Instilled with a playful demeanor and a distinct formal style that deploys surrealistic flourishes and a touch of magical realism, Akiko Okhu's Hold Me Back is such an acute study of consciousness, delivering a rapturously effective study of the complexities of identity. As individuals, we try and find a sense of belonging with ourselves against the external effects that sculpt our experience, and what Hold Me Back achieves so beautifully is the continuous nature of personal growth. Oscillations between melancholy and jubilation are intrinsic to living, and through this infectious, playful tonal balancing act that never feels saccharine nor cynical, Hold Me Back details the continuous struggle to find our own semblance of peace, detailing the necessity for it to be forged from within. Our social nature as human beings requires relationships and connection in order to fuel personal growth, yet the toxicity of self-doubt can be spawned from such exchanges - its persistence is a restraint that must be overcome. As someone who is closing in on 40 years old and has struggled to find meaningful relationships of the romantic variety, Hold Me Back blindsided me emotionally through its honesty about the fears which loneliness and even solitude can place on the psyche. Fragility is simply a part of the experience. Okhu's directorial vision is infused with vibrancy and emotive immersion, deploying a gaze rooted in intimacy but also subjective expressivity. A reductive reading of Hold Me Back would describe it as an infectious, delightful romance, one which beautifully expresses the vulnerability, awkwardness, and ultimately jubilation intrinsic to a budding romance. While this isn't inaccurate in a sense, it's an oversimplification of what Hold Me Back ultimately encapsulates, being an uncanny examination of the soul in which emotional progress isn't easy but something that must ultimately come from within one's own self. Affectionate, distinct, and immersive, Hold Me Back's vision is matched beautifully by a phenomenal lead performance by Non as Mitsuko, who beautifully elucidates the vulnerability of looking for connection, and the restrictions fears, often forged from bad past experiences, can place on personal growth. It's a lovely film and one of the best I've seen this year.
Alan Rudolph's Remember My Name is a singular vision, a film of little pretense or exposition that delivers a formally dazzling study of emotional trauma. Featuring a narrative structure forged out of a fatal attraction-esque archetype that eventually reveals itself as a clever diversion, Remember My Name is a masterful piece of narrative and character, that features an absolutely enthralling lead performance by Geraldine Chaplin. The mystery, combustibility, and underlying fragility of this main characterization are so rapturously portrayed by Chaplin, who delivers a characterization with biting authenticity, elucidating the fractured psyche of a deeply troubled woman. Rudolph's formal style deployed here is particularly effective, the voyeuristic gaze and use of empty space exhibit both the fear but also the underlying trauma of this fascinating central characterization. A recurring visual motif of compositions resembling the bars of a cage or prison cell is magnificent, visually evoking the state of this character, a woman who is emotionally imprisoned. A character who feels so dangerous due to her raw emotional state eventually becomes sympathetic, with Remember My Name finding utility in its ambiguity with thematic undercurrents that offer up the potential for variant readings. There is subtext here rooted in a social examination of mental illness or society's negligence, with the denouement reinforcing this ideal thematically while satisfying those looking for narrative resolution, though not in a traditional sense. There is a sense of unattainability here, much like the complexities of emotion. The vengeful, punitive measures deployed ultimately deliver the nasty, biting finale one would expect from its initial setup, but the film's ability to so acutely navigate emotional trauma and fragility make it perhaps one of the best studies of fatal attraction ever made due to this underlying commentary. The emotional violence of deception and abandonment exhibited through a stunning lead performance, Rudolph's precise directorial vision delivers a stunning portrait of the emotional creatures we are and the grand sweeping effects it can place on communal living under a system built around punitive justice.
Conceptually intriguing, Tiong Bahru Social Club is a heightened satire about modern societies' obsession with empiricism that deploys a tone rooted more in light-hearted inquiry than pointed social critique, A story of modernity's pursuit at quantifying human happiness, Tiong Bahru Social Club is a warm-hearted comedy uninterested in derision, focusing its aims on exhibiting the lovely absurdity that is human emotion. Featuring tepid pacing and a plot that struggles to earn its 80+ min run-time, Tiong Bahru Social Club doesn't always work, but it does provide a handful of great moments that resonate, both philosophically and emotionally. An aesthetic rooted in vibrant pop pastiche reminiscent of the work of Wes Anderson, Tiong Bahru Social Club visually expresses our attempt at crafting happiness through exteriority, and along with its precise, often symmetrical framing, the visual design deployed here perfectly elicits its themes related to modernity's flawed attempts at quantifying happiness through computation and quantification instead of accepting its intangible nature of human emotion. The pursuit of happiness and the complexities of human nature and psychology are not finite or static but in a perpetual state of motion. As our principal character traverses this social club promising happiness it becomes increasingly clear - despite our best-laid plans to craft utopia through empiricism, we can never pinpoint the endless multitude of factors that define something as imperfect but incalculable as happiness.
