Thursday, December 1, 2022

Top 10 Discoveries 2022

2022 was a recovery year. A mixed bag of getting back to work excitment and exhaustion. Vacation ruined because of still raging covid in the summer and family having tested positive, it has been an emotionally and physically unsettling year. And this choice viewing list, taking from variety of influences and sources reflects on that volatility. Sometimes fulfilling, sometimes directionless, these films guided me through some unknown territories. I am eternally grateful to Kelly and Carol for introducing me to some of these films.

Listed chronologically

Hindle Wakes (1927) - Elvey bfi-00m-kqo_copy_800x Unlike Hollywood films of this time - think of Clara Bow's It, Britain's Hindle Wakes' take on the definition of a job and woman's place in the post-industrial society is surprisingly progressive of its time. Fanny, in her Louise Brooks wig, is a mill worker who gets noticed by a mill owner's engaged son at a company sponsored outting. She gets stranded and spends the night with him in the countryside (big scandal!). Her father, a foreman of the mill and the owner tries to plug the scandal by a hasty arranged marriage. Nonplussed, Fanny announces that she is moving out of her parent's house. The ending of Hindle Wakes killed me. "I can get a job anywhere where there is a mill."

Hotel du nord (1938) - Carné Screen Shot 2022-10-12 at 8.22.17 AM There's a casualness in Hotel du Nord - amorality is given - a husband is ok with his wife being asked to go out by a womanizing cab driver, homosexuality is out in the open, prostitution is just a profession.... People hook up and break up on a whim and pledges their love as if it is as easy as blowing their noses. Are these doomed lovers an omen for the upcoming world war...I ponder.

Bringing Up Baby (1938) - Hawks J28k9qnHNCASAIf9kEJFc4N7mCRCiU_original Not into Hollywood comedies or comedy in general, but Bringing Up Baby’s unrelenting forward momentum is truly a juggernaut of manic energy. It was easily watchable and digestible without thinking too deeply about it. It doesn’t give you much time to mull anything over because it is over by then. It’s that unpredictability and over-the-top-ness that was enjoyable.

Los Olvidados (1950) - Buñuel screen-shot-2014-05-02-at-11-06-01 Fuck them kids. Wow. Bleak. It is easy to take a jab at the bourgeoisie, but portraying the poor this way, since no one cares about the poor, only thing Buñuel was offending was the box office numbers and sensibilities of some liberal’s misplaced nationalistic pride.

Niagara (1953) - Hathaway Screen Shot 2022-01-11 at 4.16.23 PM Rose (Monroe)'s prolonged, almost silent murder scene is as good as it gets and puts most stylish giallos to shame.

Nostalgia (1971) - Frampton cm-capture-4 I really enjoyed Hollis Frampton's Nostalgia. His out of order narrations as he burns each photographs on an electric stovetop was at once whimsical and self-reflexive. I've been reading Byung-chul Han's Disappearance of Rituals. In it Han says that the lack of physicality and lack of rituals in the internet age, makes people lose respect for each other. The physicality of materials which automatically makes them nostalgic in our eyes in the modern world, in this case photographs with stories attached to them, and ritual of burning them one by one while giving it slightly out of sync context really spoke to me.

India Song (1975) - Duras Screen Shot 2022-01-17 at 9.40.12 AM Meticulously staged and filmed with slow tracking shots and intentionally wooden performances, India Song strongly resembles fellow nouveau roman scribe Alain Robbe-Grillet's Last Year at Marienbad, directed by Alain Resnais. Highlighting decadence of the Western colonizers with their completely out of place sense of entitlement and how it rots the human hearts, India Song is a cinematic achievement that encompasses all of Duras preoccupation- colonialism, war, love, memories, from a woman's point of view, equally as man's.

Asparagus (1979) - Pitt Asparagus_window Pitt's magical asparagus reminded me of Fantastic Planet but more coherent and subversive in its sexuality. Her combination of two dimensional, primary colored animation and claymation was really awe inspiring.

August in the Water (1995) - Ishii Screen Shot 2022-01-05 at 11.48.26 AM Mixing New Age spirituality, animism, astrophysics and advancement in technology, Gakuryu Ishii's trippy 90's relic, August in the Water can be seen as the quintessential film for vaporwave - the synth tinged soundtrack, dolphins, rainbows, dated computer graphics, aliens, etc.

