25 Jun 2017

Another Alchemikal Sunday (Merzfrau + Purple Dreams)

Merzfrau: Portraits of the Muse, Anna Blume
(Sarahjane Swan + Roger Simian, 2016)
 
☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼
 
Drawing inspiration from the dadaist (love) poem An Anna Blumme (aka Eve Blossom) by Kurt Schwitters, the Super 8 Alchemist duo Sarahjane Swan and Roger Simian conjure another experimental marvel - a lyrical / non-narrative mind-tripper of a film defying any categorization.

Their distorted visuals which transform the viewer into a mesmerized synesthete, as well as into a perplexed somnambulist, are achieved via 'long-expired Kodachrome 40 filmstock processed in Caffenol (coffee + vitamin c + washing soda) and handcrafted with scratches, nail varnish and permanent markers', as noted in the official synopsis.

The refreshing stream of abstract, occasionally 'palindrome-ized' and emotionally charged imagery is complemented by the dissonant score marrying Gustav Holst's soothing piece Venus, the Bringer of Peace to pounding post-industrial beats by The Bird And The Monkey. A weird, yet bloody effective combo!
 
It sees Anna Blumme (re)imagined as the 'killer cheekbones' lady called Merzfrau (Ms Swan and her highly expressive face), with Loie Fuller (of the Lumière Brothers' Danse serpentine, 1896) 'casted' as Terpsichore - the muse of dance and chorus. Topping their booming and spuming bloom in the midst of harmonic chaos is Bloomed - Simian's delightfully awkward and brightly dusked homage to the abovementioned poem.

(Merzfrau is not yet available publicly.)
 
 
Purple Dreams (Murat Sayginer, 2017)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

The latest offering by the self-taught, multi-award-winning artist Murat Sayginer continues where the previous ones left off - at the peaceful intersection of deified reveries, remodeled myths, esoteric musings and spiritual meanderings. Contemplative and as purple as the title suggests, Sayginer's dreams appear as eidolic figures who might be emerging from the elusive imagination of Kubrick's Star Child.


Despite being rendered in 'plastic' CGI, with all of the 'characters' or rather symbols frozen in time and space, they are imbued with arcane primordial powers which make them wondrously imposing. Whether we are shown Poseidon brooding above the restless waves, an astronaut deeply lost in his own thoughts or a deer whose majestic, tree-like antlers are adorned with keys (to universal truths?), there is something absolute lying behind their stillness. 'Moving' them towards the sublime crescendo is Onur Tarçın's energetic and evocative score.

23 Jun 2017

Song to Song (Terrence Malick, 2017)

☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

Taking the "I don't even have to try anymore, 'cause my most ardent fans will swallow the microwaved hodgepodge anyway" attitude, Malick delivers a rather bland and messy high-brow, quasi-natural, faux-lyrical, almost self-mocking ensable cast drama which frequently appears as a frustratingly banal and dishonest soap-opera for hipsters, with Rooney Mara's loveliness, handsome locations and Emmanuel Lubezki's gorgeous cinematography being some of the film's few redeeming factors.

21 Jun 2017

Void Paranoid

Green is the new Abstract
and Red is the late Hollow.
 
Flowers wither three screams per second.



(click to enlarge)

19 Jun 2017

Taste of the Obscure 80s Films

... but not as obscure as those from the 90s

However, my 25th list for Taste of Cinema is as eclectic as the last unicorn hovering in a glass cage above the streets of fire in Neo Tokyo, during the altered states of consciousness.


Still shot from The Legend of Suram Fortress
(Ambavi Suramis tsihitsa, 1985)
by Sergei Parajanov
and Dodo Abashidze

17 Jun 2017

Alchemikal Sundays (Sarahjane Swan & Roger Simian, 2012)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼


The Scottish artist duo Sarahjane Swan and Roger Simian, aka The Bird And The Monkey, have collaborated since 2009 on a number of projects, involving alternative music (and accompanying videos), installation art and experimental films in both digital and analogue (Super 8) format. Their visual works - created under the label of AvantKinema - combine re- and deconstructed myths with personal obsessions into something delightfully quaint, yet decidedly modern (or rather, timeless), and not to mention idiosyncratic.

