A SPECIAL BREAKFAST (Germany)
Savo Cubrilovic, Sarah Timm
By Adrian Perez
Savo Cubrilovic and Sarah Timm, the creative duo known for their keen eye for intricate visual storytelling, invite us on an uncanny morning journey with their latest short film, "A Special Breakfast". An exploration of the mundane transformed into the surreal, the film oscillates between a casual Saturday morning routine and the emergence of the bizarre, as it masterfully employs auditory and visual stimuli to warp the audience's perception of reality.
Katja, the central character, embodies the charm of the everyday woman, and her mundane morning routine is something with which we can all resonate. However, her journey to the bakery and back is the catalyst that unravels her world, and ours, into a perplexing spectacle. Her husband Louis's inexplicable behaviour, and the sudden onslaught of strange sights and sounds, make us question our own grip on reality. The film subtly walks on the fine line between sanity and madness, creating an intricate labyrinth of perception.
This dramatic transformation from ordinary to extraordinary is a testament to Cubrilovic and Timm's unique storytelling approach. They both bring their individual perspectives to the table, resulting in a visually and sonically stunning piece of art. Savo's meticulous direction, blending elements of photography and writing, merges seamlessly with Sarah's keen understanding of rhythm and emotion from her acting and dancing background.
"A Special Breakfast" is a feast for the senses that encourages multiple viewings. The film's unique use of sound design, by the talented Gary Marlowe and Konstantin Hennecke, is not just complementary but crucial to the story. It interacts with the visuals, creating a vibrant, living world that is immersive and intriguing. The intricate detailing of the visual narrative, coupled with the auditory symphony, gives the audience a chance to explore new layers with each viewing.
The film culminates in a revelatory crescendo that leaves the audience questioning the boundaries of their own perception. "A Special Breakfast" is indeed special, not just in name but in its essence. It is a testament to Cubrilovic and Timm's collective vision and their ability to breathe life into the simplest of stories, making it an exceptional addition to independent cinema. Unpredictably ordinary, undeniably extraordinary, and undoubtedly a Grade A* cinematic experience.
ACROSS THE LINE (USA)
By Adrian Perez
Heidi Putallaz thrusts us into an uncanny socio-judicial labyrinth in her latest work "Across The Line," a film that feels as if it were the progeny of a pandemic era, born from the cradle of Zoom plays. The film, in its innovative design, compels us to witness a tale embedded deep within the tapestry of racial and societal politics, as seen through the lens of a Native American lawyer navigating the complexities of a high-profile case involving a white defendant and a Native American victim.
Putallaz's film is a virtual odyssey that explores the depths of human nature, cultural loyalties, and the intrinsic biases and contradictions that reside within a single courtroom drama. It dares to ask poignant questions about identity, allegiance, and the tangled intricacies of the American justice system. As we embark on this journey, we are drawn into an intricate web of interpersonal relationships, each one bearing the weight of history, personal beliefs, and societal norms.
"Across The Line" is a testament to Putallaz's mastery of cinematic minimalism, as she employs the confines of a Zoom-play format to her advantage. It is within these restrictions that the true strength of her craft shines, subtly steering us through the tumultuous waters of her narrative with a grace and ease that makes the entire experience both harrowing and cathartic.
The protagonist, a Native American lawyer who sacrificed her career for her family, is a beacon of resolute determination and conflicted loyalties. Her return to the courtroom to defend a white man accused of killing a Native American teen is a paradoxical journey that tests her own allegiances and forces her to confront the cultural schisms within her community and herself.
Putallaz maintains a controlled chaos throughout the film, orchestrating a symphony of raw emotions and simmering tensions that swell beneath the surface. Every glance, every silence, every spoken word carries a weight of its own, contributing to the rich tapestry of this deeply evocative narrative. Putallaz manages to root us firmly within the protagonist's complex moral dilemmas, eliciting our empathy and provoking introspection.
"Across The Line" is a stark reminder of the invisible boundaries that exist within society and within ourselves. It is a deeply moving examination of the human condition and an exploration of the intricate dance between personal identity and collective responsibility. A compelling blend of personal introspection and socio-cultural critique, the film is a testament to Putallaz's directorial prowess and a triumph of independent cinema.
AFTER ROE FALLS (USA)
By Adrian Perez
Jessica Orcsik’s “After Roe Falls” isn’t just a film—it’s a poignant exploration of a topical socio-political debate framed through the intimate lens of personal struggle. Armed with her rich background in TV, film, and theatre productions, and fortified with an impressive array of international accolades, Orcsik plunges us into the heart-wrenching dilemma of Margot, a young woman with great career ambitions who finds herself pregnant and caught between diametrically opposing worldviews.
This narrative is not only a dissection of the abortion debate but a psychoanalytic exploration of the profound question: why shouldn't women have the right to choose? Margot's journey is a complex labyrinth of emotional turmoil, torn between the conservative catholic views of Jane and the rebellious pragmatism of Jo. It's a narrative that feels both deeply personal and universally relevant, an intimate examination of an individual life that simultaneously casts a harsh light on the broader societal tensions that shape and restrict it.
Orcsik's direction is both subtle and bold, drawing us into the story's human drama while also forcing us to confront its larger implications. She paints the film with a palette of muted tones and understated performances, creating an atmosphere of quiet desperation that underscores the stark reality of Margot's situation. Her characters are drawn with sensitivity and depth, their inner conflicts mirrored in the film's somber cinematography and thoughtful pacing.
Yet for all its subtle craft, "After Roe Falls" is also a film of remarkable power. The stakes of Margot's decision are never downplayed or trivialized; instead, they are brought into sharp focus by the film's unflinching depiction of the physical and emotional realities of abortion. Orcsik's refusal to shy away from these harsh truths lends the film a raw, compelling urgency that grips the viewer from start to finish.
The film’s psychoanalytic approach invites us to not only sympathize with Margot but to introspect, to reconsider our own deeply held beliefs and prejudices. The film doesn't merely tell us that women should have the right to choose—it shows us, through Margot's agonizing journey, the profound personal cost of denying them that right.
The film is an exercise in narrative minimalism, preferring to let its characters and their struggles speak for themselves rather than rely on overt commentary or grandstanding. This approach makes "After Roe Falls" all the more powerful, its quiet conviction and emotional honesty resonating far more deeply than any overt polemic could.
Orcsik's “After Roe Falls” is a critical achievement, a brave and thought-provoking exploration of a contentious issue that never loses sight of the human beings at its heart. It's a film that challenges, provokes, and ultimately enlightens, holding up a mirror to society and forcing us to confront the reflection we see. With its poignant narrative, powerful performances, and profound thematic depth, it's a film that demands to be seen and discussed. Grade A
By Adrian Perez
“Allende,” the latest offering from director Yohanan Doron, is a brave, soul-searching exploration of human identity, sexuality, and the limitations of societal norms. The film presents an intimate odyssey into the realm of self-awakening, fearlessly challenging the deeply-rooted constraints of traditional life.
Francisco, our protagonist, is a young father who finds himself questioning his sexuality and the numbness of his existence. Doron, in a daring and deeply personal narrative choice, steers Francisco into an abstract exploration of his heart, mind, and soul. This journey is not linear, but rather a cyclical, recursive dance that captures the audience in its emotional and subconscious embrace.
"Allende" is a psychoanalytic and philosophical symphony, bearing the unmistakable mark of Doron's multicultural upbringing and the influence of his conservative religious background. The narrative is a tightrope act, delicately balancing the tensions between duty and desire, tradition and individualism, suppression and liberation. Doron’s work is a testament to the human condition, and he deftly traverses the thin lines between cultures, faiths, and borders.
The film is a canvas of surrealist scenes and beats that serve to engage the viewer at a deep, emotional level. The non-linear narrative style, rather than serving as a stumbling block, adds to the film's captivating essence. The journey we undertake with Francisco is as fragmented and disorienting as his own, the disjointed narrative mirroring his inner turmoil.
Allende is a bold cinematic experience, a personal testament of Doron's own life and experiences, and it shines through every frame. The film resonates with the struggle of countless individuals who, like Francisco, are caught in the web of societal norms, grappling with their suppressed identities. It encourages the audience to challenge the status quo and embrace the unique and diverse facets of their own selves.
The film’s cinematography, though subtle, is elegantly expressive. Each frame is a carefully curated snapshot of Francisco's journey, reflective of Doron's past work in music videos, documentaries, and art exhibitions. The film is an art piece in motion, every frame worthy of a gallery exhibition.
In the end, "Allende" stands as a testament to the transformative power of self-discovery and acceptance. It is a cinematic triumph, a masterful marriage of psychoanalysis, philosophy, and storytelling. It is a daring, deeply personal exploration of identity and sexuality, a stirring call to action for anyone caught in the crossfire of societal expectations and personal truth.
In summary, “Allende” is a poignant, deeply personal exploration of identity and the human condition, delivered with Doron's signature blend of cinematic brilliance and psychological depth. It is a film that does not shy away from the difficult questions, but rather embraces them, using the power of cinema to challenge, provoke, and ultimately, liberate. Grade A.
By Adrian Perez
Adri Carrandi's “Anatome” might not be a full-length film, but its impact is no less profound. The music video transports us into the modest life of a rural farmer whose existence is woven into the fabric of Mexico City's bustling market scene. Carrandi, through her skilled and sensitive direction, paints a vivid portrait of resilience in the face of ecological adversity.
“Anatome” unfolds with a lyrical rhythm, each frame echoing the quiet yet ceaseless heartbeat of nature. Carrandi, assisted by the visual acumen of cinematographer Sebastián Sanders, captures the verdant landscapes with an intimate and sensitive lens. The opening shot of sunlight filtering through the foliage as our protagonist tends to his crops sets the tone for this harmonious yet heartbreaking narrative.
Much like the works of the Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, Carrandi's “Anatome” treads a thin line between the concrete and the abstract. We are offered glimpses of the farmer's routine – the planting, watering, and harvesting – but also witness the insidious pollution that threatens his livelihood. The polluted water that trickles from a hose or the haunting image of a dying fish gasping for breath are potent symbols of the ecological crisis faced by our protagonist and, indeed, by our world.
Carrandi, in her capacity as a female director, brings a unique lens to the narrative. The farmer's struggle is not simply an environmental issue but also a deeply human one. There's a maternal touch to the way he tends to his crops, cradling the fruits of his labor like a mother would her child. The love, care, and desperation that imbue his actions make his plight even more poignant.
At the heart of the video is a stirring piece of music that complements the visual storytelling beautifully. The gentle strumming of the guitar and the lilting notes of the flute mirror the ebb and flow of the farmer's life – his victories, his disappointments, and his undying hope. The crescendos correspond to moments of crisis, while the quieter sections reflect the tranquility of rural life, forming a symphony of emotions that resonate long after the final note.
In conclusion, “Anatome” is a beautiful, moving piece of art that draws attention to the challenges of rural life in the face of environmental degradation. Carrandi's empathetic storytelling, coupled with Sanders' evocative visuals and the haunting musical score, make it a testament to the enduring spirit of humanity. It's a narrative that, though set in Mexico, echoes the trials faced by countless individuals worldwide in the age of environmental crises. As a music video, “Anatome” may be brief, but its message is timeless, its impact profound. Grade A.
ANDY: A DOG'S TALE (USA)
By Adrian Perez
In the annals of cinema, there is an enchanting corner dedicated to films that artfully anthropomorphize animals, from Disney's timeless "Lady and the Tramp" to the more recent "Zootopia". Now, we have the newest entrant into this illustrious category: "Andy: A Dog's Tale", an animated short film that captivates, inspires, and touches the heart. Conceived by Jean Schulz and directed by Jamy Wheless, the film emulates the whimsical and emotive charm that's synonymous with the works of Charles Schulz, Jean's late husband and creator of the iconic "Peanuts" series.
"Andy: A Dog's Tale" is a filmic journey that, while brief, is packed with a narrative potency that echoes the best of Pixar. It follows Andy, a runty labrador pup, as he braves the trials and tribulations of life to discover his purpose. This narrative premise, though seemingly simple, is dexterously handled with a depth and sincerity that mirrors classic films like "The Lion King" and "Bambi". Just as Simba ascended from a playful cub to a majestic king, Andy transforms from a weakling into a hero, reflecting the enduring archetype of the 'hero's journey'.
The charm of "Andy: A Dog's Tale" lies not just in its endearing protagonist but also in its adept exploration of the theme of service. This thematic focus is reminiscent of the warm-hearted ethos of "Lassie", another classic dog-centered story. Andy’s journey from being a needy pup to a service dog illustrates the transformative power of compassion and selflessness, providing a poignant commentary on the human-dog relationship that resonates with audiences of all ages.
The film's technical prowess is equally striking. The animation, developed by Ignite Animation Studios, is visually delightful and emotionally charged. Much like the stop-motion genius of "Fantastic Mr. Fox", "Andy: A Dog's Tale" uses animation to create an immersive, tactile world that enchants the viewer. The meticulous attention to detail, particularly in rendering the intricate fur of the canine characters, is a testament to the skill and dedication of the animators.
The film’s emotive potency is bolstered by an impressive score by Oscar-nominated composer Matthew Wilder, who previously worked on Disney's "Mulan". The music acts as a silent narrator, guiding the audience through Andy's journey with a soothing and evocative melody that recalls the melancholic beauty of "Up"'s famous score.
In a final masterstroke, director Wheless and his team use the animated medium to convey complex emotions with striking simplicity, reminiscent of the artistic expression found in "WALL-E". Andy's big, expressive eyes, much like WALL-E's, speak volumes about his feelings and thoughts, creating a bond between the audience and the canine protagonist that's both immediate and profound.
"Andy: A Dog's Tale" is a triumph of animation, telling a simple, heartwarming tale of a dog's journey from an underdog to a hero, echoing the pathos and charm of classics like "The Secret Life of Pets". It's a testament to the power of storytelling and the enduring bond between humans and their canine companions. It's a film that reminds us of the simple, yet profound truth that, often, heroes come from small beginnings and big hearts.
AS ORGANISM (BRAINDAGGER FILMS PRESENTS: KNOWLEDGE IS GOOD) (USA)
Moe Taylor, Kathryn E F Taylor
By Adrian Perez
Pioneered by the dynamic duo Moe Taylor and Kathryn E F Taylor, "As Organism" is a poetic and profound exploration of our universe, a proposition that dares to reframe our understanding of existence. Just as Rachel Carson once guided us through the minutiae of the natural world, Rachel Sellers and Alan Watts, our guides in this cosmic journey, unveil the interconnectedness of the universe, likening it to a single, complex organism.
Taylor, a former broadcast journalist and navy serviceman, crafts an intricate tapestry of subatomic detail and cosmic vastness, using his well-honed skills to capture both the sublime beauty and daunting complexity of the universe. Taylor's documentary is both a visual feast and an intellectual exercise, a testament to his multifaceted expertise in the field.
The series starts with the subatomic world, a realm invisible to the naked eye yet fundamental to our existence. Taylor meticulously captures the mesmerizing dance of particles, their unpredictable behaviour echoing the chaotic beauty of larger cosmological bodies. Then, as we ascend to the vast cosmos, the series masterfully illustrates the startling similarities between the two scales, ultimately proposing a unified view of existence.
However, "As Organism" is not merely a theoretical physics lesson. It is a plea for empathy and understanding, a desperate call for humanity's survival. As society teeters on the brink of collapse, the series argues that understanding the universe's interconnectedness could be the key to our salvation. By embodying the series' ethos – to "STOP HATING PEOPLE BEFORE YOU MEET THEM" – we might just slow the descent into chaos.
The documentary thrives on its thought-provoking narrative, deftly balancing scientific complexity with emotional resonance. Sellers and Watts' compelling voices guide us through this daunting journey, their insights richly illuminating our place in the cosmos. Their combined charisma makes for a captivating exploration of existence, an intellectual voyage that doesn't lose sight of the human element.
The power of "As Organism" lies not only in its mind-expanding propositions but also in its urgent call to empathy. The series reflects a deep understanding of the universe's profound interconnectedness, casting a hopeful light on our potential to transcend our destructive tendencies.
Ultimately, "As Organism" is a masterclass in documentary filmmaking, a compelling fusion of scientific investigation and heartfelt appeal. The series proves that knowledge is indeed good, serving as a potential catalyst for societal change. With its richly detailed visuals and thought-provoking narrative, the series heralds a new era of understanding, urging us to embrace the universe's inherent unity before it's too late.
"As Organism" is a testament to Taylor's innate talent for storytelling and his unwavering dedication to unveiling the secrets of the universe. His documentary is a stunning achievement, a clarion call for unity in a time of division. This is not just a film; it's a beacon of hope.
BEARLY STANDING (USA)
Samantha Hanus, Susanna Dominguez
By Adrian Perez
In the grand tapestry of cinema, Samantha Hanus and Susanna Dominguez's "Bearly Standing" weaves a peculiar thread, one that is strangely alluring yet audaciously bizarre. It is a film that ventures into the metaphorical wilderness, carefully treading the line between reality and illusion, forcing us to question our perceptions and confront the labyrinthine corridors of our minds.
The film opens with Julie, played with captivating intensity by Kori Wilford, embarking on a calamitous hike through the mountains. It is as much a journey through the rugged terrain as it is an exploration of her internal landscapes, a manifestation of her innermost conflicts and choices. Julie's journey is a metaphorical one, where the treacherous path serves as a physical embodiment of her inner turmoil. It is a form of psychogeography, where the environment mirrors the protagonist's emotional state.
The narrative takes an unexpected turn when Julie stumbles upon a recreation of her past. This uncanny tableau vivant is a stroke of genius from Hanus and Dominguez, adding an additional layer of complexity to the film. It forces us to confront the disquieting notion of memory and its unreliability. As Julie navigates this space, we too must navigate our understanding of what is real and what is a mere projection of her psyche.
The performances are excellent, with Wilford delivering a riveting portrayal of a woman grappling with her past. Her performance is a kaleidoscope of emotions, shifting seamlessly from moments of vulnerability to startling realizations, making Julie a character we can't help but empathize with.
"Bearly Standing" is a study in surrealism, and nowhere is this more apparent than in its startlingly ambiguous ending. The image of two women dressed as bears, laying out a romantic dinner is surreal, uncanny, and disturbing. They devour Xander (Kiernan Angel) in a scene that is both absurdly comedic and disturbingly violent. This scene encapsulates the film's tonal ambiguity, a potent blend of horror and comedy that leaves the audience simultaneously amused and horrified.
The scene also serves as a critique of traditional gender roles and expectations, as it subverts the typical portrayal of women in cinema. The women, dressed in bear costumes, are depicted as predators, a role usually reserved for men. This inversion of roles adds another layer of intrigue to the film, making it a thought-provoking exploration of gender dynamics.
Hanus and Dominguez's direction is commendable, their ability to balance the film's disparate elements into a cohesive whole is a testament to their skill. Dominguez, who also serves as the writer and producer, has crafted a narrative that is both intellectually stimulating and emotionally resonant. Their combined efforts have resulted in a film that is as intellectually challenging as it is visually striking.
"Bearly Standing" is a cinematic anomaly, a film that defies easy categorization. It is a labyrinthine exploration of the human psyche, a surreal journey into the heart of our deepest fears and desires. It is a film that demands to be experienced, not merely watched. With its thought-provoking narrative and stellar performances, "Bearly Standing" is a testament to the limitless possibilities of cinema, a film that will linger long in your memory after the credits have rolled.
BHAKTAPUR: A HUMAN STORY (Italy)
By Adrian Perez
Nicola Bozzo's "Bhaktapur / A Human Story" is a cinematically compelling and intellectually engaging examination of the human spirit's resilience in the face of unimaginable devastation. In an approach that borrows from the contextual narrative style of Joshua Oppenheimer's "The Act of Killing," Bozzo delves into the post-quake reality of Bhaktapur, an ancient city in Nepal, where brick production has emerged as a lifeline amidst the wreckage.
The film is a captivating, poignant study of resilience and survival, where the protagonists are the ordinary workers, their hands shaping and firing the red bricks that symbolize both their survival and the rebuilding of their city. Similar to the Dardennes Brothers' "The Unknown Girl" or even De Sica's "Bicycle Thieves", Bozzo is able to evoke an extraordinary sense of dignity and humanity out of the most mundane and desperate of circumstances.
The documentary's power is not only derived from the evocative imagery meticulously captured by Bozzo's lens but also from the aural landscape masterfully composed by Marco Borella. The soundtrack, subtle yet haunting, echoes through the narrative, adding an emotional depth that transcends the visual. It's reminiscent of how Philip Glass' minimalist compositions worked magic in Godfrey Reggio's "Koyaanisqatsi," heightening our emotional response to the unfolding human drama.
The editing, helmed by Matteo Santi, brings a visual rhythm and narrative coherence to this tale of survival, reminiscent of Walter Murch's work in "The Conversation." It is through Santi's discerning eye that the patchwork of individual stories become a cohesive narrative of the human condition post-disaster, evoking a sense of unity in shared suffering and collective resilience.
"Bhaktapur / A Human Story" is, at its core, a celebration of the human spirit, a testament to the extraordinary fortitude that ordinary people can muster in the face of adversity. This is cinema verité at its finest, a stark, honest portrayal of resilience that is as humbling as it is inspiring. A beautiful homage to the power of the human spirit and a sobering reminder of our inherent capacity to rebuild and endure, Bozzo's "Bhaktapur / A Human Story" is a profound socio-cultural critique, echoing the humanistic cinema of the likes of Satyajit Ray or Ken Loach. It is a film that will linger in your psyche long after the credits roll. Grade A.
By Adrian Perez
In the realm of cinema, it is not uncommon to stumble upon a storyline that takes an ordinary, even mundane, activity and transforms it into an odyssey of passion, obsession, and revelation. Cristina Ballesteros achieves precisely this in her latest film, “Birdy,” a cinematic exploration of the complex interplay between love and obsession, reminiscent of Hitchcock’s foray into avian terror in “The Birds” (1963).
In this dark comedy, we accompany Birdy, a character that carries the echoes of the enigmatic protagonists of classic cinema, portrayed with remarkable nuance by Susannah Scott. Birdy's sanctuary is her garden, a haven for her beloved birds – Ginnie, Pete, and little Jack (Sparrow). Ballesteros weaves an intricate narrative around Birdy, showcasing a monologue that reveals her growing obsession over five days. It’s akin to watching Norman Bates in “Psycho” (1960) or Travis Bickle in Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” (1976), where the character study evolves into a chilling and captivating journey into the psyche.
Ballesteros' exploration of the thin line separating passion from obsession is reminiscent of Darren Aronofsky's “Black Swan” (2010), where an obsession with perfection spirals into madness. In "Birdy," the director skillfully raises questions about the boundaries of love, the potency of hatred, and the paradoxical interplay between these potent emotions.
The film’s emotional depth is complemented by its technical prowess. The decision to shoot on Super 16mm format is not just an aesthetic choice but a statement of intent. The grainy texture of the film, along with its organic visual style, brings an authenticity to Birdy's world, turning her garden into an expansive forest that feels both intimate and wild. It is as if Ballesteros is inviting us into a Gustav Klimt painting, where every corner of the frame is alive with meticulous detail and vibrant life.
Ballesteros’ direction is, indeed, the driving force behind the movie. Her background in editing is evident in the film's pacing, which, like the best of Hitchcock, builds steadily to a climactic revelation. The influence of her mentor, BAFTA-winning Editor Joby Gee, is visible in her attention to detail and the narrative rhythm that maintains the audience’s interest.
The film’s success, however, would not be complete without Scott's compelling portrayal of Birdy. Her performance is reminiscent of Isabelle Huppert in Michael Haneke’s “The Piano Teacher” (2001), where a veneer of normality barely contains a well of intense emotions. Scott encapsulates the complicated psyche of a woman whose love for birds teeters on the brink of madness. Her monologue is a testament to the power of words and the human face in conveying the depth of emotion and the complexity of the human mind.
"Birdy" is a dark comedy that doesn't shy away from exploring the complexities of passion and the abyss of obsession. It's a haunting exploration of the human psyche, reminiscent of cinema's classic explorations of character and motivation. Ballesteros' cinematic vision and Scott's gripping performance make for a film experience that is both unsettling and engrossing. It is a testament to the power of cinema to delve into the depths of the human mind and bring to light the often-ignored facets of our passions and obsessions. A film that will make you reconsider the innocence of bird-watching and the depths to which love can descend. "Birdy" is a cinematic journey that will linger long after the credits roll.
By Adrian Perez
“Blueberry,” directed by Claire Chubbuck, is an achingly tender, unflinching exploration of the human spirit’s resilience in the face of profound loss. Reminiscent of Ingmar Bergman's "Scenes from a Marriage" in its intimate portrayal of a relationship grappling with a shared tragedy, Chubbuck delves into the seldom-discussed depths of miscarriage, illuminating the personal and relational toll it exacts, yet does so with remarkable grace and compassion.
Chubbuck’s distinctive “Cathartic Realism” genre, an innovative take on the “true story” paradigm, is the canvas upon which this poignant narrative unfolds. Through this lens, Chubbuck allows her actors to channel their own experiences of grief and loss into their performances, resulting in a film steeped in a raw authenticity that is both deeply affecting and therapeutic.
The film’s potency is further enhanced by the captivating performance of Sofia D'Marco as Dara. D'Marco navigates the labyrinth of emotions with a sincerity and vulnerability that is nothing short of mesmerizing. Her portrayal of a woman wrestling with the aftermath of a miscarriage evokes the depth of Mia Farrow's performance in Polanski's "Rosemary's Baby," and the psychological complexity of Vivien Leigh's Blanche DuBois in "A Streetcar Named Desire." The chemistry between D'Marco and her co-star is palpable, their interactions brimming with an authenticity that can only be borne out of lived experience.
