Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Non Communicative

Happy End (2017) - Haneke Screen Shot 2022-06-22 at 7.03.50 AM Screen Shot 2022-06-22 at 7.03.01 AM Screen Shot 2022-06-22 at 7.02.26 AM Screen Shot 2022-06-22 at 7.01.17 AM Screen Shot 2022-06-22 at 6.59.06 AMScreen Shot 2022-06-22 at 6.56.41 AM Screen Shot 2022-06-22 at 7.05.07 AM Unlike its ironic title in Michael Haneke's searing portrayal of bourgeois French family, no one is quite happy with their lives. An aging patriarch of the house Laurent (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is quietly suicidal with his failing body and early Alzheimer’s. His daughter Anne (Isabelle Huppert), the head of the family construction business, is facing a lawsuit by a worker involved in an accident at one of the construction sites, which is shown in CCTV camera in the beginning of the film, and her grown up son Pierre (Franz Rogowski) is not good at anything and not ambitious enough for her despite all the pestering. His son Thomas (Mathieu Kassovitz), a surgeon, is having an illicit sexual affair with a musician while neglecting his second wife and a newborn baby. Then there is Eve (Fantine Harduin), a thirteen-year-old girl from Thomas's first marriage. She comes to live with the Laurents after her mother is hospitalized for poisoning (Eve secretly poisoned her mother and recorded the process on her phone for amusement).

New technologies always figure into Haneke's films and this time around, it's smart phones and the internet. Eve's incessant YouTube watching of very mean boys doing evil things and Thomas's explicit sexting with his mistress which Eve has no problem excessing. The smartphone video footage bookends the film.

Even though everyone's living under the same roof, they are all living their separate, secretive lives and no one's talking to each other about anything, least of all, their feelings. When they try, like Anne confronts Pierre and Thomas does Eve, they miserably fail. The old Laurent drives out of the house in the middle of the night and crashes his car intentionally into a pole with the full intention of killing himself but ends up with a broken ankle and bruises and ends up in a wheelchair. Everyone automatically accepts that the old man is losing his marbles slowly. In this well-mannered 1st world society, everyone is too polite to air their grievances or their problems out loud. They'd rather suffer internally. No dramatics, no heart-to-heart, no sentimentality. It is funny then, that Laurent ends up confiding his dilemma to his old barber in an attempt to get him a gun so he can commit suicide. The horrified barber refuses. OK OK, see you next time. And it's the 1st world/third world, haves/and have-nots dichotomy Haneke utilizes so skillfully: Laurent's long-time caretakers are a Muslim couple. We don't know anything about them other than their very servile attitudes. We don't know if they had a young daughter until she gets mauled by the family German Shepherd.

Haneke also uses wordless scenes in wide shots to demonstrate what's lost in translation. Pierre goes to an apartment building where supposedly the victim of the construction accident lives. He is there probably to apologize. But he only gets shit kicked out of him. A group of African immigrants make appearances in two different scenes: one with the old Laurent confronting them in his wheelchair on the street, seemingly bargaining them with his wristwatch for killing him off while a white onlooker mistaking them for thugs harassing an old man. Later, the same group of people show up on Laurent's birthday brought on by Pierre, intentionally trying to make a scene, introducing them to the party guest, as he awkwardly attempts to humanize them. The Laurents are the definition of self-righteous white liberals.

It falls on the old Laurent and Eve to connect over their killing tendencies. He confesses that he suffocated his aging wife in a mercy killing and Eve semi-confesses that she once poisoned her classmate in the camp. In a way, Happy End is a sequel or extension to Haneke's extremely affecting Amour and an affirmation of his advocation for having a choice to end life. Acting is superb all around. Great to see Haneke utilizing the great Franz Rogowski and his physicality here. Rogowski's acrobatic karaoke scene is that of end dancing scene in Beau Travail with Denis Lavant. Good to see Toby Jones as Anne's British love interest as well. But it's the late Trintignant who steals the show. His scene with young Harduin is so good. Bleak in the assessment of our present society which is grooming a generation that lacks empathy, Happy End is in line with such great Haneke films as Code Unknown and Benny's Video and just as strong.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Critique of Critical Critique

