Schanelec movies suffer by reminding me of Zürcher movies just enough to make me wish I was watching those instead. This one isn’t as entrancing as it means to be, but slightly, seductively baffling. Down-and-out druggie couple starts out busking “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” before Kenneth is called home, his mom ailing in hospital, dad asking him to use his drug connections to find morphine for her. This first couple is last seen laying down on the earth, separately. Many years later a cop is leaving her husband, he rents his own place, and the time periods are mashing up in a non-obvious way.

Blake Williams in Cinema Scope:

… an amorphous, exceedingly enigmatic trance film masquerading as a puzzle film. Puzzles fit together; this does not … These temporal leaps we’re taken through … become equal to every other narrative element. … Time, then, beyond language, becomes the decisive medium that negotiates and complicates characters’ emotional relations to one another, and Schanelec’s avoidance of distinguishing between “now” and “then” insures that the impact of every loss, every ruptured relationship, is held in an eternal suspension.

On Letterboxd: “Virginia Woolf” by Robyn Hitchcock

Our second Locorazo movie in a row to end with the female lead character getting busted by the cops. No fire-murders this time, just Sarah scamming large amounts of cash from gullible grandmas around town. Not very straightforward about its narrative, the movie likes to follow side characters about their day, weaving in and out of plot. Clean digital look with some arresting compositions (photographing still figures against turbulent backgrounds), the human action often relegated to the lower third of frame. There’s somewhat too much business-as-usual – conversations about cellphone and insurance plans, endlessly reading account numbers aloud – but it’s worth the short runtime to hear Swiss people saying “hotspot.” Schäublin has made a couple shorts since, and has a new feature about an anarchist watchmaker, seems like someone to watch out for.

On Letterboxd: “Me, Myself & Wine” by Ron Sexsmith

Welcome to Locorazo, the successor of LNKarno, during which we watch films that played the Locarno Festival a few years back.

After La France, I’m sorry this isn’t a musical, but the kids do get a rap performance about the uselessness of school. It’s an attractive looking movie, well-lit with a bright palette, bold camera moves. The story keeps pausing to demonstrate math lessons. Bozon is a better director here than writer, but it’s eccentric and unusual, and that’s what we like about Locarno.

Isabelle Huppert is a teacher who can’t handle her class, being investigated by higher-ups due to complaints that the students don’t learn anything. Malik is the most abusive of the lot, making Hitler jokes and humiliating the teacher for social points, though he remains an outcast. After Huppert is struck by lightning, she becomes a better teacher, finding new ways to engage the students and drawing out the crippled Malik through one-on-one lab lessons, but she’s also becoming a fire creature who torches a kid and two dogs to death. She’s assigned a trainee who takes crying breaks in the bathroom, and she’s given a promotion at work, but is eventually taken away by the police (“I was expecting you. Goodbye, students.”)

Wacky principal Romain Duris starred in The Beat That My Heart Skipped and Mood Indigo. Her soulful house-husband José Garcia was a doctor in Trouble Every Day. Trainee Guillaume Verdier is a Bonello regular.

Blake Williams in Cinema Scope:

In order … to elevate it to something that manifests beauty through experience as opposed to only being about it, Bozon – working with his cinematographer (and sister) Céline Bozon and editor François Quiqueré – amplifies the tactility of the images and the impact of the montage … Factor in the sustained emphasis on all the senses – bodies radiating, skin burning, hands wafting, noses sniffing – and you have an impression of a world that is real and embodied. The movie becomes a living object that breathes, and it excites its moments of beauty into something close to both lunacy and the ecstatic.

On Letterboxd: “Nothing to Hide” by Yo La Tengo

Circle in the Sand (2012)

Two guys trash a campsite, a third guy is blindfolded in a tent, sound of gunfire in the distance. Three women burying and unburying things on the beach. Each scene involves someone reading haltingly from a book. These two groups have been separated by a concrete tunnel reading “off limits” – when they hear the signal, the women walk through. One beach girl is taken away, the others dig up a jambox then destroy it after it plays a plangent indie song, then create pinhole galaxies in pages of a People magazine. One of the women psychically merges with the blindfolded man, and dirty knives begin materializing nearby. The subtitled text from the beginning reappears: “We wanted to destroy knowledge, but from within knowledge.” I don’t get it, but it’s well put together, with excellent sound design (probably helped that I switched to headphones for this one).


