Slightly perverse to watch a movie called Starless Dreams right after A Star Is Born. This doc hangs out with Iranian girls in a juvenile detention center, which is like a hostel with a recess area and crappy food, surrounded by fences. The twist is that some of them make friends here and dread being sent home to their abusive families.

“Ava, why do you seem so down these days” is answered that her brother is getting the death penalty for being caught with meth. Somayeh calmly explains what she’s in for: “One night we decided to kill my father.” One girl’s baby visits and is excitedly passed around. They get into the filmmaking spirit, interviewing each other, asking Mehrdad questions. A girl grabs the boom mic and sings to the dinner table. Another cries when he mentions his own daughter: “She is being raised with love and comfort, while we were raised in rot and filth.”

The last part of Oskouei’s youth/crime trilogy – True Vision award in 2016, the year before we started attending T/F, playing with Cameraperson, Kate Plays Christine, The Other Side, and a bunch we haven’t caught up with.

Ukraine is Not a Brothel (2013)

“Kitty is filming this for some reason.” Fun, newsy doc about feminists in Ukraine who stage topless public actions and usually get arrested, traveling to other countries to protest in India, getting terrorized by cops in Belarus.

“We get money from charitable donations. We don’t know exactly where the money comes from.” The movie takes a turn upon the introduction of Victor, the man in the shadows who organizes all public appearances of this “feminist” group. “Girls are weak,” he says, then “My influence on the girls is the very same as the patriarchal influence against which we are protesting.”

Victor’s expression when asked if he started Femen to get chicks… which he did:


The Face of Ukraine: Casting Oksana Baiul (2015)

A bunch of girls audition to play Ukraine’s first olympic champ. Perfect stepping-stone film between the two features, too short to make much of an impact, though when all the girls are trying to cry it made me wanna cry.


Casting JonBenet (2017)

Casting sessions for each role in a theoretical JonBenet Ramsey movie, shot in Boulder where the murder took place, cutting between actor reactions. After some desperate attempts to connect themselves with the case or the family, some of them start going through their own family traumas.

The would-be policeman-actors run through the investigation, criticizing and analyzing the work of their real-life counterparts two decades earlier. Each family member gets scrutinized. We get numerology, and perverse conspiracy theories playing out like the final scenes of Top of the Lake. My birds got triggered when the JonBenets demonstrated their screaming abilities – I wonder if that’s where I stopped the movie the first time I tried to watch it. Music by Nathan Larson of Shudder to Think! This played True/False in 2017, and is one of the most perfectly True/Falsey movies I’ve seen.

I was watching movies from last year’s Rotterdam and Sundance festivals, and now for a week on True/False movies. This is a transition film, premiering in last year’s True/False and showing up in this year’s Rotterdam (in Bright Future, with Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Manta Ray, Dead Horse Nebula). Opens with street scenes, talking with prostitutes, a squarish frame with v-hold issues and no sync sound, and I thought this might be a tough watch, then the editing sets it free – jumping around Jamaica meeting all sorts of people, beautiful photography and a vague structure around birth and death. It’s a poem of a movie, even less narrative than Hale County was, and at least as good.

The 16mm film full of light flares is interspersed with gliding HD. No subtitles and I can’t make out half the words, and zero sync sound, though sometimes we seem to be hearing the person we’re seeing speak, so it’s being shifted on purpose. So much Christianity – then an explanation for why that is, then an intro to rastafarianism and discussion of weed. I am an uncultured dummy who knows nothing about Jamaica or its culture, but there’s an echo effect on the end of sound clips and I wondered if this was dub-influenced. When the movie ended I was trying to remember how it started, watched the first half again before realizing that I was just going to keep playing it forever on a loop. Vikram Murthi saw it at T/F and notes that “the film is in direct conversation with the work by the Black Audio Film Collective.”

Edith+Eddie (2017, Laura Checkoway)

I guess it’s common practice to screw over elders using the legal guardianship system? Imagine being the lawyer responsible for the lonely death of a nice old man in an oscar-nominated documentary seen around the world. This was filmed 11 miles from my grandmother’s house.


Daredevil Droopy (1951, Tex Avery)

Droopy and Spike compete at a circus to be one of The Great Barko’s daredevil dogs. Rapid-fire series of short contests, mostly ending with the larger dog badly injured, but it’s fine because he was trying to cheat. Lots of dynamite in the second half. Best bits: figure skating, human bullet, that strength-tester bell-ringer seesaw hammer game.

