Is 2016 a magical year where the full poetic spirit of Portugal materializes in films like no time else? From Ricardo Franco, the assistant director of the magical A Noite de Santo António, a glowing part of the most recent selection of Largo comes a directorial debut and an elegant meditation on and an ode to Faustian (yet lovelorn!) souls that push the boundaries.
Alfonso Luis Campos – a reference to Pessoa heteronym Alvaro de Campos? – is a poet obsessed with his Beatriz and living, like all genuine poets ( true distillers of the invisible, remember Rilke, Rimbaud or Lautreamont), with a predisposition to a pretty spiritual hubris. When he finds Beatriz about to slip away from life, he seeks to close a deal with Death itself, and offers his own life, committing to take on a large dose of suffering, in exchange for her coming to life again. In the face of Death’s repeated warnings, he proceeds to the handshake. Nevertheless, fate doesn’t come as straightforward as him and Beatriz passes onto the other side, leaving Alfonso full of desperation and with muses hovering over him – which, in turn, give birth to a tome of mesmerizing poetry dedicated to / inspired by her. The deal that’s sealed however, returns at an unexpected turn in his life and Alfonso will understand the price of hubris and confusing ‘need’ with love and dabbling with the very foundations of his own life.
Well-saturated B&W cinematography (with a palette between Coffee and Cigarettes Jim Jarmush and meditative Bela Tarr where at times blacks are as dark “as the devil painteth” and whites are as blinding as staring directly into the sun) with its contemplative grandeur and excellent use of mise-en-scene (the shifts from scenes that display as well as formidable acting highlight the utterly romantic nature of Cold Matchstick.
Cold Matchstick’s pace is slow and the film lasts an hour (at least this festival version) and this may be a problem for some viewers. Yes, there is this feeling of a debut film that penetrates into some scenes, especially when characters utter ultra-poetic lines. The very slow pace also might be a problem for some viewers – yet many will hail this as another invitation that dresses the spirit of the film and will pleasurably immerse themselves into it as there isn’t any millisecond where this choice of slowness signals a pretentious ‘minimalism’ or some other unconscious unpalatable experimentation.
Conclusively, Cold Matchstick is an impressive film that hits the mark and achieves what its director makes us feel he was set to achieve. I hope the waves it will create will provide the right launch-pad for him to strive for and accomplish ever more.
Soliloquys rarely make good and captivating movies – if we are not talking about a Robbe-Grillet film.Lan Jiao Lang is a family drama sans the family itself. An endnote that crowns a poignant, smoking pile of ash and incinerated remains of a nebula of hurtful emotions – as well as yearning. Lan Jiao Lang is the tale of a father and a daughter, of the latter listening to (or rather interestingly, awakening to) the testimony of the former. Reconciliation and reunion awaits, for the film is not without its promises, but not fully before the father reunites with the late mother.
Story-wise, we are talking about a brief moment expanded into the duration of a short. Lan Jiao Lang flows like poetry – grey poetry in this regard. The debris that remains after the self-torture (the fruit of a backlash of karma, as the protagonist/father expresses) is almost splattered onto the viewer from the depths of the screen. The spleen of the father is, though not well-dissected, makes its heaviness felt through narration as well as camera grammar.
However, self-talk rarely makes masterpieces. Lan Jiao Lang stands at the edge of being an exercise in translating deeper emotions into the language of film. Even though the centrepiece feeling of the film is caustic and is destined to be highlighted over and over, a diversification of pathos and inclusion of some other elements, along with some more craftiness in plot-work, are asked for. Nevertheless, departing from the impact of the film, it can very well be said that the director has skill and bravado in mediating certain situations and is talented to work out, in near future, more expansive stories.
American Dynasty boasts the voyeuristic pleasures and the captivating energy of a film de clef (if such a label exists) with a sophisticated and exciting cultural commentary addressing one of the least cinematically excavated segments of contemporary American society: Chinese Americans. A TV series project accumulating momentum and backing for a launch, American Dynasty is about a Chinese-American family whose remaining members – a colourful motley crew rather than a tightly knit tribe – are trying to come to terms with the legacy of a deceased mother who happens to be a famous author with colossal triumphs and an equally riddling image and personal history.
