Saturday, October 17, 2020

Struggle is Never Over

Born in Flames (1983) - Borden Screen Shot 2020-10-17 at 10.26.10 AM Screen Shot 2020-10-17 at 10.27.28 AM Screen Shot 2020-10-17 at 10.28.30 AM Screen Shot 2020-10-17 at 10.28.50 AM Screen Shot 2020-10-17 at 10.29.12 AM Screen Shot 2020-10-17 at 10.32.23 AM Screen Shot 2020-10-17 at 10.33.27 AM 

Revolution is over. The Democratic Socialist government has taken over. Everyone is equal. Woman's liberation struggle is done. Or is it? 'Struggle is never over' as the truest socialist revolution mantra, Lizzie Borden envisions the future where the socialist revolution has won over the United States. Is it utopia? Hardly. Dystopia? Maybe. There's still residue of hundreds years of patriarchal society and misogyny everywhere. Faced with economic hardship and 'workfare' system still struggling with sexism and racism, there are daily demonstrations and violent clashes with the city cops on the street. There are daily sexual harassing on the streets and subways and the only difference is women watch out for themselves as a group - trained and find strength in numbers.

The post-revolution USA left is still very much factionalized- there is white activists who publish influential 'The Socialist Youth Review', there's the party officials who are very much keen on keeping taps on noise-makers, there's the woman's army- a radical militant group who is preparing for armed struggle and there's radical artists and singer types who preach their own little radical feminism.

The main character of Born in Flames is Adelaide Norris (Jean Satterfield), a lesbian and a varsity athlete who is a radical women's rights activist. She is under surveillance by the FBI. Norris is the one who sees through the system as what it is even after the revolution: the power corrupts, and the society is once again tilting towards fascism. As before, she is everything white patriarchal society hates - a homosexual woman of color. As Norris slowly gets into the world of armed struggle with the guidance from Zella (Florynce Kennedy) and tries to unite the prevalent factionalism of the left, the government goons assassinate her in the jail cell after snatching her at the airport, as she did training with the sisters in the Middle East. It's her death that unites all activist women.

Born in Flames is quite a prophetic film and a stark warning against people who dream of utopia after one revolution. As all of us Bernie supporters knew, even if we ever have our fundamental change in our society, there will be a hard work ahead of us. We have to be ready/strive for continuous revolutions in order to keep the ideal. The film foretells the importance of media as well. Like many of the 80s dystopian films, namely, Carpenter's They Live, the film ends with blowing up the TV antenna on top of, get this, the World Trade Center. Shot in documentary style with news and surveillance footage and narration through out in gritty 80s New York setting, the film is a truly independent, original, American film. There are scenes of women's rape prevention bicycle gang, a rapid montage of working women in all different jobs, including sex work, as seamlessly cut from packing meat, to putting on a condom on an erect penis, to selling coffee at a bodega. There's a women punk rock concert with some great music. Can't believe I haven't watched this before. Born in Flames is a radicalest feminist film I've ever witnessed. It's so good.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Like Berlin, Old Folklore Gets a Makeover in Christian Petzold's Beguiling Undine

Undine (2020) - Petzold Undine Undine is a water nymph or spirit that appears in many folk tales and literature in Europe. One of its various versions is Little Mermaid, widely popularized by Hans Christian Anderson. It is said that she takes a human form only if she falls in love with a human. But when that human is unfaithful, he is fated to die. 
Christian Petzold, not a stranger to making films with strong female characters and using genre conventions to reflect the contemporary German issues, takes a stab at a fairytale romance involving the history of the city of Berlin in Undine. It starts with a breakup scene of a couple in progress at the terrace of a cafe. Undine (Paula Beer, seen in Frantz and Petzold's Transit), a historian at the city museum, is understandably upset when her smug boyfriend Johannes (Jacob Matschenz) announces that he is seeing someone else. She is on a break from her job across the street and she warns him that she will kill him if he doesn't say he loves her when she gets back. The threat is overly dramatic. She gives a talk to the museum visitors about the transformation of the city of Berlin over the years - West and East, what was lost and what was promised, laying out the theme of constantly changing and renewing state of affairs. When she gets back to the cafe, Johannes is gone. By chance, smitten Christoph (Franz Rogowski, who played opposite Beer in Transit) who was present at the museum tour, is there to ask her out for a coffee at that moment. All of sudden, the fish tank shatters, knocking them both off of their feet. Their rather wet first encounter rapidly develops into a sweeping romance where the two become inseparable. 

Water is the constant motif here that stands for change. Christoph happens to be an industrial diver and spends much of his time under murky water of the river Spree. His job is taking care of the leaky turbine and other maintenance issues under water. Once he encounters a big catfish, nicknamed Gunther by his colleagues in one of his dives. Is Gunther a fish or some sort of water spirit? 

Gunther the catfish makes another appearance when Christoph takes Undine diving on a date. He was there to show her a remnants of an old bridge under water that bears her name. In an unusually beautiful scene for Petzold’s standard, since he is not known for his visual excess- we see Undine without her scuba gear, swimming with Gunther, slowly passing over Christoph. On land, Christoph tries to revive unconscious Undine, singing "Staying Alive" by BeeGees under his breath. Later he explains to her, it's the rhythm of that song that is perfect for CPR. Their love affair is sweet and intimate. Undine plays out like a whimsical romantic comedy at this point. And chemistry between Beer and Rogowski is quite remarkable. They both are unbelievably good in their roles as ill-fated couple. 

There is another history lesson as Undine practices her presentation on Humboldt Forum, a museum that is a replica of Stadtschloss (Berlin Palace), at her small but practical apartment overlooking the said building. If you've been to Berlin, you had noticed that everything is rebuilt after WW2. Stadtschloss was rebuilt in the 21st century. Undine's presentation tells that modern architecture teaches that form follows function. But it's not the case with the museum in the form of the eighteen-century ruler's palace. That Germany's pragmatism doesn't quite coincide with people's wishes concerning reviving the soul of the city. 

The Story of Undine gets a 21st century makeover too. She was upset when she was betrayed, but she gets a second chance at happiness being truly loved. Petzold, a master storyteller, reinvents the mythical water creature story paralleling the history of the city of Berlin while acknowledging the past just underneath the surface. 

Its whimsy and romance works thanks largely to Beer and Rogowski's excellent performances. It's so good!

