Perhaps I picked a strange week to finally watch Amour, having just returned from a funeral, or perhaps I picked the perfect time. After all, I hear that it’s an emotionally wrecking movie, but the experiences in the movie seem brief and merciful compared to what a couple of my relatives recently went through.

Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant are tasteful and educated, have lived together for decades in their quiet apartment where she gives piano lessons. One day she has a minor stroke, then a corrective operation doesn’t go well, and she slides further away every week while her husband watches, helping as much as he can, but desperately unable to keep her mind from deteriorating, until she’s almost completely gone and he finishes her off with a pillow. In a typically quizzical Haneke ending, their daughter Isabelle Huppert comes home at the end looking for them – we’ve seen police find the body in an opening flash-forward, but we don’t know where Jean-Louis has disappeared to.

I thought it an excellent movie despite how dismissive I’m sounding here, and it’s encouraging that Haneke seems to have learned empathy. It’s also much, much better than the last movie I watched called Love. The movie (and Haneke and Riva) won all the awards, from césars and oscars to the Cannes palme d’or, but the AARP “movies for grownups” award went to Flight instead.

Adam Cook:

The couple’s apartment, full of their memories and long collected items (paintings, books etc.), slowly shifts from a haven to a prison, both physically (the camera rarely ventures outside the confines of their flat) and in the objects that fill the cavernous rooms. Music, once the loves of their lives, becomes a painful reminder of their pasts and what will never be again. Haneke, in the use of long static shots allows the audience to soak in these all important details and help to understand who these people were before the debilitating illness systematically destroyed their world.

Ouch from C. Huber:

Haneke, meanwhile, adhered demonstratively to the world of his polite, bourgeois couple, tactful even in the “provocations,” making Amour the ultimate in art-house art: a film that comfortably ushers its dwindling target audience towards its eventual demise.

I followed along for a while, as this arthouse mystery quickly turned into a twisty goofball survival thriller, until I started getting flashbacks to The Catechism Cataclysm, and then I was really too distracted to take anything that happens seriously. I think I’m missing religious aspects, since the letterboxd summary mentions the stations of the cross. Of course, as usually happens, I read some articles and interviews afterwards and came to appreciate the movie more.

Ornithologist Fernando (“the body of Jason Statham lookalike Paul Hamy, the voice of director João Pedro Rodrigues,” per Mark Peranson) is cataloguing the storks and vultures along a river when some rapids catch him off-guard and his kayak crashes. He’s rescued by travelers Fei and Lin, who are following a pilgrim path to Santiago, making me realize I forgot to watch the short Morning of Saint Anthony’s Day, which may be related, but then they tie him up and threaten to castrate him, so maybe not. Fernando escapes but loses his medication, and we don’t know what it was for, or if any part of the movie turns out to be hallucinated from lack of meds. He runs into some ritual partiers and gets peed on by one of them, makes out with (and murders) a deaf-mute sheepherder named Jesus, rescues a dove at a shrine, cuts off his own fingerprints, gets shot by topless woman hunters, and awakens as Antonio, then is then murdered by Jesus’s twin brother Thomas.

Even if the whole thing felt somewhat goofy, I enjoyed the mystery of the killings and rebirths at the end, and the bird photography. Music is all quavering feedback. João Rui Guerra da Mata was a collaborator, and the only familiar element from their Last Time I Saw Macao was the use of still photographs. Won best director at Locarno, where it played with Hermia & Helena, By the Time It Gets Dark, The Challenge, The Human Surge and a bunch more that still haven’t opened here and probably never will. Oh yeah, look at that… you have to go back six years to find a Locarno movie that played theaters near me – it’s the festival of doomed distribution deals.

Peranson:

Rodrigues’ blasphemous exploration of the transformative process of religious awakening, through a serious of wild—at times sexual—adventures focusing on the pleasure and the pain of the body is a modern film, in line with Godard’s Hail Mary or Buñuel’s The Milky Way.

Sicinski:

The Ornithologist is as shapeless and picaresque as the conventional Lives of the Saints, forming a clothesline more than a narrative. Granted, when this concerns getting peed on and being hogtied and swinging with your junk hanging out, as is the case here, it feels a bit more dreamlike, which is probably what Rodrigues is going for. At the same time, The Ornithologist gets a bit tiresome in its relentless punishment of the nonbeliever.

Rodrigues:

I wanted to be an ornithologist when I was a kid … Cinema interrupted this, and in a way I replaced this love of watching and observing birds in the wild and being alone, although I never felt alone because I felt surrounded by nature and living creatures.

