Thursday, 28 October 2010


Opening with a sinister pan across an unidentified goo-spewing organism, Guzoo starts off as innocent as one could imagine. A group of female friends – Minako, Kazuko, Yuka and Mayumi, if we’re being formal – excitedly head for a trip to an isolated house in the country, little knowing what is about to befall them. The owner of the house, one Tomoko Kujo, is a researcher in the laboratory of Dr. Takamura, the archaeologist father of Minako. Once in their separate rooms, the girls experience strange phenomena, and Tomoko begins to get more shifty about the experiments she is conducting in a private room in the house. After Yuka sustains a bizarre injury in the swimming pool, the girls start to distrust their landlady – and rightly so.

Anyone who has seen the cinematic LSD trip that is Hausu might expect something similar from this film as the set-up is almost identical, but where Hausu starts to get hilariously psychedelic at the first hint of terror, Guzoo plays it pretty safe. The main attraction here is the camp design – Freudian tentacles emerge from unexpected places, and the soundtrack is pure 1950s B-movie – as besides that, there isn’t much to write home about. At just forty minutes in length, the film struggles to get the story out before overdosing on special effects. As a relic of low-budget horror in the VHS era however, Guzoo is of immeasurable value, and like the infamous Evil Dead Trap series, could eventually gain cult value through religious rewatching.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010


Shot in two parts, this early Michael Haneke film follows a group of teenagers living in a small Austrian town in the fifties. After a startling opening shot of a car being vandalised, the film begins with something of a montage, presenting the film’s characters as they do their best to live up to their parents’ bourgeois ideals. As the film continues, cracks start showing in the kids’ polite façade – cigarettes are smoked in private, couples are having pre-marital sex, friends turn on each other – and any attempt of intervention by their parents only widens the generation gap.

A closely autobiographical piece (Haneke grew up in post-WWII Austria), Lemmings, Part 1 is an astute exploration of society’s influence on the developing minds of impressionable teenagers. The film is careful not to present them as reckless monsters – on the surface they appear all manners and sweetness, and their negative behaviour feels like a helpless metamorphosis rather than rebellion. These children’s violent impulses are made all the more terrifying by the fact that they are not yet equipped to understand their motives, meaning that this transformation is beyond their, or anybody’s, control. This theme is adeptly explored in Haneke’s latest film, The White Ribbon, the setting transposed to pre-WWI Germany. One can perhaps recognise this as Haneke’s own anti-war message, the suggestion being that it reinstates people’s class status and breeds conflict in every level of society. An accomplished precursor to Haneke’s later masterpieces, Lemmings, Part 1 could easily be Austrian Graffiti.

Sunday, 24 October 2010


In documentaries like Capturing the Friedmans, The Devil and Daniel Johnston and Must Read After My Death, home footage and audio recordings are used to emotive, and frequently disturbing effect as they add another dimension to the personal histories of their subjects. In Gregory Büttner’s 23 Zooms, no one person is the subject – in fact, the artist has no connection to any of the people featured. Büttner compiles a selection of twenty-three found photographs and, with no provenance for any of them, composes a piece of music to complement their presentation. Each photograph is scanned over, certain details zoomed into, before fading to black.

While his ambition may not have been to create a tribute to these strangers, Büttner manages to tap into the pseudoscience of nostalgia to give the viewer little shivers that may represent a superficial connection to each photo. A proponent of musique concrète by trade, Büttner has a clear understanding of the synaesthetic possibilities of film, and the lack of movement in each image suggests that audiovisual memory is freed of temporality. Each musical composition feels diligently constructed, and clear references are made to the iconography in the images – a photograph of an old man with canaries is scored by a slightly tropical composition, while a scratched record accompanies Christmas picture. Büttner’s work is very consciously experimental, and ultimately the film showcases the artist’s music over his filmmaking abilities (one wonders why each picture has to seem so sinister), but it is definitely worth a watch.


Referring to both folk culture and recent Peruvian history, The Milk of Sorrow follows Fausta, one of many women experiencing a psychosomatic affliction which transfers the trauma of systematic rape from generation to generation through women’s breastmilk. Conscious of the suffering endured by her recently deceased mother, Fausta becomes determined to avoid the same fate by inserting a potato in her vagina. As she attempts to sustain her family’s interest in burying their mother according to her wishes, she juggles diverse emotions and slowly deteriorates under the mounting stress.

From the very first frame, director Claudia Llosa makes the audience aware of the film’s themes as Fausta and her dying mother sing an emotive Quechua folksong together. As the rest of her family show more interest in partying, we are kept very aware of Fausta’s spiritual connection with her mother, and thus ideals of femininity. Without featuring any visual depictions of rape, Llosa does a stunning job of eliciting a strong emotional response from her audience, and remarkably even manages to balance the drama with a few laughs at the simple joys of life. But there is a worry that Llosa is oversimplifying the issues. Extreme contrasts in the film are made between masculine and feminine, rich and poor, and in the moments where the film should become most affecting, it often resembles a Greek tragedy. The biggest credit for the film undoubtedly belongs to lead actress Magaly Solier, whose enigmatic performance as Fausta keeps the film fascinating and believable.

