Sunday, 27 June 2010


Often referred to as the missing Roman Polański film (he wrote it but gave directing rights to Simon Hesera), A Day At The Beach portrays the story of Bernie, a mouthy alcoholic who is given the task of taking his young, disabled niece Winnie out for the day. The plan is to visit the seaside, but the day begins with torrential rain. With an uncertain degree of determination, Bernie takes Winnie there all the same, settling in various cafés and bars to get some Dutch courage. As he grows drunker, he quickly forgets his obligations to Winnie, and before long he is attending bars alone, while Winnie puts herself in great danger playing hide and seek outdoors.

Though ostensibly not an uplifting film in any capacity, A Day At The Beach does have its virtues. Bernie is a three-dimensional character, his aggression and world-weariness clearly derived from a sense of loss (it is implied more than once that ‘Uncle’ Bernie is in fact Winnie’s biological father). Despite Bernie’s lack of avuncular charm and complete irresponsibility, Winnie appears to have a soft spot for him throughout, even jumping to his defence when he is beaten up by a creditor, and there are brief glimpses of heartwarming humanity amidst the doom and gloom of the day’s events. Occasionally the film loses its raison d’être, and one wonders what Polański’s direction might have done, but overall it’s an intriguingly sinister slice of life. Look out for Peter Sellers as a camp-as-hell stall owner.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010


Set in turn of the century India, surreal director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Tusk narrates the story of an English girl named Elise born into a rich family living in the British colony. On the day that Elise comes into the world, so too does an elephant named Tusk, and the two are to unwittingly share each other’s trials and tribulations throughout the rest of their lives. Both Elise and Tusk find themselves at odds with their circumstances, Elise rebelling against her parents’ expectations while Tusk tries to escape slavery. A chance meeting at a raucous parade brings the two to meet, and the superstitious Elise seizes her opportunity to free her kindred spirit from his situation.

Jodorowsky is said to have only taken the film on as a means of keeping busy before his ultimately defunct Dune project, and was reportedly so disappointed with the result of this film that he attempted to destroy all working copies of it. Those versed in Jodorowsky’s otherworldly cinematic imagination may be disappointed by the straightforwardness of this one, but in all honesty it isn’t that bad. Aside from the occasional fart joke, Tusk tackles the concepts of fate and serendipity with surprising maturity for a children’s film, and the parallels made between the lives of Elise and Tusk are sweet if obvious. Kudos for the story must go to Reginald Campbell, whose book Poo Lorn of the Elephants formed the basis of the film, but the interpretation is all Jodorowsky’s. A warm, colourful oddity.

Monday, 21 June 2010


With the advent of cinema, many artists have used this new medium not for theatre, but to attempt to record the human thought process realistically. Surrealism and the avant-garde brought with them editing styles which seem to echo the stream of consciousness. The lettrist movement of the forties and fifties aimed to reduce literature and cinema to its formal fragments, removing any nuance of semantics or grammar. The films produced from this movement still present a heady challenge even today, and Marc’O’s Closed Vision is no exception. A narrator guides the viewer through the film’s intentions as a vibrant array of images is presented. Various photocollages evoke the contorted faces of human emotion, intercut with surreal imagery reminiscent of Buñuel and Cocteau, both of whom endorsed the film.

Apart from the patronising disclaimer at the start of the film which acknowledges the need for an explanation for ‘lay audiences’, Marc’O does a good job of drawing the viewer in, the curiosity of his new film language being a reason to watch rather than switch off. Unlike his lettrist colleagues, Marc’O revels in the possibilities of both image and sound, engendering a sense of discord as the mind tries to follow the two independent strands. The narration plays with the phonetic complexities of language, sounds being stressed and repeated at random, and brings to mind a Beat poetry session. Closed Vision is a little too theatrical to fully follow through with its mission statement, but merits commemoration in experimental film history.

