People Eat People

Duane Michals’s People Eat People follows a couple’s increasingly frenetic argument over a romantic letter. However, within this contained, rather straightforward scenario, the director makes use of visual interplay, sound overlapping, and multiple exposure to display the inner states of each actor, thus transforming the film’s groundwork into a fully formed, emotionally resonating experience along the way.

The letter in question is addressed to a lover concerning an unforgettable stay in Paris. A woman (Whitney Harris) approaches her boyfriend (Derek Stratton) upon discovering it, shifting from confusion to worry to anger and so on from there. When somewhat of a reversal in their dynamic occurs by the final reveal, it becomes clear that we have immersed ourselves in the performances and direction more so than anything else.

With a stark, unembellished cinematography that only hints at an apartment beyond the actors’ close-ups—in addition to a plot that is fragmented through sometimes disembodied, non-linear, repeated dialogue so we catch fleeting bits of information—the setting becomes more of an emotional vacuum than a physical space; the characters are multiplied in different conditions at different points in time, all within the same claustrophobic frame.

As a result, the actors themselves (especially Harris) and the experimental direction command the screen. The entire centerpiece of People Eat People—the argument over the letter—is sandwiched between a beautiful shot of the protagonists embracing in bed and seemingly melding into one another’s bodies while the soft ticking of a clock accentuates, perhaps, their relationship’s “lifespan” outside of these intimate moments that we see throughout. This shot’s placement at the very beginning creates a sensuality, a tender longing before the storm. As it is intercut between the heated exchanges towards the end, however, it evokes a devastating nostalgia. The inner vacuum of the film is thereby brought into full perspective; for better or for worse, these memories will linger even as the “outside world” and the passage of time barrel forward.

If there were an ultimate “narrative impact” to be had from all the technical and performative flair on display, it would certainly be Harris’s journey. Despite her and Stratton’s assertion for the duration of the film, it is the former who we really experience everything with. Stratton is kept on the periphery while Harris’s emotional beats are front-and-center, as she is the one searching for answers and fighting to make sense of a difficult situation with high personal stakes. With the haunting final shot that brings us even closer to her (literally, as the camera’s close-ups tighten even further), we are left with a similar ferocity and deep-cutting loss after following her all the way into the rabbit hole of this emotional space.

From Michals’s kaleidoscopic directorial approach to the interplay and overplay of images and sounds, anchored all the while by a committed central performance, People Eat People explores its small moments to great potential and touches upon guttural truths of human intimacy.

The Crow’s Head

The Crow’s Head is something completely unique and original. That’s the first thing I can say about it. In it’s short running time it provides the audience with something all leave them thinking and trying to work it out, which is always a bonus. If you leave an audience thinking that means the film stays with them, they talk about it. It isn’t forgettable.

The film itself is simple in terms of production but deals with a complicated and internal themes which make this film so intriguing. It’s a film that appears to have no clear story or theme, but leaves it open for the audience to interpret and take from it what they choose, which is often one of the most rewarding parts of watching a film. It gets you thinking and talking.

The production quality is strong. The sets and cast are extremely minimal which works well for this project but what really sets it apart is the animation and artwork that is present on the wall. Although it isn’t used much, it is very well done and adds something different to the film.

Performances, although minimal, are admirable. In particular the lead female performs her role well with no dialogue and nobody to react against. Even with the man in a gorilla suit, which could quite easily have turned the film into farce, actually felt true to the narrative and to the film as a whole and I didn’t find myself questioning it.

Overall The Crow’s Head is an intriguing and thought provoking piece of film that will leave and viewers asking questions for days afterwards.

Personas Non Grata

Directed by Brooklyn-based Alvin Adadevoh and Amber Lee, the documentary short Personas Non Grata creates a prismatic portrait of an international performance art collective. With an introduction that briefly describes the fall of the Soviet Union and the “new societies [that] grew out of it,” the film establishes its social consciousness and anti-totalitarian principles before diving headfirst into a cinematic collage of conceptual performances.

This surreal aftermath to suffering, alluded to in the opening, is what the actors and directors seem to concern themselves with going forward. The camera never lingers on any one particular moment, remaining frenetic and up-close, traversing the staged action and tightly framing itself on the fine details of the group’s extravagant set pieces. Toy soldiers are torched until they become distorted clumps of their former plastic selves; an angel-winged figure is covered in confetti while clutching a golden brain under bubble-gum-pink lighting; animal skulls are arranged on a nude woman’s torso and spray-painted chrome; an anonymous musician with a paper-bagged face strums thunderous–sometimes startling–chords on an electric guitar in the background. All of this culminates in a final bombardment of the senses, where a man with a megaphone shouts diatribes in the actors’ faces while they smash their props with blunt objects and ready a branding stick to imprint a man’s skin with an X scar.

