22 May 2017

Taste of the Obscure 90s Films

My latest, half-Japanese list for Taste of Cinema answers the following question: "What is the link between Egyptian mythology, necrorealism, Edogawa Rampo and cyberpunk?" Yes, it is THAT eclectic and you can read it here:

Still shot from The House (Sharunas Bartas, 1997)

21 May 2017

Blame! (Hiroyuki Seshita, 2017)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼
Following a highly experimental web-series from 2003 and a two-part CGI OVA from 2007 (which goes even further in obscuring or rather, ignoring the story) is yet another adaptation of Tsutomu Nihei's debut manga. Recently released as a part of 'Netflix originals', Blame! is a nice treat for cyberpunk aficionados and, despite its flaws, a slightly better film than Sanders's gorgeous, yet kitschy (and uncalled-for) rendering of Ghost in the Shell.
Set in the dark, distant, technologically advanced future, it sucks the viewer into the world not unlike the one dominated by Skynet of The Terminator franchise. Years after an 'infection', the humans are on the brink of extinction, since they lost control over automated systems of their own creation. The non-violent 'Builders' expand their city in all directions, turning it into a multi-level labyrinth of colossal structures, whereby the 'Safeguard' system with its hordes of 'Exterminators' makes sure the remaining children of men live in constant alert and fear.

During a food-scavenging mission, a group of youngsters from the small enclave of 'Electro-Fishers' comes upon a silent, enigmatic 'vagabond', Killy, who searches for the 'Net Terminal Genes' which are believed to be the key to reclaiming order by subjecting machines once again. He helps them find a resourceful engineer, Cibo, whose mind now resides inside an android, and not to mention that he possesses a weapon known as 'Gravitational Beam Emitter' which is much more effective than the harpoon-firing guns they use...

Blending dystopian sci-fi, adrenaline-charged action, existential drama and puzzling mystery, Seshita spins a familiar tale of day-to-day survival in which there's no time to reflect on electric sheep, since the 'silicon organisms' prefer killing to dreaming. Also noticeable is the influence of the Western, especially in defining the hero as the cool, brooding, silence-is-golden type who wanders into a small town (or village, as in this case) on his quest for special someone or something and reforms the community he comes in contact with.

Minor pacing issues and underdeveloped characters aside, this peculiar mélange works for the most part, steering our sympathies toward the irresistible archetype that Killy is, as well as toward Cibo who bridges the gap between organic and synthetic organisms with the ability to adjust her 'ghost' to any kind of 'shell'. Another protagonist who attains eternity, albeit in a different way, is the 'tsundere' of the show, Zuru, whose granddaughter serves as the narrator of the modern 'legend' of sorts which emerges before our eyes.
Speaking of eyes, Seshita and his team provide plenty of great visuals on an obviously tight budget, applying Nihei's architectural approach to design the imposing setting. Shrouded in deep shadows or enlivened by various sources of light, from the tiniest lamps to flames of destruction, endless constructions of steel and concrete have a gothic, industrial, claustrophobic feel to them that is in perfect tune with pale faces and slender bodies. The bizarre, spider-like Exterminators add a little bit of creepiness to the proceedings, whereas Cibo's dive into the 'Netsphere' allows for some surreal moments. Complementing the solid artwork are the superb voice-acting and Yuugo Kanno's lush orchestral score.

17 May 2017

The Kingdom of Shadows (Daniel Fawcett & Clara Pais, 2016)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼  

In 2012, Clara Pais and Daniel Fawcett create Savage Witches - an odd, mischievous, somewhat esoteric 'adventure' of two girls, Gretchen and Margarita, who can be interpreted as their 'wild and free' alter egos. Utilizing various techniques and nonchalantly breaking the fourth wall, they provide a fascinating insight into the history of experimental film and 'write' the heartfelt love letter to Věra Chytilová's Daises. It marks the beginning of their 'motion picture exploration'.

Judging by their latest features, a delightfully trippy phantasmagoria In Search of the Exile and a stunning 'performative' fantasy The Kingdom of Shadows (to be discussed hereinafter), they tirelessly continue to explore and encourage you to dive with them into the furthest depths of the collective unconscious, for the most exotic gems and pearls are hidden there. If you submit to their magic and open your mind, you're in for a unique experience.

Described as 'a surrealist vision inspired by dreams, biblical myths, alchemy and family history' in the words of the directorial duo, The Kingdom of Shadows welcomes you in from the very first shot of an irregularly shaped, unidentified object swirling in pitch-black dark. As it soon turns out, this 'object' is composed of two naked, dirt-covered bodies who come to life in what looks like an iconoclastic take on the genesis of Adam and Eve.

And then, one visually eloquent composition after another, we witness two wise, silent and talented alchemists at work, or three, including Kay Fi'ain whose enigmatic character with golden hands is referred to as The Alchemist. Virtually every shot they conjure up is worthy of being framed and hung on the wall in a gallery. The immense power of the associative imagery is emphasized by the sublime score of the elaborate sounds, intoxicating instrumentals and haunting vocalizations which oscillate between gothic and classical music, ethereal oriental folk, Lynch/Badalamenti-esque jazz and Meredith Monk-like sorcery.