The characters that populate this ark are extraordinarily imagined and played – Chris, one of the personae who happens to be around the centre of the drama, is a haunting mélange of the self-imprisoning tendencies of both worlds: a Western fixation on decorum and Mandarin aloofness supported by an occupation with ‘should be’s that is puissant enough to hide icebergs of repressed sentiment. Nevertheless, the task of ‘keeping the kingdom intact’ – Chris’ particular obsession that marks the intersection of a hi-fi Asian modus vivandi and American social etiquette, which means preserving the appearances and self-convictions in this particular context – is executed with significantly better results by his sisters.
The ‘involuntary sensuality’ scene x-raying Chris’ emotional closet may compete with Nic Roeg’s unforgettable ritual in Don’t Look Now featuring a Venice-struck Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland, in means of heat and bringing the subconscious to the fore.
American dynasty is not simply about being stranded inbetween cultures, or about a limbo of belonging and non-belonging. Having to put dual straightjackets – that of palatial, what-to-whisper-in-the-Emperor’s-hall Chinese politics and that of American garden party politics – may seem to crucify the remaining members of Han family, but as the late mother concluded, her kids are already assimilated, already a part of the new terrain that had once given her plenty of challenges to overcome. In this regard, American Dynasty seems to offer narrative lessons on how to manage ghosts given in person by a festivity of characters – a narrative promise that is pregnant with pleasurable twists and knots.
In this contemporary climate where TV series writing, taking advantage of the crises that haunt silver screen production and attendance, stalks some stunning heights the auds should look forward to salute the emergence of such a daring and written-from-the-heart drama into the white screen.
Penetrating neon colours of Winding Refn and twisted stories of Tarantino crash into each other in I am Terry Zou, the story of a not so well known pop singer being kidnapped by the Chinese mob and trying to find a way out of the mangle.
As in several contemporary ‘rock’n roll’ mob movies, I am Terry Zou makes a tour de force with its dynamic, almost MTV style editing. Frozen stills, jump cuts, repeats, intros/interventions intercut into the flow introduce a speedy and captivating timeline. Split screens or reaction shots would make it all the more impactful, and one can’t help wishing if slushy C-pop could be replaced by something more rock’n rollish, The pace slows down as story progresses, as Terry Zou charms his way to stage to launch a show that would hopefully save him, appealing to the arch mobster’s wife.
This Guy Ritchie’esque pathos fails, as expected, on the character development side of the palette. Caricatures abound, as this particular ‘genre’ of mobster tales usually do not require a compelling depth. The fat clumsy mobster who isn’t really that intelligent, the line-managing mobster whose kowtow to the head figure is as passionate as his commanding his minions, the chief of mischief bullied by his want-it-all wife. And lastly,Terry Zou, as stainless and innocent as a swan.
Such takes, with their frenetic flow, compact plots and editing sprees, include some of the ‘musts’ commercial directors should excel at, hence may serve as exercises. Terry Zoumay herald the dawn of a career too, but for a future to solidify, more elusive cinematic tactics, rigorous plot-work and an eye for character development are essential.
How could your entire conception of reality reshape itself if you were doomed to proceed to your death at the mercy seat (or the gallows)? How could one put an end to the self-questioning (if any committed) as the hour is about to come? The Trial of Everett Mann revolves around this question but goes beyond the ordinary in working out a guess and provokes thought on deeply philosophical subjects of fate, salvation, agony, the nature of reality and sacrifice.
“You set the stage, it’s your show”.
As he awaits the end, Everett Mann, an arrogant death row inmate is told, by a warden who delivers his last meal that the very torture he was going through could be overcome by playing “as if”. The mind composes one’s own mental environment and though one cannot change reality, one can pretty change how to feel about it. This initial revelation, seemingly unsatisfying compared to what such a spirit would yearn for at that minute, sets the scene for a thorough deus ex machina. The show goes on, the court that tries him doesn’t exonerate Mann. However, a stranger enters Mann’s cell and replaces him on his path to execution, offering his own life instead his after showing him grace.