The short looked at a post-apocalyptic celebration of St. Anthony, while The Ornithologist looks at St. Anthony more directly … the film is always set in a place that has never changed since ancient times, in a natural world that hasn’t changed very much at all. Those rocks were there when St. Anthony was alive. When I was going to these unchanged places, I thought I was going back in time. It’s a landscape that belongs to all times and has no time.

Pearl (Patrick Osborne)

Machinima/cutscene clip about a girl growing up with her dad with a car and music then getting too old for dad and hanging out with friends with the car and music then remembering poor dad and going back to visit. It felt kinda like an extended commercial, but not as good, surprising from the guy who made Feast. Ah, it was created with VR software, how cutting edge.

Borrowed Time (Coats & Hamou-Lhadj)

Bummer cowboy story, sad man goes to cliff edge where he accidentally killed his dad whom he was trying to help up with the use of a shotgun. It doesn’t feel like 3D animation is best suited for this sort of thing. The codirectors are seasoned Pixar animators.

Blind Vaysha (Theodore Ushev)

Girl is born with a left eye that only sees the past and a right eye that only sees the future, sometimes by a few hours and sometimes by thousands of years. Maybe you could do some cool things with this concept, but the movie’s only concerned with grabbing the viewer and saying look, wouldn’t this be terrible? Imagine if you had to live like this. Wouldn’t it be just awful? Wouldn’t it? Huh? The end. Ushev is a prolific shorts director and this is the first I’ve seen.

Pear Cider and Cigarettes (Robert Valley)

Long story of the narrator’s troubled friend Techno who gets rich then needs a liver transplant. At least this one has cooler visual style and music than the others, though it’s another sadness drama, and all women be sexy-ass bitches. The director was an Aeon Flux artist!

Piper (Alan Barillaro)

Still the best. Sandpipers rule.

The White Helmets (Orlando von Einsiedel)

Wrenching doc about self-appointed post-bombing rescuers in Syria, mostly set during a training session in Turkey. It would also turn out to be a really useful movie to use when looking for IMDB or Letterboxd users with terrible opinions to block, if either of those sites allowed me to block users with terrible opinions.

Not an exceptionally good-looking movie thirty years later, and not usually fun enough to justify the dull dialogue and tired plotting (amnesia leads to mistaken identity) but it comes alive whenever Madonna is onscreen. It was on Linklater’s list of the best 1980’s movies, and has been appearing on lists of women-directed films lately, but the thing that stuck in my mind and always made me want to see it was hearing it was inspired by Celine & Julie Go Boating. Apparent Rivette influence – one woman (Rosanna Arquette of Crash and After Hours) starts following another (Madonna in her first major film role), identities get mixed up, and a magic show is involved. There’s no Fiction House, sadly.

Roberta is married to spa king Mark Blum, wears appalling 80’s clothes and big glasses, follows the hookups of the cool and mysterious Susan and her man Jim (Robert Joy of Atlantic City, a mutant in The Hills Have Eyes Remake) in the classifieds, builds up the nerve to follow Susan around and buy her pawned jacket. Roberta’s knocked on the head and mistaken for a prostitute by NYPD, then rescued by Jim’s projectionist friend Dez (Aidan Quinn of Benny & Joon, The Handmaid’s Tale) who thinks she must be Susan.

A neighbor plays saxophone, seen backlit through a window, and I thought “1980’s, New York, saxophone, it’s probably John Lurie” and was right! Also appearing: Richard Hell (Madonna’s boyfriend who gets killed in prologue, setting off the chase), Steven Wright (dating Roberta’s sister[?] Laurie Metcalf) and John Turturro (manager of the magic club). Writer Leora Barish also did a Chantal Akerman movie and Basic Instinct 2, a weird career. Seidelman also made Smithereens and a movie about a robot John Malkovich, and directed some Electric Company reboot episodes which means I’m technically her collaborator and shouldn’t be talking smack about her most famous movie. Good acting and a pleasantly goofball flick, I’ve got no hard feelings.

Kazakh teenager becomes the first female eagle hunter in the region. She tells her dad she wants to eagle-hunt, so he checks with grandpa then takes her to kidnap her own baby eagle, walks her through training then leads her to the competition (where her bird sets a record) and her first wild fox capture. It’s a family-friendly feel-good feminist true story (complete with awful disney-uplift closing pop song) that’s doubly pleasurable for those of us who love birds, sweet fur hats and crisp photography. Lead girl Aisholpan is great fun, and fortunately she has a family who cares more about letting her achieve her own destiny than about what the neighbors might think.

