‘Atlantique’ is a swoon-worthy debut by Mati Diop

The West never sees the Middle Eastern and African world as what it really is. There is an inbred generalization that is almost impossible to forget. Even when you know that it is false, your mind will not always have actual images to put next to that thesis. Godard’s La Livre d’ Image dedicates a chapter to the violence of representation, pointing out how it’s nearly impossible for Westerners to represent cultures that are not Western, grounded in the inherent gap in both language and perception of other cultures. The fact that Africa is often seen as a monolithic setting, something homogeneous, even though it’s a diverse, culturally rich continent, should be proof enough of a general unwillingness to destroy and actively tackle images of prejudice in broad parts of society. In consequence, it’s no wonder there is so little compassion towards thousands of refugees from North Africa and the Middle East, who are in search of a better life. They are seen as one.

In Mati Diop’s ravishing Atlantique, a group of construction workers are repeatedly denied their money for their work on a giant futuristic building. They struggle to support their families and loved ones and set out to sea to find better opportunities. The women remain, one of them being Ada. She is in love with the young Souleiman, but has to face her arranged marriage after Souleiman disappears with the others. What unfolds from here is both a ghost story and a love story from the perspectives of the women left behind. Continue reading “‘Atlantique’ is a swoon-worthy debut by Mati Diop”

‘System Crasher’ Will Not Leave Your Mind For Some Time

The bobby-cars are having a bad day. One by one, they are hurled at the shatterproof glass door, which separates the grey and sparse courtyard of the youth detention centre from the inside of the building. Even though the door withstands, it isn’t over yet. With a loud groan, nine-year-old Benni runs to crash one of the toy vehicles into the door. A little CGI crack shows in the glass, just as the neon-pink title-card foreshadows that this is so much more than just about a broken door.

Some films make you emotional, some render you contemplative, while others fill you up with a creeping sensation of hope or despair. But only few manage to completely sweep you off your feet by offering a nuanced, empathetic portrayal of trauma and mental illness. In this respect, the recent German arthouse film System Crasher arrives like a furious marathon runner with a megaphone. A more apt description of is “wucht”, the German synonym to “stunner.”

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Female Director Spotlight: The Surrealist Female Gaze of Maya Deren

Lost in thought, a woman pulls a key out of her mouth. As she holds it in her hand, it transforms into a knife. She enters another room using the key, where two women, who look exactly like her, scrutinize the situation and carefully take a seat. She comes up to the table and places the knife in the middle. The knife turns back into a key. The women raise their heads in surprise.

As Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon progresses, we realize that the key plays a big role in the main character’s state of mind. It’s an image that has spread itself throughout visual arts in multitudes. Whether it be the weird key to the Dead Man’s Chest from Pirates of the Caribbean or the thin triangle shaft to the blue box in Mulholland Drive, it often illustrates the threshold between unknowingness and realization, a state of mystery — entrancing, very evocative, yet also hazy. In that, it mirrors some of Maya Deren’s most present sensibilities as a storyteller.

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MUBI Review: ‘Berberian Sound Studio’ and The Power of Sound

This review is part of our coverage for MUBI’s August 2019 slate.

“Which reel?”

“Forget the reel. I just need to scream. That’s all.”

There is no denial that Peter Strickland is emerging as one of the strongest contemporary genre filmmakers of the UK. With the kaleidoscopic The Duke of Burgundy and his most recent In Fabric, he displays his talent for something that one usually connects with the great genre filmmakers of the likes of Argento, De Palma and co., whose influence he wears proudly. Strickland has the sensibility to craft a thoroughly entertaining film that specifically concentrates on its aesthetic ideas and weaves them into central narrative concerns without running into danger of being gimmicky.

While In Fabric is fascinated with the image of a cursed piece of cloth on an elegant shop counter, and Duke of Burgundy with a submissive maid dusting off the glass of a butterfly collection, Strickland’s breakout film Berberian Sound Studio is invested into the texture of sound technology and the image of a woman screaming in silence.

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Jewels Under the Kitchen Sink: ‘El Auge del Humano’ is a Radical Mood Piece

This piece is part of a series called Jewels Under the Kitchen Sink. Here we try to bring films that have been overlooked during their time, or were (despite their distinctive and timely nature) somehow forgotten, back onto the radar. It’s an attempt at reaching into the dusty niches of time and fishing some true gems out of there. We hope to pique your interest towards some of these films, so they can be reintroduced into today’s film discussion.

Some films just won’t leave your head after you have seen them. Recently confronted with the slightly overwhelming request, “Recommend me the most unforgettable film you have ever seen,” I was suddenly thinking about El auge del humano again. I didn’t give the recommendation, because the person asking probably wouldn’t have liked it and there are so many other unforgettable cinematic experiences. But, the instinctual jump obviously didn’t happen without reason, so my train of thought went from there. It’s rare that cinema is so distinct and led-on with such a pronounced confidence.