O’er the Land (2008) - Stratman Screen Shot 2022-12-01 at 12.34.07 PM Deborah Stratman's film made a big impression on me. Without being didactic or judgmental, the film poses a lot of questions by showing series of seemingly (at first) unrelated images with voiceovers, resulting in viewers examining his/her own views on the society where it seems that reconciliation or understanding one another is not possible, because our paths have branched off long ago. Things have gone the opposite way and the urbanites have nothing in common with gun totting, high school football participating, RV driving and border sweeping people on any level. "We come out here for freedom. This is the only place on earth we have this freedom to do this," a man says over the image of carnage of what seems to be a gigantic gun range. What I was seeing was just as eerie and incomprehensible as the jet pilot describing his descent after ejected from the plane in the latter part of the film.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Gasolineiras

Mato seco em chamas (2022) - Pimenta, Queirós Screen Shot 2022-11-27 at 8.27.29 AM Screen Shot 2022-11-27 at 8.53.39 AM Screen Shot 2022-11-27 at 8.56.17 AM Screen Shot 2022-11-27 at 9.32.06 AM Screen Shot 2022-11-27 at 9.33.54 AM Screen Shot 2022-11-27 at 9.37.45 AM Screen Shot 2022-11-27 at 9.53.51 AM Screen Shot 2022-11-27 at 9.58.35 AM Screen Shot 2022-11-27 at 9.59.42 AM Screen Shot 2022-11-27 at 10.02.06 AM Lula's 2022 presidential election win ended the tyranny of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil. Started out during the fateful election of 2018, Dry Ground Burning/Mato seco em chamas is a cinematic act of political defiance of the often neglected region of Central, North East Brazil of Brasilia and its neighboring favela, Sol Nascente and its people. Adirley Quierós, the filmmaker from the region, has been making unique sci-fi fiction/documentary hybrids starring its local inhabitants - White Out, Black In (2014), Once There was Brasilia (2017). In Dry Ground Burning, with his long time cinematographer Joanna Pimenta, they create another blend of unique docufiction, where its subjects playing an extension of themselves while observing the political climate of the region.

Chitara (Joana Darc Furtado) is a local legend after she and her gang of women hijacked the underground oil pipeline and started their own makeshift oil refinery and supply to the locals at much cheaper price. There are popular songs written about her. With her tough stepsister Léa (Léa Alves da Silva) who is fresh out of jail, they guard the refinery armed and ready for any police intrusion. Léa, still under surveillance of the police, is told that the region is now swarmed with cops. As usually the case with Queirós, the film consists of long takes and monologue, laying out the dusty vistas of unpaved roads and motorcycle gangs roaming as well as what it is like growing up and living in poverty and crimes.

The flames of orange and yellow are the dominant color palettes. The flame lit profiles of these strong women against the distant villages at night are beauty to behold. As the election season approaches, we see government propaganda working overtime - social hierarchy must remain, law and order. We see cops in an armor vehicle doing Nazi salutes. There is real drive by footage of people chanting for Bolsonaro in political rallies. One of Chitara's close associate is running for a local office against a moneyed Bolsonaroite. Her party is called PPP (Prison People's Party). With her motorcycle entourage, she is running on the platform of better sewer system, free community college and loosen the law against motorcycle related commerce.

In Léa's prison stories, the film normalizes the notion of queerness as well. She is just like anybody, lust, love and devotion are universal, no matter whom.

We later find out through Chitara's monologue that Léa is in jail again, arrested in some drug charges, and she was looking forward to becoming a movie star because of this film. Pimenta and Queirós fluidly combines fictional elements with reality, highlighting the lives of people in Sol Nascente are often stranger than fiction. But it's the defiance and fierce independence and self-reliance that matter. The film ends with the wrecked armored car on fire, like a carcass of completely hollowed out animal in flames.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Fine Young Cannibals

Bones and All (2022) - Guadagnino BONES AND ALL (2022) Guadagnino's new film, based on YA novel, Bones and All, shows he might be the personification of a tribute band in a filmmaker form. It doesn't matter how technically impressive your guitar riff is at Black Dog, you are no Jimmy Page. After attempting to contextualize Dario Argento's camp classic Suspiria with serious pomp, A Bigger Splash, a La picine remake, with lesser results, Guadagnino is at it again with this American YA novel adaptation and pulls influences from every direction and packages it as Terence Malarkey Americana.

Here, cannibals equal vampires or werewolves or zombies. Maren (Taylor Russell) is a high schooler with a secret. And that secret is revealed at a girl’s sleepover (is it middle school or high school?) when she sneaks out from her dilapidated home, proving that her overly protective father (André Holland)'s concern. She has an insatiable hunger for human flesh. This also explains why they have been traveling all around, never stick to one place to settle, always on the edge of abject poverty. Soon father abandons her, leaving her with some money and her birth certificate and a cassette tape explaining what she is.

Soon she finds a fellow cannibal in the form of an older eccentric man, Sully (Mark Rylance). Who says he can smell a fellow cannibal from miles. This is Maren's first realization that there are others like her out there. But Sully seems too creepy to stick around with. Traveling all over Mid-West, looking for mom who might hold the key to her existence, she meets Lee (Timothée Chalamet), a charming grocery store clerk who happens to be a cannibal too and they become traveling companion.

Michael Stuhlbarg, David Gorden Green show up as fellow hick cannibals. Jessica Harper also has a role as grandma. And unfortunately, Chloë Sevigny seems stuck on playing a crazy mom character, forever. Rylance is, as always, so dependable a character actor, he steals the show, playing truly creepy adversary to the young lovers who are trying to have a go at being regular people. Chalamet is always the same. Riding his boyish charm and nonchalance, attracting attention from both sexes. And a forever boy who is super awkward at playing a grownup. Russell is very good as a young woman on the path of self-discovery and finding true love.

