I didn’t know it was possible to make a biopic this sentimental about Bunuel, of all people. At least it’s animated, so we get the occasional vision of elephants on horse-leg stilts. Opens with artists at a cafe arguing about the purpose of art, and closes with Luis discovering that art is for helping the poor people, I guess. The movie could at least use animation to abstract away all the gruesome animal killings from the Las Hurdes shoot, and it does, but then it makes sure to show us the original footage right after.

After a screening of L’age d’or ends in fire and threats, LB is annoyed that everyone thinks all his good ideas come from Dali, then he can’t get funding for a follow-up until his cousin wins the lottery. LB and producer cousin and cameraman and writer meet in the mountains, get into hijinks, and shoot a movie. LB has many flashbacks and dreams about trying to please his father, and everyone learns a little something about truth and fiction and the true purpose of art.

Piperno’s first feature is a Slow Arthouse Being John Malkvich, the least fun version imaginable of a story about discovering portals between a cruise ship, a city apartment in Uruguay, and a shed in rural Philippines.

Window Boy is a cruise ship flunky who constantly shirks his duties and has nothing going on. The woman who lives in the apartment is less afraid of the intruder than she is curious about Window Boy’s origins and wanting to use the portal herself. And the guy who discovers the shed is afraid of its power after dreaming that a snake ate his family, so plots to destroy it (but not before slaughtering some animals on-camera to summon the spirits, argh). And again… if that description sounds enticing, imagine the slowest, most uneventful version of it.

He’s not called Window Boy because he peers through ladies’ windows, that’s a red herring:

Apartment Lady would also like to visit a cruise ship:

After amazing opening title artwork, we open with a festive animal-slaughter montage, why? So far so familiar – golden-haired beauty Julie (Zdena Studenková, also of a Sleeping Beauty movie) loves her merchant father, whose entire fortune is in a wagon train that gets violently lost when it strays too close to a cursed castle. Julie’s sisters are actually nice to her until the family’s fortune turns, then they become horrible. Dad is imprisoned in the castle when he searches for the lost shipment, and when released for a day to say goodbye to his family, he’s mid-conversation when Julie grabs a horse and rides off to take her father’s place.

It’s halfway through the movie before we see the beast’s face – he’s a BIRDBEAST! – and fifteen minutes to the end before Julie sees it. The castle and its furnishings are alive in a shady and sinister way, overall more of a horror movie than any other adaptation I’ve seen, always whispering to Beast that he should kill Julie. There’s also no Gaston equivalent, nobody from town looking for Julie, and after she visits home and everyone’s a pain in the ass to her, she runs back to her Beast, who transforms out of love, to a really nice piano theme by Petr Hapka (whose music was in Ferat Vampire and The Grandmaster!)

The sisters: Jana Brejchová was in Return of the Prodigal Son and Baron Prasil and I Killed Einstein, Gentlemen, and Zuzana Kocúriková was in, uh oh, an Alain Robbe-Grillet film. Dad was in Murder Czech Style. Vlastimil Harapes is under the bird-beast makeup, had a smallish role in Marketa Lazarová.

This period thriller-thing was an improvement over Belmonte. As with that movie, it’s sometimes hard to tell what it’s adding up to narratively, but it effectively builds atmosphere. Where this is all going must be more apparent to Argentinians of a certain age than it was to me. I did notice that whenever two dudes have a disagreement, one of them ends up disappeared into the desert, which gave me flashbacks to the post-Pinochet doc Nostalgia for the Light.

Darío Grandinetti (from Talk to Her) publicly psychoanalyzes a rude stranger into freaking out and committing suicide. Neighbors call Darío “counselor,” but he’s obviously not a mental health counselor, just a respected lawyer, who is close with government man Vivas who wants to “buy” a house that isn’t on the market because its previous owners disappeared before they could sell (leaving behind bloody handprints, how sloppy), so now the paperwork’s all a mess.

Eventually a famous Chilean detective (Pablo Larraín regular Alfredo Castro, the dog trainer in The Club) will come around asking questions about the suicided man, who turns out to be Vivas’s wife Mabel’s brother. While we wait for the detective plot to kick in, all the sidetrack scenes are intriguing… Mabel freaks out at a museum… a government official welcomes three American cowboys whose performance was postponed by a previous official… Darío’s family attends a slow-mo rodeo and has a great time while an animal is slaughtered to mournful string music… his wife encounters a stranger while peeing in the woods during an eclipse.

The Wives:

The Men:

According to Michael Sicinski, Naishtat is “a highly experimental filmmaker aim[ing] for greater accessibility,” so it’s be interesting to see his earlier features. I remember hearing things in Cinema Scope about El Movimiento. V. Rizov in Filmmaker summarizes Rojo: “A really unpleasant lawyer kills a guy because he can and then commits all kinds of similarly unsavory bullshit. The movie is, nonetheless, very fun…” and Adam Nayman writes more about cynicism and disappearance.

