FICG ’19: ‘The Blonde One’ is a triumphant rumination on machismo

Tension has become a trademark in Marco Berger’s work. You’re aware going into one of his films that the will-they won’t-they suspense will drive the narrative. The spaces in his films brim with silence, allowing the restless expressions in his characters’ faces do the talking. The point is not to make it seem like words are irrelevant—on the contrary, it is when his characters come clean that you realize the power of just talking. It is fitting then that The Blonde One, Berger’s latest film, was conceived with a mute lead in mind. While at the end they were forced to scratch that idea, Gabriel, the titular blonde (Taekwondo’s Gaston Re), clings to quietness throughout the story, even being referred to as “the mute” by his friends.

We meet Gabriel as he’s moving in to his co-worker Juan’s (Alfonso Barón) flat so he can be close to his place of work. Juan looks infatuated with the man from the moment he arrives, glancing at him for a bit too long and standing a bit too close to him at every chance he gets. While Gabriel is apprehensive at first, as he has a girlfriend and a daughter living with his parents, he’s ultimately responsive to Juan’s insinuations. The sexual tension builds until the end of the first act when a proposal to go out and buy beer quickly escalates—Juan finally acts on his desires and Gabriel reciprocates leniently. The implication here might be that we’re observing the dawn of a new love, but as Juan kicks Gabriel out of his room after having sex, we learn that’s not the case.

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FICG ’19: ‘Memories of My Body’ is a Personal and Harrowing Look at Gender

“My body is like a battlefield where the opponents fight one another,” proclaims acclaimed dancer and choreographer Rianto midway through Garin Nugroho’s newest film. He’s not only the narrator, but the story is also based in his own life. Indeed, the constant struggle that Juno, Rianto’s fictional representation, experiences with gender is the driving force for the aptly titled Memories of My Body.

The film is told in sections, marked by Juno’s age. In its early sections, it becomes evident that Juno is at odds with the world around him. Nugroho cleverly juxtaposes shots of kids playing and having fun with one another as Juno tends to be shown by himself, purposely avoiding people when possible. The children bully him and his teacher doesn’t hesitate to abuse him at the slightest mistake, even going as far as forcing him to write on the blackboard with chalk in his mouth. Juno is only happy when he is alone and spying on dancers as they put on makeup and practice their routines. As he watches them dance throughout the early stages of his life, his features fill with longing for what he can’t be.

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Glasgow Film Festival ’19: Killing

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.

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With Killing, Shinya Tsukamoto pushes us to look harder at our willingness to cheer for the man with the sword.

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Film Awareness In Under-Exposed Areas

There’s the potential for a cinephile in everybody we meet, probably with varying intensities, but there’s the potential nonetheless. There is always a hidden untapped passion brimming underneath the surface that even they might be unaware of – not necessarily cinephilia. But cinephilia was mine. Once I recognized the dormant passion that always resided in me and put it to exercise, I felt like a new man. It was like a new chapter for me. So, with this potential in mind, why do African nations in particular lack the knowledge and accessibility to lesser known, indie movies that are widely regarded as some of the best cinema today among more cine-literate circles? You can already tell this is going to be a personal essay which it very much is, but I’ll also evaluate connections between my own experience and the larger scope of things. Be ready to cringe because I’m about to get deep.

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Glasgow Film Festival ’19: ‘The Pluto Moment’

“You look fat and healthy, and you dress well,” Wang Zhun (Wang Xuebing) tells a fellow director at the beginning of The Pluto Moment. It’s a little hard to tell whether it’s a back-handed compliment or a thinly-veiled insult, but the way in which he walks away immediately after, leaving the other man staring on in bewilderment, suggests the latter.

An arthouse filmmaker himself, Zhun has found himself on the set of a glitzy international production by pure chance. His wife Gao Li (Miya) is the movie’s action star, delivering high kicks in an all-leather jumpsuit when he arrives. The production is a mess of mixed languages and moving parts, moviemaking on the sort of mammoth scale reserved for real blockbusters. From the way he is skeptically interrogated upon arrival, to the forlorn look he wears as he watches on from the side-lines, it is clear that this is not Zhun’s world.

When shooting is wrapped up and the couple have a chance to talk, we find out that Zhun is trying to tempt his wife away from her glamorous, big-budget titles to star in his next venture. He doesn’t have any money for the film. Or a script. She already has another film lined up. Why not just wait and star in the sequel, he asks? Because, of course, this kind of movie always has a sequel. Or the third one? She playfully suggests.