Mouseover to send Spike through the hoop of fire:
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Mouseover to give Droopy a better gun:
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Droopy’s Good Deed (1951, Tex Avery)

Spike is a wild-eyed hobo pretending to be a boy scout, another series of short competitions with Spike cheating and losing to the cool and competent Droopy, who gets a ton more dialogue in this one. Slightly racist jokes in this and the previous one, always to the effect of turning Black after a bomb blast, and it’s not terrible – until one time it definitely is, then a weird, fakeout ending at the White House. I assume I downloaded the uncensored versions of these somewhere or other, they sat on my laptop for a year, and tonight I’m in the mood for some violent cartoons.


Watching Oana (2009, Sebastien Laudenbach)

Earlier short by The Girl Without Hands director. A couple: he is a pastry chef, she translates poetry and brochures. Told from his perspective, wanting a baby, not believing in her ambitions, thinking he knows her inside and out but apparently not. Some cringey moments, I hope it’s not based on a true story. Spoken opening credits, then alternates between written segments created with stop-motion pasta, and spoken conversations with close-up animation of something besides the couple’s faces (wine glasses, shadows, legs in the surf), then the pasta turns into words inked onto skin and the music ramps up for the disturbing final section. The voice of Oana is played by Elina Löwensohn, who keeps coming up lately. Played at Annecy with The Secret of Kells and Western Spaghetti.


The Boy Who Chose the Earth (2018, Lav Diaz)

Two minutes for the latest Vienna Film Festival, a boy at home alone receiving a letter, running outside, apparently surprised – then rain and flooded streets. The last Lav Diaz short I watched was also fierce storms and floods, either footage from the same week or else the Philippines get some regularly nasty weather.


The Glass Note (2018, Mary Helena Clark)

Miniature frames of music and water and wind. Extreme bodily close-ups. Mostly seems interested in sound being created and moving through channels, with a sidetrack about tourists touching the breasts of bronze statues.


Story of an Old Lady (1985, Agnes Varda)

Lost, deteriorated Varda mini-doc about the woman she cast to get naked in the feather room in 7 P., cuis., s.de b…. Bit of behind-the-scenes interview, her getting a kick out of playing the employer in Vagabond, bossing around Yolande and Sandrine, when she’d worked as a maid all her life.


Trees Down Here (2018, Ben Rivers)

I wasn’t sure that ending my night with Ben Rivers would work out, since he tends to put me to sleep, but it opens with an owl close-up and I’m hooked. Architectural sketches alternate with architectural photos, but with an owl or snake in the foreground. The final minutes have a tape of John Ashbery reading his poem “Some Trees”. Ben’s most engaging work yet, I suppose if you’re into architecture, poems, owls and snakes.

Opens with a boy named Niki playing with his school chums then coming home to bother his older sister Mila, who studies piano. This is Bulgaria, and she announces she’s going to Germany for school, so the rest of the movie feels like a countdown of the days she has left. The movie keeps focusing on something other than where the action or dialogue is, splintering conversations, not bringing the family (Niki, Mila and their dad – mom is mentioned but never seen) together visually until a nature hike at the end. Played in Rotterdam’s Bright Future section with Cocote.

Jordan Cronk in Cinema Scope:

The film’s musically inflected title seems to nod as much to three-quarter time as it does a fractured family unit … There’s … an effortless sense of family dynamics that feels organic and speaks fully to Metev and co-writer Betina Ip’s command of character and commitment to the quotidian moments that shape everyday life. There are no antagonists in 3/4, let alone villains––no dark or sadistic undercurrents meant to reflect contemporary Europe’s fraught sociopolitical temperament. By almost every conceivable tonal and stylistic metric, the film feels utterly removed from whatever continues to pass for serious international art cinema.

“This was important to me and I’m trying to figure out why.” Heard there was an overlooked Laura Dern trauma drama this year, so obviously I’m all over it. Premiered in competition at Sundance, with Blaze, Blindspotting, and Sorry to Bother You. A quarter of my top twenty movies of the year played there, but it’s still a scattershot festival so it’s hard to trust it. Hard to trust this movie too, when we’re already seeing flashbacks to earlier in the movie at the 18 minute mark.

Present Jenny + Past Jenny = the poster image

Dern is as good as expected, and Elizabeth Debicki (lately of Widows) is perfect as her riding instructor/molester, with handsome rapist husband Jason Ritter (Jeb in Oliver Stone’s W.). Documentary filmmaker Jenny’s mom Ellen Burstyn finds a disturbing story Jenny wrote years ago, wants her to come home and figure some things out, so we hang with Young Jenny (Isabelle Nélisse of both Mama and Mother) for half the movie and watch how she got into a relationship with a sexy attractive couple, which would be cool if Jenny wasn’t 13 at the time. Ends with Present Jenny talking with Past Jenny (given away by the movie poster). This is based closely on the filmmaker’s life, but The Rider it ain’t – the writing is obvious, and despite all the professionalism on display, it feels like a TV movie that scored a great cast.