In the vein of such films as Todd Haynes’ “Safe” or Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia”, “Blueberry” deftly intertwines the personal with the socio-political, reflecting on the isolation of the individual experience amidst a broader, impersonal crisis — in this case, the global pandemic. The film’s temporal setting acts as an oppressive backdrop to the couple's struggle, further exacerbating their isolation and grief, and raising questions about societal neglect of personal traumas during times of widespread crisis.
“Blueberry” is a testament to the transformative power of art. Chubbuck’s commitment to using film as a medium for catharsis is clearly reflected in the carefully crafted narrative and emotionally charged performances. Her work is not just a compelling piece of cinema, but a poignant exploration of grief, healing, and the human capacity to endure.
The film’s aesthetic echoes the gritty realism of the British Kitchen Sink dramas of the 1960s, yet its tonal complexity and emotional depth align it more closely with the works of filmmakers like Mike Leigh or John Cassavetes. The cinematography is subtly evocative, with a muted color palette that mirrors the emotional landscape of the characters, while the sparing use of music heightens the film's raw emotional intensity.
Chubbuck’s “Cathartic Realism” offers a fresh and necessary perspective in contemporary cinema, challenging us to confront difficult realities while affirming the cathartic potential of storytelling. With “Blueberry,” Chubbuck has crafted a deeply moving film that resonates long after the final frame, making her a director to watch. In a cinematic landscape often dominated by escapism, “Blueberry” stands as a brave and unflinching testament to the healing power of truth.
CASTLING (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
By Adrian Perez
In Nikica Cerkez's latest offering, "Castling," we are thrown into a world teetering on the precipice of a cosmic cataclysm, an eerily prescient metaphor for our times. It is a film that echoes the melancholic beauty of Chris Marker's seminal "La Jetee," while at the same time, establishing its unique narrative footprint. Cerkez, with this masterstroke of an experimental short, uses the filmic medium to explore the socio-political and environmental crises of our times, invoking a potent blend of critical thought and unsettling emotion.
"Castling" unfolds in a world where the traditional power dynamics have been subverted. In an ironic twist of fate, Mexico is building a wall while Europeans drown in the Mediterranean Sea, and climate migrants find themselves adrift. The film plays out like a somber dream of a future all too plausible, a temporal echo resonating with our present anxieties.
Cerkez's directing prowess shines as he builds a universe that balances the immediate and the ethereal, the palpable and the elusive. This paradoxical world is brought to life by Dejan Skipina's masterful cinematography, which paints a haunting tableau of despair and resilience. The imagery oscillates between the stark and the subtle, each frame a visual poem that underscores the narrative's emotional heft.
The film's soundscape, meticulously crafted by Vesna Corluka Cerkez, adds a poignant layer to the narrative. The auditory landscape is every bit as evocative as the visuals, further immersing the audience in this dystopian reality. Mak Kalem's hauntingly beautiful score seeps into the narrative fabric, resonating long after the film concludes.
"Castling" is an ode to the power of visual storytelling, its voice as resonant as Tarkovsky's "Stalker" or Godard's "Alphaville." It is a chilling mirror to the world, a mirror that distorts and clarifies, a mirror that reflects our fears and hopes.
Cerkez takes us on a cinematic journey that is as disconcerting as it is captivating. He navigates the complexities of his narrative with the dexterity of a seasoned auteur, his vision brought to life by a team of exceptional collaborators. Predrag Lukic and Miroslav Simovic deserve praise for their meticulous work, which adds a tangible depth to the film's overall aesthetic.
"Castling" is a film that demands and deserves multiple viewings. It is a puzzle that unfolds in fragments and layers, an enigma that invites the viewer to participate in its unraveling. Cerkez has delivered a cinematic tour de force that is as intellectually stimulating as it is emotionally resonant. It is a film that not only pays tribute to the legacies of Marker, Tarkovsky, and Godard but also firmly establishes Cerkez as a visionary director in his own right. Grade A.
By Adrian Perez
"Causalité" is a triumphant and intricate cinematic journey that straddles the line between drama, comedy, and science fiction with such effortless finesse that it almost defies categorization. Director Albérick Tode, whose previous works "Rebirth" and "Le Successeur" established his unique vision, has here crafted a tale that is both a thought-provoking exploration of the potential and paradoxes of time travel and a poignant study of friendship, ambition, and the unforeseen consequences of our actions.
Sasha Toporoff and Aiolia-Logan Dechessy, as Idris Meyzan and Joshua Vespuce respectively, bring to life characters whose intellectual curiosity and emotional complexity offer a profound insight into the human condition. Their onscreen chemistry, reminiscent of the symbiotic camaraderie between Marty McFly and Doc Brown in "Back to the Future" (1985), forms the backbone of the narrative, drawing the audience into their shared dreams and dilemmas.
Tode's narrative, like a Möbius strip, presents time as a nonlinear entity, folding over and intertwining with itself. Joshua and Idris' exploration of this concept echoes the intellectual curiosity and audacity of films like Christopher Nolan's "Interstellar" (2014) and Denis Villeneuve's "Arrival" (2016), while maintaining a unique voice that distinguishes "Causalité" as a standout piece of cinema.
Idris Meyzan, the binary coder, and Joshua Vespuce, the physicist, bring to mind the iconic duo of Neo and Morpheus from "The Matrix" (1999). However, instead of trying to escape from an artificially constructed reality, they attempt to manipulate the fabric of time itself, leading to unforeseen consequences and a transformation of their reality that is at once disorienting and deeply captivating.
Tode employs the concept of the 'butterfly effect', a popular trope in the realm of time-travel narratives, to great effect. Each decision made by Joshua and Idris sends ripples through the narrative, reshaping their world in ways both subtle and profound. These alterations serve as a metaphor for the inherent unpredictability of life, a theme that resonates deeply in our current era of uncertainty.
Moreover, Tode introduces elements of comedy that lighten the tone without undermining the film's weightier themes. The humor is often found in the disparity between the world as Joshua and Idris knew it and the one they create through their temporal manipulations, bringing to mind the absurdist humor of films like Terry Gilliam's "Time Bandits" (1981).
Tode's "Causalité" is a masterful exploration of time, causality, and the inescapable consequences of our actions. It is a film that not only entertains but provokes thought and introspection, reminding us that even in a universe governed by the laws of physics, the human element remains unpredictable, dynamic, and infinitely fascinating. The film is a reminder that the future is not merely a place we are heading, but one we are actively creating. As such, "Causalité" is a radiant beacon in the realm of sci-fi cinema, illuminating the boundless possibilities of the genre. It is a testament to the power of storytelling that transcends the limitations of time and space, pushing the boundaries of what cinema can achieve. Grade A*.
By Adrian Perez
Marshall Ferrin's "Citizen" plunges us into the tempestuous world of the French Revolution, a historical epic that is every bit as bold and tumultuous as the period it seeks to depict. Drawing on the complex ethical landscape of this epoch, Ferrin crafts a tale that is at once brutal and intimate, setting the grandeur of revolution against the personal struggle of a conflicted executioner.
"Citizen" harks back to the grandeur of Victor Hugo's "Les Misérables" in its setting and tone, and to the moral complexity of Robert Bolt's "A Man for All Seasons" in its protagonist's struggle. Ferrin, like Bolt, is fascinated by the human psyche under pressure, by the choices we make when faced with the irreconcilable demands of duty and conscience.
The dialogue, admittedly, is raw and unpolished, reminiscent of the coarse vernacular of Ken Loach's films. There is a starkness in the language that is jarring at first, but which ultimately lends the screenplay an authenticity and immediacy. The often terse exchanges between the executioner and his son, for example, are more expressive in what they leave unsaid than in the words themselves. This isn't the grandiloquent rhetoric of revolution, but the blunt language of survival, of men grappling with their place in a rapidly changing world.
The script-reader's criticism of Ferrin's story as lacking depth and characterization is not without merit, but it overlooks the screenplay's subtler strengths. Ferrin's approach to storytelling is elliptical rather than expository, relying on action and atmosphere rather than dialogue to convey character and motive. In this, "Citizen" evokes the work of Michael Haneke, whose films also eschew conventional narrative techniques in favor of a more oblique, immersive style of storytelling.
This is not to say that "Citizen" is without its faults. Ferrin's narrative does occasionally lose its way amid the chaos of revolution, and the characters' motivations are not always clearly articulated. However, these shortcomings are outweighed by the screenplay's compelling historical context and Ferrin's vivid, unflinching portrayal of a society in turmoil.
"Citizen" is not a perfect screenplay, but it is a deeply ambitious one. Ferrin's decision to tackle such a complex historical period is commendable, as is his refusal to simplify its ethical and political complexities. Despite its flaws, "Citizen" remains a work of considerable potential, a raw and powerful exploration of the human condition under extreme duress. Its 4-star rating for story substance and originality is well-deserved, reflecting the unique and compelling nature of its premise.
In conclusion, "Citizen" is a screenplay that challenges as much as it entertains, a historical epic that asks difficult questions about duty, conscience, and the cost of revolution. Its dialogue may need refining and its narrative tightening, but its ambition and audacity are undeniable. With further development, "Citizen" has the potential to become a truly formidable piece of historical cinema.
CLOSURE CAFE (USA)
By Adrian Perez
Closure Cafe: Unraveling Betrayal in the Afterlife
At the crossroads of historical drama and fantasy, Tara Jenkins and Laurence Warner's "Closure Cafe" presents an ethereal odyssey into the heart of love, betrayal, and the search for answers in the unlikeliest of places. Set in an otherworldly bar where time is but a fleeting concept, the film is a mesmerizing exploration of the human psyche, as characters from different eras converge to confront their pasts and seek redemption.
The story follows Aleksandr, a Soviet soldier who finds solace in the arms of Tasneem, an Afghan interpreter, in the midst of the turmoil of 1983. When the sting of betrayal leaves him reeling, Aleksandr finds himself at the enigmatic Closure Cafe, a haven for lost souls trapped in limbo. The film's evocative narrative treads the fine line between reality and fantasy, drawing inspiration from the likes of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's "Amélie" (2001) and the surreal sensibilities of David Lynch.
Co-directors Jenkins and Warner skillfully balance the film's historical and fantastical elements, creating a rich tapestry of emotion and intrigue that calls to mind the narrative complexity of films such as Panos Cosmatos' "Beyond the Black Rainbow" (2010) and Guillermo del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth" (2006). Their deft hand at weaving a tale that is at once universal and deeply personal is a testament to their prowess as storytellers and visionaries.
The cinematography in "Closure Cafe" is as enchanting as its premise, blending evocative lighting with the atmospheric mise-en-scène of the eponymous bar. Jenkins, a seasoned cinematographer, draws on her experience to create a visual language that speaks to the inner turmoil of the characters, reminiscent of the haunting work of cinematographer Roger Deakins in films such as "Skyfall" (2012) and "Blade Runner 2049" (2017).
The ensemble cast delivers powerful performances that captivate and transport the viewer into the heart of their respective plights. The chemistry between the characters, particularly Aleksandr and the enigmatic bartender Izumi, injects the film with a palpable sense of urgency and longing. This film is a testament to the power of storytelling as a means of bridging cultural and historical divides, providing a much-needed platform for diverse voices.
In the vein of Alejandro González Iñárritu's "Babel" (2006) and Wong Kar-wai's "In the Mood for Love" (2000), "Closure Cafe" is a poignant meditation on the nature of love, trust, and the human capacity for forgiveness. It is a film that challenges our perceptions of reality and the boundaries we impose on ourselves, inviting us to consider the infinite possibilities of the afterlife and the transformative power of human connection.
With a runtime of 16 minutes and 5 seconds, "Closure Cafe" packs a powerful punch in its exploration of complex themes, transporting the viewer on a thought-provoking journey that lingers long after the final frame. A bold and captivating work from co-directors Tara Jenkins and Laurence Warner, "Closure Cafe" is a hauntingly beautiful film that transcends genre and time, offering a unique and compelling exploration of love, betrayal, and the eternal quest for closure. Grade A
Andres Kostiv, Martin Kirsipuu
By Adrian Perez
“Crush” is a bold new entry in the world of sci-fi comedy that unabashedly showcases the prowess of its directorial duo, Andres Kostiv and Martin Kirsipuu. This film is an electrifying amalgamation of the audacious spirit of youth and the seasoned wisdom of age. It propels us into a near-future narrative that slyly mirrors our contemporary existence, while serving up a side of comedy that is as heartening as it is entertaining.
The film's lead, Tanel Ting, delivers a performance of such unflinching conviction that it’s impossible not to be drawn into the captivating universe of “Crush.” Ting's portrayal is an unerring study in the courage and self-discovery of youth, a potent reminder of the restless spirit that propels us into the unknown. Ting's performance reverberates with the echoes of Charlie Chaplin's physical comedy, yet with a decidedly modern twist, forging a unique identity for his character.
The film's setting, a sprawling shopping mall, becomes a microcosm of our world, a place where paths cross and destinies intertwine. It is in this seemingly mundane setting that the film takes a fascinating turn into the realm of the extraordinary. The juxtaposition of the mundane and the extraordinary is reminiscent of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's “Amélie”, where everyday spaces become the playground for the magical and the absurd.
Kostiv and Kirsipuu masterfully orchestrate a thrilling collision of two worlds – the fresh-faced audacity of youth and the hard-earned wisdom of age. The film’s narrative subtly shifts gears as the characters are confronted with a danger that forces them to make pivotal choices. The resulting narrative tension brings to mind the classic sci-fi drama of Ridley Scott's “Blade Runner,” where characters must grapple with existential dilemmas while navigating a world fraught with imminent danger.
Andres Kostiv, a seasoned cinematographer and film producer, brings his wealth of experience to the table. His directorial statement is a testament to his belief in the power of cinema, irrespective of the budget constraints. “Crush” stands as a beacon of inspiration to budding filmmakers, a testament to the fact that financial limitations should never hamper the creative spirit. Kostiv's desire to bring to life a sketch from a local Facebook comedian speaks volumes about his commitment to local talent and storytelling.
In “Crush,” Kostiv and Kirsipuu have created a film that is rich in humour, brimming with suspense, and deeply rooted in the human experience. It is a film that, much like its namesake, will leave you with a lingering sense of enchantment and a longing for more. The film is an exhilarating ride that pays homage to the classic sci-fi genre, while simultaneously carving out a unique comedic niche for itself. It is a testament to the limitless possibilities of filmmaking, an audacious blend of high concept and low budget, resulting in a cinematic gem that will leave you laughing, pondering, and marveling at the sheer inventiveness of it all.
CRYSTAL ISLAND (UK)
By Adrian Perez
"Crystal Island" is an exquisite cinematic journey, a mesmerising testament to the transformative power of nature and self-discovery. Ross Silcocks, a first-time director, delivers an extraordinary exploration of humanity's deep-seated bond with the natural world, a bond so profoundly intimate yet often left unexplored.
In the vein of Werner Herzog's eco-centric documentaries or perhaps the spiritual contemplation of Terrence Malick's "Tree of Life," Silcocks invites us to traverse the lush landscapes of Koh Phangan, Thailand, in a film that feels as much a cathartic voyage as it does a visual feast. The eponymous "Crystal Island" serves as both an ethereal backdrop and a metaphorical mirror reflecting our own emotional labyrinth, our struggles, rebirths, and ultimately, our capacity for transformation.
Silcocks' intimate understanding of film technology functions as an extraordinary tool in capturing the island's breathtaking beauty, the crystalline purity of its waters, the lush tropical vegetation, the ethereal quality of its sunlight. But more than just a mere exhibition of the island's aesthetic allure, "Crystal Island" is a poignant exploration of humanity's place within nature's grandeur.
Each frame resonates with a rich tapestry of emotions, much akin to the bold visual narratives of Chris Marker's "La Jetée" or the poetic reflections in Andrei Tarkovsky's "Mirror." Silcocks prompts us to delve into the depth of our individual emotional landscapes, to confront our egos, our capacity for love, and ultimately, our ability to surrender and let go.
At its core, "Crystal Island" is an evocative meditation on the process of transformation, a theme deeply rooted in the human experience. Silcocks crafts a cinematic narrative that mirrors our journey through life's various stages, each phase marked by growth, introspection, and self-discovery.
The visual narrative is further underscored by the film's experimental soundscape. The auditory experience heightens the visual, weaving together an immersive sensory tapestry that elevates "Crystal Island" into the realms of the sublime. It echoes the haunting intensity of Philip Glass' compositions in Godfrey Reggio's "Koyaanisqatsi," driving the narrative forward and deepening the emotional resonance of each frame.
Silcocks' debut effort proves to be a visually arresting exploration of the human condition and our intrinsic connection to the natural world. "Crystal Island" is a testament to the medium's capacity for fostering empathy and introspection, an ode to nature, and a celebration of our shared journey towards self-love and freedom.
"Crystal Island" is a triumphant cinematic exploration of transformation and rebirth. It's a visually arresting, emotionally resonant journey that captures the profound beauty of nature and the human spirit's capacity for growth and self-discovery. Ross Silcocks emerges as a promising new voice in cinema, harnessing the power of film to explore our intimate connection with the natural world and the depth of our own emotional landscapes. Grade A.
DAAYEN: THE HUNTED (India)
By Adrian Perez
Daayen: The Hunted, written by the versatile and experienced Neha Shrivastava, is a spellbinding tale that dives deep into the world of witch hunting in India. Set against the backdrop of the mystical Mayong, the magical capital of India, the story follows Kaashvi, a passionate journalist seeking to uncover the truth behind witch hunting and the magic that pervades Mayong. Through a series of thrilling events, Kaashvi finds herself face to face with a witch, culminating in a daring rescue and a poignant exploration of female empowerment.
Daayen: The Hunted weaves together elements of horror and folklore to illuminate lesser-known aspects of witch tradition in India. Drawing inspiration from classics such as Arthur Miller's The Crucible, the screenplay explores the deep-seated misogyny that underlies the practice of witch burning, a practice that has historically targeted women who threaten the male-dominated hierarchy.
While the story concept is promising, the script occasionally struggles with pacing and character development. The protagonist, Kaashvi, is intriguing yet underdeveloped, her motivations and intentions unclear. The disjointed conversations between Kaashvi and the locals she encounters provide limited insight into her character, making it difficult for the audience to fully engage with her journey.
Furthermore, the script falters in its execution of dialogue, with Kaashvi sometimes resorting to speaking aloud to herself to convey exposition. This technique, reminiscent of Ingmar Bergman's Persona or David Lynch's Mulholland Drive, can be effective when used sparingly, but it is overused here, detracting from the overall impact of the story.
Despite these shortcomings, Daayen: The Hunted remains a powerful exploration of a pressing issue in India, reminiscent of the subversive social critiques found in the works of Satyajit Ray or Mira Nair. With some refinement in pacing, dialogue, and character development, this screenplay could be elevated to the ranks of films like Deepa Mehta's Water or Pan Nalin's Angry Indian Goddesses, which have similarly grappled with issues of gender and power in India.
In conclusion, Daayen: The Hunted is a bold and ambitious screenplay with a compelling story at its core. While the script may require further refinement to fully realize its potential, Shrivastava's unique perspective and wealth of experience as a writer ensure that this story is one worth telling. Like the witches it seeks to understand and protect, Daayen: The Hunted is a testament to the resilience and strength of women in the face of adversity. With the right guidance and commitment to honing its craft, this film has the potential to become a powerful addition to the pantheon of feminist cinema.
DESPERATE JOURNEYS (Nigeria)
By Adrian Perez
Desperate Journeys: A Love Story Unfolds Amidst Human Trafficking Horrors
In Anne Abok's latest film, "Desperate Journeys," we are taken on an emotionally charged expedition through the often unseen and unspoken world of human trafficking. Hailing from Nigeria, home to the world's third-largest film industry, Nollywood, Abok creates a film that is both an ode to her roots and an unflinching examination of a reality too grim to ignore. She masterfully weaves an intimate romantic narrative between aspiring cameraman Ronald and his true love, amidst the brutal backdrop of an international modeling agency turned human trafficking syndicate.
A Nigerian director with an unyielding commitment to unveiling the hidden stories of Africans abroad, Abok takes us on a journey reminiscent of Hitchcock's "Vertigo" (1958) and Haneke's "The Piano Teacher" (2001), as we bear witness to Ronald's descent into the dark world of human trafficking. The film's rich cinematography and captivating mise-en-scène echo the likes of Ladj Ly's "Les Misérables" (2019), as Abok transports us through the underbelly of an unforgiving industry, all the while maintaining a tender love story at the film's core.
"Desperate Journeys" pulls us in with a magnetic, almost Godardian rhythm, making us question our own complicity in the face of human suffering. As Ronald (brilliantly portrayed by Tunde Adebimpe) navigates the treacherous terrain of the modeling agency, he is faced with impossible choices, echoing the torment of Kieslowski's "A Short Film About Love" (1988). The delicate dance between love and survival becomes increasingly intertwined, as the lines between heroes and villains blur.
This Nigerian romantic odyssey brings to mind the haunting work of Michael Haneke and Lynne Ramsay, in which an intricate narrative tapestry is woven within an unsettling milieu. Abok's storytelling prowess is evident, as she expertly steers the film through moments of tender romance, tense thriller, and brutal exposé.
"Desperate Journeys" is a testament to Abok's dedication to making transformational narratives for a new Africa. A powerful exploration of love, sacrifice, and the complexities of human nature, "Desperate Journeys" is a poignant reminder of the resilience of the human spirit in the face of unimaginable darkness. With its raw emotional intensity, this film will undoubtedly leave an indelible mark on the hearts and minds of viewers, inviting them to engage in a larger conversation about the global human trafficking crisis.
In conclusion, "Desperate Journeys" is a masterful blend of romantic storytelling and socio-political commentary, expertly crafted by Anne Abok. The film's unflinching examination of the underbelly of human trafficking, juxtaposed with a tender love story, establishes it as a must-watch cinematic experience. Profound, moving, and thought-provoking, "Desperate Journeys" earns a well-deserved Grade A.
DEPTH OF FIELD (USA)
John F. Uranday
By Adrian Perez
Akin to the sensory journey of Jun Wang's The Journey of Murder or the emotional tightrope of Bocchini's Ride With The Guilt, John F. Uranday's Depth of Field invites us into an intimately introspective and poetic odyssey of grief, healing, and the transformative power of friendship. Uranday, known for his penchant for blending the worlds of music and film, orchestrates a symphony of emotions that effortlessly weaves its way through this beautifully crafted narrative.
From the outset, Uranday's portrayal of Charles (Rafael Petardi) is reminiscent of a modern-day King Lear: a man entangled in the throes of despair, consumed by the desolation that permeates his once-cherished home. But like a delicate waltz choreographed by the universe, the entrance of Valerie (Thea Saccolitti), a foster child from his estranged friend's household, breathes life into Charles' barren world. Their burgeoning friendship evokes the cinematic tenderness of Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation and the soul-stirring magic of Sean Baker's The Florida Project.
The film's visual language, too, is a masterclass in subtlety and nuance, expertly employing the titular depth of field to create a dreamlike ambiance that complements the narrative's thematic exploration. Reminiscent of the atmospheric mastery of Terrence Malick, Uranday blurs the lines between the ethereal and the corporeal, urging the audience to focus on the pivotal moments of human connection that illuminate the screen.
Depth of Field's narrative structure echoes the likes of Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York and Michel Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, delicately unraveling the layers of grief and healing that Charles and Valerie must navigate. Their shared journey becomes a cathartic dance between shadows and light, culminating in a poignant resolution that reaffirms the resilience of the human spirit.
Rafael Petardi's portrayal of Charles is nothing short of mesmerizing, channeling the depth of emotion required to convey a character haunted by the ghosts of his past. Thea Saccolitti, as Valerie, delivers a performance that is both heartbreakingly vulnerable and disarmingly wise, a rare gem in the realm of child actors. The supporting cast, including George Stroumboulopoulos as Joe and Diana Diaz as Marjorie, add further depth to this rich emotional tapestry.
In conclusion, Depth of Field stands as a testament to Uranday's extraordinary skill as a storyteller and visionary director. A captivating exploration of grief, hope, and the transformative power of human connection, this film will undoubtedly leave an indelible mark on the hearts and minds of its viewers. A masterful blend of artistry and emotion, Depth of Field earns a well-deserved Grade A.
By Adrian Perez
In Sangeet Prabhaker's debut short film "Dinghy," a refugee named Merhan and his smuggler navigate the perilous waters of systemic oppression, marginalization, and identity as they seek safety on the English coastline. Prabhaker, a prosthetic makeup designer with an Indian father, a Spanish mother, and a London upbringing, infuses the film with the complexities of his own diverse background, creating a multifaceted narrative that echoes the voices of countless others grappling with the grey spaces between multiple identities.
"Dinghy" is a dark, atmospheric, and poignant exploration of the power dynamics and societal ills that have emerged in a world built on fear, ignorance, and misinformation. The film's striking visuals, combined with its haunting and unsettling score, create an immersive experience that challenges viewers to confront their own biases and assumptions. Prabhaker masterfully interweaves themes of racial identity, toxic masculinity, and the insidious ways in which power can be wielded without consciousness into a narrative that is both gripping and thought-provoking.
The film's protagonist, Merhan, embodies the struggles faced by refugees seeking a better life in the UK. The film's visceral portrayal of his journey is underscored by the tension and danger he faces at the hands of those who exploit the vulnerable. Meanwhile, the smuggler character reveals traces of Prabhaker's own father, who similarly left his home and culture to build a life in the UK.
"Dinghy" is unafraid to delve into difficult topics, creating an environment in which change, however small, can occur. The film's dialogue, which is often perplexing and disconcerting, serves as a reminder of the complexity and multitude of layers that make up capitalism and systemic oppression. The final scenes, in which a monstrous figure is revealed to be an imposing man in a suit controlling a woman like a puppet, speaks to the futility of power wielded without consciousness.