Even with only the half-baked beginnings of an idea and no funding, he seems confident that his movie would be more worthwhile than whatever franchise she has been asked to helm. Even if he does not yet know what it will be about, he knows that his movie will at least be about something.

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How the Unlikely Claustrophobia of ‘Phantom Thread’ and ‘The Favourite’ Moves the Needle on Prestige Period Dramas

In the midst of the scandals and snubs that have dominated the conversations surrounding Best Picture nominees of recent years, Phantom Thread and The Favourite are two contenders that have drawn the most specific comparisons. Given that they’re both British period pieces at their cores, and are helmed by prominent directors — Paul Thomas Anderson and Yorgos Lanthimos, respectively — these films seem just as primed for predictable Academy recognition as star-studded melodramas or Sam Rockwell playing racist characters a little too well.

But even as The Favourite and Phantom Thread have received well-deserved buzz and tick many of the boxes that often lead awards cycle domination, the general consensus remains: there’s something offbeat and singular about how these stories unfold. In spite of their lavish settings, the films seize upon social codes of the time to exacerbate conflicts between their characters, until the resulting atmospheres become increasingly confined and oppressive. This intentional, rather ironic claustrophobia helps the films to plumb deeper themes that arise from certain historical circumstances, moving the needle on what a “period piece” can explore.

By the time that Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) first encounters his lover and muse, Alma (Vicky Krieps) near the beginning of Phantom Thread, viewers have already been thoroughly exposed to the painstakingly choreographed rituals that dictate the designer’s opulent life. The film marks Paul Thomas Anderson’s first departure from the restless Americana of his seven earlier features, as he and the notoriously method-oriented Day-Lewis delved into the refined world of 1950s London couture houses.

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Much more reliant on tradition than Paris — the other European dressmaking capital of the time — London fashion was predicated on the occasions of the city’s upper class. Scenes of royals and women of high society ascending the spiral staircase of the “House of Woodcock” to meet with Reynolds as Jonny Greenwood’s score swells carry an air of choreographed theatrics because they are meant to — these carefully manicured businesses are beautiful, but so steeped in privilege and British customs that they can easily turn suffocating if one steps out of line.

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The Heterosexual Coming Out Story: On ‘Love, Simon’ and ‘Boy Erased’

“I loved that”, said my friend after our screening of Love, Simon finished. The lights were coming up, ‘Aflie’s Song (Not So Typical Love Song)’ was playing over scrapbook style credits. She had been babbling since they started rolling. Her face was a portrait of the film we just watched, eyes red and puffy, mouth in a wide grin. “I loved that so much, I can’t wait to see it again”. I agreed. Love, Simon was easy to love. I wanted to see it again. And see it again I did, three more times in fact, and each with the same amount of joy.

Love, Simon is by all measures a crushingly average film. It is about as cliched as a high-school, coming-of-age, romance film can be. That’s what, in my mind at least, makes it so good. Prior to Love, Simon I had felt that while queer experiences had been depicted well in film, it was normally reserved for awards season or indie films­. When queerness was in the mainstream it was usually packaged for heterosexual audiences rather than being for the queer community – 2013’s GBF sticks out as prime example of this.

While this had been improving, 2016 and 2017 certainly saw queer films pushed further into the mainstream with Moonlight and Call Me By Your Name respectively, much of the press surrounding the latter sought to detract from the queerness. With two white male leads in an otherwise common love story its only unique factor to me seemed to be the queerness – yet efforts were made to detract from this queerness, with the film frequently being touted as a ‘universal’ love story.

For Love, Simon to be as average as it was while simply letting its protagonist be queer was nice. “Everyone deserves a great love story” ran the tagline. I wouldn’t call Love, Simon exceptionally great but the queer community was finally getting a middling high-school romance and that did feel great. It felt great because it felt normal – we were finally being treated as normal. Love, Simon seemed special considering that 2018 was year where many films with queer narratives fell into the same clichés of queer cinema past. From these films, Boy Erased sticks out to me as the most egregious example.

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Where Love, Simon was focused on the future, Boy Erased was trapped in the past. The story of Jared (Lucas Hedges) is one that we have seen before multiple times, from the 1999 cult classic But I’m a Cheerleader to this year’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post (which tells the conversion therapy narrative with far more delicacy and emotion than Boy Erased).

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