Writer/director Eduardo “Teddy” Williams was born in Argentina, tutored by Miguel Gomes during his studies and garnered attention with his short film Pude ver un puma, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012. Starring frequent collaborator Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, who is known for his dazzling performance as Sean in Robin Campillo’s 120 BPM, the film tells the mysterious story of young men roaming a torn-down and empty world with a floating and dreamlike sensibility. While dystopias are a popular narrative framing device in short films, there has never been one that tells its story quite like this one. This fact announced the young director as a filmmaking voice to look out for.

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After several shorts, Williams finally put together his first feature film, a deeply mysterious study of both characters and their environments, seamlessly spanning three countries through small towns, jungles and video chats. El auge del humano finally premiered at Locarno in 2016 and won Williams a highly deserved Best First Feature Special Mention and the Golden Leopard in the Filmmakers of the Present section. While the film sparked very diverse reactions amongst critics, there was no denial that Williams’ craft was absolutely original. Continue reading “Jewels Under the Kitchen Sink: ‘El Auge del Humano’ is a Radical Mood Piece”

Review and Interview: Dasheng Zheng’s ‘Bangzi Melody’

During an Q&A for Dasheng Zheng’s funny and deeply concerned film about a rural community during the early 1980’s, an audience member asks if the film did well in China. The director sorrily negates the question. There is a palpable sense of urgency when he talks about his project, which has went under the festival radar of many critics and thus lost any chance to be put into a bigger circles of discussion. Later I speak to him outside, he draws on a cigarette and blows the smoke into the starry sky above. I ask him, who he’d like to see the film.

“For a young generation in China…they don’t know what happened before. They don’t know enough. And they are too detached from these topics, there are too many distractions. If we don’t know enough, we don’t have the opportunity to think. First we need to know, then we might have an opportunity to think it over. For the future.”

In the tradition of many filmmakers, Zheng is raging against the cold threat of history falling into oblivion.

“I’m from the city […] I didn’t really know what happened to ordinary Chinese people then. This is why I wanted to make this movie. I tried my best to understand.”

Drawn from the material of three short stories by Jia Dashan, Bangzi Melody tells the story of a pending challenge to the peanut farmers of a small village in the North-East of China. They coincidentally find out that a land reform will take place and that they are to receive political guests very soon. Until then, their task is to rehearse and perform a classic, pre-revolutionary opera for the cadres, supposedly a sign for reinvigoration after decades of systematic oppression during the cultural revolution.

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Tribeca 2019 Review: ‘Ponyboi’

It can be read everywhere: queer cinema is on the rise. It’s quite hard to disprove that statement at first glance; there have been truly great films about queer individuals in the past years and they have garnered a level of attention that seemed almost impossible just two decades ago. But ‘queer’ can be a very dangerous word. While it eases the way to separate non-heteronormative experiences from heteronormative experiences, it also has the downside of being an umbrella term for a great amount of extremely distinct experiences, which can quickly blur their unique and autonomous nature. The term is already being criticized in larger discussions and even when not digging into those discussions, there is no denial that it has distorted the conversation around the rise of films that are inhabited and led by queer characters. These films only apply to a certain, more widely accepted line-up of queer experiences. While gay, bisexual and lesbian films have certainly managed to thrive in recent memory and offer more stories that don’t merely exist to please and educate straight audiences, there still is a dangerously high amount of cinema about other forms of sexual expression, that does exactly that and gets away with it, only because their filmmakers are also ‘queer.’ Case in point, the highly-irresponsible Girl, directed by a gay, cis-gender man. It’s a film which both fetishizes the trans body and wallows in exploitation of trans pain for affect, which didn’t hinder it from being celebrated by critics and rewarded with several festival prizes.

Obviously this doesn’t apply to every single one of these films. Cases for Tangerine have been made as a film that grapples with and respects the trans struggle, while being directed by a non-trans person that has merely done his research. There simply is a frequent amount of examples that reduce queer individuals to concepts, stemming from a lack of accuracy and nuance by filmmakers that are not a part of the represented group. These films are dangerous, because they distort other people’s experiences and create misconceptions and prejudice in the eyes of uneducated viewers. It’s not that the filmmakers don’t usually mean well, but they often simply don’t do enough to redeem this intention.

While the inter* community doesn’t have a lot of representation on-screen in general, rare exceptions such as XXY and Predestination display how right and wrong it can go in the hands of non-inter* filmmakers. So it’s a great pleasure that with Ponyboi, there’s finally a piece of intersex representation made by an intersex-man, about an intersex-man and it’s an even greater pleasure that it’s wonderful.

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