Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Lovely Contemplation on Nature, Filmmaking and Human Connection

Geographies of Solitude (2022) - Mills Geographies_of_Solitude_Landscape We are presented with a night sky; thousands of stars are twinkling, a shooting star appears and crosses the screen. It's so picturesque it looks almost fake, very graceful but nonetheless a computer-generated animation, perhaps. Then the horses at the bottom of the screen begin to move. Then a moving lantern. It is dawn, and we realize the scenery that we are introduced is real. So, starts miraculously beautiful Geographies of Solitude.

Zoe Lucas is a naturalist/environmentalist. She first came to Sable Island, a patch of land 20 miles long and one mile wide, 100 miles off the coast of Nova Scotia in 1971 to study wild horses living there. She fell in love with the island and couldn't wait to get back on. She got a job as a cook in the seal population research team, then off and on, spent some 9,000 days there and made it her home. She has been meticulously logging data, not only on the horse population, but also sorting through mountains of plastic debris being washed up ashore, diligently cataloging them, leaving records of environmental impacts of the Anthropocene era.

Her shed is full of found treasures both alive and stationary - stacks of note books with daily written reports, photo slides, petri dishes, wind chimes made out of washed up materials and crystals, meticulously cataloged insects and other specimen in jars, patches made out of thousands blown balloons, plastic vats of yet to be cleaned and cataloged debris washed up ashore...

Filmmaker Jacquelyn Mills, in collaboration with Lucas, lovingly documents all that a windswept remote island can offer - sand dunes, horses, seals and insects, its intricate ecosystem. She also comments on the human footprints on environment through Lucas while capturing some of the most breathtakingly gorgeous images on 16mm film. It includes naturally exposed film stocks only by moonlight and hand printed footage using natural surroundings, like horse dung, sand, kelp and yarrow.

Soundscapes play big part in the film too. It’s filled with humming of the seals, insects, never ceasing winds, neighs of the horse, waves… Using small contact microphone, in Mills’ hand, tiny insects’ footsteps, the creaking of an abandoned wooden structure turn into music.

As Lucas says in the beginning of the film, her life on the island has been the process of discovery. I'm grateful that through Mills, we too could discover, albeit second hand, the grains of sand becoming the twinkle of the stars and dead horse becoming the source of new vegetation.

Later in the film, after a day of collecting samples in the field, Lucas says that because of being on the island was so rewarding, engaging and fulfilling, she lost track of everything else in her life. As they turn back to go back to the shed, Mills insists that she wants to stay in the field to collect some sound. “You don’t really need me to stay here for that do you?” Lucas quips, “No but this way we can spend some time together.” Mills shyly responds. Solitude takes a comforting tone in Geographies of Solitude. The film is one of the loveliest feature debuts in years.

Geographies of Solitude plays part of this year's edition of Hot Docs Festival on 4/30 and 5/4. Please visit Hot Docs Festival website for tickets and info.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Vibrant, Youthful Take on Old Paris

Paris, 13th District (2021) - Audiard PARIS 13TH DISTRICT - Still 2 Known as Les Olympiades, named after cities across the world which had hosted Olympic games, are the middle income high-rise residential buildings built in the 70s, near shopping malls and pedestrian overpasses, situated in the 13th District (13th Arrondissement), which is commonly regarded as a Chinatown of Paris. It's a place far from the images associated with the famed city. With its diverse population and nondescript modern buildings, shops and business offices and constantly changing landscapes due to new developments, it can double as any other modern Asian city. This is the backdrop of Paris, 13th District, a new film by Jacques Audiard, the supreme purveyor of French outlier cinema (Prophet, Rust and Bone, Dheepan), chronicling the stories of immigrants who make up and represent the face of the increasingly diverse nation.

After delving into the Western genre with wry The Sisters Brothers, Audiard takes yet another unexpected turn with Paris, 13th District, delicately sampling American cartoonist Adrian Tomine's 3 decades spanning work- specifically, Hawaiian Getaway, Amber Sweet and Killing and Dying and situating them in to contemporary Paris setting. Shooting in crisp monochrome, with kinetic camera movement and editing and a diverse cast, with the script co-written by Céline Sciamma, the film has a distinctly modern and youthful feel to it. Skillfully interweaving Tomine's stories of urban ennui, mistaken identities, and human connections in an Internet age, Audiard captures vivid and lively portraiture of an emerging new generation and while doing so, reinvents the notion of Parisian romance.

Émilie (luminous newcomer Lucie Zhang), a Taiwanese transplant, is a rootless, rudderless, lonely young woman living in her grandma (who's in group home due to her Alzheimer’s)'s apartment, rent-free. It's in one of those high-rise in Les Olympiades. She subsists her living with a telemarketing job she hates and getting a revolving array of roommates. After mistaking Camille (Makita Samba) who responded to her web classified for a roommate, for a female because of the female sounding name, she reluctantly agrees to their new living arrangement. Soon they start a no-strings-attached sexual relationship. But Camille is a disillusioned, cynical public school teacher with know-it-all attitude. He has aspirations to have a business of his own. Soon he starts lecturing about Émilie's lazy millennial lifestyle while she grows feelings for him. Would he help her to get her life in order? Would she melt his cold, calculating heart?

Then there is Nora (Noémie Merlant of Portrait of a Lady on Fire), a nebbish 30-something country bumpkin who is fleeing a disastrous marriage and just excited to be a student again (at Sorbonne), only to find her life turning upside down when she is mistaken for a popular web porn star Amber Sweet (played by singer Jehnny Beth of Savages), the constant harassment at school makes her impossible to continue her study. Would Nora let her frigid self go and let herself loosen up by way of connecting with Amber?

The breakout star of the film is definitely young Lucie Zhang as she inhabits her character with ferocious physical intensity and abandon. She understands the power of her youthfulness and knows exactly how to use it. Her portrayal of Émilie's wayward lifestyle and urban ennui are so natural and authentic, you see her great potential as a major acting talent in the making. Makita Samba is also great as a self-assured individual finding his priorities slowly, so is Noemi Merlant, as a bookish woman letting things go, so is Camille Léon-Fucien as Eponine, a sassy, precocious young woman on her way to her Internet stardom.

Coincidences and chance meetings weave these Parisians' lives together in an Internet age in Paris, 13th District. With Tomine's astute insight to his characters' psyche intact, Audiard creates sexy, vibrant and ethnically diverse portrayals of youthful love stories that upends the postcard-ready and homogenous Paris romances we are presented with. It's a welcoming change.

Paris, 13th District opens in theaters 4/15 via IFC Films.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Jacques Audiard, Lucie Zhang on PARIS, 13TH DISTRICT: Chinese Food, Covid Lockdown and The Internet

AudiardZhang Jacques Audiard, known for his superb thrillers (Read My Lips, The Beat that My Heart Skipped), became the supreme purveyor of French outlier cinema, chronicling gritty immigrant experiences in an increasingly diverse nation with such films as The Prophet, Dheepan and even to some extent Rust and Bone, comes out with a slight, sexy romance film based on Adrian Tomine's graphic novels called Paris, 13th District (Les Olympiades, Paris 13e). With its diverse cast and unusual setting (a lesser known and seldom seen neighborhood, in films anyway), Audiard is upending the typical notion of romantic French film taking place in Paris.

