22 Jul 2017

Harmonium (Kōji Fukada, 2016)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

Morally complex, narratively intricate and directed with astounding precision, Harmonium is an off-kilter (subversion of a) family drama which brims with psychological tension, hypnotizes with its deliberate pace and captivates with minimalist, brutally honest cinematography, allowing the brilliant performances by the entire cast to shine all the way to the end when 'standing on the edge' (a reference to the original title) gets pretty literal for yet another existential punch.

21 Jul 2017

Medea Redux (Antony Sandoval, 2015)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼ 

"Oh, Jason, what have you done, betraying Medea for the sake of your perversion?" - speaks Creon in a gravelly, menacing, condemning voice, probably from the bowls of the Underworld. At that point, around the eight-minute mark, the viewer has already been plunged into a strange realm of cinematic dreams, wondering the same question.

A creative distillation of Euripides's piece, Medea Redux opens with a gorgeously framed shot of the titular anti-heroine (a magnetic portrayal by the graceful Natsumi Sugiyama) showing a shadow play reenactment of her land's sacrificial ritual to her sons (Antony Sandoval's own boys, Emmanuel and Sebastian). For better or for worse, one child is asleep, whereby the other observes the violent act between papercut puppets with undivided attention.

Medea's spiteful, somewhat enigmatic look at the camera marks the end of the first scene, suggesting that none of it is real, even within the film's universe, and that it is probably a glimpse into her mind haunted by guilt and sorrow. From such point of view, what follows could all be a figment of Medea's imagination - various, oft-opposed mental images of happy mother, hurt lover and vengeful sorceress.

Whether this interpretation is correct or not, Sandoval's deconstruction of a well-known story works like a charm. Focused on the character of Medea, it is represented through the bold, surrealistic combination of film, theater, modern dance and performance art which seems to be inspired by butoh in the final and most impressive act. With the words reduced to a minimum, we are left to the imposing, allegorical visuals that establish dark, otherworldly atmosphere imbued with mythological qualities and complemented by the brooding, non-diegetic music.

Medea Redux is available at Vimeo on Demand.

16 Jul 2017

The Boy on the Train (Roger Deutsch, 2016)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

Roger Deutsch is the Green Bay-born, Budapest-based filmmaker who begun his almost four-decade-long career as a producer of Ulli Lommel's Blank Generation (1980) starring Andy Warhol and made his narrative debut feature Suor Sorriso (2001) - a surreal, anachronistic, tragically underseen fictional account on The Singing Nun - in Italy. More than a decade later, with a number of excellent short experiments - ranging from 'found' material collages to peculiar documentaries - up his sleeve, he arms himself with sharp-witted self-irony or rather, self-subversion and delivers a mighty fine sophomore flick.

Referring to Ricercare - a travelogue of sorts wherein Deutsch reflects on his first experiences in Hungary - The Boy and the Train plays out as an accomplished piece of metafiction blending the elements of drama, comedy, (faux) autobiography and road-movie into a satisfying whole. It opens in a sparsely populated cinema - an image which the arthouse aficionados are sure to recognize and find sourly funny - and follows the author's namesake alter ego on a countryside trip he will never forget.

After the screening of his latest offering, Roger (portrayed by James Eckhouse at his 'legal alien' best) meets the very film's subject who is quite irritated with the way creative freedom has been used. A boy who once (in 1991, to be precise) worked as a ticket inspector on the Pioneer Railroad is now a thirtysomething ornithologist (an imposing, bravura performance by Barnabás Tóth) 'profoundly affected' by Roger's ostensibly harmless speculations. The only thing he can't argue about is that János definitely is a common Hungarian name...

An awkward chit-chat between the aforementioned protagonists turns into a suspenseful journey replete with existential uncertainty, subtle humor of varying kinds, philosophical curlicues and small-time cultural clashes caused by a language barrier. Most of the story's weight falls on Eckhouse's and Tóth's shoulders and they both prove to be up to their task, as previously suggested, giving us believable characters.

Through their (well-written) dialogue, as well as the weird encounters with the locals, the one with a delusional woman, Kata (the delightful Anna Herczenik), providing the most emotionally potent scene, we realize that Deutsch contemplates on the nature of creation and its relation to the creator, inter alia. Every now and then, he slyly winks at the viewer, reminding us that what we are watching is a figment of his imagination, yet he imbues it with raw sincerity, marrying European sensibility to American indie minimalism.

Thanks to the authentic locations captured in natural light by the keen eye of András Gravi Kiss, he establishes an intimate and, to a certain degree, melancholic atmosphere complemented by diegetic sound and Gábor Holtai's evocative score. And let's not forget a witty homage to E.A. Poe's The Cask of Amontillado which puts 'the fake' Roger in a heightened state of alert and an extra smile or two on our face.

13 Jul 2017

Hel (Katia Priwieziencew & Pawel Tarasiewicz, 2016)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼ 

Taking a cue or two (or maybe, even three!) from David Lynch, Katia Priwieziencew and Pawel Tarasiewicz boldly fracture the girl-murdered-in-a-small-town narrative and blur the boundaries between gray reality and grim fiction for their stylish arthouse thriller debut which adopts fill-in-the-blanks or rather, find-your-own-answers attitude and boasts compelling 35mm cinematography, atmospheric bluesy soundscapes and solid performances by the charming first-timer Malgorzata Krukowska, Marcin Kowalczyk (of Hardkor Disko fame) and Philip Lenkowsky (who breaks his secondary role curse).

