Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma (2021, Topaz Jones & Rubberband)

Alphabet of sketches, like The ABCs of Death, but of Black culture in Montclair NJ. Each letter-sketch is a different approach, from wordless avant one-shots to interviews about reframing slavery, food apartheid, code switching, therapy or owning your own work, with home movies and music videos in between letter segments.


The Driver Is Red (2017, Randall Christopher)

Animated thriller about spy stuff in 1960 Argentina, self-drawing sketches upon papery background with unstable color, covered in faux film grain. Our narrator/hero has tracked and identified Adolf Eichmann, then takes the time to explain some details of the holocaust, in case we haven’t heard. Back to 1960, he calls in his mates and they successfully abduct the guy and bring him to trial, back when Isr**l had a sense of proportion.


A Short Story (2022, Bi Gan)

This whimsical fantasy AFX-composited sci-fi short incongruously proves that the director of An Elephant Sitting Still had a shot of helming a marvel movie. I guess a cat dresses as a scarecrow and visits three “weirdo” beings who might have some precious thing he can give a girl for her birthday.


The Rifleman (2021, Sierra Pettengill)

The guy who shot Ramon Casiano later became head of the NRA, mutating the group’s mission from hobbyist sports towards political lobbying. The Drive-By Truckers song is better than this movie (archival footage with strange music), but both are enlightening.


Rubber Coated Steel (2016, Lawrence Abu Hamdan)

An Isr**li bodyguard killed two kids in the W*st B*nk, and a forensic audio analyst (the director himself, if I didn’t misunderstand the credits) explains in court how it was done. Visual is a long take, roving around a shooting range, the mechanical target holders bringing forth pictoral representations of bullet sounds. For a movie about sound, the audio track is pretty useless – words from the trial are subtitled, including lines stricken from the official record, then the end credits are spoken.


Goodbye Jerome! (2022, Farr/Selnet/Sillard)

Jerome goes to heaven to find his true love, she breaks up with him, so he suicides and is rebuilt by ants. Really nice animation.

Two movies really, with full credits for each part. Not much here to gaze upon, and my copy looked like streaming mush; it’s all narrative. Chapters give different characters and perspectives (I like how their titles are tied together with song lyrics) as the missing Laura is tracked by her more arrogant boyfriend Rafael and her secret boyfriend Ezequiel (Ez’s job in the movie is to not follow what people are saying so everything has to be repeated). Ez had been helping Laura with her private project, following a love story through letters hidden in books donated to the library, but he doesn’t know about her second mystery, getting involved with scientist Elisa Carricajo who’s hiding a lake beast at her house. The music at the end of part one gets sci-fi in anticipation of this section. At the end of part two the picture goes widescreen as Laura disappears – having followed two great mysteries, she becomes one herself. Cast and crew are all returning from La Flor, and I hope they keep making these wheel-spinning mixed-genre movies.

A sort-of decade-later follow-up to the director and star’s Ostende. Citarella in Cinema Scope:

By trying to make a film in similar terms to Ostende, something else happened: a mutant film appeared, a plural idea of cinema. I like that Trenque Lauquen can’t be classified, that you can’t say the film is going this way or that way, or even that the film is this or that. It’s always trying to outrun this idea of being classified – it’s like the experience of reading a novel that takes a rhizomatic approach to storytelling, where each chapter proposes something new and mysterious. For me, the difference between the two films is that in Ostende, Laura is someone who wants to have a lot of lives – to live in fiction – but ultimately decides to go back to her normal life with her boyfriend. In Trenque Lauquen, Laura lives all those possibilities, and finally gets lost.


Trenque Lauquen (2023, Laura Citarella & Mariano Llinás)

During the Trenque Lauquen city premiere of the Trenque Lauquen double-feature, Citarella sits alone at a cafe across from the theater, the sounds of the film overlaying the town, noting walkouts (one) and people arriving to watch Barbie. Good to see Ezequiel in the crowd, I dunno why Paredes and Carricajo are backstage wearing fake mustaches. This was part of a Film Fest Gent online shorts collection pairing directors with composers, so I suppose the music in here by Eiko Ishibashi (Drive My Car, Drag City) isn’t from the feature film.

Global, less insular Piñeiro universe than Viola, with actors from La Flor (and onscreen drawings like La Flor). Title of the movie comes from the Midsummer Night’s Dream characters played by a couple of minor players in rehearsals that we never see – there was more Shakespeare in the Kids in The Hall sketch I watched the previous day than in this.

Carmen is returning to Argentina from a NY institute and Midsummer translator Camila is taking her place, causing some identity confusion. Camila ends up dating Carmen’s institute guy Keith Poulson and getting visited by Carmen’s America-roaming friend Mati Diop. They’re supposedly at this institute to work but they spend more time worrying over their parting gift. Camila looks up her long-lost father (Sallitt) and her long-lost boyfriend (Dustin Guy Defa), and Ted Fendt is in the credits to round things out. There are strange turns and visits to Argentina and a sudden film-in-a-film and I’m not convinced it all works, but it’s also flirty and pleasant.