He also introduces us his new ingénue, Lucie Zhang, a 21 year old French actress of Chinese descent, giving a star making performance as Émilie, a disaffected, live-by-the-moment millennial who tries to navigate ever so complicated human relationship in the Internet age. They both were in New York for Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in March and I was able to snag an interview with them. It took place in Midtown Regency Hotel in Manhattan. Audiard, an industry veteran who worked with many great actors over the years, is a fast talking gregarious man, whereas Zhang by comparison, is much more subdued and shy, unlike the uninhibited charactor she portrays. It was an interesting dynamics that I got to witness.

Paris, 13th District opens Friday 4/15 in theaters statewide.

I know that the 3 narrative threads are based on the work of American graphic novel artist Adriane Tomine, I am curious how Paris, 13th District all came about?

Jacques Audiard: I’m afraid my answer might be a little uninteresting. At the time I was looking for a subject for a film. I didn’t have anything specific in mind. And a friend of mine recommended these graphic novels by Adrian Tomine, saying, “if you read them I’m pretty sure you will find something you might like,” and I wasn’t really familiar with him at all. And I read some of his work and I really loved them. So it was a good suggestion. And what I found interesting about Tomine as an author, is that for a graphic novel, it has a lot of psychological analysis - it had characters that are complex and he also left things unexplained in them. At the same time, his drawing style, he doesn’t beautify things- he just shows the reality of what they are like and that appealed to me as well.

Um hmm.

JA: I really didn’t know the popularity of Tomine. So when I started working on the project, people asked me what I was up to and when I tell them that I am doing this project based on Tomine’s work, I was surprised that everyone knew his work. I was the last to know! How does Tomine’s work translate to the Paris setting? Is it because the stories are universal? AJ: I don’t know. I think, the psychology of it, to me it is very individual and even very local. But what I think he does is he creates these portraits of complicated people. (pause) Ask Lucie. She will know. (laughs)

Lucie, What’s your relationship with Les Olypmiades?

Lucie Zhang: My answer is not that interesting either. I have a very good friend living there right now. And my parents met each other for the first time there and fell in love. I don’t live there but I often go there to get bubble teas and food and shop with friends.

What is your relationship with the place?

JA: My relationship is historical. I’ve lived there for a really long time. I moved away after between my first and second film. It’s an area that I know very well. I like it very much. It’s very diverse and always has been. It’s also an area that the last 15-20 years has really undergone a lot of physical change. And the sensation that you get, when you are there, is that you are in Paris without being in Paris, because it doesn’t have the look that we are all familiar with. Particularly, by filming it in black and white, it gave me an opportunity to show an illusion that it could be not even Paris, that it could be an Asian city. It has that kind of look to it. This is true, particularly when you go to Les Olympiades (the 4 high rise residential buildings and shopping malls), that give that kind of feeling. Well, its not like New York high rises in comparison. (laughs) It also feels very young because there are two branches of universities, so there are a lot of young people there. 

I mean, I go to Chinatown here in Manhattan all the time to eat and shop.

JA: Are we far from Chinatown here?

It's just a subway ride away downtown.

LZ: I was looking for it yesterday but took the subway and ended up in Queens Plaza.

Oh no. You took it to the wrong direction.

LZ: Oh really? I wanted to go to a Chinese restaurant because I was craving some good food. I ended up in some place and the food was not so good.

I should've known. I know some good places. How was the casting process?

LZ: Three sessions. First I saw it on the internet. I sent the email and met with Christel Baras (casting director). Second, it was a call back because she liked me, even though I wasn’t the obvious choice because at the time I was 19 and I believe the character was 25 I think. They thought I looked too young and too childish- I am still, I think. So they rejected me. Then the covid lockdown started. And during it I got a phone call again. Then I met with Jacques.

And how did you get to choose Lucie?

LZ: I won’t hear. (Laughs)

My question stirred up a frantic conversation in between Audiard and Zhang in French. I can only make out when Zhang says in English, looking at me laughing - "I lacked confidence," in response to what Audard was saying.

JA: Christel suggested several actresses for the part. So even though the casting process seemed very long for Lucie, it’s quite normal how we did it. What I learned from this process is I shouldn’t always trust my instincts because my first choice for a particular role can turn out to be a completely a wrong person. And for this film, with Amber (Jehnny Beth) and Nora (Noémie Merlant), were also a similar kind of situation. I think for me what worked here was Christel who really pulled the cast together. so you have to be really careful what to say when you are a director.

LZ: How do you what point you know if it's the right person or wrong person for the role?

JA: Well, I worked with you in rehearsals and found out. It's actually very interesting because it concerns the timeline of how long it takes versus when I knew you were the right actor, for you it is the exact moment but for me it was working together for a while that I knew. That it wasn't temporal. Does it make sense?

LZ: I understand.

JA: I think the moment I knew was that Makita (Samba) who played Camille, came in that you guys work together very well. It's when they were talking and listening to each other that I knew.

This conversation was revealing in a lot of ways how Audiard's process with actors works. That it's not necessarily choosing the right actors but it's a bigger process and sculpting the actors during the rehearsal.

Obviously this film was shot during Covid Pandemic. Was it difficult for you?

JA: Of course there were a lot of protective restrictions and constant testing...and in a way it was kind of funny because after you come on to the certain part of the set, you test, you wear the mask, then you come on to the actual set, you take off your mask and take off your clothes... so it's a peculiar situation. But interesting thing during the lockdown is that you basically have a whole population that are forced to be inside, but here the actors were able to come to work and it was a really good time for them because it gave them some place to go outside. The french word here is confinement because they were really confined.

The party scene with the DJ, there were about 100 extras and all of them have been tested, tested and tested again to be able to come. And when they came they were really partying because it was a liberation for them, to the point they didn't want to leave! We had to usher them out because it was the first time they were out of their room in 3 month!

The film is vibrant and has a lot of great energy and has a hopeful ending. The world we live right now is not like that. It's full of disasters and wars. As a generation Z, who went through all these difficult times - The Gulf Wars, the financial collapse, pandemic and another war or invasion happening right now all in your lifetime. Do you feel that your generation is hopeful for the future? LZ: It's a very hard question. I feel there are two types of people. One is people who are feeling really ill at ease and sometimes they feel they are victimized by all the things that are happening. For these people, they feel there is no hope. The other type is people who are more cognizant of history and what happened in the past that there were worse situations in the past and people managed to survive through them. And they are more optimistic. So it's really hard to say.

Internet. Is it helping or a hindrance for human connection?