An elegiac evocation on the psychological and physical trauma inflicted on the personal and social by industrialized human conflict, Nhat Minh Dang's The Town Within Reach is a deeply haunting experience, one which reminded me of Alain Resnais in the way it excavates the psychological toll of conflict through ontological investigation. The Town Within Reach transcends the political in a sense, being imbued with an opaqueness in its film grammar that feels deeply personal yet expansive in how it operates, exhibiting the collective diaspora and dissonance inflicted on social relationships by conflict. Affect is not something that conforms to the restrictive constructions of nationalism or social hierarchy, yet our material conditions are deeply malleable to such forces, and what The Town Within Reach achieves feels like something deeply existential, suggesting that violence itself is spawned through cowardice and self-interest instead of through altruism and empathy towards the other. Frankly, this is a film that I don't feel completely adequate writing about - it's a deeply immersive experience in which feeling is deployed as a means of reaching a sense of transcendence that goes beyond ideology. It recognizes that the social, personal, and political are not disparate but intrinsically linked - the dispersion of conflict itself being far from uniform due to our proclivity towards self-interest that is often forged through nationalism and/or political ideology. In this sense, The Town Within Reach feels like an ode to agrarian ways of living, fond of the simplicity of a reciprocal relationship with nature that doesn't attempt to supplant the natural world but live symbiotically within its grand, anarchic designs. Explicitly the film is interested in purveying the trauma of human conflict and the effects it places on the social though what Nhat Minh Dang has created feels revelatory in its affectional lens towards removing the political apparatus from its discussion of existential questions related to living.
My first Vecchiali film, Rosa la Rose, Public Girl is a wonderous evocation on the entangled nature of living, one which investigates a host of rich themes related to youth vs. experience, love vs. pleasure, and control vs anarchy through a precise directorial vision crafted out of fluidity and affection. The entanglements and complexities of the world are perfectly exhibited through youthful objective perfection, as young Rosa's aura early on is one of elevation, existing above the harshness and cruelty of life - radiating a sense of perfection, her ethereal beauty is too good for this world. As the film's narrative progresses, Rosa's persona of perfection begins to fracture as she is introduced into the fray of living and maturation in which one's choices aren't simply rooted in self-indulgence. Her carefree lifestyle becomes progressively shattered, not through harsh dramatics but through natural realizations often attuned to experience in which the forces of love and melodrama create restrictions due to their complexities beyond mere indulgence. These restrictions are not to viewed as pejorative but simply intrinsic to love - the loss of control Rosa feels brought by sharing in something with another. The strict binaries that make up her life both in the act of sex and in the hierarchy of her profession are shattered by this new feeling. This is one of those films in which I feel like I'm barely scratching the surface of everything it is touching on, nor do I even feel adequate to do so. It's an elegant, emotive experience that unfolds like a great Shakespearian play delivering a ripe text worthy of investigation as it details the vast and varied emotional interconnectivity between a host of concepts such as love, pleasure, power, authority, control, etc. On first viewing, I'm already questioning if it is a masterpiece.
Starts with a bang, literally and figuratively, as Radu Jude aims to provoke his audience more directly than ever before with Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn. Deploying a loose narrative framework that centers around a school teacher and her sex tape that inexplicitly gets leaked onto the internet, Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn is a pointed critique of modernity and contemporary culture which manages to be part farcical comedy, part intellectual investigation into the contradictions and hypocrisies that plague society at large. Irreverent humor is used to investigate the pernicious nature of the fascist impulse, detailing the pervasive ways in which it infects the social arena through both subtlety and abrupt force. From puritanical repression to more overt modes of social suppression, Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn uses its distinct formal structure to reflect on the absurdity of modernity and our collective self-indulgence. The past and the future are largely rejected or ignored in our collective consciousness unless they provide economic utility in the form of commodification or political utility in the form of social control through skewed historiography. Perhaps a little beguiling in its structure but Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn is Radu Jude at his most irreverent, a thoroughly entertaining film with farcical qualities that aims to elucidate the absurdity of modern life.
