Sunday, January 23, 2022

Faces

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 a street urchin's face, smoking silently in Sharunas Bartas's Three Days. I remember Harry Dean Stanton's weathered face in Slam Dance. 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. The film starts in present-day with old and craggy residents of a small town in Italy, all played by locals, telling each other a folklore that's handed down to generations. Their faces are so distinctive inside a dim hut, they resemble van Gogh paintings. They tell the story about Luciano (Gabriele Silli), a local drunkard who fell in love with a sheepherder's daughter (with a Romanesque face). His feud with a local aristocrat about the land usage 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 that stops you in your tracks. After banished to the end of the world (South America), he takes an identity of dying priest and inherit a giant red land crab who works as a compass to find a hidden Spanish gold in a 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. Anyway, the transition between the two stories is so smooth and you don't even get to notice it or care, because you already bought into Luciano's crazy adventure and intrigue. The views are stunning as Luciano and the crab and other gold diggers venture up to the mountains as the film becomes an adventure/western.

The Tale of King Crab is an adventure in more ways than one. Silli's craggy face with his smooth, clear voice guides us through the most unlikely places. I do not usually subscribe to the old folklore type films but de Righi and Zoppis succeed in retelling the story without succumbing to coming across as old-fashioned and tiresome.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Whose Body?

L'événement/Happening (2021) - Diwan LÉVÉNEMENT-Official-still-H-2021 Audrey Diwan, adapting an autobiographical novel by Annie Ernaux, tells a harrowing tale of a young high school senior Anne (Annamaria Vartolomei) trying to get an abortion in France in the 60s when the practice was still illegal.

The style of the film is decidedly social realist- honest and unsparing. Diwan's intentional deemphasizing on the time frame - music is the only indicative element of the decade, reflects on our present political climate and assault on women's rights by the social conservatives all over again.

Anne, a bright high school student from a working class family is preparing for the all too important baccalaureate exam. She wants to study literature in college and be a writer. She finds out that she is pregnant from her family physician who confirms her suspicion. But she can't still believe it. And the film moves briskly forward, counting her weeks of pregnancy. Because of social pressure and shaming involved, she can't tell anyone about the fact- not to her hard working parents who thinks the world of her, packs her food and does laundry when she is home from the school dormitory every weekend, not to her best friends who think that the law breakers need to go to jail, not to the baby daddy who is from an out-of-town rich aristocratic family, out of her pride, not to her teacher who worries about her suddenly failing grade, because he is a male. She finally confides in Jean, a local cool male friend whom she thinks he knows his way around the world, in order to find a back alley abortion provider. But right away she finds out that as soon as she mentions that she is pregnant, people's perceptions about her change - for guys, she is an easy girl, for girls, she is a slut who sleeps around.

She tries to find direct solutions herself - a self administered abortion, taking shots from a dubious doctor and finally, from a back alley abortion provider. And all things do not go as planned.

Clear eyed Vartolomei's performance is something of a miracle here as a young woman with her whole promising future tittering on the cliff because of the legality of a simple medical procedure to her body, her own body(!) With some graphic scenes and its realistic depictions, it draws comparison to last year's Never Rarely Sometimes Always. But where Hittman's film is a complete downer and its protagonist almost anonymous in its clinical depiction, with strong support cast - Sandrine Bonnaire as caring mom, Anna Mouglalis as a cut throat, deep voiced abortion provider, Fabrigio Rongione as sympathetic country doctor and Pio Marmaï as a concerned teacher, and Vartolomei's bright eyed, blistering performance make Happening a compelling yet humanistic and more urgent film in telling the story that is unfortunately as relevant and resonant as ever.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Leprosy of the Heart

India Song (1975) - Duras Screen Shot 2022-01-17 at 9.40.12 AM Screen Shot 2022-01-17 at 10.02.41 AM Screen Shot 2022-01-17 at 11.49.45 AM Screen Shot 2022-01-17 at 10.24.40 AM Screen Shot 2022-01-17 at 11.13.45 AM India Song is a slow, melancholic jazz tune that plays out over and over again throughout the film. And it fits into the narrative of colonialism in Marguerite Duras's film. With the setting sun that opens the film, India Song tells the end of the Western colonialism. She equates that with love and how insatiable it is.

