Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The Future? Not necessarily.

Miranda July’s directorial style represents the best and the worst of what the American indie cinema has to offer. There is the corny, over the top and at the same time dull story-telling which she manages to combine with a masterful, daunting study of human behaviour. The lack of an appropriate balance of these two ingredients is what kept her first feature film Me, You and Everyone We Know from expanding outside its comfort zone and becoming something more than a mediocre flick. It goes without saying that I was slightly apprehensive when going to see her latest film, The Future. While hoping that I would be nicely surprised, I was definitely prepared for the worst.

And yet again, what I got was a mix of both; some aspects of the film truly disappointed while the others made me extremely excited. The disappointing parts are a result of Miranda’s choice to assign her dramatic arc to a semi-comedy formula. Every time the film takes an emotional plunge into the depths of the human psyche, July very quickly brings it back to the surface with comic relief, assuming that her audience won’t be able to stand the pressure should the film get too serious. She talks in her film about displeasure with life, an inability to control our fate and sexual desires. But July very forcefully tries to balance these issues with situational farce which to me, not only belittles the importance of the portrayed matters but suggests that the dramatic aspects of our existence aren’t entertaining enough for a film.

The starting point of the film is when Sophie (July) and Jason (Linklater) decide to adopt a cat. They see that as a very important step in their relationship, a commitment that requires long time sacrifices from both of them. Their new pet must undergo surgery and it takes an additional month before they can bring it home with them. They take advantage of that convenient ‘delay’ and they decide to re-evaluate their lives and find out what to do with their future. Their process of discovery is juxtaposed with a commentary of Paw-Paw, their newly adopted cat who longingly looks forward to the moment when the couple will come back to take him home. Paw-Paw sets a rather sad, sentimental tone for the story, and is probably the nicest feature of the entire film. As he looks through the bars of his cage, counting down minutes and seconds to the fulfilling moment of becoming a part of his new family, we see Jason and Sophie turning into prisoners of their own desires. 

The two quit their jobs and undertake activities that are supposed to enrich their existence and bring happiness. But breaking with the routine pulls the couple away from each other as it brings a scary realisation that they are no longer bound by any expectations from the outside world. The feeling of freedom makes them happy for a while, but in the long run brings a terrifying awareness that they lack any ambition. With the extra time on her hands, Sophie begins an affair with Paw-Paw’s ex-owner, and Jason spends his days talking to a randomly met older man who treats him to stories about his dead wife. Sophie’s eccentric behaviour is the cause of her affair falling apart in the end, and Jason is too scared to face the reality of a break-up and literally freezes time in order to avoid confrontation.

With her use of surreal aesthetics in the final moments of the film July stumbles upon something spectacular but it positively takes her far too much time to get to that point. Although charmed by  Paw-Paw’s voiceover and the ending sequences, I found myself mostly disinterested by July’s slow and safe narration preceding the final scenes. The characters doom their happiness by constant longing for the future. Similarly to that, July hangs her film’s potential for greatness somewhere towards the end, but that promise seems too far in the future for someone who doesn’t find the first two-thirds of the film engaging enough to care about the characters’ fate.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Weekend of simplicity

Andrew Haigh, the director of Weekend, is best known for his documentary Greek Pete, which took a very cleverly crafted dramatic spin on the life of a London rent boy. No wonder then there was a lot of anticipation in the UK before his latest feature hit our screens. The film has already gained the status of a masterpiece if we are to trust some of the critics writing from the other side of the pond. For example, Peter Knegt writes for a leading American indie website ( ) and placed Weekend on the list of the most anticipated films of autumn. Ever since the film won the Emerging Visions award at SXSW Festival in Texas earlier this year everyone seems to be ecstatic about this small budget British drama. 

So what’s the whole fuss really about? It is a (mainly) two-person drama about a couple of young men randomly meeting each other at a club and spending a weekend together before one of them ventures to take a job abroad. Russell, played by Tom Cullen, is a man with a difficult past who is searching for emotional attachment. Glen, played by Chris New, is an artist who sees himself as having a spontaneous and adventurous persona who does not want to get too close to another human being. The film’s premise and composition can be summarised in a couple of sentences and the director never attempts to make it any more complex than that. That simplicity of course has a certain charm and will definitely find its appeal in the eyes of wider audiences, boosting the film’s potential at the box office. But it also becomes a huge downside as far as storytelling is concerned.

