September 26, 2014
'Dos Disparos' – Interview with Martín Rejtman

Martín Rejtman’s Dos disparos (Two Shots Fired) opens on a shot of a teenager dancing by himself at a nightclub. At dawn, he rides the bus home, alone and expressionless. Once there he swims laps in the garden pool, timing himself each round. Then he mows the lawn. Then he finds a gun in the shed. Then he goes up to his room and shoots himself twice.

“It was very hot,” is the boy’s explanation when later asked why he almost killed himself. Whether they’re attempting suicide, dropping acid, or engaging in threesomes—all sensational events in this consummately anti-sensational film—Rejtman’s characters go at it with the same enthusiasm afforded to the insipid hamburgers that comprise almost every one of their meals. That is to say: none.

If all this sounds depressing, it’s because it doesn’t account for Rejtman’s singular and exquisite brand of humor. In his four fictional features, released at intervals of up to a decade following his 1992 debut Rapado, the Argentine director has painted a highly idiosyncratic portrait of urban alienation in his native Buenos Aires, a portrait of a middle class mired in meaningless cycles of repetition and wholly insouciant about it. Rejtman gets great comic mileage out of his urbanites’ deadpan obliviousness, leaving them stranded in a world governed by absurdity and limiting their conversations to exchanges of non-sequiturs like the one above.

This thematic outlook extends to the cinematography, which traps the characters in stifling, carefully composed shots, all the while providing an abundance of visual gags that prevent the films from ever becoming oppressive. In Dos disparos, the camera almost never moves, and it’s truly remarkable how much laughter a simple, well-timed pan can elicit in an otherwise static world.

Rejtman is a central figure of the New Argentine Cinema that emerged in the 1990s. Like those of his peers, his films are widely considered to address the societal ills ushered in by the neoliberal economic policies of the time. Despite his estimation as one of his country’s most eloquent filmmakers in this regard, when I met him at this year’s Locarno International Film Festival after the premiere of his film, I was interested to find that he rejected such a reading. He also rejected all philosophical readings right at the outset. Nevertheless, what transpired was a discussion on cinema both insightful and thoroughly philosophical.

I find your characters so fascinating. If their lives weren’t anchored in a specific economic reality, the film would feel existential. Does that reflect your personal philosophy?

My personal philosophy? (laughter) I don’t think I have a personal philosophy. I am a little bit like my characters, in a way. I just go along. I think my characters are a reflection of whom I am. In a lesser way of course: I’m a little bit more conscious of myself than my characters. What happens to them is that they don’t reflect on themselves, they don’t reflect on what they do. They are atravesados—what’s the word in English? Atravesados por las circunstancias—the situations pass through them.

They’re spectators, passengers?

They just go through life not being affected by what happens to them. Psychologically too, because factually they do things, but they don’t really suffer, because they don’t think about what’s going on. Only Susanna, in this film, is more affected by what Mariano did, but Mariano is exactly the same before and after. He shoots himself and survives, but nothing seems to have changed with him. It’s the same in all my films, and you can call that my philosophy if you want to, but philosophy is such a pretentious term. I don’t think I have a philosophy. We should leave philosophy to the philosophers, maybe? (laughter) That’s the way I build fictions, with these characters who go through life in this way. It helps me construct stories and build up situations. It’s just a way of working for me. Again, in this way I’m not reflective, I don’t care what it means that they’re not affected by what happens to them.

You’ve tended to focus on youth in your films. Here the parent generation also has a very central role. Could you elaborate on this generational divide?

I made a thirty-minute film in black and white a long time ago about sixteen-year-old kids. Then I made a feature, Rapado, which is about teenagers. Then I made Silvia Prieto (1999), which is about twenty-somethings, and The Magic Gloves (2003) about people in their late thirties. I wanted to break this pattern, because otherwise I’d be making films like Cocoon or a film in a retirement home or something, so I wanted to mix everything up. That’s why here I have characters who are very young and characters who are older: the parents and the kids. I wanted that mix.

Although career-wise, the older generation is better off—the mother is a lawyer, for example—they seem afflicted by the same apathy. The mother hides the knives, but still she doesn’t go through the emotions you’d expect from a mother following her son’s suicide attempt. Do you think they live the same experience?