Thursday, 21 October 2010


Beloved by much of his community, fisherman Miguel appears to be living the dream with his heavily pregnant wife Mariela. Once alone outside of the house, he lives the other element of his double life, a hidden romance with a painter named Santiago. During a late night rendezvous, Miguel is confused when Mariela fails to notice Santiago’s presence, and he soon learns that his secret lover has drowned at sea. Though he initially believes himself relieved of his guilt, repeated visions of Santiago push Miguel to discover his true feelings, and when Santiago’s ghost asks him to find his body and arrange a proper burial, he stops at nothing to fulfil his wishes.

It is undeniable that Undertow was made with heart, but its first-time director Javier Fuentes-León has a few issues with articulating his message clearly. Using the idea of a ghost to represent intolerance in small communities is inspired and works for part of the film, but it just isn’t believable enough to hit the viewer as hard as it should. Great care has been taken to establish the family environment in Miguel and Mariela’s household – an illuminated religious painting in their living room hints at the couple’s selective participation in religious living – but Santiago is undercharacterised by comparison. In many ways, one should be grateful that the subject isn’t blown out of proportion by melodramatics, but it is easy to miss the gravity of the conclusion if one hasn’t invested all their emotive response in every scene.

Saturday, 16 October 2010


Wistful Canadian director Guy Maddin’s debut feature takes place in the fictional Gimli Hospital, where two children are at their terminally ill mother’s bedside. The kids’ Icelandic grandmother, Amma, regales them with the story of Einar the Lonely, a former patient at the hospital. Einar, a fisherman afflicted with smallpox, finds comfort in conversing with his similarly poorly neighbour Gunnar, but the two men soon find themselves love rivals for the hospital’s waifish nurses. With his charming personality and fascinating past, Gunnar is the clear winner, but Einar plays the game by inventing stories even more bizarre and grotesque than Gunnar’s.

Using tropes from the silent era, as has become his trademark, Maddin creates a very textural, darkly humorous story whose conclusion is neither important nor welcomed. Thick Icelandic accents give credibility to the sham mythologies spouted by the two men, while visual motifs such as fish and a jewelled pair of scissors enliven the feverish imagery. But while one would instinctively describe the film by listing the names of directors pastiched by Maddin, the film feels startlingly novel in its design, as if German Expressionism was in need of being revisited. What is most remarkable about the film is that, while thematically it is macabre, one cannot help but be charmed by it. As outstanding and wonderfully cultish a debut as David Lynch’s Eraserhead, Tales from the Gimli Hospital is a winning combination of film styles, and Maddin’s unique manner of storytelling ensures that no single frame is wasted.

Thursday, 14 October 2010


In the first five minutes of Im Sang-Soo’s remake of the home invasion classic The Housemaid, a young woman throws herself off a tall building while much of the city goes about its duties unperturbed. With this shocking opener, it feels as if Im is showing he is prepared to match the bravado of Kim Ki-Young’s original, but rather than just recontextualising the story, he shifts the elements around to make a completely new film. Euny takes on a job assisting an older housemaid working for an extremely rich family, but as she is quickly made aware of her inferior class status, she finds herself vulnerable to the advances of the patriarch, Hoon. What he had anticipated to be a casual affair goes terribly awry when Euny falls pregnant, and the family suffers under a mêlée of secrets and lies.

Im has turned the power structure of the original on its head, perhaps in order to reflect a similar change in Korea’s class divide. Whereas the maid of the earlier film exerts predatorial tendencies over the family, Euny is a tabula rasa for her employers to spoil. Im’s parody of upper-class lifestyles is somewhat overwrought, to the exclusion of much-needed characterisation, but the carefully designed household provides many opportunities for clever theatrical camerawork, often emphasising the hierarchy amongst the characters. Unfortunately, the film soon loses its grip on the viewer as the drama grows more intense, particularly as there is very little of the titular character to grasp onto emotionally.


Once again, I must apologise for a terribly long hiatus between reviews. Having had a languid summer, university has poured back into my life and I'm practically swimming in it. For you dear readers, who have kept me going for an impressive amount of time, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that I may soon be moving the website, most likely to another blog platform, so that I can approach my reviewing from a new perspective, and with a new design. The bad news is that I might not write as frequently as before, due to educational necessities and that claptrap. But I'll be sure to keep watching as many interesting and bizarre films as possible!

Anyway, end of ramble, great big dripping wet thanks to everyone who reads this blog!

Love micmac•