The film starts with a narration, talking about a mad woman who came all the way from Indochina, singing an old tune. No one knows how she got to India. The madwoman's voice and singing is also heard, throughout the film.

Anne-Marie (Delphine Seyrig), a wife of an absent French diplomat, resides in a grand, decaying, ornately furnished mansion with wordless turbaned servants. We are introduced to her many lovers, lounging around the corridors, standing still, looking forlornly and slow dance with our red haired aging beauty. There's a stink of decay in the air, as if these people are ghosts inhibiting their old playground, not knowing they are dead, forever trapped in time. The film's many voice-overs say as much, that she later died on an island, out of lethargy, boredom. Seyrig exudes that unachievable mirage, the symbol of western civilization in its last days.

A vice-consul of Lahore (Michael Lonsdale), nicknamed the last virgin of Lahore, is madly in love with Anne-Marie, but unlike all her other suitors, she never reciprocates and never gives him a time of day. He cries, watching her dance with her many lovers, standing still in the corner of the room. He later warns her that he will make a scene unless she flees with him to the islands after a brief slow dance to India Song with her. He howls in pain, begging her to leave with him, to give him a chance to be with her. His cries are heard all night long after he gets dragged out of the frame.

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

Friday, January 14, 2022

Cannibal Adderly

Expedition Content (2020) - Karel, Kusmaryati Screen Shot 2022-01-14 at 9.21.17 AM Ernst Karel, a sonic artist and a familiar name to audiences attuned to watching many of FSC-Harvard/Sensory Ethnography Lab alum's projects, together with fellow anthropologist Veronika Kusmaryati, comes up with Expedition Content, a hour long audio clips strung together from 1961 Harvard Peabody Expedition led by Robert Gardner, Anthropologist who pioneered the visual anthropology field, and recorded by Michael Rockefeller, of THE Rockefellers, then a 23 yr old Havard student who disappeared without a trace in West Papua, then The Netherlands New Guinea, during the same expedition.

Watching Expedition Content, or rather listening to it while staring at the black screen is rahter a fascinating experience. I mean, I've been always interested in the use of sound in relation to cinema and always preaching the importance of it. As usual, with any Sensory Ethnography Lab's project, Expedition Content tinkers and plays with the boundaries of the cinema as the visual/aural medium.

But what we see, in this case hear- dialog among white ethnographers and Hubula or Dani people doing their everyday chores, singing and conversing, need to be digested in context. After hearing expedition team's discussing the technical aspect of photography and the sound of the Hubula people, we see a little bit of the background of the project in texts across the screen.

So the context is this: the expediton is sponsored by the Colonial Netherlands Government. The Rockefeller family's business, Standard Oil, had a big stake on West Guinea, Michael's father Nelson, then the New York Governor, later became the Vice President of the United States. Keeping this in mind, perceiving this project becomes a little different. It's not some random collection of soundbites from an exotic world.

Surely, there are some wondrous aural moments like the sound of storm passing by, a woman washing sweet potatoes in the stream and yelling at little Mike (Rockefeller who recorded most of the tracks we hear) not to stay too close to her, swarm of bees morphing into a singing chorus which turns into a group wailing. And because it is mostly sound recordings (there are about 30 seconds of Gardner's film footage of a bat cave exploration inserted with the sound in the middle), there are some candid conversations caught on tape (hotmics so to speak), of boys locker room talks and making fun of jazz music and its coolness by imitating how African Americans talk. These supposedly civilized, well educated people would make an (un)intented, racially, culturally, doubly insensitive joke, Cannbal Adderly (playing on Cannonball Adderly the jazz musician).

