Thursday, December 1, 2011
Cinedelphia is a great Philadelphia film website that features an almost constantly updated and very admirable collection of reviews, events, contests, and listings in the Philadelphia area. We were happy to be able to talk to Eric Bresler (the site's founder) about our formation, our goals, and our future.
Check out the interview at: http://cinedelphia.com/meet-shooting-wall/
Thursday, November 24, 2011
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Shooting Wall has posted the first film to our Vimeo page, which is a film by Joshua Martin entitled Deal(s). This film is the launch of a new series of Shooting Wall "commissioned" films (we place commissioned in quotations because, although, we are asking and aiding filmmakers in the creation of these films, we cannot pay them to do so, which is the general meaning of a commissioned film and, hence, the quotation marks around it). This means that Shooting Wall is going to be actively seeking out filmmakers and asking them to create new works for the explicit purpose of being posted and shared on our Vimeo page and then screened at a future Shooting Wall screening or event. We will be asking local filmmakers whom we believe are making the most original, interesting, and forward-thinking cinema to produce films no more than 15 minutes long and will be offering our aid with equipment, casting, production, and post-production. This new series is aimed at bringing together a group of filmmakers we at Shooting Wall believe to be the future of cinema and give them an opportunity to make original works, have support from other filmmakers and artists, and to have a venue in which to have their films screened and promoted. We hope that this series will further our goal of creating a community of like minded critics, filmmakers, theorists, and cinephiles in Philadelphia. Please check out this first work and continue to look for further films. If you are a filmmaker interested in participating in this project, please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Monday, November 14, 2011
Muriel, or The Time of Return (1963) by Alain Resnais: Resnias follow-up to Last Year at Marienbad may appear to be a more subdued and less experimental effort, but Muriel is one of the filmmaker’s most amazing achievements. Whereas in Marienbad and Hiroshima Mon Amour Resnais favored flowing camera movements, baroque set design, and an over the top style, Muriel is more minimal in design, foregoing the ostentatiousness of Marienbad’s camera and mise en scene for an elliptic narrative and a fractured and obscured editing style. Muriel I believe is a far richer and more complex film both visually and thematically than what Resnias had previously made; it is a dense character study, a political film, and a deconstruction of conventional editing and narrative strategies. Muriel is available on DVD via Netflix and Facets.
Two—Lane Blacktop (1971) by Monte Hellman: There is a romanticism in American cinema for the golden age of the 1970s and the “New Hollywood” era; a time when Hollywood actually allowed art films to be produced and made within the mainstream. We at Shooting Wall have already talked about some of the inherent problems with these eras and many of its most famous films. Monte Hellman, however, was one of the few filmmakers who took this freedom and available money from Hollywood and truly made a difficult, dense, engaging, and fascinating film called Two-Lane Blacktop. The film, like all the films from this era that were truly difficult, was a failure and Hellman never got that kind of money or distribution again, but has nevertheless carved out a place in the American cinematic landscape as one of its few true and original outsiders. Two-Lane Blacktop is available in DVD via Netflix and Facets.
Under the Pavement Lies the Strand (1975) by Helma Sanders-Brahms – Like many of the later female filmmakers of the New German Cinema (Ulrike Ottinger, Helke Sanders, etc.), Helma Sanders-Brahms has remained largely unknown in American. Facets has done an excellent job of releasing a number of her early films on DVD including this one, her first feature from 1975. Brahms’ films are an excellent example of the more experimental, less mainstream feminist branch of New German Cinema that emerged in the early to mid- 1970s. The film is available on DVD via Netflix and Facets.
The Seduction of Mimi (1972) by Lena Wertmuller - For a time in the mid-1970s, Lena Wertmuller was the most famous and acclaimed woman in international cinema. For some reason, her status has fallen slightly, but I think she made some of the best international art films in the 1970s and early 1980s. The Seduction of Mimi is a great place to start and it features Wertmuller’s favorite actor, Giancarlo Giannini who would act in all of her best films from this era. The film is part political, part sexual, part farce, and really quite funny throughout. Available on DVD via Netflix and Facets.
Region 2 Pick of the Week:
Portrait of Jason (1967) by Shirley Clarke – A filmed interview with a New York street hustler, drug addict, and all around con man becomes something utterly fascinating and intense in the hands of Shirley Clarke. Jason, the aforementioned street hustler, is the only person on camera for the entire film and he tells stories and answers a barrage of questions from off screen voices as the camera hovers around him in a small New York City apartment. The film is a fascinating character study and a deconstruction of the “interview” and documentary film. Available in Region 2 DVD (even though it’s an American film there is no American DVD release!) via Facets.
Free Movie of the Week:
British Sounds (See You at Mao) (1970) by Jean-Luc Godard and Dziga Vertov Group – Made during Godard’s brief period in England in the late 1960s, British Sounds finds Godard expanding his revolutionary attitudes towards both politics and cinema. The film also shows Godard’s clear break with narrative and mainstream cinema, as well as his fascinating with the creating disharmonious sound and image which he would continue to expand upon throughout his career. British Sounds is a nice introduction of Godard’s revolutionary period a fascinating and complex film. The film can be viewed in its entirety on Vimeo.