Sunday, 20 June 2010


Jeannie is a wheelchair user who runs a colourful boutique. At the beginning of Beeswax, we see Jeannie meeting with a potential employee, presenting herself as an organised, authoritative figure as if to spite her public image as a ‘disabled’ person. Jeannie has a happy-go-lucky twin sister named Lauren who struggles with the concept of commitment and doesn’t seem to have much structure in her life. Her biggest plan in the pipeline is a mission to Kenya to teach English to children, a scheme which she sees as incompatible with her current relationship. The sisters live their lives separately, but constantly consult one another about work, money and love.

Director Andrew Bujalski is known as one of the bastions of the mumblecore movement, which generally sees as its enemy the artifice of cinema. Beeswax’s most impressive feat is its realism, and all of the actors embrace their roles to the point of living them, but that doesn’t amount to a great deal when the slice of life under the microscope is not particularly notable. It is thus hard to understand exactly what Bujalski wants to tell us about life beyond his fantasy that everyone dabbles in the same hopelessly charming idiolect, and a lot of the dialogue borders on preciousness. Bujalski’s previous feature, the vastly superior Mutual Appreciation, succeeded for the warmth and innocence of its protagonist, and this is perhaps what Beeswax lacks the most. Bujalski is a very promising filmmaker, and one hopes that Beeswax is an anomaly.

Saturday, 19 June 2010


A long-haired man, topless and bleeding, looks in agony towards a light as the credits roll in for Khavn’s Headless (Pugot). The man is seen intermittently throughout the film as he wanders through the streets of a Filipino town in the early hours, blood streaming from his crotch as if he had been castrated. Most of the screentime however is dedicated to the squabbles of a married couple, the wife on display as her artist husband hides behind the camera interrogating her. They discuss the ethical issues behind eating pork, the fine lines between pornography and art, and the science of nightmares. As both stories gradually deteriorate, the viewer is left to question how closely connected they are.

There is an unusual feeling of the underground with Headless. Both ‘stories’ show the viewer private aspects of the characters’ lives, and the film’s home movie shooting style, combined with the almost imperceptible narrative structure, lend it an uncomfortable realism. Though it may be an obtuse comparison to make, the film occasionally outdoes the likes of Paranormal Activity and Cloverfield in generating intensity from the first-person perspective, and is far more believable than either of the two. One is also reminded of Michael Haneke’s oeuvre, the true drama taking place in the imagined spaces between scenes. This is not to give Headless too much credit as a lot more could have been said in its hour-long runtime, but anyone looking for a modern underground film would do well to seek it out.


Fantasy cinema will always trace its roots back to early special effects wizard Georges Méliès, whose works still have relevance in some circles today. His best known works often used Jules Verne’s adventure stories as a template, embellishing them with appropriately surreal visuals, and most if not all of these projects were shot in a customised warehouse. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea is no exception, taking as its basis one of Verne’s most adapted works. The U.S. government sends a team of scientists to investigate a spate of sunken ships. The mission uncovers a world of underwater marvels, but as the men entertain themselves with their new environment, they fall prey to its unforeseen dangers.

Without the luxury of time, any retelling of a Verne tale is a bit abrupt and doesn’t have the draw that the books do. Accepting time as a limitation, Méliès uses his imagination to create a visually active backdrop evocative of a thriving submarine habitat. As in many of Méliès’ films, the fantastical aspects of the story are helped along by a bevy of dancing girls, and their constant movements against a psychedelic background make for a hypnotic effect. The film is bookended by scenes which explain the purpose and outcome of the characters as in the book, but one feels that Captain Nemo should have featured more. It might not measure up to later feature-length adaptations, but Méliès’ film is an entertaining, if slightly too brief jaunt. Look out for the menacing giant crab.

Friday, 18 June 2010


Though cinema was essentially born deaf, with sound films coming into common use in the late twenties, it is unusual for modern hearing audiences to imagine the film experience for someone not equipped to appreciate every aspect of it. Step in Deafula, a bizarre vampire film entirely in American sign language. Our lead character is Steve, a family man who moonlights as the bloodthirsty Deafula of the title. After a spate of attacks, Steve/Deafula finds himself on the run from two detectives, one of whom is his childhood friend, but the investigation seems incapable of curbing his murderous desires. Meanwhile, Steve’s sympathetic father is determined to get him some help, advising him to contact old family friend Amy who supposedly has the solution to all his problems.

