“There’s a problem with your films. I don’t understand it. It’s not clear at all.”

A Belgian movie, watched for the Shadowplay thing, but I opted to cover Ferat Vampire instead because this one seemed… more difficult. As the red curtains open and the film begins, diorama-like, full of seared memories and dream logic, I tell myself “don’t call it Lynchian, that’s what everyone has said about it,” but Goodreads tell me that Smolders wrote a book about Eraserhead and Vimeo says he made a video called Lynch Empire, so nevermind, it’s Lynchian. This is his only feature to date, in a 35-year career of shorts.

Kids walk towards the camera, a bug is pinned to the wall, twin Poltergeist II preachers are flashback-puppeteers, causing a wolfman to kill the girl to big choral music, like hymns with some Thin Red Line mixed in. The girl lives again, only to be killed with scissors. Then the doctor, who is viewing these memory-plays by peering into our suit-wearing protagonist’s ear, says he’s fantasizing and he never had a sister, let alone a murdered one, and he needs to chill out.

Our man has an a static Crispin Glovery intensity, and a facial birthmark so we can conveniently tell who plays him in flashback, living in a city under near-permanent eclipse (the second time in 24 hours I’ve thought of Dark City). He works as the bug guy in a museum – a zoo worker in a room full of film cans – and we’ve seen multiple sets of identical twins at this point, making this the second movie this year after the Mandico short to be strongly reminiscent of A Zed & Two Noughts.

Enough with all the comparisons to other films – we go into overdrive when a black woman (the museum security guard) appears, sick and naked and pregnant, in his bed. We hear her thoughts, untranslated (at least on my DVD), while he deals with his stress by watching anthropological films of a beardy colonialist white man (his father, and the museum director). She make him promise not to leave, he immediately runs into the hallway while she gets killed by the ghost of his dead sister, then turns into a cocoon that births a white woman who goes to the museum, naked but for a leopard-skin coat, and murders a taxidermist, the sun comes out and everyone gets annoyed, and now the allusions/symbolism are out of my league.

Anyway, the closeup of leaf insects are great. This would seem to be a cult movie in need of a cult. Smolders was reportedly born in Kinshasa, says in the extras that his film’s vision of Africa is “a fantasized territory based on stories written by … large museums which … fanatically classified a universe that they didn’t understand.” He also says that the story’s logic is based on the rule that “what happens to a character is exactly what he most fears, yet desires at the same time.”

In late 1970’s Paris, Anne, the boss of a porn film company (pop star Vanessa Paradis) has to deal with being dumped by her editor (You and the Night‘s Kate Moran) and being investigated for the murder of one of her actors, actually perpetrated by a masked psycho wielding bladed sex toys.

Anne decides to deal with this by filming a porn parody of the investigation called Homocidal and casting herself as the murderer.

As actors keep dying, she visits a bird museum, discovers the victims are visited by a blind grackle, an extinct bird, and tracks down the story of a tormented youth, burned half to death by his father for being gay, come to the city as a scarred, homocidal adult.

Also featuring Nicolas Maury (You and the Night, Heartbeat Detector) as Anne’s blonde director, and Yann’s fellow-traveler gender-bending filmmaker Bertrand Mandico as the dramatic, floppy-haired cameraman.

With the giallo lighting, M83 music, movie theaters and rare birds, this was mostly up my alley.

Michael Sicinski on letterboxd:

If there’s one dominant hetero influence at work in Knife+Heart, it’s Brian De Palma. This is a sexualized murder mystery, based in part on who has the power of the gaze, who has been sidelined by desire, and how killing is a perverse sexual substitute. And even as the gravity of life and death are acknowledged, Gonzalez shares with De Palma a taste for the ridiculous, a recognition that movie violence can exorcise psychological demons precisely because it is not real, and the more outlandish the better.

Lena Dunham was a Manson cultist! Aha, the ex-boyfriend of Sharon Tate is played by Emile Hirsch – I’ve seen a bunch of his movies (including some great ones) but I never recognize him. Same goes for Scoot McNairy, who played Business Bob. Dunno what Kevin Smith’s daughter or Demi Moore’s daughter look like, but they were both in there somewhere.

