Monday, October 31, 2011

Festival Review #11: More Thoughts on the Turin Horse

Further Thoughts on The Turin Horse by Ben Webster

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

Festival Review #10: The Turin Horse

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

Festival Review #9: Further Thoughts on Miss Bala and Attenberg

Miss Bala

(Gerardo Naranjo)

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

Festival Reviews #8: Various


(Markus Schleinzer)

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.


(Martin Donovan)

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.


(Cristian Jimenez)

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

(Sang-soo Hong)

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.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Philadelphia Film Festival #7: Michael

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.

-Jill Hackney

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.

-Rob Mugge

Philadelphia Film Fest #6: Melancholia

Something odd happened as I entered the lobby of the theater. I had just passed the huge line of people waiting outside to get into Lars Von Trier's Melancholia, waving my press badge thru the air with pompous arrogance as I proceeded to be amongst the first sat in the theater for this sold-out Sunday night screening. In the lobby, a woman had stopped me dead in my tracks, asking 'What is Shooting Wall?' and 'What are your intentions at this Fest?' to which I explained our aspirations, one of which is to write in-depth reviews of the films we've come to watch. She asked if I was planning to write an in-depth review of Melancholia, to which I replied Yes, of course. She told me if that's the case, then I cannot see the film. I was confused. This woman was from the film's distribution company.

If I were to be writing anything about this film, I would have to summarize the 2 hours and 10 minutes of it within a "capsule review." She had told this to me very politely. If my intention was to write more than a few sentences, my ass would rather be promptly sat on the street with the rats instead of sat before the screen amongst my fellow filmgoers. My heart was invested in the film; I had very much wanted to experience it personally after watching the trailer several times, therefore I felt no need to defend the freedom of the press; instead what I'd done was oblige the woman, and she guided me into the theater, telling me I'm in for quite an interesting ride.

This is a puzzle film. Yes, it's puzzling why the distributor won't allow me to write a real analysis of it, but I moreso speak of the goings-on within the film - many mysterious things happening all thru, nothing explained in a normal way, hardly any exposition, all of these mysteries piling on top of one another to create a puzzle that will leave heads being scratched, a film to think upon with diligence for hours or even days after being witnessed.

Could it be a personal request from Von Trier himself to keep his film a secret? Although I'm unsure if I would suggest entering it without knowing anything, as the film's tedium will surprise you. But I wonder if people knew too many details about the film, if that would really hinder their decision to go see it? No matter the answer, if this really has been the filmmaker's decision, then I wish him all the luck in getting his film to be popular, as I do support such a concept. I do want a film like this to succeed, as it's very artful and has enough oddities about it that could be interesting to a fairly wide audience and spark long as they aren't written on the internet before the official release date of November 11th.

So, a woman from the distributor greets me at the front door with a warning of what I can and cannot write about Melancholia. Whether this be a method for attempting the great feat of protecting the mystery of the film, or something besides what I've been guessing, all I can do is oblige the woman, oblige Von Trier, oblige whoever made this seemingly crazy decision. In fact, if I wrote a formal analysis, all I would end up doing is listing every individual mystery in the film, and right next to each listed mystery, I would ask, 'What??' And that wouldn't be fun for anybody.

Even if I did fully understand the mystery of Melancholia, it's something worth discussion only amongst those who have also had the experience. It's easiest just to see the film personally, that way you get the experience of this "grand" and "masterful" puzzle, to try wrapping your head around it, which is what I'm still in the middle of attempting. The film has left me thinking, and it's a very specific type of thinking, a refreshing type of thought process, which can't be caused by reading any words in any review; it only comes after seeing the film with your own eyes and ears. It's boring, but interesting in many parts, in many ways, and I have faith that if I keep trying to solve the mystery, every part of the film which bored me, will no longer be what I remember the most. I would rather take pride in the meaning.