This showcase of ideas is able to capture the spirit of the collective’s art because it does not overtly politicize itself or lay bare the philosophy of their work, but rather fragments it all in a cinematic way—the interviews are understated and sparsely placed between the imagery to just slightly add whatever context is needed. A couple of actors will describe the unpredictability of their process, and the excitement that comes with it, someone else will touch upon the like-mindedness of the people involved and their setting out to “create a new school of art,” but these moments of dialogue never detract from the visceral, intimate footage of their performances whipping across the frame in appropriately disorienting ways. We get to see every last component of the piece, but never any single component for too long. The collective aspect of this group of artists, as well as their assault on conventionality on the stage (or rather in the “space” of a venue), are thus emulated in the anxious movements of the camera and the heightened shadows or deep hues of the cinematography.

Additionally, the sound design fluctuates between a soft, industrial thumping in more singular moments and boisterous, overloaded cacophonies in the larger gatherings (like the skin-searing finale). The filmmaking at-work in Personas Non Grata accomplishes what might be otherwise lost in-person; for a type of experimental art that seems to aim for alienation and distance to spark critical thought, the medium of cinema develops an immersive, trance-like quality through its audio-visual flourishes, a quality that makes this kind of elliptical contemporary performance suddenly more accessible, or at least approachable.

Adadevoh, Lee, et al. are ultimately able to present this underground collective’s work in an aesthetically innovative way that is sometimes humorously over-the-top in its choreography and other times quietly intimate or even dream-like. What Personas Non Grata does is take that opening line about “society” and use it to its best effect; the humans behind the jarring performances, their physicality in the moment, the artistry of the costumes and props and how they are used or manipulated, the attitudes of these ideas and how they are conveyed as an artistic whole. All of this is achieved by steering away from exposition or statement or anecdotes and instead allowing the visuals on-screen to simply speak for themselves. Therefore, what could have been nothing more than an introduction to a performance troupe or a manifesto for their intellectual aims is elevated to a performance art piece that stands on its own, capturing the essence of Non Grata in a truly cinematic, rather than dramatic, light and bringing a new dimension of understanding to their experimental process.

In the end, is this “proof of concept” a strange experience? Yes. Is it as enigmatic as the collective it follows? In many ways. Was that vaguely heart-like organ in the actor’s hand a real one? Possibly. Did they really brand that guy’s chest? Pretty sure. Will this curious hybrid of a film leave you with not only a desire to see more but also a burning, contentious urge somewhere deep inside you? Absolutely.

By Blood

Behind the cold and harsh walls of medieval castle lives a king. He has built a legacy with ruthless violence and bloodshed. But now, when death creeps around the misty hills surrounding the castle, the ill king is faced with burning fear. Are his successors – who have lived in the deep shadows of his success – capable to endure the legacy that he has built? Is he ready to fade away from the honor and accomplishments that are the essence of him?

When the last scene of a French historical drama “Par le Sang” fades into black, we know. We know the pain of a dying king in an era when the king materialized the fortune and the code of the castle and when average life expectancy rarely reached forty. And we know the significance and ache of bloodline flowing amidst the stones, shields, and swords making the reality of the Middle Ages. Writer-directors Jonathan Delerue and Guillaume Enard – the hardworking rising stars of French cinema – take us to the historical tour with cinematically polished way.

The tour starts with a fearful arrival of a dark knight. He stops near the rocky hills of the castle, just in the line of sight for its residents, the king Mort-Lieu and his family. The arrival of a threat amplifies Mort-Lieu’s fear of death and causes conflict within the hierarchical dynamics of the family. And so the artistically beautifully built stage is set for the battle of honor and legacy.

The clearly structured narrative of “Par le Sang” points to the ability of the authors to create strong, straightforward and psychologically precise stories that carry the weight of their historical contexts. The film combines solidly written dialogue with top-notch visuals to vitalize the heavy setting of the era. As the story advances and introduces the stylishly choreographed fighting sequences, the notion that the authors have good control over their vision will be further confirmed. Furthermore, the solidly assembled cast gives an overall good era-specific performance.

Every detail is well put together and has significance to the narrative. For example, the violent acts encapsulate the thoughts and feelings the characters are incapable to communicate in another form, while the beautiful and natural lightning design pinpoints the emotional dynamics of the story. The solid camerawork works sensibly with the lightning design as well as with the clean set design creating absorbingly historical settings. The portrayal of the Middle Ages is therefore familiar but also nuanced.