On Letterboxd: “Hermann Loves Pauline” by Super Furry Animals

Loner sailor Farrel takes shore leave when his gigantic ship docks in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, and sets off to look for his mom. He catches a ride to his family’s town, drinking heavily, passes out in a shed and is carried to the family home, where his dad berates him. Mom is alive but far gone, doesn’t recognize him. He gives a younger girl (Scope says this is his abandoned daughter, not a little sister like I’d thought) some money and a souvenir trinket, then “I’m off,” but the movie stays with the girl. Minor evolution from the laboring guy in La Libertad to the journeying (and daughter-seeking) guy in Los Muertos, but it barely can predict the new textures of the (journeying, daughter-seeking) Jauja (and I haven’t caught up with the movie theater-set Fantasma).

Alonso in Cinema Scope 36:

Liverpool is the result of throwing the ingredients of Fantasma into La Libertad and Los Muertos … I think that simply filming someone is the best way to demonstrate what I think about the human being – about his lack of communication, his isolation, and his incomprehension about himself and the world … I’m very interested in describing characters’ environments. I think that these environments may even be more important than the characters themselves.

I blocked off late January for Rotterdance, and premiere screening Asako was fantastic, then Belmonte and Rojo were pretty whatever… so I’m looking at the remaining options for the following week… Monos, Happy as Lazzaro… movies I keep hearing are great but don’t look attractive like Private Life and The Souvenir… mass-murder fashion-thing Vox Lux… serious stuff by Loznitsa and Petra Costa… and La Flor is there on the list, the ridiculous outlier which obviously I’m not gonna watch because there isn’t time. So that’s what I watched.

Movie from Argentina, in multiple episodes, with multiple chapters, the whole thing cut into multiple parts which don’t align with the episodes (but do align with the chapters) – it’s complicated. The director helps lighten things up by introducing the project in a prologue, looking into camera without moving his mouth, narrating in voiceover, and drawing his diagram of the film’s structure which landed on the cover of Cinema Scope.


Episode 1

Proper b-movie length at 80 minutes, and shot on low-grade video. The audio sounds dry and dubbed, but looks to be in sync. Scientists receive shipment of an ancient mummy, have to babysit it after hours, but one girl (and a black cat) get mummy-cursed, so a psycho-transference specialist comes to help. “I’ll tell you more about it,” she says, as the movie suddenly cuts to episode 2. A Mac OS 9 skype window proves this movie has been in the works for a long time.

Elisa Carricajo = Marcela, lead scientist who is introduced on an awkward date before hectic work day
Laura Paredes = cool, efficient doctor Lucia
Valeria Correa = dazed, cursed, water-guzzling Yani
Pilar Gamboa = mummy-curse specialist Daniela

Dr. Elisa, Dr. Laura:

Mummy-whisperer Pilar:


Episode 2

Famous singer Victoria reminisces to her hair-streaked assistant Flavia about Vic’s rocky/successful recording career and personal life with lousy singer Ricky. Out of the blue, Flavia is in a scorpion cult with the secret of eternal youth, but cult leader Elisa Carricajo doesn’t seem to trust her. Andrea “Superbangs” Nigro, a rival singer, has a whole speech about storytelling and protagonists (it’s a monologue-heavy episode) and is present in the recording booth during the very good climactic Victoria song (but why? I spaced out for a while).

Singer Victoria = Pilar = mummy-curse specialist Daniela
Assistant/Confidante/Cultist Flavia = Laura = cool doctor Lucia
Superbangs singer Andrea Nigro = Valeria = cursed Yani
Scorpion cult leader = Elisa = lead scientist Marcela

Nigro:


Episode 3

Epic spy drama that starts out fun, tries to pivot to being mournful as everyone appears to be doomed, and takes long sidetracks into backstory. The four lead women are teammates in this one – briefly they were five, until their leader Agent 50 takes out the mole sent by a rival assassin collective led by “Mother.” Both team leaders report to Casterman, a spymaster ordered to kill off his own people. It’s like pulp Oliveira at times – it’s never comedy, but has a delightful heightened quality to it. Multiple narrators of different sexes with different viewpoints, and at one point (not even at an intermission), Llinás stops the episode to show off his storyboards.

Casterman:

Commie-trained mute spy Theresa = Pilar
La Niña, daughter of a legendary soldier = Valeria
La 301, globetrotting assassin = Laura
Agent 50, Ukranian super-spy = Elisa

The promo shot… from L-R: 50, 301, Niña, Dreyfuss, Theresa:

My favorite scene, kidnapped Dreyfuss in the cosmos:


Episode 4

After all that narrative drama, this episode is aggressively messing with us. The actresses play “the actresses,” undistinguished and ignored. Llinás introduces them to new producer Violeta in a studio scene of choreographed arguments, then he ditches his production, taking a mobile crew to film trees in bloom with relaxing string music, stopping frequently to write in his notebook. I think it’s a parody of the pretentious filmmaker who has lost his focus/inspiration.