Yes, probably. She reacts, but she doesn’t suffer. It’s an ideal way of living, no? It’s almost like a yogic way of life: in yoga you have to suppress your thoughts. In a way, it’s the key to happiness. (laughter)

Is it?

It’s not unhappiness. You go through a dramatic situation and you don’t suffer, you just go through it. I’m not saying it’s a perfect way of living, but it could be. (laughter)

[…]

This is an excerpt of my interview published by BOMB Daily. You can read the full interview here.

August 24, 2014
Review – From What Is Before (dir. Lav Diaz)

image

Although Lav Diaz’s artistry is formidable, the first thing anyone ever mentions about his films is their prodigious length: the longest, 2004′s Evolution of a Filipino Family, clocks in at eleven and a half hours. Waggish aficionados refer to last year’sNorte, the End of History as his short — it’s just over four hours long. Apart from the attendant notoriety, this renders Diaz’s films extremely rare. With the exception of Norte, which was picked up for distribution in the US, UK and France, the only chance of seeing his work is at festivals and special screenings.

Whenever one of these occasions comes around, cinephiles get giddy with excitement. This was the case at this year’s Locarno International Film Festival, which has the international premiere of his latest, From What Is Before, marking Diaz’s first entry in the main competition of an A-list film festival. The blogo- and twitterspheres blew up when the film’s festival selection was announced prior to the festival. Five and a half hours after the first screening, hyperbole started gushing out — and rightly so.

All of Diaz’s films deal with his country’s turbulent recent history.From What Is Before is the third time he’s addressed the era of martial law under Ferdinand Marcos — “the Filipino nightmare,” as he describes it — completing a chronologically inverted trilogy: 2001′s Batang West Side depicts the nightmare’s aftermath, examining the plight of Filipinos living in Jersey City, Filipino Family spans its duration from 1971 to 1987, and From What Is Before hauntingly explores its genesis. From the start, the visuals are spectacular. Having deviated into color with Norte, here Diaz returns to his preferred black-and-white, whose low contrast bestows an almost sepia-like quality on the images befitting the historical material and once again proving his unparalleled mastery of digital video. Even the most hardened analog puritans would be hard pressed to find fault with Diaz’s breathtaking tableaux.

The opening shot of a rural landscape is overlaid with a caption reading “Philippines, 1970” and an elegiac voice-over informing us that “this film is based on memories [and] the characters are based on real people.” The first hour introduces the inhabitants of a tiny barrio buried in the countryside, observing them in a series of protracted extreme long shots, embedding the characters in monumental nature as they go about their daily chores and practice customs such as a healing possession ritual. In this initial chapter, the camera never moves and barely a word is spoken. The most vocal character is the wind, which rages incessantly and combines with the austere cinematography to instill an oppressive sense of dread that will intensify over the course of the film, reaching nigh unbearable levels at the climax. Slowly the film’s protagonists emerge: a young woman caring for her mentally disabled sister, a little boy and his uncle, a solitary winemaker, and the village priest. These characters are familiar from Diaz’s previous work and their role as archetypes is clear, as is the barrio’s function as a microcosm through which to revisit and assess a particularly painful chapter in the nation’s history.

[…]

This is an excerpt of my review from the Locarno Film Festival published by Filmmaker. You can read the full review here.

Since writing the above review, Lav Diaz went on to win the Golden Leopard at the 67th Locarno Film Festival for From What Is Before – congratulations!!

image

June 22, 2014
Fireflies Issue #1 – Pasolini / Apichatpong

image

I haven’t posted much on these pages over the last few months as I’ve been dedicating most of my free time on a new project: since the start of the year, my good friend Annabel Brady-Brown and I have been working on the debut issue of Fireflies: a film zine.

Though it meets as good as none of the defining criteria of a zine, we felt ‘zine’ captured the spirit the project more accurately than ‘journal’ et al. For each issue, we pick two directors whose work we love and we invite writers and artists to contribute – what they contribute is entirely up to them, our only requirement is that their contribution be a personal and creative response to one or more films by the given directors.

