The old Greeks had some of the most striking and illustrative ways of explaining the world. In their cosmos, titans, gods and men were constantly engaging in a great struggle that bore one tragedy after the next. These myths were boosted by the genius of great writers such as Homer, Hesiod and Apollonios, who captured the brutal and absorbing tales vividly on paper and thus enabled them to be preserved. It’s pretty common that Greek mythology is used as point of reference in art, which makes sense, given that it shaped Western art in more than just a few ways. It additionally poses some sort of archaic, self contained and detailed otherworld, grappling with human conflicts in a fascinating manner, even though obviously outdated.
So it isn’t completely innovative that Austrian director and screenwriter Wolfgang Fischer intentionally uses the implications of his sophomore feature’s title, Styx —the stream and deity which separates the land of the living and the land of the dead in the realm of Greek mythology —to create a subtextual tension that illustrates the film’s stakes. The film follows the journey of Rike, a middle-aged Austrian woman and doctor, who sets out on a lone journey to an island in the middle of the Atlantic and eventually encounters an overloaded and critically damaged refugee ship, whose appearance puts an end to her carefree adventure.
Continue reading “‘Styx’ starts as a stunning and mystifying tapestry, but ends up as a letdown”
The Criterion Channel’s latest movie is the 1970 film, Wanda, a film now appreciated as a masterpiece in American independent cinema. Directed, written, and starring the late Barbara Loden, Wanda follows the titular character through Pennsylvania as she faces difficulty at her every attempt to make a life for herself after divorcing her husband and losing custody of her children. She slowly walks around her Rust Belt town wearing her hair curlers for the first twenty minutes and offers a perfect introduction into the protagonist’s circumstances—her walk resembles not of someone aimless but of someone who has nowhere to go and no one to go to.
Continue reading “Criterion Reviews: ‘Wanda’”
The existence of the romcom as a genre is often considered formulaic and vapid. Many people love to hate, and a trashy romcom is the supposedly lowest ranking of cinema. And yet, for others, the romcom is actually one of the most celebrated genres in cinema, where people live for the magical moments, the predictable tropes and the happy endings of it all. However, it is not what it is without its many critiques; whether it’s not diverse enough, or it’s too heteronormative, or it doesn’t cater to the reality of the world. In Todd Strauss-Schulson’s Isn’t it Romantic, the argument is laid out that anyone could have the life of a protagonist in a romantic comedy, no matter how silly or hopeless this actually looks like.
Continue reading “‘Isn’t it Romantic’ is a Tasteless Tribute to Romcoms”
Why Do We Hate Morally Ambiguous Women On TV?
The portrayal of morally ambiguous women in television and film has never been particularly well-received by critics and audiences alike. Often, such a portrayal of women evinces misogynistic criticism, without much consideration for actually analysing characterisation, plot or themes. This special consideration seems to be solely reserved for the criticism of morally ambiguous male characters, who are afforded the luxury of being analysed as complex. In contrast, the criticism of morally ambiguous women eschews analysing the technicalities of characterisation altogether. Instead, this criticism is usually directed towards her gender and consequently, how she should behave as a woman within a specific cultural context. It seems that implicit in the word complex, is the de facto accepted face of the white, heterosexual male, whose race, gender, and sexuality no longer matter because they are the norm against which all marginalised groups are measured by. Only when these attributes (i.e. race, gender, sexuality) are backgrounded, can the technicalities of his characterisation be foregrounded and fleshed out in the wider context of criticism. Unfortunately, the rest of us aren’t so lucky. The marginalised are never complex. We are almost always negatively defined in relation to the norm, and that is a definition which lapses back into homogeneity and sameness. Complex is a word which denotes possibilities beyond what is universally accepted, and the idea of the beyond horrifies those in power who rely on the fixity and determinacy of essentialised categories like race, gender and sexuality. Continue reading “The Triumph of Morally Ambiguous Women in ‘Line of Duty’”
We have all had those moments where a stranger is rude to us right out of the blue. They shove past us or cut ahead or say something venomous in our direction, totally without provocation. They are pissed about something else, but they are going to make it our problem. These moments tend to be so quick and unexpected that we’re left tongue-tied, unable to process the sudden, ugly interruption into our lives quick enough. Maybe we meekly say nothing, or maybe we explode back at them on pure reflex but can’t get our words together well enough and end up just sort of spurting angry syllables at them. Neither is very satisfying, and we’ll likely spend the next few hours, if not days, returning to that moment, re-writing our lines. What we would have said. What we should have said.
Rojo opens on that rare moment where a person immediately has exactly the right words at their disposal. Claudio (Dario Grandinetti) is a highly successful and respected lawyer, waiting for his wife in a small, busy restaurant. As he waits, the man standing next to him (Diego Cremonesi), who is waiting for a table to free up, becomes increasingly irate. Perhaps because he is closest, perhaps because he is alone, perhaps because he has the neatly-dressed, quiet demeanour of a man who can be dominated by brute force — whatever the reason, the stranger makes Claudio the target of his rage. After a brief exchange, Claudio politely acquiesces, picking up his coat and rising from his seat. He walks a few feet away before calmly turning round and delivering an eloquent, pointed speech which condemns the stranger’s behaviour as that of a deeply unhappy man, more to be pitied than hated.
Continue reading “Glasgow Film Festival ’19: Rojo”
We all know about the American Dream. We see it in movies, we read about it history books, we talk about it all the time. In achieving this proverbial dream, we have achieved the pinnacle of success and freedom, whatever that means. In her directorial debut, Darya Zhuk paints a different picture of chasing the American Dream in the newly sovereign nation of Belarus, one that is funny, tragic, and confused.
In Belarus in the 1990s, Velya (Alina Nasibullina) is an aspiring DJ who wants nothing more than to move to Chicago, home of house music. She and her strung-out boyfriend party all night, and she survives by living at home and stealing from her mom. But, Belarus’ bureaucracy makes it virtually impossible for an unemployed woman living with her mom to leave the country. In an attempt to trick the system, she buys a letter of employment from a factory, but this backfires as she writes down the wrong phone number, which means the embassy can’t call to verify her “employment.” So, she heads to the phone number’s address in the factory town of Crystal City to ensure she gets her visa. This leads to a clash of the classes in the name of reaching that American Dream.
Continue reading “Chicago Feminist Film Festival: ‘Crystal Swan’ Tells A Darkly Comic Version of the American Dream”
The samurai is an archetypal action hero which has been remixed and re-invented in a million ways since the days of Kurosawa. Sergio Leone drew directly from the legendary Japanese filmmaker to create his iconic Westerns, replacing the katana and bun with a revolver and a ten-gallon hat. Star Wars switched the blade for a laser beam and moved the whole thing to another galaxy, while films like Ghost Dog brought the Bushido code into a world more like our own. In each iteration, the appeal remains the same: the hero is a man with the violent talents to make for exciting action cinema, but with a rigorous moral code that allows the audience to root for him even as he’s slicing people down. Essentially, the samurai embodies the two-fold relationship we have with violence.
With Killing, Shinya Tsukamoto pushes us to look harder at our willingness to cheer for the man with the sword.
Continue reading “Glasgow Film Festival ’19: Killing”