Godfrey Cambridge gives such a magnetic, pitch-perfect performance that really makes this film a highly infectious farce that is pointed, playful, and provocative - particularly for a studio film. Watermelon Man feels like an important film for Van Pebbles's progression as an artist, resting at the fulcrum between Three-Day Passes more spontaneous, french new wave sensibilities and the polemic, exploitation stylings of Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. Bridging the gap between the two, so to speak, Watermelon Man is cutting, yet the comedic facade feels in retrospect as if Peebles intended to use farce to elicit social awareness on issues of race and after having the little impact. despite it being a studio film, his interest in sculpting something comforting for white America in the hope of creating a sense of mutual understanding slowly dissolved into pure polemics, and to be clear, rightfully so. Watermelon Man is just so rich in its social commentary. Van Peebles was such a maverick whose impact still reverberates today.
Appreciate how minimalist Valdimar Jóhannsson's vision is here, both in general conception and formal execution. There is minimal exposition, not much dialogue in general, and the conceit is so absurd yet performed and presented with such steadfast assurance that it all manages to work for me. Tonally monotonous but I'd argue effectively executed, Lamb's auditory and visual assembly project a consistent sense of unease - the omnipresence of the natural vistas of Iceland enshroud the subjects at the center of this story in which physical isolation symbolizes the emotional desolation formed out of loss, grief, and as we come to learn, deception. The underlying character dynamics are so quietly rendered. I wouldn't call it ambiguous but confident in the audience to piece things together about the past trauma and the deceptions spawned by loss. A victim of its own marketing and the expectations therein, Lamb is not really a horror film in the traditional sense but an ethnographic fable, a folk tale in which deceit and injustice come home to roost for our main heroine whose unjust actions were spawned out of her inability to accept the grander designs of nature.
Elemental, survival horror which beautifully illuminates the depths of depravity humankind is capable of in order to save their own skin. Set in the deep marshes of a war-torn Japan, the primitivity of Onibaba's environment encapsulates the primal impulses of humanity it aims to elucidate. Shindō's command of expressionist lighting, general formal precision, and chaotic grammar enraptures his characters in a nightmarish natural world that feels anything but, yet everything that transpires, all the depravity which unfolds is spawned by man. Onibaba posits egoism as a force that slants towards nothing but self-attainment and preservation, and these internal impulses are juxtaposed with War - the collective manifestation of depravity second to none. What jumped out to me revisiting Onibaba is how it can be seen as a stark, anti-war film. The corrosive effects we see on the psyche of these characters spawned by the experience of war and the toll it takes on the land, the mind, and the body
The collective ennui which permeates throughout Vecchiali's distinct and transfixing The Strangler transcends well beyond its familiar serial killer narrative framework to deliver what I can only describe as an existential investigation into the interconnectivity of desire and despair that perceptively exhibits the grand delusions we often construct cognitively in an effort to make sense of non-sensical material reality. Masterfully playing with perspective, Vecchiali's rigorous cinematic grammar allows him to explore affect from an angle that is largely detached from ethics, exploring how morality itself can be quite intangible. The cold, mechanical precision of the film's formal designs and oscillating perspectives elucidate a feeling of existential longing, one in which every disparate individual feels connected by this omnipresent force. I don't feel like The Strangler is concerned with politics or any form of social critique, instead it aims to encapsulate our collective existential struggle, one that is influenced both by our internal perceptions and our external relationships, as every individual begins to craft their own version of the truth as a means of escape from existential dread associated with mortality. I could see this film being perceived as morbid by some, but from my perspective, the film's treatment of the material invokes a sense of melancholy that is affecting and empathetic, reaching a state of transcendence beyond socially constructed notions of good vs. evil, right vs. wrong. Perhaps I'm way off, I probably should stop writing about movies directly after I watch them in an effort to ruminate and formalize my thoughts, but this film feels like another pretty major work - Vecciali is two-for-two so far in my book and I really can't wait to watch another one of his films.
Really defies simplistic genre descriptors, but who really cares about such meaningless things. A psychological folk-horror film that plays with popular motifs such as the urban-rural divide and the fine line between reality and fantasy, to deliver a rather fascinating subtextual commentary on post-60s America. Traversing the urban-rural axis with a keen eye on the specific epoch, where the utopic dream of naturalistic living spawned by the affluent 70s left was confronted by the harsh realities of small-town American life, Let's Scare Jessica To Death is imbued with a consistent sense of disorientation, in which the archetypical female protagonist that would largely dominate the horror genre in the late 70s/early 80s is replaced by abject fragility and instability, instilling the film with a consistent ambiguity which only aids the film's vast and varied potential readings. Those looking for cheap thrills or simple entertainment are likely to be disappointed by Let's Scare Jessica to Death, but for those willing to looking beyond the text, it truly is a fascinating feature that rests at the fulcrum of a major shift in American culture and horror filmmaking.
Shinoda's A Flame at the Pier is an incisive rumination on the conflict between capital and labor in post-war Japan in which transnational exchange and the influx of foreign investment exacerbate class division. Shinoda's visual tableaux enunciate the stark dichotomy between those who profit and those who work, deploying compositions that routinely enunciate the strict hierarchy on display as it follows its principal protagonist - a union-busting, disenfranchised youth who feels obligated to serve management despite his place among the working class. A Flame at the Pier is quite poignant in the way it details the confusion and internal conflict of its main protagonist. It's a deeply tragic story exhibiting how a boy's false sense of allegiance ultimately destroys his chance for love and happiness. The milieu displayed throughout A Flame at the Pier is one of dissonance, not only across the strict dichotomy between labor-capital but also within each. The entirety of the social arena of Japan and collective identity has been disrupted post-war by the influx of foreign investment and the rapid changes it has placed on the social apparatus and the film really does a great job at elucidating how this affects both the cultural identity and the individual agents that make it up. The docks - the primary access point for trade, where the flow of goods and capital is directly carried out by manual labor is the perfect spatiality for this tale of deception, greed, and inevitably tragedy. In the end, class consciousness is an essential tool for collective progress and economic justice. The great societal disruption of post-war Japan has made this paramount. Honestly, I'm surprised this isn't a more heralded film in Masashiro Shinoda's oeuvre, it really works on every level, being masterfully crafted and effective both in its expressive, emotional core and its pointed, social-economic observations of Japan.
