Artist, writer, director, and former Talking HeadDavid Byrne takes to the stage to deliver a timely call for social betterment. In a Spike Lee joint, the multi-hyphenate Byrne presents art and musical theatrics on Broadway that echo much-needed sentiments of hope and better tomorrows. Whilst Byrne will be forever attached to The Talking Heads’ and Jonathan Demme’s critically acclaimed live-music film Stop Making Sense, American Utopiais brilliant and unique in its own right. Spike Lee lends his directing expertise as the concert covers a range of social issues including the Black Lives Matter movement.
The set is ambitious and dynamic, placing both its audience in the auditorium and the audience at home together into its intimate perspective of Byrne’s inner sociopolitical voice. A balance is struck between industrial greys, sleek suits, barefoot dancing, and avant-garde performative gestures, allowing a more clean and uncluttered platform for Byrne’s message. What was a world tour has become a well-oiled Broadway production for the pandemic age, which the film acknowledges when the attending audience is thanked for leaving their homes. Lee’s experience and keen eye for visuals are present throughout as we open from above looking down on Byrne, sitting patiently with his model of a brain, ready to begin. Soon, we are eye to eye with the man himself, as the stage rises and the wall of beads shimmers around him.
Thomas Vinterberg and Mads Mikkelsen reunite for the first time since 2012’s powerful drama The Hunt, with the poignant comedy-drama Another Round. A subtle tale of addiction, friendship, love, and loss, Another Round shifts slickly between slapstick and tragedy. Vinterberg successfully recaptures The Hunt’s frantic energy exerted in severe circumstances but playfully employs them in different measures.
Martin (Mikkelsen), Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), Peter (Lars Ranthe), and Nikolaj (Magnus Millang) are four high school teachers all standing on the edge of banality and mediocrity. In hopes of reigniting the joy and excitement of their younger years, the quartet embarks on an experiment based on New Age philosophy. The experiment involves maintaining a steady flow of alcohol in the bloodstream, with the intent of helping them leave the doldrums of life behind. This concept is loosely based on psychotherapist Finn Skarderud’s theory that humans are born with too low a level of alcohol in the blood. Whilst testing this theory, each teacher begins to see the different effects of alcohol on their personal and professional lives.
Following 2019’s Tommaso, master of grit, rebel auteur Abel Ferrara returns with Willem Dafoe for a lofty nightmarish charge at introspection in Siberia. In a blur of Malick and Lynch, the film is a nihilistic quest to the inner reaches of nowhere – Ferrara guides us on a tour of the weird and deadly. Whereas Tommaso was grounded and contemplative, Siberia is a visual projection of human consciousness that seems to flow directly out of the furthest recesses of the filmmaker’s mind. Admittedly, hoping to capture dreams on film, Ferrara presents us with a mixed bag that is mostly style over substance.
In essence, Siberia is atypically representative of Ferrara, a character that is somewhat misunderstood battling inner demons amidst bizarre sex and frantic violence. The collaborative nature of Ferrara and Dafoe’s relationship allows the former to pit Dafoe in varying surreal sequences that flit between tactile and visual sensory explosions. The overarching goal appears to establish mythology and poetry in the metaphoric visions that unfold. Sadly, many of these self-indulgent skits fail to come together cohesively. Despite this, Ferrara’s arthouse semi-reflective Siberia does offer a handful of fleeting moments of visual brilliance that add to the existentialism on offer.
Ian Floodgate: Short films sometimes get overlooked at film festivals even though they provide the industry an insight into which filmmakers to look out for in the future. One of these is Tommy Gillard, writer-director of Shuttlecock. Gillard’s film follows a man named Carl (Tom Greaves), a macho male amateur badminton player, who wants to win at all costs at a charity tournament. Questions arise about Carl’s sexuality when a mysterious new member Morgan (Niall Kiely) joins the club, as he captures the attention of everyone with his potent but effeminate style of play. Shuttlecock effectively says a lot about repressed sexuality in thirteen minutes, and I think the production team behind this short could explore this theme further in a feature-length film. I also thought Carl’s extreme competitiveness to win at a small charity event was compelling. What did you guys think?
Jessica Moore: Shuttlecock feels incredibly self-aware. The machismo dialogue paired with homoerotic imagery is both comic and revealing. Although overtly concerned with the triviality of a charity match, I agree that repressed sexuality is at the fore of this short. Carl’s awareness of Morgan, competitively and as an object of sexual interest, is present throughout to varying extents. I’d also be interested to see where this narrative could go if it were extended to a feature-length film – though perhaps the short is the perfect form to compact and heighten its playfulness. What do you think the short form does for the tone?
Nick Davie: I think the length of Shuttlecock allows the director to be more playful in explorations of toxic masculinity and insecurity within the characters, simply by not allowing more room for character development, etc. Which is one reason why it is so successful in its humour, it doesn’t overcook anything. In terms of specifics, Carl exhibits such great physical aggression and frustration at his shortcomings or potentially looking ‘weak’ or less of a man, and the other characters are initially threatened but barriers fall.
