Sunday, January 28, 2024

Oracle of Cinema

Images of the World and the Inscription of War (1989) - Farocki Screen Shot 2024-01-28 at 11.40.12 AM Screen Shot 2024-01-28 at 1.24.14 PM Screen Shot 2024-01-28 at 10.33.11 AM Screen Shot 2024-01-28 at 10.45.56 AM Screen Shot 2024-01-28 at 1.24.44 PM Screen Shot 2024-01-28 at 11.01.56 AM Screen Shot 2024-01-28 at 10.31.23 AM Screen Shot 2024-01-28 at 10.32.07 AM Screen Shot 2024-01-28 at 11.40.25 AM We first see the giant wave making machines at work in Hamburg. Scientists are trying to find the pattern in ocean waves however impossible of a task it is. Harun Farocki then connects that with the age of enlightenment and human technology. Enlightenment in German is Aufklärung which also means reconnaissance, in military terms, it's also flight reconnaissance. Photography was used for evaluators to evaluate the scale of the buildings without fear of falling to their death when measuring buildings. Photography is also used to verify the right targets in World War 2 during air raids.

Farocki rightly questions the acuities of 'seeing is believing' with the example of why Auswitz was never bombed by the Allied despite two escapees testimonials of atrocities there. It didn't look like a munitions factory and therefore not a priority. It was two Pentagon officials in 1977 who admitted that they were examining these aerial photos and clearly seeing crematorium and air vents and lines to the gas chambers.

Images of the World and the Inscription of War predicts our current world - drone warfare, surveillance state, deepfake and misinformation wars in astonishing detail without ever mentioning internet or AI. A photographer from the occupying forces in Algeria took photos of Algerian women without their veils and published the photo book in 1960. At one point, a voice of a woman who has been narrating the film in absolute objectivity until then, asks, "How can a face of a human being be described with certainty, so that it can be recognized by everyone, by a machine?"

Both nazi's and concentration camp survivors took detailed records in numbers - one the evidence of genocide, the other, coded evidence for preservation and uprising.

Farocki, as a film essayist, shared many of the same traits as Godard and Alexander Kluge, but he was more direct and succinct than the other two. His ability in provoking the audience to think for themselves while guiding slightly with big ideas had no equal. With wars in Ukraine and Gaza in the internet age, the misinformation wars are raging like never before and I can't help noticing how prescient Farocki's film is.

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Mix and Match

The Seeding (2023) - Clay

Barnaby Clay's The Seeding mixes and matches The Hills Have Eyes with Woman in the Dunes. But it lacks the grit, fast pacing plot of the Hills and the aesthetic beauty and metaphorical depth in storytelling of the Japanese New Wave classic.

Don't get me wrong, a movie doesn't have to be anything other than what it promises - with the implication of the title and the macabre poster, The Seeding is a horror through and through. Yes, with the first glimpse of the 'strays' (the young cannibals who prey on tourists), you know where exactly the movie is headed.

A photographer (Scott Haze) gets lost in a California desert after documenting a solar eclipse. He then gets lured in by a woman (Kate Lyn Sheil, Kate Plays Christine, She Dies Tomorrow) singing at night. She lives in a shack at what seems to be the bottom of a quarry drained of water, which is only accessible by a rope ladder. For the next one hour and forty minutes, things don't go well for the photographer. After getting stuck down in the quarry with the not-so-talkative woman who wouldn't divulge any useful information for him to escape or call for help, he tries to scale the wall with a pickaxe, only to end up injuring himself. And who are these feral marauding teenagers who at first seem to be helping him but ending up with toying with him and taunt him? The woman is vague about these 'strays' about their origins or their intentions. With an injured leg and without prospects of escaping, the photographer slowly begins to accept his fate and gives in to temptations, after seeing the woman taking sponge baths in front of him night after night. Now that she is pregnant and only food and supplies are from the strays above, by lowering down with a rope, he tries his hands at some farming and engage in pleasant conversations with the woman who doesn't seem to be aware the comfort of the modern world.

Clays sets the tone early on with moody score and a shot of feral child munching on a severed finger. And there are some pretty experimental blot art sequences throughout. But the film's predictable storyline and uninspired dialog will certainly invite a lot of scrutinizing: Why did he climb all the way down the ladder at night in the first place when he could've simply call her from above? Why didn't he forcefully get the story out of the woman in the first place? Why there are no search parties or park rangers to look for him for nine plus months? How can the woman and strays and their ancestors not be noticeable in the national park all these years for generations? Where does the woman get electricity to light the shack and cook meals?