JA: We can't make that kind of black and white distinction. It's bad in a sense that its a conveyor of conspiracy theories, fake news, all of that. But at the same time it helps people to connect with culture and broader idea of society, in that aspect it is good. If I can give you a brief analogy in the political world: In France right now they banned RTTV. the purveyor of propaganda. Personally I don't think its a good idea to ban it. We all know it's propaganda, we all know it's fake news, we all know that they are rallying against the liberal agendas and trying to rewrite history with their own fairytale in what is really happening. But at the same time, if we leave it there, we know we can look at them, see how they think and how they are progressing. But if we ban them completely, it robs us of that possibility. And sometimes people do stupid things (like banning) in the spur of the moment but I think it's better for us to leave it. OK. that's my bit of intellectualizing for the day. It's a time for a cigaret break!

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Love (is) Unclassifiable

Yeh Freedom Life (2018) - Sen Yeh Freedom Life Priya Sen's film, Yeh Freedom Life, sketches out two queer love stories in bustling Delhi streets. Parveen is a street bendor who has strings of female lovers and currently in love with a married woman who keeps vascillating, going back and forth from her family to Parveen. Sachi works at a local beauty parlor. She fell in love with a woman who works as a security guard, their stories unfold in Ambedkar Nagar, a densely populated neighborhood in Old Delhi, India. It feels very real and intimate. The film starts with a mass 'baby shower' that Indian Gov. initiatives to 'educate' pregnant women and these officials rhetoric are some of the most sexist I've ever heard. They all culminates to 'if you don't follow these common rules, your husband will leave you" variety. The radio show overheard in driving car shot suggests that women are inferior intellectually is also very demeaning to woman. It's as if making the rudimentary case for intelligence equals emotional intelligence. In a later conversations with the subjects and one of the 'aunties' saying queer love that Sachi has for her lover is 'too strong' to be natural, seems to be based on observation soley based more on emotional level, as if it is a bad thing.

Yeh Freedom Life makes an interesting pair as I saw another Indian (actually Sri Lankan) queer documentary last week at Art of the Real, If From Every Tongue It Drips by Sharlene Bamboat. Unlike ordinary subjects in Sen's film, Bamboat's subjects are well-known Tamil feminist activists, as the director records their intimate daily lives together and touches upon the repressed desires. The two films contrasts and accompany each other in terms of its subjects' class differences and human desires and love. Sen's subjects, in discussing their love, are more direct but quite unconcerned with their sexual identities. It's their uncluttered nonnomative view on love, even in highly heteronomative and extremely patriarchal society that is refreshing and hopeful, especially in the context of India decriminalizing homosexuality in 2018.

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Chamber Piece with Thousands Stories

The Girl and the Spider (2021) - Zürcher Screen Shot 2022-04-02 at 10.00.52 AM Screen Shot 2022-04-02 at 10.05.43 AM Screen Shot 2022-04-03 at 12.37.41 PM Screen Shot 2022-04-03 at 12.42.15 PM Screen Shot 2022-04-03 at 12.33.45 PM Screen Shot 2022-04-03 at 12.23.05 PM Twin siblings Ramon and Silvan Zürcher's second film, after enigmatic The Strange Little Cat (2013), is yet another chamber piece as a microcosm of people's inner yearning and desire to connect in the modern society. And The Girl and Spider is just as ambiguous and non-conclusive as the former, if not more so.

The plot is pretty simple - one of the two roommates (who seem more than roommates), Lisa (Liliane Amuat), is moving out and getting her own flat. Mara (Henriette Confurius) with striking dark blue eyes, with herpes on her upper lip prominently displayed, is the one who is left behind. Like their debut feature, Zürchers concentrate on the indoor flat settings with a camera firmly fixed on the confines of the flats with several characters crammed in, squeezing by one another, making the places claustrophobic and devoid of any room for privacy. There's Lisa's mother, their friends, flirty neighbors, a handyman and his son, a cat, a dog, rowdy kids and of course, a hefty spider from the title who usually sits on the corner of the ceiling and makes unannounced appearances from time to time. Also like their previous film, The Girl is a very wordy film. Everyone has a story to tell, whether it falls on deaf ears is not as important. No communication is direct, no one would blurt out that they want to sleep with each other, or being extremely judgmental or cruel. Our society is too polite for that. It's in the slight touches on the shoulders and glances.

The human relationships are fickle; there are a lot of missed opportunities, one night stands, jealousy, yearning and desire that are not fulfilled - all these are happening around Mara, our static figure on the sidelines. She's not immune to be the object of desire, as she gets attention from both sexes. Is she taking a break from the sinewy human connections because of the STD? Or is she somewhat autistic the way talented people are (she sketches gorgeous portraits of people around her). She is also capable of cruelty. Does the spider which gets passed on from Mara to others and back, signify a disease or desire or both?

Only solvable mystery is the case of missing cat. It was the neighbor upstairs- a lonely old lady who took the cat in to her apartment. Does she need our scorn or empathy? Therefore, however complicated we see ourselves to be, do we need to be scorned for our jealousy, desire and cruelty or do we need empathy? Everyone, in Zürcher's films, imagined or otherwise, like the shop girl at the window, the chambermaid who left the piano in their apartment and went on to work at a cruise ship, even inanimate objects - plant, drawings, styroform cups, feathers, paint, have a story to tell and needs to be heard and deserve our empathy.

Stylistically original, but The Girl and the Spider reminds me of the ending of Kieslowski's Red by way of Schanelec in its enigmatic storytelling and it's wonderful. I can't wait for Zürcher's The Sparrow and the chimney as they conclude the trilogy.

Friday, April 1, 2022


What Farocki Taught (1998) - Godmilow Screen Shot 2022-04-01 at 4.33.33 AM Harun Farocki, a German filmmaker, made a short film The Inextinguishable Fire in the late sixties. It was a fierce anti Vietnam War film that implicates not just the US Government and the Dow Chemical but it implicated the ordinary US citizens in its atrocity also, while explaining the napalm production in such a detached, scientific manner. To put it better way, instead being confrontational by showing the pictures such as the iconic 'napalm girl' or other atrocities and turned the viewers off, it explained how modern division of labor- 'the building blocks' of the Dow Chemical company, where each individual worker makes only one component of the bomb, surreptitiously hides its true intent on what those individuals are contributing in making. The film broke down scientifically how it's done and how the thought of individual responsibilities in those kind of endeavor dissolve. It was short. It was emotionless and it was to the point.

Jill Godmilow, an American experimental filmmaker, watched the film in the 90s for the first time and thought it was perfect. It was a documentary unlike any other, but far more effective than any documentaries that plead to the viewer's emotions with 'shocking' evidences. She was just disappointed that she didn't make it herself. So she decided to remake it, shot-by-shot, but this time in English and in color. She would make it in the US and closer in vicinity to where the Dow Headquarters were situated. With the colleagues and collaborators, Godmilow seeks exact copies in reenactment scenes. Farocki's minimalist and obviously fake staging of Dow Chemical offices are reenacted in the same manner. The burning of the lab rats, non-actors portraying scientists, delivering lines in monotones are exactly the same, except it's now in English and people in period costumes. Godmilow sometimes superimposes Farocki's film directly over her image, making sure that viewers see it is the exact replica. The message remains the same. The times have changed but the atrocities commited in our name have not.