Eco-horror in which the visual poetry displayed largely overcomes the conceptual typicality, In The Earth is one of Wheatley's more enticing films in recent years which I suppose isn't a particularly high bar to clear. In its best moments, In The Earth reminded me a bit of Peter Strickland's oeuvre, deploying avant-garde aesthetic designs that ultimately titillate the senses while heightening the film's mystery, intrigue, and mystical qualities. There are some pretty great visuals throughout this film, and at its best, the film does manage a sense of transcendence through imagery. I appreciate the grit this film brings to its gore, the pain and damage to the body are felt as much as it is shown, and the film's simplicity in many ways does work in its favor, but ultimately any type of thematical relevance it seems to be striving for feels largely like a missed opportunity. There is an interesting subtext of this story rooted in the ideas we as sentient beings construct to find a place of solace from the unknown, yet In The Earth never really manages to investigate this in any meaningful way. It ultimately feels satisfied with its own cleverness and narrative intrigue, being spawned during the pandemic but ultimately delivering an entertaining enough but far from a revelatory horror film.
Perhaps Wong Kar Wai's most feverish aesthetic display, 2046 inhabits a dream-like plane between material and spiritual, where vibrant, vivid romanticism is juxtaposed with the cold, unpredictable nature of living. From the epoch in which it takes place - 1967, when large scale riots against the colonial government took place, to the science-fiction artifice constructed by our principle protagonist - one in which discouraged lovers flee to re-live their past, 2046 is a luminous experience that aims to encapsulate the anarchic nature of living, one in which the individual in many ways is at the mercy of the external conditions that help define them. The interiority of the human condition, the pursuit for intimacy and/or meaningful connection cannot be forged alone, it requires reciprocity but also timing, and what WKW continues with 2046 is effectively a mature deconstruction of existential longing. Love, connection, solace in the good times, and what it means to care for others, despite our natural proclivities to embrace the carnal impulse alone instead of wrangling with underlying emotions that open up vulnerability. The setting itself - 1967 Hong Kong - also signals this lack of control we have, the unknown future, and the collective identity of Hong Kong's people very much lurks in the subtext, but ultimately this feels very intentional, as WKW draws parallels between diasporic spirituality and collective identity - we all in many ways are just searching for a sense of peace and stability from the unpredictability of life itself.
The first film of Shyam Benegal's that I didn't outright adore, and by and large I really struggled to get into this one beyond its formal merits. The Seventh Horse of the Sun could be described in part as a formal exercise, an ode to storytelling, and the abstract nature of objective truth when levied by subjective experience. A complex story structure examines the interplay between memory and experience and the social-economic externalities versus the interiority of affect. I don't know, I just struggled to connect to this film at all on an emotional level, despite the rather pointed critique of how certain social and economic constructs quantify love in ways that repress its true nature. Commonality, social harmony, progress, and individual growth are all congruent with the tangible qualities we define as love yet divisions among class and gender subservience, restrict this realization. Benegal's film is a complex exercise and one that certainly has many merits. I just struggled to draw much of a connection to the underlying story, finding it to be ultimately an interesting formal exercise about storytelling and its intrinsic amalgamation of truth and invention that becomes too unwieldy to deliver a compelling experience for me on an emotional or character level.
Tam's Burning Snow in many respects is one of his most cold, hopeless films - the promise of escape through love and connection is nothing but a reprieve from the abuse and subjugation at the hands of oppression. Our main protagonist can not free herself from her prison through the circumvention of violence, or peaceful departure, and Burning Snow posits violence as a necessity for release. Where the forbidden love archetype suggests the potential for escape, even in the film's moments that focus on this shared affection there is little warmth to be found. The two lovers are enshrouded by the cold blue-hued aesthetic that engulfs the entirety of their surroundings, as Tam effectively constructs an edifice of emotional desolation due to physical and emotional abrasion. Burning Snow is deeply sensual but not affectionate - the body ravaged, the mind degraded, the release from this pain is only temporarily circumvented by affection from another but ultimately a sustainable release must come through the personal seizure of control intrinsic to violence. Officially the last Tam film I hadn't seen - Sad moment, but certainly safe to say he is one of the most underappreciated filmmakers who I feel like if he just happened to be born a few years later he would have been a household name among the likes of his protege WKW.
Love of all things cinema brought me here.