Sunday, November 25, 2018

Humorous Barry Lyndon

The Favourite (2018) - Lanthimos
Yorgos Lanthimos' first foray into a film not written by him (and his constant writing partner Efthymis Filippou), The Favourite retains all the witty cynicism and deadpan humor that the world has become accustomed to throughout his filmography. But it has rounded the masochistic edge and made it more palatable. And it's a good thing. It is in large part thanks to his three main actresses - Olivia Coleman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone who shine in their respective roles.

Olivia Coleman is Queen Anne, a blubbering womanchild whose health is failing and leaves all the queen's duties to Sarah Marlborough (Rachel Weisz), who is her strict disciplinarian and also her lover. It seems that thanks to her no bullshit approach and tough love that kept the wolves (opposition party headed by pompous Harley, played by hilarious Nicholas Hoult) at bay. Enter Abigail (Emma Stone), a distant cousin of Sarah, first hired as a kitchen maid, proves herself to be a cunning social climber using her looks and quick wit. It becomes a battle between Lady Sarah and Abigail to win the favor of the ailing and temperamental queen.

Think of The Favourite as humorous Barry Lyndon. The stately glacial façade of Kubrick's film was always a stone's throw away (pun intended) from parodying comedy anyway. Costumes,opulent interiors and harpsichord music tells you that you are watching a period piece, but its sardonic wit and amped up performances are quite the contrary. Lanthimos remains to be the only filmmaker who can get away with using wide angle lens shots because his comedy calls for it. Robbie Ryan's energetic candlelit interior shots are a thing of a beauty as well.

The favourite is a wickedly funny film that hits all the right marks. It touches upon all the hallmarks of Lanthimos other films - patriarchy/monarchy, desire and perversion and loneliness. Coleman, Weisz and Stone deserve all the accolades.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Healing Nature

I tempi felici verranno presto/Happy Times Will Come Soon (2016) - Comodin
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I loved the fable like quality of I tempi felici verranno by an Italian documentary filmmaker Alessandro Comodin. It's his debut narrative feature. Loosely connected stories in the lush green forest unfold playfully and organically with its mostly handheld camera work. We see two scrappy young men on the run- they might be army deserters or thieves. With the distant gunshots and barking of the dogs, they run deep into the forest. With their clothes and a musket they later find, you can guess that this is in the past, or is it? They take shelter in the cave and trap rabbits to survive. But not that long, their demise comes unexpectedly.

Then we are introduced to a small town folks being interviewed about a legend of a wolf lady. The old tale goes that there was a sickly woman from Paris who ventured into the forest for its healing power. A vicious wolf also lived in the forest, but instead of attacking and eating her, he became her protector.

Then it's Ariane (Sabrina Seyvecou), a local farmer's daughter who has a tendency to roam around the forest and digging up holes in the ground. Is she setting a trap or is she trying to find an entrance to a cave? One of the young man who appeared in the first segment finds her and they fall in love.

I tempi felici verranno presto is a beguiling mixture of folktales, documentary elements and deeply spiritual film full of wonders and rapturous beauty. It's an animistic, kindred spirit love story beautifully told. It reminds me of Weerasethakul's Tropical Malady in many ways. But it's not tethered to its region's history nor politics and concerns more about rustic nature. Just lovely.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Mad World

Hypernormalisation (2016) - Curtis
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British Documentarian Adam Curtis gives a constantly captivating, digestible rundown on how we arrived at the shitshow that is our current world in 2hr 45min runtime. It's not because I do not appreciate his connect-the-dots-stupid approach or near conspiratorial tone, I do on the contrary- it's coherent no brainer stuff, but I am just surprised how broad Curtis's strokes are at the same time how narrow his scope is.

The docu's self-fulfilling circular narrative concerns three things - the rise of financial institutions over the political system, the Pan-Arab movement against the west backfiring spectacularly and chaos rules - as demonstrated by Putin and his allies.