For our first issue, we chose Pier Paolo Pasolini and Apichatpong Weerasethakul. We were blessed with a truly amazing range of short stories, essays, poems and visual art from 16 different contributors and after much blood, sweat and tears, we’ve finally managed to complete the issue, which totals 96 gorgeous pages. We sent it to the printers this week and now we’re eagerly awaiting the delivery of our 500 copies.

Here’s the two beautiful covers for Fireflies Issue #1, featuring artwork by Sudanese artist Dar Al Naim Mubarak, and below you can take a peek at what’s inside:

image

image

 

Pier Paolo Pasolini

  • Thoughts on Filming Miracles, by Alison Smith (Liverpool, UK): This essay considers the challenge Pasolini tackled in making Teorema: How does one represent a miracle on film?
  • Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground, by Valgerður Þóroddsdóttir (Reykjavík, Iceland): A poem inspired by Pasolini’s The Gospel According to Matthew.
  • Anteinferno, by Octavia Bright (London, UK): This short story’s sexually voracious protagonist finds a similarly inclined partner online, hoping to enact the fantasies aroused by Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom.
  • Interview with Ninetto Davoli, by Giovanni Marchini Camia (Berlin, Germany): Ninetto Davoli, Pasolini’s close friend and muse, spoke to me about his friendship with the legendary director and about the nine films they shot together.

 Artwork by:

  • Luis Miguel Bendaña (Chicago, USA), inspired by The Gospel According to Matthew
  • Leith Maguire (Melbourne, Australia), inspired by The Hawks and the Sparrows
  • Anna Marchini Camia (Bern, Switzerland), inspired by Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom
  • Ned McAliece (Melbourne, Australia), inspired by The Canterbury Tales
  • John Waters (Baltimore, USA), inspired by the pimpled youths in Pasolini’s films

Apichatpong Weerasethakul

  • The Arboreal Filmmaker, by Vadim Rizov (New York, USA): This essay explores the key role played by the jungle in Apichatpong’s filmography.
  •  thirdworld Syndrome, by Jon Auman (High Point, USA): A poem-cum-review of Apichatpong’s early short thirdworld.
  • Open Plan, by Eloise Ross (Melbourne, Australia): By assessing the link between architecture and Apichatpong’s cinema, this essay evaluates the transcendental experience of watching his films.
  • Watching Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives in This New House I Just Moved Into in Darlinghurst, by Oliver Mol (Melbourne, Australia): The title captures it quite well.
  • Interview with Apichatpong Weerasethakul, by Giovanni Marchini Camia (Berlin, Germany): Speaking to Apichatpong easily ranks amongst the highlights of my professional career thus far. 

Artwork by:

  • Aaron Billings (Melbourne, Australia), inspired by the animal spirits in Apichatpong’s films
  • Leith Maguire (Melbourne Australia), inspired by Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
  • Grégoire Perrier (Paris, France), inspired by the eroticism of the jungle in Apichatpong’s films
  • Ole Tillmann (Berlin, Germany), inspired by the monks in Apichatpong’s films

Excited? Our launch is on the 4th of July. If you’re in Berlin, come by our launch party at the jungle-themed bar Dschungel (Friedelstraße 12, Neukölln). There will also be a Melbourne launch on the 23rd of August at Longplay (318 St George’s Road, North Fitzroy). Copies can also be ordered on our website.

http://fireflieszine.com | @fireflieszine 

           

 

April 26, 2014
'Sparks of our being' - Group discussion with John Torres, Sherad Anthony Sanchez and Keith Deligero

image

As Filipinos, John Torres, Sherad Anthony Sanchez, and Keith Deligero are children of the innumerable revolutions that have shaped their country’s tumultuous history. As filmmakers, they are children of the digital revolution that liberated Philippine cinema from its prohibitive institutionalization.

The digital revolution democratized cinema the world over and it is fitting that the most interesting products of this democratization should be found in countries with poor democratic records. The Philippines is a case in point. Its current democracy, instated after the end of Ferdinand Marcos’s dictatorship (1965–1986), has always been plagued by widespread corruption and a lack of transparency. The fall of the dictatorship coincided with the end of the so-called Second Golden Age of Philippine Cinema, which had featured figures such as Ishmael Bernal and Lino Brocka. What ensued was a period of escalating commercialization in the mainstream that effectively expunged all potential for dissent, political as well as artistic, from its output.

