Saturday, July 9, 2011

SHADOWS Winter Part 2: Spin Spin Sugar (Some Girls on Film)

As the chill thickens and Milos shatters another chunk of combustibles, come in out of the fog, sit by the fire and thrill, ogle and wonder at these seven tales of humanity's better half. No agendas here beyond the fact that I've never put a program like this together until now. From irreverent political intrigue, through psychedelic melodrama and edgy gangster comedy to the ghostly silence after a war, we have something for ev- lots of people. I didn't choose a mother, a daughter, a freedom fighter etc, just made sure that a lass were front 'n' centre. Enjoy!

July 15
 (Michael Verhoven, 1989, West Germany)
Sonja wins a highschool essay contest which only encourages her. When she announces that her next prizewinner will be about anti-nazi resistance in her Bavarian hometown she gets a lot of pats on the head. Then she starts finding things out.

At first she's met with a series of bureacratic stalls that would make Kafka blush if they hadn't actually happened. Then it's poison answering machine messages. Then it's the local neo-nazis whose insults blow doors off hinges and render whole floors of houses uninhabitable. By that time, Sonja is married with kids, under pressure from the living to forgive and forget the dead. But some of the wrong people aren't dead.

Sounds grim but this film about atrocity and community fear manages to be by turns, cheeky and hilarious as well as sobering. Michael Verhoven has a lot of fun exposing the problem of seeking the truth where it seems forbidden. He gleefully uses obvious back projection to stand in for the hallowed halls of officialdom and shows the effect of neighbourhood gossip by showing the family discussing it atop a double decker bus furnished like their loungeroom as it courses through the town for all to see and hear. The energetic Lena Stolze (a kind of young teutonic Sally Field) plays Sonja with a youthful electricity that yet allows gravity.

Who said political films had to be serious? This is one of the most enjoyable political movies I've ever seen. An odd call when you consider that its chief influences lie in the graver annals of new wave cinema. But even in his cloudiest hour Godard could still deliver a joke. And wasn't it Bert Brecht himself (very much in evidence here) who said that a theatre that can't be laughed in is a theatre to be laughed at?

Screens with Twilight Zone episode Mirror Image

July 22
(Agnes Varda, 1962 France)
Cleo is a singer, young and beautiful, with a life that doesn't allow her a moment's slump. Then her doctor says she might have cancer. That's at 5 o'clock. Results at 7. D'accord! Two hours to kill ... or die in. Hmm.

Life's still dizzy but now it has an anchor chained to its ankle. But this is neither a gloom fest nor a whacky black comedy. Left Bank auteur Agnes Varda keeps Cleo real through a nonstop gauntlet of social and professional errands where, for all the glamour she imparts and is awarded, she must cope with the worst possibility. Then, an encounter with utterly unexpected side of death stops the merry-go-round. Suddenly the lightness of this film's style broadens into real philosophy, however plainly expressed, and the film delivers a punch both elegant and profound. Well, it's Paris 1960, how could it not be elegant and profound? Oh and there's a short silent movie in there featuring Jean Luc Godard and Anna Karina in the leads! Coolest doctor's appointment on film.

Screens with Daria episode Too Cute

July 29
(Gabe Ibanez, 2009, Spain)
Maria takes her young son for a holiday on the island of Hierro but loses him on the ferry. Yep, loses. Doesn't see him fall overboard. One minute he's there and the next he's nowhere. Holding on to what is left of her sanity, she returns home so wary of the experience's triggers that even taking a shower is a challenge.

Years later she is contacted by the police who want her to identify the body of a drowned boy of the right age. Despite their best efforts to convince her otherwise, she knows it isn't him on the slab. Crumbling, she tries to make a holiday of it but then thinks she sees him in a creepy caravan park. Her plan takes shape before she can articulate it. She begins to move toward the reunion with neither caution nor fear.