The adventures of:
Heen, a coughing laryngytic dog
Markl, child with a fake beard
Turnip, a scarecrow

And also:
Sophie, a cursed girl
Howl, a bird-demon

And also:
Witch of the Waste, melty-faced after losing her powers
Calcifer, a fire-demon

Katy says large parts of the source novel were omitted in the movie version, which would explain why the war and dealings with evil queen Suliman seem underdeveloped. But as far as visuals and unique characters go, this movie is unsurpassed.

Dory starts to remember things about her home and family, goes on an adventure, discovering she was born at an aquatic park. The others follow, and all are assisted by a couple whales and an Ed O’Neill octopus.

I told Katy it felt good, but not necessary – Matt Singer nails why:

Like so many of the studio’s previous features, Dory is a story about the unbreakable bonds between parents and children, mismatched partners bonding over the course of a long adventure, and the pleasures of a team working together to achieve a common goal. After 21 years, that formula is still very satisfying. But it also feels more like a formula than ever before.


Piper (2016, Alan Barillaro)

Dory and The Good Dinosaur have started an upsetting trend where the opening short is better than the feature. I’m probably biased because I love birds, and especially love watching sandpipers, but this story of a baby sandpiper learning to deal with the surf is the greatest film of all time. Director Barillaro has been a Pixar animator since A Bug’s Life.

A Gentle Spirit (1985)

Morphy, smeary animation beneath a crosshatched texture overlay. Time is ticking away and people appear still and sad, a slow-motion human drama with insect cameos, until music ramps up to a climactic chase scene. I couldn’t figure out the story, but I think Dumala assumed no viewer would be so uncultured as to be unfamiliar with the source Dostoevsky novel. Will have to watch this again after seeing the Bresson version (Une Femme Douce, “a young woman kills herself, leaving no explanation to her grief-stricken pawnbroker husband”), which sounds like a barrel of laughs. Some very cool effects in this, including a table transforming into a bed.


Walls (1988)

A man is trapped within some walls. Sometimes things (drawers, insects) appear on their featureless surfaces. I guess he goes mad from sensory deprivation, since his senses start freaking out, his eyes and ears transforming. I liked it better than the previous movie.

This would seem to be an inspiration for both Tool’s Prison Sex video and the movie Symbol. Dumala would further explore his interest in insects with Franz Kafka before returning to Dostoevsky for his half-hour opus.


Crime and Punishment (2000)

I don’t think it’s all drawing, looks like there are layers of filmed objects in there, though in standard-def it’s hard to tell. Of course there are insects – buzzing flies in every scene – and I recognize the basic Crime (with an axe, killing the pawnbroker and a witness), but the crime is finished with only seven minutes to go in the film, so there’s little Punishment. The killer sits at home feeling bad for a minute before Dumala goes outside to play with animals in the rain. Perhaps a mute witness to the crime kills himself at the end? There are some cool effects – I liked the liquid glimmer of nervous eyes in extreme close-up – but it’s so static it loses my attention repeatedly over the thirty minutes.

Raptor in the rain, a drop falling from its beak:

I watched Raamat’s Lend a couple months ago, just getting to the rest of the disc.

Kutt / Hunter (1976)

More cross-fading animation. Whale-hunters dodge icebergs while tracking their prey. The whale wins. Nice water and Northern Lights effects.


Pold / Field (1978)

A black/white world, slow heavy labor, each frame crossfaded into next. Work horse dreams of a better life, escapes. I think he returns to the farm after getting hungry.


Varvilind / Colorful Bird (1974)

Bored future society starts to come alive with the addition of primary colors, as their world gradually becomes a groovy hippy paradise. A black cat threatens to make everything square and gray again, but the cool kids intervene, ending in a psychotic color trip. Maybe Estonia didn’t have the color green – the movie shows yellow and blue combining to make… blue. I like the silent-film opening titles, and how each of the Raamat shorts is so different-looking than the last.


Kilplased / Simpletons (1974)

White-suited loggers discover that logs roll downhill. A farmer tries to befriend some birds while his horse is eaten by wolves (he doesn’t see the wolves, so a cat is blamed). The men burn down their structure (silo?) and destroy their own fields while chasing a pig. At least they get to eat the pig. The cartooniest Raamat I’ve seen.

I like the way he draws bird feet:


Tyll the Giant (1980)

Tyll helps the puny humans rebuild after their towns are destroyed by demons, rescues them when rough seas overturn their boat and participates in brutal battles against their enemies. This doesn’t go over well with the devil lord who shoots boulders from his eyeballs, so he destroys Tyll’s home and murders his wife. In a final horrific battle (this is the most bloodshed I’ve seen in a cartoon since Metalocalypse), Tyll is beheaded, then a voiceover I didn’t understand (because I lack subtitles) gives an epilogue. A tremendous end to the Raamat party.