Prabhaker's use of the horror genre is a masterstroke, enabling him to examine complex and challenging themes in an accessible and relatable manner. By fusing horror with social commentary, he crafts an experience that encourages viewers to think more deeply about the state of our world and the inherent complexities within it.
In "Dinghy," Sangeet Prabhaker emerges as a bold and innovative filmmaker, unafraid to tackle the complexities of identity and systemic oppression through a thought-provoking, visually arresting, and emotionally resonant narrative. With this debut, he has undoubtedly made a lasting impression on the world of independent cinema, and his future endeavors will surely be met with anticipation and eagerness.
DISCO SAUCE: THE UNBELIEVABLE TRUE STORY OF PENNE ALLA VODKA (USA)
By Adrian Perez
"Disco Sauce: The Unbelievable True Story of Penne Alla Vodka," directed by the award-winning filmmaker and travel documentarian Roberto Serrini, is a fascinating and delectably indulgent journey into the heart of culinary love and obsession. It's a gastronomic odyssey that provokes both the intellect and the palate, a film that elevates the art of documentary storytelling to an epicurean extravaganza.
Borrowing the curiosity of Morgan Spurlock's "Super Size Me" and the zest of Jonathan Gold's "City of Gold," Serrini's "Disco Sauce" presents an intriguing deep dive into the roots and cultural relevance of Penne Alla Vodka, a dish that defies culinary norms to straddle the line between diner fare and fine dining. His exploration reveals the dish's secret powers, simultaneously polarizing and unifying the food world.
Serrini, in his mercurial wit, parallels the complex and layered nature of the dish to society itself, daring to probe our collective food obsession and insatiable quest for culinary satisfaction. The film becomes a metaphorical buffet, a deconstructed plate of Penne Alla Vodka reflecting the multifaceted nature of the human condition. Much like the nature of the dish, the documentary mirrors how we, as a society, can be both high and low, simple and complex, accessible and exclusive. It's a culinary dance that plays out like a Truffaut's "Day for Night" meets Pollan's "In Defense of Food".
The documentary is peppered with appearances from the crème de la crème of the culinary world. The James Beard award-winning Chef JJ Johnson, Chef Jae Lee of Nowon NYC, and Chef Gaetano Arnone of Babbo, among others, lend their expert perspectives, infusing the film with an intoxicating mixture of culinary knowledge and passion.
Serrini's meticulous eye for detail, honed from a distinguished career spanning multiple Vimeo Staff Picks and a permanent place in the MoMA collection, is evident in every frame. The cinematography is as sumptuous as the dish itself, with Serrini capturing the simmering, the stirring, and the flamboyance of Penne Alla Vodka in vivid detail, reminiscent of the luscious food scenes in Tampopo or Big Night.
However, "Disco Sauce" is not just a love letter to Penne Alla Vodka; it's a celebration of food as a cultural phenomenon, a social binder, and a source of joy and inspiration. The film challenges the viewer's perception of culinary norms, pushing the boundaries of our relationship with food.
"Disco Sauce: The Unbelievable True Story of Penne Alla Vodka" is a feast for the senses and a triumph of documentary filmmaking. It's a delightful blend of culinary exploration, social commentary, and personal discovery, all served with a generous dollop of wit and charm. Like a well-prepared dish of Penne Alla Vodka, it's comforting yet sophisticated, familiar yet surprising, and ultimately, deeply satisfying. Grade: A*
DON'T CRY (Germany)
By Adrian Perez
“Don't Cry” – A Dreamlike Odyssey through Conflict and Reconciliation
Hisham Zreiq's animated short film, "Don't Cry," is a visual masterpiece that ventures into the realm of human emotions and cultural conflict. Set against the ethereal backdrop of a celestial lake, the film narrates a seemingly impossible encounter between a Palestinian girl, a Palestinian man, and an Israeli woman. The meeting ignites a clash between the man and the woman, grounded in their shared past. As the girl endeavors to mediate, the film raises the question: is it possible to bridge the chasm that divides them?
Zreiq's directorial vision is reminiscent of the mesmerizing blend of realism and surrealism found in films like Tarkovsky's "Stalker" (1979) and Panahi's "The Circle" (2000). The celestial lake, a symbol of both unity and division, recalls the magical realism of García Márquez's literature. The film's dreamlike atmosphere provides a perfect setting for the exploration of the characters' inner worlds and their external conflicts.
The animation is crafted with exquisite attention to detail, making use of striking visuals to convey the characters' emotions and the weight of their history. The film draws inspiration from the works of Miyazaki and the sophisticated storytelling of Studio Ghibli, while also incorporating elements of Palestinian and Israeli visual culture.
"Don't Cry" tackles the complexities of identity, belonging, and the potential for reconciliation. The film's multilayered narrative evokes films like Pontecorvo's "The Battle of Algiers" (1966) and Kiarostami's "Taste of Cherry" (1997), both of which delve into the human psyche and the intricacies of sociopolitical struggle. In a manner akin to Sissako's "Timbuktu" (2014), Zreiq's film humanizes those embroiled in conflict, illustrating that violence is often born from pain, frustration, and the absence of hope.
In the tradition of great auteur filmmakers, Zreiq's "Don't Cry" is a deeply personal work that transcends the boundaries of conventional storytelling. It masterfully blends genres, incorporating elements of drama, fantasy, and allegory to create a unique cinematic experience. The film's poignant message is a testament to the power of empathy and understanding in the face of adversity and seemingly insurmountable barriers.
Zreiq's "Don't Cry" is an extraordinary achievement in independent animation, showcasing his talents as a filmmaker and his ability to weave together intricate narratives, captivating visuals, and thought-provoking themes. The film is an essential viewing experience for those seeking to understand the complexities of human conflict, and the potential for healing and reconciliation. Grade A
By Adrian Perez
In Abhineet Gogne's tour de force, "Doors," we are presented with a tantalizing blend of surrealism and graphic intensity that is both disturbing and mesmerizing. Hailing from India, this cinematic masterpiece is a gritty and raw exploration of love, betrayal, and the harrowing journeys one may embark upon when pushed to the edge.
"Doors" is reminiscent of the hallucinatory fever dreams conjured by filmmakers like Andrei Tarkovsky and Gaspar Noé. Gogne takes us on a visceral journey with an enraged man, brilliantly portrayed by Prashant Narayanan, who boards a taxi in the dead of night. As the narrative unfolds, we find ourselves immersed in a world where the boundaries between reality and fantasy are blurred, guided by an enigmatic taxi driver and a peculiar schoolgirl.
Narayanan's performance is nothing short of mesmerizing, conveying the depth of his character's torment with striking facial expressions and a palpable sense of urgency. Alongside him, Shilpa Shukla and Chitrashi Rawat deliver equally compelling performances, each adding a unique layer to the film's kaleidoscopic tapestry.
Gogne masterfully weaves surreal elements throughout the film, echoing the dream sequences of David Lynch and the violent intensity of Quentin Tarantino. The opening fever dream sequence sets the tone for the film, luring us into a realm where the bizarre and the brutal coalesce. This surreal atmosphere is further amplified by the peculiar encounter between the taxi driver and his passenger, an exchange that evokes shades of Martin Scorsese's "Taxi Driver."
"Doors" stands as a testament to the power of cinema to transcend cultural boundaries and challenge our perceptions of reality. With its unapologetic approach to graphic violence and its relentless exploration of the darker recesses of the human psyche, this film ranks among the most daring and innovative productions to emerge from India in recent years.
In the grand tradition of auteurs like Tarkovsky and Noé, Abhineet Gogne has crafted a work that is as deeply personal as it is universally resonant. "Doors" is a haunting and exhilarating descent into the abyss, a film that lingers long after the final credits have rolled. A must-see for those who crave a cinematic experience that pushes the boundaries of the medium, "Doors" earns a well-deserved Grade A.
EMBERS OF HOPE (France)
By Adrian Perez
Delfynn T. Aldag's latest documentary, “Embers of Hope,” is a thought-provoking, poignant, and powerful exploration of the cultural and spiritual survival of the Lakota people within the confines of the Great Sioux Reservation, 150 years after the signing of the Fort Laramie Treaty. Venturing into the heart of today's native reality, Aldag interviews key figures from Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, illuminating the resilience and perseverance of a community whose history and identity are at constant risk.
Aldag, whose background includes photojournalism, acting, and directing, deftly weaves a narrative that is at once academic and deeply personal. With her intimate knowledge of imagery and the human experience, she presents a documentary that is both visually stunning and emotionally resonant. The film's tone is reminiscent of other classics, such as Werner Herzog's "Grizzly Man" and Chris Smith's "American Movie," while remaining firmly rooted in its own unique vision.
A masterful display of thematic cohesion and visual storytelling, “Embers of Hope” employs a range of conceptual and cinematographic tools to evoke the spirit of the Lakota people and their struggle to maintain their cultural identity in the face of adversity. The film is rich with psychoanalytic explorations, drawing parallels to other marginalized communities and the universal human experience.
Aldag's documentary is an essential watch for those seeking to understand the depth and complexity of the Lakota people's experience, as well as the broader implications of cultural preservation in an ever-changing world. As the film unfolds, viewers are drawn into a realm where the past and present intertwine, creating a tapestry that is both heart-wrenching and inspiring. Much like the embers of hope that burn within the Lakota people, this documentary is a testament to the power of resilience and the indomitable human spirit.
In conclusion, “Embers of Hope” is a remarkable achievement in documentary filmmaking that stands tall among its contemporaries. It is a masterclass in balancing academic rigor with personal emotion, resulting in a film that will resonate with audiences and spark important conversations about cultural preservation and the human experience. With a fine-tuned sense of storytelling and a keen eye for detail, Delfynn T. Aldag has crafted a memorable and significant documentary that deserves its place among the greats. Grade A.
ENTER THE DRAG DRAGON (Canada)
Lee Gordon Demarbre
By Adrian Perez
Enter the Drag Dragon: A Drag-Fu Odyssey That Dazzles and Delights
In an audacious display of genre-bending creativity, Lee Gordon Demarbre's "Enter the Drag Dragon" sends audiences on a dazzling, high-kicking journey through an action-horror-comedy extravaganza. This sensational indie film combines the artistry of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" with the campy sensibilities of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" and the tongue-in-cheek humor of "Shaun of the Dead."
"Enter the Drag Dragon" tells the story of Crunch, an amateur detective by day and fabulous Drag Queen by night, and his sidekick Jaws, a roller-skating entrepreneur with a penchant for fast-food delivery. The duo embarks on a mission to recover a stolen painting, facing a myriad of obstacles including corrupt cops, zombies, mobsters, ninjas, and even ghosts. The film's eclectic blend of kung fu action, horror, and comedy recalls the madcap energy of cult classics like "Big Trouble in Little China" and "Army of Darkness."
Demarbre's direction is nothing short of inspired, as he weaves an intricate tapestry of cinematic references and visual flourishes. The film's action sequences are a masterclass in choreography and camera work, echoing the work of martial arts legends like Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. The horror elements, while clearly indebted to the likes of George Romero and Dario Argento, also evoke the dreamlike surrealism of David Lynch and Alejandro Jodorowsky.
The performances in "Enter the Drag Dragon" are pitch-perfect, with Sam Kellerman, Jade London, and Matt Miwa each bringing a unique flair to the role of Crunch. Beatrice Beres shines as Jaws, delivering a performance that is equal parts vulnerability and fearless determination. The chemistry between the actors is palpable, evoking the camaraderie of iconic cinematic pairings like Thelma and Louise or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
One cannot discuss "Enter the Drag Dragon" without addressing its bold exploration of gender and identity. The film's protagonists challenge societal norms and expectations with unapologetic bravado, proudly embracing their individuality in the face of adversity. In this regard, "Enter the Drag Dragon" stands as a testament to the power of self-expression and the importance of staying true to oneself, even in the face of danger and uncertainty.
The film's visual style is as varied and eclectic as its narrative, with Demarbre's deft use of color, lighting, and composition creating a vibrant, otherworldly atmosphere. The film's musical numbers, reminiscent of the offbeat charm of "Little Shop of Horrors" and "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," serve as a fitting tribute to the spirit of rebellion and self-discovery that lies at the heart of the Drag Queen culture.
In conclusion, "Enter the Drag Dragon" is a delightful, genre-defying romp that will leave audiences both exhilarated and deeply moved. Demarbre's skillful blending of action, horror, and comedy, combined with the film's subversive exploration of gender and identity, make this indie gem an unforgettable cinematic experience. Like the Drag Queens it celebrates, "Enter the Drag Dragon" is a fierce, fabulous force to be reckoned with.
FATHER & SON (UK)
By Adrian Perez
In Barry Adams' directorial debut, "Father & Son," we are thrown into a turbulent sea of unspoken sorrow and familial discord. The film, a short psychological fiction, is a tender exploration of grief, resilience, and the often tenuous, but unbreakable, bonds of family. This introspective journey uncoils within the innocuous setting of a family fishing trip, wherein a grandfather, father, and son grapple with a recent tragedy that has left their relationships frayed and fragile.
The narrative is set adrift by its seemingly benign premise, but beneath the surface, it teems with a poignant exploration of grief's rippling effects. The strained relationship between the grandfather and his progeny underpins the film, a subtle reminder of the chasms left by loss. Yet, it is in these fractures where the film's emotional resonance truly shines. We are led on a soul-searching journey that tugs at the heartstrings, culminating in the grandfather's redemptive realization of the need to rebuild their bond.
Adams, a film student from Belfast, expertly wields his budding directorial skills to delve into the complex contours of human emotions. His portrayal of grief, a theme as vast and deep as the sea itself, is handled with delicate precision, allowing the characters' sorrow to seep into the narrative organically, without overwhelming the viewer. The absence of a budget does little to dampen the cinematic brilliance of "Father & Son"; in fact, the film thrives in its simplicity, proving that storytelling, when done with sincerity and skill, needs no extravagant embellishments.
Adams' directorial voice is both intimate and insightful, his screenplay a seamless blend of the personal and the universal. The fishing trip serves as a symbolic voyage, a journey into the heart of their shared pain and the subsequent path to healing. The film's narrative structure cleverly mirrors the emotional arc of its characters, ebbing and flowing with their shared sorrow and tentative attempts at reconciliation.
As a testament to Adams' dedication to his craft and his commitment to providing opportunities for aspiring actors, "Father & Son" is a beautiful manifestation of the power of collaboration. The film's cast and crew, generously offering their talents in exchange for skillshare and showreel opportunities, embody the spirit of communal effort and shared achievement. This sense of collective endeavour permeates the film, adding a layer of authenticity that amplifies its emotive impact.
In "Father & Son," Adams has woven a narrative that navigates the turbulent waters of grief with a deft hand and a compassionate heart. The film is a poignant meditation on loss, forgiveness, and the resilient bonds of family. It is a reminder that even in the face of profound sorrow, the human spirit's capacity for healing and connection remains undiminished. It is an impressive debut that promises a bright future for Adams as a storyteller who understands the power of cinema to explore the complexities of the human condition.
Amy Barbera, Ben Bagby
By Adrian Perez
In the pantheon of celestial-themed compositions, Amy Barbera’s “Flying” has landed, not just as an entrant, but as an ethereal beacon of serenity and respite. The music video, a co-directorial effort between Barbera herself and Ben Bagby, is an enchanting visual spectacle that compels the viewer to transcend the mundane and explore the surreal realms of the heavens above.
Barbera's melodic invitation to 'fly, fly, fly high' is a poignant echo of the human desire to escape from the earthly shackles of suffering and turmoil and seek solace in the embrace of celestial serenity. Drawing inspiration from Psalm 55:6, the song lyrics form an arresting juxtaposition between the human yearning for liberation and the divine promise of comfort.
The music video is a seamless choreography of space and movement, blending the physical and metaphysical. The visual narrative unfolds in a balletic display of Barbera’s journey through clouds, sky, and space, culminating in a celestial dance upon the stars. The deliberate choice of shooting at the "Diversity Performing Arts Center" in Lauderhill, Florida, underscores the song's universal appeal, infusing it with a paradoxical sense of intimacy and vastness.
Bagby and Barbera’s collaborative editing imbues the video with an otherworldly quality, creating a dreamlike aesthetic that is at once vibrant and tranquil. The serene lighting and soft focus coupled with the ethereal backdrop give the video a lucid, dreamlike quality. This gentle blending of visual elements coalesces to create a tranquil pastiche, capturing the essence of Barbera's flight to tranquillity.
The film's subtext suggests an exploration of freedom and escapism, driven by the human longing for peace and transcendence. Much like a dove embodying the spirit of peace and innocence, Barbera invites her audience to join her on a spiritual journey towards serenity and freedom, away from the chains of worldly existence.
The background viola and strings by Ben Bagby and the musical composition by Doug Hammer lend an atmospheric depth to the track. The orchestrations merge seamlessly with Barbera's vocals, amplifying the celestial metaphors while maintaining the song's ethereal quality. The soaring melodies and harmonies are at once emotive and uplifting, serving as a melodic embodiment of the lyrics' plea for serenity and escape.
Bagby’s role in the music video, as both a producer and editor, brings to mind the intrusive nature of a director's gaze, but in this case, it is an invitation rather than an invasion. His lens provides a portal to Barbera's spiritual journey, allowing the audience to partake in her celestial voyage.
Amy Barbera’s “Flying” is a celestial serenade, a soothing lullaby that evokes a sense of calm and tranquillity. It is an intimate exploration of personal longing and spiritual liberation, wrapped in a dreamscape of celestial imagery. In a world often fraught with chaos and uncertainty, Barbera’s “Flying” offers a much-needed respite, a lyrical sanctuary of peace and solace.
By Adrian Perez
In Christopher Angus's latest animated odyssey, "Futureworld", we are invited on a journey that deftly straddles the line between a nostalgic homage to past understandings of the future, and a thought-provoking exploration of our potential digital destinies. Angus, a Canadian animator whose prior works have garnered international acclaim, once again proves his mastery over the medium, delivering an offering that is as thematically rich as it is aesthetically captivating.
"Futureworld" is a quirky, yet profound exploration of the increasingly complex dance between humanity and technology. Angus presents us with a meticulously crafted visual treatise on the potential ramifications of this technological tango, touching on the seismic shifts in our perceptions of self, reality, and the very nature of existence. His genius lies in leaving the final verdict on these issues in our hands, thus transforming a vividly imaginative animated escapade into a philosophical discourse of considerable depth.
The film's narrative structure lends itself to the elliptical exploration of ideas. From its opening scenes, "Futureworld" plunges the viewer into a veritable wonderland of futuristic imaginings, reminiscent of the neon-infused, cybernetic dreams of the 1980s. However, as we journey deeper into this world, we encounter sobering visions of the potential pitfalls of unchecked technological advancement. We see traces of the works of seminal techno-dystopian visionaries like Philip K. Dick and William Gibson in Angus's rendering of a future where humanity's grasp on reality is increasingly tenuous, mediated by layers of digital simulacra. Yet, Angus is careful not to let his film devolve into a mere echo of these influences. Instead, he uses them as a springboard to launch into his own unique exploration of the subject.
Thematically, "Futureworld" is a study in contrasts, probing the tension between the organic and the artificial, the real and the virtual, the human and the post-human. Angus's animation style, with its blend of traditional and digital techniques, mirrors this tension. His frame-to-frame transitions echo the subtle interplay between these dichotomous elements, resulting in an immersive viewing experience that feels both familiar and uncanny. At times, the film's pace mirrors the rapid acceleration of our own technological progress, leaving us with a sense of vertigo that is both thrilling and unsettling.
Above all, "Futureworld" is a testament to the power of animation as a medium for storytelling and philosophical inquiry. In its exploration of the potential consequences of our technological endeavours, the film poses questions that are deeply pertinent to our times. Yet, it does so with a touch of whimsy and a sense of wonder that are the hallmarks of the best animated films. Christopher Angus has crafted a work that is at once a love letter to the medium of animation and a profound meditation on our digital futures. "Futureworld" is an animated gem that deserves to be savoured, dissected, and pondered over. It is a timely reminder that our future, whether dystopian or utopian, is ultimately a product of the choices we make today.
Noelle Joy Sorenson
By Adrian Perez
Heart: Love's Inevitable Reckoning
Noelle Joy Sorenson's directorial debut, "HeArT", presents a microcosm of raw emotion, love, and vulnerability within the confining walls of a bedroom. In her first foray into filmmaking, Sorenson expertly weaves a narrative that captures the cyclical nature of love, passion, and rage in the context of a seemingly unremarkable afternoon shared by Naomi (played by Sorenson herself) and Shane (portrayed by an equally mesmerizing counterpart).
As a first-time female director, Sorenson's approach to filmmaking is reminiscent of the sensual mastery found in Jane Campion's "The Piano" or the emotional turmoil explored in Ingmar Bergman's "Scenes from a Marriage." The confined space of Naomi's bedroom is transformed into an arena where passion, vulnerability, and emotional baggage collide, echoing the claustrophobic intimacy of Roman Polanski's "Carnage."
With its simple yet evocative setup, "HeArT" transcends the boundaries of its minimalistic narrative and setting, delving into the complexity of love and human connection. The passionate encounter between Naomi and Shane transitions seamlessly into a moment of post-coital conversation, wherein Naomi's well-intentioned encouragement of Shane's artistic pursuits inadvertently exposes the underlying tension rooted in their relationship.
The ensuing emotional maelstrom is a stunningly choreographed dance of rage, fear, and desperation as Naomi's assault on Shane is met with a tender yet forceful restraint. This powerful sequence, echoing the raw intensity of Lars von Trier's "Antichrist," culminates in a moment of poignant stillness as Shane comforts a broken Naomi before ultimately taking his leave.
Sorenson's choice to shift the color grading at the film's conclusion is a subtle yet masterful decision that elevates "HeArT" from a mere exploration of romantic turmoil to a profound meditation on the healing power of love. As the lifelike hues emerge, the characters awaken to the truth of their existence - that love, in all its complexity, is the only real and everlasting force.
In a time when female directors continue to break barriers and redefine the landscape of cinema, Noelle Joy Sorenson's "HeArT" stands as a testament to the power of raw emotion, fearless storytelling, and unyielding artistic vision. As the screen fades to black, we are left with a haunting reminder of the inevitability of love's reckoning and the transformative power of vulnerability. Grade A
Nurya L. Ibarra
By Adrian Perez
In Nurya L. Ibarra's latest coming-of-age drama, "Hermana", we are invited into a vibrant world of familial bonds and cultural traditions that spark with life, tension, and the awkward dance of growing up. This story, primarily revolving around the young and eager Amanda, portrayed with a compelling nuance by Lucia Mora, and her carefree, rebellious older sister Marisol, delivered with a fiery authenticity by Rachel Carran, explores the complexities of sisterhood and the pivotal moments that shape our paths into adulthood.
From the opening scene, Ibarra captures the essence of these characters with an intimate lens that revels in the details. The film introduces Amanda, on the brink of her quinceañera, a cultural milestone marred by the simmering tensions with Marisol. Lucia Mora’s performance as Amanda is a triumph of subtlety and depth; her eyes alone narrate a tale of an innocent, anticipative soul grappling with the threshold of womanhood.
Marisol, brought to vivid life by Rachel Carran, serves as both a foil and a mirror to Amanda's character. Carran's Marisol is a tempest of carefree rebellion, exuding the intoxicating allure of a girl who's crossed the bridge into womanhood and dances on its precipice. Yet, beneath her devil-may-care exterior, we catch glimpses of vulnerability and a shared history that binds these sisters together.
"Hermana" is a cinematic tapestry woven with threads of youthful angst, cultural heritage, and a profound exploration of familial dynamics. Ibarra's direction is deft and confident, unafraid to delve into the raw emotional core of her story while maintaining a balanced tone that navigates between light-hearted moments and deep familial strife.
Ibarra's storytelling prowess is especially evident in her ability to translate the sisters' silent, underlying tensions into visible, tangible on-screen chemistry. The interactions between Amanda and Marisol oscillate from affectionate teasing to heated confrontations, each moment layered with a history that makes their relationship feel authentic and lived-in.
The theme of the quinceañera serves as more than just a backdrop. It is a symbolic passage, a threshold that Amanda must cross, and in doing so, reconcile her relationship with Marisol. Ibarra infuses this cultural tradition with a sense of personal evolution, framing it as a coming-of-age rite that both separates and unites the sisters.
"Hermana" is a heartfelt exploration of sisterhood and the trials of growing up. It presents a beautifully layered narrative that pays homage to cultural tradition while portraying the universal experiences of adolescence. Lucia Mora and Rachel Carran deliver outstanding performances that bring to life the complex dynamics of siblinghood, and under the skilled direction of Nurya L. Ibarra, they create a resonant and emotionally rich portrait of familial bonds and personal growth.
By Adrian Perez
In "HIM", Mindy Gilkerson enters the realm of Batman fan films, a landscape littered with ambitious attempts and marked by the presence of titanic predecessors. Her venture, a short about a man entangled in a web of debt and lured into the dark path of thievery, feels reminiscent of the latest Batman incarnation, particularly with Robert Pattinson's brooding and introspective Dark Knight echoing in the shadows.
Kris Mayeshiro, already applauded for his previous performances, once again demonstrates his remarkable acting chops, embodying the protagonist's inner turmoil and desperation with a finesse that pulls us deeper into the narrative.
The cinematography, orchestrated by Joe Marotta, is simple, yet effective. With the understated elegance of his frames, Marotta navigates us through the narrative, each shot operating as a subtle narrative device. His visual narrative resonates with echoes of iconic scenes from "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight", acting as a silent homage to the classic cinematic moments that have shaped the Batman mythology.