Lovely, wholesome molesters:

Asger is a bad cop – we don’t know this yet, but can assume from context – forced, along with his supervisor, to a desk job working emergency phones until a little matter gets cleared up. He catches a kidnapping case (which nobody else on the overnight shift seems as excited about) and does a bunch of things wrong (some also illegal) trying in earnest to help the woman caller who has been abducted by her ex husband, leaving their two kids home alone.

The whole movie is confined to a call center, the second half in a private room after Asger decides he doesn’t want coworkers listening in, so it’s a one-man show with little visual flair. Asger eventually discovers she’s being taken to a psych hospital because she just stabbed one of their children to death, but she escapes and is gonna jump off a bridge, and it’s his fault, so he monologues about his own crime, essentially confessing to murder in front of a bunch of cops. Mostly I bought the kidnapping twists, but I’m not sure about this ending.

Won the audience award at Sundance last year in the world drama competition along with Pity, Rust, and a bunch I still haven’t heard anything about. This is Möller’s feature debut, after a short which was also about a woman in a psych hospital. The movie is Danish, but Asger is Swede Jakob Cedergren. The day after watching, I learned about the Jodie Foster remake starring Jake Gyllenhaal.

A theater group – not a very good one – is rehearsing the 1921 satire The Insect Play, but the guy playing Dung Beetle (Jirí Lábus, of a fascinating-sounding 1994 version of Amerika) keeps hallucinating insects (real and stop-motion) while learning his lines.

From the very beginning, Svankmajer and his crew appear onscreen, like the DVD extras have been cut into the feature. After a scene it’ll show the filming, the animation, direction, insect wrangling, sound effects (with constant scraping and clanking sounds plus the insect patter, they’re great throughout), or interview the actors about their dreams.

Fun movie, and only 93 minutes, a breeze to watch. To that point, it doesn’t seem like Svankmajer’s most consequential film, nor does it appear to be some kind of final statement on his career, unless I’m missing something about the Insect Play. Ungenerously, one could say choice of subject combined with the mechanics of behind-the-scenes production is the last word on his preference against humans and their messy realities. Jan: “I direct it like an animated film or puppet theater – short takes, minimal movement of the camera, stylized acting, no psychology, as if the actors had wires attached to the head and strings on the arms.”

Watching movies from last year’s Sundance and Rotterdam this week… this one premiered in Rotterdam’s Signatures section, playing with The Wandering Soap Opera, Lover for a Day, Mrs. Fang and Lek and the Dogs.

At the end of a year I usually make myself a list of movies, recent and old, that I really oughtta catch up with over the following year. And I usually get through a quarter to a third of the list, because a year is a long time and new distractions come up. I’ve also been missing theme months with Katy… so instead of the one big list this year, I’m gonna try a Theme Week approach (or for busy weeks or juicy themes, Theme Fortnights). Maybe all this is needlessly complicated, but when your goal is to watch All The Good Movies, which movie to watch next is a big question. It’s January, so Sundance and Rotterdam are coming, so this week I’m watching some movies that played there last year. Cocote premiered in Locarno, then played in Rotterdam’s “Bright Future” section with The Wild Boys and The Nothing Factory, and Cinema Scope wrote an article convincing me it’s essential viewing.

Was it essential? Maybe not, but a nice, slow/weird-cinema arthouse break from all the oscary things we’ve watched lately. At least I think it’s the first Dominican film I’ve seen – only previous reference to the country was when a Show Me a Hero character spent an episode there. As usual when watching a festival film from a previously unknown country, they’re not making it look like a great place to visit, the film displaying the corruption of the police force and overall rule of violence.

The style is all over, centering around long ceremonies related to the mourning of our lead dude Alberto’s dead father. Alberto is a groundskeeper in the city, summoned to his small-town home after his dad’s violent death at the hands of gangster loansharks. The picture moves from 16:9 to 4:3, color to b/w, tripod to handheld, with chapter-heading title cards. We get rituals (too many rituals) and endless arguments, and it’s slow and moody in between, often with very wide shots… also 360-degree pans, and conversations where you never see who is talking, culminating in Alberto’s final maybe-revenge action, an off-camera struggle with shots fired.

Jay Kuehner in Cinema Scope:

The latent revenge drama as such is periodically drowned out by an ethnographic musical, just as Alberto is lost in a sea of sorrow to which he can’t relate. Cocote circulates between states of rapture and downtime, the camera mediating the parameters of first- and third-person representation. De Los Santos Arias employs 360-degree pans to exquisite effect, often accommodating multiple experiential frequencies within the same shot, articulating Alberto’s indeterminate state — is it an awakening or an undoing? — with corresponding formal delineation.