I didn’t manage to watch The Challenge in 2017 – it was playing at True/False and in New York while I was there – but I found these shorts by the same filmmaker to tide me over.
Piattaforma Luna (2011 Yuri Ancarani)
Deep-water divers run equipment checks and prepare for a dive, shot mostly in static compositions, though the great opening shot is a slow pull out from a man doing a prayer chant. Are they breathing helium or is something up with the sound recording? Ben Frost provides some lovely rhythmic industrial drone for the start and end segments.
San Siro (2014 Yuri Ancarani)
I liked this one better – workers prepare a soccer stadium for the next game, efficiently moving cables and barriers and doing security sweeps… then some structural views of the team and fans arriving.
A strange movie to begin with – I had to remove “weird” and “mysteriously” from all over this post. Suffice to say that everything that happens in this movie happens mysteriously. There’s a tiny bit of dialogue, and low music during intense moments, but most of the time it’s all unsettlingly (mysteriously) quiet. Lucile is typecasting herself as a creator of inexplicable fables where children grow up in isolated gender-segregated environments then are set free into our world in the final minutes.
Nicolas lives with his mother who isn’t his mother (Julie-Marie Parmentier of Around a Small Mountain) down by the sea. She feeds him wormy kale stew, lets him hang out with the other boys in town who are all the same age, assures Nicolas that the dead boy he spotted underwater was just a dream, and sneaks out at night to slither in nude star-patterns with the other boys’ mothers (who aren’t their mothers).
Nicolas is taken to the hospital for a belly injection, then again for an ultrasound, which detects a rogue heartbeat down there. So I guess the mermaid-mothers are raising boys and growing new things inside them? We see from Nic’s friend Victor’s fate that the boys don’t survive the birthing process. Nurse Stella (Roxane Duran of The White Ribbon) takes a liking to Nic because of his sketchbook, takes him through the underground caves acting as human scuba gear and releases him back to the city.
Very nice photography, especially the underwater scenes in the beginning, with an alien coolness that recalls Under The Skin. The women having gills and the birthing experiments might point towards the movie title for clues as to what’s going on, but it doesn’t feel like a mystery to be solved, more an imaginary world (more dangerous than it first appears) to soak in for a while. Recalls some glimpses from the A Cure for Wellness trailer, but I disagree that Evolution counts as horror.
It’s been a decade since Hadzihalilovic’s only other feature, 2005’s Innocence, and it seems as though the writer-director has been hoarding her nightmares ever since … If Evolution has a thematic through-line, it’s Hadzihalilovic’s propensity for stripping male bodies of their autonomy … it’s an oblique return to childhood, to a time when there was no clear boundary between imagination and reality, when everything you didn’t understand was beautiful and terrifying in equal measure.
D’Angelo: “To watch Hadzihalilovic’s films is to be reminded that life itself is a deeply perplexing mystery — that we’re all born into rigidly stratified societies, laden with inexplicable rules and run by people whose minds we can’t access.”
I thought I heard that this was the kid-friendliest of the post-Mononoke Ghibli movies, and maybe so, but it’s also one of the most unexpectedly bizarre. A magic fish-princess flees her underwater bubble-hatted environmentalist mad-scientist Liam Neeson-sounding dad and befriends a five-year-old boy, turning herself human to stay with him on land during a major flood.
After the flood, octopi and trilobites and eels and jellyfish waste no time moving in:
Most of Neeson’s activities are never explained:
Ponyo running on watery waves of blue fishes is some magical animation:
Human boy Sosuke and his mom meet Ponyo’s ocean-goddess mom:
Soundtrack is the heavy breathing of a person trying to fall asleep, so the movie segments are dreams, I suppose. Lights, cloth, water, children, landscapes. Some movies are described as journeys, but this is one of the few that actually feels like one.
Some of the low-light video is great. It has a very different look from film, and is something you don’t see often, even though video technology has been everywhere for decades.
Official description says it “juxtaposes personal pictures of his mother’s death with images of his own son’s birth to explore foundational and potent themes of beginnings and endings, the cycle of life and the movement of generations” – I can buy that.
Shame to watch a sensual-experience movie on the laptop, but it didn’t play theaters here.
At least it was in HD and I used headphones.
P. Coldiron has a terrific article in Cinema Scope, which I won’t overquote.
“Sensual time has replaced historical time. .. It would make no sense to follow these fisherman back to the sale of their haul, because at no point does the film acknowledge the sort of time that renders an event complete.”
A light, clever Keaton feature – not one of my faves, but well paced and only an hour long. Buster and his not-fiancee Betsy (Kathryn McGuire of Sherlock Jr. end up stranded on an adrift ocean liner with no crew after a complicated series of events stemming from a “funny little foreign war” (ouch, not a term we’d use today). The humor doesn’t come from the spy/war/hostage plot but from the fact that Buster and Betsy are millionaire kids with no idea how to do simple daily tasks, and now they have to survive until rescue – they’ve a well-stocked kitchen but no idea how to open a can or boil an egg.
They also run into cannibals (all island natives back then were assumed to be cannibals), deal with a submarine, and Keaton shoots a hokey underwater scene (swordfighting with swordfish, etc). Appropriately on the same DVD as nautical shorts The Boat and The Love Nest. I loved the end, when after a few weeks of trial and error, the couple has rigged the boat with ropes and pulleys to automate daily tasks a la Keaton short The Scarecrow.
Reminiscent of The Private Navy of Sgt. O’Farrell:
IMDB trivia reveals that four years prior, the boat used in filming had been used by the U.S. government to deport Emma Goldman to Russia.