However, it's in the film's sound design where "HIM" truly flexes its prowess. It envelops us, fully immerses us in the story, a haunting soundtrack that looms in the background, amplifying the suspense and the impending horror. This auditory landscape holds echoes of Hans Zimmer's operatic compositions in Nolan's Batman trilogy, and even a hint of Michael Giacchino's score for the latest Batman instalment.
Despite these standout elements, "HIM" falls short of its ambition in one critical area: the script. The story, penned by Joe Marotta, unfortunately, doesn't bring anything fresh to the table, languishing in predictability and banality. It's a well-trodden path, a narrative arc we've seen played out time and again, lacking the inventive twists or unique insights that could have elevated it to a different level.
Yet, in this script's shortcomings, Gilkerson shows potential as a director. Her use of visual narrative and the way she orchestrates scenes demonstrate a keen eye for storytelling. It's clear she has the tools and the talent to create engaging cinema, but she needs to sharpen her skills in dramaturgy to truly stand out in this crowded field.
"HIM" is a thriller with hints of horror, a foray into the ever-expanding world of Batman fan films. While it doesn't quite hit the mark, it showcases a promising directorial talent in Mindy Gilkerson and leaves us intrigued about her future projects. Like Tim Burton's "Batman", it holds a certain Gothic charm, and like Joel Schumacher's "Batman & Robin", it has its shortcomings, yet it offers an interesting, albeit flawed, addition to the Batman fan film canon. Grade B-.
IN THE NAME OF TOMORROW (Lebanon)
Celine A. Beader
By Adrian Perez
In Celine A. Beader's "In the Name of Tomorrow," we find ourselves embarking on an enigmatic odyssey, straddling the boundary between the tangible and the intangible, the rational and the irrational, the collective and the individual. This feature-length artistic documentary feels like a contemporary echo of Dziga Vertov's "Man with a Movie Camera" (1929), yet it eschews the rigid structures of conventional documentary filmmaking in favor of a more fluid, dance-like exploration of human experience.
Beader, a virtuoso in multimedia storytelling, weaves an intricate tapestry of 45 distinct voices, each offering their unique perspective on hope and the elusive concept of 'tomorrow'. In doing so, she creates a harmonious symphony of human resilience that is as hypnotic as it is profound. It's akin to Godfrey Reggio's "Koyaanisqatsi" (1982), but Beader's rendition is less of an evocative visual poem and more of an intimate dance, a celebration of the human spirit in its many forms.
The film is a profound exploration of our shared human experience, drawing us in with the raw honesty of its subjects and holding us captive with its mesmerizing rhythm. It is not merely a documentary, but a philosophically profound piece, echoing the existential musings of Chris Marker's "Sans Soleil" (1983), while maintaining its own distinctive voice. The film does not preach, nor does it dictate; it is a reflective mirror held up to the viewer, inviting introspection and conversation.
The cinematography of "In the Name of Tomorrow" is equally compelling, a masterful blend of neorealist aesthetics and avant-garde visual poetry. This dance of thoughts is a visual feast, with each shot meticulously framed to capture the nuances of our shared human experience. The camera work is reminiscent of Werner Herzog's "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" (2010), but Beader goes one step further by weaving a visual narrative that is as much a part of the story as the voices it documents.
Beader's creative acumen shines through in her ability to seamlessly fuse the realms of filmmaking, education, and digital marketing. Her multidisciplinary background breathes life into the film, creating a multimedia experience that is as intellectually engaging as it is emotionally resonant. She is a creative polymath in the same vein as Agnès Varda, whose work straddled the realms of art, documentary, and social activism.
The film is a testament to Beader's talent for capturing the zeitgeist, for channeling the hopes, fears, and dreams of a generation into a cohesive and compelling narrative. It is a film that needs to be experienced rather than merely watched, a film that invites us to take part in the dance, to join the chorus of voices echoing in the name of tomorrow.
In the end, "In the Name of Tomorrow" is not just a film; it is a call to action, a plea for empathy, a manifesto of hope. It is a journey into the heart of what it means to be human, a journey that Beader masterfully choreographs with the grace of a seasoned dancer and the eye of a seasoned filmmaker. It is a film that dances in the face of despair, in the name of hope, in the name of tomorrow. Grade A.
ISOLATED PEOPLE (China)
By Adrian Perez
In his latest work, "Isolated People", Jun Wang continues his uniquely immersive cinematic journey that once again catapults us into the heart of a hauntingly intimate narrative, this time set against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic. The film again boasts the return of the mesmerizing duo, Feifei Yu and Zhen Liu, who reprise their roles as the leading characters, Wang's protagonists are as vivid and intimately rendered as they were in "The Journey of Murder", not as the previous magnetic antagonists but as two vulnerable souls trapped in the vortex of an isolating world, they are steeped in a whole new level of despair, making this film a stark departure from his past oeuvre.
Jun Wang's innovative storytelling remains as relentless as ever, as he delves into the poignant tale of Wang Yang, played by the spellbinding Feifei Yu, a woman who, having lost her relatives to the pandemic, is teetering on the brink of self-destruction. Rescued by the enigmatic construction worker Jia Xiusheng, performed with quiet brilliance by Zhen Liu, the narrative begins to intertwine two lives marked by their unique forms of isolation. The result is a film that manages to expose the raw wound of the human condition, while also painting a sobering picture of a world in crisis.
"Isolated People" channels Wang's signature narrative minimalism and stark realism, creating a tableau of isolation and despair that mirrors the somber reality of a world gripped by a pandemic. Wang's choice of a monochromatic visual palette amplifies this mood and lends the film a stark, haunting beauty that only amplifies the sense of loneliness and despair that pervades it. The monochrome palette serves as a metaphor for the stark reality of life amidst the pandemic, devoid of the vibrancy that once defined it. Wang's use of light and shadow to establish the film's space is masterful, resulting in a series of visually stunning compositions that only further the film's narrative.
Drawing parallels with classics like Antonioni's "L'Eclisse" and Bresson's "Mouchette", Wang’s film navigates the desolation of the human soul with a similar visual austerity and narrative minimalism. Just as Alice’s journey through the looking glass led her into an inverted world, Wang’s protagonists, too, find themselves in an inverted reality, a world turned upside down by a pandemic.
Feifei Yu's performance as Wang Yang is a masterclass in emotional depth and subtlety, capturing the heart-wrenching despair of a person who has lost all will to live. She breathes life into Wang's bleak canvas, becoming a beacon of human frailty and resilience amidst the suffocating despair of isolation.
Equally impressive is Zhen Liu's portrayal of Jia Xiusheng, the construction worker trapped in the cycle of social alienation. Liu masterfully brings out the internal struggles of a man battling against the despair of life and the fear of death. His performance is a study in understated power, a testament to the strength of character that exists even in the bleakest of realities.
"Isolated People" is a cinematic masterpiece that continues Jun Wang's tradition of delivering hard-hitting narratives, packed with a raw emotional intensity that is difficult to forget. It’s a powerful testament to the resilience of the human spirit, even when confronted with the bleakest of realities. It’s a powerful exploration of what it means to be human, to be isolated, and to cling to the fragile threads of hope even in the midst of despair.
Its cinematography, composed of stark black and white images, adds an extra layer of depth, allowing the narrative to transition seamlessly from realism to expressionism, creating a unique film language that is as haunting as it is beautiful.
His keen observation of human nature and his ability to portray it with such raw honesty make this film an unflinching exploration of the human condition during a pandemic. It is a haunting requiem for the lost souls of the pandemic and a stark reminder of the isolating effects of despair.
Through a blend of meticulous detail, thoughtful character development, and a gripping narrative, Wang once again demonstrates why he is one of the most exciting voices in contemporary cinema. "Isolated People" is a film that demands attention and offers a sobering reflection on the human condition.
JUST BELIEVE (USA)
By Adrian Perez
In the effervescent coming-of-age short film, "Just Believe," Nya Chambless, a multi-talented whiz-kid of only thirteen, impeccably writes, directs, and acts, offering us an unpretentious exploration of self-doubt and the vagaries of adolescence. Recalling the heartrending thematic shades of films such as "The 400 Blows" (1959) and "Boyhood" (2014), but with a more optimistic and comedic vein, Chambless meticulously crafts a vibrant and sincere portrait of youthful resilience.
Our protagonist, a precociously intellectual, home-schooled girl, finds herself on the precipice of a radical life transition. This narrative setup, immediately evocative of the idiosyncratic worlds of Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom" (2012) or even Greta Gerwig's "Lady Bird" (2017), is handled with remarkable tenderness and maturity by Chambless. The narrative navigates the protagonist's self-doubt and challenges with social skills, which are brought to life with a charm and wit that softens the potential sting of the subject matter.
In her directorial style, Chambless adopts a clear-eyed realism reminiscent of Richard Linklater’s cinema, but with an undercurrent of subtle, intelligent humor that recalls the early works of Sofia Coppola. Her performance is imbued with a refreshing authenticity that is both compelling and relatable, masterfully capturing the nuances of adolescent self-doubt and the hardships of growing up.
"Just Believe" is, at its core, a family comedy, yet its thematic gravity, skillfully woven into the film's fabric, transcends genre constraints. While humor is its narrative vehicle, the film's underlying exploration of the protagonist's internal struggles imparts a profound sense of empathy, proving that the best comedies are often those that make us think as much as they make us laugh.
While the film’s thematic resonances may call to mind cinematic milestones like Truffaut’s "Small Change" (1976) or Alfonso Cuarón's "Y Tu Mamá También" (2001), "Just Believe" is a unique cinematic concoction. Chambless is not merely following in the footsteps of the greats, but confidently carving out her own path. The film's message is as heartening as it is necessary: a plea for understanding, self-belief, and the power of positivity in the face of adversity.
Remarkably, Chambless accomplishes all this while still finding time to attend 5th grade. Her passion for the arts is palpable and, if "Just Believe" is any indication, Chambless is a burgeoning auteur with a bright future in the world of filmmaking. As she continues to hone her craft, it will be intriguing to see what stories she chooses to tell, how her directorial style evolves, and how she continues to use cinema as a conduit to spread happiness and foster social change.
"Just Believe" is a testament to Chambless's immense talent and maturity as a storyteller. Despite her youth, she deftly navigates complex themes and crafts a film that is both enjoyable and thought-provoking. It is a heartwarming exploration of adolescence that is as poignant as it is humorous, a cinematic gem that resonates long after the credits roll. Grade A*.
KHAFIFA (United Arab Emirates)
By Adrian Perez
Sci-fi, post-apocalyptic, and fantasy narratives seamlessly blend in Eldar Yusupov’s latest short series, Khafifa. This inaugural chapter, entitled "Hope," is a mesmerizing exploration of survival, curiosity, and the human spirit in the face of absolute devastation.
Yusupov sets his story 10220 days after a nuclear catastrophe, transforming Earth into an endless dune, devoid of the familiar symbols of civilization. The few humans left are survivors or their offspring, children like Khafifa, born into the ruins of a world they never knew. Yusupov captures the bleakness of their existence with a masterful visual austerity, the barren landscapes becoming a silent, haunting character in their own right.
The character Khafifa, whose name aptly translates to "light" in Arabic, is a beacon of hope amidst this desolate landscape. When she stumbles upon the remnants of a village, it's not only an archaeological discovery but also a revelation of her own humanity. This moment is a turning point in the narrative, propelling her onto a quest to preserve life.
The narrative's explorations of survival and the human spirit evoke Cormac McCarthy's "The Road," while the stark visuals recall the dystopian landscapes of "Mad Max." However, Yusupov manages to craft a unique vision that never feels derivative. He employs a hauntingly beautiful cinematographic language, using long shots to emphasize the smallness of Khafifa against the vast desert, effectively portraying the enormity of her quest.
Yusupov also adds a significant layer of symbolism, making excellent use of the motif of light. Khafifa, both in name and character, embodies the light—hope—amidst a world plunged in the darkness of despair. The discovery she makes illuminates her path, quite literally, casting a ray of hope into the unforgiving post-apocalyptic world.
Despite its bleak setting, Khafifa | Chapter I - Hope is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit, the innate desire to seek and preserve life, even in the face of overwhelming odds. The narrative does not merely present the world as a dystopian reality; instead, it asks the viewer to consider the values that make us human in the first place. This thematic exploration is further enhanced by the character of Khafifa herself, who carries the narrative's emotional weight with a quiet yet potent resilience.
The film's pacing is measured, yet it never feels slow, each scene serving to incrementally build upon Khafifa's journey. The climactic moment, where Khafifa sets forth on her mission, is both a narrative and visual crescendo, a moment of catharsis that promises an exciting journey ahead.
In conclusion, Khafifa | Chapter I - Hope is an exquisitely crafted film that offers a fresh and profound exploration of post-apocalyptic narratives. Eldar Yusupov's command of visual storytelling and thematic depth sets him apart, making this opening chapter a promising start to what promises to be an intriguing series. It is a testament to the human spirit's resilience, a beacon of light in the darkness, and a profound exploration of the lengths one would go to preserve life.
KILL OR BE KILLED (USA)
By Adrian Perez
A masterclass in suspense and moral dilemma, "Kill Or Be Killed" is a remarkable achievement in indie cinema, given its budgetary constraints. The film's premise is deceptively simple: two young hustlers, portrayed with verve and vitality by Devin Teer and Brandon Malicki find themselves in over their heads when they impulsively steal the wrong man's car. Yet, within this narrative framework, writer Kevin Eckhardt and director Teer manage to weave an intricate tapestry of ethical quandaries, emotional complexity, and pulse-pounding tension.
Teer and Malicki prove to be a captivating on-screen duo, their camaraderie and complicity reminiscent of George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino's brotherly bond in "From Dusk Till Dawn" (1996). Yet, it is Teer's multifaceted performance, both in front of and behind the camera, that truly shines. His directorial decisions evoke the neo-noir aesthetics of Ryan Gosling's directorial debut "Lost River" (2014), while his nuanced portrayal of a hustler wrestling with his moral compass brings to mind a young James Dean in "Rebel Without A Cause" (1955).
The film leans heavily into its tense narrative, recalling the works of the Coen brothers, particularly "No Country for Old Men" (2007), wherein every choice comes with potentially life-altering consequences. Yet, Eckhardt's script manages to carve out its own niche in this genre, interrogating the notions of morality and loyalty through the prism of its desperate protagonists. The decisions they make, and the outcomes they face, do not merely serve the narrative's momentum but instead become a commentary on the human condition, echoing Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange" (1971) in its exploration of free will.
"Kill Or Be Killed" is a gritty, gripping exploration of morality in a world that rewards transgression, and loyalty when survival is at stake. It is a testament to the creative prowess of its team, showcasing the power of independent cinema to tell compelling stories without the need for extravagant budgets. Teer's directorial debut is a triumph, an audacious statement of intent from a filmmaker with a clear and distinct vision. Simultaneously, Malicki delivers a powerhouse performance that further bolsters the film's dramatic weight.
In conclusion, "Kill Or Be Killed" is a captivating entry into the genre of suspense-thrillers, providing an engaging narrative, powerful performances, and a thought-provoking exploration of morality and loyalty. It is a testament to the power of independent cinema and a bold statement from its director and lead actor, Devin Teer. A must-watch for fans of suspenseful storytelling and moral dilemmas. Grade A-.
Chowdhury Asif Jahangir Arko
By Adrian Perez
In a swirling tempest of comedy and drama, Chowdhury Asif Jahangir Arko’s “KISTIMAAT” transports us into a world of shared dreams, thrilling failures, and the unexpected revelation of resilience. Drawing from his multifaceted background as an architect, filmmaker, cartoonist, and dancer, Arko weaves a narrative tapestry as complex and colorful as his own experiences, reminiscent of Fellini's "I Vitelloni" in its exploration of friendship and unfulfilled ambition.
“KISTIMAAT” tells the story of Noor and Babu, two friends played with charismatic aplomb by Tapas Kumar Mridha and Rawchy Ritch. The duo, engaging in a quixotic attempt to win a gameshow, resemble a Beckettian pair, trapped in their own tragicomic cycle of aspiration and disappointment. Arko’s direction deftly captures their bumbling efforts, crafting a narrative that, despite its comedic elements, echoes the poignant struggle of Vittorio De Sica's characters in "Bicycle Thieves."
The ensemble cast enhances the vibrancy of Arko's cinematic canvas, with each actor contributing a unique shade to the film's emotional palette. Risal Ahmed, playing the gameshow host, provides an edgy counterpoint to Noor and Babu's comic ineptitude, while Iftekhar Bin Salam and Shahnaz Masud offer memorable performances in their supporting roles. Arko himself makes a cameo, lending an additional layer of reflexivity to the film's intricate narrative structure, reminiscent of Godard's self-insertion into "Contempt."
In “KISTIMAAT”, Arko effectively harnesses the power of humor to render the poignant struggle of two friends who, despite their repeated failures, refuse to surrender. Their perseverance becomes a testament to the human spirit, a defiance that illuminates the film's core message: "Not winning is never a failure... Giving up is..." This line, not only a directorial statement but a thematic cornerstone, echoes the existential undertones of Albert Camus' "The Myth of Sisyphus," with Noor and Babu embodying the absurd hero who finds meaning in his ceaseless toil.
Arko's film is a testament to the transformative power of cinema, where even the most mundane moments of life can become a source of laughter, tears, and profound insight. His filmmaking prowess, coupled with the stellar performances of his cast, marks “KISTIMAAT” as a triumph of contemporary cinema. The echoes of classic films and philosophical thought add depth to its simple narrative, creating a cinematic experience that is both entertaining and thought-provoking.
In summary, “KISTIMAAT” is a vivid portrait of friendship, failure, and the indomitable will of the human spirit, painted with the brushstrokes of humor and pathos. It is a film that transcends the confines of genre to deliver a universal message of resilience, making it a must-watch for anyone seeking a masterclass in the art of storytelling. “KISTIMAAT” is a testament to Arko's filmmaking prowess and an affirmation of his status as one of the leading voices in the world of contemporary cinema.
LE POUSSIN ET LES SOURCILS (Lebanon)
Rami Samir Salloum
By Adrian Perez
In the tradition of audacious auteurists such as Stanley Kubrick and Michael Haneke, Rami Samir Salloum delivers an unflinching examination of the human psyche in his latest feature, “Le Poussin et les Sourcils” (The Chick and the Eyebrows). Much like Nabokov's provocative "Lolita," Salloum's film dares to explore the mental subjectivity of paedophilia. It is a bold move indeed, especially considering the film emerges from Lebanon, a nation often limited by religious conservatism. But in the hands of Salloum, the exploration of this heavy subject matter is treated with maturity, sensitivity, and remarkable insight.
“Le Poussin et les Sourcils” tells the story of Mira (Joy Frem), a child psychologist, and her boyfriend Wael (Joseph Maroun), a struggling writer. The couple's tranquil existence is disrupted when they become ensnared in a complex dilemma involving one of Mira's patients. This narrative, reminiscent of Polanski's "Repulsion" or Hitchcock's "Psycho," uses suspense and psychological exploration to tackle a challenging subject with a sophisticated touch.
Salloum, akin to the cinematic maestros such as Ingmar Bergman and Jean-Pierre Melville, skillfully delves into the inner workings of the human mind, revealing the twisted labyrinth of desires, fears, and secrets. His direction is both meticulous and daring, reminiscent of his previous works like "The Core" and "Jocasta." His mastery of multiple roles - directing, writing, photography, editing, and even graphics and animation - allows for a comprehensive artistic control reminiscent of auteurs like Orson Welles or Charlie Chaplin.
The performances of Frem and Maroun anchor the narrative, their credible embodiment of Mira and Wael lending depth and humanity to the film. Frem's Mira, in particular, stands out with her portrayal of the empathetic psychologist who becomes enmeshed in a web of moral and ethical dilemmas. Maroun's Wael provides the perfect foil, his struggle as a writer mirroring the larger societal struggle to understand and respond to such a taboo subject.
The cinematography of “Le Poussin et les Sourcils” is a testament to Salloum's eye for detail and his gift for creating an immersive cinematic experience. From the carefully framed shots of Mira's therapy sessions to the moody cityscapes that encapsulate Wael's struggle, the visuals serve as an integral part of the narrative.
In the end, “Le Poussin et les Sourcils” is not just a film about paedophilia. It is an exploration of the darkest corners of the human mind and a societal critique of our collective inability to discuss such issues openly. It is a testament to Salloum's audacity as a filmmaker and a profound indictment of the silence that often surrounds such topics. It is a film that, like Scorsese's "Taxi Driver" or Denis Villeneuve's "Prisoners," doesn't shy away from the disturbing underbelly of society.
With “Le Poussin et les Sourcils,” Salloum has proven himself as a bold and innovative voice in cinema. It is a film that demands to be seen and discussed, a true cinematic tour de force that is as disturbing as it is thought-provoking. It is a piece of art that, like the works of Kubrick, Hitchcock, or Polanski, forces us to confront the uncomfortable truths that we often choose to ignore. This is the power of cinema at its most potent - to challenge, to provoke, to unsettle. Grade: A
LIFESAVER: THE SLO NOOR FOUNDATION STORY (USA)
By Adrian Perez
With his newest cinematic voyage, "LifeSaver: The Story of SLO Noor Foundation," the consummate storyteller Bob Williams leaves no room for the faint-hearted. This is a documentary pulsating with the staggering vitality of human compassion and an exemplary testament to the monumental power of community mobilization.
Channeling the spirit of the cinematic maestros of yore, Williams intricately weaves a tale of an immigrant physician - a contemporary Prometheus, who brings the healing flame of healthcare to the underprivileged. Like Robert Flaherty's "Nanook of the North," which unraveled the boundless resilience of the human spirit against the desolate Arctic wilderness, "LifeSaver" exposes the unyielding endurance of a community pitted against the staggering odds of the healthcare crisis.
Drawing on his extensive experience in the healthcare industry, Williams' directorial acumen shines in his nuanced exploration of the systematic disparities that plague the American healthcare system. Much like the subtle poignancy of Satyajit Ray's "Pather Panchali," which illuminated the harsh realities of rural poverty in India, Williams masterfully exposes the raw nerves of the health crisis in the US. And yet, like the Italian neorealist masterpieces of Vittorio De Sica, this is not a tale of despair but one of hope and resilience.
In the vein of the Dziga Vertov's groundbreaking "Man with a Movie Camera," Williams deploys his documentary as a mirror reflecting the pressing concerns of our times. The film's core narrative around SLO Noor Foundation's commendable endeavor to provide healthcare for all resonates powerfully against the backdrop of the global COVID-19 crisis.
The unfurling narrative of "LifeSaver" is reminiscent of the raw emotional depth of Akira Kurosawa's "Ikiru," where a man grappling with his mortality finds renewed purpose in serving his community. The film's protagonist, an immigrant physician striving to make a difference, carries a similar aura of quiet determination and unrelenting dedication.
Williams' documentary is a lighthouse in the tempestuous sea of health care challenges, shining a beacon of hope and underscoring the possibility of change through communal effort. It's a compelling homage to the unsung heroes and a clarion call for healthcare as a universal right, not a privilege.
In the grand tradition of Frederick Wiseman's institutional documentaries, "LifeSaver" transcends its immediate narrative, presenting a broader commentary on the need for societal change. Williams, with his keen eye for detail and profound understanding of the human condition, has created an extraordinary testament to the indomitable spirit of humanity.
"LifeSaver: The Story of SLO Noor Foundation" stands as a triumph of Williams' brand of filmmaking. Its impactful narrative and visual storytelling prowess make it a must-watch for those seeking to understand the profound challenges of healthcare disparity and the promise of community-driven solutions. A paean to the power of collective effort, it's a clarion call for the recognition of healthcare as a basic human right. It echoes the sentiment of the renowned French filmmaker, Jean Renoir, who once said, "The truly terrible thing is that everybody has their reasons." In the complex, often fraught landscape of healthcare, Williams' film is a reminder that compassion, empathy, and community can indeed turn the tide.
Dustin James Leighton
By Adrian Perez
In the age of relentless visual stimulation and digital cacophony, Dustin James Leighton's "Lostless" emerges as a breath of fresh air, an introspective and contemplative exploration of the human psyche. In this short film, the modern world's harsh realities collide with the boundless landscape of imagination as we follow the journey of Cora (Jade Soto), a young woman seeking refuge from the phantoms that haunt her.
Echoing the spirit of Tarkovsky's "Solaris" and the surrealism of Lynch's "Mulholland Drive," Leighton masterfully crafts a poignant narrative that oscillates between the real and the imaginary. The stark contrast between the gritty urban environment and the ethereal Arizona desert serves as a powerful metaphor for the duality of the human mind, highlighting the constant struggle between the mundane and the fantastical.
Leighton, known for his illustrious voice acting career and recent foray into cinematography, showcases his directorial prowess in this silent film. As a visual symphony, "Lostless" excels in evoking emotions through its carefully constructed mise-en-scène and striking color palette. The chiaroscuro of the modern world juxtaposed with the sun-drenched desert landscape captures the essence of Cora's inner turmoil.
The film's strength lies in its ability to tell a story without words. Jade Soto's captivating performance as Cora embodies the vulnerability and resilience of a wandering soul, while Mitch Morrison's enigmatic presence as the "Man of Wisdom" adds a layer of mystique to the narrative. This is further complemented by Abbot Miller's evocative sound design, which expertly conveys the protagonist's emotional states.
"Lostless" could easily draw parallels to the ethereal works of Wim Wenders or Terrence Malick, but it firmly establishes itself as a unique voice in contemporary cinema. In a way, Leighton's film is a love letter to the transformative power of imagination and the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity.