Asides treating, though as a side-reference, the entire issue of the justice of the death penalty –Everett Mann perfectly pictures the mental agony the death penalty entails – is an impressive tale of salvation that makes sense when read even linearly. Who is the man that replaced Mann? A savior figure cropped out of a religion? His own personal guardian angel? His higher self urged to lend a hand after Mann came to terms with his own fault? Regardless of the answer, we should remember that the stranger’s real work starts only after Mann’s letting go of arrogance and his insistence, accepting his guilt (and maybe applying the warden’s advice and succeeding though not knowing it).
Shot in a historic jail and courtroom (blessed with a bona fide atmosphere in that regard), The Trial ofEverett Mann distinguishes itself also for its style – solid compositions, crisp cinematography, intriguing plays of light, smart use of music, smooth changes of ambiance and last but not least, very impressive acting. Considering its nicely knotted plot and overall success in execution, The Trial ofEverett Mann is a very good short that advertises the talent and commitment of its director, Mike Gerard.
This 2-minutes taster-teaser is an uninterrupted shot of a psych patient having a fit is designed to promote Schizo, a psych-crime novel by author Ilene B. Benator. And by “author”, we mean writer, not an “auteur” in the film world sense.
The two minutes long take of Eddie suffering a psychotic fit before the mirror, trapped in a corner and on the floor, shrinking into himself and then embodying nothing less than a total loss of the sense of reality is accompanied by a narration – that belongs to a saner, more confident voice who confesses to be Eddie’s neighbor. Enter Dan, Dan Greenberg, the protagonist of the novel, a promising med student who is derailed by a schizophrenic patient he is assigned on rotation and embarks on a dangerous journey. Dan confidently states that Eddie’s is a tortured soul, that he cheats the shrinks mimicking stupor after he’s been fed pills, that he is making up plans to break free of the ward and declares that his demons, unlike Eddie’s are… real.
Is this a good taster? Yes, curiosity-whipping to the bone and very intelligently designed. One can imagine the propaganda effect of popping up other “teasers” focusing on Dan’s other “neighbors”. Imagine Dr. Lecter talking about Multiple Miggs in the neighboring cell, only to drive the camera/fictive focus eventually to his own self and saga. Especially after reading illustrious reviews of Benator’s book on Goodreads lauding her style and fresh promise of fever, I am compelled to read her writing, even though not being a hardcore fan of the genre. Plus, Ilene B. Benator’s being an emergency physician, an insider to the domain of medicine is another wow factor, urging the prospective reader to think about the insights she could have thrown into the story. However, is Excitable Eddie a short film proper? Unfortunately, no. If a story is told only to stir appetite about another story (served on the shelf, not on the silver screen), how can one regard it as a film by reason of its own?
Let’s hope Schizo reaches wide readership and attracts the attention of the industry to be translated into a proper screenplay and to give birth to an feature adaptation.
Vaporous purple, whispering lavender and silken, dreamy white, the three colours of the exotic plant species Brunfelsia which gives its name to the short animation directed by Anna Constantinova pervades each pixel of the movie.
This is an animated tale of two space travellers venturing into a new, enchanting and at times forbidden planet, revealing and being astonished before its secrets – a vegetative Eden hiding the remnants of a lost civilisation.
Drenched in the feeling of a psychedelic carnival not solely due to its colour palette but also because of the music and the aftertaste it leaves, watching Brunfelsia is like experimenting with a hallucinogen that unleashes its effects through the magic of the screen.
However, the raison d’etre of the film is that it is made to serve as a music video for the band Artefact, a post-pop outfit who are dedicated to weave inebriating soundscapes. Ethereal sonics and psychedelic visuals share a trance-inducing effect. Does the music fit this cinematic dress? Definitely. Would it be better if it was not an uninterrupted stream, hence breaking out of the label “music video” and setting the animation free? Yes.
Techniques and difficulties-wise, Brunfelsia is a very good exercise in character development, which the studio passes with flying colours. A tour de force that lays bare what a dedicated team can deliver to challenge major players of the genre. A taster for bigger ventures to come, hitting the mark.
The film may have narrower screening prospects due to fewer outing opportunities given to animated cinema, but it for sure will enchant the auds at every step.