Mostly I watched the movie so I could finally read all the articles about the movie…

ScreenCrush: “Cliff is actually the type of guy Rick plays on television.”

Roger Ebert: “a movie not so much about an era but about the movies of that era”

The movie’s wikipedia is surprisingly good, and I found an in-depth article on a music site about the song the ranch girls sing while dumpster diving.

Slashfilm has a LOT about the movie’s songs – I found it while searching for the “Behind the Green Door” novelty song DiCaprio sings badly on television in flashback (which is period-correct).

Burt Reynolds was supposed to play the blind ranch owner, but he died while rehearsing his lines. Pitt’s character was partly based on a stuntman who worked with Reynolds. And this is Tarantino’s second movie about a stuntman – the last one starred Kurt Russell (here he played the stunt coordinator on the Bruce Lee set) and Zoe Bell (she played Kurt’s wife whose car is wrecked by Pitt – and she’s the actual stunt coordinator of this movie).

For balance, The New Yorker was not impressed, says Tarantino is racist, sexist, and a wannabe cult-leader.

The Atlantic responds (“Charles Manson was a white supremacist, a fact that does tend to put a lot of white people in a movie”), attacking the New Yorker, and ending with a hilarious Brad Pitt anecdote.

This movie also contains a possible thesis statement on Hong’s cinema:
“Why do you take pictures?”
“Because the only way to change things is to look at everything again very slowly.”

Unfortunately, it’s also the worst movie of his I’ve seen. Everything’s going fine until Kim Min-hee meets Isabelle Huppert for the first time, they converse in English, and the movie stops flowing and I start feeling embarrassed for everybody. Set in Cannes, Kim is fired from her film sales company in the middle of the festival for sleeping with Film Director So (Jung Jin-young of Ring Virus), who is in a relationship with Kim’s boss (Chang Mi-hee of 36th Chamber: The Final Encounter). That situation’s not gonna resolve itself in 70 short minutes, and Huppert as a naive tourist blundering into meals and hangouts with the other three characters doesn’t add anything but international star power.

Of course, Sicinski and Bahadur on letterboxd put in more thought than this, figured out the point of Huppert’s connections, and appreciated the movie more than I did, so if letterboxd is still in business when I finally decide to go through all of Hong’s movies in a chronological marathon, remind me to re-read their reviews before rewatching this film.

A UFO called The Wild Boys made my top-ten list of 2018, so I tracked down some shorts by the same director to see what he’s on about.


Any Virgin Left Alive (2015)

A rude reimagining of the death of Joan of Arc (Elina Löwensohn). Only her eyes are burned, and she roams the battlefields in a metal mask, capturing and tormenting a young woman.

Amer-reminiscent:


Our Lady of Hormones (2014)

Two women come across a hairy, fleshy creature with a penile protuberance, squabble over its ownership and care. Löwensohn is eventually murdered with a sickle by Nathalie Richard (the great dancer from Up, Down, Fragile). These shorts have the Argento-Maddin coloring of The Wild Boys, and are similarly perverse fun. Narration by Michel Piccoli (currently his most recent credit), making this the Mandico film with the highest percentage of Rivette actors.


Living Still Life (2012)

A woman finds dead animals and poses them obsessively in stop-motion scenarios, stalked by a grieving man. Great sound and music and color, a perfect short, docked a couple points since I’ve recently seen A Zed and Two Noughts.


Ultra Pulpe (2018)

“I am the most hated filmmaker of my generation, the tribal pornographer, the scavenger of the genre. Who will remember me?” Absolute madness involving women and other creatures on a film set. Pascale Granel shot everything else I’ve seen by Mandico, now Sylvain Verdet takes over… I don’t know either of them from anything else, just trying to keep up. Löwensohn and Richard are joined by Lola Créton (Bastards), two of the Wild Boys, and (as actors) the costume designer of Knife+Heart and Michael Haneke’s casting director.