Comically gentle music plays over the title Cannibal Holocaust, and I can’t tell if it’s irony or if this is just typical Italian-Horror dissonance. Then we open with a dude on an NYC skyscraper telling us that man is on the verge of conquering the galaxy, but blah blah. This movie has appeared on horror lists for decades, but I would never watch it, because ages ago we made the mistake of renting Umberto Lenzi’s knockoff Cannibal Ferox, which was so distasteful it put me off Italian cannibal horrors for years.

Professor Harold agrees to “journey into Amazonia” to find a disappeared film crew of four absolute losers, introduced via their own rushes: Alan is the director, Faye his “girlfriend and script girl,” and the two cameramen Jack and Martin are “inseparable friends.” This is set up as a found-footage doc, but the moment I meet these bozos I don’t buy a thing they say. It’s a clever conceit though, and as far as Italian courts of the early 1980’s could tell, this is how Americans really behave, so the movie-in-a-movie was assumed to be true and director Deodato was accused of murder.

“Hey professor, I recognize these teeth.” Dr. Harold and his army crew lose a man to a blowgun dart while while they are butchering natives, then they come across the teeth of Felipe, the movie crew’s guide. Meanwhile there’s footage of jumping monkeys, sloths and macaws, before we’re subjected to a mud-covered girl getting raped with some bloody object then murdered. It’s kind of a not-bad, actiony movie, except for the misogyny and probably racism. The prof’s crew is brought to the Tree People’s hideout and Harold decides to “become like them” and strips in the river, where he’s quickly surrounded by excited nude women. Have I mentioned that Harold is played by porn actor Robert Kerman? He also played a cop in Night of the Creeps, and IMDB says “then one day his female agent fired him for no clear reason.” Females, eh?

Porn Prof with Salvatore Basile, an assistant director on this and Cobra Verde:

The film crew is long dead but the prof returns to NYC with the footage from their would-be documentary titled The Green Inferno (yo, Eli Roth). A rookie Italian mistake, which should have been disqualifying in the murder trial: the “found footage” is dubbed. I turned away from the screen during the infamous turtle slaughter scene, which felt very long. Our film crew finds a village, and just frightens and torments people, then burns some villagers to death for no apparent reason except they’re horny and drunk on power, the director and his girl proceeding to then have sex in front of their cameramen and the entire village.

The Yanomamo freak out over a tape recorder:

“Been walking through the jungle for days with the harrowing feeling that we’re moving in circles” – this predates The Blair Witch Project by two decades. Their guide Felipe is bit in the foot by a snake and they quickly chop off his leg – not quick enough, I reckon. When they come across the Yanomamo “tree people,” they ingratiate themselves by immediately raping a woman, and when the script girl interferes (not to prevent the rape, but to protest that recording it wastes precious film) they assult her too. The tribe catches up with the crew, and when Jack is first on the menu, the cameramen don’t seem like “inseparable friends,” as the other enthusiastically films the butchering. Faye is gang-raped, of course, and the other two are quickly dispatched when discovered. The movie gets to have it both ways as Harold condemns the doc footage as inhuman. “I wonder who the real cannibals are,” as the camera meaningfully pans up to the NYC skyscrapers.

Our director Deodato was assistant director on Django, later known for making unsavory stuff like a Last House on the Left remake and this movie’s predecessor Jungle Holocaust. The writers worked on Devil Fish and Demons 5: Devil’s Veil. Composer Riz Ortolani has hundreds of credits, including Don’t Torture a Duckling and The Dead Are Alive. DP Sergio D’Offizi also shot Deported Women of the SS Special Section and Today We Kill, Tomorrow We Die!

Claire Diane on Letterboxd:

This film is an evil spell … I have no idea how to rate it, as conventional senses of quality really have no place with a film like this. It is profoundly repugnant and yet also seems somehow a pinnacle.

At great personal risk, the director of this doc embedded himself with a jihadist family, allowing us to see how these people really live, to feel their personal struggles. Unfortunately, my feeling was “fuck this family” (the opposite of an empathy machine) as we watch the creepy-doll-faced oldest son Osama go from beheading and flaying little birds to military camp. His dad gets blown up by a mine and loses a leg, and it’s alarming to see him so quiet and dazed after getting used to him as a blowhard strongman. I guess this comes down on the side of “documentary that might be useful to someone,” not “movie I actually liked.”