So, what is Bones and All about? Why is it set in 90s? The more you think about the film, there is nothing really you can hold on to and less you like it. 'True love needs to be consumed bones and all' is too much of an emo song lyric to be taken seriously. Is this about Gen-Xer's rejection of the Boomers? Is this about consumerism? Or is this some silly teen romance with pacing problems? Either way, it's so skin-deep.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Beast of Burden

Eo (2022) - Skolimowski EO You can't not talk about a donkey in cinema without Robert Bresson's Au hasard Balthazar. Bresson's Christian allegory, where the beaten and abused donkey dies on a hill for sins of all humanity. It has always been regarded as an austere, unflinching masterpiece, if too biblical for this day and age. Fast-forward 56 years to the present: our highly globalized capitalistic world is on the brink of ecological, societal collapse. And we have Eo, a sobering, cinematic masterpiece by Polish veteran filmmaker Jerzy Skolimowski. The mass migrations of people, brought on by wars, by political/economical instability in the global economy, by famine and other natural disasters, have become our daily news, which we consume for better part of the last few decades. And there had been some outstanding films made about the current refugee, immigration crises - Fire at Sea, Human Flow, Limbo and Flee, just to name a few. Anywhere in the world, from formerly homogenous nations as South Korea to Ireland, the globalist economy is pushing massive human surge everywhere and it is changing the very fabric of their society. It confronts you on a personal level too - they drive you to your destinations, cook the food you eat, deliver your goods, take care of your children - in short, they are the backbone of our society.

So how do you portray the suffering of immigrants and refugees, caught up in circumstances that they have little to no control over, with an empathetic eye? How do you give the voice to the voiceless without being too didactic? How do you show the carnivalesque atmosphere of current political situations in the Far-Right, anti-immigrant, nationalistic governments in Europe and the US?

The film starts in the circus (!) tent. Eo, our titular protagonist, is a donkey, trained and cared by Kasandra (Sandra Drzymalska). It is clear that he had been abused and beaten when not taking directions by other carnies. There are animal rights activists in Warsaw violently protesting outside the circus fair ground. They succeed in seizing the rights to the circus animals. Eo gets separated from Kasandra, the only human who had shown kindness. He is transferred to a horse sanctuary in the countryside. As a working animal, unlike horses that are being treated there, Eo is being used to carry stuff around in the stable. Eo witnesses some dreadful conditions and treatments horses receive. After refusing to work, Eo is transferred once more to a small farm. As he is being taken from one place to another, our beast of burden witnesses human folly and cruelty to both him or to other animals. He travels sometimes alone, sometimes in cattle cars and treated nicely only when he is deemed useful.

Eo escapes to the forests, thinking of Kasandra, gets captured again, freed once more.... It's a road movie of the highest order.

The film, mostly shot from the donkey's point of view, with jarring close-ups, has a visceral, raw quality only seen in haptic cinema of Sensory Ethnography Lab (SEL) - Leviathan, Sweetgrass, The Iron Ministry or Philippe Grandrieux's more pastoral, picturesque film - Un Lac. The film visually, sensorially replicates what Eo is experiencing - disorienting sensation being in the cattle car, out of place in a football stadium, going over the bridge overlooking grand man-made structures, et cetera. Michal Dymek's cinematography is exquisite: it conveys both intimate and grand spaces of our world and accentuates its beauty and ugliness. Without much dialog, Eo plays out like a documentary at times and has its own visual rhythmic flow of a road movie.

As if the fablist, allegorical nature isn't obvious enough in the beginning of the film, it becomes loud and clear with Isabelle Huppert showing up near the end as an unnamed, dispassionate countess living in a lavish palace in Italy, obviously a stand-in for decadence of Western Europe, speaking French and Italian and flirting with her disaffected, too good looking step-son Vito (Lorenzo Zurzolo) who rescued Eo from an accident and brought him home.

Unlike some cute Disney family movie starring a talking donkey, Eo is not a fairy tale. It can also be seen as sobering examination of the meat industry. But more importantly, it is an allegory for how people from different parts of the world, not by their own volition, get uprooted and go through unimaginable hardships and alienation only to be at the mercy of a handful of strangers who ultimately don't have any stake in their lives. Eo's abrupt ending heightens the disconnect, makes the audience uncomfortable and reflect on the globalist economy and its effects on Global South, which is precisely the point Skolimowski is making.

Eo is Poland's official selection entry for Oscar next year. It opens on 11/18 at Film Forum and Film at Lincoln Center in NYC.