For their 'forgotten' debut which is their longest and (if you ask this writer) best short film, they merge the footage shot at the Ring of Brodgar and recontextualized parts from Ghost - Apparition into a hypnotizing, mind-boggling phantasmagoria which looks like a spiritual predecessor to Pais and Fawcett's In Search of the Exile. Orphic and sublimely beautiful, Alchemikal Sundays takes you to the outermost fringes of the subconscious mind and makes you think abstractly and try contemplating on intangible concepts. What appears to be a lyrical narrative about the birth of a Goddess and her (odd) initiation to the Unknown World is told via the unearthly canvases of vibrant, trancelike colors complemented by gothic-like, darkly ethereal music which sets the atmosphere of pure wonder.

Its first ten minutes prove the eye-pleasing quality of symmetry - they are composed of mirrored images which reflect Ms Swan's elegance in front of the camera, turning her into elusive, indescribable, constantly metamorphosing forms. Captured in variously distorted dream states and propelled by the primordial forces of some mysterious Universe, her character is as contradictory as that of the Summerian deity Inanna who also inspired the duo's Orphine. And she remains equally powerful when the film switches to asymmetrical mode, her dress fluttering in the winds of the Beyond...


15 Jun 2017

In the (Avant)Garden of EFS

D'you know what feels good after an evening stroll and some words written in a fit of creative madness? A couple of hours spent arranging randomly picked flowers growing in the (avant)garden of Experimental Film Society. Yes, I am being quite subjective here, but their fragrance is so fresh, since the ground is not poisoned by CGI fertilizers.

Still shot from Abandon (2012)

Alphabetically, the first in line is Abandon by Dean Kavanagh who casts members of his family (judging by the last names) in a work that blends abstract art and docu-fiction to great effect. However, the star of his show is water whose glassy, restless surface fills the opening frame and whose presence is constantly felt in the film's course - in the wistful eyes, clothes hanging in the backyard and sunlight shining through the leaves. As a lovely young woman watches through the window covered in rain drops (a gorgeous Deren by the way of Tarkovsky image), we are getting lulled into a dream of reality dissolved by peculiar soundscapes. A pair of fishermen has no luck, but maybe at night, when they go to sleep, a sea will calm and a big fish will bite their bait.

Available Light by Maximilian Le Cain whose favorite color is, beyond a doubt, blue (and whose filmography includes over 100 pictures!) tends to put you in a creeped-out mood by minimalist means. A VHS-quality view of a building obstructed by a bare tree is accompanied by uncanny noise which makes us see something that probably isn't there at all - an apparition behind a zoomed-in glass. Repeated twice in a row and later followed by a phantasmal superimposition, it keeps our unease steady.

Relaxation comes (or rather, cums) in similar pigmentation, with Jann Clavadetscher's Blue Orgasm which might be inspired by Derek Jarman's testament feature, although it consists of much more than a single shot of saturated blue color filling the screen. Drowned in the sound of a roaring train, three silhouettes sticking the tongues out are "sent on a fantastic voyage", as the official synopsis notes, through the portal of concentric and pulsating patterns, into a 70s porn. Orgasmic, indeed.

Still shot from Capgras (2010)

Another offering by Kavanagh is Capgras (as in a delusion that people around you have been replaced by identical impostors) starring the director himself and Julia Gelezova. A man roams around a seemingly empty apartment in complete silence until he opens and closes a small, black box when a pleasant piano and guitar piece begins. We see him cleaning the kitchen bar and caring for a bonsai tree before answering the phone and thus attracting the attention of a woman who has been taking a shower. Their short encounter is the highlight of the witty, chiaroscuro homage to silent movies.

Le Cain's Closing feels like David Lynch's long-lost experiment in which the author attempts to capture and freeze the thoughts of his heroine ruminating over something or someone, in the company of a suitor. The slow-mo movement, grainy monochrome cinematography and droney score support the gloomy, contemplative atmosphere.

