Tragic Error, though presumably not intended to be avant-garde at the time, sets the foundations for metacinema in its evocation of the third reality between the viewer and the film. René’s frantic perusal of the film reel reminds the viewer of cinema’s subliminal power – just a few frames of the film-within-a-film sets him into a panic which leads to a dramatic conclusion. To a modern audience, the film’s twist does not come as much of a surprise, but director Louis Feuillade nonetheless does a good job of working up suspense. René as a character is unpredictable and untrustworthy – that we see the film from his perspective means we uncover the mystery gradually without once considering Suzanne’s story. An intriguing short from the early master.
Thursday, 29 April 2010
Wednesday, 28 April 2010
Made for just $500,000 by Russian ex-pat Slava Tsukerman, Liquid Sky shares similar production values with other low-budget sci-fi or horror films, including a stilted screenplay and lazy acting. Anna Carlisle, in the roles of both Margaret and Jimmy, is more likely to be remembered for being a poster girl for androgyny than a great actress, as her performance is led almost entirely by contrived stiffness. But what the film loses in technicalities, it gains in managing to crystallise the zeitgeist of the eighties, in both its superficial aspects and its deeper sociological implications. In this way, Liquid Sky is ripe for rediscovery – its independent spirit and unique approach to sexuality harmonises well with modern attitudes to cinema, and the hilariously mechanistic, synth-dominated soundtrack is a clear influence on the electroclash genre.Hear a sample of the soundtrack here
Tuesday, 27 April 2010
Director Bahman Ghobadi has previously found an audience in the West with features about Kurdish people constantly alienated from their environment, and the same themes run through No One Knows About Persian Cats, although the subject matter is vastly different. The protagonists, in real life a duo called Take It Easy Hospital, are endearing but are in no way the main attraction of the film. Ghobadi takes the opportunity to promote another face of Iran, one which refuses to deny outside influence and discovers new modes of creative expression. An effortlessly cool, politically charged piece of work.
Monday, 26 April 2010
Apart From You feels like any other Mikio Naruse film, asides from the fact that the dramatic camerawork appears to be compensating for the lack of sound. In a peculiar way, the film is stronger for its silence, as we are able to observe the characters’ frustrations purely in their expressions and actions. With just three key characters, Naruse is able to spend time fleshing them out, with Toshio a particularly strong identity in the film. A simple story with a cherishable message at its core, Apart From You is a pleasant drama which stands up to the early silent films of Yasujiro Ozu.
Sunday, 25 April 2010
The film’s title suggests that the pole’s importance goes beyond mere symbolism, as the totem refreshes the identity of its people and serves as a teaching tool for the next generation, although the children in the film appear mostly bemused by its presence. Gil Cardinal, the director responsible for both documentaries, understands the role of this second film, keeping it short at just over twenty minutes to act as a triumphant epilogue to the G’psgolox story. In this way Return And Renewal scarcely stands on its own as a film, although it does offer new insight on the future of the pole, as well as introducing the new icon of the pole’s circular yoke which is hung up in the local school.
Saturday, 24 April 2010
Chasing Ghosts shares a lot in common with another documentary, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, as they both more or less cover the same subject and interviewees. However, while the latter contrives a lot of drama for the sake of entertainment, it definitely comes off as the better film of the two. The unacknowledged irony in Chasing Ghosts is that it lionises its subjects in a manner afforded to rock stars by allowing them to wallow in conceit, but doesn’t place any particular value on their achievements. Furthermore, its subjects walk the line between nobility and humiliation as they opine on the importance of gaming. Mr. Awesome’s assertion that his record on Missile Command is worth the most because it is the manliest game only serves to prove his enduring insecurity which arcade games have evidently perpetuated. Ruchti has clearly done his research, and the interviewees provide ample insight, but Chasing Ghosts struggles to achieve more than unnecessary aggrandisement.
Wednesday, 21 April 2010
Though some might say that the similarities between Delpeut’s process and the one Bill Morrison used for his 2002 film Decasia are so close as to suggest plagiarism by the latter, such a question ignores the nature of the found-footage genre. As Jean-Luc Godard once noted, “it’s not where you take things from, it’s where you take them to”. This however does not excuse the two films from comparison. Whereas Decasia creates controlled chaos through its presentation of odds and ends of unknown films, most of them damaged beyond recognition by natural causes, Lyrical Nitrate honours cinema through identifying patterns. Montages of similar clips from different films suggests an element of collective perfectionism, as if filmmakers were constantly collaborating to document life as best as possible. The film’s everchanging colour values have a hypnotic effect, rendering the film a gentle, ghostly experience.
Monday, 19 April 2010
Director Ousmane Sembène, one of the masters of African cinema, insisted that his film should not be seen as anti-Islamic propaganda, but while it is made clear that the antagonists are under the sway of Islamic law, and Sembène certainly offers sufficient argument against it, the target seems to be religion in general. There are frequent reminders of the most recent conversion to Catholicism, and the locals are clearly not better off for the European influence. In this way, Sembène’s challenging film portrays the ceddo as noble people protecting their pride, regardless of the enemy.
