Trey Edward Shults' Krisha opens with an expertly crafted tracking shot which finds its main protagonist, Krisha, arriving at her sister's home for Thanksgiving. It is a relatively simple sequence, but as the camera follows Krisha from her car into the family home a great deal is revealed. From her dress being caught in the car door, to her discombobulated presence as she talks to herself, this opening sequence is a great intro to a deeply flawed main character, being only the tip of the iceberg. This is a film about a troubled woman in Krisha who is attempting to reconnect with her family. The film takes its time, not revealing any details for awhile as to what exactly led Krisha to such alienation from her family, but from her entrance into the home it is clear that she is somewhat a stranger to many of her family members. The strongest aspect of Krisha is its craft, being a visceral experience that truly captures the inner psyche of its main protagonist, a woman who is stuck in the chaotic nature of Thanksgiving with the family. Making lots of unique decisions in terms of editing, cinrmatography, and direction, Trey Edward Shults has created a singular vision of a woman struggling to overcome her troubled past and reconnect, fighting her own demons in the process. It is clear that Krisha has a fractured relationship with much of her family, particular her son, and perhaps my favorite aspect of the entire film is how it feels like a psychological horror film, with the deep-seated guilt and trauma of Krisha's shortcomings constantly threatening to send her back over the edge. The film's strongest attribute isn't its examination of addiction or alcoholism, which feels slight, but rather the guilt and remorse associated with said addiction, something which drives Krisha over the edge. Hyper kinetic and featuring a stellar lead performance, Trey Edward Shults has created a singular vision of the subject matter which explores a host of interesting family dynamics.
Turkish horror film Baskin tells the story of five unsuspecting police officers who are working the graveyard shift in the middle of nowhere. Receiving a call about a disturbance in a small town, the five officers soon find themselves confronted by pure evil, falling quite literally into the dark-pit of hell when they investigate the disturbance in an old abandoned building. Can Everenol's Baskin is one of the horror films that is quite frankly hard to describe, a batshit insane, stylistic nightmare of a film that puts far more energy into atmosphere and mood than a cohesive story. The film is heavy on atmosphere, using an aggressive amount of stylish lighting, camera movements, and moody score, which assault the viewer early on, even when they really have no idea what there is to be frightened about. The problem with Baskin is quite frankly I had no idea what the hell was going on through most of its running time, which wouldn't be a problem if that was the intention, but given the film's narrative it sure seems like the intention was for it to be coherent. When the violence and death does come, Baskin is quite terrifying, offering a unique portrait of Hell and Evil in the form of 'The Father", a master of nightmares whose creepiness is hard to put into words. The creature design and world which Baskin is able to create is one of its best attributes, being like some demented mix of Jacob's Ladder and the hell sequences of Event Horizon, that don't hold back in offering a unique, demented brand of horror. Featuring some pretty fantastic gore and moody atmosphere, Baskin is quite the experience at times, but one would be hard-pressed to walk out of the theater remembering anything beyond the pure violence, death and gore it provides, due largely to a narrative that is simply convoluted and not all that interesting in the first place.
Yaelle Kayam's Mountain tells the story of Tzvia, a young Orthodox Jewish woman who is the mother to four children and a very religious husband. Living a life where she feels unappreciated and unloved by her husband, Tzvia becomes infatuated by a nocturnal community of prostitutes and drug dealers that congregate in the ancient cemetery on top of Jerusalem's Mount of Olives. First time filmmaker Yaelle Kayam's Mountain is an interesting character study about a woman who struggles with her faith and devotion, growing tired of a husband who neglects her and hides behind religion. It's an interesting film about the fragility of a character who feels unloved, offering up a rather shocking finale which intentionally or not, reveals the darker aspects of the oppression Orthodox religion has on individuals, particularly woman. I'm not sure if it's the film's intention or not, but the ending seems to suggest that Tzvia has come to her sense about her faith and devotion to her husband and family, but she resorts to violence and death to do so, as if Mountain wants to draw attention to the penchant for violence which can exist in strict, organized religion. Tzvia didn't strike me as a particularly devout Orthodox woman throughout the film, so her act of violence in the end makes me think the director's intentions are to cast a shadow over religion, showing how one woman's fragility centered around being neglected could lead to such extreme measures for the sake of her faith. Tzvia feels like a character that resents her religion throughout most of the film, due to her husbands lack of empathy, which is why she befriends the degenerates in the cemetery in the first place. In the finale, where she poisons these individuals, Mountain feels more like a tragedy, not due to the death of these bottom-feeders, but to the fact that Tzvia seems to have fully accepted her role in Orthodox Jewish society, going to extreme measures to cleanse herself of outside influences and become the docile, second-class citizen that her religion demands. Of all the films which I've seen so far at the festival this is the one I have the most regret for missing the Q&A, as I'm still not completely sure my interpretation is at all what the filmmaker was trying to say. A detailed character study with a strong central performance, Yaelle Kayam's Mountain is a quiet, unsettling experience, that puts the viewer into the psyche of a young woman who is repressed by the religion she follows.