Le Jeune Karl Marx (2017) - Peck Screen Shot 2022-06-21 at 12.55.41 PM Screen Shot 2022-06-21 at 12.57.04 PM Screen Shot 2022-06-21 at 1.01.06 PM Screen Shot 2022-06-21 at 1.02.35 PM Screen Shot 2022-06-21 at 1.28.49 PM Screen Shot 2022-06-21 at 1.05.44 PM Screen Shot 2022-06-21 at 1.07.04 PM Screen Shot 2022-06-21 at 1.08.40 PM Screen Shot 2022-06-21 at 1.08.08 PM Screen Shot 2022-06-21 at 1.06.03 PM It amazes me that people still use 'commie' as a slur. That after all these years, the idea of common ownership, brotherhood among all mankind and the utopia once touted by as far back as Greek philosophers are hijacked by the powers that be and still being used as a fearmongering, scare tactic. That they don't differentiate it with state capitalism of Russia and many other who followed suit after WWII. Director Raoul Peck with The Young Karl Marx, trying to show the noble intent of a young German thinker in the start of his career as a political thinker and activist, along with his friend Fredrich Engels. The result is a soul stirring work that is emblematic of all other Peck's films - direct, clear, devoid of cheap sentimentality and emotional crescendo often associated with historical biographies.

The film starts out with illustrating the serfdom and the idea of commodity and ownership - peasants gathering fallen tree branches in the woods for fire, while being careful not to break them off from the living tree, were mercilessly raided by weapons wielding raiders who treat them all equally as thieves. This is what Marx witnessed as a child. The background of the film is the 1840s, in the wake of Industrial Revolution in England. And the working class is realizing that they are living in two class system - Bourgeoisie and Proletariat, and that their living conditions are not so different from feudalist system.

Young Marx (August Diehl), persecuted by his activities and writing, flees Germany, first to Paris where Proudhon (Olivier Gourmet), a much-respected political theorist and other prominent thinkers were at the time. Paris is also where he met and married his wife Jenny (Vicky Krieps) who is from a noble family hailing from Trier, a city near Luxembourg. He also befriends with Engels (Stefan Konarske), a 26-year-old son of a rich German textile mills owner in London. Conflicted by how wealthy industrialists, including his father, treat their workers, Engels rebels against his father and marries an Irish textile worker, Mary (Hannah Steele). Marx finds in Engels his intellectual equal and rabble-rousing partner. The two join The League of the Just, an elder statemen group of communists, a predecessor to Marx and Engels' the Communist League.

Struggling with poverty and hounded by police, Marx leads a life of a constant state of exile (Germany, France, Belgium, and England), often supported and encouraged by Engels to keep going. Where everyone's rhetoric not being supported by meaningful action - that of Proudhon, Weitling and Ruge, faltered and fizzled out, the young Marx and Engels writing and theories, based on the lived experience of the proletariat paved the way for the violent struggle, 1848 Revolution, then Russian Revolution and the concept of the trade unions, workers solidarity and eventually permanent revolution.

Peck, as always, the case, brings much humanity out of the political history and figures with great compassion and urgency. The period details are impeccably replicated and acting, from Diehl, Konarske and Krieps and the supporting cast, solid. The Young Karl Marx is not sensationalized in any way. It's a total antidote to throw in someone's face who is accusing you of being a commie, just because you don't subscribe to the capitalist way of thinking. Maybe the film is too even tempered, and that might be the reason the film wasn't widely seen, but it deserves some serious attention while our world is burning more ways than one right now.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Censorship

Ahed's Knee (2021) - Lapid Screen Shot 2022-06-17 at 10.08.09 AM Screen Shot 2022-06-17 at 10.07.05 AM Screen Shot 2022-06-17 at 10.04.25 AM Screen Shot 2022-06-17 at 10.01.06 AM Screen Shot 2022-06-17 at 9.37.21 AM Screen Shot 2022-06-17 at 9.45.15 AM Israeli filmmaker Nadav Lapid's previous film, Synonyms examined national identity abroad in the background of the country's overly nationalistic and militaristic tendencies in the eyes of a young man. It was a stinging rebuke of über militarism that he grew up with and rejected. Lapid told me that in order to get a funding from the Ministry of Culture, he had to pitch it like it's a patriotic film about PTSD. And just like Synonyms, Ahed's Knee is a blunt film that doesn't shy away from criticizing the ministry's propagandistic tendencies, but it goes further and makes it the subject and confronts it head on. The title refers to the 2017 incident which went viral on the web where Ahed Tamimi, a young Palestinian girl who is shown slapping Israeli soldiers during a demonstration against the expansion of Israeli settlement in her hometown of Nabi Salih in the West Bank. A high ranking Israeli government official had said that the soldiers should've shot her knee cap off to shut her up.