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Monotony vs. Chaos

The Woman Who Ran (2020) - Hong The Woman Who Ran Gamhee (Kim Minhee) is visiting Youngsoon (Seo Younghwa)'s house in the outskirts of Seoul. It's an almost pastoral setting. Youngsoon has a back yard and her neighbor has a chicken coop. Gamhee, married for five years, tells her long time friend that her trip to the house is the first time she is not accompanied by her husband. They never have been not together for even a day. How is that possible, Youngsoon and her roommate wonder over the grilled meat that Gamhee brought along with liquor. Gamhee says her husband believes that if they love each other, then they should be together all the time. And she doesn't seem to mind.

Again, Hong's new film is built around his muse Kim Minhee's character as she observes her surroundings. And of course the conversation naturally leads to reveal her relationships with men. Although Kim played many roles in slightly varying degrees in previous Hong's films, her characters were, however beguiling, more often than not, confrontational toward her male counterparts. In The Woman Who Ran, Gamhee seems to be more subdued and more comfortable with her situations and herself. Being a little bit older, it's as if she is tired of human entanglements and unnecessary interactions. But as the title suggests, Hong might be playing with something here. And everything is not what it seems. Who is the woman who ran if not Gamhee?

While they are having pleasant BBQ dinner, a new neighbor visits them. It's a young man and he passive aggressively complains about Youngsoon and her roommate feeding stray cats. His wife is afraid of seeing cats in their backyards and he wants to discourage them to feed the cats. They decline to do so, arguing the cats needs are just as important as humans. There are many references to animals in the film, including chickens, cows and cats, as women make case that humans are not the only animal with a conscience. With that, Hong seems to suggest that these relationships and entanglements are silly, in a larger scheme of things.

The next house Gamhee visits is Suyoung (Song Seonmi), a pilate instructor and a dancer friend. She lives alone in a modern apartment with a great view of a mountain. She recently bought the place with divorce settlement and some bank loan. She even scored a major discount because the building owner favors artistic types to live there. Gamhee again, tells the story about how she and her husband being inseparable. She could be so lucky. Their peace is interrupted by a 26 year old lovelorn poet at the door. He is in love with Suyoung. She shoos him off. The young man makes matters more complicated since she likes the neighbor who frequents the bar also frequented by the young man, she tells Gamhee. Gamhee makes an observation, "You live an interesting life!"

Considering Hong's penchant for a double take, these two encounters with older female friends might be a variation of the same encounter, suggesting infinite possibilities. And both of these encounters are interrupted by irate males.

Now Gamhee is in a cafe of a cultural center, coincidentally run by her frenemy Woojin (Kim Saebyuk). Gamhee used to date Woojin's now husband Jung (Kwon Haehyo), who is doing a book tour in the same building downstairs. Gamhee says she is there to watch a movie. Woojin, feeling guilty about stealing a man from her, apologizes to Gamhee who says it's all in the past and insists that she is not there to see him. Gamhee asks if he changed in any way since his career took off. Woojin says he is a chatterbox now and he comes across as insincere as he repeats his stories a lot in front of other people. It's becoming annoying.

She runs into Jung who was taking a cigarette break outside the building. Did she really come to see a movie or did she come to tell him off?

Deceptively simple yet deliciously playful, The Woman Who Ran again shows that Hong, a truly unique voice in cinema at his best, honing his skills as a storyteller by constantly experimenting with his usual theme.   

She goes back to watch the movie that she just came out of. It's the same scene of a beach with a jangling guitar soundtrack seen previously. Is Hong suggesting watching the film again to give it a second take? Or is the movie theater work as a sanctuary, a comfortable place for our heroine? In these Covid times, whether Hong intended or not, I'd like to think the latter is the case. As Gamhee sits alone in a cushy movie theater seats alone, eating a piece of bread, I want nothing more than being in the comfort of a movie theater, preferably alone.

Monday, October 5, 2020

The Legacy of Colonialism in The Middle East

Notturno (2020) - Rosi 
NotturnoGianfranco Rosi, the documentarian behind such astonishing work as Sacro GRA and Fire at Sea, comes back with a biting and enormously affecting documentary on people living on the periphery of the Middle-East conflicts. Culling from the footage shot in Iraq, Kurdistan, Syria and Lebanon for three years, Rosi patches together the impact of years of carnage and violence has on its inhabitants, especially on children. 

But Notturno, as the title implies, night precedes daybreak. Hopefully, this affected generation can break the cycle and move forward. 

Notturno starts with grieving mothers paying a pilgrimage to now an empty prison building where their sons are tortured and killed. One of the mother touches the walls, saying that she feels her son's spirit. She wails again as she feels the spirit leaving. 

There is an otherworldly image of a hunter/solider duck hunting in a marshland in his little paddleboat. Two oil field fires on the horizon bathes the night sky with an ominous orange glow, as he sets the trap with a set of fake ducks in the water and silently waits. Prevailing sound is the gunfire in the distance. There's a hunger in his eyes - no politics or war, just pure survival instincts. 

A young couple, dressed in western clothes on the rooftop overlooking the city, smoking hookah- the setting is very romantic. There's occasional gunfire in the distance. The young man is getting ready to do his nightly rounds as a singing messenger of god, leaving his secular day world behind. He walks around with his drum, chanting in a clear voice at night, casting his shadow under the dim street light. 

There's a platoon of Iraqi women soldiers patrolling a vast outposts. They come back to the shared barracks, tie their long hair all at the same time- it is a silent, communal ritual. Then they huddle together around a small gas stove to warm up their hands. Even in harsh surroundings, Rosi sees beauty everywhere. 

A doctor in a psychiatric ward where people with PTSD are treated is preparing to stage a therapeutic theater session. He gives out the scripts to a group of patients. These patients practices and memorize their lines in their bed, trying to do a good job for the doctor. The script is about how the colonial powers provided the settings for decades of armed conflict, government corruptions and the rise of religious fundamentalists. 

We move on to a very young boy in yellow rain cover in a fishing vessel at night. He is operating the pulley. He comes home exhausted and crashes on the sofa. It seems he is the oldest of the 8 siblings and one who provides income for the entire family. He goes out in the morning with his pellet gun to hunt for birds for food. His name is Ali and we go back and forth between the progress of the stage play in the psychiatric wards and Ali's daily life. 