At times tender and jarring in others, Expedition Content is a wondrous experience to be had. In order to experience it properly, unless in theaters, which I stupidly missed my chance when it was playing as part of Art of the Real in 2020 and at Anthology Film Archive just past week, I suggest you to wear a set of headphones and experience it alone in the dark and let your mind wonder.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Don't Go Chasing Waterfall

Niagara (1953) - Hathaway Screen Shot 2022-01-11 at 3.32.03 PM Screen Shot 2022-01-11 at 3.38.15 PM Screen Shot 2022-01-11 at 3.54.21 PM Screen Shot 2022-01-11 at 4.16.23 PM Screen Shot 2022-01-11 at 4.19.36 PM Screen Shot 2022-01-11 at 4.20.11 PM Screen Shot 2022-01-11 at 4.30.21 PM Marilyn Monroe plays scheming, unhappy wife to Joseph Cotten's Korean War PTSD'd husband in Henry Hathaway's sunny, Technicolor shot noir. The Cutlers, (Jean Peters of Pickup on South Street and Max Showalter as Polly and Ray) a young-ish couple spending their delayed honeymoon arrive at their destination, The Rainbow-inn, a motor lodge with the overlooking spectacular view of The Niagara Falls, only to find out their reserved room is still occupied by the Loomis (Monroe as Rose and Cotten as George). Very convincing Rose feigns her husband's bad health to keep the room and The Cutlers, being a wholesome, upstanding American dream couple they are, agree to take another room. It is quite clear that Rose is a head-turner everywhere she goes. And her makeup and painted red lips never comes off even in bed. It is quite clear the Loomis are in the fritz, when George storms out of the room and shatters a vinyl record that Rose just put on and been singing along in her svelty sexy voice at a small gathering at the lodge. It is revealed that the song, Kiss, is some sort of a trigger warning for George who breaks out in jealous rage for whatever her past transgressions.

Soon Polly witnesses Rose in a passionate embrace with her lover in one of the Falls' raincoat and galoshes wearing tour. This Rose girl is up to no good but a goody two-shoes Polly will stay out of these gossips. Rose then arranges to off George with her lover, at the same tour and make it look like it's a suicide. And somehow Polly gets entangled in this grisly affair.

I can totally see Monroe's sex appeal in her first major starring role and Hathaway, the hard hitting noir veteran, makes the most of her in various sexy wardrobe and in shadow play. Technicolor is stunning, so as the set design. Rose's prolonged, almost silent murder scene is as good as it gets and puts most stylish giallos to shame.

And of course, the setting is Niagara Falls, one of the most spectacular natural wonders of the world! The boat is not gonna just float around on top, it has to go over the edge of the foaming, roaring water and fall to its demise and it's pretty spectacular. This movie is pretty awesome!

Little Human Connections

Hytti nro 6 (2021) - Kuosmanen compartment 2 Compartment 1 compartment 6 compartment 3 compartment 4 Compartment 5 A Finnish student (Seidi Haarla) is traveling alone from Moscow to see the 10,000 year old petroglyphs in the Arctic north in Russia, after her Russian professor/lover, Irina backs out of the trip. She is taking a crowded Russian railroad to all the way to Murmansk. Her bunkmate happens to be Ljoha (Yuriy Borisov), a brusk, blue color worker heading to the same destination for work in the mines. It's a big change for our unnamed Heroine, after hanging out in Irina's intellectual circle of friends in her fabulous flat full of antiques, books, music and laughter. She also has to quell the advances and lewd jokes from Ljoha. She contemplates quitting the trip and go back to Bourgie bossoms of Irina, but the thought of appearing weak in front of her mentor/lover is too much to bear. But even though they are very different, this little Russian man warms up to her. A sort of traveling companion camaraderie develops in an impossibly small train compartment. And Ljoha invites her to his babushka's house when the train stops overnight at a small town. She experiences unexpected companionship, sharing strong drinks and listening to the old woman's stories.