Haigh drives a lot of inspiration from theatre, restricting the characters’ mobility to a very limited number of locations, casting two well-established theatre actors as his leads. That formula could work very beautifully on the big screen if it wasn’t for Haigh’s desire to cautiously control the story development. The arch feels very mechanical, almost sanitarily free of any sort of ambiguities, leading towards a very predictable climax. The dialogues however insightful in terms of character development never feel engaging enough or go beyond outcomes that can only be accurately described as banal. It is easy to predict that Glen’s cynicism will eventually change under Russell’s influence and Russell will learn how to accept his sexuality thanks to Glen’s unapologetic attitude towards life and other people.

With the film’s final sequence at a train station (the details of which I will not spoil, but these will be very easy to figure out based on what I already said about the film), it becomes quite easy to draw parallels between Haigh’s Weekend and Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise. The director definitely aims for the same effect Linklater achieved with his drama. But while exchanging a heterosexual duo of Delpy and Hawk with two gay men, Haigh forgets that it takes a bit more than that to make his film worthwhile to those of us who want to take his film seriously. The titled weekend is a time frame which is meant to intensify the exchange between the characters - this has worked perfectly in Linklater's case when he gave his characters one single day for their romance to fully develop. But Before Sunrise wasn’t only about romance. The film captured something timeless, not only about the human condition and the way we perceive relationships, but it also captured the psyche of the period in which the film was made. Weekend fails in achieving the same effect. 

If Andrew Haigh wants to become another revolutionary of the Queer Cinema I would advise him to take lessons from the Canadian director Xavier Dolan or Sundance veteran Todd Haynes; Compelling cinema is made with soul and conviction – and not just a carefully calculated dramatic arch.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

DVD treat - Totally Fucked Up!

Gregg Araki's subversive drama about a group of friends who live in California and struggle with their emotional and sexual ups and downs was designed as a blunt political statement when it came out in 1993. It was a manifesto against the heterosexual mainstream which disregarded the disenfranchised gay community. Araki’s semi-documentary aesthetic focuses on the seemingly ordinary lives of the ensemble of characters and fills their existence with very common themes of existential confusion which were the landmark of the so-called New Queer Cinema of the 90’s. It is a film about young people searching for their own identity in a world that appears to be hostile to their life styles and sexual orientation.

As we are watching Totally F***ed Up nearly 20 years after its premiere one’s mind tends to wonder how much the world of film has changed in years past. But instead of turning this review into a socio-political debate, I would instead like to focus on the contemporary cinematic representations of the LGBT community.
Queer cinema has recently undergone a sort of a renaissance. With films like Brokeback Mountain and The Kids Are All Right, cinema learned not only how to assimilate gay characters into their standard narrative, but also how to make these representations attractive for mass audiences. As the homosexual characters started becoming more and more visible in mainstream cinema, it could be suggested that the reality represented in Totally F***ed Up really has changed for the better (at least in Hollywood). Last year alone has brought us a number of important feature films and documentaries that makes the supposition of gay themed films gaining popularity among the cinemagoers extremely feasible. Many of these films not only gained positive reception from the masses, but also critical acclaim throughout a number of film festivals where they were showcased. But what is most essential is that Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato’s Becoming Chaz, David Weissman and Bill Weber’s We Were Here, Dee Rees’ Pariah, Sabine Bernardi’s Romeos and Andrew Heigh’s Weekend all have very important stories to tell. All of these stories deal with a recovery from a painful past, while looking to a more hopeful and positive future. It is also worth noticing that Araki's Totally F***ed Up has its re-release on DVD in the UK almost simultaneously with Kaboom, his latest feature. In Kaboom Araki seems to be more optimistic as the issues that used to trouble him so much appear to take a backseat. Kaboom is nothing but a thrilling comedy which unlike Totally F***ed Up makes an aesthetical rather than political statement.