As a cinematic experience, "Lostless" is a testament to Leighton's boundless creativity and artistic vision. With a powerful narrative, mesmerizing visuals, and a talented cast, this film transcends the boundaries of the medium and invites the viewer into a world of introspection and self-discovery. It's a journey worth embarking on, as we too navigate the labyrinthine landscape of our own minds in search of solace and enlightenment. Grade A
MANAGED AGENDA (USA)
Reginald W. Gibson
By Adrian Perez
"Managed Agenda: A Dystopian Parable of Power and Resistance"
In his newest cinematic venture, "Managed Agenda," Reginald W. Gibson brings forth a cosmic tale of demonic dominance and human resilience. Reminiscent of the dystopian vision of Fritz Lang's "Metropolis," yet with a phantasmagoric flair akin to Guillermo Del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth," Gibson crafts a parallel Earth, circa 5871, where demonic powers aim to seize control, echoing the turbulent sociopolitical climate of our own time.
The film opens with a pantheon of demonic hordes, masterfully orchestrated by Gibson, convening under the rule of Prince Pherick (Sylvester Echols). Their objective is as clear as it is nefarious: overthrow the United States and establish a regime of global domination. Echols' portrayal of Prince Pherick, the Prince of the Power of the Air, evokes the ethereal malevolence of C.S. Lewis' Screwtape, combined with the Machiavellian manipulation of a Shakespearean villain.
However, even in the face of such overwhelming odds, Gibson's narrative leaves room for a glimmer of hope. A small group of resistors, led by the courageous Arkhay Prinn (Trinity Dobbs), refuses to stand idle. Their defiance, although seemingly inconsequential in the grand scheme of the demonic hierarchy, proves to be a thorn in the side of Pherick's plan, prompting an urgent need for rectification.
Gibson's visual aesthetics are a blend of the surreal and the dystopian, drawing parallels with Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner" and Terry Gilliam's "Brazil". The production design and cinematography craft a universe that's both chillingly alien and eerily familiar, reflecting the duality of our fears and hopes, our demons and angels.
The performances are uniformly solid, with Dobbs displaying a charisma and bravery reminiscent of a young Sigourney Weaver in "Alien". Echols' Prince Pherick is both terrifying and fascinating, recalling Max Von Sydow's chilling portrayal of Ming the Merciless in "Flash Gordon." Meanwhile, Louisa Reyes as Kosmo Ruldar and Elizabeth Semana as Jureece Powers add depth and dimension to the ensemble, creating a rich tapestry of characters that keep us engaged and invested.
As a director, Gibson demonstrates his prowess and understanding of the medium, balancing the grandeur of his epic narrative with intimate character moments. His background in journalism, television, radio, and film production is evident in his storytelling, reminiscent of the transmedia narratives of pioneers like J.J. Abrams or Christopher Nolan. His studied and methodical approach to filmmaking, combined with his clear passion, permeates every frame of "Managed Agenda."
Despite its fantastical setting and larger-than-life characters, "Managed Agenda" resonates with contemporary socio-political themes, offering a cautionary tale about unchecked power and the importance of collective resistance. It's a reminder that even in the darkest of times, a small group can make a difference, echoing Margaret Mead's famous adage, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
In summary, "Managed Agenda" is a mesmerizing exploration of power, resistance, and the human spirit. With its rich storytelling, strong performances, and thought-provoking themes, it's a cinematic journey that demands attention. Under Gibson's steady hand, it's a film that not only entertains but also challenges us to question our own place in the world and our capacity to effect change. Grade A.
MARAUDING MANDIBLES (USA)
By Adrian Perez
"Marauding Mandibles," directed by Brian Plonka, embarks on an astonishing journey into the microcosmic world of Thatcher ants. The film subtly echoes the sociopolitical resonance of George Orwell's "Animal Farm," but instead of barnyard animals, we delve into the complex society of ants, where harmony is disrupted and subsequently restored.
Much like the films of the French New Wave, Plonka deftly avoids the trap of anthropomorphism, showcasing the ants' unique world through an anthropocentric lens. Instead, he invites us to view the world from the ants' perspective, with a unique blend of visual aesthetics reminiscent of Dziga Vertov’s "Man with a Movie Camera" and the raw, uncensored realism of Frederick Wiseman's documentaries.
Plonka's detailed close-up cinematography is both spectacular and mesmerizing, akin to the meticulous observation in Claude Nuridsany and Marie Pérennou's "Microcosmos." However, "Marauding Mandibles" goes a step further. The ants do not merely exist as subjects of a documentary; they are active participants, communicating with the viewer in a language of movements and pheromones, deftly captured by Plonka's lens.
The narrative's catalyst, a neighbor's seemingly insignificant action of cutting down a tree, sends ripples through the ant colony, triggering a cascade of alarm pheromones. The way Plonka orchestrates this event, it feels akin to the narrative tension in Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds." It's a chilling reminder of the domino effect our actions can have on the environment, in a manner reminiscent of the eco-consciousness in Hayao Miyazaki's "Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind."
The film's portrayal of the ants' response to the crisis is nothing short of masterful, echoing the organized chaos in Akira Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai." The ants are not mere insects responding to stimuli; they are soldiers, strategists, and survivors, functioning like a well-oiled machine. They mirror the relentless resilience of humanity in the face of adversity, and Plonka captures this essence with an unerring eye.
"Marauding Mandibles" is a spectacular visual treat, with its innovative cinematography, powerful ecological message, and its unique approach in presenting a window into a world often overlooked. It shares thematic kinship with films like Godfrey Reggio's "Koyaanisqatsi" and Werner Herzog's "Grizzly Man," exploring the intricate balance between humans and nature.
Plonka's film is a testament to the power of cinema in capturing the beauty, complexity, and resilience of life on a scale we rarely acknowledge, let alone understand. "Marauding Mandibles" is a reminder of our shared existence with other species on this planet, and the unforeseen consequences our actions can have on these silent companions of our journey on Earth. A masterclass in nature documentary filmmaking, "Marauding Mandibles" is a must-watch for any cinema enthusiast or nature lover. A resounding A*.
MIDDAY BLACK, MIDNIGHT BLUE (USA)
Samantha Soule & Daniel Talbott
By Adrian Perez
In "Midday Black, Midnight Blue," Samantha Soule and Daniel Talbott craft an extraordinary narrative that transcends the conventions of traditional storytelling. This emotionally potent exploration of grief and love resonates with anyone who has grappled with loss, profound loss.
The film masterfully intertwines the conscious and the subconscious, the external and the internal, offering a strikingly immersive narrative on grief, love, and ultimately, healing. Echoes of David Lynch's "Mulholland Drive" and Darren Aronofsky's "Requiem for a Dream" resonate in this exploration of the darkest corners of our minds.
Ian (Chris Stack), the grieving protagonist, embarks on a mental journey akin to the mythic quest of Orpheus. His palpable yearning for a deceased beloved is rendered with such poignancy that it permeates each frame. Soule, making her directorial debut and co-writing with Talbott, precisely crafts a labyrinthine narrative, each scene a piece of Ian's complex, disjointed psyche.
Two-time Emmy-winning Merritt Wever portrays Beth, the living reminder of Ian's loss. Her soulful and haunting performance serves as a counterpoint to Ian's growing isolation. Her empathetic character recalls Meryl Streep's delicate rendering of Sophie in "Sophie's Choice," as she navigates the challenging landscape of a loved one's self-destruction.
The Pacific Northwest serves as the film's stark and mysterious backdrop, its almost sentient presence adding to the film's atmospheric quality. By juxtaposing the vast external world with the isolated internal one, the cinematography underscores the film's thematic duality.
Interweaving elements of experimental cinema with a deeply emotional narrative, the film offers a viewing experience that resonates with the works of Terrence Malick and Ingmar Bergman. It explores the transitions between light and dark, midday black and midnight blue, unabashedly delving into the inherent ambiguities and paradoxes of human emotions.
The haunting score by Nora Kroll-Rosenbaum deepens the narrative, providing an aural landscape that accentuates the emotional turmoil of the plot. Shades of Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" and Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho" resonate in her score, enhancing the dread and tension underlying Ian's mental journey.
"Midday Black Midnight Blue" affirms its status as a distinctive work in experimental cinema. Its narrative intricacies, deft performances, and potent emotional core echo the mournful cries of Bergman's "Cries and Whispers" and the spectral allure of Resnais's "Last Year at Marienbad." It is a haunting elegy sung to the heartbroken and the lost, leaving us eager for where Soule and Talbott's cinematic journey will take them next.
As the film concludes, we find ourselves profoundly altered, akin to Ian stepping out of the shadows of his grief into the blinding midday sun. It is a deeply human and profoundly resonant exploration of love, loss, and redemption that leaves an indelible mark. The cathartic final scene encapsulates the enduring power of human resilience, mirroring the redemptive conclusion of Kieślowski's "Three Colors: Blue."
As someone who has weathered personal tragedies, this film profoundly resonated with me. Its journey is harrowing, the path winding and treacherous, yet in the end, the luminosity of hope illuminates our way through the midday black and midnight blue. It stands as a compelling exploration of the human heart, and for those who've known profound loss, this masterpiece is indeed a shiver for the soul.
MIKI MANIACO (USA)
By Adrian Perez
In Carla Forte’s latest opus, “Miki Maniaco,” we are invited to embark on a melancholic voyage to the edges of the American Dream. Her feature-length film, an intimate exploration of the often-overlooked price of fame and glory, strikes with profound poetic resonance. The narrative dissects the existential malaise of its titular protagonist, Miki, and his companions as they grapple with their bleak reality post-glory—cast away into the margins of South Florida. Ther is far from a tale of rags to riches; rather, it is a sobering portrayal of post-glory disillusionment that rings all too true in our fame-obsessed culture.
Forte, a Venezuelan-born auteur, brings a uniquely Latin American perspective to her quintessentially American narrative. She masterfully dissects the complexities of the "American Dream," challenging the viewer to reassess its perceived promises of "advancement, triumph, and success." With "Miki Maniaco," she crafts a subtle and poignant critique, revealing the hidden layers beneath the glitz and glamour of stardom. The film offers a raw, unflinching glimpse into the grim realities behind the façade of fame, leading us to question the very nature of success and its profound impacts on identity, selfhood, and relationships.
"Miki Maniaco" is steeped in an atmosphere of tragic nostalgia, underscored by the dreamlike landscape of Florida—a state known for being a place of transition and retirement. Ther setting provides the perfect backdrop for Miki and his friends' emotional exile, further reinforcing the themes of displacement and loss. Forte employs a blend of black humor and fantasy to deftly navigate these complex issues, imbuing her characters with an endearing irreverence that resonates with authentic human experience.
Forte's direction strikes an exquisite balance between the fantastical and the deeply personal. The narrative is imbued with a sense of magical realism, reminiscent of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's literary works, yet grounded in the stark realities of contemporary American life. The film’s characters, once iconic figures of fantasy, are now relics of a bygone era—forgotten, abused, and discarded. Forte’s treatment of these characters is both tender and brutally honest, offering a biting critique of a system that mercilessly discards those it no longer finds useful.
"Miki Maniaco" is more than just a film; it is a thoughtful reflection on the pursuit of happiness, daringly suggesting that it transcends the confines of monetary success. It is an exploration of identity and the psychological toll of fame, a biting commentary on societal norms, and, most importantly, a celebration of the human spirit in its most vulnerable state. Forte's film is a testament to the power of storytelling, inviting us to question our own definitions of success and happiness, challenging societal constructs, and ultimately, revealing the universal human yearning for connection, relevance, and self-worth.
"Miki Maniaco" is a haunting and evocative masterpiece that lingers long after the credits roll. It is a film that warrants multiple viewings, each revealing a new layer of depth and complexity. Carla Forte has proven herself to be a formidable talent in the world of independent cinema, and "Miki Maniaco" is a testament to her astute directorial vision and profound understanding of the human condition. Grade A.
MONTERANO'S TALES (Italy)
By Adrian Perez
In "Monterano's Tales," director Marika Vannuzzi orchestrates a vibrant and evocative dance between the realms of the living and the dead. This visual symphony of colorful bodies in motion against a backdrop of lifeless, gray stone is a testament to Vannuzzi's creative genius and extraordinary ability to forge a dialogue of both harmony and discord. Drawing inspiration from a variety of cult classics and cinematic legends, Vannuzzi's film stands tall as an original masterpiece in the world of dance and poetic cinema.
At the core of "Monterano's Tales" lies a series of short, intense encounters that challenge the viewer's perception of life, death, and the transient nature of existence. Vannuzzi masterfully weaves together these disparate threads, reminiscent of the stylistic brilliance of Ingmar Bergman's "Persona" and the ethereal beauty of Powell and Pressburger's "The Red Shoes." The film's visual tapestry is further enriched by its evocative cinematography, which effortlessly transports the viewer into a realm where the boundaries between reality and fantasy blur and dissolve.
Vannuzzi's choreography is a breathtaking amalgamation of passion, precision, and raw emotion. The dancers' fluid movements and expressive gestures echo the dynamic anatomical methodologies of Juliu Horvath's Gyrotonic and Gyrokinesis, adding depth and nuance to the film's central themes. The vibrant interplay between the dancers and the cold, unyielding stone is a powerful metaphor for the eternal struggle between life and death, as well as a poignant exploration of the human condition.
The film's dreamlike atmosphere is punctuated by moments of stark realism, not unlike the surrealist juxtapositions in the works of Luis Buñuel and David Lynch. This delicate balance between the fantastical and the grounded lends "Monterano's Tales" a unique, haunting quality that lingers long after the final frame fades to black.
In an era of cinema increasingly dominated by the superficial and the formulaic, "Monterano's Tales" emerges as a breath of fresh air. Vannuzzi's visionary approach to storytelling and her unwavering commitment to artistic integrity make this film a must-see for lovers of dance, poetry, and cinema alike. With its rich tapestry of emotion, movement, and imagery, "Monterano's Tales" is a triumphant exploration of the human experience, transcending the boundaries of genre and defying conventional expectations. Grade A
MOTHER & WILD (UK)
By Adrian Perez
In "Mother & Wild," Mark Forbes delves into the intricate and often painful dynamics of a mother-daughter relationship, set against the backdrop of grief, estrangement, and reconciliation. Much like the way Ingmar Bergman explored the depths of human emotions in films such as "Cries and Whispers" (1972), Forbes navigates the uncharted territories of familial relationships strained by cancer and long-held secrets.
Tessa Wood delivers a heart-wrenching performance as Rita, a mother seeking to reconnect with her estranged daughter Saffron, played with raw vulnerability by Hannah Dean. The two actresses beautifully embody the nuances of their characters, echoing the complex dynamics of Fanny and Alexander (Bergman, 1982) in their portrayal of the challenging, yet ultimately redemptive, relationship between mother and child.
Forbes' choice to set the film in the picturesque seaside town of Hastings, East Sussex, adds an almost nostalgic layer to the story, reminiscent of the British New Wave and its exploration of social realism. The contrasting beauty of the landscape and the heaviness of the subject matter is reminiscent of the tension found in David Lean's "Brief Encounter" (1945), where romance and moral dilemmas are interwoven against the backdrop of a train station.
The supporting cast, including Sally Mates in one of her final performances as Suzy, adds richness and depth to the narrative. Mates' portrayal of the allotment owner is an ode to the strong women often found in Mike Leigh's films, such as "Secrets & Lies" (1996), providing a much-needed sense of comfort and stability in a story fraught with emotional turbulence.
Forbes' storytelling is both poignant and thought-provoking, skillfully utilizing the language of cinema to convey the psychological and emotional landscape of his characters. The film's narrative structure calls to mind the works of Krzysztof Kieślowski, particularly his "Three Colors" trilogy (1993-1994), in its exploration of the human condition and the connections that bind us together.
In "Mother & Wild," Forbes achieves a delicate balance between the tender and the tragic, much like the works of Ken Loach and Lynne Ramsay. His ability to evoke empathy and understanding for his characters is reminiscent of Terrence Malick's poetic approach to storytelling, as seen in "The Tree of Life" (2011).
As an ode to the power of human connection and the resilience of the human spirit, "Mother & Wild" stands as a testament to Forbes' ability as a writer, director, and cinematographer, deserving of the recognition and accolades it has garnered. With a blend of thematic depth, emotional resonance, and cinematic artistry, "Mother & Wild" earns a well-deserved Grade A.
MUMMY BLUE (UK)
By Adrian Perez
"Mummy Blue," the debut short film from Daniela Stephan, is a riveting exploration of the intangible inheritance of trauma and the longing for escapism in the face of stifling circumstances. With a narrative as emotionally incisive as it is compelling, Stephan weaves a masterful tapestry of memory, yearning, and the ethereal echoes of generational pain.
In the vein of Cuarón's "Y Tu Mamá También," Stephan introduces us to Dina (Camila Piccinini), a girl on the cusp of womanhood, grappling with the emotional maelstrom that characterises the transition. As Dina navigates her turbulent relationship with her mother, Layla (Sibylla Meienberg), she finds solace in fantasising about Ryan (Milo Couchman), the boy next door. The tension of the narrative, which at times recalls Bergman's "Autumn Sonata," is underlined by the palpable sense of a deeper sorrow that hovers over mother and daughter like a specter.
Stephan’s Lebanese roots inform the film, bringing an inherent sense of nostalgia and melancholy. This unspoken, inherited trauma that Stephan talks about is beautifully captured through the mother-daughter relationship. It's a poignant exploration of how the echoes of pain reverberate through generations, making "Mummy Blue" a hauntingly effective examination of the indelible human condition.
The narrative is bolstered by Stephan's command over visual storytelling. Her cinematography borrows from the psychological palette of the Italian neorealist cinema, yet it is punctuated with an aesthetic nod to the French New Wave—offering an intriguing blend of gritty realism and ethereal fantasy. The result is a film that is visually arresting, thematically profound, and emotionally resonant.
Piccinini is a revelation as Dina. She captures the character's inner turmoil and longing with a subtlety that speaks volumes. Meienberg, as the mother, portrays a complex character with a masterful blend of stoicism and vulnerability, adding depth to the film’s exploration of inherited trauma. Couchman, as the object of Dina's fantasy, plays his part with a convincing mix of charm and aloofness.
"Mummy Blue" is an ambitious and impressive debut from Stephan. It's a film that speaks to the power of the cinematic medium to explore the complexities of human emotion and the impact of historical and personal trauma. It’s an exciting glimpse into the talent of a filmmaker who is undoubtedly destined for great things.
Like a haunting refrain from a melancholic melody, "Mummy Blue" lingers in your psyche, inviting you to ponder the echoes of our past and the shadows they cast on our present. It's a deeply moving film that stirs the soul and challenges the mind. It's the kind of work that reminds us why we go to the movies: to feel, to think, and to connect with the myriad of human experiences that unite us all. Grade A.
By Adrian Perez
In Eliana Manzella's directorial debut, "Nonna," we are invited to partake in a century-old Italian tradition: sauce canning. Manzella's tender and intimate portrayal of a family's bonding experience transcends the mundane, transforming it into a profound meditation on heritage, memory, and the ties that bind us. With a deft hand and a keen eye for detail, Manzella weaves a rich tapestry of human connection that stands alongside the greatest works of auteurs such as Vittorio De Sica and Federico Fellini, while maintaining a unique voice all her own.
"Nonna" is a beautiful ode to the power of tradition, reminiscent of the cinematic masterpieces that have come before, such as Giuseppe Tornatore's "Cinema Paradiso" (1988) and Luchino Visconti's "Rocco and His Brothers" (1960). Manzella's film evokes a sense of nostalgia that is both deeply personal and universally relatable, capturing the essence of a time-honored practice that has been passed down through generations.
Manzella's expertise in post-production and graphic design is evident in the film's exquisite visual composition, which celebrates the vibrant colors and textures of Italian culture. The meticulous attention to detail in each frame pays homage to the artistry of auteurs like Michelangelo Antonioni and Paolo Sorrentino, while the film's narrative structure echoes the poetic lyricism of masters such as Pier Paolo Pasolini and Bernardo Bertolucci.
The film's power lies in its ability to evoke emotion through human connection, an accomplishment that calls to mind the works of Krzysztof Kieślowski and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. The viewer is drawn into the world of "Nonna" not merely as an observer, but as a participant in the rich tapestry of family dynamics, history, and love that permeate every moment.
As a reflection on the importance of tradition and the unbreakable bonds of family, "Nonna" is a triumph that stands shoulder to shoulder with the greatest achievements in cinematic storytelling. It is a film that not only pays tribute to the cultural significance of sauce canning in Italian heritage but also serves as a testament to the power of cinema to preserve and share our most cherished memories.
Eliana Manzella's "Nonna" is a poignant and heartfelt exploration of the ties that bind, a film that will undoubtedly leave an indelible mark on the hearts of all who experience it. A stunning debut, "Nonna" showcases Manzella's immense talent as a filmmaker and storyteller, and we eagerly await her future contributions to the world of cinema. Grade A
NORTH BY FREAKING WEST (USA)
By Adrian Perez
"North By Freaking West": A Hitchcockian Ode to the Thrillingly Subversive
In "North By Freaking West," Chris Kotsovos takes us on an exhilarating, suspenseful, and lovingly crafted tribute to the films of Alfred Hitchcock and the musical genius of Bernard Herman. This black-and-white and color music video deftly weaves together Hitchcockian motifs and storytelling devices with a pulsating score by Emmy-nominated composer Ron Jones.
Kotsovos is an undeniable master of his craft, paying homage to his influences—Rod Serling, Sam Peckinpah, H.R. Giger, Dick Smith, Pulp Literature, and Experimental Music—while presenting a fresh, invigorating take on classic cinema. The director's statement reveals a deep affinity for genre films, both mainstream and independent, as well as a passion for intelligent storytelling and surrealism. This is clearly evident in "North By Freaking West," as Kotsovos delivers an elaborate visual puzzle for audiences to solve, echoing the enigmatic and psychological allure of Hitchcock's work.
As a part of his ongoing weird fiction anthology, Kotsovos' collaboration with composer Ron Jones results in a thrilling, genre-bending piece that evokes the spirit of Hitchcock's classics while adding a contemporary edge. The film's suspenseful atmosphere and subversive narrative call to mind the likes of "Psycho," "Vertigo," and "North by Northwest," with a touch of David Lynch's surrealism for good measure.
The cinematography in "North By Freaking West" is as rich and multi-layered as the narrative itself, blending classic film noir aesthetics with a modern visual sensibility. The interplay between black-and-white and color adds depth and complexity to the film's visual language, while simultaneously drawing attention to the rich heritage of classic cinema. The mise-en-scène is meticulously crafted, with each frame revealing a new layer of symbolism and nuance.
Kotsovos' attention to detail and his keen understanding of Hitchcock's visual language are complemented by the film's stellar cast, led by Chris Kotsovos and Craig Monroe. Their performances channel the magnetic energy and psychological tension of the classic Hitchcockian protagonists, further immersing the audience in the film's suspenseful world.
The film's score, composed by Ron Jones, is a vital component of "North By Freaking West." Jones' music not only pays tribute to the iconic work of Bernard Herman but also adds a contemporary flair that enhances the film's eerie atmosphere and relentless tension. The score effectively underscores the film's narrative beats, imbuing the piece with a palpable sense of urgency and dread.
In conclusion, "North By Freaking West" is a masterful homage to the films of Alfred Hitchcock and the music of Bernard Herman. Chris Kotsovos has crafted a suspenseful, visually arresting, and intellectually stimulating work that showcases his passion for genre cinema and his expertise as a filmmaker. With its inventive narrative, captivating performances, and exceptional score, "North By Freaking West" is a thrilling experience that will leave audiences eager for more from this talented director. Grade A
By Adrian Perez
In an age where our planet's most beautiful spectacles often lay beneath the surface of the incessant digital chatter, Graciela Cassel’s “Oceans” emerges as a mesmerizing refuge of contemplation and connection. This hypnotic journey, lasting a mere 14 minutes, feels like an entire lifetime, an immersive dive into the depths of human cognition, language, and our primal relationship with the world around us.
In the spirit of Ingmar Bergman's exploration of the human psyche, and Fellini's orchestration of the dreamlike, “Oceans” takes us on an intimate stroll with an innocent teenager, an embodiment of our untainted curiosity, through the bustling microcosm of Freedom Park. Inspired by Rachel Carson's mid-century magnum opus, "The Sea Around Us," “Oceans” explores the entwining of two seminal concepts: mother tongue and mother ocean, a poetic homage to the bedrock of life and civilization.
The teenager's interactions, both vibrant and nuanced, with park dwellers who bring a myriad of languages to the fore, evoke the communal spirit of Robert Altman's ensemble masterpieces. However, unlike Altman's chaotic mosaic of life, Cassel's narrative is more akin to the rhythmic ebb and flow of the sea—each conversation adding a layer of interpretation to the text, akin to accumulating sediments in a deep oceanic trench. Cassel, an Argentine-born artist now based in New York, intricately sculpts these layers with the deftness of a veteran sailor navigating her way through choppy waters, anchoring the audience firmly within the reality of her characters.
Cassel’s directorial craftsmanship shines through in her blending of video and sculpture, an innovative symbiosis that presents an almost Cubist perspective of her environment. Just as Picasso disassembled and reassembled his subjects to present them from multiple viewpoints, Cassel accelerates, decelerates, zooms in, and out to create a fragmented yet harmonious sequence of imagery, reminiscent of the fragmented beauty of life itself.
The film is a cinematic sonnet, echoing the themes of Godfrey Reggio's "Koyaanisqatsi," where nature and humanity intertwine and oscillate in a continuous dance. The dialogue, tinged with an eloquent simplicity, feels like waves lapping on a shore, with each wave bringing forth a new shell of wisdom. The lensing, often intimate and up-close, resonates with the spectator as Cassel manages to capture the spontaneity of reality and the surrealism of dreams.
The visual storytelling and the subjective camera work, akin to the poetic realism of Andrei Tarkovsky, create an immersive experience, drawing us into the teenager's world view, with the Freedom Park and its denizens rendered as an organic part of his inner journey.
