Sunday, 19 September 2010


An adventurous episode in the Dogme 95 film movement, The King Is Alive takes a group of international tourists to a desert in Namibia, where their bus breaks down in an abandoned village. Dissuaded by the nerves of their driver, the group initially panics, throwing unreasonable accusations at each other before deciding on a plan. A seasoned explorer named Jack briefs the other passengers on means of survival, before leaving on foot to find the nearest settlement. A first night brings drunken camaraderie, but some of the passengers isolate themselves, unable to forget their situation for a single second. To keep the spirits up, Henry encourages the group to put on an impromptu production of King Lear, a performance that accurately mirrors the increasing sense of cabin fever palpable in the village.

What would normally have been another retread of a terribly familiar film concept is given new gravitas with its direct handheld style. Kristian Levring, one of the founders of Dogme 95, thrives under the audiovisual constraints, giving full attention to the group dynamic. The setting is a constant source of excitement, the shades of saturated orange reminding one of the suffocating heat. The range of characters unfortunately also means a range of performances – where one actor might be thoroughly convincing, the next is hammy enough to shake the viewer back into reality. In a way, the King Lear performance draws subtle reference to this unevenness, resourcefully turning it on its head to breathe new life into the film.

Sunday, 12 September 2010


Sat by her window on a busy day, a red-haired woman named Anne observes the pedestrians and café dwellers outside. This is the final snatch of urbanity for her before she sets off hiking in the rugged moors of Ireland. On her travels, she bewilders tourists who witness her eating leftover food pilfered from bins, and throws off the lecherous gestures of a truck driver who picked her up by screaming like a banshee. Clad in unoffensive neutral colours, Anne appears to be at peace in the presence of untouched nature, but at the discovery of a seemingly unoccupied lake house she finds herself bothering the occupier, a widower named Martin, for bed and board. Martin accepts on the condition that she assist him in his gardening, beginning an unusual relationship that approaches something like mutual solitude.

Transnational director Urszula Antoniak sidesteps the obvious option of making Anne (or even the entire film) mute in order to hit home her isolation, but the character’s refusal to divulge information about herself, coupled with her hard-to-place accent and fiery disposition, depicts her as an untamable sprite figure. Little is revealed about Martin either, and in this way the two have an unspoken understanding, one that the audience can latch onto the moment the characters realise a shared taste in music. It’s a film one could imagine Michael Winterbottom making in a slow year, but Antoniak shows only enough of her story to leave the viewer wanting to revisit it again and again.

Thursday, 9 September 2010


Intercut with footage from old Danish films, this peculiar anthology film invites twenty international directors to direct short films about Danish women, and the open brief makes it hard for the viewer to travel from one film to the next.

The Weather – short remake of Berlin, Symphony of a Great City?

Expectations – interview snippet which means little out of context

Me – dark, brooding depiction of sexuality, with notes of sci-fi

Meditation – entertaining portrait of a loving matriarch with an unusual hobby

Danthing – utterly surreal computer animation, reminiscent of Guy Maddin

My Things – sentimental, and a sweet interpretation of the title;

Light Apparel – baffling proverbial piece about gender inequality

Archaeology – mildly interesting documentary which discusses the Sami people

Centre – superb experimental short which keeps a moving ball at the centre of the screen

Life In Six Steps – ambitious Reggio-esque documentary which doesn’t quite gel together

Berlin Retour – unusual time-travelling WWII short with a questionable aesthetic

Casting – weak comedy which aims to subvert the stereotypes of Danish women

Peeping – culture-shock drama; feels like an excerpt of a bigger film

Dreaming – typical political fare from Dušan Makavejev, with cheeky self-reference

Bliss – inaccessible fragment of a conversation between the artist and Vietnamese friends

My Father – touching short about memory; could have been longer

Pork And Apple Stew – dreadful absurdist animation

Rhythm – decent piece on samba, although tenuous link to the theme

Tobacco – shows a prematurely aged woman smoking; subtle yet effective

Why Don’t We? – tries to conclude the film with a previously unacknowledged message