Ukraine is Not a Brothel (2013)

“Kitty is filming this for some reason.” Fun, newsy doc about feminists in Ukraine who stage topless public actions and usually get arrested, traveling to other countries to protest in India, getting terrorized by cops in Belarus.

“We get money from charitable donations. We don’t know exactly where the money comes from.” The movie takes a turn upon the introduction of Victor, the man in the shadows who organizes all public appearances of this “feminist” group. “Girls are weak,” he says, then “My influence on the girls is the very same as the patriarchal influence against which we are protesting.”

Victor’s expression when asked if he started Femen to get chicks… which he did:


The Face of Ukraine: Casting Oksana Baiul (2015)

A bunch of girls audition to play Ukraine’s first olympic champ. Perfect stepping-stone film between the two features, too short to make much of an impact, though when all the girls are trying to cry it made me wanna cry.


Casting JonBenet (2017)

Casting sessions for each role in a theoretical JonBenet Ramsey movie, shot in Boulder where the murder took place, cutting between actor reactions. After some desperate attempts to connect themselves with the case or the family, some of them start going through their own family traumas.

The would-be policeman-actors run through the investigation, criticizing and analyzing the work of their real-life counterparts two decades earlier. Each family member gets scrutinized. We get numerology, and perverse conspiracy theories playing out like the final scenes of Top of the Lake. My birds got triggered when the JonBenets demonstrated their screaming abilities – I wonder if that’s where I stopped the movie the first time I tried to watch it. Music by Nathan Larson of Shudder to Think! This played True/False in 2017, and is one of the most perfectly True/Falsey movies I’ve seen.

A theater group – not a very good one – is rehearsing the 1921 satire The Insect Play, but the guy playing Dung Beetle (Jirí Lábus, of a fascinating-sounding 1994 version of Amerika) keeps hallucinating insects (real and stop-motion) while learning his lines.

From the very beginning, Svankmajer and his crew appear onscreen, like the DVD extras have been cut into the feature. After a scene it’ll show the filming, the animation, direction, insect wrangling, sound effects (with constant scraping and clanking sounds plus the insect patter, they’re great throughout), or interview the actors about their dreams.

Fun movie, and only 93 minutes, a breeze to watch. To that point, it doesn’t seem like Svankmajer’s most consequential film, nor does it appear to be some kind of final statement on his career, unless I’m missing something about the Insect Play. Ungenerously, one could say choice of subject combined with the mechanics of behind-the-scenes production is the last word on his preference against humans and their messy realities. Jan: “I direct it like an animated film or puppet theater – short takes, minimal movement of the camera, stylized acting, no psychology, as if the actors had wires attached to the head and strings on the arms.”

Watching movies from last year’s Sundance and Rotterdam this week… this one premiered in Rotterdam’s Signatures section, playing with The Wandering Soap Opera, Lover for a Day, Mrs. Fang and Lek and the Dogs.

Love to spend years following rumors of the recreation of the lost masterpiece by an all-time great filmmaker, only for the thing to finally appear direct-to-video, then watch it in fragments over a week of late nights because I keep falling asleep. I watched the previously released scenes of this in the early days of the movie blog, never thinking there’d be a feature, and here we are, not quite knowing what to put in quote marks (the “complete” feature “by” Welles). Rosenbaum approves, so who am I to argue?

Stills, narration, and the line “that was long before cellphone cameras” mar the opening minutes, then hammy P-Bog becomes a main character, and the movie’s in trouble. It recovers easily – a party film with a magnetic John Huston as the Wellesian center, artists and hangers-on all around, cutting all over the place, and then the scenes of Huston’s never-to-be-completed film (this is an extremely self-aware movie – even Hammy P-Bog appears to be playing “hammy” “p-bog”), a miniature, fragmented work inside the work, which is both a beautiful art film and a pretentious parody of a beautiful art film, problematically starring an always-nude Oja Kodar, who in fact cowrote this film, making it knowingly, self-parodically problematic, I guess. Playfully homoerotic dialogue, apparently documentary sections, and all the colored lights making this more Suspiria-like than the Suspiria remake. The whole project and its implications fill your brain up all the way. Besides P-Bog there are a few overdone performances – I’m thinking of the film critic (Susan Strasberg) and Zimmy The Southern Gentleman (Cameron Mitchell) – but on first viewing it seemed 15% tiresome, 85% wonderful.