First-person movie with barely-seen narrator/protagonist. It’s kind of an essay film about revisiting the city where he grew up after being gone thirty years, noting the changes. But it’s also an interesting new thing – a noirish murder/mystery played out mostly in audio, with the visuals in the same style as the essay-documentary sections, almost as if the footage was shot and then the filmmakers belatedly decided to make a completely different kind of movie.

Guerra da Mata:

We do have several references, like from Josef von Sternberg’s film Macao … One of the first shots of our film is a travelling shot by boat, like in the beginning of the Sternberg film. We liked the idea of having documentary images introducing a plot that was actually shot in a Hollywood studio.

Rodrigues: “And we decided to do the opposite: inventing a plot mostly shot with documentary images.”

A couple of lipsync musical performances (one in the opening, presumably performed by noir-figure Candy, another in the middle by a canal boater) help tie the threads together. Unexpectedly, the noir story ends up involving a bird cage containing a Kiss Me Deadly-style glowing secret (it turns people into animals). So I followed the movie with pleasure, though after the fact I think I admire it more than love it.

Things I didn’t get because I don’t know my film history: Candy was performing Jane Russell’s song from the movie Macao in the introduction. This gets discussed in the film itself for us clueless types, as does some Macao history – it was occupied by the Portuguese for centuries then handed over to China in 1999.

Second appearance of Astro Boy today, after spotting him in Yi Yi. First movie I’ve seen by either of these Joãos, who also made To Die Like a Man and The Ornithologist together.

Great interview in Cinema Scope. They got funding for a Macao documentary then decided to make something else based on Guerra da Mata’s memories of living there, but they still only had the budget of a documentary.

Rodrigues:
“We wanted our film to be playful, and I think that this is a really wide range: Chris Marker, James Bond, film noir … sci-fi.”


Alvorada Vermelha / Red Dawn (2011)

I think the directors mentioned that making this short led to Macao, so I had the bright idea of watching them together. No spoken words, opens with a shot of a high-heeled shoe on the road, which could easily be from the other film (which also opens with a shoe close-up), and both movies share a glimpsed mermaid character… but for the most part, this is a documentary set inside a slaughterhouse where lots of fishes and chickens are killed and cut up, thus it’s kinda no fun to watch.

A straightforward journey film. Vargas is released from prison, then rides and walks and canoes to deliver a letter to his friend’s wife and to find his own daughter, slaughtering a goat on-camera along the way.

Final moments alive for this goat:

I’d read that Alonso’s first three features were more realistic than the crazy-looking Jauja (also a journey movie where a solitary man looks for his daughter) and was afraid they’d be a drag to watch, but I needn’t have worried. Wish the DVD had looked better, though.

Quintín on the opening:

Alonso went on location with a cameraman and shot a scene – actually, one long take – of the main character holding a knife in his hand, leaving behind the bodies of his dead brothers: a mysterious, intriguing sequence with sophisticated camera movements and a sense of tragedy. The blood theme was there, as were the dead of the title. It was a highly remarkable, virtuoso shot. And a shot that made money. Shown to foundations, producers, sales agents and TV buyers, this homeopathic sample allowed the movie to be finished.

Deserved winner of the Palm Dog at Cannes. Truly, the dogs were great. However I was frustrated and confused by the rest of the movie, which was relentless misery until the climactic explosion of dog vengeance. The movie has been compared to Au Hasard Balthasar, but it’s maybe closer to I Spit On Your Grave.

Girl is abandoned by her mom to live with her shitty dad for the summer. She is devoted to her dog Hagen, gets kicked out of her orchestra by the asshole band leader because of Hagen, but after pressure from horrid neighbors, Dad kicks the dog out on the street. Horrible people + handheld camera = no fun. Dog catchers, dog fighters, etc. The fighter trains Hagen to be hateful and violent, a la this movie’s great namesake. The girl’s bike is stolen, woman at dog shelter is a liar and dog murderer, and so on. Then: a well orchestrated bloodbath of revenge, with a picturesque but mysterious ending.

M. D’Angelo:

This movie’s stupid. I suppose it’s slightly less stupid if one views it allegorically — that is, if the dogs are supposed to represent minorities — but that barely seems tenable, especially w/r/t the laughable ending. Otherwise, its sole point of interest is its use of real dogs at the climax, which isn’t remotely scary (Mundruzcó has no feel whatsoever for horror) but does at least represent an impressive feat of screw-you-CGI logistics. And then he goes and ruins that by using said climax, which should arise out of nowhere, as a surreal flash-forward “grabber” at the outset, a ploy that smacks of bad television. At best, this might have worked as a segment of Amores perros (which it explicitly apes for a while); two hours is beyond laborious, and every cut away from Hagen to the little girl and her dad feels like Mundruzcó deliberately wasting your time.