Ahed's Knee concerns an aging filmmaker Y (Avshalom Pollak) casting for a project about Tamimi in Tel Aviv. He flies to a small desert town to show his previous film, arranged by a deputy director of the local library, Yahalom (Nur Fibak). She is young, well educated, ambitious liberal who seems to understand controversial artists like Y. But she is still an employee of the ministry which censors anything that is slightly critical of its government. There is a questionaire that Y has to fill out to get paid, Yahalom informs Y.

Lapid, again, draws it from his own experience. Ahed's Knee is just as autobiographical as Synonyms. Unsmiling, cynical Y who wants to expose the "ugliest, racist government" and its apatheid state is obviously drawn from himself. Y is also is a master storyteller. He breathlessly tells his experience as a young soldier stationed in Lebanon during the Israeli Occupation in the 80s to Yahalom in the desert against the setting sun, exposing lies their superiors tell to motivate young impressionable soldiers. With flashy visuals and constantly moving handheld cameras, Ahed's Knee has the same manic energy as Synonyms.

It culminates to Y making Yahalom admitting that there is strong censorship within the art community in Israel, and deep down she knows it is wrong. Ahed's Knee directly confronts the well-intentioned liberals and criticises for their sheepishness and passivity. It's an angry film and shows its director's resourcefulness in saying what he has to say in the strongest terms (in the guise of making a fiction) while getting away from the grips of the censors while making a film within the country.

Unflinching and direct in its message with kinetic visuals and breathless pacing, Ahed's Knee is another strong film from a talented filmmaker with strong point of view.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Compulsion/Stagnation

A Novelist's Film (2022) - Hong Screen Shot 2022-06-12 at 6.16.28 AM Screen Shot 2022-06-12 at 6.27.12 AM Screen Shot 2022-06-12 at 6.43.19 AM Screen Shot 2022-06-12 at 6.50.26 AM Screen Shot 2022-06-12 at 6.54.47 AM In Hong's latest, A Novelist's Film, the conversations revolve around a period of creative stagnation among artists. And it unfolds how chance meetings could break such a dry spell and give everyone involved a new direction. Junhee (Lee Hae-young of In Front of Your Face), a novelist in her slump, visits her old writer friend who fled Seoul and set up a bookshop in the suburb. She is salty about her friend's sudden disappearance and not contacting her. But they make up and Junhee is dropped off to a tall building nearby, which seems to be a local attraction, equiped with an observation deck where one can see the stretches of the Han River and nearby park. There she meets a film director Park (Kwon Hae-hyo) and his wife. Awkward pleasantries suggest that they have some histories together. Looking down at the river park, they decide to drive down to the park to have a walk. In the park, it is revealed that their project, an adaptation of Junhee's book, fell apart. Then they run into an actress Gilsoo (Kim Min-hee) who is contemplating quitting her profession. Park laments about the loss of a talent and wasted potential and Junhee behemently defends Gilsoo's decision about her career. After the director and his wife leave embarrassed, the novelist and the actress hit it off. With Gilsoo's film school student nephew joining in, they concoct a short film project that Junhee wants to make, if Gilsoo and her artist husband agree to be in it.

By another chance, Gilsoo takes Junhee to her friend who is in need of help. Her friend turns out to be the bookshop owner. There, in the small corner of the bookshop, 5 people are crammed in to talk and drink copious amount of makgeoli (Korean rice wine). Junhee stopped writing because she found her words felt like exaggerating, as if she had to find meaning in each word she writes.

So goes another meta autofiction of Hong as he reveals sliver of his filmmaking process - 'compulsion' to make films in the director's earlier days are gone, giving way to stagnation, brought on by success, relative comfort and getting old. Story isn't as important. It can be as simple as something from the real life. Inspirations and directions can't be forced and life provides them in unexpected ways. But as the director has always done by reflecting life with actors and script, he gives it a distance from himself, and by not putting any extra weight of what it all means. It doesn't have to be a documentary to be 'truthful', nor needs to be metaphoric and imbued with 'meaning'.

With his consistent output, Hong's metaverse has become as comfortable as home for his fans. Watching his films is like meeting and conversing with an old friend now - they know you, you know them. But also, you start noticing small things, a delicate story within a story and small nuances in characters that you find pleasurable. I find the bookshop owner's cutting all her ties in Seoul and 'start over' in anonimity in some other town story an added bonus. The beginning of the film where we hear off screen her berating her younger employee contrasts with Gilsoo's description of her as a good natured woman, gives more complex pictures of the character. The younger employee, played by Introduction's Park Mi-so, who played a young student lover, reveals that she is (despite her looks) 33, indicating that all these characters are grownups and no one can be told about what they need to be doing with their lives (and by extention Hong's both artistical and his private life). There is a little girl staring through the restaurant's window while Gilsoo and Junhee eat lunch. Maybe she is staring at Gilsoo because she is a famous actress. Gilsoo excuses herself and goes out to talk to the little girl. We don't hear it, but she talks to the girl a long while, all captured in one take. Loved the poet (Ki Joo-bong) not remembering an unwelcomed story he wanted to tell while drunk. These are all delicious.