Elena Anaya (Talk to Her, Sex and Lucia) plays the mother with such single minded intensity that at first it's easy to think that she might allow us no further than the surface. But as the tale progresses and she begins to see what she's up against her constant concern shows the same range of nuance as Hitomi Kuroki in the motherhood thriller Dark Water. That this is set in the Canary Island paradise with a constant parade of natural beauty adds a slow burn of creepiness.

August 5
(Sion Sonno, 2006, Japan)
Forced to first witness her parents' S&M sessions and then share their bed, and then show up for school where her father is the headmaster, Mitsuko's life is ... twisted. When she causes the death of her mother she throws herself off a building and then comes to and finishes the chapter of her latest erotic thriller as a wheelchair-bound novellist.

But can fiction like this even exist ... in fiction? Is the act of imagining itself not just an anti-trauma screen for her? And who's imagining what? And what's with the circus of the title where the audience is invited to play themselves as a performance? With questions like this and a painter's pallette delivering imagery both breathtakingly beautiful and gaspingly horrible, this must be Sion Sono, master filmmaker who brought 2002's Suicide Circle to the screen.

The successful author writes with her agent hanging on every paragraph and a coterie of minions lounging about her psychogothic house. Among them is Yuji, new to the team and unimpressed with the fame and the specialness shown by the others. He has a driven interest in his boss' origins not only to expose their truth but his own.

Suicide Circle for all its flamboyance and confrontation was really a sombre essay in what Sono saw as Japan becoming a servile culture. The paraquel Noriko's Dinner Table took a cult's eye view of the same events to more challenging extents and suggested a glimmer of hope. Strange Circus takes the theme of identity further into the heart of darkness than he has ever gone. I can think of no one I'd rather trust with that helm.

August 12
(Victor Erice, 1973, Spain)
Spain late 1930s. Ana and her sister Isabel go to
the village town hall to see the movie Frankenstein. Ana is haunted by the scene where the monster first plays with the little girl and then throws her into the lake. Trying to sleep that night she is teased by her sister who tells her that the monster lives in an abandoned building on a nearby farm. So, Ana, five years old like the actor playing her, goes looking for him.

A film as quiet and patient as a child's concentration but with all the colour and wonder as well. Victor Erice's strange tale of childhood is set just after Franco came to power in Spain and made just before his death released the country from Fascism.

As with Little Murders, I showed this in my first season of SHADOWS in 2009 but have since been asked to screen it again. I didn't have a film in this series centred on girlhood. So here it is.

August 19
(2004, Thailand)
Tum is made redundant from her Bangkok bank and goes home to find a box full of money on her doorstep. Miracles? Luck? The 9 on her flat door has a habit of swinging upsidedown and looking like a 6. That's the title, there, by the way, in case you were thinking otherwise.

What happens next is a wicked, breathless comedy of morality and error that moves like a thoroughbred until an ending that is both oddly and fittingly sober. Comparisons with Tarrantino and his tribute band, Guy Ritchie, are understandable but this is not a cover version of a 90s cinefad. As dark and misanthropic as this tale gets it is never the just for yucks nihilism of that tradition. The Bhuddist saying spoken at the end really does seem to express the point of everything that has happened in the previous hundred minutes.

Lalita Panyopas breaks our impressions of her as young and fragile when she crosses her first early-delivered hurdle. Petite and pretty, yes, but this gal is ready for everything heaven and hell can hurl.

August 28
(Federico Fellini, 1965, Italy)

Giulietta has reached middle age cushioned in an affluent marriage. Her discovery of her husband's infidelity at first frightens her but then, after a seance of all things, her fear opens doors. The spirits rush in through memory, confabulation and hallucination. We take a trip backwards to traumas of childhood, sidewards into a realm of womanhood of which she never dared dream and into a future unshackled by the guilt and fear. Fellini throws everything he knows about any art he's encountered and then hurls as much colour at the result as he can find.

Did I say trip? You bet I did. This is the film Fellini made after his first experience with LSD. Thus we get not mere colour but the colours of Ambrosia and not a celebration of a woman but a paen to all of them: earthly goddesses and heavenly frumps: the fempantheon, I decree! And then he came down from acid mountain, made this and it was better than that.

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