As in a few of Nagisa Ôshima’s films, the issue at the heart of Cruel Story Of Youth is the commodification of human beings. Makoto is an incredibly naïve and vulnerable character, and because of this, it is painful to witness her story arc, but she is difficult to sympathise with given that she has essentially created her circumstances. Ôshima does a superb job of narrating the woes of adolescence, even as the story gets decidedly adult. A sequence wherein Kiyoshi refuses to save Makoto from drowning unless she does everything he says is particularly memorable and sums the film up succinctly. Raw, sexual and dangerous, Cruel Story Of Youth is a still relevant evocation of the rebellious teenage spirit.
Monday, 31 May 2010
Sunday, 30 May 2010
The film plays out as a sort of press pack, arranging interviews and news items chronologically to measure the repercussions of the attack. Rather than sensationalising events unnecessarily, Mori remains as neutral as possible, an approach which allows the subjects to loosen up and contently discuss their beliefs. For the first half of the film, it is hard to conceive of the dangers of a cult represented in the media by someone like Araki, but as Mori probes deeper, he unexpectedly uncovers a stash of chemicals in a storeroom, instantly changing the audience’s perception of the film. At 133 minutes, it may be a little longer than necessary, but A is otherwise a respectably unobtrusive profile of a terrifying sect.
Saturday, 29 May 2010
Prior to producing Wênd Kûuni, the second film ever produced in Burkina Faso, director Gaston Kaboré had been disturbed by the simplistic representation of West African peoples in documentaries. In the character of Wendkouni, Kaboré finds a means of constructing an identity from scratch. Free of language or other cultural signifier, he is absorbed into a community which gives him purpose and love, and later helps him to articulate his pain. At the end of the film, he emerges from his chrysalis, stronger for his suffering and with newfound direction. Wendkouni’s relationship with Pognèré is particularly touching, as both young actors (siblings in real life) support each other through the painful process of growing up.
It is hard to imagine a modern director more suited to adapt Franz Kafka’s final work than Michael Haneke, who has made a name for himself creating unsettling psychological dramas. As in Kafka’s book, the threat is intangible but palpable throughout, and Haneke keeps a rhythm to the film with abrupt fades to black. The film is however weakened by a narration which detracts from the cinematic illusion. While a difficult character to portray, K does not feel as in conflict with his surroundings as he does in the book, but Haneke does well to represent his frustrations realistically. Not perfect, but an admirable effort.
Like Béla Tarr’s TV version of Macbeth, which is dominated by an hour-long shot, Fassbinder’s version of The Coffee House requires considerable patience from the viewer, and relies heavily on the richness of language to communicate its emotional subtleties. Before making his film adaptation, Fassbinder had rewritten the play for the stage, stripping it of its elaborate set design and whimsical comedy to place it firmly in the modern age. It is this unrelentingly stoical approach which permeates a lot of Fassbinder’s early work, and it was at this point that his theatrical output was most prolific. On screen, The Coffeehouse still feels like a play, but as a film it does paradoxically gain an undercurrent of comedy through its supposed seriousness. As actors deliver their lines in turn, the viewer’s attention is drawn to the status of the production rather than the content, and the characters’ hysterical self-pity becomes little more than a theatrical whimsy.
As one might assume, there’s not much remarkable about this one, asides from the comical special effects and porn star acting. The zombies which emerge from the TV are far too human to present any significant threat – some of them are just a couple of eyeliner strokes from being New Romantics. In trying to create an original twist to the zombie genre, the film forgets pacing and plot, but more than makes up for it with some creative deaths – one unfortunate individual is stabbed (yes, stabbed) with an iron. Essentially, The Video Dead is no different from any other horror-comedy hybrid, but it does make an amusing (and surprisingly accurate) prediction about the future of televisual culture. A recommended watch when drunk or stoned.