Independent cinema was largely inexistent in the Philippines prior to the advent of digital video. But once cheap digital filmmaking equipment became available at the turn of this century, a flood of creativity was unleashed. Torres, Sanchez, and Deligero are representative members of the new generation of filmmakers that emerged during those years. Each in their own way, they have blazed a trail into territories shunned by the mainstream and contributed to the revitalization and diversification of a moribund national cinema. Their films’ avant-garde aesthetics, firm anchorage in national identity, and embrace of neglected, often taboo thematics has won them frequent comparison to those of the Third Cinema movement. In discussing their work, however, these directors couldn’t be more removed from the dogmatism and hubris that characterized the Third Cinema filmmakers. Instead, they reveal refreshingly modest personalities with a resolute dedication to their own as well as each other’s art, keenly aware that their struggle is ongoing and victory far from guaranteed.

 

Giovanni Marchini Camia: Whenever your films are discussed, you’re always described as revolutionaries. Do you consider yourselves this way?

Sherad Anthony Sanchez: Probably in what we’re doing, yes, there’s something revolutionary. But if the question is whether there is a revolutionary movement, then I don’t think so; I don’t think there’s a conscious revolution on our part. There just happens to be this explosion of energy that pushes us to make films our way.

John Torres: I kind of agree with what Sherad said. For example, I took on film for very personal reasons and after I made a short or two, I realized that some other people had been doing this as well. This was roughly ten years ago. It’s just the feeling of, “Hey, it’s nice that other people are doing it, I get to meet them too, and some of them are like-minded.” Although, admittedly, it is the support of this group of people that keeps me encouraged and moving forward.

SAS: The energy comes from each other’s support, especially the support in exploring language and our own, individual aesthetics. But you can see this from two perspectives: from inside, there is no revolution, but from outside, there is. What’s dangerous is if people from the inside believe that there is a revolution as ascribed by the writers from the outside and then forget their own individual source of anger, their personal issues, aesthetics and principles.

JT: Yes, and another thing: other aspiring filmmakers also want to ride on this label, that this is a revolution, because this could be their battle cry: “Wow, this is something that we could latch on to, this could encourage us. We’re part of the revolution!” It sounds so romantic, so they also want to partake in this “revolution.” It’s like, “Oh, we’re part of something big, this is for a cause.” [Laughs]

SAS: It is OK for me that people write about our movement—if there is such a movement [laughs]—describing it as a revolutionary act, but from our point of view, what’s important, as a community, is the sincerity of the filmmaker. And sometimes sincerity is removed by allowing a person to believe in a purpose, or a reason for doing films, aside from his own.

GMC: Do you feel the same way, Keith?

Keith Deligero: I guess we have the same thoughts, yeah. For me there is no intention to take over anything. I just love what I do and most of the people I know feel the same way. Like John said, there are those who would like to say that they are participating in a revolution, but it just depends on how you describe a revolution.

GMC: When you say that you value sincerity as the most important element in filmmaking, is that a reaction to mainstream cinema in the Philippines?

SAS: Our desire to make films stems from a complicated reaction to the mainstream. Each filmmaker has his own reasons for making his own cinema. I don’t think that the lack of sincerity in the mainstream is our reason because there have always been artistic currents parallel to the mainstream that value sincerity. I don’t know if this is a very Filipino thing, but we always value sincerity in other people and their work, and I think this has always been present. Even at the time of Brocka and Bernal, sincerity was always valued; even in the nineties, when there were sex films—Elwood Perez and stuff—if you talked to them, sincerity was also important.

JT: It’s also relevant to speak about the audience. They have heard that mainstream films are dictated by the producer, so maybe they think that the filmmaker is losing his voice. And maybe they think that now filmmakers are regaining their voice due to these more fun, playful and free styles that they see in cinema. And as far as my experience goes, it really is fresh for them. For example diary films, like some of my works—it’s still very new to them, seeing how filmmakers can be very, very personal in telling their story. In a sense, then, yes, it can be a very fresh and new and, you could say, revolutionary experience.