These Hammers Don’t Hurt Us (2011)

Extremely jeweled ornamental clothing while a woman speaks of fertility. We go inside a pyramid where a women peers through a secret panel and sees… Michael Jackson’s “Remember the Time” video – bizarre stock footage juxtapositions, combining the midcentury feature film, the music video, the jeweled clothing and the pulsating 3D pyramid graphics. Finally the Robinson strobing effect arrives, and it’s beautifully done, with restful black pauses in between.


Mad Ladders (2015)

When I first saw his Full House short I was mostly annoyed, but the more of these I watch, the more I appreciate his cultural recycling and mutations. This one is structured with a voiceover by a woman explaining a dream or vision. Sounds like a MIDI version of Tori Amos’ “Crucify” at one point.


Polycephaly In D (2021)

“There isn’t an anchor in the drift of the world.” Two men, in desert and water settings, speak psychically from a distance about encounters among earthquakes and landslides, each speaker represented by different colored subtitles. Brief montage of famous film shots of characters looking into camera. Music video imagery and a kinda Clash of the Titans thing. Unexpected Robin & Marian/King Kong mashup at the end, with some Muppets thrown in. I’d started to write this one off as lesser Robinson, then a robot monkey strobing tsunami titan freakout made my heart beat double-time.

Again, I’m away from my Cinema Scope collection, but this time the Michael Sicinski article that put me in touch with Silva’s work is available online.


In The Absence of Light, Darkness Prevails (2010)

Chintzy dance music plays over astronomical images perverted by interlaced video screens. Reverse monochrome of baby sea turtles heading into the ocean. Some kind of costumed street event. Weedwhacking the jungle. The camera playing with a campfire. And so on, the sound design ranging from innocuous to annoying. Shock ending, the camera suddenly escaping the planet through a hole in the ground!

Per MS, this was filmed in Brazil and “examines human and animal experience at multiple levels of abstraction … this is the film in which the subjective element in Silva’s work is fully incorporated into a total way of seeing, one not bound to individual history or biography.”


The Watchmen (2017)

Naked man in a field, then a pulsing light, lasting for just long enough that I assumed the rest of the movie would be the pulsing light, but no. Prison yard, prison wall, abandoned prison, prison guard tower – so there’s the title. Various hot dog places. Return to the naked man and the pulsing light, with a voiceover about the watchman. Very mysterious.

MS:

The Watchmen takes as its subject Illinois’ now-defunct Joliet prison, perhaps best known for being featured in 1980’s The Blues Brothers … Silva stands at the heart of the prison and starts spinning his camera, faster and faster, describing the curved walls of the panopticon; not coincidentally, the flicker and blur of this accelerated image, with flecks of light disrupting the darkness, forms a combination camera obscura and phenakistoscope.


Ride Like Lightning, Crash Like Thunder (2017)

A perversely looped version of “Pale Blue Eyes”… a bird trapped in an apartment… the title card made from a Metallica album cover. A guy plays us the intro to Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy.” A red-coated birdwatcher gives an unexpected callback to Brown Thrasher. Reappearing scary hands creep from behind objects.

Hey look, it’s what I hope to get out of watching these shorts:

Hey look who’s in this:

MS:

Ride Like Lightning, Crash Like Thunder was Silva’s final film before embarking on the Rock Bottom Riser project … A return of sorts for Silva to the Hudson River region of New York, where the filmmaker’s alma mater Bard College is located, Ride Like Lightning is not explicitly about experimental filmmaker (and Bard professor) Peter Hutton, but shares with Hutton’s work a keen fascination with the Hudson River area, its landscape and shifting seasonal character.

Hoarders Without Borders (2018)

Shows us what it’s gonna do before it does it. First the camera faces down with fixed focus as drawers of rock samples are pulled into view, the higher they get, the clearer the image. Then real-time view of the process of putting the rocks and their identifying notecards in front of the fixed camera. Then a blast of time-lapse, every rock in rapid succession. A couple of suspect frames (a can of fruit?) to investigate later.