It starts out with the tale of two cities in 1975 - New York and Damascus. Banks took hold of power over city when the city went bankrupt. The opportunist in chief Trump sneaked his way in to profit off of it. In Syria, Hafez al Assad (father of Bashar) tried to unite Arab countries against western influence. His influence in Lebanon and suicide bombing in the US military barracks that ultimately caused US pullout was the beginning of the gruesome suicide bomber tactic in the region.

Hypernormalisation is the term used to describe the society at end of Soviet empire where disillusioned people didn't believe a word from politician's mouth and effectively lived in a seemingly normal society where things could collapse at any minute. Curtis then connects this to the rise of technology and the internet, where people took to escape the ugly reality, so even though it's heavily regulated and commerced, they had a false sense of freedom.

Most of the time the film makes sense and it hurts to face the obvious example of the failure - rudderless Occupy Movement and Arab Spring. And he makes a good case for the rise of Basket of Kittens and Putin using instability and chaos to keep their enemies at bay. That Basket of Kittens's election win and Brexit were completely expected and not a fluke. But I'm pretty sure Curtis was well aware of his predicament when he sets out to make a film about the increasingly chaotic world in a straight forward fashion that everything is not black and white, that however he makes Assad that suicide bomb guy, Putin the mastermind of destabilization, the internet free but not free, he is no journalist.

Starting the film from 1975 on, Curtis is disregarding the whole colonial history of the Middle East and the history of capitalism since the industrial revolution. Hypernormalisation's conundrum of presenting an extremely complicated world in a concise way is obviously showing. It might be an impressive feat at first, but Curtis's use of scenes from Carrie and a repeated youtube clip of preteens dancing almost descend the whole movie into a typical mainstream documentary.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Tresor Island

Les garçons sauvages/Wild Boys (2017) - Mandico *reviewed at Rendez-vous with French Cinema 2018 in April. It plays at Anthology Film Archive starting 11/16 - 11/21
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Five handsome boys from an exclusive boarding school go a little too far with their sexual desire with their literature teacher, reaching a state called 'Tresór,' symbolized by a jewel-crusted skull. As a punishment, they are cast away by a greasy, bearded ship captain (Sam Louwick) with a gigantic tattooed penis. Chained and fed only a fruit that resembles hairy balls, the boys go through a harrowing sea voyage under the ruthless captain. The ship is headed toward a mysterious island where men turn into the fairer sex. The idea is, taking a short trip to the island might make these wild lusty boys a little more even tempered, a little less testosterone filled.

Bertrand Mandico makes a feature debut after many fantastical, colorful, playful shorts with the crazy beautiful The Wild Boys. He flips gender roles, having the roles of the boys played by female actors (Vimala Pons, Pauline Lorillard, Diane Rouxel, Anaël Snoek and Mathilde Warnier) in ties and suspenders with short hair. After they get to the seemingly wild and unkempt island full of weird vegetation that resembles secreting penises and hairy balls (their only means of sustenance), they meet Dr. Séverin(e) (Mandico's muse Elina Löwensohn), a zoologist who became a woman after he landed on the island. One of the boys, Hubert (Rouxel) gets left behind with Séverine and the rest go back to the ship due to the captain's urging. But soon the boys revolt against the captain because they want to go back to the weirdly seductive island. The boat capsizes in the storm, and the boys end back up on the island.

A gaudy, sensual, daring and inventive take on both Goto: Island of Love by Polish master Animator/filmmaker Walerian Borowczyk and Lord of the Flies, The Wild Boys is a lot of fun. It plays out like a prettier, sexier Guy Maddin film. And its pan-sexual theme is not without a dash of humor. The beach fight/orgy scene complete with flying feathers and sand alone is worth the price of admission.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

James Joyce in Brazil

Araby (2017) - Dumans, Ochoa
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Andre, a sullen teen, lives in a small mining factory town in Brazil with his sick little brother. His aunt who works at the factory as a nurse looks after them since their parents aren't around. There isn't much to do around. We are presented with their small sad lives. We see Andre's aunt giving a quiet laborer, Christiano (Aristides de Sousa), a ride to work. One day Christiano's hurt at the job and falls into a coma. At his aunt's request, Andre goes to where Christiano has been living to fetch some of his belongings. There he finds Christiano's journal. He starts reading it. The title appears and the real story begins...