Download of the Week:
Fallen (2005) by Fred Kelemen - Fred Kelemen’s (Bela Tarr’s frequent cinematographer) Fallen is a bleak and beautiful film about obsession, loneliness, and moral ambiguity. The film is shot in stark black and white and feature long, unbroken takes. This film got little to no release in the United States when it came out, only popping up at some adventurous film festivals, and has not received a DVD release either. The film is available for download on The Pirate Bay.
Sunday, November 13, 2011
We really would prefer you go pick up the free print version of our latest issue our zine if you're in the Philadelphia area. Get out of your house, be amongst the people, and/or here is where you can find them:
The Wooden Shoe (704 South St)
Bean Cafe (615 South St)
Black Bird (507 South 6th St)
Bohdi (410 South 2nd St)
Ritz Theater at the Bourse(400 Ranstead St)
AKA Music (27 N 2nd St)
The Last Drop Coffee Shop (1300 Pine St)
University of The Arts (On Film/Video floor)
International House (3701 Chestnut St)
Penn Cinema Studies (209A Fisher-Bennett Hall 3340 Walnut St)
Institute of Contemporary Art (118 South 36th St)
Grindcore House (1515 South 4th St)
Temple University- Annenberg Hall (2020 North 13th St)
Cinema 16:9 (35 N Lansdowne Ave Lansdowne, PA)
If you're not in Philly or the spot you went to has run out we'll restock them, let us know via email@example.com.
Thursday, November 10, 2011
Shooting Wall is excited to take part in the Philly Zine Fest to be held at the Rotunda at 40th and Walnut this Sunday, November 13th from Noon-6pm. At 4:30 we will put on a hour long mini-fest featuring the following films from some Shooting Wall members:
“Insurrections” by Carrie Love
It's also a great event to come and see some really cool zines and local groups. Look for our table and come pick up our latest issue!
In this first installment of Best of the Net I wanted to talk about two websites that I have been frequenting lately. This is by no means meant to be an endorsement by all shooting wall members, but just a list of some sites and blogs that I find helpful, illuminating, or otherwise captivating.
Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell (University of Wisconsin) are known for the Film Studies 101 Books: Film Art (1979) and Film History (1994). Their neoformalist approach has alienated the more psychoanalytical and post-structuralist theorists and critics, but I find blog posts to be particularly inspired. The blog, like much of their work, closely examines Classical Hollywood cinema to bring to light their theories on scenic density, fragmentary flashbacks, and Scriptography, among other diverse topics. Bordwell is also regarded as an expert on East Asian cinema and auteurs and his posts, which are neatly organized on the blog, are a good starting point to learn about these lesser known directors.
This newish online film journal is a great place to find contemporary critical and theoretical writing that is both relevant and understandable. What I love about their inaugural issue is that it features filmmakers talking about other filmmakers. I tend to think that the best filmmakers are the ones who are often the best film critics and historians and I always love reading what a director has to say about the works of others. The first issue of "Histories" features Joe McElhaney on his "passion for aging filmmakers, the older the better"; William D Routt's expansive consideration of Lubitsch; Andrew Klevan on "films which put the in-between at their centre"; Luc Moullet, with his irresistible title: "Ah Yes! Griffith was a Marxist!"; Richard Porton on Dušan Makavejev's WR: Mysteries of the Organism (1971); Shigehiko Hasumi: "Stated briefly, my hypothesis is that the medium of film has not yet truly incorporated sound as an essential component of its composition."; Sylvia Lawson on Australian cinema's relationship with the nation's history; Stephen Goddard on the ways we remake our own histories; Darren Tofts's defense of The Song Remains the Same (1976); Adrian Martin himself: "Wenders and Godard define, for cinema's Modern or Modernist period, two trajectories of imaginative, cinematic migration."; Justin Grace on "traversing the various locations of XL: A City Symphony at the International Film Festival of Rotterdam"; Nicole Brenez on FJ Ossang; James Guida on Lucrecia Martel; David Phelps on Jacques Rivette's 36 vues du Pic St-Loup (Around a Small Mountain, 2009); and Elena Gorfinkel on Sandra Gibson and Luis Recoder's exhibition, Light Spill.
Last night we had the pleasure of participating in a community discussion on the origins of independent film societies and their influence on groups like ours and other models of film exhibition and distribution. It was a lively discussion with Jesse Pires (Program Curator at International House) and Caroline Savage (Coordinating Director, Philadelphia Independent Film and Video Association) as well as some greater Philadelphia community members. The discussion was part of the larger series at ICA entitled “Excurus,” described as:
“Excursus is a new initiative at the ICA in which artists, designers, publishers, and other cultural producers whose work engages the archive and publication are invited to create a platform for more intimate programming, alongside an online residency at www.icaphila.org/excursus.