When our heroine helps out a fellow Finnish traveler who doesn't speak the language by inviting him to their shared compartment 6, Ljoha is obviously unhappy. The hipster traveler with a guitar is everything Ljoha is not. She asks (in Finnish) if the traveler if he ever feels lonely, and he says that everyone's alone.

Compartment No.6 has everything I love about cinema - Wanderlust, human connection, loneliness, trains, cold weather. Juho Kuosmanen, working from a novel by Rosa Liksom, finds a delicate balance in chiseling out beautiful moments of human connections without unnecessary backstories or dramatics. It's a little romance without all the fuss and stylings, but only warmth and silent understanding.

As the saying goes, it's the journey, not the destination. Our heroine gets stuck in the small town in a foreign land without any guide. It's winter and there is no one to take her to see the petroglyphs. It's only Ljoha who is crazy enough to arrange the snowy trip without any hesitation. They climb on the wrecked ship in the blizzard after seeing not so impressive drawings on the rocks. They talk about Titanic. "Why? Are we about to die?" "No, Rose survives." "Well, she dies later." Yes everyone is alone and everyone dies. But what matters is the little moments of human connections and feeling the warmth of other human beings along the way and Compartment No. 6 captures them beautifully. Haarla and Borisov's guiless performances are also aces. Loved it.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Inner Space

Solaris (1972) - Tarkovsky solaris 10 solaris11 solaris8 solaris7 solaris5 Solaris 1 solaris2 Solaris4 solaris3 Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) is tasked to go to a space station orbiting an ocean planet Solaris, to check on its remaining crew and determine if their probing mission is still valid. During the briefing, Burton, a former cosmonaut in the station, reports strange phenomenon going on, on the surface of Solaris, that the planet generates physical manifestations from the crew's memories. Once he gets there, he finds only 2 crew members still remaining: Snaut (Jüri Järvet) and Satorius (Anatli Solnitsyn) and the body of Gibarian who just killed himself and left Kelvin a taped message warning him about the 'visitors' that Solaris sends out. Soon enough, Kelvin's dead wife Hari (Natalia Bondachuk) turns up in front of him and any of his scientific research is out the door. Is she just a manifestations conjure up from Kelvin's memories of her? It doesn't matter to him. It is Hari and he will love her. But she begins to doubt her existence. She kills herself by drinking liquid oxygen only to be violently revived.

'Sculpting time' seems very appropriate in Solaris than any other film I can think of. With the series of long shots with slow zooms where actors quickly change their places around just outside the frame to take different positions within (and using multiple stand-ins in some cases), and repetition of images (in the beginning then later on), Tarkovsky invites audience to experience past, present and future at the same time. Loosely connected images such as reeds in the water and Tokyo traffic are just as striking as the famous bone to space ship transition cut in 2001 Space Odyssey but with more time devoted to percolate naturally in viewer's mind instead of visible edits. There are many notable scenes, but the most striking is perhaps Hari contemplating time, while watching Bruegel's Hunters in the Snow in the library of the station and them briefly experiencing weightlessness in embrace. Time is highly subjective so are our perceptions of the world.

Memories, dreams and fantasies all mingle in Solaris. How much do we know about other people? Is our existence just compounded memories of others? Tarkovsky is using the Sci-fi genre as a fodder to question our reality and contemplate human existence in perhaps the loneliest place we can imagine- outer space. Solaris is a deeply humbling experience.

Friday, January 7, 2022

Step on Me

Silence (2016) - Scorsese Silence 1 Silence Silence 2 Silence, Martin Scorsese's passion project of 25 years, based on Shusaku Endo's book, despite its 161 minute run time, it's immensely more watchable and compelling than say, The Irishman. Silence tells two Portuguese Jesuit priests, Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garupe (Adam Driver), after hearing their mentor, Father Ferreira renounced his faith after being totured, to go to Japan to verify it. 16th century Japan is still a closed and hostile country to foreigners and many Christian missionaries and their followers are persecuted. The two are smuggled in to a small island inhabited by peasants. They found out that by their predecessors, Christianity took roots within some populations, but because of relentless persecutions by the grand inquisitor Inoue (Issei Ogata) and people ratting out the converts for silver rewards, all the Christians hide their faith.