Sharing the title of James Joyce's short, the film beautifully presents an everyman's story as he travels around Brazil, job to job, trying to eke out the living. A folksy soundtrack enforces the film's rather old fashioned approach. Yeah I get that everyone you see around has a story to tell. They all have hopes and dreams and good times and bad times. It follows the tradition of Olmi's social realism lyrically presented. Christiano's small existential angst is appropriately heartbreaking at the end.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Violent Sport

Infinite Football (2017) - Porumboiu *reviewed at Art of the Real April 2018*
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Romanian helmer Corneliu Porumboiu (Police Adjective, 12:08 East of Bucharest) makes a wacky yet poignant documentary about his childhood friend Laurentiu Ginghina, a middle aged bureaucrat who is obsessed with changing the rules of soccer to make the sport safer. At 19, he fractured his right fibula as many players in the opposite team ganged up on him in the corner when he had the ball. Because of the injury, he had to give up hope of going professional. Now he is hell-bent on changing the game - he wants to implement octagonal shaped soccer field with sectioned groups where 5 offensive and 5 defensive players can't cross each other's lines and no offsides. He says this improvement will speed up the game and make it smoother and safer.

He wanted to go to Forestry university but it required physical where you had to run which he couldn't do with his leg. His dream of coming to the US twice - first to run the ranch out in the West, then in Florida, gets thwarted by 9/11 and its aftermath with tighter restrictions. He ended up where he is, some desk job which is not that exciting. Ginghina's sad sap story, told in his office where he keeps getting interrupted with his daily tasks- an old lady with her inheritance questions, paperwork, meetings and appearances, brings out chuckles rather than sympathy.

Porumboiu prods his friend's obsession about 'the ball being free' in a sport where beauty is in player's skills and the ball is just an object. Our bureaucrat obviously is self aware, that deep down he equates himself with the ball and trying to escape from tight corners. That he sees himself as a superhero from comic books, like Superman or Spiderman who has a normal boring dayjob. Is his situation a stand-in for the general disillusionment with European Union, felt by majority of its members? Maybe.

After seeing his plan implemented on the indoor soccer field to not so enthusiastic results, he keeps changing his rules and therefore his creation being tagged as Infinite Football by Porumboiu. The film ends with Ginghina's poignant and touching monologue about the world where there is less violence which the director equates for political utopia. There is no fast zoom in/freeze frame or zany music for cheap laughs. Nor the film intentionally demeans our silly bureaucrat. Just like other Romanian new wave compatriots, Porumboiu knows how to justly reflect the lives of ordinary Romanians finding themselves riding along in a rapidly changing world and facing mildly amusing situations.

Infinite Football is now playing at Museum of Moving Image. Please visit their website for more info.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Guilty Conscience

Transit (2018) - Petzold
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Transit is another tightly scripted high melodrama by Christian Petzold. Based on a 1942 novel by Anna Seghers based on her experience in France under Nazi Occupation, Petzold transposes its premise to modern day Maseilles, again under the Fascist Germans. With the rise of authoritarian right wing regimes and their nationalist rhetoric and anti-immigrant sentiments here and everywhere, it is frightening to think that this film is not a too far fetched scenario. It's one of the many reasons why the film is brilliant.

Georg (Franz Rogowski) is asked to deliver two letters to Weidel, a writer of some importance in Paris. It's a dangerous mission- there are police raids daily and it's harder to get around on the street without constantly being asked for proper papers. Everyone knows the major shit's gonna go down soon: there are people being dragged away in the streets by the heavily armed authorities- 'the purge' is at hand. But with some money promised, Georg is up to the challenge. But once he gets to Paris, he finds that the writer has committed suicide, leaving his documents and the latest manuscript behind. With others urging to take a sick man to Marseilles and notify the Mexican consulate of the death of Weidel, Georg hops on the train to the port city. The letters reveal that Weidel has a safe passage with his wife Marie (Paula Beer of Franz) to go to Mexico and that she will be waiting for him in Marseilles.