Building on the idea of an excursus (an exposition or digression from a primary text) each invited artist-in-residence will activate and re-imagine both the physical and discursive space of the ICA, creating a hub for reflection on issues related to the exhibitions on view in the galleries.”
This type of truly unique and original programing has become the essence of the Institute of Contemporary Art’s role in the community and we were so delighted to be a part of it in some way. If you haven’t been to ICA in a while, they have some great exhibitions up right now and the future installments of the Excursus program , including a two day pop-up shop and special discussion about KARMA bookshop, which promises to be lively and engaging.
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
I imagine that "some people" would find House of Tolerance to be a a tedious, languid, and possibly plotless mediation on the Parisian bordellos of La Belle Epoque, but I would assume such people did not sit through The Turin Horse, which I had the delight of spending two and a half hours being throughly annihilated by. So in that context, House of Tolerance seems paced fairly rapidly. And, it is starkly beautiful.
I came out of the theater enchanted by the film. I also came out believing that someone had actually made the kind of film that I want to see-- and in my opinion, the kind of film that should be pushed more enthusiastically upon other human beings. House of Tolerance is actually kind of like Moulin Rouge! except it's not a nauseating and irritating musical directed by Baz Luhrmann. House of Tolerance is the film that people who like Moulin Rouge! should like, because it is an intelligent and interesting exploration of the same prostitutes-in-Paris shit, with an equally anachronistic soundtrack.
With that out of the way, the reason I like House of Tolerance is because it is a period piece that doesn't resemble a period piece. A lot of period pieces, remarkably, have the same cloying qualities. They all seem to be shot the same way and paced the same way, and some of them are interesting, but I think the trappings of this genre are really a problem-- spectacle settings and sweeping scores and the alienating sort of melodrama. I mean, sure, Mysteries of Lisbon is a masterpiece, but did it have to be so goddamn... expansive?
House of Tolerance feels contrastingly intimate. All of the girls live in the same in the house, and due to laws involving soliciting, very rarely leave. The only scenes set outside of the house are on their one day off in a rural idyll. It is this intimacy that makes these characters feel like real people who could exist along side us, and not just paragons of days gone by.
The anachronistic soundtrack is also an asset to the film. I find that period pieces can be bogged down by trying very very hard to be true to the period, they can also suffer when the conjured period feels false. Perhaps this film opens with music from the 1960s because Bertrand Bonello wanted to avoid the audience searching for anachronisms-- it seems right off the bat that he obviously does not give a fuck about anachronisms.
Because of all of this, I was able to enjoy House of Tolerance. It freed me from my petty dislike of tiresome epics, and felt fresh and modern despite being set in 1900. Each character has their own quiet plot that moves amongst the men (who are mostly portrayed with flat personalities. This film is not about them.) The shots are interesting, the colors are vibrant, and everything is styled impeccably. It is naturally laden with constant female nudity and sex, so the graphic violence is what draws gasps.The film is a gorgeous fantasy world that is easily broached by the audience. If more films were like this, perhaps House of Tolerance wouldn't sparkle as seductively, but it would be much easier to become lost in and consumed by cinema in general.
Monday, October 31, 2011
Josh’s review of The Turin Horse accurately describes its bleak worldview and austere, pensive tone. Beautiful and ugly, indeed- Tarr here captures the primal, earthy energy which pulses in even the most remote outposts of existence, beautifully captured in the opening shot of a horse straining against the weight of a peasant's cart as the camera floats around it, noting the beast’s heaving muscles and single-minded instinct of forward motion. That this energy of life is slowly drained from the film, eventually denying us even the light needed to see the characters, expresses Tarr’s maddening world-view. All becomes debased and corrupt; even the base peasants who subsist on boiled potatoes will be forced to eat them raw. Death will roam the land, bellowing mercilessly against the few trees and homes still standing. Existence will leave no mark but the crude tools of existence- wooden bowls, spades, extinguished lamps- and the silence of those whose lives were already barren. Light and heat will abandon the earth, plunging all into darkness. This absolute pessimism is so extreme it is sure to alienate most viewers. Yet its uncompromising pursuit is what draws one to Tarr, a unity of philosophy and expression, of such purity that its beauty transcends the misery on screen. On screen- The Turin Horse could only be a film, existing at the nexus of duration and light.
Josh is also right to point out the extreme deprivation of character and event. Yet what is remarkable is that from out of the repetitive staging of the quotidian existence of near-mute peasants on the edge of a nondescript dying world, so many provocative allusions emerge. The material culture represented in The Turin Horse suggests late 19th century eastern Europe, contemporary with the incident from Nietzsche’s life recounted in the film’s opening moments. Yet conspicuous in its absence are symbols of Christianity- no crosses or icons, just a religious commentary the daughter mouths without comprehension. Their pagan existence contrasts with the day by day dwindling of life indicated by title cards. The Turin Horse proceeds as a reverse Genesis, on each day another miracle of life disappears, returning the planet to a state of unanimated mass. God withdraws from his creation, not to cede it to evil, but abandoning it to desolation and stillness- cause or effect? Also highly suggestive is the film’s proximity to the zeitgeist of our contemporary global system in the throes of economic and social crises. As a violent wind howls unceasingly outside, atomized but debased family units huddle in bewilderment in their increasingly unstable homes, fearful of the destruction of all the familiar ways of life yet uncertain of how to change their fate. Outsiders- here gypsies that drink from a well that shortly thereafter goes dry- are inscrutable, evil omens of destruction. How close to the xenophobic hostility to immigrants in our own recession-wracked country Tarr touches in his bleak, obscure fable.