Set in 1835, in what is now the country of Argentina, Benjamin Naishtat's El Movimiento is a stark portrait of the struggles associated with a country trying to be born. Currently a land plagued with anarchy and chaos, a group of armed men known as 'The Movement' wreck havoc in a thinly veiled attempt to create some semblance of order. Benjamin Naishtat's El Movimiento is a film one respects more than enjoys, being a film more interested in creating a stark atmosphere than a coherent narrative. This is a challenging film, which shows little effort or retard for making the viewer feel comfortable, offering instead an interesting, albeit challenging study of the corruptible nature of power and control. Through this story of The Movement, the fie film becomes a somewhat troubling reminder of the fact that countries are themselves rarely built on anything but glood and violence, as the film does a phenomenal job at intentionally blurring the lines between good and evil when it comes to its characters intentions throughout.. Intentional or not, by the end of the film I began to interpret it as a thinly-veiled allegory about politicians, with the violent leader of 'The Movement', Senor, being a man who is capable of leading many, but who is endlessly corrupt by his own thirst for power. Throughout the film we see this leader wax poetic about the need for order in a world of chaos, but whenever he finds his ideas or beliefs confronted by anyone he quickly turns violent. This is a man who is simpy unwilling to accept any form of dissenting opinion, willing to resort to violence instead of attempting to comprehend another individuals views. El Movimiento's cinematography is stark, frightening, but also beautiful, contrasting pitch black darkness with white light in a way that itself speaks to the overall themes of the film. While not nearly as impressive as German's Hard to Be A God, Benjamin Naishtat's El Movimiento couldn't help but remind me of the Russian film, being another stark vision of humanities inherent darkness, as El Moviemento focuses on the inherent thirst for power and control which exists in us.
Set in Northern Turkey, Deniz Gamze Erguven's Mustang tells the story of four adolescent sisters living under the strict regime of their Uncle and Aunt. Returning home from school one day, the sisters are chastised for playing innocently with some boys. The perceived indecency and immorality leads to the sister's home being transformed into something that resembles a prison, with their aunt and uncle keeping them under lock and key until they can be married off. Homemaking becomes their number one area of study, which leads to resentment from the independent young woman, each of which wants to make their own choices. Capturing the secondary status and lack of individuality of females in Turkish culture, Mustang is an impressive first time feature which shines a light on the double standards and oppression against woman which runs rampant in this culture. Through strong characterizations of every sister involved, Mustang captures the changing of times which is taking place, as the younger generations show much more reluctance to embrace old, out of date customs. From the arranged marriages, to the showing of any skin being considered a gross perversion, Mustang creates an atmosphere of strict domination for these four sisters, being completely at the mercy of their cultures customs, with each of child struggling to cope in their own ways. Mustang is a film full of tragedy and hope, and I loved how the film captured how sisterhood simply evaporates in this culture at a certain age, as all women become the possession of their husband when they are married off, given no personal freedoms to make their own decisions. From a direction standpoint, Mustang is quite chaotic, using lots of handheld and unstructured camera movements which I'd argue perfectly encapture the youthful exuberance of its characters. One of the film's greatest attributes is its ability to explore the psyche of these various young woman, each of which struggles to adapt to the customs which they simply don't understand. There individuality is crushed by a culture that demands submissive personalities by its females, with Mustang poignantly detailing this struggle for these four sisters, each of which deals with it in different ways. While I could do without the narration/voice over, as well as a subplot involving the uncle's rapey tendencies which just feels forced and unnecessary to the story, there is no denying the the raw power of Mustang, a film that makes Deniz Gamze Erguve a first time filmmaker to watch.