The Seeding features some striking sceneries and sets an impending doom with great sound design but with stilted performances and plot holes, it stops short at delivering an intense psychological survival horror usually associated with 'trapped' narrative.

Friday, January 19, 2024

Warm Bodies

Fallen Leaves (2023) - Kaurismaki Screen Shot 2024-01-19 at 3.45.23 PM Screen Shot 2024-01-19 at 12.08.29 PM Screen Shot 2024-01-19 at 12.15.43 PM Screen Shot 2024-01-19 at 12.37.38 PM Screen Shot 2024-01-19 at 12.54.18 PM Screen Shot 2024-01-19 at 3.49.23 PM Screen Shot 2024-01-19 at 12.50.27 PM Screen Shot 2024-01-19 at 1.00.47 PM Aki Kaurismaki's micro romance Fallen Leaves isn't revolutionary or anything, but it nevertheless succeeds in warming your heart. It concerns two lonely working class Helsinkians crossing paths and falling for each other in that driest, most deadpan Kaurismaki way possible. And as usual with his recent films (Le Havre and The Other Side of Hope), the state of the world (Russian invasion of Ukraine just began at the time the film was being made), is always on the airwaves reminding us how f'd up the world around us is.

Ansa (Alma Pöysti) is first seen stocking the shelves in a grocery store under the watchful eyes of a bulldog-like security guard. She sometimes takes expired food home and also gives away expired items to others. Her daily routine is pretty monotonous and uneventful. Holappa (Jussi Vatanen) is a construction worker who is constantly drinking at the job. He drinks because he is depressed. He is depressed because he drinks. They first exchange glances in a karaoke bar, accompanying their more sociable friends. But they are not talkative types. Then they meet again on the street. They go out for coffee, then to movies. They watch Jim Jarmusch's zombie comedy The Dead Don't Die. She gives him her phone number which he immediately loses. They lose their jobs for stealing and drinking. They go through one low wage menial jobs to another. After waiting at the movies, he meets her again and she invites him for dinner. This time he puts her address in his wallet. Dinner goes well. But losing many family members to alcohol, she can't allow someone with drinking problems in her life.

I'm glad Kaurismaki is getting a lot of accolades for this film, but Fallen Leaves is not too different from any other of his deadpan comedies. While his fellow deadpan comedy comrade Jarmusch is delving into zombie genre, Kaurismaki is making romance. While sad songs punctuate and homages to many great romantic films where two would be lovers are separated and need to find their ways to one another play out, the Finnish master makes room in our darkest times for us to smile, even for a short while.

Monday, January 15, 2024

Soup for the Soul

Here (2023) - Devos Screen Shot 2024-01-14 at 9.27.46 AM Screen Shot 2024-01-14 at 9.39.49 AM Screen Shot 2024-01-14 at 9.48.09 AM Screen Shot 2024-01-15 at 8.38.08 AM Screen Shot 2024-01-15 at 8.50.26 AM Screen Shot 2024-01-15 at 8.52.33 AM Screen Shot 2024-01-15 at 8.55.23 AM Screen Shot 2024-01-15 at 9.09.20 AM Screen Shot 2024-01-15 at 9.00.15 AM Screen Shot 2024-01-15 at 9.11.37 AM Screen Shot 2024-01-15 at 9.01.24 AM Screen Shot 2024-01-15 at 9.10.31 AM Screen Shot 2024-01-15 at 9.19.27 AM Devos's nocturnal ASMR session continues with Here, after Ghost Traffic. Just like in his previous film, Devos explores the interconnected lives of immigrants in Brussels. If the night was the rug that tied rooms together, this time it's the forest in an urban setting. And as always, in its full frame presentation and still images, it's gorgeous.

A good looking Romanian construction worker (Stefan Gota) is about to take his well earned vacation and drive off soon as his car is fixed. In the mean time, he is clearing out his fridge and using all the remaining vegetables to make a batch of soup in order not to have them go to waste before his trip. He takes his soup in containers to give to his friends and relatives. A Chinese bryologist and lecturer (Liyo Gong) who is working at her auntie's Chinese takeout place meets him one day as he takes shelter from the rain and eats in the restaurant. They converse about his wet shoes.

When he walks through the park on the way to retrieve his car from the garage, he meets the bryologist again, studying and collecting moss samples there in the forest with her little magnifying glass. She introduces him to the world of mosses, and fascinated by the whole ecosystem through the magnifying glass, they are lost in time and spend all day together and walking and talking in deep of the park.