Considering that, just like any other decade, 90s were riddled with wars as it is now and the modern military industrial complex is fully in place with the thought of individual responsibilities in the atrocities of war getting further and further away from our consciousness with more complex division of labor, What Farocki Taught reminds us that things haven't changed much. And it's quite remarkable the far reaching influence of Harun Farocki, as a writer, philosopher and filmmaker, to generations of filmmakers both in experimental and narrative field.

What Farocki Taught is also a good reminder of the state of what is considered as a documentary nowadays. Since the explosion of topical liberal documentaries in the 90s, the word is hijacked by the news media - every major newspaper now has its vlogs, CNN has its own documentary production division, streaming platforms are awash with its own documentary productions, all catered toward shocking revelations and appeal to your emotions with 'real footage' and 'truth seeking' manipulating viewers this way or that way. Is showing the shocking images and playing with your emotions with a narrativeized documentary a right way to go about discovering the truth? Or is the truth elsewhere, in a cellphone shot footage of war in Syria, Palestine, Yemen, Ukraine put on youtube? Our critical analysis of what we see is necessary. The context matters. How we approach to seek the truth is important. Farocki and Godmilow shows more effective way to communicate and it's valuable.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Art of the Real 2022 Preview

This House - Miryam Charles This-House On the onset, a grown version of a 14-year old girl who died in 2008 tells that the film will travel space and time since in film medium, everything is possible. So starts lyrical staging of unspeakable grief and all the potential of what could have been. Terra, played by Schelby Jean-Baptist, witnesses her funeral, carries on imaginary conversations with her mom (Florence Blaine MBaye), a Haitian immigrant, first to Quebec, then to Connecticut, US.

This House contemplates many things - the idea of home for both body and spirit, how the tragedy rips open a hole in space/time continuum, and giving voice to the voiceless/dead. The film consists of obvious indoor studio stagings, the lush greenery of the Haiti and its coastline and footage of bleak Northeast US footage all captured in grainy 16mm. Filmmaker Miryam Charles sort out a tough subject close to home with cinematic playfulness and poetic lyricism. This House is a poignant and compelling cinematic experience.

Train Again - Peter Tscherkassky Train Again-2 From the beginning of motion picture with Lumière Brothers, trains and film have a long and intertwined history. With Train Again, the assemblage-film master Peter Tscherkassky painstakingly creates a thrilling cinematic cake, pulling clips from as far back as Lumière's, The Great Train Robbery, Ballet Mécanique, to The Spirit of the Behive, Shining to Hollywood B-action films. His usual technique - rapid cutting, erratic camera movement, repetition and flicker effects, Train Again tests your persistence of vision to a dazzling effect. With Dirk Scheafer's tension building score, the 20 minute long film works like a thrill ride just like Tscherkassky's previous works like Outer Space or Dream Work. You really want to see it on pristine film print.

Super Natural - Jorge Jácome Super Natural-2 From the visual void we are introduced to a static noise. This static noise decked with subtitles is an omnipresent being, guiding us through Super Natural, a visual aural invitation to a group meditation called film watching. Shot in stunning backdrop of Madeira, Portugal, the film remind us that we are all connected in this world, the air we breathe in, the rock we are standing on, the fruit we eat, the various sea creatures, a little plastic bugs, our bodies, our imagination, our consciousness....

Shot in various medium - super 8, VR computer graphics, instagram images and using a group of people, some with disabilities and some not, Super Natural wants to place us in an environment not as strangers. It wants us to acknowledge that we are part of the ecosystem in the unstable world we are living in. Jácome and his collaborators use loose visual and words associations throughout with vivid colors and humor. The non-narrative images colliding but holds its shape together like a collage. Super Natural is a sensual meditation on human existence and connections with one another.

Geographies of Solitude - Jacquelyn Mills Geographies_of_Solitude_Landscape Zoe Lucas is a naturalist/environmentalist. She first came to Sable Island, a patch of land 20 miles long and one mile wide off the coast of Nova Scotia some 40 years ago to study wild horses living there and made it her home. She has been diligently and meticulously logging data, not only on the horse population, but also sorting through mountains of plastic debris being washed up ashore and cataloging them, leaving records of environmental impacts of the anthropocene age.

Filmmaker Jacquelyn Mills in collaboration with Lucas, lovingly documents all that a windswept remote island can offer - sand dunes, horses and seals, its intricate ecosystem. She also comments on the human footprints on environment through Lucas while capturing some of the most breathtakingly gorgeous images on 16mm film, plus naturally exposed footage only by moonlight and hand printed footage using natural surroundings. Here, tiny insects footsteps turn into music, grains of sand become twinkle of the stars, dead horse brings forth new vegetation. Geographies of Solitude is one of the loveliest feature debut in years.

Come Here - Anocha Swichakornpong Come Here-2 A group of young theater actors take a trip to Kanchanaburi, west of Thailand, where Death Railway, once a site for WWII atrocities where tens and thousands civilians and Allied POWs lost their lives in labor camps. But the museum is under renovation and closed. The group, consists of 3 boys and 1 girl, leisurely hangs out at the lake house, smoke weed, mimics animal noises and engage in mundane conversations.

In a parallel action, a woman who is camping in the forest seems to be lost. Dazed and confused, she finds a stream, drinks the water then changes into a boy. Then we see the lakeside bungalow scene play out again on stage, with a scenery shot from the train out the stage window, moving us forward.

In her previous films, Suwichakornpong engaged us in a socio-political history buried underneath the lush forest of Thailand. Her approach is getting more and more abstract with each new film. Come Here, clocking at just over an hour, is like a puzzle piece with some of the vital pieces missing - what's the meaning of the transformation? Is the camper dreamed up by the girl by the lake or vice versa? How does a Bangkok's zoo closing figure into the story?

With the country's train and railway having imbued historical significance, Suwichakornpong's new film charts progress, nature, harkening back to animism, the younger generations collective historical amnesia, and the country's physical and spiritual transformation... in such a mysterious yet seductive manner. Watching Come Here is not frustrating- it provides you enough of threads, not at all in a teasing way, to decipher and mull over its sinuous connections and implications regarding history and it's thrilling.

If From Every Tongue It Drips - Sharlene Bamboat If From Every Tongue It Drips-1 An intimate potrayal of a Tamil queer feminist activist and historian Ponni Arasu and her activist partner Sarala Emmanuel as they record their daily lives and discuss Indian history and quantum physics in relation to human connections and the state repressed desires. Shot in sticky, tropical climate of Sri Lanka, If From Every Tongue It Drips is sensory overload experience with constant chatters of people, birds, insects, mechanical humming, traffic, street noise, water lapping at the shore, and music. Bamboat uses discordant sound, highligting the film's multicultural everywhere-ness. Arasu, almost always a subject of attention, recites Rekhti poetry full of passion and sensuality about female desires for one another that went against British colonialism and its purification of the culture that dominated much of the British rule.