Sunday, 18 April 2010
Though at its heart a simple romantic thriller, Suzhou River is on many counts an important film. Uncomfortably categorised as a bastion of the Sixth Generation of Chinese cinema, it better merits being spoken in international terms, a successor to the works of Wong Kar-Wai and Alfred Hitchcock. Acclaimed actress Zhou Xun does a supreme job playing both Meimei and Moudan, fulfilling each character’s subtleties as well as their similarities. The film’s first-person perspective never once feels like a gimmick – by conflating the fourth wall with the viewpoint of a significant character, director Lou Ye keeps the audience very close to the film’s surface, always at risk of plunging to its depths.
Saturday, 17 April 2010
Although not the first Titanic film (Étienne Arnaud’s Saved From The Titanic has that honour, being released just a month after the accident), The Obsession presents an interesting version of events, focusing more on the loved ones left behind than the cataclysmic events on board. Mrs. Trévoux’s concern for her husband’s wellbeing is the obsession of the title, beautifully epitomised by a scene where she stares at a light beaming from the Eiffel Tower, which she takes as an omen. The film’s main drawback is its use of a model boat for scenes showing the Titanic at night, an understandable technological constraint. These short sequences keep a distance between the drama conveyed through the telegrams and the real event, but it isn’t distracting enough to dampen the emotions.
Friday, 16 April 2010
Unapologetically quirky, I Am From Titov Veles proposes a believable story against an interesting backdrop, but ultimately it leaves a lot to be desired. The sisters are rather half-baked as characters (besides fulfilling the ‘virgin, mother, whore’ dynamic of feminist film theory), and Afrodita in particular is a grating presence. Her unexplained muteness seems like little more than a whim of the director, whose painterly sensibilities get cloying very quickly. Additionally, the audience is presented with mixed messages about female sexuality and it’s hard to understand what one should take away from it. The film does have its virtues, however – the cinematography is gently hypnotic, using flourishes of colour and texture to bring scenes to life.
Thursday, 15 April 2010
Director Otar Iosseliani frequently saw his films censored upon release by authorities in the USSR for social criticism. Once Upon A Time There Was A Singing Blackbird is no exception, and its restless editing and focus on the individual places it stylistically closer to French cinema. While his energy is infectious, Guia is a character to be sympathised with rather than looked up to. Characters walk in and out of his life with little impression, and he feels as if he never has the time to achieve what he really wants, namely to tailor a suit and compose a piece of music trapped in his head. Comedy and tragedy in equal parts, Once Upon A Time There Was A Singing Blackbird is an underseen masterwork with universal charm.
Wednesday, 14 April 2010
Despite its themes, Forbidden Games is careful not to overwhelm with morbidity – director René Clément remembers to celebrate life as an element of meditation on death. The protagonists, skilfully portrayed by young actors Brigitte Fossey and Georges Poujoly, behave as any bereaving child would. In a particularly provocative sequence towards the end, Michel discards all of the graveyard’s crosses, his anger justified and pure. The children’s explorations of their decaying environment are extraordinarily well shot – the camera becomes another child, free of judgment or authority. Forbidden Games is a charming, honest exploration of how the machinations of death affect children not readily equipped with the emotions to handle it, and still holds its own alongside similar features such as Ponette and The Spirit of the Beehive.
Tuesday, 13 April 2010
With few words, Mambéty creates a powerful character in Badou Boy, a quirky, rakish anti-hero whose problems are readily discernible, and his assertion that the film is somewhat autobiographical comes as no surprise. Shots last minutes without the protagonist uttering a single word, his mannerisms becoming the dialogue, while a soulful guitar-led soundtrack fills the silences with a sense of wistful nostalgia. Upon reflection, this could almost be an early blaxploitation movie, sharing elements of its style but not its hubris. Fans of this short feature should make sure to see Mambéty’s next film Touki Bouki, an ingenious, outlandish West African pastiche of Bonnie and Clyde and the French New Wave.
Friday, 9 April 2010
Thaïs is the only surviving film from the Italian Futurist movement, and as such has a special importance in the history of cinema. In truth, the film’s virtues lie mostly in its set design rather than the drama or acting, but it is definitely to painter and designer Enrico Prampolini’s credit. Thaïs’ elaborately designed house, filled with secret doors and corridors of indeterminable perspective, is a nightmarish labyrinth of bold geometric shapes, predicting and provoking her eventual downfall. At parts of the film, steam is seen to emerge from holes in the wall. Adding to the phantasmagoria is the yellow tint of the print, which lends the images an almost electric vibrancy. Though its story is instantly forgettable, Thaïs should nonetheless be seen alongside The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and A Crazy Page, as a reminder that visual ingenuity is as old as the cinematograph itself.
Wednesday, 7 April 2010
Director Corneliu Porumboiu employs long, voyeuristic takes suggestive of stagnation, and to the passive viewer, it would appear that the film never hits a crescendo. Upon closer inspection, Porumboiu’s sophomore feature reveals itself to be a shrewd twist on the comedy of errors. The humour flows effortlessly from Cristi’s dispassionate exchanges with his employers and girlfriend, painting him as a man exhausted by everyone else’s proactivity. Of particular note is the naturalistic acting – much kudos should go to Dragos Bucur in the lead role, as well as Vlad Ivanov, the soulless abortionist from 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days who is almost unrecognisable as Cristi’s stubborn superior.