Thursday, November 3, 2022

Commodification of Time VS Collectivist Anarchism

Unrueh (2022) - Schäublin Screen Shot 2022-10-30 at 8.38.10 AM Screen Shot 2022-10-30 at 8.03.28 AM Screen Shot 2022-10-30 at 7.27.10 AM Screen Shot 2022-10-30 at 7.51.56 AM Screen Shot 2022-10-30 at 8.52.36 AM Screen Shot 2022-10-30 at 8.52.13 AM Screen Shot 2022-10-30 at 8.51.17 AM Screen Shot 2022-10-30 at 8.45.26 AM Screen Shot 2022-10-30 at 7.35.49 AM Screen Shot 2022-10-30 at 8.56.54 AM When we think of Switzerland, few things come up to our minds- its long standing neutrality, direct participatory democracy, an army famous for its utility knives, punctuality and, watchmaking. Little did we know that up on the Jura mountains, near French-Swiss border, in the 1870s, were the hot spot for anarchism. Cyril Schäublin sets up the two contrasting forces - capitalism fueled by industrial revolution versus collectivist agitation in his beguiling film Unrest. It starts with a mild mannered, well-known Russian anarchist, Pyotr Kropotkin (Alexei Evstratov), rolling into a sleepy little town in the picturesque valley in the Jura Mountains, where its largest employer is a watchmaking factory. The large swats of its workers are comprised of women. The reason being, I am assuming, the nature of its delicate, detail oriented assembly work.

The traditional watchmaking process during this time, Schäublin demonstrates for us, is an extremely regimented, rigid, hands-on ritual that is half way between artisanal and Ford style assembly line, giving way to automation in the near future. The Factory owner and supervisors (all men) are all about productivity and time saving. With the local politicians' blessing, the town has four different time keeping - municipal, factory, local and church. If workers don't keep up with factory time, they are in jeopardy of losing their jobs. With the Jura Federation, the Bakuninist anti-state, anti-war anarchist group having a stronghold, workers and townsfolks, with the help of Kropotkin, engage in workplace agitation. They vote to form a union (despite efforts to thwart the voting from happening from the management), demand not to profit from selling their watches to military around the world.

This all sounds exciting on paper. But Schäublin's approach is nothing but sensational. Shot with flair for artful composition, the sun drenched Switzerland backdrop is gorgeous to look at. And slightly suggested budding romance between Kropotkin and factory worker Josephine (Clara Gostynski) is beautifully photographed. Under the warm sunlight, with autumn leaves making patterns on her face, Josephine explains to Kropotkin, the axis of unrest, a tiny coil piece causing the swing in the center of the mechanical watch. Thus the title having its impact - under the surface of a well made, well run system such as an immaculate Swiss made watch, there is a part that controls the ticking mechanism that is highly unstable when unbalanced. Unrest is a beautiful allegory of the society we live in now where commodifying time - they just announced that daylight savings time is permanent, is completely normal and the news talk about people's productivity's down as if we exist only to be productive at work. Stunning in its unassuming beauty and timely message, Unrest is a true hidden gem of the year.

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Woman Who Ran

Trenque Lauquen (2022) - Citarella Trenque-Lauquen-Still-3 Trenque Lauquen is a small city west of Buenos Aires. It means 'Round Lake' according to the locals. The city is the setting for a delicious, sprawling yarn. Laura (Laura Paredes), a biologist candidate from Buenos Aires, who was cataloging rare orchid species in the field in town, suddenly disappears. Part one of its 4 hours 10 minute running time, plays out with two men, Rafael (Rafael Spregelburd) Laura's boyfriend from the city, and Ezequiel (Ezequiel Pierri) known in town as 'Chincho', who was helping Laura in the field and grew affection for her, looking for now the missing woman. The men are asking locals around for her last whereabouts, driving back and forth endlessly in the small town. The film devotes much of its time between them looking for Laura and flashback of what she was up to when not collecting specimens in the field. With her likable personality, Laura made inroads in the local community. Things change when Laura discovers secret and explicit love letters inside old books while doing research in the local library. In the books she finds, the pages are stuck together, concealing the letters in between with clues to find more correspondencies between an Italian aristocrat and a mysterious woman from the area, in various books. It is slowly revealed that this amateur history snooping might have to do with Laura's disappearance. Laura finally confided the activities to smittened Ezequiel, the fact that he hides from Rafael.

Part two concerns Laura getting involved with a couple Veronica and Elisa, played by Véronica Llinás and Elisa Carricajo, who might be involved in the incident at the lake where locals found a possible humanoid creature. And Elisa might be related to the mysterious woman in the letters. Being a frequent guest at a local radio show, Laura left a long audio recording for Julia (Juliana Muras), the daily talkshow host, detailing her experience in Trenque Lauquen and the lake creature mystery and possibly where she is headed.

Trenque Lauquen is a dive into a rabbit hole that goes deeper and deeper as you dig. And the mystery thread gets more and more into a fantastic realm. In the middle of it all, is Paredes, one of the actresses from the acting company Piel de Lava (including Carricajo), featured in Mariano Llinás's epic, la Flor in 2018 and many of Mathias Pineiro films. She plays alluring Laura, who gets sidetracked in her field work by goings on in the small town where everyone knows everyone and rumors abound. Laura Citarella, part of the Argentine production group El pampero which produced La Flor, continues the long winded storytelling tradition with playful, shifting narratives with likeable, relatable characters.