This is an excerpt of a group discussion originally published by La Furia Umana for their symposium on “Cinema and Revolution”. You can read the full discussion here.

February 15, 2014
Berlinale 2014 - Concluding Thoughts (Whingeing)

image

The 2014 Berlinale’s Competition is over and the award winners will be revealed shortly. This was my fifth time attending the festival and the third consecutive year in which I saw the Competition in its entirety. The selection had been growing steadily stronger each year, with the last edition being a downright doozy. Humour me for a second: I absolutely loved Emir Baigazin’s Harmony Lessons, Denis Côté’s Vic + Flo Saw a Bear and Bruno Dumont’s Camille Claudel 1915 (all three made it in my top 10 for 2013). Then there was Calin Peter Netzer’s Golden Bear winner Child’s Pose, Sebastián Lelio’s Gloria and Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects, which were excellent. And that’s just the really good ones. Even the titles I wasn’t crazy about were still worth seeing:  Jafar Panahi’s Closed Curtain, Wong Kar Wai’s Grandmaster, Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise: Hope, andGuillaume Nicloux’ The Nun. Hell, although I couldn’t stand Hong Sangsoo’s Nobody’s Daughter Haewon (someone really, really needs to explain Hong’s appeal to me sometime – I want to get it, I honestly do), for many it was one of the best films of the year. That’s eleven films I was happy to have had the privilege of seeing and provided ample material for riveting discussions with similarly inclined obsessives.

Now let’s look at what 2014 had to offer. Below I indulged in the somewhat masochistic exercise of ranking this year’s Competition entries, which revealed the following statistics: I loved one film, liked three, was partial to two, and the remaining 14 I could happily have done without. Riveting discussions were not the order of the day this year. Rather, critics whined to one another and those that were lucky enough not to have to report on the Competition simply gave up after a while and went to see Citizen Kane et al. in the Retrospective.

I’m not sure what grand conclusions to draw from this, I simply wanted to vent my frustration after a truly dispiriting festival and now I’m going to go get drunk and raise many a glass to the hope that next year will be better. 

  1. Boyhood, dir. Richard Linklater
  2. Kraftidioten (In Order of Disappearance), dir. Hans Peter Moland
  3. The Grand Budapest Hotel, dir. Wes Anderson
  4. Black Coal, Thin Ice, dir. Diao Yinan
  5. ’71, dir. Yann Demange
  6. Die geliebten Schwestern (Beloved Sisters), dir. Dominik Graf
  7. Jack, dir. Edward Berger
  8. No Man’s Land, dir. Ning Hao
  9. La tercera orilla (The Third Side of the River), dir. Celina Murga
  10. Praia do futuro, dir. Karim Aïnouz
  11. Aimer, boire et chanter (Life of Riley), dir. Alain Resnais
  12. Kreuzweg (Stations of the Cross), dir. Dietrich Brüggemann
  13. Stratos, dir. Yannis Economides
  14. Historia del miedo (History of Fear), dir. Benjamin Naishtat
  15. Macondo, dir. Sudabeh Mortezai
  16. Blind Massage, dir. Lou Ye
  17. Zwischen Welten (Inbetween Worlds), dir. Feo Aladag
  18. The Little House, dir. Yoji Yamada
  19. La voie de l’ennemi (Two Men in Town), dir. Rachid Bouchareb
  20. Aloft, dir. Claudia Llosa

In the spirit of fairness, here are some honourable mentions from outside the competition: 

  • Nymphomaniac Vol. I, dir. Lars von Trier
  • Journey to the West, dir. Tsai Ming-liang
  • Snowpiercer, dir. Bong Joon-ho
  • The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq, dir. Guillaume Nicloux
  • Blind Dates, dir. Levan Koguashvili
  • Joy of Man’s Desiring, dir. Denis Côté

My Film Comment blog for this year’s festival:

#1’71; Two Men in Town; Snowpiercer

#2Stations of the Cross; Life of Riley; Journey to the West

#3Boyhood; Black Coal, Thin Ice; Blind Dates

My blog posts from last year, in which I review all of the titles I listed above, can be found here.