Once he arrives at Marseilles, he reluctantly assumes the identity of Weidel, make friends with an Arab immigrant boy whose dad (the sick man) died on the way. He also sees Marie everywhere, scouring the city for Weidel, her husband, day in and day out. She is involved with Richard (Godehard Giese), a doctor who has put his departure on hold because he doesn't want to leave her behind. No one wants to be the one who leaves. These characters are stuck in there, going around in circles, trapped by love, by sense of loyalty or simply by human decency.

Transit's got a lot to do with guilty conscience: Guilt of leaving someone behind. Guilt of forgetting. Guilt of being indifferent. With this, Transit is a great companion piece to Phoenix, the director's last film, taking place in post-WWII setting. It also is in line with Petzold's usual themes - people in transit, state of uncertainty caused by outside force, by something bigger than an individual, while not losing sight of its characters' humanity. Also because of this setting and themes, even though contemporary, it reminds me strongly of Nouveau Roman writers' works.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Bill Spann

Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun? (2017) - Wilkerson
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Travis Wilkerson is, for lack of a better term, an investigative experimental filmmaker. His films largely concern with the buried, sordid American past. His film, An Injury to One, about a murdered union activist in the turn of the 20th century had a deep connection with me at the time and therefore was a fascinating watch. With Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun, he unflinchingly delves into his racist family history where his great granddad got away with killing a black man in 1940s Alabama. As usual, he goes on about it with his dry, raspy voiceover, words over images, split screen and old home movies as well as static/driving shots of places.

Wilkerson starts with clips from To Kill a Mockingbird, announcing that the film is not a white savior movie. Throughout the film, he self-consciously traverses Alabama, making a point that he is a white man with a movie camera digging up a forgotten murder story of a black man. As usual, even after 4 years of research into the subject, and even though it's his own family's history, there is no real resolution to the film. The truth in what happened to the powerless will be erased from history and completely forgotten. It's a timely film because with a racist buffoon being in charge, the racist rhetoric right now is truly alarming.

His name was Bill Spann. Wilkerson is nowhere near to find out what really happened, but finds Spann's final resting place in an unmarked grave in Louisville Alabama with the tip from a local woman who fears for her safety by just talking to him. Yes, the violence and racism is still rampant in the south and everywhere nowadays. Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun? bears witness to those who were victims of racist violence and serves as a reminder that they all had names.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Hairball Romance

Are We Not Cats (2016) - Robin
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A New York slacker Eli (Michael Patrick Nicholson)'s life can't get any worse - dumped by his girlfriend, fired from his job (sanitation worker, dangling from the back of the garbage truck) and his parents declares that they are moving to Arizona, so he has to move out. Only silver lining in this case is that his father leaves him his old cube truck (from his mover business days). After unsuccessfully bumming around his friends and sleeping in the back of his truck for a while, he gets a job delivering a giant, old engine to snowy upstate. Once there, he gets stuck with a man who ordered the engine for god knows what reason, meets the man's cute girlfriend Anya (Chelsea Lopez) in some dingy basement club. Their attraction is mutual. And since Eli's got nothing better to do, he decides to hang around, getting a job as a machine operator at a logging company where Anya also works at. It turns out that they share the same tendency: They pick and eat their own hair obsessive compulsively. While Eli's tendency is mild (not that he is a healthy man by any means, he urinates blood!), he recognizes and understands Anya's near dangerous obsession. Oh man, the hairball that is cummulating in her must be huge!

Are We Not Cats is a drolly funny and romantic even. it's an unusual comedy that is deceptively sweet and tender. Lopez is adorable even without hair, and Nicholson nails his anxiety ridden millenial hipster bit. Perfect as a Halloween night movie.