A Novelist's film ends with Gilsoo watching the novelist's film. The film within a film, just like the rest of the film shot in high contrast black and white, most of the time Gilsoo looking directly at the camera, thus breaking the forth wall. The last spurts of color at the end gives a jolt, as if it is revealed that we are watching something real, private, truth.

Prolific as ever, Hong's not stagnating for sure. But I guess with the pandemic it crossed his mind. I hope his compulsion never stops.

Monday, June 6, 2022

Altitude Sickness

El Gran Movimiento (2021) - Russo Untitled Untitled Untitled Untitled Untitled Untitled Untitled Untitled Untitled La Paz, Bolivia's capital, sitting on the high plains of the Andés is a bustling city and home of close to 1 million souls. With electric wires and cable cars criss-crossing the ultra-modern glass skyscrapers against rugged natural vistas, the city spells out the rapid progress of the global economy in the ancient colonial capital where agriculture, mining, human labor are still dominant force. Director Kiro Russo conveys this imbalance in strong visual terms without employing too much words in the beginning of his 16mm shot beautiful film, El Gran Movimiento.

The film starts with a miner's demonstration in the city center. They lost their jobs and came to voice their opinion. Elder (Julio César Ticona) and two other miners walked 7 days to get to La Paz. Elder seems to be suffering from some mysterious illness. Others chime in about his conditions that he might be suffering from altitude sickness or might have miner's lungs. Doctors say it's more psychological. In the parellel storyline, there is Max (Max Bautista Uchasara), a hooded vagrant who lives in the wilderness on the rim of city. He occasionally comes into the city and serves as a mystic healer and converses with the locals. Elder and Max's storyline converge, thanks to Mama Pancha (Francisa Arce de Aro), an old woman who seems to be everyone's godmother.

The narratives are decidely loose. Russo's almost documentary style suits the film as he comments on the modern society's illness, tying it with La Paz's stunning geography - the fact the city is sitting on the Amazon basin (the highest elevation by the largest human settlement at 12,000ft) surrounded by towering natural peaks, affording its otherworldly atmosphere and contrast. It might be too inelegant and inadequate assessment to see Pancha and Max as stand-ins for the universal guadian and healer, as film doesn't really come across as a typical, steeped in traditional, psychedelic, old vs new, didactic lesson. Russo lets his visuals to do the talking - the white dog running down the hills at night, Elder having a panic episode in the street among crowds, mangled electric/telephone wires, meat grinder image preceded by mining operation... culminating to rapid-cut images all jumbled together climax serving as a mirror to complex global society we live in. But not everything is doom and gloom. There's a non-sequitur choreographed dance sequence at night by the locals. Russo seems to know all the tricks of narrative filmmaking and goes against it intentionally and having fun with it while doing it. El Gran Movimiento is a topical film with strong visuals as well as boundary pushing cinematic exercise and undoubtedly one of the best films of the year.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Interview: Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman on Taking Back the Power in Afrofuturist Musical, Neptune Frost

Saul and Uzeyman Neptune Frost, an Afrofuturist musical directed by multidisciplinary American artist Saul Williams and Rwandan visual artist Anisia Uzeyman, is a stunning film that defies conventions both content and form. When I saw it in a packed theater at New York Film Festival last year, I was enraptured by its sheer beauty - the DIY aesthetic, from the costume design to production, and its languid visual language. Then I was impressed by its very progressive politics - a non-binary superhero emerging and resistance movement against neo-colonialism.

I am very happy to see the film getting a theatrical release, thanks to good folks at KinoLorber, because Neptune Frost needs to be experienced visually and aurally on the big screen and talked about for the years to come.

Crowd-funded, the long arduous journey of production of Neptune Frost is something that needs to be looked at, concurrently with the release of the film, as an example of sheer will power and enthusiasm of its creators and everyone involved. I am very happy to bring you some of these backstories and more by having a chance to interview Williams and Uzeyman last week. So without further a do:

Saul and Anisia, thank you for talking to me today. I watched Neptune Frost at last year’s New York Film Festival and with a packed audience and was totally blown away by it. It must been such a monumental task and I don’t know how you pulled it off, but it was an amazing experience.