Friday, October 28, 2011
The Tuirn Horse
(Bela Tarr and Agnes Hrantizky)
The Tuirn Horse has been making the rounds the last year or so with the proclamation that it will be Bela Tarr's last film, and I will take Tarr at his word here because he has been steadfast in this statement since he completed this film, though, as a fan, I hope he decides to make more films in future. With that out of the way, The Turin Horse premiered in Philadelphia on an appropriately chilly and rainy night with a decent sized crowd and only a few walkouts (you, unfortunately, always have to expect walkouts during a Bela Tarr film). The film is bleak, dark, spare, and quiet -- bleak even for a Bela Tarr film -- and, as opposed to larger productions like Sanatango and Werckmeister Harmonies it is a rather minimal film indeed. Tarr forgoes his usual large cast of characters and constantly shifting narratives for an intimate film which is mostly comprised of two characters, a father and a daughter, and one location, in and around their tiny brick home. The characteristic black white photography and ultra long and intricate takes are still there, but the scope is much smaller. Tarr seems to have distilled his style down to its essence with this film. There is little dialogue and almost no change in location. Save for maybe a total of 15 minutes of screen time, we are only shown the father and daughter. It feels as if Tarr had wanted to reduce his cinema down to its most bare essentials with The Turin Horse, while still focusing on his essential themes of poverty, human nature, and the fragility and transience of existence. And I think that The Turin Horse does this and it does it well, even though the film may prove to be difficult and repetitive, even for Tarr fans. At times the long takes can feel stifling within the small confines in which the film takes place, but I believe this is intentional and works toward the overall tone and ideas of the film. The film, as the the programmer who introduced it said, is both beautiful and ugly at the same time. The film is not easy, but I do not think it is supposed to be easy. Though I believe the film does and should stand on its own, I think it will work best and be the most enjoyable for those who have experienced the rest of Tarr's work. The Turin Horse is not an epic, but I think it is the work of an artist who wanted to distill their work down to its simplest possible form (and for Tarr I think this is as simple as his films will be in terms of cast, locations, and action) and see what happens. I recommend the most adventurous of film goers out there to spend the first part of their Saturday afternoon with this film. And considering tomorrow is supposed to be even rainier and colder than last night was, I think it will be the apt environment to experience this film. Go check this film out Saturday at 12:00pm at the Ritz Five and enjoy what will hopefully not be the last film by Bela Tarr.
Thursday, October 27, 2011
Gerardo Naranjo's first two films, Drama/Mex and I'm Gonna Explode, had shown him to be one of those most exciting and interesting filmmakers working today, and Miss Bala further confirms this notion. Everyone keeps describing Miss Bala as an action film and while there are elements of a traditional action film (gangsters, drugs, kidnapping, shootouts), nothing in this film is handled as if it were an action film. The film is almost formalistic in its refusal to actually show any of the action. As Karl said, it is an action film that is not interested in the action. The camera stays steadfastly fixed on the main character, Laura, as all of these events happen around here. We hear things happening off camera, but we hardly ever see anything. Naranjo instead offers us complex and oblique long, fluid takes that remain fixed on Laura, her reactions and her trying to get away from these situations or just stay alive. And Naranjo never strays from this device; he doesn't do this in some of the scenes and then lets us see a few actions sequences; we only see fractured bits at certain moments when Laura is running past something. It is because of this refusal to really explore the "action" elements of this so-called action film that makes Miss Bala so interesting and leads me to think of it in formalist terms.
There are far more complex reasons, I think, for Naranjo's consistent focus only on Laura and his refusal to show us the action, and I believe this is really why the film is so successful. Naranjo has made a portrait of Mexican society in the guise of an action film. He is showing us what is happening and how life is in Mexico right now with drug cartels and an overwhelming corruption at all levels. Naranjo focuses on Laura because he is showing how easy it is for someone to get mixed up in all this. Laura isn't from Tijuana by accident; she is from a city in Mexico that is known as the center of the drug cartel wars that have been occurring for some time now. But not only his he showing us how omnipresent the drug cartels are, but also how corrupt these cartels have made almost every aspect of Mexican society. From pageant judges, to small time cops, to government officials, everyone seems to be working for the cartel. Every time Laura tries to do the right thing by telling someone what is happening to her, it backfires because it turns out they work with the cartel. Every single time. Miss Bala is a potent critique of Mexican society, its violence and corruption in the guise of an action film.