Why did Laura stay on after her countract was up? Did she come to Trenque in the first place, because she didn't want to move in with Rafael in Buenos Aires as they planned? Did she not care for Ezequiel's passive puppy-dog love? Did she find her excitement in those salacious letters between an Italian nobleman and a mysterious local woman? Did she find peace and liberation in the company of lesbian couple who might or might not have captured plant/human hybrid creature and on the run from the authority? Trenque Lauquen plays out like a funnier, warmer and more intimate version of 'disappearance of woman' films a.k.a. L'Avventura, seen from a woman's perspective. Endlessly charming and entertaining, the film is very much like watching a Hong Sangsoo film without all the drinking; the intricacies of character interactions, the intrigue of every day life, the men's folly, the urge to escape the city living and enjoy nature. And most of all, freedom. It is one of my favorite films of the year.

Monday, October 17, 2022

Irma Vep

Screen Shot 2022-09-21 at 2.48.39 PM Olivier Assayas’s HBO series Irma Vep is perhaps the best film/TV series/whatev about filmmaking that I’ve seen. If his 1996 film version, starring Maggie Cheung was a grungy version and a love letter to its Hong Kong starlet, and low budget 'French' filmmaking, The series is bigger and more indepth look at filmmaking in the age of globalism with secondary characters more fleshed out - Assayas taking advantage of the long form. Thanks to Assayas, I have a better understanding of filmmakers’ compulsion to make movies one after another. That there’s a sadness in btwn projects because you see your film crew as a surrogate family and you want to have that constantly not to get lonely. I never thought of it that way before.

Also it’s a beautiful way of seeing the film as a spiritual medium capturing the ghost of the past in many different ways.

So this is Irma Vep related story. In ep.3, Mira wears what looks like a Korean folk tiger shirt and I wanted it. I did some googling and it directed me to a French band, The Great Divide, website. I ordered a t-shirt. Two weeks later, I get an email:

The Great Divide Sep 15 to The, bcc, me

Hi,

I'm Antoine, The Great Divide guitarist. I might have reach you earlier regarding your order, please find further information below.


First of all, we are deeply sorry for the lack of attention paid to your order.


As the band is on hiatus, nobody delt with the bandcamp and emails lately. We have been noticed only yesterday that our tiger T features in Olivier Assayas’ Irma Vepp series on Alicia Vikander’s shoulders. Following that, our bandcamp has been crushing under orders of that tee.

We assessed the stocks and the shipping fees, and we are not in the position to fulfill the order with the set up deal. We mostly sold our merch at our shows, therefore did not pay a closer look to the fees for worldwide shippings. Almost all of these new orders are to be shipped worldwide and these fees reach €30 per item through the French postal service, way above the €5.50 we previously asked for, putting us in the position to sell at a loss.

We are canceling all orders and proceeding to full refunds. We updated the product page with the appropriate price & fees and will ship the new orders by the end October if you would kindly decide to place a new one in support of the band.

Please accept our apologies and bear in mind that we are not a company but a punk band which primary focus was to play and share music with others.

Don't hesitate to answer to this email if you did not receive your refund or if you have any questions. Best regards, Antoine Pépin

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Unsolved Mystery

Decision to Leave (2022) - Park Screen Shot 2022-10-12 at 3.31.29 PM Screen Shot 2022-10-12 at 4.43.44 PM Screen Shot 2022-10-12 at 4.08.52 PM Screen Shot 2022-10-13 at 7.59.18 AM Screen Shot 2022-10-13 at 8.09.22 AM It is very hard for me to surrender myself into the Park Chanwook universe. It's because I've always regarded him as a visual stylist more than anything and can't help being self-conscious when I watch his films, that I am indeed watching a film, a make-believe, a fake. His every-over-the-top plot twist, every elaborate set piece, always reminds me that I am staring at the silver screen. Then it is perhaps the first time that I bought into the seductiveness of Decision to Leave, his sumptuous, yet down to earth film noir starring a luminous Chinese actress Tang Wei as the recipient of a Hitchcock heroine like obsession. Don't get me wrong, all his unrivaled trademark craftmanship is there - rapturous transition shots, highly textured production design, artful framing, etc. But it's Tang Wei's embodiment of her character, Seo-rae, a mysterious woman in foreign land that is truly the main magnetic pull here.

Detective Park (Park Hae-il of Memories of Murder) oversees investigating the death of an old rock climber in mysterious circumstances. The widow is a young Chinese woman, Seo-rae (Tang), who works at a nursing home. The focus of the investigation naturally falls on her, a young trophy wife of an old man who worked at an immigration office with a large sum life insurance. Even though she has an alibi, Park can't shake off the feeling that she is hiding something. It's more of a curiosity than suspicion. It's her beauty, and her foreignness that keeps him interested. So even after she is cleared of any suspicion in the death of her husband, he keeps surveilling her. Since he is seeing his nagging wife only on weekends because of work, Seo-rae becomes his almost companion, even from a distance. She obviously knows that she is being watched and keep their cat and mouse game going.

after she is officially cleared and the death ruled as suicide, for Park, it is over and done with. But for Seo-rae, it is just the beginning in an elaborate game to continue seeing him, at whatever the cost, because she wants to be the kind policeman's unsolved case, getting all his attention, at all times.