Emerging from the synthesis thereof is a puzzling, dialogue-free 'story' of love and desire, fratricide and guilt, familial secrets and the exiled ones whom the auteurs empathize with. Although the lyrical, oneiric narrative and the protagonists - ciphers and archetypes - seem to be of secondary importance, Fawcett and Pais are in complete control over both aspects. 

They get pretty intense performances from the entire non-pro cast, especially from Carina de Matos who brings 'agitated elegance' as Mother, Rouzbeh Rashidi as the dandy, subtly comical Inspector in a 'cosmic vest' and Fabrizio Federico as tormented, mime-faced Cain. Also admirable are the Portuguese dancers Joana Castro and Bruno Senune who bear their all to play Eve and Adam, respectively, and frequently move like being choreographed by the ghost of Pina Bausch.

Which brings us back to Fi'ain's Alchemist who operates as a mystical force behind the strange, meticulously staged events, from his (or her?) candle-lit laboratory that is the first and the last 'set' we see. The old house where his/her 'puppets' are gathered once belonged to Ms Pais's grandma and it is a charming place (in Portugal) replete with stylish furniture and flamboyant decor, yet surrounded with eerie aura. Equally impressive are the craggy cliffs of Serra de Arouca where we find Cain wandering. Not to mention that each location is beautifully captured by the cinematographers (this is a low-budget film, so you can only guess once who they are).

The Kingdom of Shadows is like an enlightening dream you volunteer to get lost in forever, holding the Truth by her hand. So, in the name of Daniel and Clara and the holy essence of avant-garde cinema, amen!

16 May 2017

Pazucus: Island of Vomit and Despair (Gurcius Gewdner, 2017)

☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼
Okay, how do you even review this kind of... stuff? Maybe a piece of shoddy poetry for starters, something along the lines of:

Ducklings are cute,
magic dolphins are crimson red,
I feel like I’m gonna puke
so bad, so bad.
Or you just begin by declaring that a Kingdom of Trash Cinema has a new court jester with an utterly deranged sense of scatological humor. Well, actually, he's not so new - according to IMDb, the multidisciplinary Brazilian artist Gurcius Gewdner has made over 50 (mostly short) films, so he's obviously experienced, not to mention hyper-productive.

Also evident are the DIY masks and special effects of his latest offering whose title couldn't be more suggestive. From the very first minutes, Pazucus: Island of Vomit and Despair (originally, Pazúcus: A Ilha do Desarrego) wants you to know that it's a trash and that it is proud of being a potentially cult-worthy trash and that you can trash it to your heart's content, but it will always remain a fucking trash.
A 'little bit' overlong and unapologetically sordid exercise in bad taste, it makes Troma productions look lavish and glossy in comparison. To call it non-conformist or to say that it doesn't take itself seriously at all would be a severe understatement. Opening with arguably the most bizarre shoe polishing scene (blended with a loving homage to Shuji Terayama) ever brought to the screen, this weird, bonkers, delusional fantasy is an almost incessant assault on senses.

From the sultry orgies of Fukui-inspired crying and screaming, vomiting in all colors possible, excrements slowly coming to life and surprisingly delightful child-like paintings that serve as a glue in certain sequences (ha, totally unexpected), three (or so) storylines emerge and eventually converge into one absurd and irreverent whole.
Turds plot the apocalypse, while their 'host' Carlos (Marcel Mars) suffers nasty constipation and is hunted by his insane psychiatrist Dr Roberto (Mars, again) who has suggested a camping therapy to a couple of lovebirds, Oréstia (Priscilla Menezes) & Omar (Gewdner himself), whose sojourn in nature turns into a field day in hell. Somewhere down the drain (no pun intended?), the Goddess of Feces (Ligia Marina, baring her all) awakens and it's not because of the youth's wild party on the beach and costume ball in the forest...

Aside from the guerilla-style parts shot in the streets rife with confused passers-by, there's 'little relation to reality' here, as Mike Haberfelner of (re)Search My Trash notes. Everything goes ridiculously overboard and it's so purposely, insolently and hilariously bad, that it's, to a certain extent, poisonously and disgustingly good. There's a lot of passion and playfulness in Gewdner's dirty shenanigans, 'Zulawskian' excesses, sleazy 'anti-art' aesthetics, the lowest of the low-budget props and oddly inappropriate, yet comical juxtapositions involving jovial 80s tunes. Besides, who would have thought a plastic doll can be utilized as a handkerchief? Oh, and those cockatoos are adorable.

11 May 2017

Anarchy in the UK: The New Underground Cinema (Jett Hollywood, 2016)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

It's angsty, it's rebellious, it's absolutely irreverent and there's a great chance it will make you want to grab your photo camera or iPhone (or whatever) and start shooting someone nude, blindfolded and caressing a sapless, branched piece of wood for your movie project (just an idea, as a tribute to Lynch's Log Lady). Oh, and it's also fresh and invigorating and so many colorful bubbles in Trafalgar Square during a performative act of not giving a fuck while taking the piss.