Thursday, 27 May 2010
Mekas, a man haunted by the spectre of memory, achieves the rare feat of putting himself on camera without needing to be in front of it. His juxtaposition of images is never gratuitous or sentimental, even as flowers superimpose images of children, and although names of relatives and friends are mentioned, the priority is never to learn exactly what role these people play in his life, rather to learn what sort of people they are or were. Any budding artist working in 8mm and 16mm would do well to watch Mekas’ work to learn how to make true meaning of home video footage. In spite of, or perhaps thanks to its extensive length, As I Was Moving Ahead is a wholly immersive experience – while these may not be memories from our own lives, they will be by the end of the film.
In both content and style, The Country Teacher resembles the Korean feature Bungee Jumping Of Their Own, in which a teacher finds himself drawn to a male student he believes is the incarnation of his departed high school sweetheart. While the latter sounds excessively saccharine, it is the better-handled film of the two. In The Country Teacher, Petr deals with many feelings, including a forbidden attraction, but his stony demeanour means that some of his more surprising actions are hard to believe. In spite of this, the film does handle the dramatic moments realistically, and doesn’t forget the emotions of secondary characters in telling its story. An endearing tale of love and identity, The Country Teacher is no great shakes but definitely deserves a watch.
Wednesday, 26 May 2010
Expressionist director Jean Epstein’s films often convey simple stories in a headily lyrical manner, and Finis Terræ is no exception to the rule. With its majestic photography and meditative close-ups, one could be forgiven for thinking that the film is communicating a profound statement on humanity in every single frame. Visual motifs of broken bottles and shells echo the day-to-day approach to life the boys share, and an intermittent shot of names being crossed out gives a powerful sense of time passing with very little action. Epstein even manages to use the film’s silence to great effect, as Jean-Marie’s attempts to shout to the doctor go apparently unnoticed. Simultaneously romantic and realistic, Finis Terræ is a gorgeous essay on human nature and endurance, painted with the very skilled brush of one of cinema’s greatest poets.
The film portrays the men as unpolished savages, unable to communicate beyond monosyllables. It is alleged that the film sparked controversy in various Central Asian countries for such a blunt depiction of the area, but director Ali Khamrayev quite pointedly does not associate the film with any specific country, saying only that it takes place “11,000km from New York”. In spite of this, the film seems to only really have one thing to say. The woman, played by Arielle Dombasle, stands apart from the backdrop as a blue-eyed, pink-lipped Barbie doll, an icon of all things European. Her presence in the desert alone seems to be the catalyst for the shepherds’ downfall, evoking a simple statement on European influence. Neither a straight drama nor a hilarious parody, Bo Ba Bu is an unusually mixed bag.
Although not as shocking as Wiseman’s own Titicut Follies, Law and Order is still a powerful work, a distillation of sixties attitudes to the authorities. Policemen are greeted with disobedience, apathy and threatening behaviour, and given the violent approach taken by some officers, it’s easy to see why. Attitudes to race are also placed under the microscope, as Kansas City was fresh from the MLK riots at the time. Although the film features plenty of antagonism between white law enforcers and black criminals, Wiseman is careful not to perpetuate stereotypes on either end, best summarised by the touching sequence where a white policeman comforts a lost young black girl.
Monday, 24 May 2010
Naturally, a patience for long takes is crucial to get through Fantasma, but even then there is no solid guarantee of enjoyment. Like Tsai Ming-Liang’s Goodbye Dragon Inn and Abbas Kiarostami’s Shirin, Alonso gives us a literal cinematic experience, transforming the darkened screening room into a stage wherein performance is unadulterated by dialogue. The scenes surrounding this nucleus of reflection offer a slight narrative more led by possibility than certainty, and while the man is an interesting sight, his slick black hair belying his true age, his story just doesn’t feel interesting enough to pursue. The introduction of the student promises a connection between the two characters, but teasingly doesn’t deliver. It isn’t that Fantasma has little to say, rather that it is perhaps too subtle for its own good.