Then we are introduced muddy tents city that is a refugee camp. Many children are experiencing flashbacks of being beaten and tortured by ISIS. They were captives of those fundamental extremists. Their crayon drawings depict unimaginable horror - decapitations, hanging, maiming, etc. Their teacher consoles them but helpless to stop them from having nightmares. 

Ali gets up early in the morning to stand on the side of the road until hunters drive by. They need to have someone to pick up their prey after they shoot them down. It's a grueling work. But in order to feed his family, he has to take any kind of job. 

The film features not only a human toll in the region but the broken infrastructure - river crossings are largely dependent on rickety square rafts that bump into each other, cars driving over the waterfall created by bomb blasted ravine in the middle of the road. The rows of ruined empty buildings... it goes on forever like that. 

Notturno ends with the close up of Ali's incredibly youthful face, his bright eyes darting the sky, unsure of what future will bring. The image invokes some of the cinema's most provoking shots - the freeze frame of Antoine Doinel's face in The 400 Blows, Monika's dead stare in Summer with Monika and the close up of Florya in Come and See to name a few. Then again, I am reminded that Ali is not a fictional character, but a real boy growing up in an unforgiving world. Notturno is undoubtedly, one of the best films of the year.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Powerful Indictment of Religious Patriarchy

Beginning (2020) - Kulumbegashivli Beginning
Georgian director Dea Kulumbegashivli's powerful drama Beginning has to be one of the most self-assured debut films in recent memory. Her approach in creating a suffocating, isolating environment for her main subject is so impeccably done, it easily invites comparisons to masters' work- Tarkovsky, Haneke, Akerman. With its metaphysical tinge, it also resembles the work of its executive producer, Carlos Reygardas's. 

With its slow build-up, treading on the verge of religious allegory, the film demonstrates Kulumbegashivli's mastery in how a female is perceived in religious, patriarchal society. With its use of full frame cinematography reflecting the claustrophobic atmosphere of the protagonist's mental state, Beginning is a truly mesmerizing experience. 

 The film starts with a five minute uncut scene inside of a Jehovah's Witness church. From the fixed camera in the front of the room we see congregants milling in, greeted by the pastor, David (Rati Oneli, who is also a co-screenwriter) and his wife Yana (Ia Sukhitashivli). Soon after David starts his summon on Abraham and him sacrificing his son before god, firebombs are thrown in, causing chaos. Next we see the church engulfed in flames in the distance. 

The church happens to be in the middle of an empty field. It's stated that it's some religious fundamentalist's doing. And it's not the first time the violence was committed upon David and Yana. And the local cops aren't doing much about it. 

Through the dialog, it is revealed that Yana doesn't want to be where they are. Their young son doesn't have any friends. Being a former actress now a pastor's wife, she feels life is going by, as if she isn't even there. Stubborn David still wants to concentrate on his career and asks Yana's unwavering support. She tells him forebodingly, "It's as if I'm waiting for something to start or to end." 

The centerpiece of the film is a seven minute uncut scene of Yana going into a forest and laying down on the ground. She closes her eyes and lies there motionlessly. The whole world and the sound around her - birds chirping, the wind and the shadows casting on her face by the swaying trees slowly fade. Her peace is only broken by her son's nagging. 

Her wish for some kind of change comes in the form of a devious character, Alex (Kakha Kintsurashivli). First seen in the burning church as a policeman, he comes in to Yana's house while David is away (to ask for elders assistant in building another church). He comes on to her aggressively, asking sexually explicit questions. Either paralyzed with fear or aroused, she starts answering his questions. 

She is then raped by Alex at night in a violent attack near a creek. Just like everything taking place involving Yana and the world, the scene is observed from a far in a wide static shot and as impersonal as possible. Why did she go out at night? How did she end up near the creek? The question mounts. 

Yana retreats to her mother's house with her son after the attack, but can't bring herself to tell her mother what happened. She thinks that Yana is having an affair. "Don't tell David if he doesn't know," she quips. Yana asks her why she didn't get a divorce from her abusive husband. "It was different times", she answers. 

David finds out what happened by listening to security tapes in the house. With the shame and guilt she feels, even though none of it was her fault, she breaks down sobbing. How could you do this to me after what I have done for you- is how David plays out the scene. 

As the film reaches a shocking conclusion, suggesting that Alex might be a physical manifestation of Yana's fears/wishes in order to escape her suffocating life, it becomes a strong indictment of religious patriarchal society. Sukhitashivli in a very demanding role gives quite possibly the performance of the year. Beginning signals an impressive arrival of another major female director, Kulumbegashivli, to the current global cinema scene.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Read Books Kids

Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue (2020) - Jia Untitled 
Jia Zhangke, the master chronicler of China's changing times, presents Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue, a touching documentary on four contemporary Chinese writers. This is his third feature documentary on contemporary Chinese culture after Dong, about painter Liu Xiaodong and Useless, about the clothing industry. 

The film lays out four writers and their works chronologically. Sometimes in lengthy interviews, sometimes other people reciting the samples of their writings in various places, Jia highlights their individual stories. It starts from the beginning of the People's Republic, the land and marriage reform, the wars, the Cultural Revolution and to the recent economic prosperity. But instead of going through historical events, Jia opts for anecdotal storytelling of his subjects and people around them. Going micro and personal instead of expansive and historical, he achieves something far more intimate and engaging.
Jia starts the film by visiting his hometown Fenyang in Shanxi province. This is the region where the famous writer Ma Feng is from. He interviews the town elders who have been living in the region all their lives. They remember the deceased writer through the war against Japan and Russia and the Cultural Revolution. We get the glimpse of tumultuous Chinese history in rural areas through these interviews. As Chairman Mao's many initiatives, including marriage reform, the fabric of the society changed dramatically. Ma Feng's writing reflected these. 

Jia Pingwa, born in the 50 and from Shangluo, recounts his past: how his father's association with KMT was hard on his family and him getting a job. He tells how his good handwriting started his career, and how he was able to move to cultural bureau from doing physical labor. 'Returning to the place you grew up in, even though you are educated somewhere else' is the running theme with all four writers' life trajectories. It's something in the land that they grew up which Jia Pingwa describes it as 'blood land'. 