And yet the fact that Araki's Totally F***ed Up deserves a re-release is a suggestion in itself that things aren't where they are supposed to be, that the struggle for equality is far from over. The pain and disappointment that fills Totally F***ed Up still feels very contemporary. For example, the main character’s suicide is a reminder of the tragic victims of bullying and abuse who have taken their lives last autumn in the US. The painful process of growing up so uniquely represented in the film makes Araki’s Totally F***ed Up a timeless masterpiece which will be re-watched and enjoyed by generations to come.

With just a bunch of trailers and the director's commentary, the release isn't exactly bursting with extras but as this lets you get your hands on an exquisitely remastered version of the film, the DVD becomes a must-have for all of Gregg Araki's fans.

Totally F***ed Up, dir. Gregg Araki
Runtime: 78min
Star Rating: 5

Monday, 28 March 2011

Armadillo and the politics of Le Semaine de la Critique

Le Semaine de la Critique makes for a rather unimpressive, secondary section at the Festival de Cannes. The films showcased in Le Semaine are meant to highlight young talent, but the selection usually turns out to be less exciting than Cannes’ other similar competitions for young film directors like Director's Fortnight or Un Certain Regard. Only very few films which are shown through Le Semaine receive international release and attention from outside of the festival and this fact alone is a huge indicator of the mediocre status of the competition and the films themselves. In spite of all this, it was very exciting to watch Armadillo – the first ever documentary to receive the Grand Prix at Le Semaine de la Critique. The film not only received attention from a multitude of international distributors but caused a political uproar in its native Denmark. It tells a story of a group of young soldiers landing in “Armadillo,” a military base in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province. For many of the men it is the first time in combat and Janus Metz, the director of the film, turns their first war experience into an exploration of the male psyche and its primal desire for fight.

Aesthetically Armadillo can be easily grouped together with a canon of war documentaries that are a part of the very well-established subgenre of documentary film-making in America. At first glance Armadillo isn’t in any way different from Taxi to the Dark Side, No End in Sight, Control Room or Restrepo. Many of these films present a critique of the governments that conduct war in Afghanistan and present the misfortunes of the people who have to fight in that war. But Metz’s approach is on a much more personal level than any of the aforementioned films. The director investigates the everyday life of a soldier and asks daunting questions about the dark side of human nature.  Armadillo makes an inquiry into the mind of a warrior. We see bits and pieces of the background stories of each character, seeing them at their homes before departure. At a farewell party where all soldiers are enjoying the company of a stripper we identify the individuals as young men, eager to showcase their masculinity, immaturity and impulsiveness. That immaturity manifests itself later on as we see their superficial view of war. One of the characters while waiting for combat refers to experiencing war without killing as going to a theme park and missing all the fanfare. While waiting for a real life bloodbath the boys play video games in which they imagine their actions in the battlefield. They spend their days talking about warfare and almost day dreaming about killing the enemy.

Metz’s commitment to his story and the courage he demonstrates by marching into the battle with the soldiers is truly staggering. The camera follows the soldiers wherever they go so that the audience can understand the full scope of the situation the characters found themselves in and possibly make sense of the primal instincts that overcome the soldiers when confronted with the enemy fire. Metz’s crew risk their own lives during the fight with the Taliban; they never release the camera from their hands. Thanks to that the film achieves a certain aesthetic artistry which resembles warfare video games. But even though the film looks beautiful and the sense of danger is poignantly translated on screen, it somehow feels disappointing. One gets the feeling that the director wants to achieve through his documentary something that was done in the Oscar winning film Hurt Locker, where the combat is presented as a force of nature. In Hurt Locker war is portrayed as a source of exceptional thrill and as such it appears dangerous and addictive. Armadillo flirts with a similar angle but in the end Metz fails to deliver.

Instead, we see the characters of Armadillo running in pointless circles, wanting to find the bad guys without trying to understand the local community and their situation. The ignorance of the Danish is similar to the unawareness exemplified by the American soldiers in the aforementioned Restrepo. The soldiers see themselves as saviours; an attitude which has its source in their Christian identity highlighted at least a couple of times throughout the film. Armadillo rather unintentionally reveals that the war in Afghanistan is a defeat for the Westerners, definitely in cultural terms. But it is a defeat that Danes can only blame themselves for due to their own ignorance. There is a scene in which one of the soldiers tries to interact with the village’s youth. They complain about the death toll that is caused by the military and warn them that the Taliban will eventually come after them and kill every single one of them. But the soldier unable to speak their language is left laughing idiotically and ignores the children.