Directed by Fabrizio Federico's (In Search of the Exile) alter ego Jett Hollywood (Ziggy Stardust's filmmaker son from Mars), this wild, higgledy piggledy documentary with great punk attitude and Bakshi's mindset takes a concise, yet comprehensive look at today's underground cinema of the UK. Within the crudely sewed, yet attractive, anything but the kitchen sink patchwork, the viewer is introduced to several zealous, determined, not formally educated creatives who give a whole new meaning to 'indie' (read: shoestring / no-budget) film. Their words hold much truth about the seventh art and its possibilities, trial and error, exploration and experimentation, rehashing and endless franchises, inter alia, even when they are not 100% serious.

Between the segments featuring talking heads, one of them belonging to Richard Stanley, Federico provides plenty of visually provoking and gloriously unglamorous excerpts from his interviewees' works, as well as some befitting archive footage attached with safety pins. As the world goes pop, he goes counter-culture, behaving like a hyperactive boy on a dirty playground of Dismaland. His enthusiasm is contagious and his direction explosive.

Pulling no punches and brimming with raw energy, Anarchy in the UK wears its spikes, Mohawk and cheap, ragged attire proudly. Frequently and deliberately out of tune, it runs at breakneck pace, knows how to catch you by surprise and doesn't lack revolutionary spirit or guerilla style sequences. Don't blink or you might miss WR: Mysteries of the Organism poster cameo.

A full movie is available on YouTube.

9 May 2017

Taste of Cinematic Weirdness... Again!

The short piece of experimental prose hereinafter contains the names of the features from my latest Taste of Cinema list whose original title is 11 Weird Movies from 2000s and 2010s You Might Not Have Seen.

After leaving the Atrocity Exhibition, I could barely control my excitement – Four Horseman of the Apocalypse were quickly approaching me. A big man from Japan gave me an illustrated copy of Dante's Inferno and whispered softly to my ear: "The days of gray are coming."

"Hell, they are!" – I loudly thought to myself and all of the sudden, a small skull dropped from the sky, landing right before my feet. Someone etched the words "junk head 1" on its forehead. It was much later when I realized that it must had fallen out the garbage helicopter.

In search of the Exile which I continued precariously, my open wound began to hurt again. But, there was no other way to meet William, the new judo master.

Still shot from The Atrocity Exhibition (Jonathan Weiss, 2001)

8 May 2017

Indwell Extinction of Hawks in Remoteness (Rouzbeh Rashidi, 2012)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼ 

According to various eschatological beliefs and some pseudoscientific scenarios, 2012 was supposed to be the year our world ended. For the Iranian born, Dublin-based helmer Rouzbeh Rashidi, it was the year in which he made nine features (believe it or not!), including the one that will be (attempted to be) reviewed hereinafter.

Shot on VHS camcorder and postproduced on Final Cut Pro software, Indwell Extinction of Hawks in Remoteness is (along with Scott Barley's The Ethereal Melancholy of Seeing Horses in the Cold) one of the strongest contenders for the most strangely beautiful title ever given to a piece of cinematic art. Simultaneously kooky, intimate, elliptical, unreserved and wildly irreverent as far as the canons are concerned, it is a master class in experimental filmmaking.

Opening and closing with glitchy shots of a young man draped in deep shadows, this hour-long, decidedly non-narrative anti-drama (for lack of a better definition) adopts the stream of (sub)consciousness structure and appears as both hermetic and explicit. Through the peculiar blend of memory-fueled, slice-of-life 'antics', abstract, psychedelic phantasy and absurd comedy of sorts, it renders the most mundane of actions and objects as mind-boggling puzzles. Not to mention that it stubbornly defies rationalization.

Rashidi operates as a cheeky, genial hypnotist who opens a window into his soul and then pushes you down the rabbit hole to the land of fading dreams. Although his 'protagonists' are human, they occasionally become alien in the interplay of light and darkness, as if he shows the non-sequitur happenings from the perspective of a mysterious force.

Visuals-wise, Indwell Extinction... harkens back to the era of silent and surreal films, yet it feels progressive, and not only because of sudden porn-video intrusions. Grainy, ethereal, often elusive imagery (which could cause seizures for people with photosensitive epilepsy) is finely complemented by the soft crackling noise, as well as by the soothing sound of rain and distant thunder...

(Available at Vimeo on Demand.)

2 May 2017

Taste of Obscure Dramas

My latest list for Taste of Cinema includes ten genre-bending dramas from all around the world or, as it's written in the introduction, from Japan to Kazakhstan. A cursed papermaker, winged baby, Hungarian "pastoral" and more await you in the article, whereby each and every entry is accompanied by a companion piece recommendation. I hope you'll enjoy reading it, as much as I enjoyed compiling it.

Still shot from Ricky (François Ozon, 2009)

1 May 2017

Skins (Eduardo Casanova, 2017)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

Beauty runs deeper than what our eyes can see in Eduardo Casanova's feature-length debut which many reviewers has compared to the works of John Waters and Pedro Almodóvar. Produced by none other than Álex de la Iglesia, Skins (originally, Pieles) arrives at the right moment to challenge the ever increasing superficiality of modern society, as well as our preconceptions of how we are supposed to look.