December 19, 2013
Top 10 Films of 2013

image

I’ve never compiled a Top 10 list before. I’d like to cite a long list of ideological reasons, but really, the principal reason is laziness. This year I was asked by Film Comment to submit my top picks for their annual contributors poll and it was actually quite a fun exercise, so I thought I’d share my favourite films of the year here as well. This list is slightly different from the one I submitted to Film Comment, as their poll focuses on U.S. releases (meaning I voted for some films I’d actually seen last year) and differentiates between distributed and undistributed. The titles below are simply the ten new releases I saw this year that I loved most, with a link to my review if I wrote one: 

  1. Leviathan (dir. Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel)
  2. L’inconnu du lac (Stranger by the Lake, dir. Alain Guiraudie)
  3. Harmony Lessons (dir. Emir Baigazin)
  4. Vic + Flo ont vu un ours (Vic + Flo Saw a Bear, dir. Denis Côté)
  5. The Act of Killing (dir. Joshua Oppenheimer)
  6. Workers (dir. José Luis Valle González)
  7. Spring Breakers (dir. Harmony Korine)
  8. Camille Claudel 1915 (dir. Bruno Dumont)
  9. Après mai (Something in the Air, dir. Olivier Assayas)
  10. Sun Don’t Shine (dir. Amy Seimetz)

December 6, 2013
'Lukas Nino' - Interview with John Torres

image

While the advent of digital video changed the face of cinema the world over, for the Philippines it represented a veritable deliverance. Stretching back over a century, the Philippines possess one of the oldest and richest cinematic histories in South East Asia. However, following the so-called “Second Golden Age of Philippine Cinema,” which featured figures such as Lino Brocka and Ishmael Bernal and ended along with the dissolution of martial law in 1981, the country’s film industry plunged into a commercial black hole, gradually expunging all artistic merit from its output.

The increasing availability of cheap digital film equipment at the beginning of the millennium reopened the floodgates, however, and within a few years hundreds of independent features and countless more shorts were shot on digital. The rising popularity of indie cinema back home and the success of directors like Lav Diaz and Brillante Mendoza on the international festival circuit paved the way for a young generation of filmmakers that would otherwise never have been allowed—or, rather, would never have agreed—to practice within the studio system.

This was the case with John Torres. His original intention had been to move to the US after university and work in IT, but playing around with his father’s digital camera and editing software opened his eyes to the potential of the filmmaking process. Shooting feverishly and on impulse, he recorded random segments of his everyday life and later edited them together into abstract shorts, seeking to capture the essence of his present state of mind. The success of his shorts at local indie festivals led to his first feature in 2006, Todo Todo Teros, which was showered with acclaim and accolades at festivals abroad and established him, along with the likes of Khavn De La Cruz and Raya Martin, as one of the key members of this new generation of independent Filipino filmmakers.

His early films earned him distinction as the most personal director amongst his peers due to their highly autobiographical content. The romantic tribulations at the heart of Todo Todo Teros are drawn from personal experience and he used his next feature, 2008’s Taon noong ako’y anak sa labas (Years When I Was a Child Outside), to process the discovery that his father had a secret second family. While in narrative terms he subsequently strayed away from autobiography, his focus has remained the same. At their core, his films are considerations of the inherent complexity of identity, on a personal as well collective/national level, perceived through the prism of memory and subjectivity.

In Lukas Nino (Lukas the Strange) his fourth and latest feature—and the first he shot on 35mm—these themes are addressed through the protagonist Lukas, a 13-year-old boy whose father leaves home after telling him that he is a tikbalang, a folkloric half-man, half-horse creature. Simultaneously, the arrival of a film troupe in Lukas’ village sends the entire village into an excited frenzy as everyone hopes to be cast in the film. The engendered personal, familial and collective crises are conveyed through a heavily fragmented and elliptical narrative that weaves a poetic stream of consciousness out of the characters’ memories, fantasies and dreams, conveyed through an equally anarchic aesthetic. The image quality fluctuates wildly, the sound is out of synch, subtitles don’t always match the dialogue, voice-overs and inter-titles present a discord of mostly unidentified voices. The tone of the film is in constant flux, with a sequence of acute Lynchian dread followed by a scene of light-hearted slapstick, which in turn gives way to an orchestral interlude that invokes the feel of silent film.

Personal as well as historical references, metaphors, and allegories abound and the film lends itself to any number of analyses. However, just as Tarkovsky’s The Mirror can be transporting without knowing a thing about the director’s biography or the specifics of Soviet history, Lukas Nino is rewarding for the uninitiated, as the disorientation fuels a viewing experience that is spellbinding precisely because it disallows the cerebral. When I spoke to Torres, he actually encouraged such a viewing—which makes sense, since walking into a cinema without any prior knowledge of the film provides a perfect analogy both to his purely instinctual approach to filmmaking and to the serendipitous path that led him there.

Lukas Nino is not an “accessible” film, especially if one isn’t familiar with your style. How would you present your film to an audience unfamiliar with your work to ease them into it?

That’s a very difficult question. (laughter) But what I tell them as an entry point is that I started Lukas Nino with this boy in mind due to an error on my part, a mishearing. One night, my friend was telling me about his childhood and told me that his father, an ex-soldier, once told him, “Son, I am a tikbalang,” which is a creature that is half horse, half man. I was thinking that he must have thought that he himself was half horse because he had taken after his father. In all the stories that he told me that night, I was imagining that he was half horse. I was so enamored by this. This was an interesting enough story for me.

But this was an error on my part, a syllable that I missed. In Filipino you say, tikbalang ako, which means, “I am a tikbalang.” But if you miss one syllable, which is na — “natikbalang ako” — there’s a totally different meaning. It means, “a tikbalang tricked me.” That’s also very interesting because a tikbalang is a figure in our folklore, a trickster. He makes people lose their way. I wanted to retain this idea, this character of a boy—what if he thinks he’s really half horse? His father disappears the next day and as the boy is going around the village, he sees that the landscape, the people, have changed their appearance, because of a film shoot. 

What would you say with regards to the style, which is so anarchic in this film?

It was really due to my experience watching films in the ’80s. Filipino mainstream films in the ’70s and ’80s, when I really started watching films, were almost surreal. You could tell that the dialogue was not in synch. The visuals, the colours weren’t even close. Everything was, you could say, not properly done. In that sense, I imbibed the technical aspect of it. I also wanted to describe and show the fact that I’ve seen all this mishmash of tapes and the very, very rough aesthetics of ’80s Filipino filmmaking, which I grew to hate, but later grew to love, and grew to embrace. Also, there’s the fact that I don’t really remember the stories behind those films, I don’t really remember the narratives, so what I have are just these snapshots or images and their combination with dialogue or sound that’s not in synch. As you say, “anarchic,” really. (laughter)

This is an excerpt of my interview published on BOMB magazine’s blog, BOMBlog. You can read the full interview here.

August 7, 2013
48th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival

image

While some veterans of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival claimed that the atmosphere this year did not live up to previous standards, to a newcomer this was extremely hard to believe. A feverish and infectious spirit pervaded the tiny thermal town for the entire week, with streets and public venues devoted to the festival and packed with crowds chiefly made up of young people. All screenings were accessible to the public for little more than $3 a ticket, and every morning saw lengthy queues at the box offices (along with a few sleeping bags). Audiences didn’t shy from showing their enthusiasm, not least during the deliciously self-deprecating trailers starring previous lifetime achievement award winners such as Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, and Miloš Forman. Combined with the distinct ambience offered by each venue, which ranged from a lavish 19th-century opera house to an inflatable outdoor cinema, this all made for a refreshing experience untainted by the exclusivity and snobbery prevalent at the A-list festivals.

When it came to the films, the main competition presented a mixed bag. Disappointingly few entries pushed the envelope, particularly in narrative terms, and most of the attempts at social comment were trite. The latter weakness marked two of the top award winners, both from Eastern Europe. Hungarian film and stage director János Szász received the festival’s Grand Prix for The Notebook, an adaptation of Agota Kristof’s bestselling World War II novel, told from the perspective of 13-year-old twins living in an unnamed Eastern European country. Sent to live with their tyrannical grandmother and witnessing nothing but hate and violence in the world, they decide to expunge all their emotions through severe physical and psychological self-training as a means of surviving the horror that surrounds them. The film has grandiose allegorical aspirations, withholding characters’ given names and nationalities (apart from the Nazis) and offering the twins as emblematic of the postwar generation. But the symbolism is heavy-handed, and the story overuses tropes to the point of banality. The cinematography by Michael Haneke’s regular DP Christian Berger, however, is superb, and the beautifully expressive lighting supplies much-needed nuance.

Jan Hřebejk won the Best Director award with Honeymoon, the only Czech film in competition. An intruder crashes a wedding reception claiming to be an old schoolmate of the groom. Unconvincingly, considering his awkwardly hostile conduct, he is allowed to stay. After antagonizing the entire reception, he reveals that he has come to seek revenge for the brutal sexual abuse suffered by his boyfriend at the hands of the groom and his friends at school. Here too the story serves a bluntly metaphorical function: the men attended an elite art school where the children of the rich and powerful were awarded high grades and faced no repercussions for their actions, whereas those accepted on artistic merit alone were left to fend for themselves. Unelaborated, the film’s routine commentary on the Communist legacy of corruption and oppression fails to strike a chord, and as an indictment of homophobia, it’s even less successful.

This is an excerpt of my festival report written for Film Comment. You can read the full report here.

July 15, 2013
Review - Csak a szél (Just the Wind)

image

Considering it was one of the absolute highlights of the Berlinale’s 2012 Competition, taking home the Jury Grand Prix, it’s shameful that it has taken this long for Just the Wind to finally receive a theatrical release in Germany (not to mention its lack of distribution most everywhere else…).

In terms of cinematic portrayals of Romani people, it is one of the best and also one of the most uncompromising. Based on a series of violent attacks against Romani families that occurred in Hungary between 2008 and 2009, the film depicts a day in the life of such a family living in a squalid woodland community. Five families have recently been brutally murdered by unknown assailants and with the authorities all too happy to look the other way, the entire community has fallen victim to acute paranoia in anticipation of the next attack. 

Employing increasingly oppressive cinematography, Just the Wind builds up to a stupefying climax rendered no less horrifying by the fact that there’s never any doubt about the film’s inevitable conclusion. The most commendable feature is the film’s unwavering refusal to embellish its characters, instead embracing negative stereotypes for the specific purpose of underlining the humanity the Romani people are systematically denied.

Csak a szél (E: Just the Wind)| Directed by Benedek Fliegauf (Hungary/Germany/France 2012) with Katalin Toldi, Gyöngyi Lendvai, Lajos Sárkáni, György Toldi. Opens July 18

Originally published in the Summer 2013 issue of Exberliner.

June 24, 2013
Review - World War Z

image

With $100,000, George A. Romero managed to make Night of the Living Dead (1968), one of the most outstanding examples of the zombie film. With $200 million, Marc Forster managed to make World War Z, an incongruous flip book (in 3D!).

World War Z is less a film than a constant barrage of images discharged at a pace so freneticthe average shot length can’t be over two seconds – it renders any attempt at following either narrative or action completely futile. We know that a zombie apocalypse has somehow gone down without anyone realizing and now the entire world is under siege by hordes of zombies with supernatural strength and agility (think 28 Days Later on meth an analogy that can be extended to the film as whole); however, exactly who any of the characters are or why they should fly to South Korea and then Israel before randomly stumbling upon the key to humanity’s salvation in Wales are trifling particulars we are never burdened with.

In its final act, the film mercifully switches mode, employing long, ominous takes and bloodcurdling silences to generate suspense in an unexpectedly effective climax. Pity that by the time it comes most viewers will be too plagued by nausea or migraine to care. 

World War Z | Directed by Marc Forster (USA/Malta 2013) with Brad Pitt, Mireille Einos, Peter Capaldi, Moritz Bleibtreu. Opens June 27

Originally published in the Summer 2013 issue of Exberliner.

Liked posts on Tumblr: More liked posts »