If you go into Miss Bala expecting to see an action film (as the badly made trailers may lead you to believe) then you will be disappointed, however, if you go in expecting to see something interesting and different from an incredibly gifted filmmaker then you will be more than rewarded. I hope Miss Bala comes out in Philadelphia because I think people should see it. Though the film is not as good as Naranjo's two previous films, it still shows a filmmaker in command of his art, who knows how to subvert genre, and who has a lot to say.
Naranjo's film is really indicative of what Mexican and other Central and South American films are doing so well right now. These filmmakers are trying to subvert Hollywood genres in every possible way by making bold and stylistic films. Not only are they interested in finding new ways to make films, but they are also making striking films about the countries and societies they are living in. Sometimes these critiques are subtle and sometimes they are obvious, but they are constantly showing us the problems with their countries and societies: the corruption, violence, poverty, and social inequalities that still run rampant. Americans like to pretend none of the above exist in our society and so we don't make films about these things, but we could take a cue from Central and South America.
(Athina Rachel Tsangari)
Speaking of countries that are making the most consistently bold and innovative new films, Greece has landed in the forefront of art house cinema in the last few years first with Dogtooth (Girogos Lanthimos) and now with Athina Rachel Tsangari's brilliant Attenberg. As Karl mentioned in his review, Attenberg is the film of the festival so far. An incredibly original, funny, innovative, and smart film, which takes chances in almost every scene and tries to find new ways to express its ideas. The story, as it were, is simple and as familiar to cinema goers as they come: a woman and her relationship with her best friend, her dying father, and her first love. As far as narrative, that's what the film is about, but the film is so clever and the scenes are so stylish and interesting that it doesn't even matter. Tsangari is using this incredibly simple premise to explore varying cinematic techniques. I could try and write what makes this film so amazing, but it would be difficult to put into words these delightful, absurd, and unexpected moments that happen throughout. And, like Central and South American films, Attenberg also seems to be a protest; a film dealing with Greek society (as Dogtooth also did) and what the younger generation in Greece see as outdated rules and social constructs. I really, really, really hope this film make it to Philadelphia because it is one of the best films of the year and so odd and so original and so funny and so compelling. Attenberg gives us at Shooting Wall hope that a film like this, so steadfastly non-mainstream, can be successful and find an audience.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Markus Schleinzer’s Michael is a well-made, if not entirely original, “thriller” of sorts. The film screened on Friday night at the Philadelphia Film Festival as part of their Graveyard Shift series, which tends to favor genre films, but which also sometimes surprises by slipping in a more esoteric and interesting film that festivals in Philadelphia don’t usually cater to. In the case of Michael, the film could have fit in just as easily anywhere else in the festival if it wasn’t for its subject matter: five months in the life of a pedophile who holds a young boy hostage in his basement. While this may sound sensational, it is handled by Schleinzer with a detached and minimalist tone, which helps imbue the film with an overwhelming sense of tension and unease. This is Schleinzer’s first film; he has worked with many well-known German and Austrian filmmaker as casting director, and the similarities to Haneke are undeniable, particularly Haneke’s late ‘80s/early ‘90s work such as The Seventh Continent and Benny’s Video. Michael, despite its subject matter, is actually more subdued than a Haneke film, which works in the films favor. And what this film lacks in originality as far as story and themes it more than makes up for in cinematography, sound design, and mise en scene. The stark lighting, perfectly composed frames, and naturalist soundtrack work perfectly with the material. Michael is an intriguing and very well made film from a filmmaker who seems to understand how to put together a film.
Former Hal Hartley leading man Martin Donovan steps behind the camera for his first film as writer, director, and star with Collaborator: an interesting if ultimately uneven and, unfortunately not terribly well-written genre hybrid. Donovan’s film is certainly a noble failure, as the film tries to and often does defy its genre conventions, but at the same time it relies a little too heavily on clichéd dialogue and some clumsily handled sequences. The film is a welcome relief from the typical stale American Independent films and Donovan is trying to make something unusual and its tonal and genre shifts are sometimes interesting and even worthwhile, but it suffers the same fate many actor directed films suffer, which is that it becomes too much of an actor’s film, especially during the climactic scene, and doesn’t quite fully explore the conventions it wishes to defy. If more scenes had been well-written and if Donovan had allowed himself to expand on some of his cinematic ideas instead of paying so much attention to the performances, I think this film could have been much more successful than it was. As I said, I think it’s an interesting failure from one of the most intelligent and thoughtful actors around. I would certainly love to see Donovan make another film.