Subverting what is usually considered 'normal', the 26-yo Casanova casts physically attractive actors and actresses to play 'misshapen people' confronted with ridicule, fetishization or rejection and forced to hide in the shadows (of their cozy, hyper-stylized homes). Obsessed with high brow kitsch, he delivers a pink-tinged slice-of-life drama composed of seemingly random vignettes which are gradually, quite skillfully and, at times, even 'gimmicky' woven together into an ambivalent, bizarre, cynical, darkly witty, visually imposing and boldly inappropriate whole.
Ana Polvorosa reprises her role as Samantha from the emerging helmer's short film Eat My Shit whose title and promo poster reveal that the poor lass's digestive system is topsy-turvy as in a bad joke. For that reason, she carries a hose and a funnel instead of makeup in her purse. Macarena Gómez who portrayed a distressed and hysterical mother in Casanova's aesthetically similar 'horror-comedy' Bath Time (La hora del baño) returns as an eyeless hooker, Laura. One of her regulars is an overweight waitress Itziar (Itziar Castro) who can be very judgmental, as we are shown in her short encounter with Samantha.

Candela Peña and Jon Kortajarena give excellent performances as a couple of lovers - a woman with a face tumor, Ana, and a third-degree burn victim, Guille, respectively. Vanesa (Ana María Ayala) suffers from achondroplasia and despises her job of posing as a (Paranoia Agent's) Maromi-like bear, Pinkoo, from a children's show. And finally, a lilac-haired adolescent, Cristian (Eloi Costa), has amputee identity disorder and dreams of becoming a mermaid.

All of these outcasts are in dire need of acceptance, even though both the world and human beings are horrible, in the words of a bare brothel madam from the prologue. But first and foremost, their young creator wants them to forget about the unicorns, figuratively speaking, and feel comfortable in their own skin, regardless of flab, scars, deformities or whatever the others think and feel. The violently rosy and decidedly artificial setting he and his art director Idoia Esteban create for them stands as a character on its own, in contrast to their unforgiving reality and shaken mental state. It also works as a surreal backdrop for the debatable story which makes the viewer feel simultaneously liberated, provoked and unsettled, wondering if it is appropriate to laugh.

Shamelessly grotesque and loaded with cult potential, Skins provides a weird experience that will surely divide the critics and audience alike. 

26 Apr 2017

Reflections on Rouzbeh Rashidi's "Ten Years in the Sun" and "Trailers"

Just recently, I was honored to see two of the latest works by Rouzbeh Rashidi - one of the most prominent figures of the Remodernist Film movement which emerged at the beginning of the 21st century. Both cacophonous, boldly provocative, visually opulent, decidedly non/anti-narrative, deliberately "glitchy" and directed as if they were high-brow sci-fi epics for some perverse, disoriented alien entities of an unknown dimension or simply put, mind-fuckingly great, these features inspired an article that is now released on the Experimental Film Society official page. You can read it in its entirety here: 

 (above) Still shot from Ten Years in the Sun
(below) Still shot from Trailers

21 Apr 2017

The Garbage Helicopter (Jonas Selberg Augustsén, 2015)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

A co-production between Quatar and Sweden (where the action takes place), The Garbage Helicopter (Sophelikoptern) is best described in the opening lines of Stephen Dalton's The Hollywood Reporter review, as "a minimalist road movie with a surreal sense of humor".

Wallowing in the absurdity of everyday life, it appears as a wildly odd cross between Davide Manuli's (The Legend of Kaspar Hauser) and Roy Andersson's (A Pidgeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence) works peppered with a handful of Jarmusch-esque 'hipsterism' and tiny pinch of Lynchian... je ne sais quoi, but it's not a dream logic.

Drawing comparisons to a lesser known Buñuelean comedy Avida (by Benoît Delépine & Gustave de Kervern) as well, this hyper-deadpan first feature-length effort from Jonas Selberg Augustsén comes as a biting refreshment for the arthouse enthusiasts. Hell, there's even a building (a diner? museum? bus station? kino theater?) with a huge 'Art House' sign above its entrance!

And speaking of huge, the protagonists - three Romani siblings - keep coming upon various XL objects on their mission of returning an ancient wall clock to their grandmother who lives hundreds of miles away. Their visits to the world's biggest cheese slicer, cleaning brush and garden chair (disgracefully burned in front of their eyes because Germans made a much larger one) operate as a dry running gag amongst many others, including crosswords, bubble wrap, speed cameras and "We do speak Swedish" reply every time someone addresses them in English.

There's an overwhelming sense that the trio's quest might be a possible answer to a riddle that is posed time and again: "What keeps running but never gets anywhere?" However, after a few detours and accidents (involving cows and art thieves) during the journey, they do reach the final destination (and this is not a spoiler) where another oneiric puzzle regarding the titular aircraft awaits the viewer. What is clear, though, is that, as poker-faced as possible, Augustsén pokes at casual racism and points to the loss of cultural identity due to globalization.

Occasionally, one has the impression that the film's quirks and its pace - deliberately monotonous - outstay their welcome, but the monochrome pictures are so beautiful that you just can't stop looking at them. From the very first shot to the very last, The Garbage Helicopter is a series of meticulously composed widescreen tableaux, simultaneously funny and melancholic in their 'immobility'. Accompanied by silence or elegiac tracks and conjoined by black screen rest-points, these vignettes of high-brow WTFery are sure to induce some chuckles along the way.