“In the early research of the project, I was surprised that the majority of those who had already been to war, had a desire to return,” states Metz in one of the interviews. But the soldiers’ compulsion to return to the battlefield is never really explored. We do get hints of what might be the reasons behind the boys’ fascination with war: video games, distraction from the monotonous life at home, camaraderie, and the thrill of being in a life and death situation. But Metz doesn’t succeed in thoroughly analysing his subjects. In another statement the director makes an observation that during  battle, "The soldiers are so close to death and they actually kill someone." Metz seems astonished by the fact that gunfire is used in the warzone and both sides of the conflict are determined to kill. He tries to excuse the killing as an outcome of soldiers’ fear of death, but the film proves that according to the soldiers, it’s the act of killing which is the main attraction of war.

 The director stumbles upon something profound in one of the final scenes of the film in which the soldiers find themselves under fire from the Taliban. They kill the enemy and then victoriously stand over the dead bodies of the Afghanis and handle them in a somewhat disrespectful or joyous manner. But as soon as the director exposes the effect killing has on the soldiers (one of the boys explains later that it feels like they “were on a high” right after the battle) he goes into debating if it was right or wrong of them to do what they did. Metz’s desire to explore something primal and essential for the study of human nature feels genuine, but unfortunately for him the material he gathered wasn’t reflective enough to support his thesis. As the director does not want to interfere in the documented subject he is destined to rely in search of his answers entirely on the actions of the platoon. The effect is only a partial success – the film often forcefully fills the gaps between important events with meaningless conversations and the soldiers’ routines of day to day life. It works perfectly for a documentary about being a soldier, but fails for a film about human nature. 

Friday, 11 March 2011

How to review a reviewer. On Sight & Sound and Skolimowski's Essential Killing

In the latest issue of Sight and Sound Tony Rayns presents a very comprehensive but surprisingly badly researched review of Jerzy Skolimowski's Essential Killing. The critic brands the main character of the film (named in the credits as Muhammad) as 'unsympathetic’ and states that the director feels empathy for a jihadist. Then he goes on to give us details of his odd analysis. Rayns questions everything, going as far to say that Muhammad’s dreams of home is a sick fantasy, his only motivation being the desire to kill (or some other sinister impulse). He also refers to Muhammad’s counterparts as infidels, clearly giving us insight into the character’s psyche that the film itself doesn’t provide.

Skolimowski's film is a very subtle tale. It tells of an Arab man who kills a few Americans in an indeterminate desert in the Middle East. He is then taken for questioning and when water boarding turns out to be fruitless in gathering information from the individual, the main character is transported to a military base in Poland. During his rendition he manages to escape into the cold and hostile wilderness of Poland’s forests. While on the run he kills whoever stands in his way. The point Mr Rayns is missing in his analysis is that the main character is not portrayed as either good or evil; his acts although on many levels sinister do not receive any judgment from the director. The image of the main character is beyond the usual concepts of morality and is portrayed more as a force of nature.

Skolimowski fills his film with parallels, comparisons and juxtapositions. The heat of the Arabian desert is juxtaposed with the coldness of the Polish winter. American English is spoken by the military intelligence while Polish is the language of villagers and lumberjacks. To add to this lingual characteristic, the main character doesn’t say a single word throughout the film so that we are left to wonder: is it because he is morally superior or is it because he is culturally retarded?

There is a certain power structure that Skolimowski underlines throughout the film. For starters, the Americans make all the important decisions, most importantly about the lives of other people, while Poles are diminished to a role which allows them to kill... trees. The military decides how the operation of terrorist hunting is conducted even though the Poles inhabit the land; Polish people remain in the background, ignorant to unfolding events. They represent the lower industrial class, too passive to stop either the Americans or the terrorists. The process of intellectual industrial/ imperial power exploiting a disadvantaged nation of less educated and powerless folks takes us right back to the period of romanticism in Polish history. 