Then there's Yu Hua, born in the 60s in Haiyan, near the yellow sea. His anecdotal stories of trying to be a writer are often hilarious. He mastered his writing by reading handed-down books (banned during Cultural Revolution) that are missing front and back covers and often missing the end part of the book, so he had to imagine the endings himself. Growing up in rural community, he wanted to be somebody. After countless rejection letters, his writing finally caught an eye of a big time editor in Beijing. One of his books was To Live, one that got a screen adaptation treatment from Zhang Yimou in the 90s. 

Liang Hong, born in the 70s, is a writer and professor. Growing up in a big household in Liangzhuang, a small village in Henan province, she had to endure her mother's illness, her village people's prejudices (her father remarried after mother's death), and crippling poverty. Her work became synonymous with a case study for China's rural villages and migrant workers. In corresponding chapters (like a book, 18 chapters total), we get to hear about and from her family members, including her 14-year-old son. 

The title of the film is from Yu Hua's phrase, as he reminisces about his childhood. The sea is supposed to be blue in his school textbooks, but the sea near his house has been always yellow. 

As always with his films, Jia tells the story of changing times, migration and coming home. Added here is his love for literature. It's a big plus that all writers he features are gifted storytellers as much as he is. As an avid reader who is very concerned about the younger generation only capable of fragmented thoughts growing up with Twitter and Weibo, Swiming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue is not only a lamentation of the disappearing past but also an effective reading initiative campaign.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Agony and Ecstacy

Days (2020) - Tsai Days
Taiwanese auteur Tsai Ming-liang abandoned scripted narrative since Stray Dog (2013). Days is his first feature film since then. His output has been limited to short to medium length films in relations to What Time is it There? (2001) and its sort-of sequel Wayward Cloud (2005) and various commissioned films, omnibus contributions and gallery installations, all of them starring his muse, Lee Kang-sheng. Personally, Lee was struck with debilitating health problems in recent years and Tsai documented his recovery over the years in various places. So it seems only fitting that the couple's new film would feature some of Lee's harrowing medical treatments. Days is also the most intimate and touching Tsai film in years.

The film consists of series of uncut long takes where camera is stationary, except for certain scenes in the middle. It starts with Lee sitting on a chair looking out the window. The scene seems to go on forever. It is slowly revealed that he is in some sort of health rehab in the countryside. In the next scene, he is seen soaking in a tub motionlessly. Next is wide shot of a squalid kitchen where a young foreign man (Anong Houngheuangsy) making a fish soup. It's the whole process from beginning to end. He cleans the fish, rinses vegetables, drains, starts a fire, gets the soup start, tastes it constantly as he puts more ingredients, lets it simmer while he goes in and out of frame, all taking before your eyes.

Next is Lee getting what seems to be an elaborate and painful acupuncture procedure. This long scene also consists of long takes but from different angles. It's an agonizing scene to look at- the treatment Lee is receiving is a combination of acupuncture, electro stimulation wired on the needles and moxa (burning of mugworms) on top of those needles. From the low angle in an extended period of time, we see both agony and ecstasy reflected on Lee's face. It is quite jarring as some of the moxa embers fall on Lee's skin and the pins catch fire near his face. This combo of agony and ecstasy turns out to be quite a theme in Days.

The next scene is Lee with a neck bracelet, precariously supporting his head with his hand, walking down the busy Hong Kong street while onlookers glancing at the camera.

We see these daily routines of two characters separately as they go on. It is crazy to think that baby faced Lee is 50 years old now. In a series of unflattering close ups, you could tell the time has taken a toll. His gait also is not as youthful. He knowingly lets his ailing flesh to be recorded in a brave performance exposing his vulnerability out in the open for all to see. 

The two men, one old and the other young, finally get together in the second half of the film, albeit as a business transaction. It's Houngheuangsy as a erotic masseur and Lee his client in what seems to be a fancy hotel room. Again, this sexually explicit scene is that of an agony and ecstasy: the young man give the old man a massage and a handjob. Lee moans in pain and pleasure.

After their intimate sessions, Lee gifts Houngheuangsy a tiny music box that the young man plays for a long time. They engage conversation in broken English over the noodles in a street market.

Portraying sexual intimacy and urban loneliness  are not new territories for Tsai, but its his acknowledgement that beauty is fleeting is something new in his oeuvre. This nearly silent film is both melancholic and tender. It's a deeply philosophical examination on human connections and the fleeting beauty of life.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Life's Little Disappointments

 The Disciple (2020) - Tamhane

Chaitanya Tamhane's follow up to his great debut, Court, is The Disciple, about an artist struggling with a life long self-doubt. It might be a more personal subject, but it's even more nuanced observation of life than his previous film. The Disciple shows Tamhane is wise far beyond his age portraying subjects such as ambition, devotion and pride as well as realizing life's crushing disappointments as we age.

Khayal, I am told, is a classical Indian singing style that puts emphasis on improvisation and micro-tonal changes. For devotees of this art, mastering it is an eternal quest. Young Sharad (Aditya Modak), practicing this Hindustani classical music is a vocation he was sort of born into - his father was a devotee of this music tradition even though he ultimately failed as a singer. Studying under his guru Alwar (Arun Dravid) and listening to lectures, given by legendary, reclusive singer Maai, who was guru to both his father (who secretly recorded her lectures) and Alwar. Maai was almost a yogi figure, preaching purity and discipline in body and mind to truly devote to the music. She never allowed recordings of her music nor had her images taped or photographed. Tamhane provides some great night tracking shot of Mumbai, of Sharad riding his motorbike in slow motion, listening to Maai's lectures on tape. Emphasizing the lonely road the young man has chosen. The year is 2006.

Sharad practices and practices while dealing with all the distractions of life - constant nagging of his grandmother, pressure to get a job, loneliness, lust, etc. He is not winning any awards at singing competitions, at least not yet.

Sharad now is a fat middle aged man with a mustache, still trying to get his music career off the ground. He teaches music at a school, still takes care of his now ailing guru, while seeing others, more talented than him passing him by, career-wise. One of his pupil's mother comes to the school asking him for his advice: should her son join a fusion band in his college? He tells them not to come back to school if the young man joins the band. Some TV singing competition shows a young woman's transformation from a homely classical singer to a Bollywood style pop sensation. Is purity of the music and personal pride that important? Even Maai's words get warped in his mind. She directly addresses to him that his guru loves him so he doesn't have hearts to tell him that he is not talented, just like his father.