At the moment of writing this article, the film is available worldwide (except Germany and Sweden) for FREE at Festival Scope, with English, Spanish, Italian, Dutch and Serbo-Croatian subtitles.

19 Apr 2017

The Wounded Angel (Emir Baigazin, 2016)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

After a relentlessly harrowing debut feature ironically titled Harmony Lessons (2013), the up-and-coming Kazakh auteur Emir Baigazin delivers another depressing portrait of anguished youth with his equally solid sophomore film The Wounded Angel.

Drawing inspiration from the eponymous painting, as well as from the Tampere Cathedral frescoes by the Finnish symbolist Hugo Simberg, he paints the pains of growing up in the steppes of post-USSR Kazakhstan with precise and confident strokes. This time, he teams up with the Belgian cinematographer Yves Cape (Holy Motors), whilst staying true to his rigorous visual style of mostly static, yet brilliantly framed shots which mirror the characters' mental and emotional detachment.

Through four loosely connected chapters depicting inconceivably grim childhoods of pubescent boys, Baigazin explores the themes of guilt and moral corruption against the backdrop of a decaying remote village in the mid 90s. Offering no glimmers of hope for his prematurely grown anti-heroes who appear as both victims and victimizers, he weaves an austerely poetic narrative embedded with strong social commentary. Once again, he assembles the cast of non-pros whose rigid, Bressonian performances intensify the imposing, suffocating atmosphere of sparse dialogue, ruin-porn imagery and absent music.

In the first episode, Fate, a rascal, Zharas, follows in the footsteps of his no-good criminal father, convinced that he can support his mother on petty frauds. Following is The Fall which chronicles the cherub-voiced Chick's 'mutation' from a promising singer into an extortionist bully much alike Bolat from Harmony Lessons. The third and longest section, Greed (which has the looks of a post-apocalyptic drama by virtue of the abandoned factory setting), focuses on an outcast, Toad, who robs a trio of glue-sniffers acting as the figures from the Simberg's work in a bleakly witty live-action 'replica'. And, lastly, comes Sin which deals with an unintended pregnancy and the growing madness of the unborn's father, Aslan, ending on a subtly surreal note.

These wounded, ostracized angels are brought together in a transfixing epilogue which removes them from the harsh reality and lets them have a few deserved moments of (illusory) piece and relief to the sounds of Chick's rapturous rendition of Ave Maria...

16 Apr 2017

In Search of the Exile (Daniel Fawcett & Clara Pais, 2016)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

The string of (positive) reviews for the boundary-pushing films including The Suffering of Ninko, Still the Earth Moves, Sleep Has Her House and Frozen May continues with the British auteur duo Clara Pais and Daniel Fawcett's liquid, mind-blowing phantasmagoria In Search of the Exile.

Defying any categorization, this wild cinematic experiment could be described in many ways, but none of the descriptions would give the potential audience an accurate impression of the opus. As it takes you to another, mercurial world of an alternate, oneiric reality, it seems like a spiritual (and more abstract) successor to E. Elias Merhige's Begotten as seen through infrared filters - think Philippe Baylaucq's ballet fantasy ORA or Thomas Kirk's music video for Muse's Stockholm Syndrome, yet even more lavish and intense.

Elusive and enthralling, it is akin to an iridescent fairy tale which is made of divine reveries and takes place in the arcane Realm of Tarot; the complete anthology of the primordial embryo's memories or the lost collection of an ethereal being's home videos... The titular search is shared by the directors themselves, the hypnotized viewer and the protagonist referred to as the Wanderer (Fabrizio Federico) or rather, our souls and astral projections, our dream-selves and nightmare-ids. The encounters with the Witch, the Red Knight and the Lovers make us look deeper into the Subconscious and Beyond.

Drenched in screaming, hyper-saturated colors melting in front of your eyes, this avant-garde, dialogue-free mythos is an uninterrupted stream of equivocal images. Accompanied by the evocative score of familiar, yet alienating sounds, the dazzling, unearthly visuals create a whirlpool of an eternal, mysterious substance that you want to drown in.

During the watching, I thought to myself more than once: "If there is Heaven, I want it to be as immersive and stupefying as this."

(Available at Vimeo on Demand.)

14 Apr 2017

A Cosmic Fool

A pure poem for progressive progeny
(and a spiritual successor to Eternal).

(click to enlarge)

12 Apr 2017

Frozen May (Péter Lichter, 2017)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

"The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown." (H. P. Lovecraft)

And the presence of the unknown is sensed all throughout the feature-length debut for the Hungarian experimental filmmaker Péter Lichter. Opening with an arresting bird-view of frost-covered trees, Frozen May (Fagyott május) plunges the viewer into the hopeless, almost lifeless world of the alternative past.

Set in 1990, after the fall (of an UFO? human kind? a supreme being?), it puts you into the shoes of an unnamed protagonist who struggles to survive in a hostile (post-apocalyptic?) environment. He lives alone in a lodge and roams the woods in attempts to find another human being. After spotting a mysterious child near an abandoned summer camp, his quest leads him to a ramshackle villa. There, he begins writing the notes to his sister Anna on the fortunately discovered Commodore 64.

