Owl (2019, Kelly Reichardt & Christopher Blauvelt)

A beautiful bird, silent in low light, turns its head in every possible direction.


Leagues (2015, Lucrecia Martel)

Low POV shots through tall grasses as a motorcyclist bitches at some kids that they can’t let their cows eat on community land. The kids go indoors where they learn about measurement and ownership of land. This felt like an educational piece even before the onscreen text told us that things are bad for Argentinean kids. Martel killing time before Zama.


A Therapy (2012, Roman Polanski)

One of of those auteur advertisements for a fashion brand, but this one is… good. I mean every minute of this is better than any minute of Carnage. Helena Bonham Carter arrives for her therapy appointment and sets to recounting her dreams (“doctor, what does it mean?”) while Ben Kingsley becomes transfixed by the fur coat she entered with, walking to it unseen by his patient and trying it on.


The Stendhal Syndrome or My Dinner with Turhan Bey (2020, Mark Rappaport)

Joan Crawford in Humoresque, “the greatest closeup ever made.” Mark references his own Rock Hudson movie. While researching orientalism he discovered Turkhan Bey, an Austrian-Turkish-Jewish-Czech actor. Discussion of stars and their admirers, the possibility that Mark is the last person in history to swoon over Bey before his work is forgotten. This was charming, with Mark’s casually delivered voiceover and carefully composited picture – the first of his cinema-history video-essays I’ve watched.

Camille is home during WWI waiting for her man, and when he sends a letter telling her to stop writing, she cuts her hair short and sneaks out of town, hoping to blend in with soldiers while tracking him down. She joins an increasingly suspicious troop company – turns out they’re deserters heading to the Belgian border, and they have a habit of pulling out makeshift instruments and singing a continuing song about a blind girl. The men get sick and fall in holes and hide in caves, she helps by killing a lookout guard, she admits her name is Camille but they continue thinking she’s a boy, somehow.

I was right to think this would pair well with A Very Long Engagement. She is Sylvie Testud (in Vengeance, stars in La Captive) and her man, who appears at the end, is Guillaume Depardieu (the same year he was very good in Don’t Touch the Axe). A European Barn Owl can be seen – and heard – towards the end, which gains the movie an automatic half star, but it doesn’t need to kiss up to me with owls, I was already charmed. On letterboxd it looks like nobody loved this, so now I guess I’ve gotta see his other features, which nobody also loved.

This was the end of a successful Cannes Fortnight, in which I watched a bunch of movies I’d never seen by directors who had new work premiering at Cannes: Serge Bozon, the Dardennes, Claire Denis, Hlynur Pálmason, Cristian Mungiu, George Miller, Sergei Loznitsa, Jerzy Skolimowski, and David Cronenberg.

Gorgeous nature footage with French voiceover, from the Winged Migration people. It introduces skits of Early Man into the natural world, and as human civilization advances the movie builds to a second half about how we’re destroying the environment and murdering all the beauty from the first half.

There is in fact a spider, also a cat and a couple dogs, and MVP: an owl in a tree. Mainly it’s a breakup movie, Lisa moving out of Mara’s place into her own new place, family and friends and neighbors turning out to help, and Mara lurking and sulking. Doesn’t exactly have a strong narrative drive – it does have that surprising sense of discovery in the camera angles and scene structure that I loved in The Strange Little Cat. For the first half I was thinking “ehh there’s not much here,” and in the second half: “I’m German now and everyone in this movie is my friend.” Speaking of German, while listening to the words I learned that Hans Zimmer’s last name is Room, and Carolee Schneemann’s is Snowman.

Blake in ‘Scope:

Character motivation and cause-and-effect logic is either nonexistent or gets buried beneath myriad layers of movement and spoken phrases that may or may not make any sense to us. We can only get caught up and washed along in the film’s beautiful display of things resuming, moving along, never being the same again … A cut in a Zürcher film, especially this one, is almost always a revealing, never a suture. It exposes the mark that we heard being etched; the angle that reconfigures our understanding of the spatial dynamics of the setting or environment; the beholder that we and/or the character couldn’t sense was present watching what we were watching — the subject we never knew our gaze belonged to. There’s an acknowledgment, shot to shot, cut to cut, that there is more to the world than what we can presently see or say that we know … And at the present moment, I can think of few worthier undertakings for a narrative cinema practice than one that challenges and is curious about the ways that humans perceive themselves, others, and the perceptions of others.

On the plus side, the psycho murdering an entire theater group trapped in a locked building is wearing a beautiful owl mask. On the minus, as noted by a letterboxd user this is “super limp [with] dogshit gore FX, awful sound mix, lame characters.” I also felt like it was holding back for a PG rating, feeling tame despite the chopped-off body parts. So, the worst of the four Soavi horrors, but also the earliest – and the climactic scene where the final girl is retrieving a key amidst the Owl’s murder tableau looked great.

A collaboration from the writers of Porno Holocaust and Ghosthouse (there’s your problem). Old Cop was Mickey Knox of the Roger Corman Frankenstein. The Brave Theater Director (who once throws an actress at the chainsaw-wielding killer to save himself) is David Brandon of Jubilee. The actor/dancer who was supposed to play the owl and the security guy who finally shoots the murderous fake owl had both played in City of the Living Dead, and final girl Barbara Cupisti would return as art restorationist of The Church.