The film is fascinating, informal history lesson done through many languages and culture, all spoken and sang by Arasu who gives a queer perspective on history that is sorely needed to understand the cultural, political landscape of modern India and its feminist movement. The film also celebrates tender, proud and loving relationship the two women shares.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Domestic Terror

The Strange Little Cat - Zürcher Screen Shot 2022-03-27 at 9.10.25 AM Screen Shot 2022-03-27 at 9.11.44 AM Screen Shot 2022-03-27 at 9.12.33 AM Screen Shot 2022-03-27 at 9.13.12 AM Screen Shot 2022-03-27 at 9.14.02 AM Screen Shot 2022-03-27 at 9.16.16 AM An unusual chamber piece that holds more mystery and tension in its 70 minute runtime than an average thriller, Ramon Zürcher's The Strange Little Cat calls on a normal German middle-class family life into question: Are they OK?

The film is composed entirely of medium static shots in the family's small apartment, never to reveal the goings-ons of off frame. Everyone says things in a matter-of-fact fashion and their interactions with others are limited to us watching them staring vacantly to the other person off camera. Mom, played by Jenny Schily who always looks like she is suffering from migraines, tries to hold it together for one day, hosting a dinner party for her extended family. Her two grown children, Simon and Karin, are visiting from elsewhere. Her younger daughter Clara screams on top of her lungs whenever the blender is on and always wrecking havoc with the growling family dog and the orange tabby cat, which won't stop jumping on the dining table. The washer is broken and in need of service, there's moth flying around the kitchen and there's a rat scurrying around in the courtyard below.

Everyone has a strange encounter stories to tell but no one really pays any attention to them. Are they not significant enough or are they the signs of distress? How about the shots of objects - a glass of milk on the kitchen counter with floating hair on top, a yellow ball the dog plays with, a dancing bottle on the stove - what do they signify?

Anything that is said and heard in The Strange Little Cat accumulates into an uneasy feeling. Everyone's saying something to the others but nothing really sticks. This is more of the case to mom than others. She tells a weird story about going to the movies and a stranger next to her put his foot on her foot but she missed the opportunity to withdraw or let him know. Was she getting hit on, or was she making things out of proportion? She tells Karin about a crowded place she goes for lunch during the dog walk, just to have lunch next to some strangers.

People's cruelty to one another seems more accepted - Karin's attitude toward the neighbor's kid who kicked a hacky sack into the kitchen window, or mom's lingering foot above the cat's head, Simon's story about a drunk woman at the party who later got arrested, or mom's contemplation of pricking her finger with a sewing needle, and so on.

There's a lot to unpack in The Strange Little Cat. It's the everyday domesticity that plays out like a horror film.

Monday, March 14, 2022

Preview: First Look at MoMI 2022

First Look, a Museum of Moving Image's annual showcase, scoping new innovative films from around the world, is back and I'm happy to announce that it's a real treasure trove this year.

This year's lineup includes Murina, a Cannes Camera d'Or (Best First Feature) winner from Croatia, two documentaries by Ukrainian master filmmaker Sergei Loznitsa, Valentyn Vasyanovych's all-too-precient realization of the Russian invasion in Reflection, Chinese artist Qiu Jiongjiong's spectacularly cinematic display of history and art, A New Old Play, Tsai Ming-liang's love letter to flourescent light soaked Hong Kong's afterhours in The Night, Adèle Excharpoulos starring satire on capitalism, Zero Fucks Given, just to name a few. The festival runs 3/16-3/20. For tickets and info, please visit MoMI's website.

Murina - Antoneta Alamat Kusijanovic *Opening Night Film Murina Julija is a teenage girl living in the small fishing island off the rugged, picturesque coast of Croatia with her overbearing father, Ante, and a former beauty queen mother, Nela. Antoneta Alamat Kusijanovic's debut film strongly develops into a fraught father-daughter relationship out in the open, or under the surface in this case with the striking opening sequence- they are spearfishing for an illusive sea eel together. As they come out of the water, you can see there is a cut in Julija's upper thigh near her groin. She was manhandled in the water for something she shouldn't have done. The tension rises when Ante's old friend, millionaire developer Javier (suave Cliff Curtis) visits the island for a land developing deal that Ante is cooking up. They are hoping to move to Zagreb and get an apartment if the deal goes through, possibly leaving behind the fisherman existence. Sexual tension, jealousy clash with controlling nature of patriarchal society. With lush cinematography and great feature acting debut by Gracija Filipovic, Murina stands above the usual coming of age film.

The Night - Tsai Ming-liang *screens with Murina as Opening Night Film The Night Shot in November of 2019 while making Days in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, this 20 minute short, The Night, is an amalgam of all Tsai's films in a small package - urban loneliness. Long static shots of night exterior with a cold fluorescent lights with ordinary people walking, waiting at the bus stops, eating in tiny stalls, with occasional cars passing by, play out like a Hong Kong version of Edward Hopper painting in motion in a concrete jungle, where human beings seem tiny and insignificant. A melancholic old song "The Night is Too Beautiful to Last" by Pei Ni kicks in around 15 minute mark. The film is Tsai's love letter to the night and melancholy it brings.

Babi Yar. Context - Sergei Loznitsa Babi Yar Babi Yar is a ravine near Kiev where execution of 33,771 Ukrainian Jews took place when the city fell to invading German troops in 1941. They were rounded up by German SS soldiers and the Ukrainian Police Force. In this all archival footage documentary, Ukrainian filmmaker, Sergei Loznitsa, approaches the subject in his typical, non-authorial way, without any narration and spares no one in the process. The holocaust memorial wasn't built until 2016. Now with the Russian invasion with Putin's shrewd campaign to 'denazifying Ukraine' and Svoboda - ultra-nationalist/neo-nazi element in Ukraine and also having a Jewish head of the state Zelenskyy emerging as the national hero during war time, Babi Yar. Context provides Ukraine's complex history and counters what is termed as chronocide, or erasing history, in our modern society full of misinformation and propaganda.

Feathers - Omar El Zohairy Feathers When her husband turns into a chicken during the magic trick at their son's birthday party, our unnamed female protagonist has to deal with 3 young children and crippling poverty and absurd amount of bureaucracy.

Feathers is an Kafka-esque absurdist social satire of the patriarchal, sexist Egyptian society. Director Omar El Zohairy, assistant director for fantastic 2016 film Last Day of the City, making his feature film debut, prefers tight, off-centered framing to accentuate the cramped interiors, physical dominance over the female heroine. Part surrealist comedy and part neo-realist drama, Feathers illustrates that there are very limited options for women living in a men's world.

A New Old Play - Qiu Jiongjiong A New Old Play Impeccably crafted, Chinese artist Qiu Jiongjiong's epic A New Old Play is seen through the eyes of Qiu Fu (Yi Shicheng), a gifted Chinese opera singer through the tumultuous modern history of China from 1920s to Mao's Cultural Revolution and beyond.