"It's a miracle this computer is working." - he remarks at one point, fully aware that his message probably won't reach the addressee. From his 'diary logs' rendered in a boxy and 'glitchy' 4:3 format, we learn about this man's aspirations and unenviable circumstances which cast a shadow of doubt over the said chance encounter. For all we know, it could be a mirage or the ghost of his former self that he chases after, whereby the obscured, non-linear and unconventional narrative leaves many of its questions in the dark.

A thick, impenetrable mystery and the non-specific, yet constant and intense feeling of dread are maintained by the long takes (mostly from the first-person perspective) complemented by the brooding ambient score. As the composer Ádám Márton Horváth and the sound designer Péter Benjamin Lukács 'breathe' as one, Lichter and his DoP Dávid Gerencsér realize the 'ominous potential' of a winter forest - a (grim) character on its own - to the maximum extent possible. Not to mention a great lesson in how to operate a handheld camera without inducing a headache, let alone dizziness.

In the series of beautifully framed widescreen shots of cold light and drained colors, we are introduced to many (all frowning) faces of the foreboding locale whose chilling atmosphere is further intensified by the deathlike stillness. The aforementioned C64 'intrusions', as well as the home-video footage which embodies our unseen hero's memories provide rare moments of relief and warmth in a devastating stream of depressing images. All the while, the unknown keeps the status of the unsettling factor, sending shivers down your spine.

But, what is the meaning of the whole proceedings? Considering the year in which the film takes place and which is also one of the turning points in Hungarian history, there has to be a social commentary hidden in this bold, patience-testing subversion of the 'cabin' subgenre...

7 Apr 2017

Taste of Cinematic Weirdness

Two of my latest lists for Taste of Cinema present 40 (mostly obscure) films for the fans of the cinematically weird, including anime, surreal, arthouse, experimental, genre-defying and worthy-of-the-cult-status works. The first one focuses on the last decade, whereby the second one expands this period back to 2000. (There's a couple of mistakes in the title which reads 'the 21st century' and in the introduction which doesn't mention 2010s and here we end the hair-splitting.)


Tojin Kit (from Genius Party Beyond, 2008)
by Tatsuyuki Tanaka

5 Apr 2017

Southland Tales (Richard Kelly, 2006)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

Nek ovaj (nadam se, bar malo) šaljiv prevod (adaptacija i dopuna) vrlo pozitivne recenzije Dana katastrofe (koji sam reprizirao, čini mi se, po treći put) bude najava moje predstojeće liste za Taste of Cinema.

Drugo, žestoko potcenjeno dugometražno ostvarenje Ričarda Kelija, poznatog po već kultnoj SF-drami/misteriji Doni Darko, sebe baš i ne uzima ozbiljno, a smrtno je ozbiljno u svojoj slasnoj besmislenosti. Nastalo prema scenariju koji odaje utisak kao da je pisan pod uticajem halucinogenih pečuraka, ono je čista i predivna zbrka; postorgazmični san ambicioznog ludaka; papazjanija od raznorodnih ideja, linčovskih omaža, bizarnih kameo pojavljivanja, nerazumljivog tehničkog žargona, britke društvene satire, pop-kulturnih referenci i sprdnje koja neretko poprima bibljiske razmere.

Usredsređujući se na akcionu zvezdu sa amenzijom i snažnim političkim vezama (Dvejn 'Stena' Džonson sa nenormalno belim zubima), njegovu devojku koja je bivša porno glumica, starleta, pevačica i voditeljka rijaliti tok šoua (Sara Mišel Gelar), kao i na policajca (Šon Vilijam Skot u ulozi karijere) koji je ključni igrač u velikoj zaveri republikanaca i ludog naučnika, ova potpuno otkačena, hotimično nekoherentna i prefinjeno trešasta ekstravaganca okuplja jednu od najneverovatnijih glumačkih ekipa ikada. (Zbog dužine prethodne rečenice, neomarksisti su morali biti ostavljeni sa strane.)

Sačinjen od jevanđelja prema ratnom veteranu Pilotu Abilenu (Džastin Timberlejk sa gotivnim ožiljkom na licu), Southland Tales je dementno, deluziono i dekadentno remek-delo haosa koji se danas olako prihvata kao nekakav poredak. A treba ga gledati kada...

... vam kažu 'belo', a vi vidite 'crno' sa roze flekama.
... još jedan marvelozni strip biva adaptiran za veliko platno.
... primetite da vam je smisao za humor iščašeniji nego ranije.
... Majkl Bej istrajava u silovanju vaših omiljenih sećanja na detinjstvo.
... poželite da čujete obradu američke himne u izvođenju Rebeke del Rio koja vas je već raspametila u Bulevaru zvezda (a ako vam ne smeta izvlačenje iz konteksta, tu je YouTube).
... živite u zemlji koju vode uglađeni fašisti i njihovi moronski, moralno i etički posrnuli lakeji-ulizice.
... odlučite da izvršite samoubistvo, ali se predomislite u poslednjem trenutku, zato što "makroi ne izvršavaju samoubistvo".
... shvatite da "svetu ne dolazi kraj uz cviljenje, već sa praskom".