Poland has a very long account of abuse experienced from neighbouring empires, in the proto-romanticist period the dominant authority being the Russian Empire. At that time Poland was linked with Russia via Tsar Alexander I, who ruled both countries while keeping their sovereignties separate. The Poles, who were initially very happy about the union, hoping to benefit economically and culturally, soon discovered that the Tsar wanted to dominate their country and turn it into a Russian province. In Essential Killing Skolimowski exposes a very similar dynamic between Poland and the USA.

Romanticism as a movement emphasised strong emotions as an authentic source of aesthetic experience. Trepidation, terror and awe were especially validated if experienced when confronting the sublime beauty of untamed nature. The natural world was fascinating and mystical for romantics just as it is for Muhammad when he finds himself on the run. As the story unfolds we learn that one of Muhammad’s most notable characteristics is the spontaneity in which he makes his decisions. Romantics treasured instinct over logic therefore the main character’s series of killings can be looked at as an extension of that sentiment: when absent of moral distinctions it goes beyond comprehension.   

Essential Killing just like any other romantic piece has a tragic love story to tell. One part of it is presented in the flashbacks from the main character’s past. We see his wife and a child; Muhammad spends his days in careless joy when accompanied by his family. The second part of the love tale unfolds while the main character is on the lam. He meets a deaf woman who helps him recover and allows him to spend the night in her house. Her lack of hearing makes her more vulnerable and sensitive to qualities other people might not be able to see in Muhammad. Romantics focused on sensibility and the woman’s compassion and understanding certainly underlines this quality. Their encounter even though brief is filled with emotional subtext. We can see the woman longing for protection and Muhammad wanting to feel the warmth of a home again.

As Muhammad says goodbye to his saviour and rides away on a white horse, he re-enters the harsh realms of nature and by doing so dooms himself to a certain death. Just like other great romantic characters Muhammad is defeated by the grandeur of Gaia and dies without fulfilling either his love or plan of escape.

“Romanticism is precisely situated neither in choice of subject nor exact truth, but in the way of feeling,” said Baudelaire. The martyrdom and Jesus-like appearance of the main character suggest that the romantic ideals survive in the Polish psyche up to this day. The country’s seemingly immortal fascination with Roman-Catholic symbolism is only another variant of the ‘feeling’ to which Baudelaire is referring. Just like the romantics, today’s Poland is unable to comprehend the powers that decide its place in the world and turn to their internal sensibilities, exhibited through the devoted faith in a Supreme Being. Skolimowski as much as he is enchanted by the idea, realises that there is only one way to end such a romantic tale – and it isn’t a happy ending.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Spring awakening? – On where cinema is headed in the month of March.

March is the time when we say goodbye to Oscar nominees and allow specialty cinema to reclaim its place on the big screen. The end of February saw some impressive releases reaching the cinematic populace, especially in the documentary department: Inside Job directed by Charles Ferguson and Waste Land directed by Lucy Walker being the finest examples (it’s worth mentioning that both films are also Oscar nominees, *but* of a non-Hollywood origin). Both films were the talk of last year's Toronto Film Festival, and for a reason! Ferguson in his Inside Job walks us through the financial crisis of 2008. Step by step we learn small details of the banks' wrongdoings and become familiar with the political background which created the, as the director calls it, “perfect storm.” Ferguson presents the complex issues of financial discrepancies in a simple, at times even didactic way, but puts just enough Moore-sque comedy bits into his film to compensate for the otherwise serious tone. Waste Land on the other hand relies much less on comedy and allows its subject to simply speak for itself and set the tone for the film. The story of a landfill in Buenos Aires turns into an intellectual debate over class divides, social indifference and ignorance. Even though very stern, the outcome of the film is more hopeful than depressing.

But that was February. What about March? This same time last year we have seen similar great releases, both documentaries and feature films: Exit Through the Gift Shop, Father of My Children, Lourdes and No One Knows About Persian Cats to name a few. Yet as it turns out this year’s line-up is nothing like that. If March was any indication of what is awaiting us in cinemas in 2011, the view is rather grim.