There's a little magic about the film. The mysterious seedlings that glow, the sound of nearby train running replaced by rustling of the trees and unseen birds, the well timed rain showers, etc. The little romance between the two charcters are so understated and happens literally off the frame, yet so sublimely lovely. Remember, making soup for somebody is the most romantic thing to do.

Wednesday, January 10, 2024


Last Things (2023) - Stratman Screen Shot 2024-01-10 at 8.21.21 AM Screen Shot 2024-01-10 at 8.21.33 AM Screen Shot 2024-01-10 at 8.26.19 AM Screen Shot 2024-01-10 at 8.28.22 AM Screen Shot 2024-01-10 at 8.32.57 AM Screen Shot 2024-01-10 at 8.46.31 AM Screen Shot 2024-01-10 at 8.54.46 AM Deborah Stratman's new film, Last Things, composed mostly of found footage, is a Sci-fi non-fiction about the future imagined from the point of view of a rock. 16mm timelapse images of crystals forming, the living cell structures, 3D satellite footages of a distant planet, the sight of Petra in southern Jordan, Darwin's evolutionary trees, staging of 'star people', accompanied by great sound design and music, the film is an multifaceted, engaging, fascinating contemplation of time in the face of our environmental catastrophe. It's Based on the text of J.-H. Rosny (narrated by Valérie Massadian in English and French). And with the help of structural geologist Dr. Marcia Bjørnerud, the filmmaker lays down the vision of the future where all living things have died out and cyclical nature of how all things start and end and start again.

Dr. Bjørnerud talks about polytemprality. Everywhere you go, you see the remnants of the deep time. Your backyard could have been under shallow sea 400 million years ago, or the river valley that was carved into clay by a giant lake during the late ice age. The way Stratman goes about presenting the smallness of human existence within the deep time with a completely unsentimental eye is, above all things, refreshing. Clocking in short 50 minutes, Last Things is, as usual, an aesthetically, politically, intellectually invigorating work by Stratman. Please go watch on film print at Anthology Film Archives starting 1/12. Stratman will be doing Q&A in person on this Friday and Saturday.

Monday, January 8, 2024

Pig Brain

Monster (2023) - Kore-eda Screen Shot 2024-01-08 at 8.51.59 AM Screen Shot 2024-01-08 at 8.47.28 AM Screen Shot 2024-01-08 at 9.56.01 AM Screen Shot 2024-01-08 at 10.21.18 AM Screen Shot 2024-01-08 at 10.25.14 AM What seemingly starts out as a rashomon style abuse accusation in a school drama, Kore-eda's new film Monster is actually about something completely different. It's a massively poignant lovestory and an indictment of the bigotted society where people assume the worst in each other. It tells a elementary school kid Minato (Soya Kurokawa) being accused of bullying another child Yori (Hinata Hiiragi), and in turn punished by a young teacher Hori (Eita Nagayama). When Minato's single mom (Sakura Ando) notices about his son's odd behavior and sullenness, she complains to the principal of the school. But the principal and other teachers have already built an impenetrable wall to protect school's reputation and repeats the scripted response and apology to her. Enraged, mom finally gets Hori fired. But her son's odd behavior doesn't stop. On the eve of a tropical storm approaching the area, Minato disappears. His mom and Hori, start looking for him in the storm.

Then the film goes back to tell the same moments - some seemed insignificant and some pivotal before, from the kid's perspective and reveals innocent friendship and moving lovestory between two kids. Japan, like other countries (let's not kid ourselves, all countries are conservative) still maintain gender affirming activities in media and at home. Parents convince themselves that they can 'fix' their children if boys or girls are not behaving like boys or girls. We scrutinize everyone for their supposed roles in society and presume their shortfalls- Single mothers are drama queens, too protective of their children, Teachers should never visit bar hostesses, for example.

The society full of stereotyping and prejudices, children can't express what they feel, not only not to adults but to each other either. Rather they become cruel liars. It's not that they are evil. But the harm is done.

As is the case with Kore-eda films, he gets the most outstanding performances out of young actors. Both Kurokawa and Hiiragi shine in their demanding roles emoting in their uncertain stares and silences. As usual, Sakura Ando is a national treasure as a frustrated single mom and an unsuspecting role model. And both Nagayama and Yuko Tanaka (who plays the principal) are great in their supporting roles. The late Ryuichi Sakamoto's score adds to the film's greatness.