In one flashback scene, meeting with a rare music collector who seems to have dirt on everybody crushes Sharad's idols, including his guru and even Maai, whom he recalls as a self-righteous, pretentious fraud.

The Disciple deals with any artist's nightmare - total devotion is hard to achieve while living in the real world. In the mean time, self-doubt eats you away slowly over the years. Modak gives a beautiful, heart breaking performance, transforming himself from a bright eyed young man to a defeated middle-aged schlub . Both Modak and Dravid are actual singers and the music in this film is truly glorious. Tamhane again, proves himself to be one of the brightest and most talented filmmakers working today.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Pushed Down the Road

 Nomadland (2020) - Zhao

In the film's prologue, it is stated that the high desert mining town of Empire, seized to exist after the company shutting down its operation during the 2008 economic meltdown. The town's residents were forced to relocate and it became a ghost town. It lost its postal zipcode status even. Welcome to the dark side of corporate America. 

Frances McDormand disappears into the role of a woman living in her van in Chloé Zhao's affecting humanist sketch(es) from the seldom seen Americana. These are people without homes, living in their cars, moving up and down the American West, taking menial jobs to support their hands-to-mouth living in the margin of society. Mcdormand is Fern, a widowed woman first seen in a large Amazon facilities sorting out the orders during Christmas time. She, like many other Americans, take part in seasonal jobs like working in Amazon warehouses.

Fern befriends with characters like Linda May and Swankie, who are playing fictional version of themselves and who are not far from themselves. They all have stories to tell. They are in fact living the original spirit of America, on the road, in their cars, rather than having a picket fences and lawn and dogs and family. The difference is that they are forced to be on the road, not for the romantic notion of free spirited of the American West.

Hitting the road is an American concept. More so than a German (Autobahn and all that) one. I mention this because of I remember the talk I had with the great Berlin School director Christian Petzold whose films often present people in transit. There’s even a paper written about the role of the fugitive family’s white Volvo in one of his movies (The State I am in). He told me that his characters hit the road not because of the notion of some misguided freedom and romanticism which the post war affluence brought- in films of Wim Wenders for instance, but because of financial hardship brought on by global economic downturn. 

I mean, there's quite a bit of romaticism too in Nomadland- because this land is just too god-damn beautiful wherever you go. Arizona's desert, Nothern California's Redwood Forests, Nevada, anywhere Zhao and her cinematographer Joshua James Richards point their camera at, there is poetry everywhere, even though in the next scene Fern and her colleagues are cleaning puke stains from the toilet seat of a public bathroom of the camp ground, shitting into the one gallon bucket inside their vans and scraping gunk off the grills of tourist trap chain restaurants. The cars of their choice is not Pontiac GTO from Two-Lane Blacktop or some gigantic RV, it’s modified non-descript van you see in construction sites.

There's a sort of love interest in there too for Fern, in the form of David Strathairn, who plays Dave, an aging dad and grandpa who's been running away from his sons and family but eventually goes back to the normal life.

Zhao is obviously very talented at getting unbelievably natural performances out of professional actors and non-professionals alike. McDormand's performance is undoubtedly immensely moving. Each stories of friendship and human connections are also extremely touching without being ever succumbing to cheap sentimentality. Too bad that music goes all extra gooey. With Zhao's documentary aesthetic of the film doesn't really need any soundtrack other than what mother nature provides, in my humble opinion.

Still, it seems Zhao is headed for greatness. Her ability to find an intimacy between a rock and a hard place is truly remarkable. I hope she keeps it up.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

A Prophetic Vision of Europe in Philosophical Terms

Malmkrog (2019) - Puiu Malmkrog Cristi Puiu, a director closely associated with the Romanian New Wave, of realist films like The Death of Mr. Lazarescu and Aurora, take a very different approach with Malmkrog, a three hour twenty minute verbose chamber piece and a formalist cinematic daring-do that will certainly try patience of its viewers. Based on Russian philosopher's Vladimir Solovyov's texts in turn of the twentieth century, prior to WWI, Malmkrog's five main characters extensively engage in serious religious and political discussions in six chapters, named after the characters and István, the head of the servants in the wintry manor the film takes place in. 

There are three heady discussions they are engaging in: war and peace, grand vision of unified Europe and the existence of good and evil. It takes a dramatic turn and there is a big tonal shift after the second discussion. The last one-third of the film could be interpreted as a dream or imagined but Puiu decidedly leave it opaque. Malmkrog starts out in a large, opulent manor in the middle of a wintry forest. The structure is in pastel pink, giving it a whimsical fairytale look at its first impression. 

Inside, within very long takes in meticulous blocking, the actors crisscross the screen as they speak on and off screen. Camera pans slowly here and there, but otherwise it's stationary. Ingrida (Diana Sakalauskaité), a wife of a Russian war general starts the film with her indignant support for military might. There is a good war and there is a bad peace, she exclaims. Her view is pitted against the youngest member of this wealthy, aristocratic group, Olga (Marina Palii). Olga is a good Christian and a staunch pacifist. And because of that, she becomes a target of constant belittling, albeit politely, especially by Nicolai (Frédéric Schulz-Richard), a former seminary student and the host of the manor they are gathered at. The group splits in either defending Olga or chiding her. Ingrida receives and reads a letter from her husband announcing victory over Ottoman soldiers on the frontline. In a letter, he justifies slaughtering the enemies in the most grotesque manner because they roast babies in front of their mothers in the villages they raided. She enforces her assertion that the war is necessary. Olga disagrees. With her faith, she could've turned those 'savages' around by praying. Near the end of discussion just before lunch, in an intense interrogation in defense of her position on pacifism, Olga faints. 

Lunch is served. They are back in another deep discourse. Edward (Ugo Broussot), a wealthy merchant and a gambler, espouses the grand vision of unified Europe. He says because Europeans are the most advanced, progressive, therefore they are superior civilization. And Russia can play a big role because of its proximity to Asia in fending off the influence of Asian nations. Then the discussion turns to the existence of good and evil with Nicolai chiding Olga with her interpretation of the bible verses. 

Of course, in accordance with the era and society, all dialogue is conducted in very proper French. Only other language spoken (very briefly) is German, when Nicolai cryptically whispers to Olga travel paths. Did he see what was coming? Is he planning an escape with the young believer? 