Osim toga, postoji nešto neopisivo lepo u tvrdom akcentu zmijaste Bai Ling, surferskoj odvažnosti kojom odišu pojedine scene i Kelijevoj drskosti da umesto ljudskog snošaja prikaže kresanje para automobila napunjenih tečnom karmom...

31 Mar 2017

Les guerriers de la beauté (Pierre Coulibeuf, 2003)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

Mahniti vitez obračunava se sa nevidljivim zmajem. Nevesta traga za nekim ili nečim, a kako kasnije saznajemo, sasvim je izvesno da nisu ni bidermajer, niti muž u pitanju. Proganja je crna ptica.

Slepac broji od jedan do devet na nemačkom, izjavljuje da je prorok i pleše. Devojka drži vinsku čašu prislonjenu dnom na uvo, otvara usta, a iz njih izlaze insekti. (Ovo nije jedina scena u kojoj će gledaoci koji pate od entomofobije zažmuriti na jedno oko, a možda i na oba.)

Iz rupe na svodu ispada obnaženi baletan. Dok ga par žena (jedna sa levkom na glavi) premazuje krvlju (kečapom, zapravo, ali ovako zvuči intrigantnije), patuljak u gaćama laje, krećući se na sve četiri. Mudrac je pospan, ali su zato ludaci neumorni. Iguana u brašnu...

I tako, u nizu neobičnih jukstapozicija, dadaističkih nepodudarnosti i najrazličitijih iznenađenja, francuski (post)modernist Pjer Kulibef (koji je prethodno sarađivao sa Marinom Abramović na biografskom filmu Balkanski barok) prenosi na celuloidnu traku potpuno otkačeni nonsens-performans kontroverznog belgijskog umetnika Jana Fabrea.

Kao u transu, savitljivi "igrači" se grče, lome, migolje, preobražavaju u simbole nejasnih značenja i ostavljaju dušu na "pozornici" ograničenoj oronulim zidovima u statičnim, ali atraktivnim tableaux vivants koji su uhvaćeni oštrim okom direktora fotografije Iva Kapa (Sveti motori). Život i smrt i ono treće, kao i kamene noge o kojima Andrejevljev đavo govori u Sataninom dnevniku postoje istovremeno i ne postoje uopšte.

Predivno pretenciozna na zabavan i zbunjujuć način, ova iščašena, duhovita i sardonična (?) fantazija traje taman toliko da anglosaksonsku frazu "outstay its welcome" možemo da napišemo u negativu. U nešto više od 60 minuta, Ratnici lepote učestvuju u igri koja naizgled nema pravila i koja povremeno podseća na umetničku revoluciju (koja će pojesti svoju decu i ispljunuti ih žive i zdrave), a neprestano aludira na slobodu (izražavanja). Da se okarakterisati kao žitka lepljiva provokacija (valjda zbog sitofilije sa džemom u završnici) ili kao duhovni nastavak Makavejevljevog Slatkog filma (ali bez bečkih akcionista i koprofilije) ili čak Barnijevog Ciklusa Kremaster. Apsurdna kao san, poseduje kvalitet bošovskog rituala u bezizlanom lavirintu nadahnjujuće perverzije. 

28 Mar 2017

Nova Seed (Nick DiLiberto, 2016)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

Sometimes, they DO make them like they used to.

If Nova Seed had been released in the 80s, many of the thirtysomething year olds of today would have cherished it as one of the most precious memories of their childhood. A labor of true love and commitment, this 'little' rough gem of retro animation is mostly done by only one man.

The Japan-based Canadian animator Nick DiLiberto dedicated four years of his life to hand-draw every frame of his 64-minute feature debut, in spite of the blisters (and band-aids used to cover them). With that in mind, a viewer has to be amazed by his achievement worthy of all the superlatives that the reviewers has bestowed on it so far.

Storywise, the author employs sci-fi, fantasy and adventure tropes and archetypes, offering a compelling, if not original mélange of ideas. A mad scientist, Doctor Mindskull, wants to use a mysterious force, Nova Seed, embodied in a fragile-looking girl to conquer the unnamed alien planet which might be post-apocalyptic Earth as well. Standing in his way is a NAC (Neo-Animal Combatant) - a reluctant lion-man hero who's all action and no words. With a kind heart beating in his large, yellow chest, he breaks free from the confines of the gladiatorial prison, beats up a troop of human soldiers, saves Nova more than once (and falls for her), jumps from one aircraft to another in the heat of a dogfight, gets shot, bruised and battered (occasionally by a tenacious bounty hunter), and still manages to save the day!

Even though the 'day' lasts too short, DiLiberto's nostalgia-driven opus brims with inventiveness: bizarre characters, odd paraphernalia, colors that speak several languages (louder than words), larger than mutated life sequences of hybrid vs. human battles and, ultimately, a monster 'of Ghibli-esque grandeur' (in the words of Andrew Mack). The themes of ecology, societal decadence, as well as the corruptive and destructive nature of power are intertwined in a work which is best described as a Saturday Morning Cartoon meets Heavy Metal meets Rock & Rule meets Mad Max meets Masaaki Yuasa's anime by the way of René Laloux. But, the 'substance' does not matter as much as the trippy aesthetics.