For her description-defying Dimensions, Atoosa Pour Hosseini utilizes various techniques from multi-layer projections to interposing objects, reducing the size of an image to the mid-section rectangle, similarly to Rouzbeh Rashidi's Indwell Extinction of Hawks in Remoteness. Urban winterscapes with swans and people are intertwined with geometric, azure forms of indefinable origin and complemented by the loud white noise which simultaneously propels our fascination and further deepens our confusion.

Still shot from Flooded Meadow (2007)

Hosseini's aforementioned compatriot Rashidi casts Yihan Zhu as the chatty, yet silenced protagonist of Flooded Meadow which precedes the intermissions from Closure of Catharsis. Intermittently voyeuristic and direct, even intimate, this enigmatic B&W portrait of a smoky night in the city could be labeled as the calm before the storm which renders everyday life as supermundane. The viewer is put in a position of a stranger who doesn't speak the language of the characters, so is forced to observe their gestures in order to understand them.

The (ostensibly) most narrative film of the bunch is Clavadetscher's Goldfish in which saturated colors signify the transition between the reality and spirituality embodied in titular animals. (This is just a free interpretation.) A young guy's (Simon Rokyta) bath is interrupted by the arrival of his friend (Michael Fingerhut) who brings the news of someone's death. Afterwards, "the bather" becomes obsessed with his pets in a bowl, eventually succumbing to their influence and maybe that is not a bad thing, after all.

Reminiscent of Péter Lichter's hand-scratched works, Hot-el- by the filmmaker, photographer and installation artist Michael Higgins operates as an intermission, given its very brief running time, providing heavily damaged footage of the pastoral kind in rusty sepia tones.

A reflection of time's transience, John Puts a Chair Away is Le Cain's third entry in this article and its title couldn't be more illustrative. Beside the scenes with John (Doe?) putting a chair away inside of an abandoned building (warehouse?), we get the glimpses of a tree, metal door and empty, ramshackle rooms (some with blue details, of course) in a cinematic equivalent of Kazimir Malevich's art.

Still shot from Love Me Longer (2010)

Love Me Longer is a (pseudo?) biopic of a former boy band singer, Neil Thompson, assuredly directed by Higgins and beautifully visualized by Luca Rocchini. Akin to a twisted recurring dream, it is comparable to some of Olivier Smolders's Exercices spirituels and Satoshi Kon's Perfect Blue, wherein "psychologization" is replaced by wild experimentation. The assorted imagery and Neil's naturally flowing voice-over narration are juxtaposed in a cathartic cacophony of memories.

In Murder, Higgins gives us the pieces of a puzzle about "an unlawful killing of a human by another human with malice aforethought", as the opening epigraph informs us. The aftermath of a (deconstructed) crime is a corpse covered in dry leaves, with sea panorama as the only clue or red herring. On the rocks, a lonely figure meditates, eventually leaving the place. Blurry flashbacks reveal the perpetrator, but we don't know anything about him, his motives and his connection to the victim. The mystery is amplified by a periscope-like view of branches gradually transforming into the bouncy Moon.

Rashidi's delightful, sepia-toned Nightfall deals with the absurdities and banalities of life, showing young man (played by Clavadetscher) arriving home, contemplating, cooking, eating, smoking, reading and watching an antique photo of a woman starring back at us. There is something off/odd about the whole proceedings and the protagonist's following morning doesn't make things any clearer. When his sister or girlfriend or a total stranger (Atoosa Pour Hosseini) comes to his house, they exchange a few glances and hug, raising new questions. For some reason, Nightfall reminded me of the scene with Grace Zabriskie and Laura Dern from Inland Empire (minus the eeriness).

An insight into Rashidi's early career, Shabby Nights blends "un photo-roman" with poetic documentary in what appears to be a melancholy-fueled ode to Tehran (and its lights). Although not translated from Farsi (?), one can sense the sorrowful note in both of the narrators' voices. Old photographs have prominent role in nostalgia awakening.

