From nearly the opening frame of Bertrand Mandico's Les garçons sauvages (The Wild Boys) it's transparent that one is in for a singular vision, as the film delivers a kaleidoscope of style in which a rich tapestry of varying aesthetic designs evoke a visceral, immersive experience. Les garcons sauvages is an evocation which doesn't always feel like a cohesive vision, at least early on, but it's constantly entrancing, offering up sequences of image and sonance which form a cinematic iconography that is nightmarish and fetishistic, one which is perhaps best described as Querelle directed by Guy Maddin. A queer odyssey, Les garcons sauvages has been described as homoerotic or feminist, and yet while the film certainly rejects crude masculinity and often the aggression which it can manifest, the film's true deconstruction takes things a step further, being an utter rejection of gender classification and any authority or power structure which wishes to define the identity of any such individual. The principle characters of this story are a group of young boys that commit a brutal crime, yet while the film laments at times through the prism of a mysterious woman they bestow about how masculinity is responsible for so much of the violence in the world, the film explicitly rejects this woman's ideological principle in the film's finale. The final line of the film, when one of the "wild boys" pronounces: "And if I cannot become a woman, I will become a captain", is an acknowledgement of personal empowerment when it comes to gender identity, with Mandico seemingly recognizing that this woman herself is an oppressive force in her own right, much like the captain early in the film who is tough-minded and disciplinarian. Given the film's experimental sensibilities and at times, unwieldy nature, much of this is certainly up to interpretation, but what Les garcons sauvages is able to elicit over its 110 minute running time is a fascinating expose on gender identity, sexualization, pleasure, and control.
A brazen vision and rapturous exploration of ontology which reflects on asceticism vs. hedonism, purity vs. realism, and the personal vs. the collective nature of society, Akio Jissoji's The Transient Life is a flat out engrossing feature that is antagonistic towards the Japanese culture and Buddhist tradition in which one man refuses to bow to anyone but his own personal desire. A rejection of the ascetic tradition both in terms of theme and style, The Transient Life's black & white cinematography is indulgent with purpose, deconstructing the battle ground which exists between egoism and altruism, exploring the duality which exists between carnality and spirituality. This is a film which is hard to put into words, yet it deserves a prominent place in any academic study of the Japanese New Wave, due to its holistic approach, in which dualistic aspects of life are presented with taboo and transcendentalist fury in which it questions the very foundations of identity and self.
Engulfed with a brooding milieu of despair and despondence, Hu Bo's Elephant Sitting Still is a grating experience, one in which the internal pain of its characters is felt in every frame. Taking place in a small Chinese town in which opportunity is nonexistent and despair is a currency exchanged openly from one person to the next, Elephant Sitting Still is an engrossing albeit difficult experience, one thats underlying intentions slowly come to fruition over its nearly 4 hour running time. Displaying a general detachment from any sense of optimism or hope of gaining access to a better life, this ensemble of characters exhibit a coldness that is palpable, uneasy, and tense for the viewer, one which can be hard to connect to on an emotional level due to its unwavering state of perpetual pessimism. The film does offer a slight reprieve in its denouement, exhibiting a glimmer of optimism and hope, but what unfolds for much of the film's running time is devoid of such inclinations. Featuring a gray aesthetic that is cold, static, and completely void of vibrancy, the film's visual poetry evokes the dead-end nature which its characters inhabit, exuding a general pathos which is devoid of anger or tension, as if it is accepting of defeat. Far from what one would describe as an enjoyable experience, as Elephant Sitting Still unfolds the film reveals a subtle yet profound sense of understanding about pain, depression, and detachment, detailing how its host of characters are all suffering from similar struggles, each having their own spiral of despair which blinds them from recognizing that their experience is shared, a recognition which could evoke a sense of greater understanding, empathy, and kindness. Stuck and frustrated by their lack of potential, Elephant Sitting Still showcases individuals who are constrained by a system which grants them little options, detailing how perhaps the greatest potential for pain lies for those whom are self aware that a better way of living exists but whom cannot reach it, no matter how hard they try. Hu Bo's Elephant Sitting Still is not an easy experience, it's grating, dire, and unwavering in its designs, yet in its final denouement it offers a slight sense of optimism, one which recognizes that hope lies in relationships not detachment, illustrating how an empathetic mindset that is shared may offer some reprieve from such despair and despondence.