Qiu, with a white patch around his nose permanently because of wearing his clown makeup all his life, is summoned by two demons (Bullhead and Horsehead) to report to hell, because he is dead. We are then taken back to Qiu's early years as a street urchin being picked up by the Sichuan theater troupe headed by Chinese opera enthusiast and army commander Pocky. Spectacular handpainted sets and backdrops (production design done also by Qiu) and with simple but clever camera staging - slow dolly tracking and playing with deep focus, A New Old Play has in common with Roy Andersson's and Wes Anderson's cinema, if only aesthetically. Through its 3 hour runtime as these carefully orchestrated sets and movements settle you in to lived-in, comfortable feeling. And its Qiu's unbiased approach to Chinese history that gives melancholic resonance and wisdom being a witness to history on a personal level. Qiu hits home the idea of life being a stage, where we live and die on it

Reflection - Valentyn Vasyanovych Screen Shot 2021-09-13 at 10.36.22 AM If Valentyn Vasyanovych's previous filmAtlantis was dealing with fictional scenario of the future ecological devastation and human toll from the prolonged war, Reflection, using gray landscapes and claustrophobic interiors, delves into the psychological damage of on-going conflict and threat from the neighboring ominous superpower. Sly metaphors, like dead pigeon, makeshift pyre, ravenous stray dogs are all present. But as with Atlantis, there is a glimmer of hope in Reflection. This time, it's not the love between a man and a woman, but that of father and daughter. Known to use non-actors in his films, Vasyanovych uses his own daughter to play Polina. She in turn, gives a great performance in long takes, engaging in religious and spiritual discussion with Lutskyi who plays her father. Her innocence shines through in a dreadful industrial, monochrome winter Ukraine landscape. Daring in its cinematic language, and unflinching in its presentation of the present, the film makes you impossible to ignore the state of the on-going conflict in that part of the world.

Read my full review from Venice 2021:

Zero Fucks Given - Emmanuel Marre, Julie Lecoustre Zero Fucks Given Sharp observations on the service industry in the 21st century capitalism is at the center of Zero Fucks Given. Adèle Exarchopoulos is Cassandra, a flight attendant at a small European airline company, Wing. The film devotes most of its running time to the banal day to day life of young flight attendants who dream of one day working for Emirates Air, the creme de la creme of the industry and hard to get into. But Cassandra seems to have no directions or ambitions, other than going through, repeating her daily routines of work, dealing with constant micro-management, partying off-hours, being lazy by the pool side in sunny Lanzarote where the company hub is located and countless one night stands through online apps.

Things take a drastic turn when she is reprimanded for buying a distraught customer a wine out of compassion and sent home to Brussels. Staying with her younger sister and her sad widowed father, it is revealed she was running away from her mother's sudden death.

With verité style candid cinematography by Olivier Boonjing and Exarchopoulos's committed performance, Zero Fucks Given comments on hyper capitalist society where work and personal life exist like oil and vinegar, yet one dictates another whether we like it or not.

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Life Restricted

Great Freedom (2021) - Meise GreatFreedom It's almost unthinkable now, in a free, democratic society that Paragraph 175, a provision of the German criminal law that criminalized homosexual act, existed more than a century and was only abolished in 1994. Austrian director Sebastian Meise tells the injustices done under such law and concentrates on a character with the camera firmly stationed behind the prison walls most of the time. Great Freedom again showcases the immense talent of its star Franz Rogowski, an actor best known for recent string of films by Christian Petzold - Transit, Undine, whose quiet demeanor and soulful stares communicate with the audience way better than wordy dialog. His portrayal of Hans, who frequents prison for just being who he is and living his life, once again proves that he is one the best working actors out there.

The film starts with surveillance camera footage of seedy men's bathroom where homosexual sex acts are taking place. Hans (Rogowski) is seen taking part in that footage. It is documented that German police engaged in surveillance program in public places to 'weed out' illegal activities in the SC and SC extensively. As Hans is arrested and thrown in jail and his casual self-deprecating exchange with the long term convict Viktor (Georg Friedrich) that this isn't the first time Hans was in prison. The year is 1968.

After trying to protect a young gay man in a prison yard fight, Hans is thrown into a solitary confinement. This also seems like a reoccurring theme. Meise uses these solitary confinement and release from it as a temporal jump points to the past and back, highlighting the longevity and persistence of Paragraph 175. Hans is seen being liberated from a concentration camp by Allied Forces only to be transferred to another prison to serve his remainder of his sentence for performing homosexual acts.

It's this prison where he meets Viktor for the first time. Viktor, a convicted murderer serving a long sentence and an innate homophobe, first acts violently at the news that his new bunkmate is a homosexual. But over time, his hostility and aggression softens and takes a younger, sensitive bunkmate under his arm. Being an amateur tattooist, he even offers to cover Hans's concentration camp numbers on his arm.

Hans can't help himself for falling in love with younger, vulnerable gay men being sent to prison. And they are always the target of prejudices and violence in a prison environment. Against Viktor's warning, Hans keep getting involved in fights while protecting his lovers and keeps getting thrown into an unbearable solitary confinement.

With the simple date titles, we go back and forth between three time periods. Over 3 decades, the law stays the same, Hans keeps coming back to prison. Meise puts a soft touch on these transitions rather than actor's physical transformations, accentuating that time passes differently from the inside the prison wall. The moon landing on TV doesn't have the same effect there as outside. The world keeps evolving, but the unjust, inhumane law is still prevalent. Rogowski's performance adapts to the passing of time, his silent expression and dancer trained body language showcases from nervousness to volatility to resignation.

Friedrich, a veteran German actor, is also fantastic as Viktor, serves as a witness to the injustice done to his fellow inmate and friend, while contemplating his misdeeds as a young man; his sad and weathered face reflecting our humanity.

As the talk of the reformation of the law, Hans finally gets a chance to be free. Would it be the last time he and Viktor will see each other?

Great Freedom beautifully illustrates about genuine human connection while examining the injustices done to generations of people who were persecuted just for being who they are. The film is also a great reminder, along with the recent films like Audrey Diwan's Happening, that the rights we have gained (fairly recently) are not to be taken for granted, especially the world is experiencing great fascistic conservative pushback from the right.

Great Freedom opens in New York on 3/4 and Los Angeles on 3/11. National rollout will follow. Please check Mubi website for rollout dates.

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2022 Preview

The 27th edition of celebrating the best of contemporary French cinema offers a star studded 23 film line up. And after going all virtual last year due to the pandemic, this year's Rendez-Vous is back at the beloved Walter Reade Theater, Film at Lincoln Center, NY. The festival runs 3/3 - 3/13.

Opening night film is a highly anticipated Berlinale winner, Claire Denis's Juliette Binoche and Vincent Lindon drama, Fire. Other notables include Mathieu Amalric's Hold Me Tight with Vicky Krieps as a grieving French housewife, Jacques Audiard's contemporary romance Paris, 13th District, Christophe Honoré's stage adaptation of Proust going awry during Covid-19 in Guermantes, Arnaud Desplechin's adaptation of Philip Roth's Deception, starring Léa Seydoux.

For showtimes and tickets, please visit FLC website.

Here are some notable films I was able to sample:

Deception - Arnaud Desplechin Deception Tackling on Philip Roth's autofiction, Arnaud Desplechin's Deception showcases Léa Seydoux's talent and charisma once again (they collaborated in his last effort Oh, Mercy, where she played a poor working class girl mired in crime).

