As far as I could remember from watching the early Criterion disc in 1999, this was a short-ish movie about bell casting, so imagine my surprise discovering that it’s a long-ish episodic movie about a painter with an extended bell-casting sequence at the end. Not my favorite Tarkovsky – too Catholic, and I think we’re supposed to know something about 1400’s Russian art history going in, because otherwise there’s not much drama following around this painter who never paints anything.

Turns out I also remembered the intro – a man flying away on ropes and balloons – a soviet myth according to the commentary, of the first flight of man – followed by a shot of a horse rolling over. Andrei and fellow painter/monks Kiril and Danil take shelter in their travels and witness a profane jester being brutalized by the cops.

Danil, Andrei, Kiril:

Some years later, an elder painter named Theo invites Andrei to work with him, invoking jealousy from the other monks, particularly whiny bitch Kiril, who beats his dog in anger (the movie is not kind to animals in general). Andrei takes along his slacker assistant, gets into an escapade with some naked pagans, some people get blinded, then there’s a long section of war and torture because a prince and his brother are feuding, and I didn’t know the motivation for most of this until reading a plot summary later – I thought the point was “the 1400s were terrible, yet Andrei still managed to paint beautiful things”. At the end of this though, Andrei has quit painting, or even speaking. Funny to watch this movie about a painter not painting, the day after Devotion, which features writers not writing.

Theo and Andrei:

Painters, not painting, as usual:

The movie jumps forward a decade to the part I remember – a young bellmaker’s son is approached to cast a new bell for a church, by order of the prince, who will throw a party if they succeed and kill them all if they don’t. Young Boriska claims that his recently deceased father passed on the secrets of bellmaking, but actually the kid is making it up as he goes, publicly barking orders and commanding a hundred men, but privately sick with worry. Andrei and Kirill are hanging around while all this is happening, doing nothing helpful, and it ends with the triumphant ringing of the new bell, then a color slideshow of period icons.

Boriska:

A more specific title would’ve been Bronte Sisters In Love. Charlotte is writing the more popular Jane Eyre while Emily is writing the critical fave Wuthering Heights, but we don’t see much of this, mostly we follow their fascination with their boringly strict minister-father’s bland employee (Paul Henreid, Bergman’s husband in Casablanca).

Oldest Charlotte is Olivia de Havilland in long tight curls (same year she played twin sisters in The Dark Mirror), Emily is Ida Lupino (just a few years before she’d start directing), and their drunkard painter brother Branwell is Arthur Kennedy (whom we recognized from the westerns). There’s also the youngest sister (Anne: Nancy Coleman) and mostly we amused ourselves by trying to tell the three girls apart.

Bran paints his sisters:

Part of a flurry of Brontë interest, after the 1939 Wuthering Heights, 1943 Jane Eyre (with Joan Fontaine, sister of de Havilland), and (purportedly based on Jane Eyre) I Walked With a Zombie. Mostly a stodgy, joyless costume drama from Warner Bros and Bernhardt (Joan Crawford’s Possessed), and the writers of Undercurrent and National Velvet and Above Suspicion.

Emily in the sky:

At end of the last movie, the family was moving from seaside town Tocopilla to Santiago. Mom still sings all her lines, dad is still violent, but this time young Alejandro is the lead character, discovering art and poetry and breaking away from his parents. Just as the kid’s performance is starting to feel limited, we jump a few years so he can be played by Adan Jodorowsky, the filmmaker’s son and director of Echek, for the rest of the film.

The mix of realistic (and not) effects, JR-style retrofitting of modern buildings, dreamlike sets with visible stagehands rearranging furniture, Orpheus references, random nudity, shock color, head shaving, prankster poets, sad clowns and street parades, with the poetry and deaths and parental issues… it all worked for me.

Shot by Chris Doyle! The first I’ve seen from him since The Limits of Control.

Oh wow, this was as good as advertised. Must see again.

Painter Noémie Merlant will soon appear in Jumbo, in which she falls in love with a carnival ride.

I saw Adèle Haenel a couple weeks ago in Deerskin, plus she was great in The Unknown Girl and has been in at least two Bonello movies – and on my drive to this movie I noticed his Zombi Child is playing the Plaza, but it was the night before True/False, so, too late.

Young Luàna Bajrami was recently in a Village of the Damned sort of thing and a Catherine Deneuve movie. And mom Valeria Golino is mostly known for acting in 1990’s American trash movies, but has won best actress awards twice in Venice for Italian films, and directed two films that played Cannes.

A Rotterdance selection from Uruguay. Belmonte is a morose painter who does good business selling morose nudes to rich people. He would like to spend more time with his daughter, but it’s complicated with the pregnant ex-wife. Belmonte has grave concerns about his parents, the business his brother runs, the opera, family and acquaintances he meets at the opera, his daughter, and an upcoming exhibit. He’s kind of prickly and no fun to be around… but the movie has some nice colored lights sometimes, and it’s short.

Veiroj’s fourth feature – two others have more promising descriptions. Lead actor Gonzalo Delgado has also been an art director, writer, you name it. Played in Rotterdam 2019’s “Voices” section with Knife+Heart, The Mountain, Genesis, and Cities of Last Things. Dan Sallitt loved this and Grass, so I’m having a very Sallitt-approved week.

Michael Sicinski in Cinema Scope:

What makes Belmonte rather unique is the fact that, at least for most of the film, it avoids the clichés of the creative life. Instead, Veiroj treats art as labour, coextensive with the demands of fatherhood and other familial duties … Veiroj is Uruguay’s leading auteur at this point, and as with his earlier film A Useful Life (which centered on a cinematheque programmer), Belmonte is a sensitive examination of the ins and outs of a life in the arts.

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.