Zhangke Jia's latest film, Mountains May Depart, is a sprawling narrative spanning 26 years that follows the lives of childhood friends, Liangzi, Zhang, and Tao. Seperated into three distinct segments, the film begins in 1999, on the eve of the new millenium, where both Liangzi and Zhang find themselves falling in love with Tao. While Liangzi is the kinder, more selfless man, Tao eventually decides to marry the much wealthier Zhang, which sets off a chain of events that envelopes the rest of the film. Mountains May Depart has got to be Jia's most accessible film, a relatively staightforward character drama that is emotionally effective, but lacks the surrealistic touches of his earlier films. The first segment focuses primarily on the love triangle that envelopes the film, with Jia showing the impending changes that capitalism is bringing to the culture of China, and Zhang being the symbolic representation. Shot in 4:3, Jia makes some fascinating decisions in the segment, choosing to solely focus on one characters face even in times of conflict. This segment also has one of the films only surreal moments, a plane crashing in front of Tao the night after she makes the decision to marry Zhang, a symbolic representation of the mistake she has made. At its best, Mountains May Depart captures the influence of global capitalism and the deterioration it brings to Chinese culture, but unfortunately the film lacks the nuance and subtlety of Jia's best films. While the second segment is powerful in its depiction of loneliness that consumes Tao due to her essentially selecting money and security over love and affection, the third segment of the film is where things kind of go off the rails, a segment focusing on Tao's son, a young man who hasn't seen his mother in over a decade. The segment has its moments but it strangely doesn't feel as organic as the other segments, at its worst being a manipulative segment about a boy with daddy issues. In the end, Mountains May Depart has a lot to like, commenting on the dissolution of culture, perils of capitalism, and the need for freedom, but unfortunately it never reaches the levels of his best efforts.
While there has been a rampant amount of Horror Anthology films in recent years, none of them have even come close to achieving the success both in execution and horror as Southbound. Taking place in the secluded desert, Southbound tells five tales of terror, each interlocking with one and other in a way that is so much more seamless than say, the VHS series or Tales of Halloween. It doesn't feel accurate to call Southbound an anthology horror film, just one where the mysterious setting is the central character and the weary travelers are victims of its blood-lust. Calling Southbound an ambiguous horror film may be a bit of a stretch, but the film understands the importance of mystery, delivering an atmospheric setting of supernatural proportions, one where its setting, figuratively and literally, becomes hell on earth. Southbound isn't immune to the same problems many low-budget horror films can have, like shoddy acting and subpar special effects, but it simply doesn't matter given the film's ability to deliver everything a horror fan wants in tension, mystery, and a gleeful amount of gore. While it certainly feels misguided to even compare the quality of the five stories, I can't resist, as I was particularly blown away by the 2nd and 3rd parts, in particularly the beautiful way they transition. Without spoiling anything for those who haven't seen it, Part 3 has to be my favorite segment, a simple yet truly terrifying segment that is hilarious, ghastly and gleefully gorey. The sequence taps into a primal fear which many individuals are sure to have, milking it as long as possible in a truly one-of-a-kind way. As I mentioned above, Southbound's stories are connected not only by transitions, but this mysterious area of he desert, tapping into the primal aspects of right vs. wrong, and the idea that you reap what you sow, with many of the victims being individuals who deserved what they got. Fast-paced, lively, and mysterious, Southbound basically drops the mic on the horror anthology film, understanding that its mysterious setting of supernatural proportions is its main character, and its greatest attribute when it comes to seemlessly connecting the five stories seamlessly.
Being a huge fan of Attenberg, I was very much looking forward to Athina Rachel Tsangari's next effort, and while I'd certainly argue that Chevalier is a much more accessible film than her previous effort, the film still offers a truly unique slice of filmmaking from Tsangari. Set in the middle of the Aegean Sea, six friends on a fishing trip decide to play a a game. The game entails a competition, with each friend pitted against the other, in an attempt to determine who is the best among them. Featuring lively performances from all involved, Athina Rachel Tsangari's Chevalier is a delightful film commenting on the pettiness of competition, exploring themes of vanity, the pursuit of perfection, and friendship. Every single conversation in this film, even ones about the most trivial of things, has an undercurrent of judgement or hostility, as these six men try to prove that they are the best of the bunch. While the game is what obviously calls out the pettiness and shadowed arrogance of these various men in a very literal form, it is apparent even in the first few minutes of Chevalier, before the game is even thought up by these six men, that these individuals pride their self worth on how they are perceived by their friends. With not a single female character in the entire film, it appears that Chevalier is interested in the penchant masculinity has for competition and being the alpha, showing how the hostility that can emerge in an effort to be the best. As the film progresses, it slowly reveals all the insecurities each of these men has, stripping them slowly away of their exterior pandering and revealing their inner pathos. While all the characters are well developed and explored, I particularly found Dimitrius, a chubby, insecure, yet charming man, to be a very important part to what Chevalier is trying to achieve. While Dimitrius is presented as the screw up early on in the film, as it progresses, it begins to become clear that he is the only character who isn't firmly invested in winning the competition above all else, a man who truly cares about his friends, the most imperfect from the outside but the best of them on the inside. As the other character's insecurities and faults are revealed nothing really changes with Dimitrius, as he was the only character who showed his true self from the very beginning. Featuring some hilarious moments throughout, Chevalier is the type of film that thrives on capturing the absurdity of everyday, friendly competition, questioning the merits of "being the best" and asking simply what that even means. Athina Rachel Tsangari's Chevalier is another singular effort from the iconoclast filmmaker, a film that truly captures the ideal that politeness has nothing to do with character.
