Some things I wrote down:

absolute pre-war depravity
urgent manual camera movement mixed with drone shots, real bizarre
a cinephile nazi movie
german Inland Empire

Tom Schilling is our man, falling for barmaid law student Saskia Rosendahl (both actors from Never Look Away), getting fired from his cigarette advertising job, dealing with the suicide of rich political friend Albrecht Schuch (the new All Quiet on the Western Front). This would make a cool double-feature with Transit by Graf’s Dreileben buddy Petzold, both movies ending with a person waiting hopefully in a cafe waiting for someone who will never appear.

Frames within frames:

Hidden name on an artboard, gone when cutting to the next angle:

Hell of an accidental death for our man:

A new horror anthology, with a bunch of directors and actors I like. For those of us who still miss Masters of Horror and won’t watch American Horror Story.


Lot 36 (Guillermo Navarro)

Aaaand it’s not starting out too great. Series producer Guillermo Del Toro wrote this for his longtime cinematographer to direct. Tim Blake Nelson is a bitter, racist veteran, in debt to some dangerous dudes, buying abandoned storage units in hopes of turning a profit off the junk inside. He finds some rare German books in a dead nazi’s unit, and cult expert Sebastian Roché offers to buy them for 10k, or 300k if Tim can find the missing book. They return to the unit together, find the hidden passage behind the false wall, and CG Cthulhu eats Sebastian Roché.

Tim finding the book in less than mint condition:


Graveyard Rats (Vincenzo Natali)

Hmmm, another gross guy in debt trying to make quick cash off the dead… two episodes, and the series is already in a rut. Much more silly dialogue in this one, as David Hewlett (of Natali’s Cube and Splice) robs graves (and other grave robbers). Afraid of rats and confined spaces, of course he becomes buried alive in a rat tunnel, and wouldn’t you know it, he finds another Cthulhu down there. He smooshes the giant blind mama rat, evades a zombie chanting “mine mine mine” like a Nemo seagull or a Jon Spencer song, does not make it out, and gets the Creepshow roach ending.


The Autopsy (David Prior)

More dead bodies, another tentacle creature, and going from a rat cave to a mine. This one is much more complex and original, with elegant camerawork tying the night sky to underground rock to a spiderweb. Sheriff Glynn Turman investigates a bombing that killed some miners, and the stolen identity of late miner Luke Roberts (Batman’s dad in the latest reboot) while Dr. F. Murray Abraham digs through the bodies. One body comes alive, knocks out Dr. Abraham and self-autopsies while meticulously explaining his evil plan (“we have inhabited men for millennia” – it’s a Hidden situation). Given the extra time to plan, and seeing as how he’s dying from cancer anyway, Abraham sabotages his own body to trap the alien when it takes over.


The Outside (Ana Lily Amirpour)

Stacey works at a bank where she doesn’t fit in, shoots and taxidermies ducks in her spare time, is married to cop Martin Starr (blinded in Infinity Baby). She gets addicted to a pricey lotion (with TV spokesman Dan Stevens) that turns everyone else beautiful but only gives her a bad rash, so she uses more and more of it, until she meets her The Stuff doppelganger and they re-enact the end of Annihilation, then she kills her husband and goes to work. Excellent performance by Kate Micucci (Garfunkel and Oates) trapped in a grueling, overlong episode.

This opens with scenes of death camp nazis bulldozing bodies… Indian starvation camps… mutilated Korean War orphans, and so on, a Faces of Death montage. Feels like an poor way to set the tone for your stupid horror movie, but it turns out they’re making a more socially conscious version of Village of the Damned, and the kids’ psychic murder rampage is payback for all the needless child death caused by adult decisions.

English couple travels to a Spanish island for vacation, having never heard of the Spanish language or culture before, and they happen to arrive on the day the kids rise up against adults. A good British person, he’s obsessed with never telling his pregnant wife what’s happening – when he witnesses the kids string up an adult as a human piñata and attack it with a scythe, he insists to her that it’s nothing, and everything’s fine. This is his fatal flaw, since he becomes convinced that the kids are monsters and she doesn’t, so she wrecks the car when he tries to run them down while escaping. Her own baby attacks her from inside, and he gets a Night of the Living Dead ending when a postman from the mainland sees him killing a kid and shoots him.

Serrador made The House That Screamed, which I didn’t love, but this was on some horror lists and proved to be good and messed-up. The lead guy was in Dr. Phibes Rises Again and his wife in The Secret of Seagull Island. DP José Luis Alcaine has been an Almodóvar regular since Volver.

“Lenny’s a racist, but he’s one of the good ones.” Filipe’s short letterboxd review kept coming to mind, “the overall absurdism does have its moments and Morris’s anger comes through,” especially when the movie ends with cops and feds getting cheerfully promoted for destroying the lives of cool weirdos. Lead weirdo is Moses, who runs a black militant duck farm. Agent Anna Kendrick is looking for people to set up to take credit for saving the world from terrorism I guess. The feds determine Moses’s crew is no threat, but after Moses sells fake uranium to nazi cop Jim Gaffigan (!), the higher-ups get involved and everybody below goes to jail.