They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead (2018, Morgan Neville)

I remember this being fun… let’s see, my notes say “uses every bit of Welles footage they could find to place in dialogue with interviewees” and “ends with Why Can’t I Touch It, wow.” I should watch the making-of and the new Mark Cousins doc then rewatch the feature, but I also got things going on besides Orson.

Last year I closed LNKarno with the top prizewinner Girl From Nowhere, but I’ve already suffered through Story of My Death once, so this year I picked a closer from competition which I was sure to enjoy. It’s somewhat of a comedy, coming out between In Another Country and Hill of Freedom – I’m gradually filling in the gaps of recent work but still haven’t caught anything pre-2010. We get a series of scenes of people in conversation drinking too much in no-fuss compositions interrupted only by the occasional reframing zoom – just what we were hoping for.

Sunhi out drinking with the Professor:

Sunhi (Yu-mi Jung: Oki, also in Train to Busan) is visiting the city where she attended school, aiming to get a letter of recommendation from her professor (Sang-Jung Kim, the main guy’s friend in The Day He Arrives) for a graduate film program. They meet up in the park, and he turns in a letter that’s fairly complimentary, but also says she might have good ideas but he wouldn’t know since she’s too reserved and doesn’t work well with others.

Sunhi out drinking with Munsu:

She spots her ex Munsu (Sun-kyun Lee of Hong’s other 2013 student-teacher relationship movie Nobody’s Daughter Haewon) and calls him up to where she’s having a lonely drink, says she saw his film and that it was good but too much about their relationship. These two talk for hours (he orders a bottle of soju, then after a cut there are four on the table) and he blurts out “if I make films till I die, they’ll all be about you” and demands to know why she broke up with him, so she walks out and he goes off to bother his ex-friend Jaehak (Jae-yeong Jeong, lead of Right Now, Wrong Then).

Sunhi out drinking with Jaehak:

Sunhi asks the professor about the reference letter, hangs out over drinks with him, he explains that he wrote it in a hurry and can probably do better, then runs off to tell Jaehak about this wonderful girl he likes. Later, Sunhi spots Jaehak and they go out, as captured in an epic 10+ minute shot. They talk about the other two guys, Jaehak puts the pieces together, but he’s falling for Sunhi. Now all three guys are mooning over her, but Sunhi’s got her own life, collects the much-improved recommendation from the professor and ditches all three guys at the park.

Alice Stoehr on Letterboxd:

She drinks too much soju and leans on them in the street. The men speak with each other, repeating phrases they’d said to her. Deja vu permeates Our Sunhi, as it resounds both with echoes of Hong’s earlier work and with its own internal rhymes … She’ll always be embittered and mistreated and a little too drunk. The men will always be selfish, in performances that are broad enough to be quite funny but still true enough that they hurt.


Besides checking Letterboxd, Critics Round Up and Cinema Scope for reviews of the LNKarno movies I watched this week, I went looking for 2013 festival coverage by media sites that haven’t folded and vanished since then…

Michael Pattison in Slant recommends The Green Serpent and Costa da Morte, and says The Unity of All Things “caused more walkouts in its first 10 minutes than any other.”

Richard Porton in Cineaste talks up Manakamana, A Masque of Madness, and the restoration of Batang West Side (“certainly the most notable film to ever take place in Jersey City”).

Agnieszka Gratza in Frieze covers Exhibition and Lo que el fuego me trajo, and found Pays Barbare more gripping than I did.

Based on Jaimey Fisher’s writeup in Senses of Cinema, El Mudo, Wetlands, and maybe the Aoyama sound good.