Prae is a widow who has consigned herself to wearing a funereal black silk dress since the death of her husband. Her relationship with boyfriend Thom is constantly strained by her refusal to live a life outside the house, but it takes a turn for the worse when Thom is involved in a carefully choreographed murder scheme with his boss Seni. Heavily in debt to his rival Wan, Seni assumes the identity of his recently deceased brother to start life afresh, only to learn that Wan is orchestrating the situation to his own advantage. The proceedings have serious ramifications for Prae who, avoiding the heartbreak of a second bereavement, leaves Thom in favour of religious sanctuary.

Though frequently acknowledged as Thailand’s first film noir (‘noir’ is a bit of a misnomer here as each scene is a rich tapestry of colour), Black Silk has more poignancy than the average thriller, contrasting the metropolitan with the traditional. Certain elements, such as Prae’s position as the widow fallen in with a bad lot, seem to anticipate Đng Nht Minh’s marvellous postwar When The Tenth Month Comes, a film that similarly entertains while retaining a sense of realism in its characters. Action in the film is subverted ironically by the inactivity of the camera – a double murder uses a maximum of three angles, with most of the event being caught in a single take. Full credit must go to Ratanavadi Ratanabhand, who brings to the role of Prae a quiet but persistant elegance.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010


A radical work even for Fassbinder’s hefty film catalogue, The Niklashausen Journey darts through history to tell the story of Hans Böhm, a lowly Franconian shepherd who had a visionary experience which instructed him to preach social equality to the masses, calling for the deaths of clergymen and members of the upper class. Böhm, resembling a brightly dressed, long-haired anarchist, finds himself surrounded by a variety of characters from different eras, who appear to be following his life story as it happens. Fassbinder himself plays the enigmatic leather-clad Black Monk, who speaks in curt maxims as he shadows Böhm in his egalitarian mission.

Fassbinder could never be accused of lacking ambition, and in The Niklashausen Journey he becomes his most politically direct. The film uses anachronisms to invite reevaluations of contemporary German politics, with particular resonance with the possible reunification of Germany. He also uses the presence of a medieval peasant amidst modern characters to underline the ridiculousness of revolutionaries comparing themselves to historical figures by dint of their ability to recite ideologies with conviction. One particularly mischievous example sees Böhm preaching Marxist slogans to anyone who will listen, before singing a paean to Lenin. Naturally, a film with such grand aspirations is bound to be uneven, and it is difficult to tell what Fassbinder wanted his audience to make of the characters’ contradictions. As such, it does not have the sincerity of Pasolini’s more overtly political works, sharing more in common with Derek Jarman’s later Jubilee. Uncompromising but unbalanced.

Monday, 6 September 2010


Fresh from the Vietnam War, German-American soldier Ricky returns to his hometown Münich to work for some detectives as a contract killer on a case they have been struggling with. Working methodically through the hits, Ricky uses his spare time to meet up with family and friends, one of whom accompanies him on a tour of his old neighbourhood and reminds him of the local women. After reconnecting with a few of them, he asks for a prostitute to be sent to his hotel room, a woman who turns out to be one of the detective’s girlfriends. The two fall for each other, much to the dismay of the police who suddenly turn on Ricky.

The American Soldier is one of those Fassbinder films that spends a lot of its screentime both revering and parodying cinema, and here the target is film noirs and the gangster genre. Remarkably, even with such a thin premise, it succeeds in holding one’s attention. Even in its most high-octane moments, the film carries on in a plodding pace, a choice that deliberately steals the plot of its frivolity and adds a touch of realism. The gorgeous photography, comprising glowing whites against pitch black, keeps Münich in perpetual nighttime. The character of Ricky could easily have come from one of Fassbinder’s first three features, but gone is the impish sarcasm and dispassion that made films like Gods of the Plague so enjoyable. It’s by no means a bad film, but it does leave one wanting.


