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:
Nicht?

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.

6 Jul 2017

Self Decapitation (Rouzbeh Rashidi & Maximilan Le Cain, 2017)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

Described as 'a Janus-headed self-portrait' by two prolific EFS members Rouzbeh Rashidi and Maximilan Le Cain, Self Decapitation is another bold and bewildering boundary pusher coming from Ireland. Decidedly non-narrative (though we can't say that for sure), it has everything one can wish for from an experimental film - elusive imagery, phantom-like 'characters', overlapping soundscapes and stock-footage porn assembled into incongruous juxtapositions.

The first half of this abstract and idiosyncratic phantasmagoria sees us trapped in the coarse web of unsolvable riddles posed as unrhymed verses of a 'corroded' visual poem. Complemented by drony noises of eerie (backward spoken?) whispers, flapping bird wings, loud ocean rustle, ship horn and whatnot, Rashidi's grim, grungy and ultra-grainy visions put us face to face with Thanatos - veiled, fickle and having a twisted sense of humor. From the 'spit-painting' intro to nudists playing volleyball in Act I finale, Death appears as obscene and iconoclastic as Desire which takes control over Act II, whereby sky, plants, window dirt and everyday objects become some sort of apparitions staring into the void gazing back at us.

Looking as if it were shot with VHS or cheap DV camera (think Inland Empire), the feature's second part breaks the mold of one man's bland morning routine by blurring the boundaries between his lecherous reveries and tedious, yet somewhat mysterious reality. His meeting with a friend / Devil / other self is frequently interrupted by obscene sequences of women involved in sexual activities (such as felattio and masturbation), as well as by a static and symmetric shot of four trees accompanied by incessant birds' chirping. There's a certain screwball rhythm to Le Cain's provocative 'antics' which elevate sex to almost spiritual and metaphysical level, with Eros left to run wild and free, his member permanently erected.
 
Self Decapitation operates as a tricky double illusion - a performance rife with ambiguities that only the perverted, heavily stoned lions from the world of Lynch's Rabbits could make clear in an instant.


Available at Vimeo on Demand.

4 Jul 2017

Wild Creatures (Rene Zhang, 2015)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼
 
"Hearts are wild creatures. That's why our ribs are cages."
 
 
And love is both (self-)destructive and life-affirming force in this short experimental film by the German director Rene Zhang. Co-scripted by the starring actress Chara Valon, Wild Creatures provides pure audio-visual experience, sans dialogue.
 
Impressively lensed in brooding, high-contrast black and white, it tells a poetic, ambiguous, almost impenetrable story involving a woman lost in The Woods, caught by The Storm and bound to The Earth in which she will eventually rot (writer's note: capitalized words stand for chapter titles). Occasionally, we see her (other self?) in the company of a child (the androgynous Jeffrey Pudel) whose character - like the narrative itself - is open to various interpretations.
 
The scenes with the two of them sharing precious moments, laughing, crying and hugging, may be her memories, wishful thinking or spiritual inner workings, whereby the heroine's reality is portrayed as gradually deteriorating. A veiled, saint-like female of an underground cathedral (which is more a symbol than an architectural object) and an ominous male figure offering false comfort add another layer to the mystery that borders horror once the meaty practical effects come into play.
 
Featuring some neat CGI, the enigmatic proceedings take the form of a music video married to performance art (which some viewers will find distracting), yet Zhang's stunning cinematography and Valon's magnetic presence never loosen their grip. Also praiseworthy is Julian Kantus's inspired, ethereal score complementing the surreal, gothic atmosphere that invokes the darkest of folk tales.

Wild Creatures is available at Vimeo on Demand.

2 Jul 2017

3 x Capsule Review (Echoes of Silence / Macadam Stories / The Bad Batch)

Echoes of Silence (Peter Emmanuel Goldman, 1967)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

Swinging in the rhythm of smooth jazz, bluegrass and classical music, Echoes of Silence provides a raw, offbeat, Nouvelle Vague-ish portrait of anti-mod twentysomethings in unglamourized New York. Beautifully shot on 16mm Bolex Camera and edited rather 'haphazardly', in a way which suggests youthful irreverence, it appears as an early prototype of a Remodernist film, eschewing dialogue and fully embracing 'un photo-roman' approach in several sequences. Its grainy B&W imagery reflects the melancholy of lonely and longing outcasts all played with aching, unforced honesty by non-professionals. Goldman dismisses traditional narrative in favor of the lyrical one (supported by hand-painted title cards) to create the cinematic equivalent of a beatnik poem.


Macadam Stories / Asphalte (Samuel Benchetrit, 2015)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

The attention-grabbing Isabelle Huppert stars as a washed-out actress, Jeanne Meyer (an allusion to Jeanne Moreau, perhaps?), in arguably one of the most charming ensemble cast dramedies ever to hit the screen. Her partner is the young, yet talented Jules Benchetrit as the boy next door Charly with whom she forges an unexpected friendship in one of the three subtle narrative threads woven around a decrepit residential building in the French suburbs.

The other two stories involve Michael Pitt as a NASA astronaut, John McKenzie, who mistakenly ends up in the cozy residence of a hyper-kind Algerian immigrant, Madame Hamida (the brilliant Tassadit Mandi), as well as Gustave Kervern (of Avida fame) as the party pooper neighbor Sterkowitz who falls for Valeria Bruni Tedeschi's reserved night shift nurse. All of the six thespians display an easygoing rapport, imbuing the protagonists with remarkable nuances, as Benchetrit's screenplay shines with gentle ironies, deadpan poignancy and heartfelt meanings.


The Bad Batch (Ana Lily Amirpour, 2016)

☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

To paraphrase the title of Ana Lily Amirpour's love-or-hate affair debut - a model-like, double-amputee girl, Arlen (Suki Waterhouse, sweet and feisty), walks through the desert of the dystopian States mostly alone during sunbaked days and cool nights. She is labeled as one of the 'Bad Batch' people split into two clans - buffed cannibals of 'The Bridge' and junkhead ravers of 'Comfort' - and there is no place she can call home.

Virtually forced to choose between an enigmatic anthropophagist boss with artist's soul, Miami Man (the physically imposing Jason Momoa), and a sex-cult leader who looks like a 70s porn artist (well, it figures), The Dream (Keanu Reeves, reinventing his image), Arlen seems to be grounded in twisted, obfuscated, unforgiving reality built upon pop-culture references and (intentionally?) on the nose 'symbolism'. There is a certain sarcasm in her muddled tale which is told (and not to mention trolled) through some impressive visuals with the dialogue kept to a minimum. Oh, and that unrecognizable Jim Carrey cameo is a blast!