- Jon Seidman

Hunters in the Snow, a perfect view of civilian life

Monday, October 24, 2011

Philadelphia Film Fest #5: The Kid with a Bike

The house was packed for this and I arrived late so I had to sit in the front, the first time I've ever watched a movie from the front row - it's really not that bad; try it if you never have before. It was more relaxing than I thought and I felt way more immersed in the screen as I wasn't distracted by bright EXIT signs and people leaving their chairs to take a shit from eating 2 tubs of popcorn (the trick is to sit at the end of the row, so you can lean up against the wall and fully relax).

Sadly, I was unable to get my fix for the Hollywood blockbuster by the Fest's strange decision to cancel Sunday's screening of Roland Emmerich's Anonymous, so instead of learning about the mastery of the English language, I was stuck seeing yet another film from France - that would be the Dardenne Bros' The Kid with a Bike.

From the trailer, the film looked like it could be bittersweet bullshit, so sitting in the theater I was hoping someone would introduce it by telling us more about it. The introducer, a man, the chancellor of the Fest or something, basically pumped us up by saying it was a "darling at Cannes!" and "this film won't come out for months!" And that was it. I mean, come on, tell me about the film, please. I'd especially like to learn who are the Dardenne Bros and about their previous work.

Well, the audience seemed enthused so I suppose that was enough for me. It's always nice to be part of a well-tuned crowd of people.

Oftentimes when I watch films with strong leading men and if the film is really good I leave the theater and spend the next few days practicing how to be like those men until ultimately I fail and give up - the beautiful thing about cinema, tho, is that with more films, I can always be offered more chances to emulate the strength I see in others, even if they are only fake people living in a fake world; this encouragement is one of the main things I enjoy receiving from cinema. I'm glad to say Kid with a Bike has been one of those films for me, although this time I was inspired not by a leading man, but by a little boy with a bike who's roughly half my age.

The strength in this character is extraordinary by itself. Frankly, I'm a bit frustrated with kid characters in other movies, to always have to see them resorted to side roles that barely mean anything, as the kid is either weak and defenseless or extremely uninteresting; other times, when the kid is in a lead role like in a kid's film (I don't even know why I'm going to critique this but I will) the kid is just an over-the-top asshole.

What a great thing Kid with a Bike has done - make an adult film with a little boy in the lead, strong-willed, determined and looking for answers, extremely independent and frequently defends himself against any opposition, all for the sake of realistic goals that nobody can blame him for trying to reach; it reminded me of my own childhood (although I wasn't half the man this kid is) but as the film is handled with maturity I watch it at 23-years-old and think nothing less than what this kid means to me now. I was reminded of how heavily I cried during De Sica's The Children Are Watching Us - the lead boy's quest in that film not dissimilar from Kid with a Bike; thru all tribulations, the emotion felt on my behalf is only caused by the reality of the boy's struggle, as each event puts our boy in more danger but which makes him more determined. Credit especially goes toward Thomas Doret who played the kid with a bike; it takes a concentrated actor to pull off such a busy part - this youngster had done so very well and could go on to become a very interesting actor.

It's certainly not the bittersweet bullshit I expected. The Dardenne Bros seem more interested in straightforward storytelling, and as someone unfamiliar with their work, I'm glad this has been the film to introduce me, as I thoroughly enjoyed the simplicity of their style.

I loved the use of music, a good example of the film's simple nature. It's never really used during scenes to make you cry or feel anything toward what's happening on screen, it's basically only used during transitions, and only several times thru the entire film, and it's only ever one song - that is Beethoven's "Emperor Concerto," and what we hear of it is only a few beautiful bars at a time; pitch perfect notes of the violin.

The camera moves just as the characters do, but thru all the numerous chase scenes, I never feel the need to throw up, never once feel like the director is grabbing my collar and shaking me until my head feels as tho it's about to pop; the action is captured with competence, steady but never leaving the pandemonium of the moment, very keen and lean, a fantastic use of [steadicam], brings us into the hectic pace of it all without causing nausea, only causing what's important - intrigue. Moments of serenity are another occasion, the most notable being a single shot that comes toward the end, where the kid is riding his bike at night - down the street he goes, the camera right there beside, persistently following his speed, the background perfectly blurred, the kid stands out as he flies thru space, the only noise coming from the bike's gears. We watch this for about a half minute. It's goddamn beautiful.