Actor, director, writer Martin Donovan and actor David Morse were on hand for an introduction and Q&A after the film. This was certainly a nice addition and probably helped fill the crowd out (the theater was more packed than I had initially expected). The questions from the audience were typically insightful and uninteresting, but Donovan did his best to answer them with charm and humor, which helped. Even though there was a nice sized crowd, I can’t say they were a particularly great crowd to watch a film at a film festival with. The people behind us sounded like they were on a date and wouldn’t shut up or stop kicking the seats. Several people were gasping at simple plot shifts, which was rather obnoxious. I always figure the best audiences will be at film festivals and then I go and find that in most cases that’s really not true. I am beginning to think that people have forgotten how to watch movies in the theater. Everyone seems to think they are at home on their couch instead of in a dark room with strangers who want you to be QUIET.
Bonsai is yet another film which proves that the most interesting cinema is no longer coming from America and Europe, but from places like Central and South America which were never considered cinematic powerhouses. This is a visually beautiful, narratively adventurous, and subtly executed film about art, love, relationships, and identity. Perhaps I have a soft spot for films about people trying to make art about their own experiences and getting lost in the work, but this film handles its subject and its shifting timeline with a refinement that seems to be lacking in European and American independent film. Jimenez’s shots are wonderfully composed and the elliptic and fractured narrative allows the audience to engage with the film more closely, letting us piece together plot points and ideas as we wish. Bonsai is the kind of cinema I liked to see; a film that doesn’t feel the need to over explain every idea and character, but allows room to breathe and grow with the viewer. Jimenez has proven to be a filmmaker to watch with a keen eye for mise en scene, composition, and elliptic storytelling. I am constantly blown away by South American cinema these days, and I look forward to these films far more than the typical French, American, or Italian fare which often looks and feel like a rehashing of the same bland nonsense. Latin American films are moving beyond the limits placed on them over the last 50 or so years (especially in Chile with Pinochet) and really trying to do something interesting and use storytelling in a new way.
I have to say I was disappointed by the turnout for this film, though. It was on a Sunday at noon, which from my experience hardly ever draws a large crowd. There was not even an introduction from anyone at the festival of any kind. I sometimes feel films like Bonsai get buried in this off time positions and get little or no push from the festival or from local newspapers and magazines. It is sad because I think a film like this is what going to a film festival is all about: a challenging and interesting film from a new director that you probably won’t be able to see in Philadelphia any time soon. I wish there had been more promotion and more people. I hope that people seek this film out, but more likely it will be buried under the rubble of the more well-known films of the festival.
The Day He Arrives
Another oddity from South Korean cinema, The Day He Arrives is a structurally ambitious and unusual film that ultimately does not come together. I found a lot in this film to admire: the long takes, black and white photography, elliptic narrative, and unexplained tonal shifts, but there was a lot about the film that was unappealing. It was a difficult film to find your feet in; it feels like it never really came together all that well. It perhaps relied too heavily on the ambiguous narrative. The film was oddly uncompelling despite its stylistic eccentricities, as much of the dialogue felt flat and underdeveloped. The films is also very male centric, which seems pretty typical of Asian cinema in general, and therefore the women seemed like stereotypes and were completely undeveloped and seemed stiff and one dimensional.
While a film like Bonsai is able to balance its style with its content to create a compelling and engaging film, The Day He Arrives feels a bit like artifice like the filmmaker had some interesting stylistic ideas and quickly threw some scenes together to fit into the odd structure, narrative, and tone. The narrative effect was decidedly Eastern in style and there was a feeling of the story often doubling back on itself, a constant reincarnation of the same story and events. I was interested and slightly intrigued, but ultimately felt very little about this film. I recommend it this film as something unusual and different from what you may typical see, but overall I find it to be a failed experiment.
Like Bonsai, The Day He Arrives was on a Sunday afternoon and the turnout at was mediocre for a film you surely won’t be seeing at the Ritz anytime soon. Again, there was no introduction and the audience was subjected to an endless loop of the festival trailer and corporate sponsor for twenty minutes before the film began; I am surprised no one shot themselves in the face having to watch the same cheesy trailer over and over again. I don’t understand the way festivals seem to give complete precedence to some of their films over others.
-JOSH and CARRIE
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
In the theater at the Ritz East there was no effort made by anyone to tip-toe around the fact that everyone filling a seat was there to see the pedophile movie. It was nearly impossible for anyone to sit there completely unaware of the content of the film. Everyone there had made the choice, for some reason or another, to watch a film about a pedophile locking a young boy in his basement. It's safe to say that everyone there had some sort of expectations for the film. I went in expecting to be made uncomfortable-- but the downfall of Michael is in the build-up. The eponymous Michael is no Humbert Humbert, and any discomfort brought about by the film is due to the sterile stereotyping and not to any Lolita-esque relatability. The film has a few notably poignant scenes-- but ultimately it is neither shocking nor endearing, and falls short of the build-up that it is both.