Featuring an ambitious narrative construction and ambiguous thematic intentions, Claire Denis' High Life is a beguiling experience which is precisely what is needed more in science fiction cinema. Rooted in a sense of existentialism related to humanity's place from both temporal and spatial perspective, High Life is a work of art that provides an ample supply of potential readings into its intentions, with its most piercing deconstruction being related to the constructs which humanity creates, for better or worse, to search for meaning or purpose. Managing to capture the inconsequential nature of human life in the vast scope of time and space while simultaneously recognizing the blessing of life, no matter how slight, High Life details at its core a moving paternal relationship on the edge of utter oblivion, managing a sense of emotional honesty while also aiming for larger existential thematic assertions. Nothing is overt or didactic in High Life, a film which creates a sense of wonder and intrigue that is more needed in contemporary science fiction cinema, with Denis establishing a wholly singular world, one which is largely dystopian yet still brooding with underlying humanism.
A character study which features a Shakespearean-level descent into utter degradation and self-destruction, Alex Ross Perry's Your Smell is a dynamic deconstruction of the toxic nature which the performative practice of brand building and celebrity has on personal identity; a film that is so subtle in its thematic intent that its abrasive aesthetic designs provide the perfect counterbalance to its underlying sensitivity, subverting the viewers ability to see the film's underlying intent throughout much of its running time, as clarity only truly presents itself in the film's final denouncement. Featuring a dynamic, combustible lead performance by the always superb Elizabeth Moss, Her Smell tells the story of the self-destructive lead vocalist of a punk rock band, a character who erratically destroys every meaningful relationship in her life through her manic, destructive behavior. The central node in a network of relationships, everything stemming from music producers to her own mother, this character'wields extensive power, giving her an ability to inflict pain on all those around her, as one gets the sense that her destructive behavior is diabolical by design towards all those connected to her. For much of the film's running time, this character is far from sympathetic, with the film's style perfectly encapsulating her behavior, with editing, sound, and visual designs evoking a sense of dissonance, an organized chaos that perfectly aligns with this character's destructive behavior. Than things change, not only in the course of the narrative but also in style and aesthetic, as the film expertly subverts expectations revealing a character in its lead protagonist that is more tragic and sympathetic than one could have ever imagined given what has transpired. The pieces are there, even early on, yet it's the subtle construction of the narrative that keeps the viewer largely surprised to the emotional attachment they have to this character's well-being in its final act, as one beings to realize this is a character who was always alone, unable to manage the vast amount of responsibility thrust on her, an individual unfairly placed in the center of a vast network of individuals who rely on her to bring them success. Her Smell reveals through its clever construction an individual who lacks identity, one whose been tasked with supplying a performative image which her vast network of music producers, band mates, and own family rely on and mismanage, as they forget the underlying identity of this character whose punk rock persona wont allow anything but crude individualism and rejection of support. While much discussion of this film revolves around Moss' intoxicating lead performance, and rightfully so, Her Smell deserves more credit for its clever construction and thematic designs, being a complete film in which narrative, thematic, and stylistic construction deserve more credit than many are willing to admit.