Nathan Silver's Stinking Heaven is a jet black comedy centered around a commune for sober living that houses a host of recovering drug addicts. What I have always appreciated about Nathan Silver's work is it shatters conventional genre classifications, and Stinking Heaven is no exception, being a film of raw emotional power and dark comedy. Shot in 4:3, with a muted, home video type aesthetic, Stinking Heaven is a raw journey into the emotional instability and diminishing structure of this commune of individuals, each of which is struggling with their own singular issues. Stinking Heaven feels like a film itself that lacks structure at first but what is so remarkable is how the film seemlessly transitions through the various characters' emotional troubles, doing so in a way that shouldn't work but it certainly does. Silver's direction is raw but pointed, as he shows a remarkable ability to always know the precise moment in a scene to focus on his various character's emotions. His camera can be roaming or stagnant, but it rarely ever misses the opportunity to capture human truths in even small moments. One scene that stood out was a fight between two of the characters, as Silver plays with the composition, using what I can only describe as a kaleidoscope type effect, for lack of a better word, creating multiple versions of these two characters in a heated argument. Its hard to describe, clearly, but the technique captures these two characters' emotional stability in a visual way. Besides being full of comedy that quite frankly makes you feel bad for laughing at sometimes, Stinking Heaven seems to have something to say about the fine line between structure and control. Jim, the character who runs the commune, needs to be in control of the people in the commune and when he loses said control is when everything crumbles. These characters need structure and for Jim, a character who seeks control, the combination becomes volatile. Nathan Silver's Stinking Heaven can be enjoyed in multiple ways, either as a black comedy or searing drama, making it another example of how important of a filmmaker he is in the independent arena, one who always seems to present a singular vision.
Chantal Akerman's last film, No Home Movie, is a deeply personal portrait of the filmmakers relationship with her mother, a woman who clearly meant the world to her. A somewhat laborious effort for the novice viewer, No Home Movie is a tepidly paced documentary that offers intricate insight to both Chantal Akerman as well as her mother, who is slowly succumbing to father time. Consisting completely of static compositons, the camera in No Home Movie is an unobtrusive observer for a large portion of the film, capturing the quiet, stillness of the mother's current life, one in which she misses her daughter very much. When Chantal is around, the film beautifully captures the love and tenderness between them. Just their conversations, whether rooted in Nostalgia or day-to-day happenings, through the way they communicate it is very apparent how much they love one and other. As No Home Movie progresses it becomes more and more compelling, as this quiet feeling of isolation begins to envelope the film. It's not dreary by any means, but one begins to get the impression that both Chantal and her mother suffer from similar bouts of depression centered around loneliness. No Home Movies greatest attribute is how it captures the pain that comes with unconditional love, with Chantal and her mother both suffering from anxiety and the fear of emotionally hurting one and other. Much of this stems from Chantal being on the road so much due to her profession, and the way No Home Movie uses image to express these emotions is impressive. From the opening shot of a tree violently swaying from gushing winds, to the barren landscapes throughout the film, Akerman uses images to symbolically capture her own emotional struggle. The camera, while mostly static, does at times come to life, symbolically representing Akerman herself, a reflective window into her soul. When the mother's sickness begins to threaten her ability to communicate and eat, New From Home takes on a much darker palette in her home, with heavy use of silhouettes and dimly lit rooms, another example of the quiet, expressionistic quality of the film. Complex, introspective, and deeply personal, Chantal Akerman's final film is a poignant portrait of love, loneliness, and even depression at times, being a phenomenal companion piece with Akerman's earlier work, News From Home.
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