Wasteland No. 1: Ardent, Verdant (2017)

Lightplay on circuit boards, rapid slideshow of circuit boards, then red fields of flowers, then alternating circuit boards with red flowers, a surprisingly pleasing combination. Silent.


Wasteland No. 2: Hardy, Hearty (2019)

More intense than number one, this overloaded my eyeballs, alternating green plants and their brown roots, loose dirt on a white background, with flowers frozen in ice cubes. For a while there in the middle I seemed to see the green plant falling through space, constantly shifting because of a sustained attack by the flower-cubes.


Wasteland 3: Moons, Suns (2022)

Less strain on the nervous system than part two, this is time-lapse of flower arrangements melting from their frozen-in-ice states, with no rapid flicker elements.

Sound That (2014)

The Cleveland water department searches for underground pipes by putting their ears to a long rod stuck into holes drilled in the ground. Payoff at the end when they settle on a location and the caterpillar rips up the street so they can access it.


Brown Thrasher (2020)

I was hoping this would center on a brown thrasher, but of course it’s people, it’s always people with Everson. Red-shirted birdwatchers with binoculars, being watched themselves by a jittery, vibrating camera.


IFO (2017)

The soundtrack is the thing in this one – spoken reports of UFO sightings, first in a taxi, then a military helicopter, then the same taxi again. The visual montage of people outdoors looking to the sky and air-traffic graphics seem secondary, though the people get some breathing room to themselves after the long helicopter story, and I love the extreme film grain on the grey sky.


Traveling Shoes (2019)

A great one, interviewing members of The Brown Singers and playing the title song, their record, with some obvious visuals (the record spinning on a turntable) and some less obvious (a girl holding the record in a dramatic pose, way out of focus).

Apprivoisé (2017, Bertrand Mandico)

Music video with unsubtitled intro. Flamboyant feather-boa skeleton-hand guy is set loose on a dinner party, his frost breath bestowing jeweled rings and necklaces and cocks upon the guests, but he cannot be stopped, and dismembers their host. Extremely great, obviously.


Niemand (2019, Bertrand Mandico)

Another music video, this time sung in German, the story about a woman who keeps getting in car crashes, after which neon-eyed cannibal angels steal and eat whatever body part she’s injured.


Fou de Bassan (2021, Yann Gonzalez)

Checking in with Mandico’s buddy Yann. This is a bit of free-for-all perversity, a misty night scene lit by spotlights and artificial moon.

One long-weekend in June, I watched a bunch of shorts, beginning with a bunch by New York/Berlin artist Henrot. Currently separated from my issues of Cinema Scope so I can’t revisit the article that first put her on my radar.

Million Dollars Point (2011)

Movie kinda fades in and out, as if showing excerpts. Hawaiian Christian on the soundtrack, preaching and singing. the visuals alternate between touristy Hawaiian dance scenes rephotographed off an SD TV, and beautiful undersea nature over the dumping grounds of human vehicles.


Strife of Love in a Dream (2011)

Manufacturing pharma – Atarax – but playing doom-drone music instead of KG+tLW’s “Ataraxia.” Long line of people winding up a mountain towards some event that involves fire and military control… an ornamental theatrical performance… and flash shots of snakes, which eventually take over the film, snakes in all forms, in life and art.


Grosse Fatigue (2013)

I loved Strife but this still feels like a huge leap forward. Narrator/singer rapidly goes through the history of the universe, the gods, mankind, as the visuals spring from a simulated mac desktop, windows overlapping, heavy on animal images. About 200 more dead birds in this than I would’ve liked, but still kinda great.


Saturday (2017)

No dead birds here except in the news ticker, but they’re replaced by close-up medical body-horrors. Fun experiments in rotoscoping, certain footage elements remaining in the foreground of the news ticker (which multiplies, its news becoming less informative) or breaking through the letterbox bars. The main topic is televised/radio call-in religious shows and baptism.


Film Spatial (2008)

“You have to learn not to understand everything.” She’s interviewing an older artist while camera roves around a busy house or studio in closeup. Lot of partially seen artworks and books, frequent visits to the dog on the floor. “In a really good film, it’s not just the content that’s important, it’s the visual impact … The content, in a way, is the pretext.”