I like this film. Sure, there's not that much of a heavy meaning here, and it's really nothing De Sica and other filmmakers haven't already explored, but the compentency of Kid with a Bike offers what I thought was an enjoyable experience to live this boy's life for an hour and half, even if it's undesirable how some of his days progress, it's no matter, I escaped into this world and it's left me thinking about life in general, always a good thing.

- Jon Seidman


OK, so after some issues with who was hosting our podcast, we finally figured it out. 

You can get the 1st podcast, our latest 2nd one, and also subscribe here.

Our 2nd podcast contains:
An interview with Doug Sakmann about his now closed 941 micro-cinema, audio from our Show & Tell of Luc Moullet's Les Sieges de Alcazar, and an interview with local filmmaker Dante Aleman.



(Gerardo Naranjo 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.



(Aki Kurasmaki 2011)

This film is unique because it approaches a popular topic at present, globalization, but does so in a way outside the realist camp with their films District 9, Sin Nombre, etc. Somehow this film blends a romanticism with Kurasmaki's established deadpan minimalist style. The film's existentialist banality is interspersed with moments of simple and joyous humanity.

The main thing that I want to comment on as to not ruin the film for you, seriously, go see this one at when it comes to the Ritz Theaters in November, is Kurasmaki's challenges to his own cinematic methodologies. His formalism, for example, in this film and in his others contains shots that are stripped of eccentricity and can be harshly lit, yet their is still a beauty in what is presented. In Le Havre it consists of cold blues that match the grayness of the port town the main character lives in. Yet, in this film, unlike some of the man's other films, Kurasmaki attempted to test his aesthetic via including short bursts of surreal and non-motivational lighting and color.

Then his deadpan existential Bresson influenced technique was also advanced. The film has precise moments of Bresson-ian 'model' acting intermixed with moments of absurd extreme emotionality. This, contrasted with his testing of his classic visual style, in a film about the human condition gives you the audience member a rewarding challenge. All together it makes for Kurasmaki at his height.

This film was really enjoyable. It tests so much of what can be done with film. We highly suggest it. 


Sunday, October 23, 2011


(Julia Leigh 2011)

Sleeping Beauty is really terrible. One of those films that pushes well done cinematography that comes from nowhere because there is nothing in the script to call for it. Everything is so over composed, even the mise-en-scène is properly aligned in the frames. The lighting is over done, harsh whites contrasted with vibrant colors and darks just for the sake of it. The cinematographer, Geoffrey Simpson, along with the literal army of art direction (this film had a set designer, art director, and set director), made this film remotely viewable, so it is really the only thing that can be commented on, being that the story is devoid of anything thought provoking.

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).

Julia Leigh shows us sexual submission, she shows us white male patriarchy, she shows us a girl who is promiscuous, she shows us a girl having desire, she shows us a girl who kind of feels guilt about sex in a manner that isn't heightened or deafened- just matter a fact and obvious. The movie doesn't let us think or really wants us to, but knows it is well shot fluff for those who think this film-really akin to hanging out in a art class while some stereotypically beautiful model that takes their clothes off in a class run by a teacher (Leigh) who thinks they're radical for making such a thing happen-possibly could constitute some sexual radicalism. It also like someone saw Eyes Wide Shut, but then proceeded to make a fully empty film.

This film is coming out in Philadelphia in December/January. Skip it then and at this festival.


Friday, October 21, 2011

2011 Philadelphia Film Festival

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).

Recommended Films:

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


Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Our new podcast is now out, subscribe here. It has audio from our last Show & Tell event of Luc Moullet's Les Sieges de L'Alcazar, an interview with Doug Sakmann about the demise of the 941 cinema, and a very unique interview with local filmmaker Dante Aleman.

We are doing some screenings at City Hall on Tuesdays, you should definitely come out. Next Tues Oct 25th we're going to play Jacque Tati's Playtime.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Shooting Wall Zine, Issue #3

Here it is. Our hard work has paid off and we've put it up for your viewing. Containing 12 articles and 6 columns, it's our largest, most diverse and spectacular publication so far. Expect more content-driven stuff from us in the future, and feel free to think about contributing articles and art work to us for our next issue, which we will begin working on soon for it to arrive sometime around the New Year. For now, enjoy Issue #3!