Patagonia directed by Marc Evans is a must-see for every Welsh who wants to reminisce about the good old pre-Thatcher days of industrial glory. The film tells two parallel stories: an old woman travels to Wales from Patagonia region in Argentina in search of her roots and a couple of young  lovers takes a similar journey in the opposite direction, when travelling across Argentina documenting Welsh influence signified by side road chapels.  Yes, the film is extremely simplistic in its narrative - love stories are just too conveniently plotted and all characters are quite one-dimensional. But at the same time the film shows its honesty through the clichéd plot devices. It enchants the audience with its unique charm and while it romanticises the effects of Imperial British influence abroad, it makes very adequate observations about the cultural gap between today’s Argentina and Wales. Cymru is spoken through the majority of the film and Duffy makes a guest appearance as a mysterious Welsh beauty who seduces a young traveller from Patagonia with her looks and her voice. Patagonia could turn out to be something of a cultural treasure for the modern Welsh, as their language and cultural legacy is celebrated on the big screen in a truly grand style.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams directed by Werner Herzog is another interesting pick. The film premiered just a few weeks ago at the Berlin Film Festival, gaining lots of positive attention from the critics and regular attendees. This year’s big Berlinale marketing campaign focused heavily on integrating 3D with art house cinema as the majority of the festival’s competition picks were presented in 3D format. Herzog's documentary certainly showcases undeniable tendencies and opportunities of the 3rd dimension. The new format adds previously unknown texture and expressive capabilities to documentary filmmaking and Herzog, even though very new to this way of film-making, very skilfully explores the possibilities with which 3D presents him. As we enter the Chauvet caves, which contain the oldest and most numerous pictorial creations made by early humans, Herzog wants nothing less than to transfer the experience of being inside the actual cave to his audience via 3D. The story of the search for the origin of image runs parallel to Herzog’s contemplation on the evolution of cinema and humanity. In Herzog’s perspective cinema just like any other human device is undergoing a constant transition and the 3D format is only the latest manifestation of that change. The film is an interesting experience, and it is definitely one of the first art house films addressing the matter of communion between 3D and the specialty cinema as an unavoidable step.

Unfortunately the list of interesting March premieres ends here. Yes, British cinema certainly makes its case this month, with Submarine and Archipelago, both of which might not showcase the best writing and execution, but prove to be much more complex and interesting than the late British big Oscar winner The King's Speech. Hollywood also shows its ugly face with LA: Battle, The Eagle, Unknown and Country Strong. But all of these films demonstrate mediocre storytelling and underwhelming cinematic qualities. Woody Allen's You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger turns out to be a perfect synergy of the shape in which cinema in the UK will be in the month of March. It follows familiar patterns and under delivers to the point of exhaustion but at the same time has enough stamina to make us come back and ask for more. And just like with every bad Woody Allen film, next month can’t come quickly enough - and hopefully it’ll be better than the previous one. 

Wednesday, 16 February 2011


Here's the list of the 20 films I watched at 2011 Berlinale:

Mondo Lux dir. Elfi Mikesch - E+
Margin Call, dir. JC Chandor - C+
The Bengali Detective, dir. Philip Cox - C
How Are You, dir. Jannik Splidsboel - D
Amnesty, dir. Bujar Alimani - B-
Tales of the Night, dir. Michel Ocelton - D
Pina, dir. Wim Wenders - B-
Intimate Grammar, dir. Nir Bergman - C-
The Devil's Double, dir. Lee Tamahori - C+
Here, dir. Braden King - C
V Subbotu, dir. Alexander Mindadze - E-
Cave of Forgotten Dreams, dir. Werner Herzog - B-
Life in a Day, dir. Kevin Macdonald - A-
The Advocate for Fagdom, dir. Angelique Bossio - C+
Coriolanus, dir. Ralph Fiennes - D+
The Turin Horse, dir. Bela Tarr - B+
Rent Boys, dir. Rosa von Praunheim - C+
Even the Rain, dir. Ician Bollain - C+
The Mortician, dir. Gareth Maxwell Roberts - F
Our Grand Despair, dir. Seyfi Teoman - B-

Berlinale: Day 5 and 6

Here are the films I watched yesterday and today:

Coriolanus - D+

Fiennes' first directorial attempt proves that great acting doesn't always translate into great directing. The film is set in nowadays Rome, but besides adding bits and pieces of news clips embedded into the narrative and swapping swords for machine guns the Shakespeare's play goes unchanged. Fiennes tries to make a commentary on modern day politics, where the appearance is much more important than actions. But there was much more that needed to be done to make this story contemporary. Fiennes' acting is especially bad, as he cannot find the right balance in dividing his acting and directorial duties - some monologue pieces feel rushed and calculated, Fiennes' engagement in the story seems partial at most.   