It is hard judging such a film being outside its target audience, and there are supposedly many sign-language in-jokes that make for a very different film experience. Originally billed as a ‘light comedy’, Deafula is a horror story whose eeriest element is its incompetence. Although designed for the deaf, the film does feature selective dubbing and a piano score, presumably so that hearing people could also enjoy it. This, however, distorts the film even further as the tone and content of the audio doesn’t always match up to the image. It is in its own way a very endearing film, an unsettling peculiarity in the history of cinema, but as good as its intentions were, Deafula is little more than a living nightmare.

Thursday, 17 June 2010


Writer Bohumil Hrabal was arguably one of the driving forces behind the Czech New Wave, his novel Closely Observed Trains forming the basis of Jiří Menzel’s classic film of the same name. In the omnibus film Pearls of the Deep, five of the best-known Czech directors used Hrabal’s writings as inspiration for their own short films. First is Menzel’s Mr. Baltazar’s Death, in which a family day out at a motorcycle rally goes tragically awry. Jan Němec directs the second installment The Imposters, wherein two dying old men compete to impress the other with life experiences. Evald Schorm’s The House of Happiness features a superstitious insurance salesman who grows paranoid after an encounter with a bizarre artist. Věra Chytilová’s The Snack Bar portrays the aftermath of a woman’s suicide, while the final segment Romance, directed by Jiromil Jireš, charts the brief romance between a young man and a spirited gypsy girl.

What is most immediately noticeable about Pearls of the Deep is the demystification of morbid subjects such as death, a common theme to Czech cinema and literature. Menzel, Němec and Chytilová all make a point of treating death not as an end, but as a beginning of another form of life. Though certainly an interesting concept, the project is unfortunately too unbalanced to be a great representation of the Czech New Wave, with Schorm’s installation being the weakest (his King And Women might have been a better bet). Nonetheless, it is worth a view for Chytilová and Jireš’ films.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010


Ryutaro is a spy employed by the shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu, who is the target of assassination attempts that aim to hand power over to his younger brother Tadanaga. Before learning of these plots, Ryutaro discovers himself in a predicament of his own when he rushes to the defence of a local girl who is caught between her boyfriend and a greedy businessman. The situation results in many violent one-on-one skirmishes between Ryutaro and the businessman’s many samurai defendants, one of whom enigmatically refuses to reveal his face or use more than just the one hand. Before long, Ryutaro’s top priority is not protecting Iemitsu as it should be, but rather unearthing the true identity of the mystery samurai.

Director Nobuo Nakagawa is well known for mixing the supernatural with diverse genres of film, and in Ghost Of Hanging In Utsunomiya, he does a sublime job of giving the chanbara (or samurai) genre a much-needed boost. While it may not be as subversive a work as some of its contemporaries, the film has a wonderfully simple premise, and Nakagawa uses the time to reinforce Ryutaro’s story with some colourful characters. With his bizarre hood and penchant for spinning walnuts in his fingers, the unnamed samurai walks the line between clown and sinister threat, and the scene where he reveals his true face is unusually tense. It may not be for everyone, but Ghost Of Hanging In Utsunomiya is a brilliant mix of history and the ethereal, making for great evening viewing.

Monday, 14 June 2010


Shot in a gentle meditative manner, Albert Serra’s Birdsong conveys the story of the Three Wise Men journeying to Bethlehem for the birth of Christ. Their travels bring them across breathtaking empty landscapes of all terrains, and only the sound of birdsong is to guide their way. Throughout their journey, the men chat, argue and moan, their crowns losing status as they grow more puerile. Meanwhile, Mary and Joseph have taken shelter in a small hut, where a visual pun involving a lamb suggests that Jesus has already been born. Music is almost entirely absent, save for a flourish at the point of the magi’s arrival.