Here Seydoux plays a sophisticated Londonite whose unhappy marriage drives her into the arms of Philip Roth(Denis Podalydès), a London based American writer, also stuck in loveless marriage. In his London flat, they talk and make love. He jots down his thoughts about her in his trusty notebook for keepsake. They break up many times yet have a strong hold on each other and can't let it go completely. His wife suspects and accuses him of having an affair and he defends himself by saying that Seydoux character is just that, a character, a manifestation of a writer's imagination run amok. As usual for a Desplechin film, Deception is wordy and performance driven. And despite the setting and the characters nationalities, with the usual neurosis and everything, Deception is decidedly and predictably Desplechin and very French.

Hold Me Tight - Mathieu Amalric Hold Me Tight I've said many times that Mathieu Amalric is not only a great actor but great director as well. Yet again, he proves it with Serre moi fort/Hold Me Tight.

It starts out with Clarisse (Vicky Krieps) sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night, driving away in an old car, leaving behind her loving family - Marc, her hunky husband and two adorable children, Lucie and Paul. She tells herself that after a while they will not miss her. She is never coming back and they will have to accept the fact. But why is she running away? What is she running from?

Then the film becomes something else entirely. Krieps gives a gut wrenching performance in a film about grieving and letting go that is so portent and heartfelt than any other film I've seen in a long time. Constantly going back and forth with her and her family, feeling the absence of one another yet articulating the connection in a very ingenious way, Amalric perhaps makes the most heartfelt film as a writer/director.

Guermantes - Christophe Honoré guermantes The planned stage play of Guermantes, based on Proust's third volume of In Search of Lost Time (appropriate title for our pandemic times), is getting canceled, because of Covid. Director Christophe Honoré and a large cast of mostly theater actors, who's been rehearsing the play together for months, are devastated by the news. So they have two choices, stop the project, admit the defeat and go home, or continue to rehearse without a guarantee that the show will ever be staged in the future. After much debate, they continue their rehearsal.

So starts this delightful, communal film of actors and a novice theater director rehearsing the Proust's labyrinthine texts while making the Théâtre Marigny and its lovely garden their home- sleeping, eating, singing together and make the best out of the world wide pandemic.

Unlike the play they are enacting which lacks many of the characters back story due to it being a chapter in a 7 volume book, Honoré explores many of the actors backstory and their lives, making the film much more than a mere documented rehearsal. It's obviously scripted cinematically playful and shot beautifully on film, by frequent collaborator Rémy Chevrin. A delightful salvo of a film that shows a power and resiliency of art in the pandemic era.

Paris, 13th District - Jacques Audiard PARIS 13TH DISTRICT Les Olympiads, the high-rise residential buildings named after the cities that hosted Olympics over the years, is a middle income housing built in the 70s, located in ethnically diverse 13th District in Paris. Audiard, known for his well crafted thrillers and highly emotive characters, tries his hands at a modern romance film with his sleek, staccato style, shot on beautiful black and white.

Webcam, dating apps and decidedly young attractive actors give Paris, 13th District, a fresh, vibrant look at the lives of young, ethnically diverse Parisians of today.

Breakthrough performance here is definitely Lucie Zhang as Emilie, a Taiwanese descent millennial looking for love while living off in her grandma's apartment in Chinatown, located in the 13th District. Zhang's uninhibited performance is contrasted by Noémie Merlant (Portrait of the Lady on Fire) as Nora, a 30 something Bourdeaux transplant running away from the grip of her husband to find herself in the city. Their lives cross paths through handsome Camille, played by Makita Samba, a public school teacher whose self-assured but arrogant demeanor both attracts and repels women. Co-written by Céline Sciamma, Paris, 13th District weaves a seductive, fresh tale of modern romance.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Nostalgia for the Present

A Night of Knowing Nothing (2021) - Kapadia Screen Shot 2022-02-03 at 9.59.40 AM Screen Shot 2022-02-03 at 9.26.50 AM Screen Shot 2022-02-03 at 3.18.18 PM Screen Shot 2022-02-03 at 3.06.54 PM Screen Shot 2022-02-03 at 3.10.08 PM Screen Shot 2022-02-03 at 2.58.15 PM Screen Shot 2022-02-03 at 9.20.59 AM Payal Kapadia's debut film, A Night of Knowing Nothing is a tapestry of grainy 16mm, archival and surveillance cam footage, beautifully capturing the spirit of youth and their undying idealism in chaotic, uncertain times we live in.

A woman reading wistful letters written by L, a lovelorn student at The Film and Television Institute of India, narrates the film. Her belongings were found in the dormitory where she stayed as a student. These letters, addressed to her boyfriend who is no longer in school, were written on a notebook and never sent. From that, we gather that her love is not reciprocated because of India's rigid caste system: his parents don't approve of their relationship and have taken him away. Kapadia and her team use her letters as a springboard for an essayistic examination of contemporary India.

A Night of Knowing Nothing starts and ends with black and white footage of young people dancing. These silent images of undeterminable time period, is joyous, energetic, and emblematic of college life. They are dancing in front of a movie projected on a big screen. Cinema or visual image here is already tied to the past, invoking nostalgia. There are images of young people in their rooms- some laying in bed half naked, some watching Godard's Breathless on a small TV.

There are empty darkened alleys and billowing curtains, sound of rain and birds chirping accompany these images. Then there's a home movie shot in color, of a wedding, which seems like from the 70s. (judging by their clothes)

As L writes to her lover about their mutual friends, we get the glimpse of 2015 strike at the FTII, a public college, protesting the appointment of a Hindu Nationalist actor to the chair by the right-wing Modi Government. Their strike spreads to college campuses across India, protesting not only the government's assault on public education system but also the violent crackdown of the minority Muslim population. The footage of protests and sloganeering is cheerful at times. But the baton wielding police in the streets and the surveillance footage of masked right-wing militia thugs breaking down the barricaded doors of a university building full of students and corralling them and beating them mercilessly are truly terrifying.

These issues are explained with the voices of newscasters and leaders of the demonstrators with or without visuals, always shot on grainy film. The mood and energy is same as that of May 1968, when universities across Europe exploded in protest against the governments and its policies and war in Vietnam. And just like back then, students question if their movement could be truly successful without the support of the country's working class. This is especially true with a country like India where the deep-rooted social tradition of the caste system make things a lot more complex and difficult. Justice for Dalit (the lowest in the caste system) become the theme of the protests. And L's love affair with a boy from another caste comes up again, tying the narrative threads.

As the film plays out, L in her later letters, isn't sure if she was writing to her unresponsive lover or the ideal version of him, whom she can confide in her thoughts and feelings. Memories fade, but nostalgia remains. From Godard and May 68', Mythical Hindu God films, to Chris Marker, A Night of Knowing Nothing weaves intoxicating visual, textural contemplation of our relationship with cinema as an unintentional but nevertheless undeniably nostalgic medium, even if the image is from only few years ago. It ends in a hopeful tone. As one leader of the protesters addresses the crowds that it doesn't matter what came before them or what's handed down to them and no matter what today's circumstances are, the moment right now is theirs for them to seize it. Keep on dancing.