Rodrigues and Garupe become the defacto priests for the townspeople and their gospel spills out to neighboring villages in secret. But they witness terrible fate of their followers as Inoue's officials capture them and torture them to death - drowning, beheading, etc. Eventually, Rodrigues gets caught too and goes through grueling imprisonment and witness terrible things being befallen on his followers. Only his apostate will save them. All he has to do is step on a Christian iconography laid out in front of him.

Garfield is good. So is Driver (but underused) and Liam Neeson who plays Ferreira who denounced his faith and living as a scholar with a Japanese wife and family, who writes a book denigrating Christianity. But the real stars in Silence are four Japanese actors - Ogata, Tadanobu Asano as an interpreter for the inquistor, Shin'ya Tsukamoto (director of Tetsuo the Iron Man) as the peasant devotee Mokichi and Kosuke Kabozuka as wild-eyed peasant, Kichijiro who denounce his Christian faith many times for survival.

Rodrigues, in order to save some peasants being tortured to death in his name and urging of Ferreira, denounces Christianity by stepping on Jesus. He does so, after hearing God's voice. "It's ok to step on me."

The crux of the story is that Rodrigues never lost his faith and died a Christian. That early Christianity in hostile places, they endured by staying silent. All the time his prayers have gone unanswered, he finally understood god's silence. Silence is a somber film full of stellar performances. It's too bad Rodrigues realized that after all the death. With Rodrigo Prieto's crisp wide ratio photography, it reminds me of Scorsese's Kundun, in terms of theme and scale. I just wish he does more of these films instead of gangster flicks.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Quintessential Vaporwave

August in the Water (1995) - Ishii Screen Shot 2022-01-05 at 8.14.40 AM Screen Shot 2022-01-05 at 11.43.45 AM Screen Shot 2022-01-05 at 8.50.05 AM Screen Shot 2022-01-05 at 11.48.26 AMScreen Shot 2022-01-05 at 8.51.23 AM Screen Shot 2022-01-05 at 9.05.40 AM Screen Shot 2022-01-05 at 9.08.36 AM Screen Shot 2022-01-05 at 9.15.44 AM Screen Shot 2022-01-05 at 9.19.49 AM Screen Shot 2022-01-05 at 9.37.13 AM Screen Shot 2022-01-05 at 9.39.02 AM Supernova in a distant gallaxy causes a disturbance in alignment of the planets and two meteors falls on Mt. Hiko, creating large magnetic field. The city of Fukuoka is suffering from sever draught and many people are experiencing illness where their organs are 'turning to stone'. Izumi (Rena Komine) is a high school diving champ who just transferred to Fukuoka. She befriends Mao and Ukiya, two boys who are smitten by her after she plunges herself into the dolphin pool in the aquarium. Ukiya's tomboy friend Miki, who has a firm handle on everything computer, informs the boys that according to the computer calculations regarding Izumi's zodiac signs, she will be experiencing physical danger on the day of the diving competition. So the day comes, and just before Izumi takes a dive, she complains that water feels hard as a rock and she falls into a coma right after she hits the water.

After she wakes up from the coma and recouperating, she tells Mao that she senses everything around her differently like a new born baby. She can communicate with nature telepatically, including dolphins. She sleepwalks to the large petrograph rock in Mt. Hiko with stolen meteorites.

The grand theme of all life on earth originated from somewhere else in the universe and technology taking over the human form (computer chips for human consciousness, therefore we don't need physical bodies), the film charts very much the William Gibson, JG Ballard territory, yet very Japanese.

Mixing New Age spirituality, animism, astrophysics and advancement in technology, Gakuryu Ishii's trippy 90's relic, August in the Water can be seen as the quintessential film for vaporwave - the synth tinged soundtrack, dolphins, rainbows, dated computer graphics, aliens, etc.