Saul Williams/Anisia Uzeyman: Thank you!

I understand you met each other on the set of Tey, directed by Alain Gomis, a Senegalese director’s film, as actors in 2012, am I correct?

Williams: Well actually we met at Jean-Michel Basquiat’s exhibition in Paris. It was even before Gomis film. And everything started from there. The desire to work together or collaborate came very early and the idea of this film, which didn’t start as a film but a stage play, a musical and as a graphic novel. Because both of us are actors, we wanted to create something that we can both act in, but when a producer, Steven Handel who produced Fela! On Broadway, read what we were putting together, told us that he loved the story and suggested that it would make an extraordinary film. We eventually realized that, as a film, it would shift and open much more possibilities, because here is a story that according to our writing that it would take place in Burundi and what have you, suddenly the idea of that we can go on location to shoot, the excitement about meeting all of the new faces and new actors and new talents - what it would mean for all the other artists whom we can bring in. But we had no idea what was in store for us when we accepted the idea of making a film. We hadn’t met our costume designers/set designers, Cedric Mizero, not until we went to Rwanda in 2016 to shoot a test.

Anisia Uzeyman: So we thought of the film taking place in Burundi but in 2015, Burundi kind of went through a lot (with the violent political, civil unrest), so it became a complicated location for shooting. But the idea of shooting the film there felt more liberating in terms of how our imagination went. So we went to Rwanda in 2016 to see how things were there. You know it’s the same landscape of hills and so on and there’s a lot of connection between the two countries. So we arrived there and met a lot of Burundian activists because of the flow of refugees fleeing the situation in Burundi.

Williams: 2015-2016, just as we were arriving.

Some two hundred thousand refugees?

Uzeyman: Yes. All these young people - students, activists, artists, fled the country and into Rwanda. It was this alignment of what you dreamt and what you found there that allowed us to say, “OK, this is the place!” It was synegistically clear.

Something that clicked in you, during that trip.

Williams: Yes. The first week of that trip, we encountered the majority of our cast. We also met Cedric Mizero our costume and set designer, and within the first conversation with Cedric about what the project was about, he was like 21,22 years old then, he understood immediately what we were doing. He came back the next day with sandals made of motherboards.

Oh wow.

Williams: and we said OK. This is it. We found the right person and we found the right people. Everyone introduced us to each other and the excitement in the story we were telling–

Uzeyman: And we also met the ensemble.

Williams: Yes, we also met the drum ensemble. They were refugees from Burundi who crossed the border with their drums, taking refugee in Kigali.

Uzeyman: That’s when we met Kaya Free who plays Matalusa. So we met almost everyone in the cast pretty early on. I told Saul to come and see these people and how to incorporate all these people and music and so on.

There are a lot of languages spoken in this film. When you composed the music, was it planned that way or was it something more fluid, a collaboration among all of the artists instantaneously?

Williams: So this is kind of a simple answer to your question. In that region of the world, when you are on the ground, what you find is that everyone speaks about 5 different languages. When you are sitting down at the table having conversation, they’d use expression that works best with each language. So we might say something in French or Swahili or Kinyarwanda or Kirundi and after a while we go, 'fuck this'. Me I speak English and French and I get certain words that might come through… the thing is, it’s extraordinary how we can communicate this way. All we wanted for the film was to reflect that. That’s why it’s like that. It’s not like bringing in a specialist to translate this or that language, it was naturally occurring. Our cast members naturally communicated with each other in many languages regularly. I remember going to karaoke in Kigali, Anisia’s people would be like, I want to sing this song from Mexico or this song is from Congo and this is from France. No one was flexing or showing off. They just knew that Spanish song, they knew that English song… It was just normal to them.

Uzeyman: This is very much so to the region and its history. It is also very much the case with fluidity of our culture as it expands as we open ourselves to the world.

I was going through the list of cast and crew and most of the names are not European or American, even though you both have connections in Europe and America as artists. Was it a conscious decision to employ local artists?

Williams: Yes. It was an extremely conscious decision to work with, both cast and crew locally and to bring in as few people from outside. It is true with a lot of different production companies with foreign money - European or American money, they fly in everybody and Rwandan people would be third and forth assistants. And we thought it was important to have local people heads of the departments. It was crucial to us. Secondly, there is no cinema rental facilities in Rwanda. So just because of our finance and what have you, we had to choose between spending all our resources to try to ship in all the lights for example, or build them.

