Maria flees her town and moves into a house in the woods along with two pigs that she transforms into children and names Pedro and Ana. I think they’re hiding from a wolf outside, and after they almost die in a house fire Pedro drinks honey and turns white, and Ana swallows a songbird and gets a golden voice, then Maria is rescued after they try eating her… I dunno, I was too busy marveling at the look of this thing.

Smeary, drippy painting inside a real (model?) house, with doorways and props. But painted scenes will overwhelm doors and props as if they weren’t there, then form free-standing stop-motion models within the room, 2D artworks interacting with 3D objects, the wall art constantly shifting and the models always making and unmaking themselves, styles of the characters changing. Rustling and rubbing sounds accompany all the visual shifting, wires and cellophane hold the models in place, and I think it’s all fluid transitions with no traditional editing.

I’d forgotten about the brief TV-footage framing story, but did wonder why Maria sometimes spoke German. Apparently this is a fairy-tale reference to a notorious German-led cult and Pinochet torture compound, active in Chile for decades.

Cartoon Brew:

During the research process, the filmmakers discovered that the German members of the community used to call their Chilean neighbors ‘schweine’. This led them to conceive of the two children in the story as piglets, and depict their progressive transformation into Aryan humans as an ironic joke aping the community’s racial ideology.

Walker has an interview with the directors, including some amazing production details, and their self-set rules for animation and sound design:

We had a literary script, with the dialogues of the film, a really simple storyboard, basically with one image per scene … Our day-to-day work was to find a way to connect one image with the other … The specific actions of each scene were improvised.

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.

This year’s True/False was pried in between two moves and the China trip, so I made a point to schedule two of the Chinese movies playing. This one’s about painting and a scenic retreat, figured it’d at least be some nice scenery a la last year’s Next Guardian. Turned out to be an excellent movie by an unknown master of the “sixth generation” who often casts people as themselves.

A squarish aspect ratio helps him create compositions that look like the paintings which he explicitly mirrors. The movie plays like a slice-of-life village portrait that happens to mostly be set at a painters retreat, with a birth, a death, a wedding. You wouldn’t necessarily know about the documentary aspects – and I still don’t, since we skipped the Q&A to get snacks – except that we see the women sketching and painting, and most of the character names match the actor names in the credits.

River Arkansas opened with a pleasant sort of country thing, and I noted not to get the french toast next time we’re at Cafe Berlin.

“The world has become more Wellesian… things seem exaggerated.” The narration is written as a letter to the late Orson, and I thought this might get too cutesy, then I recalled that I never get tired of listening to Mark Cousins. He emulates Welles’ camera moves as he did in The Story of Film. Welles took a trip to Ireland to paint in the early 1930’s, then Morocco, and Cousins shows the evolution of his sketches, travels to these places himself and films them in the present day. He ties the films to the radio plays, to the paintings, to international politics. It’s a cradle-to-grave career bio-doc like I’ve never seen, integrating the life with the art, half a rich analysis and half a love poem.

The original Faces Places, displaying and discussing L.A.’s murals with the artists and residents.

No onscreen text – she introduces the artists verbally, and when the camera shows a new piece (constantly), a whispered voiceover says the name of the painter.

The Illegals perform probably the best-ever punk song in a Varda film.

Agnès talks about the sky with a hare krishna holding an Alice Coltrane record. Juliet Berto shows up regularly, just wandering through. Street artists (and punk bands) sure didn’t dress very cool in 1980.

This is from Varda’s second Los Angeles relocation, the first a decade earlier represented by Uncle Yanco, Black Panthers and Lions Love.

A series of episodes of Juliette Binoche at various stages of breaking up and getting together with different men, trying to find something that works – mostly conversations shot in longish takes, with one musical exception in the middle. It feels strangely plotted for a conventional movie, and strangely conventional for a Claire Denis movie.

Juliette is breaking up with a banker who wants to continue having an affair and won’t leave his wife – the movie opens with a sex scene between them, and a few scenes later she’s kicking him out of her studio, telling him to never come back. Then there’s a false start with an actor (Denis film veteran Nicolas Duvauchelle), the relationship ending before it really kicked off. Her ex-husband comes over for afternoon sex, then later she tries (and fails) to get back his keys to her apartment (they have a daughter together whom we barely see).