Shooting Wall Issue 3

Friday, October 14, 2011

REMINDER: Saturday October 15th Shooting Wall Release Party

This is a reminder to everyone that our release party is happening tomorrow night (Saturday October 15th) at 6pm. This is going to be the film event of the year.

Oct 15th 6pm-8pm
Broad Street Ministry 315 S Broad St.

We will be releasing onto the world the epic 3rd issue of our cinema zine containing many unique pieces of film theory and criticism. Then, we'll screen our first omnibus film, This is Shooting Wall, in which 6 local filmmakers made short films inspired by the theme of 'Sacco and Vanzetti.' This event will be attended by some of the most mobilized members of Philly's film and art community.

Admission and light refreshments will be FREE.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Here is a link to some more photos of the event. We successfully played a film that suggested that it is "more complicated" than we think to just occupy a place, work with the mainstream left, to be a woman worker, etc., right onto City Hall in a constructively critical fashion. Quite possibly the real way this film was supposed to be projected and seen. The film also, in terms of aesthetics, directly connected to the visuals going on at Occupy Philly. The banner you can see below in the flier existed also at City Hall. And our post-film discussion eluded to the film, but also interestingly broke out into wider Occupy Philly strategy, which was our intention with the film. We should be doing this every Tuesday at 9pm at the same spot, would appreciate to see some new faces to discuss the films and grow as revolutionary people through the power of the cinema.

Just to portray a unique moment before we played the film here. It was sometime after it was time to talk at their general assembly, but we were taking over the PA system that had the earlier assembly's mic to play Tout Va Bien. We then decided, after hearing what wanted to be said over the PA, to let them speak before we played the film. Two passionate speakers than went on for several minutes each in tirades against some new revelations from City Hall via a letter they just received in which they called for demands. A large crowd, some surely there prior to see the film, others running over to hear what the dissent from the mic was about, crowded around the speakers, and next to them a projector throwing a 60 foot paused Tout Va Bien on City Hall. The second and last speaker, a Cindy Milstein, ended her speech few minutes of political oration with "...and if they want to give us demands, we'll give them demands! And now a very important film about people taking power for themselves!" And as she walked off stage, we pressed play, and gave us one of the best introductions ever. 

To keep up with future stuff we'll do a City Hall and all our events which are the same as what we did last night, you can join our FB group, which is the best way to keep up with our events and get involved with our collective or you can bookmark our eventbrite page.

Although Shooting Wall is not a political outfit, we believe in the creation of community and the liberation of art/film art. Currently we live in a time that doesn't foster the creation of either. We also just really love left radical cinema, even if some of us in our ranks are not politically active or are not left wing. That said, there is no better group in this city to play some revolutionary films. 

Going to be projecting around 9pm onto the front of City Hall on the 15th & Market side.

Saturday, October 8, 2011


As a DIY collective we never charge for events and prefer to work with people that do the same (if they work with film and they primarily work with digital materials) from the standpoint of trying to be the most tactically viable in bringing the best film-that was made and will be made-to as many people as possible, especially in an age of video uploading, torrenting, etc.

Our system of doing things is getting ever more fine tuned, the next couple months then are going to be pretty big for us and the
film community in this city. 

The main thing we want to push is our Release Party Oct 15th 6pm-8pm @ Broad St Ministry (Eventbrite + Facebook). We're going to network with some of the mobilized filmmakers, art theorists, and those who want to be apart of an film/arts community over food and drink. During this we're going to drop the 3rd issue of the theoretical organ of our collective, our zine. After we will play our first omnibus film This Is Shooting Wall, in which 6 local filmmakers (a majority SW members) all made short films based on the theme of 'Sacco And Vanzetti.' Should be a unique night in the annals of film history. 

We're hard at work on our 2nd podcast and this time we got someone audio-based to design/edit it. It will be released the day of the release party and will have audio from our last Show & Tell event, an interview with Doug Sakmann about the demise of the 941 micro cinema, and a very unique interview with local filmmaker Dante Aleman (and you can see his month of amazing October events him and his wife organizes here).