In Park's hand, our mundane everyday technology - smartphone, smartwatch, Bluetooth, etc., becomes something sensual, ASMR and highly hypnotic.

Once again, being a suspect of her 'next husband' murder, it culminates to Seo-rae meeting with Park on the top of a mountain. It's snowing, and their faces only illuminated by a headlamp, Park experiences Scotty's 'green dress' moment in Vertigo. Only it's the heroine who is actively making Scotty reaching ecstasy, in her own volition.

Decision to Leave's intricate plot, clever wordplays, sheer amount of visual details might be way too much to catch all in one viewing. It's so impeccably crafted and executed, yet relatively down to earth, huge thanks to Tang Wei's turn as a seductress. It's the most romantic film I've seen this year.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Heartbreak Hotel

Hotel du Nord (1938) - Carné Screen Shot 2022-10-12 at 8.20.01 AM Screen Shot 2022-10-12 at 8.22.17 AM Screen Shot 2022-10-12 at 8.23.15 AM Screen Shot 2022-10-12 at 8.23.49 AM Screen Shot 2022-10-12 at 8.24.18 AM Screen Shot 2022-10-12 at 8.24.53 AM Screen Shot 2022-10-12 at 8.25.10 AM Young lovers, Pierre (Jean-Pierre Aumont) and Renée (Annabella), had it with life of poverty and made a suicide pact and checks in Hotel du Nord, a charming working class hotel alongside a lively canal. After shooting Renée in the heart, Pierre chickens out and flee the hotel with the help of one of the lodgers there, M. Edmond (Louis Jouvet), a cynical pimp who lives with his gal Raymonde (Arletty). Pierre soon turns himself in, confessing his crime to the police. Renée survives her injuries and confronts Pierre, for she is still in love with him. After Renée comes back to the hotel and gets a job there, Edmond is smittened by her presence. Perhaps it's her deathwish that draws him in. He calls off the trip with Raymonde and dumps her, to which she bitterly reminds him that there are gangsters (his former associates) after him. Edmond and Renée decides to go off together overseas to start anew, but at the last minute, Renée chickens out and comes back to the hotel, because she still loves Pierre. Edmond, knowing full well that coming back to the hotel is his demise, comes back during the Bastille Day celebration where the sound of firecrackers will overlap with gunshots.

Hotel du Nord is a typical fatalistic love story that was prevalent in the 1930s French cinema and synonymous with Poetic Realism. The set and production design inside the studio is impressive, so is the atmosphere it creates for poor working class neighborhood filled with cab drivers, cops, house painters, street urchins, pimps and whores. There's even a character who sells his blood for living. There's a casualness in Hotel du Nord - amorality is given - a husband is ok with his wife being asked to go out by a womanizing cab driver, homosexuality is out in the open, prostitution is just a profession.... People hook up and break up on a whim and pledges their love as if it is as easy as blowing their noses. Are these doomed lovers an omen for the upcoming world war? I ponder this because I know that the French New Wavers hated and rebelled against these canonical films from this period. But there was Vietnam and France's involvement in Algeria and Indochina before that before the emergence of the New Wave. I might have to dig deeper into this.

Monday, October 10, 2022

Building Memories

Aftersun (2022) - Wells Aftersun We all know that our memories are subjective. Our brains tend to obscure, distort and falsify as well as highten, protect and heal, depending on how you want to remember that moments or person in your life. Scottish newcomer Charlotte Wells's staggering achievement, Aftersun, is a poignant and deeply personal examination of those memories, told in a small, family vacation travelogue.

Going back and forth with Hi-8 handicam footage shot by both father and daughter and film, Aftersun plays out like a family vacation home movie - a young father (Paul Mescal) and his 11-year old daughter Sophie (Francesca Corio) are in a resort in sunny Turkey. Mom's at work and couldn't come (the reasoning behind this is little fuzzy), so it's an opportunity for them spending a short time together. After a little snag at their hotel - he reserved a room with two beds but there is only one bed, they settle in and have great time hanging out at the pool during daytime and at the outdoor cafe at night. They are a jovial pair, always laughing and having the grandiest time.

There are some unexplained details through out - Dad has a cast on one of his arms, flashes of an older woman that dad confronts on the dance floor in the resort, like dream sequences that later reveal their meanings. Young people remark if they are brother and sister, since dad looks so young. Dad just shrugs it off while Sophie takes it as a compliment in her 11-year old mind.

Dad and Sophie obsessively watches the video footage they shot in their quiet times, rewinding through the pixelated images of their happy days, as if they will discover some details they have missed, or there's going to be some kind of indication or clue to something that is different than the overly happy experiences that they are having.