The plot implies a heavy Pasolini influence, and this is visible in Serra’s handling of the subject matter, but there is something about his version of events. Most notable is the way in which he humanises the Three Wise Men – these aren’t men capable of herculean sufferance, but living human beings, vulnerable to boredom, hunger and thirst. In this way, Serra both demystifies and realises elements of the nativity story, as the magi while away hours with philosophical discussion about the world. It is perhaps most appropriate to say that Birdsong is a magical experience – Serra does not wish to convert, nor is he as cynical as Pasolini. The film’s long takes and extensive silence can make it a trial to watch, particularly as they lack the substance and power of, say, Sátántangó, but that’s not to say it isn’t worth watching at all.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

7p., cuis., s. de b. ... à saisir (FRANCE/1984/AGNÈS VARDA)

Accompanying a shot of a celestially lit staircase, a man’s voice is heard musing on the suitability of an apartment which used to be part of a hospice. It soon becomes clear that the man is or was an estate agent, recalling the history of previous clients. As he narrates the story of a family who lived in the apartment twenty years ago, we see humans as well as waxwork figures enacting scenes from their life, the rooms decorated with still-life paintings. Colours, textures and lights transform the mood of different scenes, while age is conveyed solely through the faces and bodies of the actors. The film was made in the exhibition space of biologist and artist Louis Bec, who stars in the film as the aging father.

Agnès Varda, a mainstay of the French New Wave, appears to be channelling the Czechoslovak New Wave here, applying a theatrical, surrealistic mode of thinking to her use of the space, and a cheerful demeanour about the morbid subject of mortality. The family’s story is succinctly told through gentle vignettes, the nuclei of which are not solid events, but feelings and expressions. Varda uses different textures not only in the rooms, which are at different times covered in grass, feathers and soil, but also in dialogue – the phonemic richness of the father’s gerontological jargon is later mirrored in the children’s discussion about ‘bad’ words. Visually inventive and bizarrely touching, this Buñuelian short is a minor masterpiece in Varda’s impressive portfolio of work.

Monday, 7 June 2010


Ricky, the Santa Claus killer from the previous installments of Silent Night, Deadly Night, is in a coma after being shot by the police. Laura, a blind girl with premonitory powers, is asked to engage in an experiment that aims to find some form of communication with Ricky (the reason is never fully explained), but finds herself instead plagued by horrific nightmares about Christmas. When Laura takes some time off to visit her grandmother, Ricky is stirred awake by a tipsy orderly dressed as Santa Claus and begins his murderous spree again. When Laura suddenly feels something is amiss during her sojourn at Granny’s, she realises that the experiment may have been more successful than expected.

From the space-age cranial dome that Ricky supposedly requires in his comatose state, to the doctor’s parapsychological nonsense (“her body may be young, but her soul is old”), this dire sequel appears to take a laissez-faire approach to both science and horror, not to mention its overreliance on footage from the previous films to tell its story. Laura’s blindness is barely vital to the story besides supposedly giving credence to her psychic visions, which also seem too selective to be reliable. The film is not without its mildly amusing moments – Ricky hitchhiking with the dome still intact, for example – but it’s otherwise an abysmal experience with some unforgivably poor dialogue. Oddly enough, Lynch fans may recognise two of the film’s stars, Eric Da Re and Laura Harring, from Twin Peaks and Mulholland Drive respectively.

Sunday, 6 June 2010


In one of the most wonderfully demented horror plotlines, a mysterious murder case involving a politician unearths a family of cannibals who have been living in a disused part of the London Underground. The family has evidently been in the Tube for some time (it is suggested that they are descendants of Victorian labourers), and have had little exposure to the outside world beyond the tannoy call of “Mind the doors!”, which has become the only phrase they are able to say. It is up to hardened detective Calhoun (Donald Pleasence), as well as young, transatlantic couple Alex and Patricia, to solve the mystery and save London from these dangerous beings.

There is very little in this film for those who like their horror stone-faced and without a trace of kitsch, but for everyone else, there is plenty. As with many of the Hammer horrors at the time, Death Line has surprisingly high production values, the underground setting used to its absolute full potential. An impressive tracking shot travels throughout the cannibals’ lair, serving merely to set the scene but also showing off the set design. Even more striking is the film’s unrelenting gore – no body part or impromptu weapon is spared as the family work their way through various passengers. There are the expected troubles with acting and realism, but anyone wanting to take this ludicrous story seriously should probably wait for the inevitable remake. Wrong Turn, eat your heart out (literally) – this is the original twisted cannibal family.