As the second discussion draws to a close, a drastic incident happens to break the otherwise tranquil gathering of the high society: a broken childish song that sounds like coming from a gramophone plays in loop all of sudden and all the servants disappear or not answer Nicolai's ringing bell. Panicked, our guests leave the room only to be gunned down from an unseen force. Next scene is a wide shot of the snowy landscape outside and people calling out Ingrida, who seems to be treading the snow away from the manor. Puiu keeps everything ambiguous from beginning to end. 

The next scene is business as usual. All the guests seem to be alive and well and carry on the subject on good and evil. How do we know that god is good? He can preach us to be good. But is he himself good inside? Olga is pushed to defend her positions. She seems composed but not able to speak anything remotely compelling. This dinner scene with five characters speaking back and forth, is a fine example of how you do coverage and make Bohemian Rhapsody's Oscar winning editing to shame. 

 I don't doubt that Malmkrog's script being as thick as Dostoevsky's Brother's Karamazov. It deals with dense, heady philosophical musings from another century. But context is everything. What these characters are discussing has relevance in pre-revolution, WW1 Europe as well as the age we are living in. 

Veering off the Solovyov's texts, Puiu reinforces its prophetic, dystopic view of Europe - decadent, spiritually hollow, hubristic, jingoistic and also on the cusp of violent upheaval. Puiu being Romanian, growing up in a country in the Soviet Bloc, Solovyov's texts are a good fit for him against anti-spiritualism associated with communism along with many other ills Europe and Russia are suffering right now. 

Malmkrog is a slog of a movie. But it’s truly one of a kind. If you are an adventurous spectator like me and stick to it, with a bit of background knowledge beforehand, the film is a very rewarding and satisfying cinematic experience. This will make a great double feature with Lázló Nemes's Sunset, as a frustrating yet richly rewarding cinematic history lesson and a prophetic vision of Europe.

A Quintessential Almodovar Plus Tilda Swinton in Short Form

The Human Voice (2020) - Almodovar

The Human Voice Conceived as a short project during Covid lockdown, Pedro Almodovar's The Human Voice, based on Jean Cocteau's stage play, with its popping colors and its melodramatic theme, is a quintessential Almodovar film. It is also a great reflection on filmmaking in the face of a worldwide pandemic. And it's all Tilda. 

In his first English-language film, Almodovar puts his full trust in Tilda Swinton, who, over the years, has become a larger than life international movie icon, to carry the whole 30 minutes alone carrying on an imaginary conversation with herself. 

It starts with Swinton in various haute couture clothing walking around in what appears to be a big sound stage. The title sequence is made up of beautiful renderings of various tools, foreshadowing what's to come. Tilda is in her apartment, a bright colored, stylish multi room apartment that is the typical set-up for all of Almodovar's domestic melodramas. What is different this time is that we can see that these rooms are sets in the sound stage the film starts in. It reminds that everything we've seen in his films previously, however lived-in those rooms seemed, were elaborate sets, designed by Antxón Gómez, Almodovar's long time set designer, in the movie stages. 

It also reminds that his melodramas make you invest in his films to the degree that you suspend your belief that you are watching make-believe, that is, cinema. It doesn't really matter, because as soon as Swinton engages us in her tumultuous breakup story with her lover of four years, we are hooked once again, suspending our belief and being absorbed into the melodrama of her life. 

Swinton takes a quick trip to, of all places, a hardware store. She buys a large axe and puts it in her Gucci bag. When she gets home/stage, she tries to axe the man's black suit that is laid on her bed. Her border collie barks at all the violence. She shouts at the dog to shut up. She goes to a living room and picks up a ceramic tea set, which is obviously a movie set decoration and throws it out the balcony/stage floor. She then proceeds to take colorful pills and passes out on the bed. Then her phone rings. 

It's presumably her lover who she just broke up with three days ago. She carries on a long-winded conversation with him, cooing, pleading and yelling and apologizing into her air pod. It's a familiar scene of love and heartbreak. They had four years of a passionate, intoxicating relationship and now it's all over. They didn't even get to say a proper good-bye and she doesn't want to do that over the phone. But he is not even going to stop by to pick up his stuff. 

As film productions around the world slowly pick up again with limited crew and strict restrictions (daily testing for cast and crew, limited numbers on the set and in premises), this one-person show reflects the state of the film industry today very accurately. 

The Human Voice, in true Almodovar fashion, ends in satisfying conclusion: in flames, where the stage, the make-believe literally burns down. Hopefully, this isn't the first and last collaboration between Almodovar and Swinton, because this short film is an extremely enjoyable experience.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Sam Pollard's MLK/FBI Reminds Us MLK's Legacy Resonates Now, More than Ever

MLK/FBI (2020) - Pollard MLKFBI

Packed to the brim with historical documents and recently declassified materials, Sam Pollard, documentarian and editor of Spike Lee's films among many others (Mo' Better Blues, 4 Little Girls, Chisholm '72, Venus and Serena) brings us MLK/FBI, a searing indictment of government surveillance and a smear campaign on one of the most revered figures in American history. Based on David Garrow's book The FBI and Martin Luther King Jr.: From Solo to Memphis, where the author and King biographer accuses King of participating in a rape in a hotel room in 1964, based on the declassified, handwritten memo over FBI documents that is now on National Archive website.

With Trump's 'Law and Order' rhetoric rising amid nationwide protest against police violence and BLM movement during the worst pandemic in American history and the nation's top cop Bill Barr's threat to charge the racial justice protesters with sedition, MLK/FBI truly resonates now, more than ever.

Pollard gets it right by framing the film with King's rise as a leader of the Civil Rights movement from Birmingham, AL days, to March to Washington and his famous speech, to LBJ signing the Civil Rights Act into law, to him winning the Nobel Peace Prize, to his opposition to the Vietnam War and the Poor People's Campaign, to his assassination in 1968 against the backdrop of the FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover and the head of the bureau's Domestic Intelligence, Bill Sullivan, obsessing over 'the most dangerous negro in America' and figuring the way to 'neutralize' King.

