In 1975, the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia’s communist party, overthrew the Cambodian government and took over the country, bringing with them four years of genocide. They forced Cambodians into work camps, massacred minority populations, and preached the benefits of communism to justify their violence. Denis Do’s animated film, Funan, tells the story of a family trying to survive and stay together in the face of this fascist regime. Its beautiful animation style and honest, yet non-exploitative, portrayals of violence create a film with raw emotional power.
Two officers stand together, smoking cigarettes, and ruminating over Singapore’s land reclamation. As they gaze over the water at the towering metallic behemoths of industry on the horizon, they ruminate on Singapore’s land expansion over 30 years and how it doesn’t seem to be stopping, just like their investigation into two missing migrant workers. One asks why they are even looking for people that no one cares about. Director Yeo Siew Hua uses his latest film, A Land Imagined, to make you care about those that go ignored and those whose disappearances go investigated through a dreamy noir.
This is not the wealthy Singapore we typically see; this is industrial Singapore that is full of migrant workers living in cramped dorms. This is a Singapore that feels akin to the dystopic worlds of Ghost in the Shell or Blade Runner. Police investigator Lok moves through this environment in search of a missing migrant worker, Wang. Wang, injured on a land reclamation site and suffering from insomnia, seeks some kind of relief in an internet cafe, awash in neon colors and full of a cacophony of clacking keys and whirring computer fans. He is searching for connection, for a friend, in a place where he doesn’t know anyone. But his search for friendship goes awry and Lok must try to find out just exactly what’s happening at these work sites.
In most cases, a man in a leather mask masturbating while watching a young man dance would be a red flag. But at the sex club in the opening of Yann Gonzalez’s Knife+Heart, this is expected and even encouraged. The masked man and the young dancer go home together, presumably for a night of fun. However, it all goes downhill when this man reveals he has a dildo knife and kills his partner. This is Gonzalez’s ridiculously delicious opening of his queer slasher for the ages about a killer tracking down porn stars in Paris during the summer of 1979.
Anne Parèze (played by the ethereal Vanessa Paradis) is a porn producer who exclusively makes gay male porn at a discount. Her performers are constantly demanding payment, even discussing their paychecks mid-blow job. Meanwhile, Anne won’t stop drinking her pain away after a breakup with her girlfriend of 10 years, who is also her editor. Amidst this turmoil, someone begins picking off her porn stars one by one, casting a shadow of fear over the studio. But while performing her grief, Anne decides to use these crimes as inspiration for her next porno, Homo-cidal. The narrative intertwines her desire to make the next great porn film, her investigation into the killer, and her declining mental state in the face of a broken relationship.
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.
We’re a society that loves serial killers, but only a certain image of serial killer: a white man with a tortured past who can easily be slapped on a t-shirt and lauded as some kind of perverse hero. Filipino director Raya Martin taps into this obsession with his adaptation of Felisa Batacan’s award-winning novel, Smaller and Smaller Circles (it was also the first Filipino crime novel). But, instead of glorifying or deifying the killer, Martin instead portrays him, and the entire case, with nuance and pain, depicting a world unseen by most Western audiences.
In a rain-soaked Payatas, reminiscent of the dreary city in Se7en, two Jesuit priests, Gus Saenz (Nonie Buencamino) and Jerome Lucero (Sid Lucero), are assisting in the investigation of a potential serial killer who is targeting young boys in the slum district. Seven bodies have been found in a local garbage dump, each missing his face and genitals. Saenz and Lucero, forensic investigators as well as priests, are working against time and the police to solve this case, fighting tooth and nail for resources. While they are investigating these murders, they are also combating the rampant sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. Both men are trying to do good by the Lord, but are confronted with a more harrowing reality.
Alice Guy-Blaché was not only the first female director, but also one of the first film directors, period. But odds are you’ve never heard of her. She directed nearly 1,000 films (including what’s regarded as the first narrative film), founded her own movie studio, and shaped cinema today. But due to a film canon dictated by male power, her legacy was almost erased. Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché tells her story, but unfortunately forgets quite a few figures along the way.
Alice Guy-Blaché was a French film director and from 1896 to 1906, was most likely the only female film director in the world. She experimented with cinema, creating some of the first examples of close-up, hand-colored film, and synchronized sound. She wrote comedies and tragedies, and created films, such as The Consequences of Feminism, that interrogated gender roles. She was a working mother who ran her own movie studio. So how is it possible that so few people have heard of her?
Please note that this review contains discussion of rape and sexual assault.
In her directorial debut, Holiday, Isabelle Eklöf aimed to make a bold statement. With a stark setting and a naive protagonist, she showcases the brutality of relationships and the roles women are expected to play, using rape, spousal abuse, and murder to make her point. While some cases of extreme violence are merely exploitative and exhausting, Eklöf portrays a disturbing reality that works to expose exploitation rather than wield it.
Young, blonde, and beautiful Sophie is on vacation with her crime boss boyfriend, spending her days in the sun and her nights drinking by the pool or at a club. Her job is to wear short skirts, look pretty, and be ready to have sex whenever her boyfriend demands it. She is a puppet, which is seen very literally when Michael drugs her and manipulates her unconscious body into various positions. Sophie’s dissatisfaction with this life begins to bubble through the surface, first through long looks at herself in the mirror, then through a friendship with a man she meets at an ice cream shop. But even this friendship cannot save her. Holiday is 90 minutes of a naive girl trying to be whatever her boyfriend wants her to be, only to realize the price of such obedience.