Juliette and the banker:

I think we get an increase in the quality of men as the movie goes on. In the second half, mysterious stranger Sylvain appears at a party, they dance to “At Last” by Etta James and start dating. Juliette is an artist who works with art gallery people – she stands out from them at times, curses their snobbery when on a walk in the country, but they’re still her people and she listens to their bad advice. Terrible wavy-haired Fabrice says she needs to dump Sylvain and date “within her milieu,” she takes this to heart and the lovers argue. She finds out Alex Descas is interested in her (though we’ve seen him with Maxine from the art gallery), and finally there are too many guys with unclear statuses, so she visits a psychic for advice.

Juliette and Sylvain:

Alex and Maxine:

The psychic is Gérard Depardieu, shown in the previous scene breaking up with a girl in a car. Juliette shows him pictures, describes her current possibilities, asks Gérard with whom she can find happiness – and he hilariously adds himself into the mix, describing the kind of man she truly needs with all his own traits. In maybe the movie’s most unusual stylistic quirk, the entire closing credits roll over this scene, so it can cut to black and end after Juliette’s final smile.

Denis fills the supporting cast with fellow filmmakers. The banker from the opening scene is Xavier Beauvois (Of Gods and Men, and before this movie we saw a preview for his The Guardians). Maxine is Josiane Balasko, who has directed movies starring Isaach de Bankolé, Jean-Pierre Leaud, Isabelle Huppert, Michael Lonsdale, and so on. Bruno Podalydès is the guy who insists Binoche date within her milieu, has directed nine or ten movies including a remake of The Mystery of the Yellow Room. And Valeria Bruni Tedeschi (who got dumped by Gerard Depardieu) was in Cannes five years ago having written/directed/starred in A Castle in Italy.

Anne (Mary Margaret O’Hara: Catherine’s sister, known as a singer) is called from Montreal to Austria for being her cousin-in-a-coma’s closest relative. Not having any conscious friends in town and without much expendable travel money, she hangs out extensively in an art museum, where she meets guard Johann. They start to meet outside the museum in his off hours too, though unusually, the movie never becomes a romance.

Cohen:

The audience has been conditioned to automatically think this will be a love story … But the cinema I care most about is about the drive toward the everyday, how we actually do live, how we feel, about things that actually happen. People love the fairy tale, but that’s not what happens here. It’s weird that there aren’t more movies about friendship.

Sometimes we linger quietly in the museum or around the city of Vienna – slowly, rhythmically edited slideshows of miniature scenes. Johann sometimes narrates, says his favorite is the Bruegel room, and we get a long sidetrack following a tour guide discussing Bruegel’s paintings with tourists, including the painting that was meticulously recreated in The Mill and the Cross. We see reality emulating the paintings when the museum attendees are portrayed as nude as some of the painting subjects they’re admiring, and I assumed that was a one-off quirk. But there’s a moment early on which I think lets us in on a prime Cohen concern: Johann is scrutinizing a Bruegel, seeing previously unnoticed details, and we cut from stray garbage on the ground of the painting’s scene to stray garbage on the ground in a nearby park, with equal attention paid to each. The movie ends with Johann’s museum-style narration of a humble windowboxed street scene, and other scenes nearby, art criticism of the everyday world… “and one begins to wonder what the main subject is.”

Cohen is, of course, the director of Benjamin Smoke, which I bought on DVD a decade ago and have never watched. He’s a music scene guy – the film was exec produced by Guy Picciotto and Patti Smith, and…

Adam Cook:

It sounds like a terribly dry and academic exploration (and there is even an art history lesson halfway through) but there is a great warmth and intimacy here reflected in the human connections and ephemeral details that surround the characters … Any film that encourages an audience to engage with the world, seeing both the cities we live in and their transient beauty anew, without resorting to manipulative sentiment must be applauded.

The first roundup of misc shorts since the last one.