DIY style.

Williams: It was easier to build our cinema lights and LED panels, dollies and 18 kilowatts cinema lights and even apple boxes. Everything you see in Neptune Frost was built by the crew. That was part of the excitement as well. We were not going in there like European or American film crew…

Uzeyman: We are from there. Simply because I was born there and Saul was adapted. (laughs) That’s why we did everything with our community. It was our desire to share the experience as a communal experience.

For those who don’t know about MartyrLoserKing Project. Can you tell us a little bit about that and its connection to Neptune Frost?

Williams: This whole project was born out of multimedia conceptualization. And so we were telling the same story as a graphic novel, as a stage play, as a musical and through a music album. As I mentioned, it was transition from musical to film- the graphic novel is still coming out next year. It's a surprise to us that our film is beating the graphic novel, but you see unlike the long list of names working on the film, there will be one or two illustrator and the writer for the graphic novel to tell that story. (laughs) Neptune and the hackers as a collective is known as MartyrLoserKing which we learn as it happens in the film. The biggest difference is that in the graphic novel, we see a little more from the MartyrLoserKing, the hackers collective's and the miners' perspectives. You see more of Techno’s perspective, you see more of that. It’s because there’s a lot more backstories in many of these characters. In the film there’s visual and there’s music and there’s a lot of space for you to explore and contemplate. But in the graphic novel, there’s a lot more texts.

That’s great. Already there’s a lot of layers in the film but there are a lot more to those characters and I am happy to hear that there will be more of them in the graphic novel. I think it’s also interesting to hear how you put all these elements together.

How I processed Neptune Frost and how it all clicked together is from the very beginning - the sound of the miners with their hammers and pickaxes digging and their singing were very similar to how American railway was built on the backs of African slaves and how the blues came about - that everything is cyclical with this global economy and rebellion and exploitation of resources and exploitation of the black bodies.

Neptune Frost is played first by Elvis Ngabo, then Cheryl Isheja. With this non-binary, intersex idea with all the young people involved in this project, you think it’s the future of humankind? Is that the message?

Uzeyman: Definitely. I think discussion on gender is ongoing. I think young people are fatigued by the old way of thinking and rightly questioning the patriarchal, empirical, the neo-colonial societal norms and this pushes people to find way to be more open and to liberate themselves from that thinking.

Williams: Yes. I mean, it’s our intention to through this film to be part of that dialogue, to provide working examples to be a part of that very modern dialogue that is crucial, to our understanding of each other, to the freedom and excitement of the new generation has and realizing the importance of being themselves beyond what they are assigned or being who they were told to be and who they were told they are.

Uzeyman: I think it’s so courageous also and I think it’s a kind of revolutionary moment that we are witnessing and being part of, in the desire of transforming, of refusing the status quo of the hierarchy of unfair and brutal society. It's not so much that we were projecting this with our film this is the discussion that’s happening right now.

Williams: And you see the pushback, you see the people trying to maintain a certain level of rigidity. It’s important that it’s not only the future but also the past - the colonial imprint that was heavily placed on people’s necks. That rigidity has put people lining up on the borders and the confines of the prison of rudimentary, heteronomative, binary definitions and–

Uzeyman: And people realize that it only starts with you.

Williams: Exactly. It affects everything. You asked about the fluidity of language. People on this side of the ocean were like, “You know how much money we are losing for not having the film in English?” When you're talking about seeing that it’s all connected that there is binary connection on every level and these rigid boundaries are placed on expression. So the authenticity of it and expression like you see in this film would automatically be thrown out. Why? Because there’s no famous people in it and it’s not in a language people of this country speak. There’s so much. It’s not only what we were doing on screen there. But every conversation, every experience we had in every festivals that everything we encountered to, just reach an audience to see the film has been a fight. It was intentional with its time. It was last year and the year before when we were talking about black bodies exploited, we were talking about BLM movement, transgender rights. We said, well here is something that is in conversation with that conversation. How do we respond to that, how do we support that? How do we uplift that or do we just go on to perpetuate the same cycle- the same bullshit, the same violence, the same bigotry, the same rigidity in our creative choices?

When we talk about Afrofuturism, how it provides not just mere escapism but a space to have this kind of conversation and exchange these kind of ideas. Do you think it’s possible to make films like Neptune Frost only in Africa - just because the wealth of cultural, social upheavals are happening there?

Williams: I’d say not at all. I need to hear from the people who are working in mines of China, Brazil, Peru, in Bolivia–

Uzeyman: We just saw a beautiful film from Bolivia.