There's a special charm in the 'beat-boxed' sound effects (a boy would produce whilst playing with his toys) and ragged, pulsating lines of a bit crude, yet delightful traditional animation which is a so much needed breath of fresh air in the age of glossy CGI. Sincere in its 'awkwardness', it takes us to a high-tech laboratory, busy scrapyard, sunlit desert and all the way to a dark, underground lair, constantly keeping us or rather, our inner child, in the state of wide-eyed curiosity.

Nova Seed enchants, inspires and entertains in equal measures; it puts a big smile on your face, occasionally mystifies and, when the credits roll, makes you want more. Let's hope DiLiberto doesn't stop here.

27 Mar 2017

Endless Poetry (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 2016)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

The Chilean mystic, cinema virtuoso, spiritual guru and living legend Alejandro Jodorowsky continues his self-healing semi-autobiographical saga with the second entry in a proposed cycle of five films. Taking over exactly where The Dance of Reality (La danza de la realidad) left off, Endless Poetry (Poesía sin fin) chronicles the years of the artist's youth in 'surrealized' Santiago of the 40s.

Once again, Pamela Flores lends her soprano as Alejandrito's (the curly-haired Jeremias Herskovits and later, Adan Jodorowsky) opera-singing mum Sara, whereby Brontis Jodorowsky reprises the role of his father's father Jaime with the same kind of mocking, fascist-like strictness. The auteur himself returns as his younger self's guardian angel / voice of reason in a couple of silly and somewhat moving situations.

And another 'self' can be utilized as a suffix for 'indulgent' in describing this flamboyant familial phantasmagoria with a Freudian twist in which Flores also appears as Alejandro's first love Stella Díaz Varín (1926-2006). Through the dreamlike reminiscences, she is reimagined as a virginal, beer-guzzling and hard-punching muse who sports body paint and fiery red wig, and keeps her hymen for 'the man with the divine forehead who will descend from the mountains'.

It is thanks to his gay cousin Ricardo that 'Jodo' comes in contact with Stella, as well as with the rest of bohemian artists of the time, breaking free from the confines of Jaime's despotism. His friends belong to a colorful, Felliniesque 'demimonde' of clowns, dwarves, cripples and eccentric liberals who have their own rituals and walk straightforward, no matter what obstacles lie ahead. All of their lives are transformed into bold, rebellious, 'joie de vivre' poetry (hence the title) in which sex during menstruation and tarot divination assisted by an erected, hypnotized man are not there for the mere shock value - they are the unrhymed verses of insolent and provocative beauty.

Notwithstanding these 'excesses' and the narrative's episodic structure, Jodorowsky's latest offering is 'the most accessible' yet, as many critics put it. However, prior knowledge of his oeuvre wouldn't hurt, even though the thick layer of esotericism is almost completely lifted from both the story and (inspired) visuals. The maverick's memoirs brim with bizarre, exciting, anachronistic, carnivalesque imagery captured by the keen eye of the prominent DP Christopher Doyle and accompanied by Adanowsky's charismatic lead performance and eclectic score.

Coming from an octogenarian filmmaker, Endless Poetry is quite vital and energizing in its blending of cinema, theatre and circus, yet there are ten minutes or so of the material that could have been snipped...

25 Mar 2017

Looping (Leonie Krippendorff, 2016)

 ☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

A promising debut for the German writer/director Leonie Krippendorff, Looping brings together three superb actresses in a sympathetic study of love, longing and (inner) loneliness. In another display of incredible talent, Jella Haase (Lollipop Monster) plays a melancholic, motherless adolescent, Leila, who becomes a victim of rape and ends up in a (quite liberal) mental institution. There, she meets an enigmatic middle-aged patient, Ann (the brilliant Marie-Lou Sellem of Tykwer's Winter Sleepers fame), and later, a young, bulimic saxophonist, Frenja (Lana Cooper, almost unrecognizable and far removed from her role in Love Steaks), and BANG! - a bond between them is formed.

Although these women come from different milieus, they do have one thing in common - being lost to themselves and to those around them. With profound sadness in her eyes, Leila recklessly sleepwalks through her life, frequently dreaming of the past; Frenja gives everything for her family's happiness to the point of self-destruction, while Ann whose background remains foggy even after being shed some light on conceals suicidal thoughts under her hardened expression. The desire to make their crippled souls whole again does come true, but for how long? Well, Krippendorff does not give a clear answer, leaving the oneiric ending open to viewer's interpretation.

In fact, she favors the silence of images over explanations and avoids most of the melodramatic trappings in the psychological exploration of her fucked-up characters and the dynamics of their relationship. On top of the excellent, believable performances, she and her DP Jieun Yi (also a newcomer to keep an eye on) provide a bunch of beautifully lit and handsomely composed shots, with many close-ups which reflect the protagonists' fragility. The solid editing and atmospheric, unobtrusive music by Jihyeon Park and Tammy Ingram, respectively, elevate the film even more, beyond its minor flaws.