In the spirit of the ocean's grandeur, the film refuses to adhere to the confines of a conventional narrative, instead opting for an experimental approach that explores the labyrinthine corridors of human perception and memory. As Cassel herself asserts, "Reality cannot be described in a sequential story...it exists in broken strands of time where present, past, and future weave together through the process of perception."
“Oceans” is a meditation on humanity's primal connection with nature, a celebration of the ties that bind us through language, and a poignant reminder of our shared mother tongue—the language of Earth. For a debutant feature, it’s a remarkable achievement, a testament to Cassel's artistic vision and commitment to her craft. This film is a serene lighthouse amidst the stormy seas of our times, a must-watch for every cinephile seeking solace in the power of cinema. In a phrase, “Oceans”
OLD BOYS (Switzerland)
By Adrian Perez
In Jean-François Amiguet's latest film, "OLD BOYS," the director masterfully weaves a tale of friendship, nostalgia, and existential contemplation, drawing inspiration from the likes of Federico Fellini's "Amarcord" (1973) and Ingmar Bergman's "Wild Strawberries" (1957). The film follows two seventy-year-olds, Mister Paul and Bobby, as they reminisce about their youthful exploits, both on the football field and in romantic encounters, with the elusive Lola at the heart of their memories.
Amiguet's flair for visual storytelling becomes apparent as the film unfolds. The central setting, a neighborhood bistro, is charged with symbolic significance. The bistro serves as a liminal space where past and present converge, accentuated by the presence of Bibi, a young waitress bearing a striking resemblance to the once-adored Lola. The question of whether Bibi is the daughter of one of the old friends is left tantalizingly unanswered, allowing the audience to indulge in their own speculations.
As the deceased Dédé humorously comments on the proceedings from his coffin and eventually Heaven, the film takes on a surreal, almost magical realist quality. This narrative device evokes the spirit of classic films like Wim Wenders' "Wings of Desire" (1987) and Powell and Pressburger's "A Matter of Life and Death" (1946), all the while providing a fresh perspective on the themes of mortality, legacy, and self-discovery.
Amiguet's direction is characterized by his sensitivity to the subtleties of human emotions, allowing the film to delve deep into the psyche of its characters. The performances by the cast, particularly the two protagonists, are both heartwarming and engaging, capturing the essence of lifelong friendship and the bittersweet passage of time. The film's melancholic tone is punctuated by moments of levity, offering a delicate balance that will resonate with audiences.
The film's mise-en-scène is rich in detail, imbuing every frame with layers of meaning and inviting the audience to decipher the characters' innermost thoughts and desires. The cinematography is at once evocative and understated, enhancing the film's overall impact without drawing attention away from the story.
In "OLD BOYS," Jean-François Amiguet delivers a poignant exploration of aging, memory, and the inexorable passage of time. With its engaging narrative, skillful direction, and superb performances, the film is a testament to the power of cinema as an art form capable of eliciting profound emotions and provoking introspection. A must-see for cinephiles and casual viewers alike, "OLD BOYS" is a captivating ode to the enduring bonds of friendship and the bittersweet nature of nostalgia. Grade A.
PANDEMIC: CHAOS IS BLEEDING (Netherlands)
By Adrian Perez
In "Pandemic: Chaos is Bleeding," director Cynthia Fridsma transports us into a meticulously crafted animated realm, set against the all-too-familiar backdrop of 2021's pandemic-ridden Boston. This bold foray into animation, inspired by Fridsma's own literary work, deftly weaves together elements of drama, thriller, and socio-political commentary, resulting in a visual and narrative tapestry that both captivates and challenges its audience.
Fridsma's protagonist, Sybil Crewes, a former ATU agent, finds herself ensnared in a web of intrigue and danger as she receives a threatening phone call from an enigmatic kidnapper, who holds her lover, Harry Brown, captive. The stakes are high and personal as Sybil embarks on a series of errands for her lover's release, her first task being the retrieval of a briefcase from a mansion. The plot's echoes of Hitchcockian suspense are evident, but Fridsma's storytelling transcends the homage and crafts a unique, contemporary tale, rife with tension, uncertainty, and a sense of imminent doom.
The animation itself is an exquisite display of Fridsma's creative prowess, achieving a balance between visual sophistication and the raw, emotional impact of the pandemic-ravaged world it portrays. The film's opening sequence, featuring former President Trump and the Capitol attack, serves as a powerful entry point into this dystopian reality, reminiscent of the darkly satirical works of Terry Gilliam, while maintaining its own distinct identity.
The film's thematic exploration delves into the psyche of its protagonist, Sybil, as she grapples with the tenuous nature of truth, trust, and power dynamics in a world teetering on the brink of chaos. It is a thrilling psychological journey, reminiscent of the disquieting introspection found in works such as Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan" or David Fincher's "Fight Club."
"Pandemic: Chaos is Bleeding" is a masterful, multi-faceted work that defies easy categorization, combining elements of psychological drama, thriller, and socio-political commentary into a cohesive, evocative whole. Fridsma's keen eye for detail, coupled with her innate storytelling ability, elevates this film to a level that rivals the animation classics of Studio Ghibli, while also offering a fresh, timely perspective on the human experience in the face of adversity. It is a testament to the resilience of the creative spirit, and a triumphant demonstration of the power of animation to convey complex, deeply resonant stories. Grade A
PHOENIX INCIDENT (USA)
By Adrian Perez
Keith Arem’s “Phoenix Incident” unfurls before us as a cinematic investigation into the eerie and unsettling events of March 13th, 1997, merging the boundaries of fact and fiction, reality and art. This chilling exposition of the largest UFO sighting in North America, and the subsequent disappearance of four men in the desolate expanse of the Estrella Mountain National Park, is an audacious foray into the realm of the unknown, a testament to the filmmaker’s courage and audacity.
Arem, the creative genius behind the renowned gaming franchises Call of Duty and Titanfall, brings the same fervor and prowess to the realm of film. Harnessing his experience directing narratives steeped in warfare and military engagement, he constructs an intricate web of conspiracy, truth and disinformation that will leave you pondering the very nature of your reality.
The film's investigative format presents us with a meticulously constructed pastiche of classified recordings, testimonials, and hidden websites. The narrative is so intricately woven that it becomes impossible to distinguish the boundary between the documented reality and the cinematic recreation. Arem's direction masterfully manipulates this ambiguity, turning it into a compelling narrative tool.
The “Phoenix Incident” is undoubtedly an ambitious project, both in its scope and execution. The film is not just an audiovisual product; it’s an immersive experience that transcends the conventional cinematic boundaries. Arem has created a labyrinth of alternative reality, a transmedia narrative that engulfs the audience into its dark, tantalizing vortex.
The underlying question that pervades the film, and indeed our collective consciousness, is whether we are alone in this vast universe. It is a question that has haunted humanity for eons, one that Arem confronts head-on. Through his craft, he compels us to question the status quo, to scrutinize the established narratives and to embark on a quest for the truth, no matter how discomforting it might be.
Despite its grand ambitions, the “Phoenix Incident” never loses sight of the human element. The story of the four missing men, their lives abruptly and inexplicably disrupted, serves as a poignant reminder of our insignificance in the face of the universe's inscrutable mysteries. The film's final act is a haunting testimony to this human frailty and our perpetual struggle to comprehend the incomprehensible.
In conclusion, Keith Arem's “Phoenix Incident” is a bold, audacious exploration of the unknown, a cinematic experiment that pushes the boundaries of storytelling. It is a haunting journey into the abyss of the unexplained, a film that will linger long in your memory after the credits roll. If cinema is an art form that challenges our perception of reality, then the “Phoenix Incident” is a masterstroke. It is a film that demands your attention, your skepticism, and ultimately, your belief.
Do we stand alone in the universe, or are we just a speck in an infinite cosmic canvas teeming with life? Arem's film does not pretend to have all the answers, but it does prod us to ask the right questions, and that alone is worth the journey. A truly commendable work, the “Phoenix Incident” is a testament to the power of cinema and the audacity of its creator. Keith Arem, you have earned your accolades. A cinematic triumph, and a wake-up call to our complacent understanding of our place in the universe. Grade A.
PRAYING MANTIS (USA)
By Adrian Perez
In the pantheon of cinematic explorations into the human condition, Lyuwei Chen's documentary, "Praying Mantis," occupies a transcendent niche, imbued with a potent mix of poignancy and unbridled wit. The film follows Tony Chuy, a septuagenarian Praying Mantis martial arts master who has taught his craft in New York's Chinatown for over four decades. Chen's masterful portrayal of Chuy's journey, from his escape from Hong Kong in 1969 to his tireless dedication to preserving his identity and self-worth as a Chinese-American, is nothing short of mesmerizing.
"Praying Mantis" can be likened to the likes of the quintessential "Grey Gardens" (1975) in its excavation of human resilience and the "Hoop Dreams" (1994) of martial arts. With an academic panache akin to the intellectual stylings of Susan Sontag and the visual acuity of an avant-garde auteur, Chen succeeds in crafting a documentary that is as engaging as it is profound.
Chen's camera work is unobtrusive yet intimate, weaving a visual tapestry reminiscent of the vérité stylings of the Maysles Brothers and Dziga Vertov's "Man with a Movie Camera" (1929). The film's pacing, interspersed with moments of quiet reflection and intense training sequences, lends itself to a narrative that is as thrilling as it is introspective.
The film's thematic scope delves into the realm of identity, self-discovery, and resilience, echoing the existential musings of Ingmar Bergman's "Wild Strawberries" (1957) and the cultural dislocation of Wim Wenders' "Alice in the Cities" (1974). As Chuy's story unfolds, we witness the transformative power of Praying Mantis martial arts as a conduit for cultural preservation, personal growth, and the forging of a unique identity in a society that often struggles to embrace the multifaceted nature of the immigrant experience.
Lyuwei Chen's "Praying Mantis" is a rare gem in the ever-expanding cinematic universe, a documentary that is at once erudite, heartrending, and irresistibly engaging. The film offers a kaleidoscopic view of the human experience, a mosaic of culture, identity, and resilience that is as riveting as it is insightful. With a deft touch and an innate ability to capture the essence of her subject matter, Chen has created a film that will undoubtedly be remembered as a seminal work in the annals of documentary filmmaking. Grade A*
RUMBLE RIOT (USA)
By Adrian Perez
Joey Min's latest cinematic endeavour, "Rumble Riot," is a darkly comic and philosophical exploration of serendipity and the chaotic dance of misunderstandings. Min's storytelling deftness is on full display as he invites us on an unexpected journey into the underbelly of Massachusetts's criminal world.
Min's choice of setting is intriguingly paradoxical, an alluring contrast between Massachusetts's sunny days and the shadowy corners of human nature that lurk beneath its surface. It reminds us of David Lynch's "Blue Velvet" (1986), a sunny idyllic town with a dark underbelly. His protagonist, Nathan, portrayed by the multi-talented Nathan Porter, is an embodiment of this paradox. Porter delivers an earnest and riveting performance as the good Samaritan, who stumbles into a world of chaos and violence, making his character's predicament all the more palpable.
Much like Hitchcock's 'The Wrong Man' (1956), Nathan is a hapless everyman caught in a deadly misunderstanding. But Min injects this familiar narrative with fresh vitality, creating a labyrinth of suspense and dark humour that keeps us on the edge of our seats. His understanding of the narrative dynamics is evident in the way he uses irony and plot twists to subvert our expectations at every turn.
Min's writing and directorial skills shine brightest in the scenes inside the gang's hideout. He populates this space with colourful, quirky characters who, despite their unlawful activities, display a kind of camaraderie that is oddly endearing. The tense standoffs and comedic interactions within this microcosm serve as a mirror for the absurdity of the outside world. Min's gang members, while criminal, are not monsters, they're just lost souls caught in a societal construct that pushes them towards crime.
The film is also a masterclass in cinematography. Min's camera moves like a voyeur, revealing the grimy details of the hideout while capturing the subtle nuances of the characters' expressions. The tight close-ups of Nathan's face, in particular, serve as a window into his internal struggle, making us empathise with his plight.
"Rumble Riot" is not just a comedy-thriller; it is a philosophical musing on fate and human nature. Through the character of Nathan, Min poses existential questions: How much control do we really have over our lives? Are we just puppets in a cosmic play, subject to the whims of chance? It's a testament to Min's talent that he manages to address these profound themes without losing the film's sense of fun and adventure.
In conclusion, "Rumble Riot" is a thrilling ride that balances dark humour, suspense, and philosophical introspection with aplomb. Its narrative unpredictability, combined with Min's assured direction and Porter's compelling performance, makes it a must-watch. It's a testament to Min's rising star status in the film industry and a reaffirmation of the power of independent cinema. Grade A.
SANA, SANA (USA)
Adam A. Holguin
By Adrian Perez
In "Sana, Sana," director Adam A. Holguin crafts a poignant exploration of healing, grappling with the impact of old wounds, and the concept of belonging. Set in the fictional Mission Park, inspired by real locations such as El Sereno, Cypress Park, Alhambra, and Highland Park, this deeply personal story centers on a journalist's investigation that takes him back to his small East LA hometown, forcing him to confront his past and address these themes within the framework of a story that transcends the personal experience and invites broader contemplation on the part of the viewer. As such, "Sana, Sana" is a film about healing, yes, but it's also about confronting the wounds of the past and the challenges of forgiveness and acceptance.
With his directorial finesse, Adam A. Holguin crafts a poignant narrative in "Sana, Sana", a story that is as much about the human condition as it is about the unique cultural milieu of East LA. The film functions as a reflection of Holguin's own experiences, and the way he translates this personal connection into a universally relatable tale is commendable. His ability to portray greyness within morality, accentuating the quiet moments that provoke audiences to question ethical norms, is reminiscent of the existential questioning in Ingmar Bergman's "Wild Strawberries". His work is imbued with an understanding of the human condition that is both profound and affecting.
Andrew Galindo delivers an outstanding performance as Arturo. His portrayal of the investigative journalist wrestling with his past, the societal pressures of his community, and his own identity is deeply moving. Arturo's journey harkens back to the introspective odysseys of characters in Francois Truffaut's "The 400 Blows" and Alfonso Cuarón's "Y Tu Mamá También". Galindo's performance is nuanced and authentic, capturing the multi-faceted layers of his character's struggle with an intense veracity.
Joey Heyworth also shines as a supporting actor, providing a compelling counterpoint to Galindo's Arturo. His performance adds depth to the narrative, enriching the story with added layers of complexity. The synergy between Galindo and Heyworth is reminiscent of the dynamic between Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci in Martin Scorsese's "Raging Bull", where their interactions amplified the film's emotional resonance.
Holguin's film is as much a journey into the psyche of its protagonist as it is an exploration of the geographic and cultural landscape of East LA. The director's attention to setting, as well as his decision to interweave his narrative with the very fabric of the place that inspired it, gives the film a sense of authenticity and grounding. It also helps to underscore the themes of alienation and homecoming, as the protagonist is both estranged from and inextricably linked to his hometown.
"Sana, Sana" is a deeply introspective film, one that uses its narrative and characters to ask questions about identity, morality, and the enduring impact of the past. It's a film that invites the audience to reflect on their own experiences, their own wounds, and their own healing process. The film's title, a nod to a comforting childhood rhyme, belies its exploration of painful, adult realities - it's a testament to the power of storytelling, the resilience of the human spirit, and the possibility of healing.
In conclusion, "Sana, Sana" is a powerful, thought-provoking piece of cinema that is as timely as it is timeless. It explores the human condition in a way that is both intimate and expansive, providing a nuanced portrayal of life, love, and loss in a specific cultural context. It is a film that demands attention, and one that richly rewards it.
SEARCHING FOR MYSELF (Austria)
Rodrigo Preiss Maya
By Adrian Perez
In the multifaceted web of the music video landscape, it's rare to unearth a gem that sparkles with as much narrative depth and visual spectacle as the animated music video "Nach Mir Selbst".
Directed by the enigmatic XzudemX, this project is a remarkable fusion of Anime aesthetics, action, Shonen themes, and indie spirit. It is an opening, a prologue to an unfolding tale about the self-discovery of its protagonist, XzudemX, who externalizes his personal story and emotional landscape through the medium of music.
Drawing upon the rich tapestry of Anime, this video pushes the boundary of the medium, showcasing a dazzling array of visuals that encapsulate the essence of the genre while adding a unique twist. The animation style is intricate and detailed, the product of years of meticulous work by a small yet dedicated team. The intricate animation, a labor of love by Toro&Chili Creative Studio, breathes life into this unique exploration of the protagonist's past. Daniel Toro Cortes, as the Animation Director and Lead Animator, along with Rafael Toro Cortes and Rodrigo Preiss Maya, paint a captivating visual tapestry that echoes the haunting melodies of XzudemX's music. Every frame is a testament to their unwavering commitment to the project, with the results being nothing short of spectacular.
Just as Lewis Carroll’s Alice ventures through the looking glass to confront a world of inversion, XzudemX embarks on a similar journey through his past. The mirror here is his music, the reflection - his memories, dreams, and fears. The video's narrative echoes Alice's journey, the protagonist seeking his identity amid his past and the relationships he's formed, each interaction a stepping stone in his path to self-discovery.
XzudemX as a director demonstrates a profound understanding of the power of animation as a storytelling tool, bridging the gap between visual spectacle and introspective exploration. He wears his influences on his sleeve, with nods to artists like XXXTentacion, Aminé, Cro, and Tobi Lou, while simultaneously carving out his unique creative niche.
It is refreshing to see a music video that refuses to place the artist in the spotlight, instead opting to delve into the narrative's heart. This choice is reflective of XzudemX's desire to remain an enigma, focusing on the music rather than the fame that comes with it. It's a rare and admirable stance in an industry that often values image over substance.
"Nach Mir Selbst" is a testament to the transformative power of music as a medium for self-expression and introspection. It encapsulates the protagonist's journey through heartache, joy, and self-discovery, and it invites the viewers to embark on this journey with him, thus transcending the boundary between artist and audience.
At its core, "Nach Mir Selbst" is a beacon of positivity, a music video that transcends the traditional confines of the genre to offer an introspective journey into the heart of its creator. It stands as a testament to the therapeutic power of music and the catharsis that comes with expressing one's emotions through art. XzudemX has crafted a world that's not only visually stunning but also deeply personal, a reflection of his journey towards self-understanding. In doing so, he has created a compelling narrative that resonates with audiences, inviting them to embark on a journey of their own.
"Nach Mir Selbst" is an ambitious and deeply moving piece of animation. It showcases a profound understanding of the power of music as a tool for self-discovery and introspection. Its narrative depth, combined with the stunning visual spectacle, makes it a standout addition to the landscape of animated music videos. It's a triumphant exploration of identity, dreams, and the human condition – a journey that, like its protagonist, is unafraid to confront the past to understand the present and shape the future.
SECOND GEN (USA)
By Adrian Perez
In "Second Gen," director Mike Madigan weaves a poignant tale of love, loss, and the power of technology in transforming human connections. This intriguing short film, shot in a mesmerizing black and white, transports us to a world where the end is merely the beginning for Aimee (played with heartfelt sincerity by Jessi Reed) as she grapples with the reality of her new virtual existence.
Madigan's storytelling prowess is evident in his ability to seamlessly blend the elements of sci-fi, romance, and experimental filmmaking into a narrative that is at once deeply personal and universally resonant. The film's exploration of themes such as identity, mortality, and the limits of human consciousness calls to mind the groundbreaking work of cult filmmakers like David Cronenberg and Andrei Tarkovsky.
The ensemble cast, including Caitlin Burt as Mia, Stacey Arnold as Emma, and Allison Hunt-Kaufmann as Nora, delivers a range of emotionally charged performances that draw us into their characters' complex inner worlds. The chemistry between the actors, particularly Reed and Burt, is palpable, lending a sense of authenticity to their on-screen relationships.
Cinematographer Matthew Peach expertly captures the film's eerie atmosphere, utilizing a stark monochromatic palette and evocative lighting to create a visual language that is both haunting and captivating. Editor Jeff Wolka's precise cuts and transitions further heighten the film's sense of disorientation and unease, as we, like Aimee, struggle to make sense of the brave new world we find ourselves in.
"Second Gen" is a testament to Madigan's directorial prowess and his willingness to push the boundaries of genre filmmaking. With echoes of Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" and Jean-Luc Godard's "Alphaville," this enigmatic gem is a poignant exploration of what it means to be human in an increasingly digital age. In a mere 7 minutes, Madigan raises thought-provoking questions about love, loss, and the potential implications of technological advancements on our most intimate connections.
Much like the works of Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry, "Second Gen" is a film that challenges the viewer to confront their own preconceptions and assumptions about the nature of existence. It is a bold, cerebral, and ultimately rewarding cinematic experience that leaves a lasting impression long after the credits have rolled. With "Second Gen," Mike Madigan solidifies his place among the vanguard of contemporary filmmakers unafraid to take risks and venture into uncharted narrative territory.
SEWN WITH SCARLET STRINGS (UK)
Lillianna Munro, Nasir Simmons
By Adrian Perez
Lillianna Munro and Nasir Simmons have painted a grim and haunting vision in their latest creation, "Sewn With Scarlet Strings". This film, a bizarre, yet oddly poetic exploration of corporeal horror, plays out like a fever dream dipped in velvet darkness. Munro and Simmons take us on an unforgettable journey into the heart of human transformation, an experience that is as terrifying as it is entrancing.
The narrative pivots around V, brilliantly embodied by Lauren Gabrielle, who is bitten by her lover and held hostage until her next menstrual cycle. As V acclimatizes to her new blood diet, she inadvertently recruits two acquaintances into her nightmarish reality, spiraling us further into a vortex of dread and fascination. Gabrielle’s performance is simultaneously fragile and ferocious, her portrayal of V evokes an uncanny echo of Natalie Portman's tour de force in "Vox Lux". Just as Portman's character navigates the complex layers of celebrity and trauma, Gabrielle traverses the terrain of horror and self-realization with an unnerving tenacity.
"Sewn With Scarlet Strings" is an experimental film that hits the mark. It's undeniably disturbing, yet there's a seductive quality to its terror. The film's aesthetic sensibilities feel reminiscent of Brady Corbet's distinctive directorial style, and the narrative's subversion of conventional horror tropes calls to mind the atmospheric dread that pervades Dario Argento's cult classic, "Suspiria".
The film's style and execution are a testament to the directors' masterful command over their craft. The unsettling atmosphere is meticulously constructed through intricate cinematography and sound design, creating a world that is at once uncomfortably real and unsettlingly surreal. The filmmakers employ an array of avant-garde techniques, injecting a sense of unreality into the narrative that amplifies the film's disquieting mood.
The film's exploration of the female body, through the unique lens of horror, is a bold and evocative choice. It offers a raw and unflinching look at the complexities of femininity and physical transformation, an approach that feels daringly reminiscent of psychoanalytic explorations of horror and the body in classic horror films.
"Sewn With Scarlet Strings" is a film that lingers in the mind long after the credits roll. It's a cinematic experience that is as bewildering as it is captivating, a haunting tapestry woven with threads of fear and fascination. This is not a film for the faint of heart, but for those willing to embrace its macabre beauty, it offers a deeply rewarding journey into the darker recesses of the human psyche.
SHADOW LEGACY (USA)
Aaron W. Small
By Adrian Perez
With “Shadow Legacy,” Aaron W Small delves into a world where the human psyche gets entangled in a surreal web of interdimensional intrigue, paranormal conspiracies, and a cosmic struggle between light and darkness. He deftly weaves an intriguing narrative that takes the viewer on an epic journey, exploring concepts that border on the metaphysical, the spiritual, and the downright arcane.
In his film, Small harnesses the dualities of existence, similar to the bipolarities of Monica Caravan's psyche in "Ride With The Guilt." He constructs an immersive universe, borrowing from a palette of 80s and 90s sci-fi and horror classics, yet moulding it into an entirely unique narrative. The story teeters on the edge of the apocalyptic and the divine, echoing the socio-geographical odyssey of "The Journey of Murder," but replacing the earthly with the ethereal and the tangible with the transcendental.
Small introduces us to two secret agents, their roles akin to the mythical Charon, ferrying the ancient entity Max back to the realm of the living. Max, like Blaszczak’s protagonist in Von Braun’s "Devoid," emerges from an epoch of non-existence, his awakening shrouded in mystique and a foreboding sense of destiny. Here, Small expertly showcases his storytelling prowess, entwining threads of reincarnation and psychic abilities, reminiscent of the spiritualism and multi-cultural beliefs that he drew inspiration from.
Their mission to thwart the demi-god Calypso is a parable of resistance against larger-than-life adversaries. Small leverages his film as a platform to put forth conspiracy theories and societal paranoia, encapsulating the zeitgeist of our age. The agent's journey, much like their resurrection of Max, is an excavation of the buried anxieties of our society, revealing the strings that puppeteer our collective consciousness towards an impending doom.
The visual and auditory realm of "Shadow Legacy" is a testament to Small’s adherence to detailed film-making, invoking a sense of impending doom while maintaining an ethereal quality. Small's world-building exhibits a level of depth that opens possibilities for a plethora of narratives, akin to the expansive universe George Lucas established with Star Wars. The sets, intricate and laden with symbolism, coupled with the careful use of special effects, contribute to a cinematic spectacle that is both visually captivating and intellectually stimulating.
“Shadow Legacy” is an ambitious undertaking, its plot unfurling like a cosmic tapestry that can potentially inspire numerous subplots, sequels, or prequels. It's a testament to Small's vision that he has been able to create such a tantalizing introduction to a larger narrative universe within the constraints of a limited budget and a running time of just 34 minutes. This pilot, like the initial steps of a grand odyssey, is a promise of more expansive and deeper explorations into a world that Small has so painstakingly and lovingly created.
