Sunday, November 27, 2022


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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Fine Young Cannibals

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Beast of Burden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 3, 2022

Commodification of Time VS Collectivist Anarchism

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Woman Who Ran

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

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

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

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