Threatened by King's eminence as the leader of nationwide non-violence protests, Hoover, with RFK (then AG of New York and later the nation)'s blessings, ordered unprecedented surveillance on him, tapping his and his colleague's phones and bugging hotel rooms where he stayed. Hoover first wanted to tie him with the communists. Stanley Levison, a Jewish lawyer who served as King's advisor, has had a tie with the communist party. Media also played a big part creating the 'G-men' and FBI culture Hoover cultivated after his own image - a conservative Christian white jockey male. These government recruits were indoctrinated to see themselves as guardians of American way of life and perpetuate white dominance. Communists and their sympathizers were seen as direct threat to that racial hierarchy. It is amazing to see people still buy this belief, since we still witness this in this election cycle.

As the King is a communist narrative didn't bear any fruit, they then switched to more salacious material on his private life as these bugs turned up some goods on his extramarital affairs.

Interviews with the Civil Rights luminaries and King confidantes Andrew Young, Clearance Jones and historian Beverley Gage as well as David Garrow and unseen James Comey, Pollard poses a difficult question on how we handle information on a private life of a public figure, when the source is from a place as prejudiced and biased as Hoover's FBI. 

Pollard also rightfully sheds a light on many uncomfortable truths. However a maligned Hoover is in history books, he was in charge of the FBI for 37 years until his death in 1972. He had ears of the so-called friends of the movement in the highest power - JFK, RFK and LBJ and conspired against King. LBJ and Hoover are even on tape discussing sordid private life of King and what to do about it.

It all came down to a boiling point after King received a Nobel Prize and Hoover called him a notorious liar. Johnson arranged the meeting with the two to diffuse the situation. There is footage of King emerging from the meeting saying the polite conversations he had with Hoover. However, obsessed Hoover played the black deviant card, which dates all the way back to D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation, and sent a threatening letter guised as one of his black supporters with a tape recording of one his hotel room encounters to his wife, Coretta Scott King.

Emotional impact must have been immeasurable to King family. But there were so much work to be still done- Selma, The Voting Rights Act and protests against the Vietnam War.

Pollard is quick to note that general public was on the side of Hoover, not King. Even Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), an influential black organization and integral part of the Civil Rights Movement, was not on board with King's stance against the war. He didn't have any business having an opinion. Sounds familiar?

MLK/FBI strongly resonates with what we are going through as a nation right now: Hoover's notion of racial hierarchy is still very much in place in law enforcement mindset as police unions endorsing a candidate whose rhetoric is nothing but racist, so as irrational fear of anything that sounds like 'communism' or 'socialism', putting way too much emphasis on personal lives of elected officials, the list goes on and on. But more importantly, it resonates that no other social movement since King and the Civil Rights Movement, we had a real possibility of a fundamental change in this country, than Black Lives Matter Movement. Those sordid FBI tapes on King are sealed until 2027. We can deal with Martin Luther King Jr. a man then and there. It's his victories over insurmountable odds that we need to take lessons from and be hopeful, not the smear campaign designed to take our eyes off the ball.

Dustin Chang is a freelanc

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Finding Inner Peace in Wondering

The Calming (2020) - Fang
The Calming

The Calming, like its title suggests, is a quiet contemplation of life and on our relationship with nature. Song Fang, who played the Chinese film student nanny role in Hou Hsiao Hsien's Flight of the Red Balloon, is a gifted director with gentle sensibilities who has a great eye for landscapes reflecting the mood of her protagonist. It turns out to be one of the best kinds of a 'woman wondering around in unknown places' cinema, one of my favorites, if there's such a genre.

Lin Tong (Qi Xi) is a Chinese filmmaker in Tokyo for an exhibition of her film. It's winter. It is revealed in conversation with her Japanese curator friend (played by Ichiyama Shozo, who produced many films of Jia Zhangke, who also serves as the film's producer) that she has broken up with her long time boyfriend. She tells him that she will visit to snowy Niigata, a prefecture in northern Japan, the setting for Snow Country, a classic modern Japanese literature by a famed writer Kawabata Yasunari. This is where Japanese people go to find a solace and tranquility. Qi's tall slender figure sticks out in the streets of Japan.

We are introduced to a magnificent view of the beautiful snow county, as the train takes her up north. Lin walks in the snowy streets, observes people in the streets, looking into the windows of shops, taking it all in.

Then we are in Mainland China. Lin has just moved to her new apartment in Beijing. She spends some time in her work - talking to colleagues and selecting slides for her next exhibition and such. She visits her elderly parents in the country. Her father's not doing well. The window from her parents’ house gives a view of a forest. She doesn't mention her breakup with her boyfriend when asked.

She travels to Hong Kong for her film, which is about a documentary on forests. She gives a talk afterword and makes a case for watching films in cinema vs gallery exhibitions. The impact is different, she says. While in Hong Kong, she stays with her friend who has a white husband and an adorable son. Their apartment with a rounding terrace again also offers spectacular view of lush mountains, spread out like a backs of green sea serpents in motion.

It's summer. She is back at her parents’ home. They take a stroll in a big park where she used to go as a child. The scenenery with the trees, lakes and bamboo forests are all very beautiful. They go down the memory lane, about Lin as a headstrong child, who'd defied her parents to go to the park at night in the rain and wonder around.

The Calming doesn't offer that much dialog. Lin is not very kin on showing much of her emotions either. Only one scene where we see Lin being emotional is her attending an opera. We see her in the audience, her eyes closed, tears streaming down her face. It is Handel's Alexander Balus. It's an aria where Cleopatra sings "Convey me to some peaceful shore" when she learned her husband and her father's death.

Taking place in different seasons and regions, shot by Lu Songye, the film is a lush cinematic experience. With Qi almost always in the frame looking afar in profile but never in close up, there's a constant visual dialog between our female protagonist and her surroundings.

The recent Harley Quinn film Birds of Prey was criticized for the actions of its female protagonist predicated on her breakup with her man in finding herself. I believe The Calming lends something bigger than man-woman tit-a-tat. It is rather, relieving of various pressures in life through constant movement. It's a very personal, semi-autobiographical film and doesn't hide that fact. As a quiet observational drama, it has a kinship with many HHH, Akerman, and Varda’s films. With The Calming, Song Fang emerges as a major female voice in filmmaking.

I am privileged to witness the rise of gentle cinema this year and couldn't be happier with masterpieces like Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow, Bas Devos's Ghost Tropic and now, Song Fang's The Calming. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth!