Swept Up in Chaos

Fabian: Going to the Dogs (2021) - Graf Fabian Veteran German filmmaker/TV director Dominik Graf's Fabian: Going to the Dogs (last year's multiple Lola Award winner), based on Erich Kästner's book Fabian, Die Geschichte eines Moralisten (Fabian, the Story of Moralist), chronicles madness and decadence during the last years of the Weimar era Germany just as Nazism was rising to power through the eyes of a young advertising executive. With multiple voice overs crisscrossing and energetic camera movement and editing, Fabian plays out like a visualized jazz improv session, taking you back to the hubbub of 1930s Berlin.

We observe Jacob Fabian (Tom Schilling), originally a country boy from Dresden, as he precariously balances his hectic life as a cigarette company adman and pulling all-nighters at the anything goes nightclubs with booze and women with his well-to-do friend Labude (Albrecht Schuch), neglecting his writing career.

Everything changes when he meets Cornelia (Saskia Rosendahl), an entertainment lawyer in training and aspiring actress at the backstage of a club one night. It's a love at first sight and Fabian can't believe himself as a thirty-something wise-cracking nihilist falling in love with 'another actress wannabe type'. But Cornelia turns out to be a smart modern woman who will not let anything stop her ambitions.

In the meantime, the repercussions of WWI are starting to drag the country down, the bread line keeps getting longer for veterans, people lose their jobs and there are incendiary rhetoric and marches of the Nazi party on the street. And Jacob, loses his job too and hides the fact to Cornelia and his mom.

Things are getting dire - Cornelia leaves him for a powerful movie producer. Then the PTSD suffering Labude first disappears to an underground whorehouse, only to reemerge to kill himself in his father's grand mansion.

Deeply affected by all the happenings, Fabian retreats to his family home in Dresden where idyllic country tranquility rules the day. Still very much in love with each other, he and Cornelia promise to see each other again in Berlin. But the fate would have it the other way.

With dizzying camerawork, breakneck editing and flashbacks sprinkled throughout, Fabian: Going to the Dogs starts with a rhythm of a jazz jam session and finds its narrative rhythm as the main character gets a hold of his own narrative. It's a beautiful directing in Graf's part, orchestrating the chaotic and colorful backdrop serving a long drawn out, sweet love story. Youthful Schilling is perfect as a wise-ass misanthrope, an wily observer of life who gets swept up and falls victim to the tumultuous time in history.

The film shouldn't be regarded as one of those German prestige pictures, depicting the past with period costumes and sets, because it's not a mere nostalgia picture. It's a stark reminder of reemergence of fascism and ultra-right wing nationalism across Europe. Kästner's pacifist stance in the 30s and moralist point of view might come across as naive but should serve as warning to anyone now to be more alert and not fall victim to the collective nationalist fervor.

Fabian: Going to the Dogs opens in theaters on 2/11 in New York and 3/4 in Los Angeles.

Sunday, January 23, 2022


The Tale of King Crab (2021) - de Righi, Zoppis Screen Shot 2022-01-21 at 4.45.02 PM Screen Shot 2022-01-23 at 10.46.45 AM Screen Shot 2022-01-23 at 10.47.01 AM Screen Shot 2022-01-23 at 10.51.31 AM Screen Shot 2022-01-21 at 3.29.45 PM Screen Shot 2022-01-21 at 1.21.13 PM Screen Shot 2022-01-21 at 3.27.54 PM Screen Shot 2022-01-21 at 1.22.46 PM Screen Shot 2022-01-21 at 1.41.06 PM Screen Shot 2022-01-21 at 3.25.07 PM Screen Shot 2022-01-21 at 4.44.46 PM I am a fan of people's faces in films. Uglier, craggier the better. They tell thousands of untold stories on their own. No explanations necessary. And they leave lasting impressions long after I forget the plot of the films they peek their heads in. I remember an ageless street urchin's face, smoking silently in Sharunas Bartas's Three Days. I remember Harry Dean Stanton's weathered face in Slam Dance. Denis Lavant's too with that ugly smile. More recently, I remember the face of Amador Arias in Fire Will Come.

Same here in The Tale of King Crab, by documentary filmmakers Alessio Rigo de Righi and Mateo Zoppis, trying their hands on fiction - a hybrid of documentary elements with fictional retelling of a folklore or two. The film starts in present-day with the old and craggy residents of a small town in Italy, all played by locals, telling each other a folklore that's handed down from generations to generations. Their faces are so distinctive inside a dim hut, they resemble van Gogh's Potato Eaters.

They tell the stories about Luciano (Gabriele Silli), a local drunkard with bad temper who abandoned his aristocratic lineage and making enemies with peasants and landowners alike. The story goes and we get to see them reenacted as Luciano falls in love with a sheepherder's daughter (all grown up Maria Alexandra Lungu, who played the memorable child lead in Alice Rohrwacher's The Wonders). But a local aristocrat landowner has hots for her and as he stops allowing locals to use his property to be used as a footpath becomes a crying rally for hot blooded Luciano. And their confrontation ends in tragedy.

Silli too, has that face: A scar runs down on his forehead, his unkempt beard and wild hair hides his past secrets but its his penetrating steel blue gaze stops you in your tracks. After burning down the village gate in a fit of rage, Luciano is banished to the end of the world (in this case, South America). But he resurfaces again as he takes an identity of a dying priest he met in an Argentinian wilderness and inherit a giant red land crab who works as a compass to find a hidden Spanish treasure atop of mountain lagoon.

We don't get to know, if the later half of the story is a folklore or something the filmmakers came up with, because the narration of the local folks stops in the middle. After all, any stories handed down in oral tradition have thousands of additions and modifications. The temporality is out the window: the first story might have taken place in medeval times, as the second one takes place decades later. Who knows? But the transition between the two stories is so smooth and you don't even get to notice it or care, because you already have bought into Luciano's crazy adventure narrative and intrigue. The views are stunning as Luciano, the crab and other treasure hunters slowly venture up to the rugged, unforgiving Andes mountains as the film becomes an odd adventure/western.

Simone D'Arcangelo, cinematographer and DIT on various projects (Il Solengo and Woody Allen films), captures stunning landscapes and colors, resulting in dated, Herzogian beauty on grainy 16mm film. The Tale of the King Crab is that rare breed of films which inhabits both past and present; harkening back to the ambitious days of cinema of the 60s and 70s, possessing that spirit of capaturing a fever dream that was/is cinema and all knowing modern sensibility to experiment and be playful at the same time.

The Tale of King Crab is an adventure in more ways than one. Silli's recurring craggy face with his smooth, clear voice guides us through the most unlikely places both the narrative and form, making a delicious concoction, worthy of its spectacular crustacean subject.

The Tale of King Crab opens in theaters 4/15 in New York and 4/29 in Los Angeles and national rollouts to follow. Please visit Oscilloscope website.