Still shot from The Mongolian Barbecue (2009)

With his arcane phantasmagoria The Mongolian Barbecue, Max Le Cain searches for the mystical qualities of female beauty. Shrouded in blue, pixels, glitches and TV static, his posing "heroines" produce some weird eye-candy. Speaking of eyes, one is stuck in the mouth, the other in... ahem, private parts.

And lastly, Kavanagh's Three Over Four betrays its low budget, offering some attractive shots nevertheless, and sees Rashidi as an actor in yet another musing on ephemera that life is. Personally, I don't find it an accidental choice, considering the inclusion of my favorite vegetable (tomato) in the finale.

As already suggested, these short films are just a small part of the EFS library, so the exploration doesn't end here...

12 Jun 2017

Yearning for a LadyBug of a Strawberry Leaf

Sometimes, when I take a stroll, I get pretty crazy ideas which are later turned into a short story, comic or a poem, as in this case.

YEARNING FOR A LADYBUG
OF A STRAWBERRY LEAF

Silently, she cries
like a burning church,
in a land of blooming cocks.

Faced toward the locked room
where her father sleeps naked and blue,
she dreams of One-Eyed Death dancing
until the Sun turns black.

Cut its head while it's fresh!
And swing, swing with a darkened sky
in your melting heart.

The ants panic again.

The Great Masturbator (1929) by Salvador Dalí

11 Jun 2017

Diamond Island (Davy Chou, 2016)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼



The fiction debut for the French-Cambodian helmer Davy Chou boasts some impressive visuals and provides an insightful look at transitional Cambodia and its disenchanted and disoriented youth. Only by virtue of Tomas Favel's striking cinematography complemented by the befittingly melancholic score, its meandering narrative does not seem like such a huge drawback.

A coming-of-age tale which portrays the insurmountable gap between the rich and the poor is told from the viewpoint of its hero - an 18-yo country bumpkin, Bora (Sobon Nuon), who leaves his village to become a manual worker on a construction site near Phnom Penh.

The partially finished residential complex of Diamond Island where he finds a job is advertised as future Heaven on Earth, its 3D rendering revealing a kitschy architectural monstrosity for the 'fat cats' to waste their money on. As irony would have it, the ones building the luxurious apartments earn $150 a month and could hardly afford a pantry there.

Bora spends his dusty days carrying scraps around and 'neonized' nights frequenting fairs and dance clubs together with his peers who make advances at local girls, peacocking in T-shirts of oversaturated colors which are also to be found in many details of the setting. One evening, he encounters his older and estranged brother, Solei (Cheanick Nov), hanging out with cool kids and doing pretty well, so soon afterwards, he is 'spoiled' by extra bucks and expensive presents...

As Bora's poetic, minimalist story heads in familiar directions, Chou puts us in contemplative mood of sorts and treats our eyes with one vivid frame after another. Blending social and arthouse drama of dreamy qualities with an 'urban' anthropological essay, he purposely indulges in a style-over-substance approach, but that doesn't prevent him from providing a few emotionally resonant moments. His film has a sincere and modest heart which is in the right place, even when the focus and naïve performances by the non-pro cast ensemble are not.

At the moment, Diamond Island is playing on Festival Scope.

6 Jun 2017

Phantom Love (Nina Menkes, 2007)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼


A long-take sex scene which opens this feature pretty much explains its title. As a man's sweaty body moves back and forth, a woman's eyes are clouded with apathy. We assume they are lovers, but their love and passion seem to be things of the past - mere ghosts.

Her name is Lulu and her accent betrays the Russian origin. She works as a croupier in a Koreatown casino and her daily routines, involving her medicated, self-destructive sister and the aforementioned penetrator of a boyfriend, intensify her anxiety. The telephone conversations with her intrusive mother do not bring joy to her life either. Familial love is also of the phantom kind.


The film's deliberate pace, absence of music and morose B&W visuals reflect Lulu's inner workings - her crumbling psyche, to be precise. Even the TV footage of the Iraq War is utilized as the indicator of her anger and frustratrion. And frequently, it is hard to tell where her reality ends and fantasy (dreams, memories and hallucinations) begins. On her way back home, a snake slithers through the hallway. At one point, she levitates above her bed and explodes into nothing, during a sequence which is the obvious homage to Tarkovsky's The Mirror.