A philosophically dense examination of greatness in which crude characterizations such as individuality vs. collective, creative vs. analytical, freedom vs. control, and discipline vs spontaneity, are wholly rejected, Gabe Polsky's In Search of Greatness suggests a polycentric approach to reaching the pinnacle of achievement, showcasing an unwillingness to accept that what makes any individual great in itself can be defined or constrained by any particular attributes or labels. Examining greatness through the lens of some of the greatest athletes of all time, the film is epistemic in approach, being a potent and engaging study that offers a treasure trove of ideas that fly in the face of conventional wisdom as to what is necessary for success in our contemporary culture. The film's examination of the systemic nature which sports culture has created is enlightening, as the film recognizes the suppressive nature which analytical systems of categorization and codification can have on the individual, making a spirited plea for more implicit learning and less crude analytics surrounding what makes someone great. In contemporary society we have become accustomed to place athletics and the arts in contention, yet this is starkly untrue as they are harmonically aligned, as sports just like any form of art whether it be music, photography, painting, or filmmaking are rooted in a form of creativity and artistic expression. In any such discipline, those who adhere to a rigid definitions are bound to struggle to reach a place of personal accomplishment, as such ideals are fundamentally inline with conformity and repression, forces often in contention with personal expression. Taking this one step further, In Search of Greatness asserts that discipline and order can often be repressive, in conflict with learning due to their inability to adhere to individual needs. In terms of craft, In Search of Greatness is relatively conventional yet it's ideas are not, being a film which is aspirational in it's ability to recognize how passion itself is a fundamental, and perhaps the paramount factor, to success in anything, not just sports. Perhaps the film's most interesting assertion though is how imagination and creativity economize intuition and analytical action, as the film once again rejects conventional ideas about specialization, instead arguing that diversity of experience is just as paramount to success, recognizing once again how these two ideas, just like imagination vs analytics, are not at odds but forces which are polycentric in their importance to greatness and success. A deeply invigorating documentary that is analytical and aspirational, In The Search of Greatness itself astutely recognizes that there are no fixed definitions that amount to success, showcasing how the ever shifting dichotomy we recognize between freedom vs control must be managed in the various social structures of society, as the film delivers a powerful and thought provoking deconstruction which should appeal to anyone, not just lovers of competitive sports.
A film which un-ironically embraces the pursuit of pleasure as a virtue, not a detriment, a rarity in cinema which we need more of. So much of contemporary film discourse feels systemically rooted in asceticism, and while there is nothing wrong with that per se, to deny other readings/deconstructions/critiques rooted outside of this restrictive framework, is well, utter-fucking-nonsense. The Beach Bum is effectively an all-out-assault on asceticism, exuding optimism and a carefree demeanor throughout its run-time, managing a tonal balancing act which doesn't trivialize trauma, nor exploit it for dramatic resonance, opting to accentuate the pleasure-seeking optimism of its main protagonist whose quietly in pain due to tragedy. Much has been written about how 'The Beach Bum' is not "the film we need right now" which is quite the assertion in that it completely personifies the problems with contemporary discourse in cinema - the rejection of pleasure/fun/humor for "meaning" and "truth". This repudiation is not only untenable due to how it is dogmatic in the outright rejection of pleasure as a meaningful philosophical pursuit entirely, it is also detrimental to the overall "cause" of viewing cinema as more than sheer escapism, because it is a myopic mindset that is not holistic to the polycentric nature of the artform. Luckily, Beach Bum flies in the face of such banality with a smile on its face.
While The Burial of Kojo suffers from some of the traditional shortcomings of a first time feature film - a tendency to become a tad unwieldy at times, struggling with artistic rigor and focus - the film remains a staggeringly original work which blends African mysticism, surrealism, and a unique narrative construction to deliver a potent tale of the perpetual toxicity of guilt. Rhythmic and impressionistic in its designs, Burial of Kojo eschews traditional point-of-view storytelling to great effect, presenting a story in which mood and lyricism take precedence over dialogue-driven intent. The film's narrative-based construction sometimes feels at odds with its more meditative, impressionist sensibilities, as if the filmmaker feels unsure at times about his film's own formalism, unwilling to commit to a wholly bold, experimental construction. What remains though is a work by Sam Blitz Bazawule which shows a fundamental understanding of the power of imagery and aesthetic in the cinema arts, with the dialogue sometimes even feeling intrusive to this spiritual & meditative film, and that is despite the film being self-aware in its prerogative to feature dialogue that is precisely informative, never superfluous or expository. The antithesis to asceticism, The Burial of Kojo radiates it its stylish aesthetic, heavy in its surrealism that adheres perfectly to the mystical sensibilities of this father and daughter tale, one in which the aura of supernatural fervor radiates from the very first frame, juxtaposing the old-experienced nature of guilt against youthful naivety-induced optimism. Poignant, ambitious, flawed yet it undoubtedly features the spirit of a filmmaker with something to say, The Burial of Kojo is an impressive first time feature worth seeking out
Love of all things cinema brought me here.