Tome of the Unknown: Harvest Melody (2013, Patrick McHale)

Wirt and Greg are heading somewhere, manage to get a ride with pumpkin-man John Crops to vegetable city, where they accidentally unleash the fury of the crows. Would play as a deleted scene from Over The Garden Wall if not for bluebird Beatrice’s different voice and some more cartoonish facial expressions. I’m guessing with the Harvest Melody subtitle that he’d planned to make more standalone shorts like this, but then they made the full series.


The Umbrella Man (2011, Errol Morris)

A web mini-doc on a single detail of the Zapruder film: a single man with an umbrella on the cloudless day Kennedy was shot. Interview with JFK assassination expert Tink Thompson, who sets up the mystery, then explains it was discovered that the man was making an obscure visual protest against a policy by JFK’s father.


Demon in the Freezer (2016, Errol Morris)

“Why is it so important to make the monkeys sick?”

The argument over preserved samples of smallpox virus – whether they should be kept, and for what purpose? Floated: vaccines and biological warfare with the Russians. I don’t know a whole lot about smallpox but it sounds horrible.


Dog (2002, Suzie Templeton)

A sick/dying/dead dog, a father, a boy, a murder, a patch of either blood or mold upon a wall, and the most disturbing stop-motion I’ve seen this side of Robert Morgan.


Oskar Kulicke and the Pacifist (1952, Kurt Weiler)

I loved The Apple, so watched some more puppet shorts by Weiler. Bricklayer Oskar endures the whining of a pansy pacifist then sets him straight, asking how the pacifist will like it when he’s conscripted after a U.S. invasion. No, pacifism is dumb and learning proper use of arms is essential, Oskar concludes.

The U.S. military elite:


Heinrich The Dysfunctional: A German Elegy (1965, Kurt Weiler)

Surprising to watch this right after the other, since it’s about a failed German invasion of Poland in 1472 due to misfortune and royal idiocy. King of Libnitz attacks Cracow in order to obtain liquor and a young bride. After recruiting a traitorous young goat farmer, the king makes it to the enemy castle, only to be pissed on by the local kids and sent home on a manure cart, all his cannons destroyed. “The fatal flaw of the heroic German character: thirst trumps wisdom.”

Last-minute reprieve for the goat farmer:

Ceremonial welcome:


Nörgel & Söhne (1968-70, Kurt Weiler)

Three-part story of how the nomadic Nörgel clan developed tools and farming, then trade, then currency. Character-based stop-motion with some fun material tricks with liquids, animals and the heavens. Nörgel becomes more of a brutal slavemaster the closer he gets to modern capitalism, and in the end he retires and reads Marx’s Das Capital (historical chronology is shifty in these movies) and regrets the awful thing he’s done.

Barter calculations:


Street of Crocodiles (1986, Quays)

Live-action man spits into the machinery, activating it, and releases stop-motion man who creeps into a dusty world of pulleys and screws populated by hollow-headed dolls. Wonderful string music. I still don’t know what it all means, been meaning to get the Bruno Schulz book forever now, but it’s all so dusty and textural and mesmerizing in its mysterious movements.


Quay (2015, Christopher Nolan)

Eight-minute trip to the Quays’ workshop featuring some Street of Crocodiles puppets and commentary on their methods. I suppose splashing Nolan’s name across the blu-ray package was meant to get new people interested in their work, kinda like “JJ Abrams presents Phantasm: Remastered“. I hope it’s working.


Esperalia (1983, Jerzy Kalina)

A guy goes slow-mo crawling through the forest overlaid by patterns and rotoscope lines, seeing visions and phantoms, with an increasingly disturbed soundtrack.


The Public Voice (1988 Lejf Marcussen)

Magnifying glass reveals the blueprints beneath paintings, the lines behind the lines behind the lines. Slow zooms in and out as patterns and figures slowly prove to be details within other works, a visual art history folded into itself. I didn’t recognize most of the work, but there’s some Dali and Bosch in there.

Rutger Hauer plays Bruegel planning his painting “The Way to Calvary,” as Majewski uses CG backdrops a la The Lady and the Duke, posing actors (including Charlotte Rampling and Michael “Basil Exposition” York) to create a series of motion tableaus instead of relying on dialogue and story. Like living inside a painting for a couple hours, a series of smaller compositions forming a part of a climactic larger one. I’m glad that at least in Poland it won costume and production design awards, which it richly deserved.