MICHAEL is another film in the Dogtooth style that utilizes sparse dialogue and steril shots with a dry, mostly neutral palette. It seems to be trying to give you the impression that it is an objective view of this everyday pedophile and, in a way, it does. There's practically no music and little tension, so it's not like watching Law & Order in which the suspect is either handsome and glib or dweeby and creepy but still menacing. In Michael, the film still portrays the title character as dweeby but he's also practically innocuous. He's literally impotent at times. At one point Michael is watching a slasher film and when the the killer puts forth the dreadful proposition to his victim, "This is my cock and this is my knife, which do you want in you?", Michael giggles. In the next scene while seated at the dinner table with the boy he's keeping hostage, Michael stands up and pulls out his small, unerect penis and then picks up a butter knife and repeats the line back to the boy. Thus is Michael's life.
The film is mostly enjoyable although a bit dry. There are a few moments of tension, mainly at the end following a twist I won't ruin but if you look hard enough you can see it coming from the beginning. Michael does not empathize with others and does not understand anyone around him. During the aforementioned dinner scene, he does not seem to realize that his position with the child is exactly the same as that of the killer in the film. When he gets a promotion he throws a party at the office, but he spends the entirety of it serving people drinks and food and then awkwardly backing away without further comment. In conversations with other people he gets up and leaves, or the scene simply ends when someone begins talking about their own life. The film wants to engage you on some level, but it mostly wants you to spend the majority of the time thinking about what is going on in Michael's head and it's trying to explicitly tell you with every cut, every odd action of his, and every word he actually chooses to say. He has almost complete control over the kid, and he does over you until near the end of the film when he loses it and we finally see outside of him.
I do believe that this film can be relatable if you put yourself in the right frame of mind. Jill told me that before I came in that the person introducing said that the film is extremely uncomfortable to watch. The only reason I can find for that is that you may find yourself in similar situations with parents, at work, and in other social situations. And the way he hides this boy in a locked up room in the basement and how mechanical the routine for sex with him is, it almost seems like masturbation. I suppose that is one way the film's technique could be seen as objective. It does not make the pedophile a monster, just an awkward pervert like the rest of us.
Monday, October 24, 2011
This is just some notes I took on the film. We'll add more once other members of the collective see the film tomorrow. I'm just doing this because this film does some interesting things, but walking away from the screening I wasn't fully sure what to feel, even after a couple hours of rumination. Yet, these couple points might sell you on checking out the film. One I hope, even if I come to not fully embrace the film, will come to the Ritz theaters.
*Film comprised of a series of steadicam longtakes (similar to Alfonso Cuaron but with the grace of Wong Kar Wai) that are so planned out and put together in a precise way that the whole visual design make this film so strange and surreal
*Naranjo is one of the foremost autuers in Mexico at present. He definitely knows what he is doing, at least in a formalist sense, in his past films and this one.
*Amazing cinematography/visually striking scenes in the dark. A few scenes happen with little to no light, it is really innovative, so we get black silhouettes against black. Our eyes get to adjust and it is such a simple, but daring move to do cinematographically.
*The film's focus, seemingly about a gal that gets caught up in a Mexican cartel, is something more than that. It is trying to hone in on something, at times intensity of the scene, other times the humanity of the protagonist, etc., there is something larger going on.
*We technically follow the main character through out. In the beginning we're not given much of her personality, then it is seemingly posited and also forged through out. This style of lack of exposition, letting us put it together, is well done.
*Gave me the feeling of Jacques Audiard's A Prophet.
We're a collective, so I would like to talk about this more when we all see it because it is one of those films that I can't tell if a lot is going on or a little. Maybe it is the whole drug dealer narrative that is throwing me off, but I'll sit with a film a bit and just come back to it later.
(Athina Rachel Tsangari 2011)
This film blew me away. It reminded me of My Live To Live meets Dogtooth. It is a absurd anthropological portrait-removed at times and intense at others-of where the 21st century is going, along with a comment on the repression that has to be dominant within Greek culture.
The cinematography is beautiful in its minimalism. This works well with the darkness and dead pan of the story and actors. There are shots, like the poster above, that are so clever and interesting-yet incredibly simple-that you're angry as a filmmaker for never considering doing them.
There is also a Antononi-influenced focus on architecture that is unique. The protagonist's father is an architect who critiques modernism throughout the film-amongst the simple stone ancient homes in the film's characters aging small desolate beachtown-to a daughter who lives life like a postmodern nihilist that sarcastically states, when she isn't too busy deconstructing things until even the simple seems complex, that she is one of the last modernists. This relationship with her father is the dominant thread in the film, events outside of it add to a layered metaphor that her father, what he says and what he is going through, stands for. It is a metaphor that is so specific to our current moment, walking away from this film you have so much to unwrap, from the political to the sociological to the philosophical, this film will stay with you for sometime.
This film is also a journey that is an intellectual ride that knows when to take a break and just make us laugh. These Greeks really know what they're doing. While at the same time doing so much with so little, this film and stuff coming out of that country are the types of films we at Shooting Wall have been making and want to see more of.
It is highly suggested you run out to see this film tomorrow night at the Ritz Five at 10pm.
Sunday, October 23, 2011
This film just seems to be an excuse to see a 'attractive' 20-something white woman nude for 2 hours. Suggesting that the film is trying to be a polemic against white male patriarchy or sexual submission wouldn't even be accurate if the film was made during the second wave of feminism in the 1970's or even really in 1950's. The topics really have just already been covered and done by other filmmakers in much more challenging and critical ways (Breillat).