Moses presides:

Danielle Brooks (Clemency the same year) gives Santa a touch-up:

Afrika nails informant Kayvan Novak (Four Lions):

Movie about a poor hotelier who’s being distracted from his job by flashbacks and allegations from when he was a mass murderer. Max (Losey regular Dirk Bogarde, a couple years before Providence) had passed himself off as a doctor during the war, “none of his patients survived.” Max has a cabal of nazis working on his legal case… including Greyburns (Gabriele Ferzetti, interrogator of The Confession, also of Fulci’s The Psychic) and Monocle Guy (Philippe Leroy of Le Trou). But the appearance of his surviving victim Charlotte Rampling (never seen her so young, she costarred with Connery in Zardoz the same year) throws everything off. Dirk and Charlotte have some kinda forbidden love thing going on, get gunned down at the end. The dubbing is slightly off, as are the characters… everyone here is psychotic, with no normal people to bounce off. Mike D’Angelo on letterboxd: “Mostly it’s tastefully dull.”

Nazi baroness dies giving birth in bombarded Berlin, the movie unconvincingly marrying perfect interiors with very rough stock footage. The baby is murdered, then in color the present-day baron speaks of a family curse, and a dirt-digging reporter gets her car pitchforked and runs headlong into the woods.

From here out, it’s your traditional story of a busload of people arriving at a haunted castle then getting killed one-by-one by a hot succubus in a revealing black dress, while the alchemist baron and his butler gradually parse out secrets. Not a generically bad horror movie though – it’s pretty much excellent from start to finish, including the ending where the devil deals with a priest to trade his soul for the bus people, then they all awaken and immediately die in a fiery bus crash.

Mouseover to manifest a succubus:
image

Brismée’s only feature, unfortunately! The writers made some 70’s porn, and this script was remade in 2012 by some low-budge Massachusetts residents. Rififi star Jean Servais plays the baron, Erika Blanc (The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave) the succubus, and Daniel Emilfork (OMG, Krank from City of Lost Children) the devil.

Naughty Krank:

Opens with Wallace Shawn in voiceover – he’s a playwright taking acting gigs, doing odd errands, going to dinner tonight with a man he’s been avoiding for years, once a friend and colleague and a celebrated theater director before he disappeared. The voiceover comes back to interrupt even after they start talking, but mostly Andre’s stories begin to take over the film.

“It has something to do with living.” Andre isn’t new age or hippie exactly, but very all-things-are-connected, seeing signs, everything is beautiful, living life for the first time, unusual coincidences, etc. He went to a forest in Poland to teach forty musical women about theater, compares the group’s trance activity to Hitler’s Nuremberg rallies, after which Wallace gives him a great look. Andre had a bad trip to the desert with a Japanese monk, was buried alive in India, compares himself to Albert Speer. When Wallace finally gets a whole line in, Andre mentions nazi death camps, what is it with this guy?

After Andre dominates for the first half, Wallace gets to tell a story of his own, which is about not being able to express himself. Andre says we’re all bored because of capitalism, and volunteers that New York is a concentration camp. References to Brecht, Sense & Sensibility, The Little Prince, Autumn Sonata. This is all leading to a blow-out fight, when Wallace can’t take his friend’s nonsense anymore – but it doesn’t, it leads to a good-natured disagreement. I can’t say I thought this movie was all that special for most of its runtime, or could figure out what it was getting at, but I can say it was a shock to experience good-natured disagreement in the climax of a film, and this should happen more often.

Been a long time since Too Early, Too Late, so it’s time to give some more Straub/Huillet films a watch, via the lovely new Grasshopper blu-ray. The first five minutes is about the least visually dynamic thing imaginable, but I like the sound recording of the answering choir. Then a long circular pan across a boring landscape, but at least the blue sky is nice. Looking on the bright side here.

Moses (guy in red pajamas with staff) meets A(a)ron (green headband) in the desert, and they bellow-sing at each other, presumably trying to mesmerize the other with their cadence and beards. Staff is turned into snake… Moses turns leprous and back again. The people are extremely confused after Moses leads them away then disappears for over a month, and Aaron tries to talk them down, but screws it up. They sing about the old and new gods as the picture goes all violet… oh no, they butcher a cow during their little knife dance. I was not expecting the phrase “Holy is genital power.” When Moses gets back, he and A. argue over the best way to teach these idiot people. Discussion of how to use words and images to express larger ideas to the idiots = CINEMA!

I only halfway followed this movie… honestly, have no idea what bible story, if any, it’s retelling, and I have no practice in following stories told in opera, even with the aid of subtitles. But it had been a long, unsatisfying work day, and on the drive home I thought of a bunch of movies I could watch, and this is the one that stood out. Straub/Huillet movies aren’t exactly my bag, but they’re not bad, and my total inability to figure out what they’re on about, plus their weird stasis and precision makes them extremely relaxing to watch. Aaron also has dreamy eyes… but the soundtrack was hit or miss (from my notes while watching: “ban woodwinds”). Based on the unfinished opera by modernist composer Arnold Schoenberg.