Williams: It was about young miners. What was it called…

Uzeyman: ...and there was wonderful music in that too. It was El gran... it will come to me…

El Gran Movimiento! A great film!

Williams: Yes! So no. We at one point was thinking about shooting the film in Haiti. Our research brought us to shoot all over the world. The story of Neptune Frost- the exploitation of workers, the role of authority, belongs to the workers of the world. Those workers are still in Ireland, in Thaliand, in Cambodia. So no. I think Africa is a wonderful place for our story to be told, but for all the other places, there’s need to see and connect with those group of humanity and resources so we can share them. Yes, so at the same time, the story belongs to many, many people.

Uzeyman: Neptune Frost is kind of a retelling of a folktale, a fairytale, a birth of a superhero, right? It’s a journey of that person gaining their power. It’s just like any other superhero story. I’m pretty sure you will find that there is the same narrative everywhere.

Williams: Yeah, it’s a shared history. As you stated that while watching the film, you are connecting the dots. So yes, indigenous people of many lands can connect those dots and see themselves in this film. And that’s the first layer of what this film is about. It’s them realizing that their land is mined for power. Their land where they think and dream and birth and work on, is the power in us. Do we have that power? Are they mining our ancestors that we buried? Is that what’s affording them to communicate wirelessly? Is that our power? And Neptune is saying, yes. And that realization can be shared throughout the planet. Of course, it belongs to many.

This has been an amazing. I can’t thank you both enough for this conversation. Everyone needs to see this film on the big screen. BIG SCREEN.

Williams/Uzeyman: Yes.

Neptune Frost opens in theaters on June 3rd in New York and June 10th in LA. National rollout to follow.

Kate Bush

After Blue (Dirty Paradise) (2021) - Mandico Screen Shot 2022-05-23 at 8.42.10 AM Screen Shot 2022-05-23 at 8.48.32 AM Screen Shot 2022-05-23 at 9.01.36 AM Screen Shot 2022-05-23 at 10.38.11 AM Screen Shot 2022-05-23 at 10.53.17 AM Screen Shot 2022-05-23 at 8.22.19 AM Named after a settlement somewhere in the universe after the (wo)mankind escaped our uninhabitable, post-apocalypse planet, Dirty Paradise is an extremely queer planet with oozing flora and fauna. All the men have died out and the new planet is only inhabited by female and proliferated only by insemination. Roxy (Paula Luna), a young blonde kid who relentlessly gets bullied by her peers because she is different, lives with her town's hairdresser mom Zora (Elina Löwensohn). Because of hormon imbalance the settlers of the new planet grows tufts of hair on their necks and this gives submissive Zora plenty of work.

Roxy accidentally digs up a notorious killer/agitator named Kate Bush(!!)(Agata Buzek) on the beach who grants her three wishes. This turns into the death of Roxy's tormentors and Kate Bush escaping, running up the hills. The town's elders orders Zora and Roxy out of the confines of their cozy settlement and hunt for Kate Bush. This sets up After Blue as a sloggy western, where the mother and daughter pair needs to survive in an unforgiving and weird environs while tracking down to kill Kate Bush. The psycho-erotic telepathy that Roxy and Kate Bush shares keeps the film going forward, providing the its slight tension in the film.

Bertrand Mandico, known for his dreamy, neon colored queer fantasy films (Prehistoric Cabaret, Wild Boys), treads lightly in After Blue, rather uncharacteristically. It's a coming of age tale with sexual awakening themed sci-fi. There is no discernable message or strong metaphor or anything. But Mandico still knows how to have fun. But it's a tad bit long to sustain any kind of momentum. After the initial kitchy retro vibe of the production design, glow-in-the-dark paints and glitter wear off, there is nothing much to do for the cast, other than looking like being stranded in a darkly lit muppet show episode. I wish Mandico went all out and created over-the-top camp touching upon our desire and curiosity and gender politics.

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Its Soul Got Sucked Out

Crimes of the Future (2022) - Cronenberg Crimes of the Future Hardly reinventing the wheel, but with Crimes of the Future, David Cronenberg reiterates his usual theme strongly- inadequacy of human bodies and our soulless society. Crimes might lack his usual titilation and shock value, but it's still quite potent in making those points, more so than his better films over the years, namely - Dead Ringers, Crash, Cosmopolis and even Dangerous Methods.