Subscribe to the podcast.

Shooting Wall will be apart of a Zine Reading at the Wooden Shoe. We will preview some selections from our 3rd issue a day before it is released. Come out to support underground activities. 

As a collective we'll be descending onto the film festival October 20th-November 2nd like a critical menace with the aim of understanding the mainstream festival. Shortly on this blog and also at our release party we'll announce a list of a few films we think you should check out at the festival. During the festival expect almost daily posts on this blog. Then after the festival we'll have a wrap-up podcast.

Shooting Wall is a non-political outfit, but the aims of the Occupy movement fit into ours of a liberated commons. In our case, we believe in the liberation of art, especially film art. So to bring political discussion to the revolutionaries at Occupy Philly we'll be creating an outdoors micro-cinema and we'll be showing weekly to bi-weekly night screenings of revolutionary films. 

Now this is just October, we have already announced two events for November, but a 3rd will be announced at the release party. You can check out all our events here and you really should join our Facespace group if you read this blog, there we announce events, discuss things we should do, and you connect with local filmmakers and cinephiles to get help with projects and things.

Monday, October 3, 2011

DVD Recommendations


Mala Noche (1986) by Gus van Sant - Gus van Sant's first feature is a little seen gem and early precursor to both the indepdendent films movement and the queer film movement of the 1990s. Not as wildly audacious as Drugstore Cowboy or My Own Private Idaho and not as formally rigid as Elephant or Last Days, but Mala Noche is an excellent low budget first feature from one of the most consistently interesting American filmmakers. Criterion released an excellent edition of this film on DVD. Available from Netflix and Facets.

Written on the Wind (1956) by Douglas Sirk - I don't know if people still watch Douglas Sirk films, but if they don't, they should, and this is one of his best works and a great introduction to the gaudy, soap opera melodramas Sirk became known for in the 1950s. Sirk was a master of mise en scene and managed to elevate the most melodramatic scripts to art and has remained an important influence for filmmakers as diverse as Kenneth Anger and Todd Haynes. Available on DVD from Netflix and Facets.

The Captive (2000) by Chantal Akerman - One of Chantal Akerman's more recent features is also a haunting, minimal, and beautiful film. This films proves Akerman still knows how to make interesting and daring cinema. Highly recommended. Available on DVD on Netflix and Facets.

Old Joy (2006) by Kelly Reichardt - If anyone missed Kelly Reichardt's subtle and lovely Old Joy a few years ago, I highly recommend checking this one out. This was her return (of sorts) to mainstream filmmaking and the limelight and from this film onward she has been making masterpieces. Available on DVD on Netflix and Facets.

Region Pick of the Week:

Take Care of Your Scarf, Tatiana (1994) by Aki Kaurismaki - One of Aki Kaurismaki's short, small, black and white films, Take Care of Your Scarf, Tatiana is pure Kaurismaki: deadpan, ironic, funny, hip, and filled with rock and roll. This and most of Kaurismaki's film are available in Region 2 DVD which can be rented from Facets.

Free Movie of the Week:

Gasman (1997) by Lynne Ramsay - A short film by Scottish filmmaker Lynne Ramsay made two years before he excellent first feature Ratcatcher. The 15 minute film can been seen on YouTube.

Download of the Week:

Death by Hanging (1968) by Nagisa Oshima - Oshima's most Bretchian and most formally inventive and absurd film, Death by Hanging is a masterpiece of 1960s political and art house cinema and one Oshima's best films. You can download from Pirate Bay.

Sunday, October 2, 2011


Oct 15th 6pm-8pm 
Broad Street Ministry 315 S Broad St.

We will be releasing onto the world the epic 3rd issue of our cinema zine containing many unique pieces of film theory and criticism. Then, we'll screen our first omnibus film, This is Shooting Wall, in which 6 local filmmakers made short films inspired by the theme of 'Sacco and Vanzetti.' This event will be attended by some of the most mobilized members of Philly's film and art community. 

Admission and light refreshments will be FREE.