Ted Fendt in the liners:

Schoenberg was unable to write music for this [third] act of his opera. The impossibility of resolving the opera’s central issue or committing fully to one side could have been the cause. Works whose internal contradictions resisted them, resisted easy solutions, fascinated Straub and Huillet. Unresolved tensions abound in their work…


Introduction to Arnold Schoenberg’s “Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Scene” (1972)

Sort of an essay film. Some abrupt cuts and blackouts mid-speech. Music rises up halfway through. Majority of the film in b/w and in a recording booth. Brecht and other writers are mentioned… Schoenberg is mad about Kandinsky. It covers a lot of ground in 15 minutes.

Official description is needed for context: “a fierce condemnation of anti-Semitism and the barbaric war machine of capitalism, inspired by a letter written in 1923 by composer Arnold Schoenberg to painter Wassily Kandinsky.”


Machorka-Muff (1962)

“A satirical attack on West Germany’s re-armament and revival of militaristic tradition in the Adenauer era.” The most commercial-looking movie I’ve seen by them – based on a Heinrich Böll novel, as was Not Reconciled. Wikipedia may know why Böll was popular with the Straubs: “Böll was particularly successful in Eastern Europe, as he seemed to portray the dark side of capitalism in his books; his books were sold by the millions in the Soviet Union alone.” He would win a Nobel less than a decade after these adaptations came out.

“Maybe I’d have an affair with his wife… I’ve an appetite for petit bourgeois erotics sometimes.” We follow a general who is dedicating a building to a military bigwig who is posthumously judged a greater leader when it’s discovered that more of his men died in battle than was previously thought. Their debut short, and the only movie performance by Erich Kuby (a writer, journalist and “an important opponent of German rearmament”).


Not Reconciled (1964)

A boy is often beaten up at school – this isn’t shown, but discussed by a rapidfire narrator. A blonde hotel boy encounters a sheep-crazy knitting cult. Two identical-looking dudes out for lunch, the one in the lighter suit was darker-suit’s tormentor as a kid. Now architect Fahmel is narrating for us… I think we’re hopping between time periods… and it all ends in attempted murder. In general, I’m pretty sure I need to be smarter about European history and culture and politics to keep up with these movies, something they have in common with Godard. I can’t tell if it’s a stylistic choice for everyone to speak flatly, or if that’s just Germans… probably the former, since I know Bresson was an influence. The sound always matches camera angle, no attempt to smooth it out with room tone or make audio consistent between shots. From anyone else I’d assume it’s a technical limitation or lack of professionalism, but from these two I’m sure it’s a political position.

Thanks very much to Neil Bahadur for helping me make sense of this:

Not Reconciled charts a single family in two separate timelines – post World War 1 and post World War 2 – throughout these two timelines events will mirror each other and fold into the present of 1965. Virtually an attack on Germany more vicious than any Fassbinder picture, the purpose is to show the incompatibility of a democratic structure with the new ideas of the 19th and 20th century: communism and fascism. Straub shows us a post-war world where left and right never united after the collapse of both the German Empire and Nazism, and both periods lead (and presumed will lead) to essentially an internal and invisible cold war between classes and ideologies as both sections ascend to bourgeois standards of living – and in the first case, ends up leading to the failure of the left and the rise of fascism. The gun that goes off at the end of the film (in the present of 1965) is the only thing that prevents this.


Nick Pinkerton in Frieze:

The cinematic translation or transcription of texts – poems, letters, fragments, musical scores – is key to Straub-Huillet’s filmmaking practice, which began not in France but in Munich, where the couple landed in 1958 after Straub was faced with prison for his refusal to serve in the Algerian War. (They always put their money where their mouths were politically, and Straub has also crammed his foot in his gob more than a few times.)

“Despite the tendency to reduce their films to a uniform asceticism, there is no such thing as a typical Straub-Huillet film.”

“Don’t they know evil when they see it?”
“We are used to it now.

Main guy is August Diehl (title star of The Young Karl Marx) and wife Fani is Valerie Pachner, whose The Ground Beneath My Feet premiered a few months earlier. Very happy to see Franz Rogowski as a fellow prisoner in the second half – that guy is in both of my favorite movies of 2019.

Bilge Ebiri in Vulture:

You won’t find the delirious, extended montages of Knight of Cups or the galactic scope of Tree of Life here. Instead, Franz winds up in a series of almost philosophical dialogues, with priests, bureaucrats, prisoners, neighbors. Actually, it’s probably more accurate to call these loose monologues, since Franz remains mostly quiet throughout. But his very presence poses a question to these individuals about the problem of evil. “Which side are you on, and why?” he might as well be asking.

After Franz’s execution, the town seems to behave more tenderly towards the new widow. This is either my wishful thinking or Malick’s, since Bilge says of the real family: “the Jägerstätters were treated as outcasts and traitors by fellow Austrians well into the 1990s.”