Employing a playful formal style that utilizes a lot of familiar sensibilities and techniques popularized by and associated with the French New Wave, The Story of Three-Day Pass is an understated yet piercing study of racial imbalance, one which keenly elucidates the psychological toll of exile and alienation through an idyllic boy meet girl narrative framework. The pernicious yet not always overt racism is wonderfully captured, the promise of potential romance feels real yet never assured, and in the film's denouement, the harsh realities of romanticism give way to the pervasive realities of racism. The Story of a Three- Day Pass isn't polemic in its study of racism, it simply exhibits the facade of acceptability which the black man is confronted with. Allowance is granted by those who accept obedience and subjugation to the will of the racial majority. They have utility within this expectation, yet they will never be viewed as anything beyond that due to the white majority's unwillingness to see them as equal, autonomous human beings.
Kim Ki-Young's Goryeojang is an incendiary piece of filmmaking rooted in forensic observation that details the intertwined relationship between brutalism and survivalism foolishly constructed by man. For Kim Ki-Young humanity and its animalistic nature is simply overlooked, and his approach here shows little proclivity towards sentimentality but what I believe Goryeojang ultimately posits is that whether it be through social or divine hierarchal structures, man's abstract allegiances drive them inevitable towards barbarism due to their unwillingness to accept the anarchy intrinsic to living. Kim has such an acute understanding of humankind's internal impulses, instincts, and desires and how easily they can lead to violence. Humans are emotional creatures not confined by logic, and perhaps one could say Kim's approach here doesn't slant towards sentiment but rather a sociological investigation. Detailing the harsh conditions in an assured approach that never shies away from capturing the barbarism intrinsic to the human experience, Kim's film also suggests the paramount importance of internal fortitude in order to reject these egotistical impulses and the deceptions of safety promised by authority. In the end, he seems to suggest approaching commonality through a framework rooted in altruism and empathy instead of competition and hierarchy. I could see some characterizing Kim Ki-Young's approach here as nihilist but in its denouement it rejects this ideal. A near epistemic approach elucidates the cruel realities of survival yet in the end I believe Goryeojang signals the need to reject idols or any form of authority that can lead to conflict, with our main protagonist destroying the vestiges of authority in an effort to forge a path in which mutualism rises everyone above the dirt. Make no mistake, Goryejong is a shockingly brutalist work in many regards. There are sequences in this film that left me shocked due to the savagery and depravity on display, and yet the film delivers an emotional wallop all the same, doing so far more from a naturalist perspective than one rooted in expressionism or melodramatics. Honestly, I don't feel completely adequate to write about this film, having only seen 3 of Kim's films to date. These are just my initial impressions and observations from a first-time viewing, but this is a major work from Kim Ki-Young that may just be a complete masterpiece.
Imbued with such a quiet sense of mystery and menace, Mike De Leon's Itim is a fascinating foray into spiritual horror that beautifully invokes ecclesiastical principles of internalized guilt and repentance to deliver a highly atmospheric and compelling experience ripe with subtextual investigations beyond its familiar genre conception. The directorial vision and overall aesthetic employed by De Leon routinely project a strict dichotomy between darkness and light. This visual delineation evokes a continuous, atmospheric sense of unease and uncertainty in the viewer. Darkness envelopes much of the film. Light routinely pierces through this darkness. The spiritual and material world feel intertwined to the viewer due to these precise visual constructions - it's the protagonists who struggle to see it as they search for answers. Perhaps a facile comparison, but I routinely found myself reminded of some of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's work when watching De Leon's Itim. The interior spaces induce dread and a continuous sense of unease - darkness lurks in nearly every interior space, the spiritual world lives in the same spaces unseen. A haunting experience imbued with Christian theology, Itim's familiar conception - the spiritual world seeks help from the living in order to find a sense of closure from past transgression which has gone unpunished - only tells half the story here, as De Leon crafts a memorable tale of such quiet, understated menace that feels expansive in its investigations into entanglement between communal and individual, exposing both the exterior - community and generational trauma, the necessity for closure - and the interior - internalized guilt and personal repentance - effects such unresolved pain can place on the living.
An impeccable crafted, provocative work of rebellion in which the typical axes between pleasure and pain, love and violence, are contorted and examined. Masumura's direction is sensualist to the core, deploying majestic, impressionist exteriors with interior liminal spaces that evoke a sense of restriction. Seamlessly exhibiting the entangled relationship between tension and eroticism and the shared combustible nature of love and hate, Irezumi is a story of repression and rebellion, one that traverses exploitation sensibilities to deliver a confrontational social critique of female vengeance. Lurid with purpose and featuring an infectious lead performance by Ayako Wakao which manages to be devilish yet empathetic in exhibiting the subtle ways she was conditioned, Irezuma is imbued with a sense of quiet menace, in which acts of lust, love, and betrayal elucidate the combustible nature of the human spirit due it's intrinsic malleability.
Love of all things cinema brought me here.