Things take a slightly different tone when Sophie loses her diving goggles, an expensive item dad bought for her in one of the boatride excursions. She apologizes again and again profusely, in which always cheerful dad comforts her that it's not important. He dives deep in to the water retrieve them and we cut to the next scene. From then on, there are glimpses of unsettling, unexplained moments popping up - dad gets moody and not talkative, at night, while Sophie is giddily watching the video footage they shot, dad removes the cast in his arms painfully in an in camera split screen shot, Sophie witnessing grownups making out in the shadows, dad refusing to sing the bad rendition of REM'S Losing My Religion at a outdoor karaoke...

Surely there are other significant moments of growing up - the first kiss with the boy who play arcade games next to her, drinking beer with older kids at the billiards table, etc.

By the end, we realize that the vacation was the last time they saw each other. And Sophie, now some twenty years later, trying to recount her relationship with her father: the ideal father, the good memories and how we all want to suppress bad memories and remember only the good moments, forever.

Wells, with the help of Mescal and Corio, builds a touching tribute to a father-daughter relationship. Aftersun will make a great double feature with Chantal Akerman's News from Home.

Sunday, October 9, 2022

Familiar Ghosts

The Eternal Daughter (2022) - Hogg https __cdn.sanity.io_images_xq1bjtf4_production_25e9d3aa5b338cb55e5a31c542f1257d2e185161-5760x3840 A big black sedan rolls in the foggy English countryside. The sun is setting. Ominous flute piece is playing in the background. The car finally pulls up to a grand manor at dusk. If it weren’t for the car, you'd think of the opening sequence of The Eternal Daughter as the start of a Hammer Horror film or an adaptation of a Henry James novel. We are introduced to a mother, Rosalind, and daughter, Julie (both played by Tilda Swinton) and Rosalind's dog, Louis. They are arriving late to check in and the curt, young receptionist (Carly-Sophia Davis) has no records of them reserving the specific room on the second floor. After much polite haranguing, the receptionist relents and the mother and daughter finally settle in to the room they wanted. This is not a good start for the stay Julie was hoping for.

It is slowly revealed that Julie is a filmmaker working on a project about her mother and the grand inn they are staying in was once belonged to Rosalind's family. She has a lot of memories spending time in the place. Julie timed the visit as Rosalind's birthday and early Christmas celebration and mom seems pleased and sad at the same time. Julie wants very much to connect with her mom and please her but doesn't really seem to know how, other than superficial level. She is also at a loss on how to proceed with her project. And there is some supernatural occurrence in the manor that interferes with her work as well. Julie hears noises at night and can't sleep. When complained to the receptionist, she was told that the room above her has been vacant. Julie sees a ghostly figure at the windows while walking the dog outside. It also seems unusual that there are no other guests in sight other than her and mom. They dine alone and joke about sampling every meal on the menu in their stay.

Using the gothic horror trope, Joanna Hogg creates yet another meta-auto fiction about her own complicated relationship with her mother. Hogg's yearning for connecting with her mother through making a film about their relationship and feeling guilty about it at the same time, using the same actress playing those roles is in tune with real life mother-daughter team (Swinton and Rose Swinton Byrne) in Souvenir playing mother-daughter. Eternal Daughter takes the step further, yet getting no clear answers on finding out more about her own mother or closure of some kind she longed for. And that frustration is all illustrated in the film. After all, many of Victorian ghost stories are manifestation of repressed emotions and feelings. Swinton is glorious in a dual role in her white wig, pretty much carrying a conversation with herself. It is a subtly devastating performance - in many of the film's close-ups both as a mother and daughter, she conveys that nervousness of not trying to hurt one another, or in this case, herself, in that educated, polite British way. Hogg aces again.

Thursday, October 6, 2022

Stupid Brave

Pacifiction (2022) - Serra PACIFICTION - TOURMENT SUR LES ILES (2022) Lush in its widescreen presentation, Albert Serra's Pacifiction is perhaps the most cinematically ambitious film I've experienced in a long time. Thoroughly absorbing from beginning to end, its 2hr 45min runtime is completely justified in my book.

Rotund Benoit Magmiel (The Piano Teacher) plays a sleek French High Commissioner named De Roller on the French Polynesian island. I'm convinced that all hunky sharp featured young French actors would eventually hit middle age and end up looking like Gerard Depardieu, without fail. He has to navigate through the angry locals, outside interests, a Navy commander and his marauding troops, to find out whether there is any truth to an international conspiracy that they, whoever they are, will be resuming nuclear bomb testing in the South Pacific.