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Fast Train to Hell

I'm Thinking of Ending Things (2020) - Kaufman Ending Things The film starts out with Lucy/Lucia/Amy? (Jessie Buckly)'s narration. She's met her current boyfriend Jake (Jesse Plemmons) about 6-7 weeks ago (she doesn't exactly remember when?), but she is already contemplating dumping him. She agreed to go on a road trip to his parents who live in a rural farm. It's a long ride during the snowstorm. Does Jake hear her thoughts? He looks over frequently and asks if she said something. She likes him. He is shy, quiet, introverted but intelligent. She needs that. And they have a lot in common. She is a physicist and a poet and a painter and a waitress who needs to get back to the city to take her shift after the dinner at the farm. They have a lot of things to talk about - poetry, films, Cassavettes, David Foster Wallace... 

The awkward meeting with the eccentric parents (David Thewlis and Toni Collette) who seem to be growing old and young as the night progresses, lending more to Jake's inner life. It seems pretty clear that Lucy and Jake are the same person and Lucy, however three dimensional she is, is a fantasy character of Jake, who himself might or might not be an old janitor at a high school which he was once a student of. Lucy is smart, assertive in her thoughts, a multi-talented brainiac who is pretty enough but not pretty-pretty - those girls in his high school who shunned him and bullied him. With talking animated pigs, dance sequences and Oklahoma!, 

I'm Thinking of Ending Things is filled with idiosyncratic moments very much like Kaufman's other films. But they can't overcome the film's overwhelming sense of existential dread. Kaufman's neuroses are in full display from traumatized, friendless high school years, consuming books and movies and becoming a reference of a person. Even Lucy, however quirky dreamgirl she is, is just a composite of whatever he got from books and painting and movies. It's a pity that we only see Lucy in the confined space the whole time. I do like Jessie Buckly the actress a lot. But she has given very little to express herself, unlike, say Clamentine from Kaufman scripted Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Jake is a frustrated, extremely insecure man. Even his fantasy is considering dumping him. He sees all the niceties and family life lies. As he accepts a Nobel Prize, and give a speech from some cheesy Hollywood movies and sing a song from Oklahoma! on stage in front of his family and friends who are wearing heavy makeup, I'm Thinking of Ending Things is not Fellini's 8 1/2. It's not celebration of life. Life is a fast train to hell. I mean heck.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Communism to Tourism

Epicentro (2019) - Sauper
epicentro Hubert Sauper, known for his searing documentaries on the effect of globalization and legacy of colonialism on African continent, in Darwin's Nightmare and We Come as Friends, now turns his attention to the island nation of Cuba. But this time, instead of his journalistic, overtly expansive approach which was necessary to shed a light on the issues that no Western countries knew or cared about, Sauper takes more personal approach in Epicentro, perhaps because Cuba, the Caribbean island nation's reputation as America's longest running foe in such a close proximity, has been a known entity to most Westerners. This doesn't mean Epicentro lacks a bite on exposing and criticizing inhumane US policy on Cuba over the last 50 years and the new exploitation in the form of tourism. Blending cinema historionics and geopolitics Sauper creates something that feels pointy yet ethereal and deeply personal.

Sauper narrates briefly about the title of the film in the beginning. He calls Cuba the Epicenter of 3 dystopian chapters of history, the ingredients of building a modern empire - slave trade, colonization and globalization of power. You'd think it would be one of those third world poverty porn. but Epicentro is nothing but. Sauper's usual guerrilla style camera follows a handful subjects - mostly children whom he calls 'little prophets', as they go on about their daily lives - at school, at home, playing in the streets, taking dance lessons, etc. The most striking parts of these children are how vividly conscious about Cuba's place in the world as the sole remaining Communist regime (North Korea is something else entirely at this point) and proud to be standing up to the world's superpower up north for so long. Yes, there are elements of brainwashing, as they are constantly reminded in school and on the streets and on TV of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara's revolutionary rhetoric. But is that talk of self-reliance, cemented by decades of crippling economic sanctions, a bad thing? Whether it was Spaniards or Teddy Roosebelt, it was colonialism through and through. American invasion of Cuba in 1898 is based on the fake footage of USS Maine blowing up in which US government created in the bathtub with blowing cigar smoke and toy ships. Every Cuban knows this - the fact Sauper hits again and again throughout the film. Their literacy rate is staggering 96 percent.

First world arrogance is in full display - an American photographer snaps shots of the locals without any consent. They are used to this. Kids pose for him. He goes into their courtyards, snapping copious amount of pictures, through the windows even. Kids ask him for something in return. He gives the kid a pen, turns to the camera and say, "they should be honored to be photographed by me." An old German tango dancer, who is in Havana for 2 weeks, wants to show off his tango in school in front of kids doing ballet lessons. A teacher lets him, while kids snicker in the background.

Talking with the cadre of ex-pats and locals, Sauper juxtaposes the folly and absurdism of tourism industry. It is revealed that the director is a son of innkeepers in small Austrian resort town. In conversation, his friend says there are two types of people - there are normal human beings and there are tourists. There are luxury hotels that only American and European tourists stay. One of the main subject, Leonelli, a beautiful and bright little girl wants Sauper to sneak her and her friends in to the hotel so they can use the pool on the roof. They have a plan. Sauper will pretend they are his kids.

The director's whiteness and his camera adds another dimension to the film. Sure he has been invested in other parts of the world and their people. He speaks their language. But ultimately, he is a foreigner. How do you reconcile that he is there making a film? How much of a blending in really make you a 'normal people' instead of a 'tourist'?

Sauper ties the idea of modern day Cuba, full of intact 50s archetypes - cars, buildings as fiction that provides false narrative for tourists and of cinema: how they resemble, by way of presenting fiction, tourism. Cinema is all make believe anyway.

Unlike his other documentaries, Epicentro is filled with sense of joy and buoyancy. The flow of tying ideas together - past/present, reality/fiction, normal person/tourist, seems natural and even spontaneous. These ideas are imbued in the presence of Oona Chaplin, a Hollywood actress and a granddaughter of Charlie Chaplin and daughter of Geraldine. She enacts scenes with Leonelli, sings impromptu Spanish songs with her guitar, an attends the screening of a Chaplin film to the delight of kids.

Epicentro is an intimate, fluid, ethereal film while still being sharp edged in condemnation of the globalization and colonial history. It's one of the truly great documentaries of 2020.

Epicentro launches in Virtual Cinemas on August 28.