Secret. It gives the impression that both the cast and behind-the-camera crew had a whale of time shooting it, limited by the shoestring budget, but liberated by their combined creative energies.

Honorable mention (short):

Last Spring (François Reichenbach, 1954)


A cinematically eloquent portrait of longing, as well as a historically significant piece of queer cinema, ‘Last Spring’ is a mighty fine example of visual storytelling, greatly influenced by Jean Cocteau, particularly in the dream sequence that comprises the second half of the film, with James Dean’s movie persona inspiring the appearance of two lovers (played by non-professional actors, no doubt). Tamer than its colorful, boldly homoerotic counterpart ‘Nus masculins’ (produced in the same year), this romantic drama eschews dialogue in favor of inventive camerawork (intimate close-ups, suggestive low angles, melancholy-infused long shots, oneiric superimpositions, etc), anticipating the free-wheeling tendencies of the New Wave.