De Roller, sweating profusely in pimpy white suit and loudly flower patterned shirt hanging out in his hotel resort and clubs, thinks he is wheeling and dealing, making deals to prevent, in the name of the Republic, what’s coming. It’s a glamorous game. At one point one of the character says it's like a James Bond movie but without all the explosions and action and stuff. But they don't get far. The suspects are too tight lipped and not easily swayed by all De Roller offers. You feel that there is a futility in his actions. That he is in way over his head. That whatever it is, is beyond his scope. Where are these men taking local prostitutes out on a boat in the middle of the night? Are there nuclear submarines lurking under the turquoise water? With this thin narrative, Serra paints his own Hearts of Darkness with big brush strokes.

Pacifiction is not dissimilar to Claire Denis's White Material or her most recent Stars at Noon, when it comes the hubris of White colonialism in its misguided superiority complex, and manifest destiny. But Serra's narrative scarcity makes Denis's films feel like reading a dense instruction manual for a washing machine by comparison.

But what's offered in Pacifiction is its grand scope and risk-taking in cinematic filmmaking, much like braving the unrelenting massive waves in the film - the surfing competition in real time with actors actually braving the choppy water, wakes your cinematic senses and wonder; the scene is so unbelievably stupid brave and stupid dangerous, you wonder out loud if this spectacle was meticulously organized or improvised on the spot (the after screening Q&A indicates the latter).

As the wild goose chase ensues for another two hours after the surfing competition scene, you are hooked, as if hypnotized by all the colors and beauty that only South Pacific can offer.

The cold war is never over in the minds of white colonizers. It's a dated stupid game they play, even in paradise. Yet as the world is hurtling towards the global climate catastrophe and a possible nuclear war, Pacifiction doesn't seem too far-fetched or too fictional. I loved every minute of it. It is undoubtedly my favorite film of the year so far.

Compulsion to Create

Showing Up (2022) - Reichardt Showing up Michelle Williams plays Lizzy in this wry comedy about perseverance of artists and their compulsion to keep on creating, directed by Kelly Reichardt (First Cow, Certain Women). Showing Up is as guileless and minimalistic as usual with all Reichardt’s films and conveys so acutely what it is like to be middle-aged working artists who struggle with self-doubt, professional jealousy, social ineptness, etc., yet keep chugging along, because creating art is the only thing they know.

Lizzy is a frumpy sculptor who works at an art college in a woodsy small-town Oregon. She has a new art show coming up at a small gallery in town but having a hard time concentrating on her work, because life keeps getting in the way – her landlord Jo (Hong Chau, Watchmen Series), who is also an artist and preoccupied by her 2 upcoming shows and keeps delaying fixing the boiler. Lizzy's cat is intent on destroying everything she owns, her divorced parents are always pestering and ever so slightly trying to undermine her achievements in that typical parents' way.

We are introduced to a smalltown art community that exists in every quaint college town where everyone knows each other – Lizzy’s mom is also an administrator at the college and shares an office where she also works. There are annoying colleagues who are less than cooperative at sharing the workload and others she has hots for but won’t reciprocate her feelings back, and even worse, sleep with her nemesis number one, Jo.

Many films on art and art-making, the centerpiece is usually the art itself. In those films, we are reminded of the transformative power of art and the suffering the artists must endure to produce such sublime masterpieces that inspire us all. In Reichardt’s film the art itself is secondary. The perserverance of their creators is.

Williams embodies this down and out creative person without all the backstories written down for her. It’s in her dour mannerisms. It’s in her unsmiling expressions. It’s in her pair of white Crocks and her baggy sweatpants. It’s in her stares of envy when she sees Jo’s large installation pieces.

Andre Benjamin is great as a hunky colleague from the school, so is Judd Hirsh as somewhat famous artist dad who is very supportive, so is Maryann Plunkett as judgmental mom. Hong Chau shines as Jo, a self-confident talented artist who is better in every department in life than Lizzy. But however different they are, at their stages in life, there is a mutual admiration for their craft because no matter what, they share the same compulsion to create.

Unlike the cynical satire of Art School Confidential or Ghost World, where every art school cliché is closely examined and made fun of, Showing Up is stripped down to concentrate on the act of creating. When we were young and in art school, we all thought that we were going to be a famous artist someday, having our work shown in New York galleries and become rich and famous. Some of our peers did become successful in their careers, but most of us didn’t.

As we grow older, us creative types take day jobs to make a living, and do our art on the side. We discuss and lament about not choosing the more lucrative professions, whatever that might have been. We lament about us getting close to making it. But as luck would have it, we didn’t while others did. There’s certain melancholy associated with that. But we don't dwell on that anymore. Life goes on.

Showing Up is emblematic of small pleasures we get from our creations that success doesn’t measure in fame and fortune. It’s self-satisfaction of showing up every day to your studio (or basement, or shed, or garage) and create.

This perserverance manifests itself in the form of a pigeon who was attacked by Lizzy's cat and taken in first by Jo, because of course, she knows how to fix the broken wing of a pigeon, then handed down to take care of by Lizzy, who secretly feels guilty. But the bird wouldn't die! And finally flies away at Lizzy's art show opening night.

Funny and light yet packed with so much daily life wisdom with great, natural performances by everyone involved, Showing Up continues to showcase Reichardt as a unique voice in American film scene.