Wednesday, 19 May 2010
By subject matter, this sits alongside Capturing The Friedmans and Paradise Lost, but in opposition to these films, About Children presents the facts without breaking the fourth wall, as if not wishing to sensationalise the case any further. In some ways however, Jordà’s work trivialises aspects of the case – the film is as much about the Spanish judiciary as it is about paedophilia, and while the theatre pieces and acoustic soundtrack may help to form filmic interludes, they are discordant with the serious nature of the trial and appear insensitive. This is not to say that the film doesn’t take its subject seriously. The cameraman seem to be everywhere in the courtroom, absorbing natural reactions from attorneys and jury members, as well as profiling the accused without interfering with procedure. Shocking, challenging and thought-provoking, About Children is a hard-hitting analysis of an abhorrent crime, an incisive study into the darkest side of human nature.
Monday, 17 May 2010
From the film’s subtitle alone, it is clear that director Júlíus Kemp was planning to take more than just Gunnar Hansen from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Despite some superb photography of the Icelandic landscape, Harpoon is no different from any other slasher flick. Its top priority appears to be reminding its audience that the film is Icelandic – we hear references to Sigur Rós, a passenger singing Björk over the intercom, an older woman translating insults into Icelandic. Additionally, the film’s light-hearted attempt to show a cross-section of international holiday-makers actually ends up insultingly simplistic, as seen in Hostel. But in all fairness, Kemp was never going for the Oscar, and all things considered, the film is quite a fun little jaunt with enough blood and guts to keep your average gore-whore entertained.
Sunday, 16 May 2010
In essence, it’s a simple Romeo and Juliet story in a bucolic setting. Rohmer presents his youthful protagonists as victims of circumstance, their core emotions otherwise unshakable. But as pure as its message is, The Romance of Astrea and Celadon takes a long time to say ver little. Too much of the film is afforded to characters literally reading poetry. What frustrates most however is that the romantic hysterics see no representation in the mise-en-scène – with the beautiful sweeping backdrop of a verdant valley, it’s a disappointment that the battle of emotions is left entirely up to the young cast, who appear a little wet behind the ears. To put it bluntly, one could just as easily be watching an amateur production in the woods. An undercooked, inflated melodrama which often feels like Shakespeare manqué, The Romance of Astrea and Celadon should only be seen by Rohmer completists.
Friday, 14 May 2010
Wiseman is known for his unflinching cinema vérité manner, and High School is a brilliant example of why this works so well. The editing could almost have been pre-determined, short snippets of drama only staying moments on the screen. Occasionally, the subjects appear conscious of the camera and change their behaviour accordingly (the teachers in particular), but whether this impedes or ameliorates the role of the film is up to the viewer. What is most significant about the film is that the students are almost entirely unheard beyond chatter and laughter. It is not entirely clear as to whether or not this was deliberate, but needless to say the effect is a little sinister at times. Interestingly, the film was banned in Philadelphia for this reason, although its subjects later claimed it was an accurate depiction. An unusually gripping watch.
Thursday, 13 May 2010
From the above description, Birdemic might sound like a rip-off of Hitchcock’s The Birds, but it’s clear from the beginning that the Hitchcock estate has no reason to be concerned (asides from Tippi Hedren inexplicably making a cameo). Shot on a budget of $10,000 (that much?), this third feature by salesman-turned-director James Nguyen defies belief with its shockingly poor photography, acting, screenplay, sound and special effects. It is the latter attribute which pushes this film from Z-movie to abominable cult classic – the CGI eagles are often seen aimlessly flapping in a fixed position, completely defying scale and proportion and presenting no real threat. An unintentional belly-laugh from start to finish, Birdemic is a new category of bad film, and should be seen by everyone.
Tuesday, 11 May 2010
It is hard to know how to react to The Human Centipede (First Sequence). Clearly, the main goal of the film is to repulse, which it manages in abundance thanks to lingering shots of the centipede in ‘motion’. What makes the experience incredibly uncomfortable is the inherent comedy in Heiter’s mission – it’s hard not to laugh at Katsuro’s confused anger. While it is never explained, one can assume that Heiter’s goal has an erotic outcome, but the campy acting makes it hard to take seriously. But while to many it may just be a juvenile gross-out movie, The Human Centipede is at least an interesting exercise in suspense, and the next logical step in torture porn. A sequel of sorts is on its way, leading one to ponder what other dastardly schemes Heiter has in mind (a digestive ouroboros?).