11 Jul 2017

Autuportret među nojevima

Ja sam ono žuto pseto
što ne ume da laje
i vlasnik užegle radosti
iz stare tepsije
izgrebane od čestog ribanja.
Mio kao keramički umivaonik,
otvaram usta kad spavam
iznad crnog oblaka.

Ovo mirno leto u mojim očima
miriše na ljubopitljivi pokolj
u 3 poteza,
a kosa pada kao prolećena kiša.
U dve reči da stanem,
prolio bih sedmu suzu,
sunce joj kalajisano!

Svih mi reči naškrabanih,
ovi sveci digli nos:
„Puf, puf, puf!“
Ko još pliva na biciklu?
Sekira ili rasporeni trup?
Znao sam da je tačan odgovor:

Six Figures Getting Sick (David Lynch, 1966)

10 Jul 2017

Color TV, No Vacancy (Dan Brown, 2013)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼ 
The follow-up to Dan Brown's blackly humorous crime thriller Your Lucky Day (2010) is a lavish, sinister phantasmagoria which lets us peek into the four rooms of a seedy motel (that's probably situated somewhere on the verge of subconscious mind). A heavy-smoking mermaid seduces a young biker; a prostitute and her pimp lover plot against their regular mob boss client; an Elvis lookalike comes to a supernatural rescue and a prom king and queen prepare to say goodbye to their virginity.

Adoration is degenerated into addiction, love is transformed into lust and devotion is betrayed by power hunger, as the characters fall down the (Playboy) rabbit hole or bleed all the colors of the rainbow. Brown subverts (the morals of) myths and fairy tales, cynically 'vulgarizing' them so they can fit the age of pop-culture tyranny. In doing so, he allows the hyper-stylized images and the accompanying brooding score to do all the talking - smooth and mesmerizing.

Even though his background as a commercial and music video director makes itself apparent throughout the film, one cannot help but admire the artistry on display, from the razor-sharp editing to the wonderful cinematography and neat VFX including a flaming deer and a neon-lit spider who operate as arcane symbols. Also commendable is the soft crescendo that comes with the dreamlike cover of Alphaville's Forever Young performed by Amanda Burleson.
To paraphrase Nathaniel Ainley of Creators, Color TV, No Vacancy is like a Disney film perverted by Lynch and Refn at their most experimental. And it is available on its creator's official vimeo channel.

9 Jul 2017

Cathedral of New Emotions (Helmut Herbst, 2006)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

Built upon Helmut Herbst's sci-fi TV movie The Fantastic World of Matthew Madson (Die phantastische Welt des Matthew Madson, 1974) and created with CTP Pro software, Cathedral of New Emotions (Die Kathedrale der Neuen Gefühle, hereinafter CONE) is arguably one of the weirdest, most obscure and out-there animated features ever.

It revolves around the one-time members of a Berlin commune, drifting through the vast universe, frequently staring into the pulsating light of their God hand-shaped ship fusion reactor "as if it were a crackling bonfire". Whilst their eyes "gladden in reverence" (some kinda running gag), you are suspended (or rather, paralyzed) in disbelief, frequently asking yourself: "Am I hallucinating?"

After busty twins James and Jones arrive on their flying waterbeds and an "attractive, but not very musical" young amnesiac, Mulligan, is discovered in a monthly supply rocket from Tesco, we learn that our hippie-astronauts' mission is to find CONE founder and spiritual guru leader who has gone bananas, Matthew Madson. And once they land on his planet, things go from trippy to halo-infection-and-rotating-boobs-psychedelic and you are inclined to believe the script has been written by an advanced AI on heavy synthetic drugs.

At one point, Mulligan is subjected to a bat-shit crazy interrogation and the second to last question which perfectly reflects Herbst's utterly twisted humor (especially when the explanation for Champs-Élysées is taken into consideration) is: "Before they went into hiding, did Baader Meinhof leave you their fridge?" Yes, it is as outré as smiling neutrons and many tropes turned upside down.

To make everything even more eccentric, Herbst has all the absurd lines delivered in deadpan manner by Logox SpeechBox, with the distorted, robot-like voices and woozy space-rock/jazz/ambient/electronic score complementing the intentionally jerky animation. The playful, 72-year old auteur resorts to "outmoded" rotoscope technique, so the visuals appear very retro as if rendered in the year following the original work.

Grotesquely beautiful and drenched in acidic colors, the protagonists quiver in the boundless delirium of the failed Flower Power Revolution, whereby disturbing eroticism meets black hole-caused meltdown and a colony of wiggling penises grown as mushrooms in a foosball table-like aquarium. However, those guys and girls are not of great importance, because "the feelings of plants are older than human arrogance".

Cathedral of New Emotions is available on both YouTube and Vimeo, and you can also check and download its comic-book version here.