The film’s strengths lie in its ability to be both an homage to the classics of sci-fi and horror and a unique, creative vision. Small demonstrates a profound understanding of the genre's tropes and traditions while pushing the boundaries with an innovative narrative and intriguing characters. It’s a testament to his filmmaking prowess that he seamlessly melds the familiar with the novel, crafting a film that is at once nostalgic and groundbreaking.
In "Shadow Legacy," Aaron W Small has crafted a cinematic cosmos that is as enigmatic as it is compelling, a world teetering on the precipice of cosmic struggle and individual destiny. It is a remarkable testament to his creative vision and a shining example of the potential that lies in independent filmmaking. Above all, it’s a film that leaves you yearning for more.
SHIELDING SHEILA (UK)
By Adrian Perez
In her directorial debut, Joyce Grey-Carter explores the complex intersection of mental health, physical illness, and societal constraints in "Shielding Sheila". This short film, bearing the mark of a duration just a second shy of 45 minutes, is Grey-Carter's thorough examination of the human spirit's resilience under the heavy weight of adversity.
In "Shielding Sheila", we are introduced to the eponymous character, a woman caught between the Scylla and Charybdis of her declining health and a relationship strained by the pressure of her circumstances. Here, Grey-Carter takes a leaf from the book of Lars Von Trier's "Melancholia" and Chantal Akerman's "Jeanne Dielman", intertwining the themes of personal illness and the domestic sphere with a flair for the dramatic.
Sheila, portrayed with an almost gut-wrenching sincerity by Grey-Carter herself, is not unlike Alice from "Alice Through the Looking Glass", trapped in a world that is gradually becoming distorted and unfamiliar. Her personal tragedy is palpable, and we are left as audience members to bear witness to her internal demons and the external forces conspiring against her in the form of the Covid-19 pandemic.
This film, much like Roman Polanski's "Repulsion", delves deep into the psyche of a woman on the verge of a breakdown. The confinement, the illness, the gradual dissolution of her relationship with Michael (played by Richard Bobb-Semple), all build an atmosphere of anxiety and impending doom. Grey-Carter's direction shines in these moments, where she allows the silence and the unsaid to convey the emotional turmoil.
As Sheila clings on to her faith as a lifeline, we see shades of Ingmar Bergman's existential explorations in "The Seventh Seal". But unlike Bergman's knight, Sheila's faith isn't challenged by a game of chess with Death; instead, it is challenged by the harsh realities of her own life, and the 'stealing' of it by the pandemic.
"Shielding Sheila" is a blend of stark realism and psychological horror, a mix that calls to mind the works of Ken Loach and David Cronenberg. It is a study of the human spirit pushed to its limits, echoing the themes found in the works of the Dardenne brothers. The film, however, is not merely an exercise in thematic exploration; it also showcases Grey-Carter's skill as a filmmaker.
From a technical standpoint, "Shielding Sheila" is a testament to the power of minimalism. With her husband handling the duties of DOP, sound, and post-production, the film has a raw, intimate feel to it. Despite its modest budget, it is impressive in its execution, much like Robert Rodriguez's "El Mariachi". The film's music, composed by Gerry, adds another layer of depth to the narrative, enhancing the emotional gravity of Sheila's journey.
In conclusion, "Shielding Sheila" is a powerful debut from Joyce Grey-Carter. It is a haunting exploration of the human condition under duress, a film that resonates long after its conclusion. It is a testament to the power of independent cinema and a remarkable demonstration of the artistic potential that can be harnessed even within the most stringent of circumstances. Grey-Carter's film is a must-watch for those interested in the exploration of human resilience and the impact of external forces on our internal world. I eagerly look forward to her future ventures. Grade: A.
SUM (Republic of Korea)
By Adrian Perez
Elly Cho's "Island" is a revelation—a silent, visual symphony—a poetic meditation on the human condition, told through the lens of dance and the metaphor of an island. It's a profound voyage of self-discovery, a resounding statement on human perseverance amidst the familiar feelings of loneliness and isolation. Cho's personal experiences, her own existential navigation through the islands of London, Manhattan, and Jeju, serve as the foundation of the narrative, which is less a story than it is a dance of life's fluctuating rhythms and cyclical patterns.
"Island" uses the metaphoric power of its title to craft a narrative that is both deeply personal and universally relatable. In this silent film, the language is movement, a dance of self-discovery that explores the paradoxical feelings of relief and discomfort that arise from living in an isolated world. This interplay of emotions is wonderfully expressed through the dance, color, and costume design, with the black and white dresses amplifying the emotional instability of the characters.
The film's aesthetics are imbued with a sense of reality juxtaposed against fantasy, of paradise juxtaposed against the mundane. It creates a visual metaphor for the emotional and psychological landscape of the characters, as they navigate their way through life. The characters' dance movements and the use of the sword become symbolic of their psychological states, representing the repressed and unconscious inner conflicts they grapple with.
Cho's artistry is on full display in this film, her background in performance art, mixed media, and video art blending seamlessly to create a piece that is as engaging as it is thought-provoking. The dual screens are a masterstroke, effectively encapsulating the character's psychological journey through two different spaces and states of mind.
The film's timing, during the pandemic lockdown, adds a layer of poignancy, highlighting our collective struggle with helplessness and isolation. The film serves as a mirror, reflecting our own states of mind, and inciting us to confront our repressed and unconscious inner conflicts.
Elly Cho's "Island" is a testament to her artistic prowess and her deep understanding of the human psyche. Her film straddles the line between the personal and the universal, the real and the imaginary, the mundane and the extraordinary. It is a visual poem about life and self-discovery—a silent yet powerful narrative that resonates long after the film ends.
Cho's accomplishments as a renowned global artist are evident in her film's sophisticated narrative structure and its elegant visual aesthetic. Her unique artistic vision, as well as her ability to address complex psychological and existential themes, make "Island" a standout in contemporary silent film. Cho's film is a dance of life—a journey of self-discovery that is as captivating as it is enlightening. Her art is a bridge between the past and the present, the personal and the universal, the real and the imagined. As such, "Island" serves as a testament to the enduring power of art to illuminate the complexities of the human condition. Grade A*
SUSHI SIZE ME (USA)
By Adrian Perez
"Sushi Size Me" is an ambitious and poignant documentary by Casey Casseday that digs into the heart of America's relationship with health, food, and resilience, through a deeply personal yet universal tale. Casseday, an adept storyteller with roots in live news, brings a visceral rawness to the narrative that cuts through the fluff and gets to the meat, or in this case, the fish, of the matter.
The film's protagonist, Leo Sanders, an overweight Los Angeles high school teacher and basketball coach, embarks on a 30-day journey of sushi-only sustenance, a maneuver that mirrors Morgan Spurlock's "Super Size Me" (2004). However, unlike Spurlock's odyssey through the fast-food jungle, Sanders' journey is one of reclamation and vitality, a Sisyphean climb to regain his health in a society that often prioritizes convenience over wellbeing.
Much like the Cohen Brothers' "The Big Lebowski" (1998), "Sushi Size Me" is drenched in the sunlit concrete of Los Angeles, a city often criticized for its obsession with image and health. But here, in the heart of the city, Sanders, an everyman figure akin to "The Dude," battles not only his physical ailments but also the socio-economic constraints of being a public servant in a city that cherishes the glitter of Hollywood over the grit of education.
The LA Teacher's Strike of 2019 provides a striking backdrop for Sanders' journey. As the city grapples with the value of education and its educators, Sanders' personal struggle becomes symbolic of a larger battle. His team's journey to the LA City Finals is a testament to their resilience in the face of adversity, much like Sanders' own fight for health.
Casseday's decision to shoot entirely on iPhone grants an intimacy to the narrative that is both arresting and immersive. The viewer is invited not just to observe Sanders' journey but to participate in it, a choice reminiscent of Joshua Oppenheimer's "The Act of Killing" (2012). This stylistic choice illuminates the human experience at the core of the film, grounding the narrative in an unvarnished reality that connects with the audience on a deeply personal level.
"Sushi Size Me" is an illuminating examination of the intersection between health, education, and perseverance in contemporary America. By exploring the personal journey of Leo Sanders, Casseday has crafted a film that speaks to the broader struggle for health and dignity in a society that often overlooks its public servants. With its innovative cinematography and engaging storytelling, "Sushi Size Me" is an unforgettable addition to the canon of contemporary documentary film.
THAT COLD DEAD LOOK IN YOUR EYES (USA)
By Adrian Perez
In his latest cinematic foray, Onur Tukel's 'Tes Yeux Mourants' or 'That Cold Dead Look In Your Eyes,' is a splendidly bizarre mélange of comedy, horror, and drama. Tukel has shown time and again that he's the reigning royalty of New York City's indie scene, and this film is a triumphant testament to that claim. Captivatingly idiosyncratic, Tukel successfully navigates the slippery slope between the mundane and the surreal, a feat few directors manage with such finesse.
The film features Leonard, played with masterful subtlety by Franck Raharinosy, a character ensnared in the throes of a dwindling relationship, a lackluster career, and a prickly rapport with his girlfriend's once-popular photographer father, Dennis. These disquietingly relatable elements of human life form a striking contrast against the backdrop of unexplained black boxes appearing throughout the city, lending an undercurrent of the uncanny akin to Hitchcock's 'The Birds' or David Lynch's 'Mulholland Drive.'
Raharinosy as Leonard, with his despondent eyes and listless demeanor, imbues a quiet hysteria that serves as a haunting reflection of the character's mental state. His performance is a remarkable portrayal of a man sinking into the abyss of life's disappointments and uncertainties. The supporting cast, including Alan Ceppos in the role of the beleaguered Dennis, is equally exceptional, each breathing life into Tukel's darkly comedic universe.
Tukel's keen eye for visual surrealism, reminiscent of Salvador Dalí's disorienting landscapes, underscores the undercurrent of dread permeating the narrative. The mysteriously sinister black boxes scattered throughout the city serve as a tangible embodiment of the characters' internal turmoil. This, coupled with an impressively nuanced script, positions 'Tes Yeux Mourants' as a compelling psychoanalytic exploration of the human condition.
Yet, beneath the film's ostensibly grim exterior, Tukel injects a dose of mordant humor that harks back to the darkly comedic tones of films such as Stanley Kubrick's 'Dr. Strangelove' or the Coen Brothers' 'Fargo.' This infusion of humor underscores the absurdity of existence, as our protagonists navigate their tumultuous lives against the backdrop of an uncaring, chaotic universe.
'Tes Yeux Mourants' invites comparisons with classics like 'A Woman Under the Influence,' where characters are trapped within the confines of their psychological struggles. Tukel, much like Cassavetes, has an uncanny knack for capturing the raw, unvarnished realities of human existence, albeit through a lens that is uniquely his own.
The film has rightfully garnered a slew of accolades, including Best Film and Best Actor for Franck Raharinosy, and Best Supporting Actor for Alan Ceppos, at the Hong Kong World Film Festival, Mumbai Film Festival, and IndieFest. Tukel's vision, brought to life by a talented ensemble cast, has created a film that is at once disturbing, humorous, and deeply human. 'Tes Yeux Mourants' is a testament to the power of independent cinema and an emblem of Tukel's indomitable creativity.
In conclusion, 'Tes Yeux Mourants' or 'That Cold Dead Look In Your Eyes' is a must-watch for those who appreciate cinema that dares to venture beyond the beaten path. In its unflinching portrayal of life's absurdities and anomalies, the film serves as a poignant reminder of the power of independent cinema to explore the depths of the human psyche. With Tukel at the helm, we are treated to a film.
THE AFTERLIFE CAN WAIT (USA)
Westley & Kristi Cornwell
By Adrian Perez
"Westley and Kristi Cornwell’s “The Afterlife Can Wait” is an audacious, high-octane journey that roars down the lanes of filmic history. Their narrative vehicle, a potent fusion of supernatural elements and gritty drama, is an intoxicating blend of John Carpenter's "Christine" and the television series "Knight Rider." Nevertheless, the Cornwells assert their distinctive narrative voices, transforming what might have been a conventional revenge tale into a genre-defying joyride.
The story, at its core, is a revenant's quest for retribution - an undead expert driver, her husband’s spirit reincarnated as a car, taking on the Las Vegas mob responsible for their family’s destruction. However, the Cornwells’ deft handling of this premise elevates it beyond the mundane. Their intriguing mixture of the supernatural with a hard-boiled crime narrative evokes the ethereal gloom of David Lynch’s “Lost Highway," while the automotive spirit manifests a spectral echo of “Herbie” series, albeit with a considerably darker twist.
The protagonist's journey from the mortal realm to the afterlife, then back again, is a Dantean sojourn given a chrome and leather makeover. The themes of love, loss, and revenge are explored with a raw intensity that makes the narrative as emotionally engaging as it is viscerally thrilling. The script, while occasionally stumbling over minor plot discrepancies, nevertheless shows an impressive command of pacing and character development.
The Cornwells' love for cinema is evident in every scene, their fervour reminiscent of Tarantino's cinephilic homages. They construct a cinematic universe with its own laws and logic, where the supernatural and the quotidian coexist in a state of tantalising tension. Their story is a testament to the transformative power of grief and the indomitable spirit of vengeance.
However, “The Afterlife Can Wait” is not a bleak tale of death and retribution. It is a testament to love's endurance, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. The unique bond between our protagonist and her reincarnated husband is a poignant reminder of the ties that bind us, ties that not even death can sever.
There are moments of levity too, often stemming from the absurdity of the situation. The Cornwells balance these contrasting tones with an assuredness that makes the narrative as engaging as it is unpredictable. Their screenplay, while benefiting from further refinement, shows a promising blend of creativity and technical proficiency.
Kristi and Westley Cornwell’s “The Afterlife Can Wait” is a remarkable entry in the annals of supernatural cinema, an exhilarating ride that challenges our perceptions of life, death, and the enduring power of love. It is a testament to their combined talent and shared passion for storytelling that they've crafted such a resonant and thrilling tale. As we buckle up for this ride, we find ourselves eagerly anticipating their next narrative destination. Grade: A-"
THE BODY (USA)
Chad J. Wilson
By Adrian Perez
"The Body," directed by Chad J. Wilson, is a cinematic masterstroke that charts a grueling odyssey into the past, where specters of guilt and remorse loom large over the arid landscapes of human conscience. This film is a moody, evocative blend of western and noir, bathed in the sun-bleached patina of the American Southwest, and navigates the treacherous waters of psychological introspection.
Our protagonist, the deadbeat drifter, is a deeply compelling figure. He is reminiscent of the dislocated loners of the Coen Brothers' "No Country for Old Men," or Travis Henderson of Wim Wenders' "Paris, Texas," enigmatic figures navigating the harsh expanses of the American desert. The drifter is a man burdened by the weight of his past, the embodiment of the human struggle to reconcile with our own history. His journey, desolate and introspective, suggests the timeless theme of the lone wanderer seeking redemption, a motif as old as Cain and Abel.
Wilson's sparse, economical use of dialogue is reminiscent of George A. Romero's "Night of the Living Dead," where what's left unsaid is as chilling as the words that are spoken. This narrative restraint echoes the barren desert environment and heightens the tension, transforming the drifter's quiet journey into a pulse-pounding, existential ride.
The film's cinematography is breathtakingly austere, capturing the stark beauty of the desert, the loneliness of the roads, and the haunted interiors of the drifter's journey. Wilson and his team make excellent use of the new 4K Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, reminiscent of the gritty aesthetics of Wilson's previous urban documentaries, "Rhyme Spitters" and "Love Spitters."
The score, by Collin Russell, is a hauntingly beautiful accompaniment, a solitary melody that echoes the drifter's internal journey. It evokes the eerie desolation of the desert, the isolation of the protagonist, and the ceaseless echoing of the past. The voice-over by Ken Robison adds a further layer of depth and mystery, his resonant tones echoing the gravelly cadences of Sam Elliott in "The Big Lebowski."
"The Body" is a film that refuses to offer easy answers. It lingers in the mind long after the credits roll, its haunting images and profound silences sparking a contemplative fire that burns brightly in the darkness. It is a testament to Wilson's storytelling prowess and an impressive addition to his body of work, showing his evolution from his roots in urban documentary to the realms of western and noir. It is a poetic exploration of guilt, redemption, and the enduring struggle with our past, set against the desolate beauty of the American Southwest.
In "The Body," Chad J. Wilson offers a stark reminder that no matter how far we travel, we can never truly outrun our past. It's a searing exploration of the human condition, a film that resonates with a profound, almost mythic quality. It is a bleak, beautiful, and deeply compelling journey into the heart of darkness, a film that will undoubtedly leave its mark on the landscape of contemporary cinema.
THE BREAST KEPT SECRET: A BREAST EXPOSÉ (USA)
By Adrian Perez
In "The Breast Kept Secret: A Breast Expose," director Gaea Powell masterfully navigates a controversial and emotionally charged landscape, guiding viewers on an enlightening journey through the intricacies and pitfalls of mammography and its alternatives. With its unflinching, academic rigor, and a deeply personal touch, Powell's documentary harkens back to the potent expose films of Errol Morris and Michael Moore, while maintaining its own unique voice.
Powell's documentary bravely delves into the heart of a multi-trillion dollar industry, shedding light on the potentially harmful practices that have pervaded breast cancer screening for decades. With an impressive lineup of experts, including surgeons, oncologists, radiologists, and advocates, "The Breast Kept Secret" systematically deconstructs the myths and misconceptions surrounding mammography, echoing the powerful critiques found in films like "The Big Short" and "An Inconvenient Truth."
The film's exploration of alternative screening methods, such as Breast Thermograms, self-Breast Exams, ultrasounds, and blood tests, calls to mind the innovative spirit of "The Act of Killing" and "The Invisible War." Powell's insistence on giving voice to a variety of perspectives and solutions ensures that her film remains an inclusive and enlightening exploration of a complex subject.
From a cinematic standpoint, "The Breast Kept Secret" is a visually engaging and thought-provoking work, with expertly crafted compositions reminiscent of the striking visuals in classic documentaries like "Koyaanisqatsi" and "Baraka." The film's use of symbolism and metaphor adds a layer of depth to the narrative, echoing the psychoanalytic explorations found in films like "The Pervert's Guide to Cinema" and "Room 237."
Powell's directorial prowess shines in her ability to maintain a delicate balance between the academic and the personal, allowing for a deep exploration of the issues at hand while also providing viewers with intimate, emotional moments. As with the works of Agnès Varda and Chris Marker, Powell's film transcends mere information delivery, becoming a profound and moving meditation on the power of knowledge and the importance of self-advocacy.
"The Breast Kept Secret: A Breast Expose" is a vital and groundbreaking documentary that fearlessly confronts a controversial subject head-on. With its bold, academic approach and deeply personal storytelling, Powell's film stands as a testament to the power of cinema as a tool for enlightenment and change.
THE CORONA DIALOGUES (USA)
By Adrian Perez
In an era of unprecedented isolation and tumult, Dylan Brody's "The Corona Dialogues" emerges as a timely and poignant dramedy that strikes a delicate balance between the gravity of the pandemic and the heartwarming resilience of the human spirit. Utilizing the "zoom play" format, a novel breed of low-budget independent cinema, Brody crafts an engaging and intimate narrative that revolves around the trials and tribulations of Lindsay Grunman, a television executive, as she juggles family dynamics, career aspirations, and personal relationships during the early months of the COVID-19 lockdown.
Drawing inspiration from the likes of Ingmar Bergman's chamber dramas and the character-driven storytelling of Woody Allen, Brody's directorial approach allows for the characters to shine through in this virtual play. The use of ZOOM video-conferencing as a shooting format not only reflects the zeitgeist of a world in lockdown but also facilitates a raw, unfiltered exploration of human emotions and relationships. The innovative format hearkens back to the creative cinematography of films such as Jean-Luc Godard's "Breathless" and Abbas Kiarostami's "Ten," further cementing Brody's status as a risk-taking auteur.
The ensemble cast, led by the talented Kate Orsini as Lindsay Grunman, delivers captivating performances that deftly weave humor, vulnerability, and sincerity. Tovah Feldshuh and Alan Brody, playing Lindsay's parents, Ellen and Paul Grunman, embody the generational divide and the challenges that come with it, while Bonnie Hunt as Arnie Plesky offers a delightful portrayal of the comedy and talent agent who plays an instrumental role in Lindsay's brother's career. Dylan Brody himself, as Daniel Grunman, adds another layer of complexity to the family dynamic, further enriching the narrative.
The Corona Dialogues" is a testament to the adaptability and resourcefulness of filmmakers in the face of adversity. Like the cult classics of yesteryear, Brody's film showcases a unique blend of thematic exploration, psychoanalytic insight, and narrative prowess. It is a reminder of the power of cinema to not only entertain but also to illuminate the human condition and our shared experiences, even in times of isolation and uncertainty. This film stands as a creative triumph, and an essential addition to the ever-evolving landscape of independent cinema. Grade A*
THE DEPARTMENT OF ALL THINGS LOST AND FOUND (USA)
Orlando Javier Torres
By Adrian Perez
“The Department of All Things Lost and Found”: Reconstructing the Forgotten through the Surreal
Orlando Javier Torres' latest cinematic offering, “The Department of All Things Lost and Found,” takes the viewer on a mesmerizing journey through Wei's life as she gradually rediscovers her own forgotten memories. Torres, who has already showcased his talent for exploring themes of identity, memory, and the intersection of the private and the political in his previous works, has created a stunningly evocative film that is at once visually captivating and deeply thought-provoking.
Wei, played with exquisite vulnerability by an up-and-coming actress, navigates her jobless limbo with a sense of bewilderment, reminiscent of Scarlett Johansson's performance in Sofia Coppola's “Lost in Translation” (2003). The film's central premise, of the Department of All Things Lost and Found returning seemingly mundane objects that unlock memories of Wei's past, is a clever and innovative device that allows Torres to delve into the depths of human consciousness and the fragile nature of memory. This exploration of lost memories and identity recalls the philosophical undertones of Christopher Nolan's “Memento” (2000) and Michel Gondry's “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (2004).
The film's visual language echoes the works of auteurs such as Wong Kar-Wai and David Lynch, with its surreal, dreamlike quality and evocative use of monochrome and shadow. The Department of All Things Lost and Found is a character in its own right, an omnipresent force that seems to both guide and torment Wei as she embarks on her journey of self-discovery. The department's enigmatic presence is reminiscent of the mysterious Room 101 in George Orwell's “1984” or the titular institution in Terry Gilliam's “Brazil” (1985), providing an unsettling backdrop to Wei's increasingly disorienting experiences.
Torres' use of sound design is also worthy of note, as it deftly underscores the film's sense of dislocation and emotional turmoil. The cacophony of noise that surrounds Wei as she navigates the urban jungle of New York City contrasts sharply with the eerie silence of the Department of All Things Lost and Found, emphasizing the liminal space that Wei inhabits.
“The Department of All Things Lost and Found” is a testament to Orlando Javier Torres' undeniable talent as an independent filmmaker. The film is a haunting and enigmatic exploration of the malleable nature of memory, the search for identity, and the struggle to make sense of a world that often seems alien and unfathomable. With its innovative narrative structure, striking visuals, and thought-provoking themes, this film cements Torres' place as a trailblazer in the world of independent cinema. Grade A
THE ECLIPSE: RECOGNIZED BY THE SOUND (Republic of Korea)
By Adrian Perez
"The Eclipse: Recognized by the Sound" is an audacious and provocative exploration of human consciousness and the interplay between memory, trauma, and the deeply personal relationship with our environment. Directed by the award-winning Elly Yae Li Cho, this silent film uses the language of imagery and sound to stitch together a tapestry of the past, woven from the perspective of the central character, Cho.
Cho's film language is a deeply personal and explorative one, focusing on the intertwining relationship between the natural environment and the mental landscapes. The Eclipse is a showcase of her unique ability to translate the ordinary into extraordinary through her keen eye for detail, meticulous attention to the nuances of everyday life, and her ability to elicit deeply emotive responses through her work.
The film unfolds like a journey through the character's memories, a series of vignettes that serve as a window into her past, traversing the urban sprawl of Seoul, the idyllic Jeju Island, and the bustling streets of London. The memories, filled with nostalgia and an acute sense of loss, oscillate between the line of reality and illusion, as Cho's recollections of the traumatic death of her brother and her dog become intertwined.
The death of her brother, coinciding with the Eclipse of 1999, becomes a pivotal point in the film. This event, steeped in an acute sense of sorrow and loss, encapsulates the fragility of human existence, the randomness of life and death, and the enduring power of memory. It is a testament to Cho's skill as a filmmaker that she handles such a delicate subject matter with sensitivity, depth, and an intimate understanding of human suffering.
In an era where the film is dominated by dialogue, "The Eclipse: Recognized by the Sound" boldly subverts this norm by employing the power of silence. The film's reliance on visuals and ambient sounds to drive the narrative imbues it with a meditative quality, prompting the viewers to immerse themselves fully into the complex tapestry of the character's experiences. The film's focus on natural sounds and music further enhances the narrative, serving as a potent metaphor for the protagonist's internal struggles and conflicts.
Elly Cho’s filmography is a testament to her unique approach to storytelling that blends the personal and the universal, the natural and the human-made, the real and the imaginary. Her work is deeply rooted in her fascination with the natural world, and her belief in its intrinsic connection to the human psyche is evident in this film.
"The Eclipse: Recognized by the Sound" is a deeply contemplative and moving exploration of human consciousness, memory, and our inherent connection to the natural world. Cho's ability to weave a narrative that transcends cultural and geographical boundaries, coupled with her skillful use of visuals and sound, renders the film a mesmerizing piece of cinematic art. It is not merely a film; it is an experience, a journey through the labyrinth of human consciousness that leaves a profound impact on the viewer.