This film is coming out in Philadelphia in December/January. Skip it then and at this festival.
Friday, October 21, 2011
Greetings Soldiers and Cinephiles,
It is October in Philadelphia and that means it is time once again for the latest installment of the Philadelphia Film Festival. Shooting Wall has a press pass for this year's festival, and we plan on some pretty extensive coverage this year. Our coverage will consist of reviews of films, but we are also going to be going a little be further by covering the festival itself. This means we are going to be writing pieces about how well these screenings are organized, projection (quality, digital or film, etc), Q&A, short films programmed with features, prices, and film selections. Our aim here is to offer, as Shooting Wall often does, an in-depth analysis of the industry of film festivals, which we already wrote about on the blog during last year's festival and in Issue #2 of our zine. I recommend all our readers look back over the article The Failures of American Film Festivals as an introduction to Shooting Wall's feelings on the subject.
I want to use this opportunity for a brief overview of the 2011 Philadelphia Film Festival and the films Shooting Wall is recommending people actually go see. To start, I offer the same criticism of the festival as last year, which is that is is too expensive. $12 a ticket and no student discount seems incredibly steep, and it shows who the audience for this festival is. Not many people can afford to fork over $12 a ticket to see a lot of films; many people don't have the finances for that. There are some ticket deals, such as 6 tickets for $60, which is an okay deal, but not a great deal especially considering if you buy this package you are required to go to the main festival box office to pick up this pass and then obtain your tickets in person, which isn't all that convenient really. Certainly you could spend $350 for an unlimited pass, but should cinema really cost this much money? Shooting Wall thinks that it shouldn't. The second and probably most significant gripe I have with the festival and with the majority of festivals the size and scope of the Philadelphia Film Festival is their lack of original programming. The majority of the films being shown this (and most) years are films that have been making the festival rounds for the last year or so; a good percentage, in fact, just premiered at the New York Film Festival. Not only that, there are so many films premiering that will be opening in Philadelphia almost immediately after the festival ends. Melancholia, Le Havre, and A Dangerous Method, to name three, already have release dates for Philadelphia. Why then should I waste $12 on seeing this films when if I wait a week or two I can see them more cheaply at the Ritz? It doesn't really make sense to me. The main films of this year's festival fall into this category; Shame, Kid with a Bike, Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life, Jeff, Who Lives at Home, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Le Havre, A Dangerous Method, Melancholia, My Week with Marilyn, will all play in Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Film Festival obviously assumes people don't go to film festival to see the most original, interesting, and cutting edge films which they cannot see elsewhere, but merely go see films they have already heard of a week or two before their friends. This, I do not believe, is the purpose of a film festival, at least not a festival like this one. And I am not saying I don't recommend some, if not all, of the above films that I have mentioned as many of them are probably going to be quite good, however, I just don't understand why I need to spend more money to see them a week before everyone else. My contention is that what makes a festival interesting is the diversity and originality of their programming. I want to find the films that won't make it to the theater in my city. I want the most difficult, original, and cutting edge films which can only find an audience among dedicated cinephiles at film festivals. I do not think there are very many of these film festivals in the United States anymore.
With all that out of the way, this year's festival line-up is decent, despite the originality, there are some films that probably won't make it to Philadelphia and not because they are too difficult or too esoteric to find an audience here, but because there seems to be a quota of goods films that are allowed to come to Philadelphia each year, which is sometimes not very high. I also want to mention that I think the relatively strong schedule of this year's festival compared to last year's has little to do with the festival programmers, but more to do with the fact that this year happens to be one in which a lot of the best filmmakers have films coming out. I believe this to be the case because even in the worst possible year for film, really creative and committed programmers could create a great film festival, but the Philadelphia Film Festival is not such a festival and if there aren't a lot of great films by well-known filmmakers out, then the festival won't be good.
I also have to say that the American films and the local Philadelphia films playing this year look pretty atrocious. Are these supposed to be indicative of what is happening in cinema in America and in Philadelphia? If so, we are in a lot more trouble than I ever imagined.
Below are the films Shooting Wall recommends for people to see at the film festival. These are films which we think either will not be released in Philadelphia or have very little chance of being released here. As far as the ones mentioned above, save your $12 and go see them in November and December at the Ritz for less money (almost half the price on Wednesdays).
Attenberg by Athina Rachel Tsangari
Bonsai by Cristián Jimenez
Collaborator by Martin Donovan
Corpo Celeste by Alice Rohrwacher
The Day He Arrives by Sang-soo Hong
The Fairy by Bruno Romy and Fiona Gordon
Habemus Papam by Nanni Moretti
House of Tolerance by Bertrand Bonello
Michael by Markus Schleinzer
Miss Bala by Gerardo Naranjo
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia by Nuri Bilge Ceylan
The Turin Horse by Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky