14 Dec 2017

Thelma (Joachim Trier, 2017)

☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼
Not eerie enough to be labeled as horror, too cold and distancing to work as (romantic) drama, a bit murky in both direction and screenplay departments and pretty heavy-handed when it comes to symbolism and amalgamation of all the influences, Thelma still has a few merits: the well-rounded performances, austerely beautiful cinematography and hauntingly atmospheric score which altogether raise it slightly above the mediocre attempts at highly stylized reinvention of the genre (not to mention that the promo-poster is superior to the film itself).

12 Dec 2017

La Bouche (Camilo Restrepo, 2017)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼
Looking like a lost artifact from the 70s, La Bouche is the cinematic epitome of exoticism - produced in France, helmed by a Colombian-born director (with a unique voice) and starring Guinean percussion master Mohamed 'Red Devil' Bangoura and the members of his band, it plays out like a peculiar, vigorous, somewhat mystical and formally daring musical drama that utilizes tribal-like songs to portray the deteriorating mental state of a man grieving for his murdered daughter and burning with desire for revenge.

This short film which forms a 'postcolonial diptych' with Restrepo's previous work Cilaos is currently available at MUBI.

10 Dec 2017

Tam Cam: The Untold Story (Veronica Ngo, 2016)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

For her sophomore directorial effort, actress Veronica Ngo adapts The Story of Tam and Cam which is a Vietnamese version of Cinderella... until you realize there's more to it after the slipper fits and our heroine marries the king (demoted to prince-regent in the film). The poor girl is sent to death and reincarnated several times until she is back to being her old self (well, sort of) to exact a grisly revenge that involves boiling water and cannibalism on her wicked step-family.

Staying as true as possible to the original tale and simultaneously toning down its grimness, Ngo weaves in some politics, martial arts and large-scale battles into the narrative and spices up the proceedings with the scheming Magistrate who's actually a demon in disguise. Oh, and she buffs the prince's role and gives him a few sidekicks in order to promote the members of the V-pop boyband 365 she produced at the time (they went on hiatus shortly after Tam Cam was released, notwithstanding its success at home).

All of her commercial-wise slyness is matched by pretty solid helming skills and a keen sense of camp - she successfully juggles a number of subplots and tonal shifts, while portraying the vain femme fatale of a step-mother, Di Ghe, with unrestrained flamboyance. Sovereign as the antagonistic hussy, she finds her male counterpart in Huu Chau whose stylized eyebrows and evil laughter suggest that we're in the domain of fairy tale archetypes, so almost nothing should be taken too seriously. The rest of the cast also does a pretty good job, especially Ha Vi Pham debuting as the virtuous Tam and 365 singer Isaac as the prince Thai Tu who faces the loss of his beloved as well as the threat of war with the neighbouring kingdom.

However, Tam Cam's strongest assets are its sumptuous visuals - the picturesque sets, the breathtaking vistas and the exuberant costumes - that make it fall somewhere between a Disney-esque fantasy, Yimou Zhang's spectacle and Mika Ninagawa's brightly colored drama. Even the CGI flourishes that look a bit cheesy or rather, video-game-y during the decisive battle between the Magistrate's true form and Thai Tu's inner beast keep your eyes wide open. Besides, the film's budget is about ninety times lower than that of Brannagh's 'reinvention' of Cinderella, yet it still looks amazing and provides more fun.

8 Dec 2017

ArteKino Bits (The Last Family / Colo)

The Last Family (Jan P. Matuszyński, 2016)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

This Mortal Coil's Song to the Siren triggers an avalanche of emotions after two hours of a compelling, if slightly and occasionally tedious drama sprinkled with tiny and most welcome bits of keen, quirky as well as black humor in Jan P. Matuszynski's first, yet assured foray into narrative film - a moody, poignant, gray-dominated biopic of the Polish maestro of dystopian surrealism Zdzisław Beksiński.

Based on Robert Bolesto's screenplay (his best work so far), The Last Family (Ostatnia rodzina) boasts grungy, stringent cinematography and extraordinary performances by Andrzej Seweryn, Aleksandra Konieczna and Dawid Ogrodnik whose Zdzisław, Zofia and Tomasz Beksiński, respectively, are often seen in tightly confined spaces generating the powerful atmosphere of death and claustrophobia.

Colo (Teresa Villaverde, 2017)

☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

Cracking under the pressure of real life - 'the shittiest thing ever', as one of the side characters describes it - is served as the (bitter) main course in Teresa Villaverde's relentlessly bleak and a 'tad' overlong drama of a dysfunctional family (barely holding on thanks to materfamilias) and disenchanted youth (swimming in the sea of suicidal thoughts) amidst economic depression, portrayed in austerely beautiful compositions that reflect loneliness and hopelessness of the lost characters.

The feeling of detachment pervades the mundane, yet somewhat odd story in which the most relatable character is an adolescent girl, Marta (Alice Albergaria Borges in her calling-card debut), whose love for her tiny pet bird provides some of Colo's most touching moments.

Both films can be seen at ArteKino official page,
until December the 17th (Europe only).

7 Dec 2017

The Taste of a Jubilee

My 30th list for Taste of Cinema includes ten recent lesser-known films that you might want to track down and check out. And yes, I do know that 2000 is the last year to the 20th century, but the editors probably decided to change the title because most of the entries do belong to the current century.

A snapshot from Polina (Valérie Müller & Angelin Preljocaj, 2016)

6 Dec 2017

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Yorghos Lanthimos, 2017)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

Five reasons why you should watch The Killing of a Sacred Deer and ignore Mother! (yeah, it's like comparing a refreshing, orange-flavored gelato to a disgusting rotten apple, but I just couldn't help mentioning and being negative towards that pseudo-whatever offering by the hack and former Satoshi Kon-impersonator Darren Aronofsky):

1. Barry Keoghan - The entire cast performs admirably, but this 'kid' stands out as the most brilliant actor of them all - he nails his bravura turn with the subtle micro-expressions, soul-piercing looks and amazing self-control, deep-diving into the role of a teenage boy whose presence gradually turns sinister. Each of his appearances is a scene-stealer.

2. Dark (tragi)comedy - Once again, Lanthimos succeeds in imbuing his work with the right balance of dry (or rather wry) wit, utter absurdity, sophisticated audacity and pitch-black, deadpan, sardonic humor that simultaneously makes you laugh (or chuckle, at least) and feel extremely uneasy, regardless of how comfortable your seat is.

3. Precise direction - Kubrick's spirit had been restless during the shooting of this intense, bizarre and  stone-cold psychological thriller, possessing its (methodical) director and guiding him along the way. And when the influence threats to become overwhelming, you get splashed by the awkwardness of the Greek weird wave, and it all happens in regular, hypnotic, expectation-subverting rhythm.

4. Imposing visuals - The starkly beautiful wide-frame cinematography by Thimios Bakatakis (whom Lanthimos entrusts with handling the photography for the third time and for a very good reason) perfectly captures the twisted, ironically mythologized reality of a contemporary bourgeoisie. Their clinically clean world is a slightly distorted reflection of our own, exposing all of its irrationalities with brutal honesty.

5. The soundtrack - Haunting, spine-tingling, eargasmic...

5 Dec 2017

The Rub (Péter Lichter & Bori Máté, 2018)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

By courtesy of the Hungarian filmmaker Péter Lichter (Frozen May), I present to you his sophomore feature co-directed by Bori Máté and earmarked for a 2018 release. A glimpse into the future which sort of clings to the past...

Described as 'a psychedelic retelling' of what is usually considered to be Shakespeare's greatest play, The Rub unfolds 'within the mind of the protagonist'. However, in spite of the fact, a quote from Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers is the last thing you'd expect to see in the opening epigraph (the same goes for Stalone and Schwarzenegger).

Or maybe it isn't? It has been approximately two decades since I read Hamlet, so I can't say for sure whether the 'Bard of Avon' is turning in his grave or his spirit applauds or does whatever the spirits do as a sign of approval. But, what I can say is that I don't recall a bolder and more revolutionary rendition of the well-known tragedy.

Minimalist in terms of the cast, considering it stars only Szabolcs Hajdu as the voice of the royal Dane, The Rub compensates the lack of characters in the traditional sense of the word with its experimental visuals. It utilizes hand painted celluloid strips of various films, from The Tales of Hoffman to Terminator 3 to Melancholia, which erode and decompose before your eyes, establishing simultaneously trippy and contemplative atmosphere.

Technique-wise, it is a natural progression from Lichter's short films, such as Look Inside the Ghost Machine (2012), No Signal Detected (2013) or Pure Virtual Function (2015). And it looks absolutely fantastic or rather phantasmic, with its erratic, aggressive textures pulsating to hypnotizing effect, complemented by the brooding low-key monologues and miasmic soundscapes (kudos to Ádám Márton Horváth).

The intrusion of a few lo-fi (VHS?) sequences shot in an empty movie theater and its projection booth add a hint of nostalgia to the 'abstract proceedings' that seem to capture the echoes from the other side. The theme of transience is the main course or everything is just a dissolving dream which is but a shadow.