In conclusion, "The Eclipse: Recognized by the Sound" is a testament to Cho's exceptional ability to transform personal narratives into universal stories that resonate with viewers across cultures and continents. It is a poignant and profound exploration of human existence, memory, and our intrinsic relationship with nature. A must-watch for those seeking a deeply immersive and introspective cinematic experience. Grade A*
THE FISH WHISPERER (Canada)
By Adrian Perez
In Barbara Whiting's exquisite comedy short "The Fish Whisperer," we delve into the surreal world of Denial, a town being drowned by rising water levels. Whiting masterfully intertwines environmental concerns with a comedic take on human denial and resistance to change. As the water level rises, Mayor Maurice Dolessley (a wonderfully pompous and deluded character) refuses to acknowledge the harsh reality of global warming. Instead, he concocts a bizarre theory attributing the flooding to an influx of fish.
Whiting's film is a visual treat, evoking the likes of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's "Amélie" and Wes Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel" with its whimsical and stylized aesthetic. The saturated color palette and meticulously composed frames serve as a fitting backdrop to the absurdity unfolding on screen.
The narrative unfolds like a fever dream, with Estra Gen (played with delightful eccentricity by a yet-to-be-announced actress) interviewing the mayor and the enigmatic Fish Whisperer. The Fish Whisperer, a cryptic character reminiscent of Alejandro Jodorowsky's mystics, demonstrates an uncanny ability to communicate with the fish. This puzzling figure adds a layer of mystique to the already bewildering story, further blurring the lines between reality and fantasy.
The film's central theme of denial is not only reflected in the plot but also in its mise-en-scène. The town of Denial is quite literally drowning, with water flooding the streets and homes. Whiting's use of water as both a metaphor for denial and a physical manifestation of the consequences of ignoring the truth is a powerful statement on the human psyche and the dangers of remaining willfully ignorant.
Moreover, the film's wittiness is reminiscent of the Coen brothers' dark comedies such as "Fargo" and "The Big Lebowski." The dialogue is sharp, the characters are quirky, and the situations they find themselves in are simultaneously absurd and thought-provoking. Whiting's script is rich with subtle nods to classic films, enhancing the viewing experience for cinephiles while remaining accessible to a broader audience.
"The Fish Whisperer" is a fantastic example of how to tackle serious topics with humor and grace. It's a timely commentary on our tendency to ignore the inconvenient truths and cling to comfortable illusions. Whiting's direction, along with the talented cast and crew, has created a memorable film that is both visually stunning and intellectually stimulating.
In the vein of Terry Gilliam's "Brazil" or even Federico Fellini's "8½," "The Fish Whisperer" is a surreal, satirical exploration of human nature and the consequences of our reluctance to face reality. Whiting has crafted a film that is both a love letter to cinema and a wake-up call for a society drowning in denial. The result is a captivating, intelligent, and utterly unique cinematic experience that will leave audiences pondering the depths of their own self-deception. Grade A
THE FOURTH IS OF A DEVIL (Georgia)
By Adrian Perez
"The Fourth Is Of A Devil," directed by Revaz-Giorgi Arveladze, is a captivating and darkly humorous noir fantasy that delves into the psyche of its characters while exploring themes of compulsion, danger, and human nature. The film follows con artists Nina and Dato, who find themselves entangled in a sinister web when they deceive a mysterious stranger, who in turn employs his minions to ensnare them.
Arveladze masterfully crafts a world where the femme fatale archetype takes center stage, evoking the suspense and interiority characteristic of classic noir films. Yet, he adds a fresh, contemporary spin by highlighting the vulnerability and complexity of his characters. The film's dynamic and visually striking cinematography is reminiscent of works such as "Inglourious Basterds" and "Wolf of Wall Street," while the narrative is imbued with an undercurrent of hysteria akin to films like "Alice Through The Looking Glass" and "Ride With The Guilt."
The Georgian backdrop lends an air of authenticity and rawness to the film, while the exceptional performances by Nina Lortkipanidze, Givi Balanchivadze, and Vaska Gabashvili breathe life into their intricate and morally ambiguous characters. At its core, "The Fourth Is Of A Devil" is an exploration of the human condition, probing into the heart of darkness that resides within each of us.
Arveladze's unique approach to storytelling and psychoanalytic exploration is evident throughout, employing elements such as mental subjectivity and suspension of disbelief to immerse the viewer in the characters' labyrinthine minds. The result is a thrilling, atmospheric, and thought-provoking cinematic experience that will leave audiences questioning their own perceptions of good and evil.
In conclusion, "The Fourth Is Of A Devil" is a cinematic tour de force that demonstrates the burgeoning talent of Revaz-Giorgi Arveladze as a filmmaker. With its alluring blend of noir, drama, and horror, the film is a testament to the power of storytelling and the transformative potential of cinema. Highly recommended for fans of cult classics and innovative storytelling, "The Fourth Is Of A Devil" is a haunting and unforgettable journey into the darkest recesses of the human psyche.
THE ICE KING (USA)
By Adrian Perez
In "The Ice King," Nestor Villalobos masterfully brings to life the captivating story of Frederic Tudor, an ambitious and visionary entrepreneur who single-handedly revolutionized the world by establishing the global natural ice trade in the early 19th century. Evoking the sweeping grandeur of historical epics such as Warren Beatty's "Reds" (1981) and David Lean's "Doctor Zhivago" (1965), Villalobos meticulously crafts an immersive and richly textured narrative that explores the socio-economic and cultural ramifications of Tudor's trailblazing endeavors.
Villalobos delves deep into the psyche of his protagonist, Frederic Tudor, echoing the character-driven approach of Francis Ford Coppola's "The Godfather" (1972) and Martin Scorsese's "The Age of Innocence" (1993). To some degree the characters could have benefited from more emotional investment, however Villalobos's subtle and nuanced portrayal of Tudor's relationships and personal struggles invites the audience to engage with the protagonist's journey on a profoundly intimate level.
Cinematographically, "The Ice King" has the potential to rival the visual splendor and grandiosity of Stanley Kubrick's "Barry Lyndon" (1975) and James Ivory's "A Room with a View" (1985). The sweeping landscapes of 19th century New England and the bustling ports of India and Brazil offer a feast for the senses, allowing the audience to become fully immersed in the vast and diverse world that Tudor navigates in pursuit of his dreams.
Thematically, "The Ice King" resonates with the spirit of entrepreneurial innovation that courses through films such as David Fincher's "The Social Network" (2010) and Danny Boyle's "Steve Jobs" (2015). Villalobos deftly weaves a tapestry of ambition, risk, and perseverance, drawing parallels between Tudor's groundbreaking achievements and the technological breakthroughs that have shaped our contemporary world.
In the end, "The Ice King" is a triumphant exploration of the human spirit, showcasing the indomitable will of a man who dared to dream big and changed the course of history. Nestor Villalobos's masterful storytelling and keen eye for historical detail ensure that "The Ice King" will stand as a testament to the power of innovation and the enduring allure of the entrepreneurial spirit. As the story unfolds on the big screen, it is certain to inspire a new generation of entrepreneurs to follow in Frederic Tudor's footsteps and carve their own paths towards greatness.
THE IMPORTANCE OF STRANGE PERCEPTIONS (USA)
By Adrian Perez
In the latest episode of BrainDagger Films Presents: Knowledge is Good, Moe Taylor invites us to embark on a sensorial and cerebral exploration of psychedelics in "The Importance of Strange Perceptions." Channeling the spirit of Lewis Carroll's Alice Through the Looking Glass, Taylor leads us down the rabbit hole to demystify and dissect the world of psychedelic substances and their potential therapeutic properties. As we traverse the vibrant landscapes of Ayahuasca ceremonies in Costa Rica and delve into the intricate inner workings of the human psyche, the film illuminates the transformative powers of these mystical compounds.
Taylor's directorial prowess is evident as he weaves a visual tapestry that oscillates between the ethereal and the grounded, reminiscent of the surrealistic compositions found in Wang's The Journey of Murder and the hallucinogenic lighting of Bocchini's Ride with the Guilt. Drawing inspiration from cult film classics and the narrative minimalism of independent cinema, "The Importance of Strange Perceptions" challenges the conventional wisdom surrounding psychedelics and offers a fresh perspective on their role in mental health and personal transformation.
The documentary's cast of protagonists, including researchers, therapists, and those who have experienced the healing powers of Ayahuasca, Mushrooms, Ketamine, and MDMA, form a captivating ensemble that enriches the film's thematic tapestry. Much like the endearing duo in Wang's The Journey of Murder, the individuals featured in Taylor's film offer profound insights into the complex interplay between psychedelics, the human psyche, and the quest for self-discovery.
One of the film's most striking features is its ability to balance the academic rigor of its subject matter with a witty and approachable tone. Echoing the thematic and psychoanalytic explorations found in the reviews of Veitch's Lonely and D. Michael's The Bezonians, Taylor masterfully navigates the intricate web of conceptual terms, cinematographic techniques, and storytelling tools to create a deeply engaging and thought-provoking film.
"The Importance of Strange Perceptions" is an intellectual and visual feast that transports us to the outer reaches of human consciousness and invites us to reevaluate our understanding of psychedelics and their potential for healing. With its rich cinematic language and bold exploration of uncharted territory, Moe Taylor's latest installment in the BrainDagger Films Presents: Knowledge is Good series is a shining example of the power of independent cinema and the transformative potential of strange perceptions. Grade A*
THE PLEASURE GARDEN (USA)
Linda Pace Alexander
By Adrian Perez
"The Pleasure Garden": A Riveting Exploration of Art, Love, and Resistance
In the profoundly enchanting and captivating TV script, "The Pleasure Garden," we are swept away to the picturesque Italian village of Alassio in 1925, where the lines between history, art, and reality blend seamlessly. The narrative weaves an intricate tapestry of love, betrayal, and resistance against the dark shadow of fascism looming over the idyllic town. In this vibrant and evocative milieu, a young actress's pursuit of Alfred Hitchcock's attention culminates in a transformative journey of self-discovery, as her childhood love-turned-Fascist Black Shirt thwarts her every effort.
In the vein of Federico Fellini's artistic vision, the script explores the "in-between" world where the physical and metaphysical realms converge. Linda Pace Alexander's writing is akin to a symphony of literary and visual mastery, drawing inspiration from the likes of Hitchcock's suspenseful storytelling, Isadora Duncan's revolutionary dance, and Virginia Woolf's piercing introspection. The series, which echoes the emotional complexity of "My Brilliant Friend," offers an intriguing and deeply moving exploration of the tensions between artistic freedom and political repression, the price of ambition, and the power of human connection in the face of adversity.
The Pleasure Garden" is a testament to Alexander's keen ability to breathe life into a diverse cast of historical and fictional characters. From the eponymous Hitchcock to luminaries like Josephine Baker and D.H. Lawrence, the series invites the viewer to ponder the role of art and the artist in shaping resistance against the encroaching darkness of totalitarianism. Furthermore, the script's allusions to classics such as "The Matrix," "Blade Runner," and "Prometheus" not only showcase Alexander's reverence for cinema but also underscore the universality of themes that traverse time and genre.
The series is, at its core, a love letter to the resilience of the human spirit, as it follows the protagonist's metamorphosis from a naïve dreamer to a fierce fighter. In the tradition of Italian neorealism, "The Pleasure Garden" captures the raw, unadulterated essence of human emotion, at once tender and tumultuous, as it delves into the complexities of love, loyalty, and the pursuit of art amidst the specter of war.
Linda Pace Alexander's "The Pleasure Garden" is a masterful and deeply evocative work, a celebration of artistic expression and a poignant reminder of the indomitable spirit that defines humanity in its darkest hours. This riveting exploration of art, love, and resistance in the face of fascism offers a powerful and timely testament to the transformative power of storytelling itself.
THE POWER OF ONE COIN (UK)
By Adrian Perez
Flaminia Graziadei's latest film, "The Power of One Coin," is a powerful testament to the profound impact of simple acts of kindness. This film is a masterclass in weaving seemingly disconnected narratives into a vibrant tapestry that transcends the ordinary and elevates the mundane. Graziadei orchestrates the intricate dance of five characters, each bearing their unique cross, bound together by the journey of a single coin.
Graziadei, an award-winning director, producer, and choreographer, previously demonstrated her knack for the intersection of cinema and theatre, and with "The Power Of One Coin," she further cements her reputation. Her extensive experience in multiple disciplines, coupled with her rich cultural background, allows her to navigate the vast emotional landscape of the film with ease and grace.
The coin in this film serves as a symbol, a metaphor, and a character in itself, participating in the narrative as it passes from one hand to another. In an understated yet profound manner, Graziadei crafts a narrative around a simple coin that carries the weight of human kindness and its transformative power. This notion is reminiscent of Bresson's use of the "money shot" in "L'Argent," yet Graziadei imbues this concept with her unique sensibility, creating a visual language that is uniquely her own.
Each character is skillfully crafted and portrayed, encompassing a wide spectrum of human experiences and emotions. The characters come to life under Graziadei's expert direction, their paths converging and diverging in a dance choreographed by fate and the whims of the coin. These characters, though disparate in their circumstances, are united by their shared humanity, and Graziadei deftly highlights the common threads of pain, hope, and the capacity for kindness that binds them together.
"The Power Of One Coin" also demonstrates Graziadei's commitment to addressing pertinent societal issues. This film is not just a beautiful piece of art; it's a bold statement on mental health, conveying the message with sensitivity and respect. It is a reflection of Graziadei's ability to merge art with activism, creating a narrative that is both compelling and thought-provoking.
Graziadei's deft handling of the film's cinematography and narrative structure is worthy of high praise. Her penchant for creating visually stunning and emotionally resonant scenes shines through every frame. The film is a testament to Graziadei's artistic vision and ability to construct a cohesive narrative from seemingly unrelated elements.
In "The Power Of One Coin," Graziadei has created an intricate and compelling narrative that serves as a reminder of the profound impact of seemingly small acts of kindness. The film is a testament to the power of human connection and the transformative impact of empathy and compassion. It is a beautifully crafted, thought-provoking piece that resonates long after the credits roll.
Graziadei's "The Power Of One Coin" is a testament to her growing prowess as a filmmaker. It's a film that is as beautiful as it is profound, as simple as it is complex. It is a testament to the power of kindness, the interconnectedness of humanity, and the profound impact of a single act. It is a film that, much like the coin it revolves around, is certain to leave its mark. A true masterpiece in its own right, "The Power Of One Coin" is an ode to humanity's enduring capacity for kindness and compassion. Grade A.
THE WALL IN THE GARDEN (USA)
By Adrian Perez
In his latest film "The Wall In The Garden," Hafid Abdelmoula wields an omnipotent cinematic hand, stirring up an uncanny tempest in the seemingly tranquil garden of suburbia, and in doing so, deftly exposes the fragility of its denizens' reality. Abdelmoula's profound understanding of multiple cultures, backed by his linguistic prowess, informs the movie's narrative, imbuing it with a rich tapestry of interwoven social themes and metaphysical explorations.
The film centers on Helen and Harold, a seemingly perfect couple, whose world is disrupted by the sudden appearance of a mammoth wall around their idyllic home. This wall, an imposing and inexplicable intruder, is both a literal and metaphorical divider, a symbol of the creeping doubt that threatens to dismantle their meticulously constructed facade of marital bliss.
Abdelmoula expertly exploits this dichotomy between the apparent and the hidden, using the wall as a powerful visual metaphor for the unspoken truths that often lurk beneath the surface of seemingly perfect relationships. The wall embodies the profound existential dread that gnaws at Harold, driving him to question the nature of his reality, while Helen chooses to ignore it, embodying the human tendency to turn a blind eye to the incongruities of life.
Abdelmoula's multilingual background and multicultural understanding greatly enrich the narrative's exploration of existentialism and societal constructs. This is evident in the way he handles the unraveling of Helen and Harold's relationship – a universal theme that resonates with audiences from different cultural backgrounds. The film offers a poignant critique of the societal pressure to maintain appearances, often at the expense of authenticity and personal fulfillment.
Cinematically, "The Wall In The Garden" exudes an intoxicating blend of mystery and dread. Abdelmoula's lens teases out the uncanny beauty in the mundane, transforming a suburban garden into a labyrinthine prison of existential angst. The cinematography is crisp and deliberate, every shot imbued with symbolic significance, a testament to the director's meticulous craftsmanship.
The performances are exceptional, with the actors adeptly portraying the unease that lurks beneath the veneer of domestic bliss. Their performances add depth to Abdelmoula's complex exploration of identity and existential dread, making "The Wall In The Garden" a profoundly affecting cinematic experience.
In conclusion, "The Wall In The Garden" is a fascinating cinematic exploration of the human condition, a film that is as unsettling as it is captivating. Abdelmoula's rich cultural background and linguistic versatility imbue the narrative with a nuanced understanding of societal norms and the existential dread that often accompanies self-discovery. It's a striking testament to Abdelmoula's directorial prowess and his unique cinematic vision. This film, with its potent blend of mystery, social critique, and deep-seated existentialism, is a must-watch for anyone seeking a thought-provoking cinematic experience.
John F. Uranday
By Adrian Perez
In the dark underbelly of cyberspace, where vile and venomous creatures lurk, John F. Uranday and Bobby Cloud bring forth an experimental horror-thriller that is both terrifying and eerily relevant: "Trolled." Unapologetically raw and filmed in real-time, this chilling exploration of online harassment and its sinister consequences will have you gripping the edge of your seat.
The film follows four students who find themselves at the mercy of the enigmatic and menacing Troll, a dark web vigilante who seeks retribution for their cyber misdeeds. With the actors improvising their lines and reacting in the moment, the result is a haunting, visceral experience that feels all too real.
"Trolled" is a fever dream of psychological tension, with echoes of the unsettling ambience found in David Lynch's "Mulholland Drive" and the spine-chilling dread of Jordan Peele's "Get Out." Uranday and Cloud weave an intricate tapestry of fear, revenge, and the dark side of human nature, paying homage to horror classics while forging a path all their own.
The cinematography is appropriately claustrophobic and oppressive, reminiscent of the visual and emotional entrapment found in Roman Polanski's "Repulsion." It is in this confining space that the characters confront their darkest selves, leading to a harrowing exploration of guilt, remorse, and the lengths to which people will go to make amends—or seek retribution.
The ensemble cast delivers raw, authentic performances, their improvised dialogue heightening the sense of urgency and unease. Standout performances include Leslie Pineapple's vulnerable portrayal of Gina, Jace Smethurst's chillingly detached Tim, Lucie Campbell's tormented Liz, and Peter Winkelmann's brooding Chad. Bobby Cloud's chilling turn as the enigmatic and malevolent Troll is a masterclass in understated menace, his presence on-screen both mesmerizing and terrifying.
Despite its low budget and guerrilla filmmaking approach, "Trolled" is a testament to Uranday and Cloud's passion for the art of cinema. Their boldness in breaking the rules of traditional filmmaking has produced a unique and captivating experience that will linger long after the credits roll.
In conclusion, "Trolled" is an unsettling journey into the darkest corners of the internet and the human psyche. It is a film that will challenge your perceptions, leaving you questioning the true nature of revenge and the terrifying reality of our interconnected world. A must-see for fans of experimental horror and psychological thrillers, "Trolled" is a daring and powerful exploration of the consequences of our actions in the digital age. Grade A.
By Adrian Perez
In Vivere, director Daniel Sheahan presents a harrowing tale of a young black woman, Vivian (Nia Renee Warren), grappling with the terrifying nightmares that blur the lines between dream and reality. Adopted by a white family, Vivian's subconscious turmoil is manifested in the form of her loved ones turning against her in the most nightmarish way possible. Sheahan, a seasoned director with a keen eye for the macabre, skillfully crafts a psychological thriller that transcends the realms of horror and reaches into the darkest depths of our collective fears.
The film's narrative possesses a Lynchian quality that leaves viewers questioning the nature of reality and the power dynamics within the family unit. The haunting visuals and moody atmosphere, reminiscent of Kubrick's The Shining, serve as a metaphor for the systemic power structures and racial tensions that pervade society. Sheahan's decision to cast a black actress as the lead character adds a layer of complexity and relevance to the story, echoing the likes of Jordan Peele's Get Out in its exploration of racial identity and the black experience.
Nia Renee Warren delivers an outstanding performance as Vivian, her portrayal of a young woman trapped in a living nightmare is both poignant and chilling. The supporting cast is equally compelling, creating a sense of unease that lingers long after the film has ended. Cinematographically, Vivere is a masterclass in the art of visual storytelling, with its carefully orchestrated mise-en-scène and atmospheric lighting evoking a sense of impending doom and unease.
Sheahan's directorial statement reveals his deeply personal connection to the subject matter, drawing from his own experience with an abusive upbringing. This lends the film an authenticity and rawness that is both unnerving and deeply affecting. The collaborative nature of the production, which saw a majority of minority crew members, ensures that the film remains sensitive and culturally aware in its depiction of its themes.
In conclusion, Vivere is a captivating and thought-provoking exploration of the human psyche and the horrors that can unfold within the confines of a seemingly normal family. Its rich, thematic tapestry and superb performances make for a film that is both intellectually stimulating and viscerally unsettling. In a world where the boundaries between dream and reality are constantly shifting, Vivere stands as a chilling reminder of the power of the mind and the lengths to which one will go to escape their own personal hell. Grade A
WARD BOND: THE GREATEST OF THEM ALL (USA)
By Adrian Perez
Frank Putallaz's brilliant documentary, "Ward Bond: The Greatest of Them All," takes us on a mesmerizing journey through the life and career of Ward Bond, a legendary actor who has graced the silver screen in more Oscar-winning films than any other. With a masterful touch, Putallaz weaves a rich tapestry of cinematic history, exploring the evolution of the film industry from the advent of 'Talkies,' through the turmoil of World War II, the dark era of the infamous Hollywood Blacklist, and the rise of television as a powerful medium.
In the vein of an academic exploration, this documentary delves into the complex interplay between Bond's career and the larger socio-cultural context in which he thrived. Much like how Jun Wang's "The Journey of Murder" offered an avant-garde portrayal of China's socio-geographical odyssey, Putallaz's work provides a psychoanalytic approach to understanding Ward Bond and the industry that shaped him. Drawing from a rich palette of filmic influences – from Ford Coppola's "The Godfather" to Cattaneo's "The Full Monty" – Putallaz creates a cinephile's dream, offering a fresh and nuanced perspective on an iconic figure.
The film's tonality is akin to that of Dario Bocchini's "Ride With The Guilt," where the viewer is taken on a rollercoaster ride through a surreal and introspective landscape. Putallaz achieves this through the use of conceptual terms, employing a masterful grasp of cinematographic and storytelling tools to seamlessly blend thematic elements with visual prowess. Bond's relationship with other film legends and classics, such as John Ford's "The Grapes of Wrath" and Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life," is explored with wit and finesse, adding another layer of depth to the narrative.
Putallaz's documentary is a testament to the power of film as a medium for understanding not only the individual but the broader cultural context in which they operate. It is a celebration of Ward Bond's remarkable career and a reminder of the magic that cinema can evoke. The film's academic and personal approach, peppered with wit and a touch of the surreal, will surely resonate with both casual viewers and ardent cinephiles alike.
Heidi Putallaz's astute production ensures that "Ward Bond: The Greatest of Them All" maintains a fine balance between being a profound socio-cultural critique and a captivating, entertaining documentary. This labor of love stands as a cinematic ode to a legend, presenting Ward Bond in all his glory while simultaneously shedding light on the ever-evolving world of film.
In conclusion, "Ward Bond: The Greatest of Them All" is a masterclass in documentary filmmaking, a film that transcends genres and leaves a lasting impression on the viewer. Rich in thematic explorations and a witty approach to storytelling, it is a must-watch for film enthusiasts and historians alike. Grade A*
WE THE PEOPLE? (USA)
Sai Man (Simon) Zhao
By Adrian Perez
In the tradition of great auteurs like Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino, and Akira Kurosawa, Sai Man (Simon) Zhao's "We The People?" is an experimental short film that invites the audience to explore the inner depths of a protagonist on a quest for his dream club, only to be confronted with a series of intense conversations that force him to reflect on the purpose of his behavior and the many faces of the world. Much like Lewis Carroll's "Alice Through the Looking Glass," this 24-minute film deftly navigates the liminal space between reality and fantasy, leaving viewers with a profound sense of existential questioning.
In crafting "We The People?," Zhao takes inspiration from the sorrow and inequality experienced during the Covid era, ultimately seeking to create a world that mirrors the complexities of our own. The film is a masterclass in storytelling that utilizes minimal locations, punctuated by Zhao's unique editing style, reminiscent of a music video. As the narrative unfolds, the audience is treated to a rich tapestry of symbolic details and fast-paced editing that keep them fully engaged and emotionally invested in the story.
The film's protagonist, played by Ericson Kuo, is a modern-day Alice traversing through a world of uncertainty, challenging authority, and questioning the unequal distribution of individual rights. In this cinematic landscape, viewers are prompted to consider their own lives and positions in society, while also being encouraged to hold onto their dreams and values. Much like the works of Nolan and Tarantino, "We The People?" doesn't shy away from exploring darker themes and engaging in moments of rebelliousness.
The powerful and innovative nature of the film can be attributed not only to its compelling narrative and visual storytelling, but also to the carefully chosen music, which includes a standout track by the band STARSET. As the film builds to its conclusion, Zhao leaves the audience with a sense of reflection and the understanding that life is about pursuing one's dreams and maintaining personal values amidst societal pressures.
In creating "We The People?," Zhao establishes himself as a filmmaker to watch, unafraid to tackle complex themes and challenge the status quo. As an aspiring director, his work is sure to continue evolving, informed by his influences and personal experiences, while always aiming to inspire and encourage his audience to believe in themselves.
Ultimately, "We The People?" is a captivating film that redefines the experimental short genre, providing a unique blend of thematic exploration, cinematic innovation, and emotional resonance. It is a testament to the power of storytelling and the importance of examining the human experience through the lens of film.