Gotta love these opening credits – I salute you, Wil Malone.


An estranged, unemployed man named Mizuhara is struggling to come to terms with the divorce that stopped him seeing his son Fumio, and thus caused him to lose motivation. In a last-ditch attempt to get the family back together, Mizuhara pays a visit to ex-wife Mitsu, who is quickly irritated by his presence. Mizuhara persists, demanding to see more of Fumio and promising to find work that would mean Mitsu could quit her unsavoury job as a bar hostess. But despite the uplifting prospects of being a family again, Mizuhara sees himself beaten to the floor once again, and one is left to wonder if he’ll ever get back up.

Nightly Dreams is a dark episode in Mikio Naruse’s oeuvre, a blunt portrayal of what low self-esteem and superstition can do to a man. While none of Naruse’s films find universal satisfaction for the characters, the destructive powers in Nightly Dreams eat away at both protagonists and their son, and the world outside becomes a dangerous place. Naruse captures little moments of human vincibility that other directors would have forgotten, using abrupt zooms to give scenes unexpected emotional impact. Although the story arc belongs to Mizuhara, who undergoes more peaks and troughs than anyone else, the film belongs to Mitsu, the strong, passionate female figure so frequently seen in Naruse’s works. The innocence of childhood is not forgotten in this family drama, and Mizuhara’s relationship with Fumio seems more fraternal than paternal. Nightly Dreams is a saddening, quietly powerful film.

Saturday, 5 June 2010


Liu Jiayin was just 23 years old when she directed her film debut Oxhide. Using her own family as the cast (herself included), Liu tells short vignettes about family life, using static shots to draw the drama into one place. Mother gets impatient with Father for minor indiscretions, Father gets impatient with Daughter for her worrying stature, and Daughter gets impatient to move out. The family appears to scrape by through sales of counterfeit leather handbags, although business is flagging in the film’s time frame.

Though some may beg to differ, Liu has a great sense of cinematography, only keeping her characters fully in shot when it’s necessary. The family members are often crammed into the frame, reflecting the living space they occupy, and the heated atmosphere that seems to pervade every meal. At times, the off-kilter framing brings to mind the work of Michael Haneke, who often keeps the dramatic moments of his films out of sight, only to be heard or imagined. Although not nearly to the same extent, there is a similar sense of the sinister here, as the viewer is left to ponder how much of Liu’s own life is playing out in front of us. The exchanges between family members are so natural and believable that it is impossible not to identify with some element of their lives, whether it be the Father’s superstitious insistence of stirring sesame paste clockwise, or the family’s unexplained sympathy towards the cat’s habit of scratching all the leather bags.

Find the film at dGenerate films here.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010


Comprising eight feature-length ‘episodes’ which cover the same period of time, Jacques Rivette’s epic humanist drama Out 1: Noli Me Tangere begins with a theatre group rehearsing for Aeschylus’ Seven Against Thebes, before switching over to another group whose preparations for a different Aeschylus play, Prometheus Bound, are a little more unorthodox. Peripheral characters, whose connections to either group are unknown, discover correspondences which mention some of the actors, and begin to grow suspicious that the ‘Thirteen’ being referred to is some sort of secret society. What ensues is a quest to crack this enigmatic group which may or may not exist, an undertaking which starts to take away from people’s lives.

The film’s title is contrasted to the word ‘in’, meaning fashionable, suggesting that the plot is a reflection on the futile search for popularity. The characters who are supposedly ‘in’ the secret society are unaware of it, and the characters who beg, steal and borrow for information do not see much improvement in the quality their lives as a result. Rivette’s decision to set the film amongst theatre groups raises questions about the participation of the viewer in both the theatre and the cinema, and the artifice and duplicity of acting, and the success of his film is a testament to the cast’s abilities. Jean-Pierre Léaud (Antoine from The 400 Blows) is particularly brilliant as the uncaring Colin, a man whose lifeblood is pretending to be a deaf harmonica player in order to extort money from the public.