Paper-cutout people make out in a lovely owl forest. The man dreams of breaking past a line of police and storming the D.C. Capitol – this is set in Vietnam-era, but January 2021 is funny timing for such a sentiment. A burst of nudity, profanity and violence after they scale a fence and the man is impaled by a unicorn, and I was ready to write this off as low-rent edgelord animation, but the movie changes course dramatically – I got caught up in it, and gotta admit with its scale, ambition and budget, the animation gets the job done.

Lauren Grey is a globetrotting zoo agent, capturing mythical creatures (cryptids) and giving them nice captive zoo-bound lives, fighting off enemy agents who want the cryptids for private sale… the zoo’s real motives are questioned as its moneyed owner fucks a bigfoot in her castle tower, tables are turned, the traumatized woman from the beginning releases the most dangerous caged beasts, and all hell breaks loose.

“Everything’s shit. The only thing that’s not shitty is sleep”

I’ve apparently seen this before, under its Cemetery Man title, in some 90s VHS horror binge-watch, but remembered nothing of its greatness. Hard to believe that after the cool The Church, then the excellent The Sect, Soavi made a great English-language (with proper sync!) horror-comedy, as crazy as his others and just consistently high-quality in every department.

“Go away, I haven’t got time for the living.”

Gaunt Rupert Everett is our cemetery man, disaffected as he blasts the heads off the reanimated bodies of townspeople he buried the week before, living in a split shack with his assistant Nagi (Francois Hadji-Lazaro of City of Lost Children), keeping things pretty quiet and off the grid until Nagi falls for the mayor’s daughter, who goes riding with her biker boyfriend’s gang and gets into a wreck with a bus full of boyscouts, which brings public and government attention to the cemetery, along with a busload of new zombies. Rupert falls in love with a Mysterious Woman who keeps reappearing, sometimes as a zombie and sometimes as a whole new character.

An American movie might’ve kept this story going and lead to a conventional climax, but Soavi has to go bigger and weirder – after the grim reaper tells him to stop killing the dead, Rupert wheels into town and mass-murders the living – or somebody does, but even though we see him committing these crimes, the cops refuse to treat him as a suspect. “Somebody’s stolen my crimes.” Nagi digs up his beloved’s head, which can move on its own and takes up residence in his broken television. Rupert tries to make himself surgically impotent so the new mayor’s hot secretary (the Mysterious Woman again) will stay with him… he sleeps with a student then sets her on fire… then he and Nagi flee town and discover the rest of the world doesn’t exist.

The movie opens very promisingly, with an owl… then things get nuts real fast. A team of knights are led by a Gilliam-looking toadie to a cave full of witches – innocent-looking, but supposedly cursed by the cross-shaped mark under their feet. All-out massacre ensues, beheadings from Knight-POV, the camera inside their helmets with cross-shaped viewports, as a Philip Glass tune plays. After stumbling across Soavi last SHOCKtober with The Sect, I was right to check out his other work, though are all his movies about basement-dwelling satanic cults?

Soavi worked with Gilliam on Baron Munchausen the year before this:

Flash-forward a few hundred years, it’s the first day for church librarian Tomas Arana (a cook on the Red October the following year). He’s almost hit by stuff falling off an art restoration scaffold (shades of Don’t Look Now), later makes out with the artist Barbara Cupisti (Argento’s Opera), then finds an ancient parchment and imagines it could be the secret to a lost science that could turn him into a god – not bad for a first day! Genius codebreaker Tomas figures out that the ancient runes are just mirror-writing, sneaks into the church at night and unleashes demons. These crazy demonic effects scenes are where Soavi’s movies really excel, laying all other late-80’s movie demons to waste, and with his crazed angles and quick, precise camera moves, it feels like Sam Raimi must’ve been a fan.

Back to the plot, Tomas is now obviously possessed and creeping on 13-year-old Asia Argento, daughter of the churchwarden, who sneaks out to discos at night. Her dad Roberto Corbiletto (Fellini’s Voice of the Moon the next year) has also lost his mind, suicides by jackhammer on the cursed cornerstone in front of horrified priest Hugh Quarshie (Nightbreed), his blood setting an ancient rube goldberg into motion, locking everyone including a wedding-photo party and a class of kids inside the church.

Asia wearing Eastern Europe:

I can’t tell what old bishop Feodor Chaliapin (Inferno) is up to – he understands what’s happening, but doesn’t appear to be helping. Meanwhile, innocents are being abducted by caped demons or eaten by giant lizards, a woman cheerfully beheads her husband, and another escapes into subway tunnels only to get mooshed by a train.

Enraged Corbiletto:

Father Corbiletto is alive again, I guess, and has gone fully mental, kills the schoolteacher in a rage – none of the kids seem to notice, since they are in the pews bonding over Nietzsche quotes (seriously). The restoration artist is raped by a goat-devil. Fortunately, Asia remembers the opening scene from a millennium before she was born, and tells Priest Hugh that if he pulls the murder-dildo from the skull of the church architect in a basement crypt, the whole church will collapse, killing everyone and ending the curse. As the bodies of the damned rise in a giant mud-dripping mass, he triggers the ancient self-destruct sequence as Asia escapes.

The good content you crave:

The dubbing is appalling, but the music (by Glass, Keith Emerson, and Goblin) is very good – demons whisper from the soundtrack, a welcome relief from the screaming strings of the netflix movies. Filmed in Hungary, since it was hard to find any churches willing to let them shoot all this satanic shit. Originally posited as Demons 3, then rewritten when Soavi came aboard – Cannibal Ferox auteur Umberto Lenzi would finally crank out a third Demons a couple years later.

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.