The Turin Horse - B+

Bela Tarr was known to me only through Gus Van Sant who has written essays and articles on the director's work and used a lot of his aesthetic ideas (especially those long steady shots) in his own films. The Turin Horse brings greatness of directorial craft from the first to the last shot - it feels monotonous but compelling at the same time; the simplicity of the story and its monumental scope are at the same time bizzare and fascinating. 

Rent Boys - C+

The film was clearly made for television and it doesn't pretend to be anything more than that. It has a very steady narrative, yet the plot takes surprising diversions from the main theme at times (especially when presenting the story of an abused Romanian living in Vienna) and feels educational to a certain extent. Unfortunately the historical/ political background is missing - something rather crucial for a foreigner who is unfamiliar with the hustling culture taking place at the infamous Zoo S-Bahn station. Also, the stories compiled for the film are all extremely sad and depressing, bringing the viewers to a conclusion that only abused and disadvantaged took part in sex cruising at the station. 

Even The Rain - C+

The film had a potential for greatness. It presents two parallel stories: one is about a film crew coming to a small town in Bolivian mountains the other is the film they make - the story of Christopher Columbus coming to the New World to bring the Word of God and eventually enslave the Indians and take over the land. The film-making process represents corporate culture abusing the poor Latin American countries and exploiting their people and resources. The story of the film the characters are making as presented in parallel to the ongoing struggle of the nowadays Bolivia shows a certain pattern embedded in the history and tries to prove that the corporate enslavement is only a continuation of the abuse which began centuries ago when the Europeans discovered the Americas. There is a specific moment which I can remember clearly when the film changes its tone dramatically and from a politically involved drama turns into a soap opera. One of the producers who was exploiting its Bolivian actors the same way the Spaniard once used to exploit the Native Americans, has a sudden change of heart and the story focuses from this moment on only on his emotional evolution. The ending is sweet and cuddly, filled with clichés and Hollywood-like one liners. Blah.

The Mortician - F!!!

It's a bad student film. That's all I can say.

Our Grand Despair - B-

What is most fascinating about this Turkish drama is the subtlety of its homosexual undertones and socio-political content. The trio of main actors create a very vibrant and erotic tale without exposing their desires physically. It is a very cute film, funny at times and sad at the end. I wouldn't call it a must-see, but compared to other "masterpieces" presented in Competition it felt particularly good.

And that's it for now folks! Below some more pictures:

got my ticket!

No queue? Are we still in Berlin? 

 The arthouse cinema goes 3D in Berlin. And Adam looks smug in these glasses!

Mariusz scaring ppl on a train.

My morning routine - queuing up for the tickets.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Berlinale: Day 4

Soooo... It looks like my two favourite films so far are Lifa in a Day (which btw I refused to watch at Sundance because I thought it would be lame. Think twice next time, Adam!) and The Advocate for Fagdom. Documentaries proved to be much better than the features presented at Berlinale. That still might change thought!

Here are some snaps taken in the past few days:
 Got tickets!!

Tickets make Adam happy

 Friedrichstadt Palast
Lots of red

A long queue for the screening of Margin Call

 Mariusz likes red carpets.



The red bear.

Here - really wanted to see it at Sundance. Berlinale gave me a second chance.

From the inside of the Berlinale Palast

Bear from the inside.

Portraits of the festival stars.

Early screenings at the Palast.

Bear again!

Urania - Cave of forgotten dreams by Werner Herzog

Red is everywhere!

Goldbaren help me stay awake.


Cold but happy

 I miss my white hat

Bears are everywhere 

Looking all smug

...and then looking all confused

out and about

picture taking

oh crap... it might be tough to get a ticket for this one!

...but we got in anyway!

did I mention that I miss my Sundance hat? 

Trying to figure out the metro

I love the Palast at night!

The red carpet is waiting 

I came prepared :)

We've seen some weird stuff taking place at the festival...

Relaxing with a glass of wine 
 Updating my blog

German beer

I look stoned on that photo!