Nicolas Winding Refn’s dark twisted tale of vapid, jealous bloodlust within the fashion industry offers a much deeper glare into the void than many other films of its genre. Whilst borrowing much from exploitation, new Hollywood horror, Giallo, and slasher films, The Neon Demon succinctly reflects the industry its plot follows: an empty and superficial world. Through striking visuals and a strong turn by Elle Fanning, the film offers a resentful examination of fashion in LA. There are fables located deep-within such as the pursuit of eternal youth. A liberal referencing to influential tropes and folklore is steeped throughout this neon-tinged nightmare- with Refn, as always divisive and provocative but willing to acknowledge his influences.
The Neon Demon is littered with visual references to Kubrick, Lynch, Cronenberg, and Argento, and also features a reference to Bergman’s Persona in an attempt to make Jesse (Elle Fanning) complicit in her narcissism. Refn’s visual homages are noted but they are also a fundamental element of his over-stylized glorification of sexuality and violence: where Lynch and co. may take an idea, Refn likes to push the boundaries further. Argento’s Suspiria is heavily present, Refn artfully borrowing some sequences from the Giallo masterpiece. Shades of Sunset Boulevard, in particular, can be seen with a creepy old mansion and swimming pool, Billy Wilder’s tale of self-indulgence and fame perhaps the best portrait of LA identity immolation.
Mini hiatus… some work coming for Cinecentric’s October themed month (scary…), and some coverage of London Film Festival for both Cineccentric and One Room With A View.
BUT… Most importantly, this year I will be continuing my studies at the University of Nottingham, undertaking a PhD in Film & Television studies!!! Working closely with two professors at the university analysing David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: The Return… The auteur and more.
The films of Nuri Bilge Ceylan are always nuanced, multi-faceted, and heavily layered examinations of their subject matter, though none captivate in such intriguing fashion as Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. This anti-mystery noir reestablishes well-entrenched tropes of crime thrillers (with a distinct lack of crime shown for one), helping the film to move at an antagonizing pace. This patience-testing pace is ultimately rewarding and offers itself to the grandiose beauty of the cinematography as the ragtag group of police, doctors, and prosecutors traverse the Anatolian hills at night. Playing out like a dream, this crime drama features no car chases, no gunfights, and none of the other all too familiar trappings associated with the genre.
Representing a testament to the filmmaking prowess of Ceylan, the audience becomes an observer and, in turn, we are forced to reconsider what we see and why we see it. A world of information is laid out before us and our perception of this information is informed by the perceptions of each character. Whilst the bigger picture lies in front of us waiting to be unpacked, we are given these characters’ perceptions, each believing in their own dogma and constantly undermined by their insecurities. The plot is straightforward on paper: a confessed killer under arrest leads a group of policemen, a young doctor, gravediggers, another suspect, and a prosecutor through the hills in search of the location where the suspects drunkenly murdered someone. The various narratives each of these characters bring slowly rise and fall apart before us as characters slowly reveal themselves whilst all set in search of the same goal: find the body.
An overarching theme of this film may be the media publishing industry as a whole, but it is essentially an intimate observation of the press trade at its roots: the newspaper kiosk.
In a wealthy area of Paris, filmmaker Alexandra Pianelli comes to help her mother, who by trade is a newspaper saleswoman occupying a small physical kiosk. Pianelli is an artist, but at the kiosk she gets behind the cash register just as her family before her have for nearly a century in this chic city location. While larger themes of publishing crises loom, and are explored, the documentation of relationships forged with regular customers is this film’s beating heart.
Part-documentary, part-fiction, Marc Isaacs invites audiences into his home, in this overtly invasive and introspective examination of life in controlled spaces. A foreboding uneasy sensation is shared amongst house inhabitants that are introduced to Isaacs’ personal space in what is a meditation on human connection. Whilst the semi-scripted narrative has elements of humour, the characters of devout Muslim neighbour, a Slovakian homeless man, two builders, and Isaacs’ cleaner all try to coexist in this challenging mockumentary.
Political in the sense that the characters challenge each other’s world views through the narrative of confinement, several other elements, unfortunately, become too overwhelming to work in harmony. Whilst also playing with the notion of filmmaking, Isaacs is told his next film must be about crime, sex, or celebrity to get funding, this prompts the filmmaker into assessing the characters that feature in his daily home life.
In 2009, Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos announced himself on the international film circuit- the auteur would champion a new wave of Greek cinema. These films would go on to be described and later known as ‘the weird wave’, a movement within Greek cinema in which Yorgos Lanthimos remains a pioneering and most recognized director of these strange, haunting yet darkly comedic films. However, a simple description of weird wave characteristics does not cover the films’ often larger themes reflected in Greek society and culture. This film movement occurred during the Greek financial crisis of the late 2000s, which again, is often reflected in the films, in narrative and within the landscapes and cityscapes. Lanthimos’ seminal hit 2009 Dogtooth received awards at Cannes, was nominated for an Oscar, and is an essential component of this new golden era of Greek cinema.
Dogtooth was accompanied by Athina Rachel Tsangari‘s Attenberg and Lanthimos second feature Alps as the weird wave’s early key films. This trio of films represented this new sub-genre of Greek cinema explicitly and offered a template for others to follow in terms of structure. The basis of ‘weird wave’ was established by haunting cinematography, alienated protagonists, and absurdist dialogue, which features in abundance in Lanthimos’ filmography. Lanthimos has now successfully directed Hollywood productions where he has translated this genre to English language cinema. In 2020 Dogtooth still sits proudly at the top of the weird wave, as dark and bizarre now but also as relevant and culturally astute.