Playing like a short version of Lost In Translation minus the laboured stereotypes, Phuket follows Korean pop star Jin as she visits Phuket in Thailand, home to the most adoring chapter of her fanbase. Jin spends most of her time stepping in and out of her chauffeur-driven car, desperate to escape the pressures of fame. Tired of her obsequious translator and assistant, she grows closer to chauffeur Pong, asking him to drive her to quiet, isolated spots. The two converse in broken English, Pong helping Jin relive memories she had on a childhood visit to the island.

The film was commissioned by the Foreign Affairs Ministry of Phuket in the hopes of drumming up tourism for Phuket, and director Aditya Assarat manages to eke out a narrative while maintaining focus on the island’s beautiful scenery. Cleverly using the theme of memories to keep his protagonist travelling around, Assarat colours the film with gentle humour and optimism. Lim Su-jeong, famed for roles in A Tale of Two Sisters and I’m A Cyborg, But That’s OK, has honed a decent American accent and pulls off the sense of the out-of-her-depth pop diva without even singing a note. Veteran action star Sorapong Chatree is charming as the fatherly chauffeur, the antithesis of Jin’s jaded superstar. At thirty minutes, it’s perhaps a little too short to make an impact, and longer than predicted for what is essentially a cinematic postcard. Nonetheless, there is sweetness in every frame, coaxed along by a wistful indie soundtrack.


A relic of the Japanese craze for extreme video nasties in the 1980s, Women’s Flesh: My Red Guts eschews any notion of plot, instead displaying the slow, painful suicides of two mentally disturbed women. The film opens with a series of overexposed stills of the deceased women, presumably from a coroner’s camera, although the content of the photos implies an inappropriate sexual fascination with them. We then see the first woman attacking herself with a toothbrush, as if taken over by some demonic force. She then runs a knife around her mouth before slicing through her tongue. The second woman, sat against a black curtain, sits distracted before slowly committing hara-kiri. Hazy black and white interludes add scant detail to the women’s emotional deterioration.

While there have previously been intellectual cinematic explorations into sado-masochistic practices, Women’s Flesh disturbingly appears to be designed solely for thrills and, quite terrifyingly, is not the most extreme feature by infamous director Tamakichi Anaru. Nothing in the film suggests the viewer’s need to ‘understand’ or empathise with these women, their actions little more than a graphic display. Though utterly abhorrent in its themes and purpose, the film is at least interesting for its extremely lo-fi shooting style. VHS artefacts make each image difficult to make out, while a soundtrack of noise and electronic blips adds a supernatural element to the proceedings. Far too pointlessly morbid and puerile to warrant attention, Women’s Flesh is a bewildering bit of VHS-era gore designed merely to shock and disgust.

Friday, 3 September 2010


Taking place in a circus, like Browning’s better known Freaks, The Unknown centres around Alonzo the Armless, who uses his feet to perform incredible stunts. His earnestness and disability catch the attention of Nanon, the circus owner’s daughter, who is fed up of being pawed over by her male admirers. Unbeknownst to her, Alonzo is actually able-bodied and employs a corset tied by his friend to disguise himself. When the circus owner discovers him in his uncorseted state, Alonzo kills him, an act witnessed from a distance by Nanon. Because of his armlessness, Alonzo is above suspicion and he grows closer to Nanon, even having his arms removed surgically so as to not have to hide them from her. But just as he believes he is finally getting what he deserves, Nanon reveals her love for the circus strongman, spurring him into jealous action.

Browning’s love of the macabre makes the theme of infidelity in The Unknown so much more vivid as abnormality becomes Alonzo’s alibi for trustworthiness. Nanon’s disgust for the hands of men is a clear reference to the predatory nature of male sexuality, and Alonzo’s secret, coupled with his double thumb, make him a particular threat to Nanon, one that only the audience recognises. His decision to have his arms amputated is in effect a misguided castration, a metaphor deeply shocking even by implication. Lon Chaney does a commendable job in an unusually difficult role. Carefully designed and expertly paced, The Unknown is a hugely entertaining thriller.