About ten minutes into the fragmented, non-linear and to a certain extent, hermetic story, she polishes her nails so ferociously that one gets the impression her nervous breakdown is imminent. However, the pressures only make her stronger and the epilogue sees her liberated... or is it just her mind playing tricks on both her and the viewer?

Nina Menkes invites us to recognize, understand and process some of our own issues and yet, what she has in store for us is not constantly inviting, given that some 'choruses' repeat too many times. Thankfully, her haunting cinematography commands our attention at any given moment, and Deren-esque and Lynchian vibes are definitely not to be underestimated.

31 May 2017

Plakaću kada budem umro



Black Biscuit (Fabrizio Federico, 2011)

☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼


And now, here's a recipe that you won't find in Jamie Oliver's cookbook (or any other cookbook for that matter).

Ingredients:

- a filmmaker who answers only to himself, bares his all for an art class in a retirement home and has no job recommendations, so he willingly subjects to an experienced S&M dominatrix and her novice student;
- La Dolce Vita poster in a pot rollin' scene, presumably as a comment on life's bitterness;
- a cute ballerina captured in high-contrast monochrome or as the late Pina Bausch used to say: "Tanzt, tanzt, sonst sind wir verloren."
- one ridiculous flowery hat;
- a beautiful brunette pulling a bat-shaped kite, disguising as a ghost and sleeping next to the aforementioned director, while their bed is approached by a man acting like a dog;
- a pimp of Greek origin wearing tight, cheetah-print pants;
- the myriad of guerrilla-style sequences spiced with a pinch of stock footage;
- a handful of swans, glitches, beatboxing and dial-up connection noise;
- an avid Johnny Depp fan and an Austin Powers impersonator;
- one realistic dildo;
- a group of junkies;
- four shameless modern musketeers;
- the photos of dead animals who were not harmed during the making of the film;
- and a little bit of everything else, but the kitchen sink.

Directions:

Arm yourself with punk attitude, improvise to your heart's content and serve whatever you get out of your oven cold. Spread the hot passion syrup over it and sprinkle with lots of nuts!


Shot on mobile phones and children cameras, Black Biscuit is a clear or rather, perfect reflection of Pink8 Manifesto's rule No. 17 - bewildering, vague, self-indulgent, plot-less, risky, egotistical, limpid, raw, ugly and imperfect. However, it is also varied, unaffected and unpretentious in its crazy idiosyncrasies, charming naiveté and patchwork aesthetics.

Ballsy and wonderfully pointless, yet infused with all kinds of meanings and themes, it provides a no makeup and no holds barred look into the underbelly of British society. At first sour, it becomes sweeter with each subsequent bite, but only for the initial hour and a half. The last quarter (37 minutes, to be precise) outstays its welcome due to the film-within-film's unapologetically meandering nature.

Firmly holding the stick of anarchy and rebellion, Federico balances on the top of the fourth wall pierced with many holes and creates a work of documentary fiction which is in equal measures inspiring and slightly frustrating. His energy is infectuous and his weird, mostly improvised vignettes are essentially one disparate juxtaposition after another tied into a Dada-like whole which surprisingly never falls apart in its striving for cult status.

Black Biscuit is available at the author's YouTube channel.


27 May 2017

Improvisational Cinema of Rashidi and Devereaux

After Ten Years in the Sun, Trailers and Indwell Extinction of Hawks in Remoteness (I can't stress enough how I love this title!), I review six features that resulted from the collaboration between "the tireless experimenter Rouzbeh Rashidi and the London-based thespian and theorist James Devereaux", as I note in the article linked below. These hypnotic, challenging, genre-defying, even mind-opening works provide an insightful look into the world of minimalist (read: micro-budget) filmmaking or more precisely, into the creative process which most of the time involves only a director, an actor and a camera, in addition to their well-rounded improvisational skills.


Still shot from He (2012)

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.