Although as an historical drama “Par le Sang” lacks socially and politically relevant narrative or thematic connections to the present of the moviegoer, the psychological currents that the characters undergo are recognizable. “Par le Sang” effectively presents the aches of dying patriarch and the agony of a neglected son without being a passive dialogue-heavy stage play. And thereby “Par le Sang” displays the morality of a man of the era with style and detail making it cinematically polished piece of historically and psychologically sensitive filmmaking. With films like “Par le Sang”, the past will never fade away.

Littoral

Littoral translates as close to the shore of a sea or lake, a place that has deep meaning for many people. Many of us make memories on the beach or on the coast of a body of water. Those images and feelings can stay with us throughout our life, and in this film we see that for one woman, her only memories are those of the times she spent next Urmia Lake.

Littoral is an interesting and complex look into the human psyche and the effects of climate change as we watch the lake dry up as the film progresses. The protagonist watches as her treasured childhood memories dry up along with the lake and at points the film is truly heartbreaking. We see how important this place is to the protagonist and the effect it has on her when she realises she barely recognises it. Her only memories are those of her as a child around this lake, and now it faces complete desolation.

The film is profound in it’s portrayal of climate change and what we are doing to our planet. Often it is easy to dismiss the changes that are happening, until they happen to something o somewhere that is personal and meaningful to us. Here the film clever links the topic of climate change to that of a womans’ declining mental health in an intriguing juxtaposition.

The film has a definite style all of it’s own which helps its stand out and deliver it’s message rather than being just another documentary about climate change. It demonstrates the personal effects of the changing planet rather than the wider effects and that makes it all the more touching to watch.

The colouring, editing and cinematography work together to create a film that is stylish and memorable, as well as affecting. The performances are heartfelt and the lead female takes us through all of her emotions on her face as we travel along her journey.

A beautifully captivating film that both inspires and devastates.

Whales

Family dynamics are always an interesting and intricate topic for films, but it can also go hideously wrong if the dialogue or narrative is poorly developed. When making a film that is focused on relationships it is imperative to make those relationships dynamic and well developed, otherwise the film feels flimsy and paper thin. Whales is an example of how to do this perfectly.

The film doesn’t rely on anything other than it’s characters and story, yet the settings are beautiful and the sound/music is understated but beautifully placed to aid emotion and pace. The music is perfectly chosen yet doesn’t detect from the interactions between the characters and their conflict. The rough unstable setting of the coast and sea mirrors the instability and turbulence of the relationships between the three main characters.

The three main characters are dealing with grief whilst also trying to navigate a new dynamic now that the third person has arrived, causing the conflict and rift between them all. Each character deals with their own problems whilst also trying to find out where they sit within this new situation and this is done via excellent dialogue and stellar performances by the three actors.

The production value on the piece is outstanding and each and every scene is shot with aptitude and thought. The whole package comes together to create a piece of film that is intriguing and encompassing. Performances from actors that hold the audience and bring to the surface raw emotion and very real experiences that resonate with the audience.

Whales is a strong narrative driven character study that utilises strong characterisation and well developed plot to investigate relationship dynamics within a unique situation. It avoids all of the usual cliches and tropes to deliver a film that stays with the audience after the credits roll.

Voyeur

It’s quite often the films with a simple concept that are the most impactful, because they are the ones we can so easily relate to. Voyeur takes an incredibly mundane, everyday idea of watching someone through a window and intertwines with something so true and heartfelt that it flips our expectations and turns into something incredibly personal and touching.

Voyeur is the perfect name for this piece. Not only are we, the audience, the voyeurs into the protagonists life but she is a voyeur into her family life at a time when she feels she should have a leading role. She gets snippets of information about her family much as we get snippets of information from the times we see her through the window. A clever way of mirroring story to theme.

The lead actress portrays the role with an ease and reality to the emotion that is endearing and heartfelt. Given that we get little context to the what is happening, and the limited insight we get into her life, the writing is so well done that we still develop a relationship with the protagonist and feel an empathy to her situation, not least because it is presented in a way that the audience can relate to.

The success of this film lies mostly within the simplicity of the way that it is presented. Nothing is put in the way to distract us from the narrative and the lead characters emotions. The whole film relies on the performance and the script, which works. We are drawn into this world from the outside, but what works is that we are kept on the outside. That is what creates the intrigue.

The fact this film deals with such an emotionally wrought topic in such a straightforward manner without overplaying the drama is what makes it so delightful. It doesn’t make an issue out of the topic and instead deals with it isn an honest and relatable way.