Crimes of the Future presages with a disturbing beginning where a mother murders her own child after the young boy starts chomping at the plastic garbage bin in their bathroom. It's the indescript near future where human bodies evolved to a point that they don't feel pain or in needs of anticeptics when the knives cut into them. Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) is a performance artist. He and his partner, a former surgeon Caprice (Léa Seydoux) performs a sort of live autopsy on Saul's torso. It's Saul's ability to will a new organ that serves no function to his body and Caprice's tattooing and removing the organs that make them the superstars of this seemingly still unlawful and underground art form.

Saul, always shrouded in veils and hunched over, is physically not well. Either his mutations made him always brittle and ill, or his performances left him looking like a MS sufferer; he spends most of his time in the aide of a cocoon like bed hanging from the ceiling - a true cronenbergian contraption that looks like an upside down cockroach and a skeletal chair that helps him feed.

Their registering the new organs at the very literally named Organ Registy Office, a dreamy, Kafkaesque reimagining of what 'institution' looks like, connects the pair to a nebbish bureaucratic hottie Timlin (Kristen Stewart in a very comical performance), who breathlessly praises Tenser's artistry. Surgery is new sex, she declares. The dead child's father, who's also training his body to the effects of poison, approaches the pair and offers his son's body for the performance. Do they perform the live autopsy of the boy in front of the live audience or no?

Watching Crimes of the Future immediately reminded me of the famed painting by Rembrandt - The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp. In it, spectators surround a recently deceased corpse and Dr. Tulp is explaining the denuded musculature of the corpse's left forearm. Yet, the spectators' attention is not with the corpse but elsewhere and they are not even noticing the inaccurate arm (it's the right hand depicted instead of the left). Rembrandt was commenting on the inadequacy of seeking knowledge and truth in the human body in the Age of Enlightenment. And this is the point Cronenberg has been making all his career- our futile quests for answers in what makes us humans, in our bodies which are the most personal, tangible things that each of us possesses, and not finding it there. And pursuing so hard to find something in all the blood and guts, you lose sight of whatever the humanity that's left in us. In a way, Cronenberg is going back to the basics - to the flesh after more cerebral musings in searching for the soul (Dangerous Methods, Cosmopolis). Crimes of the Future is less kitschy and much less over the top parody like History of Violence or Maps to the Stars. And its general mood is closer to Spider and Dead Ringers. But nonetheless it's undeniably Cronenbergian and great.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Love Knots

Undo (1994) - Iwai Screen Shot 2022-05-22 at 9.30.57 AM Screen Shot 2022-05-22 at 9.54.24 AM Screen Shot 2022-05-22 at 11.02.02 AM Screen Shot 2022-05-22 at 9.56.49 AM Screen Shot 2022-05-22 at 9.59.37 AM Screen Shot 2022-05-22 at 10.02.29 AM Screen Shot 2022-05-22 at 10.04.40 AM Screen Shot 2022-05-22 at 10.08.10 AM Screen Shot 2022-05-22 at 10.10.25 AM Screen Shot 2022-05-22 at 10.17.14 AM Yukio (Etsushi Toyokawa) and Moemi (Tomoko Yamaguchi) are a young couple very much in love. Yukio is a writer, spending most of his time at his computer. Yet, he tries to tend to Moemi's needs. Dogs and cats are not allowed in their seemingly large and specious apartment, so Yukio gets a couple of turtles for Moemi. First apprehensive, Moemi gets used to the idea of turtles as pets and takes them to stroll outside and stuff. Moemi also got her braces off from her teeth, the new reality that Yukio has to get used to while kissing her: she notices that he is missing that metalic taste and half jokingly suggests she will wear them for him, forever.

Moemi also develops Obssessive Knot-Binding Syndrome, where she continuously binds everything in the house with her yarns - the turtles, fruit, books, sissors, etc. She finally ends up with binding herself. Is this some sort of symptoms of their seemingly normal relationship? Why is she doing this? What's the cause of her maladies? Short on exposition and but extra on surrealism, Undo befits that early 90s soft-edged Japanese emo dramas.

Undo operates in that distinct 90s Japanese literary universe, helmed by writers Banana Yoshimoto and Haruki Murakami - something whimsical, surreal yet ultimately shallow and harmless. These slight stories only exists within the universe where nothing is too dramatic or tragic, as if afraid of digging deeper into their own meanings would shatter their thin visage and evaporates into ether. But yet, that preciousness was the charm and lure so many of my peers were enraptured by back then. And Undo is the pinnacle of that fragile preciousness on display.

Shunji Iwai has a talent for visual flair - the turles hanging from the windows, gaggle of school children while the couple are embracing, the sunbeams on Yamaguchi's lovely face are all memorable.