Halfway through, the focus changes, as paranormal investigator Gatto arrives at the site of a mysterious incident, finding the filmmakers’ car high in a tree, the camera and sound crew raving mad, and Llinás missing, having left behind his journals. Gatto calls the La Flor script notes “a load of crap,” gets mixed up with some residents of a psychiatric colony, and follows the director’s tracks through a series of used book stores, as Llinás searches for an old copy of Casanova with a deleted chapter. This all sounds like nonsense, but it comes together beautifully by the end, after seeming like a waste of time for a good while.

“He never refers to any of them in particular, as if the four were a single thing:”


Episode 5

“In episode five, the girls don’t appear… at the time we thought it was interesting.” I think it’s the same Guy de Maupassant story that Jean Renoir filmed in the 1930’s. A couple of cool dudes with fake mustaches give horse rides to a whitesuit man and his son, when they’re derailed by a couple of picnicking women, who pair off with the mustache men after whitesuit rides away. This is all capped with an air show, and is a lovely diversion after the long previous section.


Episode 6

Heavy organ music and intertitles – the four stars are reunited, but blurred as if shot from behind a dirty screen. Aha, it’s filmed using a camera obscura, a pre-camera device which throws a reverse image through a pinhole. Supposedly the women have escaped from unseen savages and are dodging a giant steampunk insect before returning to their homes. Partially nude and without closeups, they’re finally indistinguishable.

Essential reading: Nick Pinkerton for Reverse Shot and Jordan Cronk’s Cinema Scope feature.

This period thriller-thing was an improvement over Belmonte. As with that movie, it’s sometimes hard to tell what it’s adding up to narratively, but it effectively builds atmosphere. Where this is all going must be more apparent to Argentinians of a certain age than it was to me. I did notice that whenever two dudes have a disagreement, one of them ends up disappeared into the desert, which gave me flashbacks to the post-Pinochet doc Nostalgia for the Light.

Darío Grandinetti (from Talk to Her) publicly psychoanalyzes a rude stranger into freaking out and committing suicide. Neighbors call Darío “counselor,” but he’s obviously not a mental health counselor, just a respected lawyer, who is close with government man Vivas who wants to “buy” a house that isn’t on the market because its previous owners disappeared before they could sell (leaving behind bloody handprints, how sloppy), so now the paperwork’s all a mess.

Eventually a famous Chilean detective (Pablo Larraín regular Alfredo Castro, the dog trainer in The Club) will come around asking questions about the suicided man, who turns out to be Vivas’s wife Mabel’s brother. While we wait for the detective plot to kick in, all the sidetrack scenes are intriguing… Mabel freaks out at a museum… a government official welcomes three American cowboys whose performance was postponed by a previous official… Darío’s family attends a slow-mo rodeo and has a great time while an animal is slaughtered to mournful string music… his wife encounters a stranger while peeing in the woods during an eclipse.

The Wives:

The Men:

According to Michael Sicinski, Naishtat is “a highly experimental filmmaker aim[ing] for greater accessibility,” so it’s be interesting to see his earlier features. I remember hearing things in Cinema Scope about El Movimiento. V. Rizov in Filmmaker summarizes Rojo: “A really unpleasant lawyer kills a guy because he can and then commits all kinds of similarly unsavory bullshit. The movie is, nonetheless, very fun…” and Adam Nayman writes more about cynicism and disappearance.

Mostly wanted to watch this so I’d stop getting it confused with Human Flow, but also it has an interesting description, a killer poster, and four-star reviews from some Respected Critics. Maybe re-reading the writeups before watching would’ve helped, since I didn’t enjoy this at all. Smeared handheld shaky cam indifferently follows people around, then follows someone else – three aimless boys with shitty jobs (at least one has been fired) in three different countries. No lighting either, and I’m wondering why this is even a movie, then something amazing finally happens an hour in, when the camera follows a kid peeing and unexpectedly goes inside an anthill, providing a smooth transition to a new segment along with a memorable visual metaphor.

Won a top prize at Locarno (same section as The Challenge, Destruction Babies, Donald Cried). On letterboxd, Autumn responded to the “fascinating visual scheme,” which I looked for but did not detect, Felipe calls “the image texture a true aesthetic weapon,” which I don’t guess I’m a fan of. Vadim raves about the movie’s originality in Filmmaker, Cinema Scope voted it a film of the year, and after reading Leo Goldsmith’s article, I can finally wrap my stupid head around the reasons for everyone’s formal interest. Glenn Kenny in the Times has a more mixed reaction:

A scene of teenage boys engaging in tentative sex play with one another for a webcam show is presented with sufficient flatness of affect to make a viewer suspect that Mr. Williams is also interested in blurring the lines between verisimilitude and tedium. Just when you think you’ve got the movie pegged, it pulls a daring switch of perspective. While the thrill of that little coup is short-lived, it suggests that Mr. Williams may come up with something more substantial with his next feature.

The novel was a subjective-ish story of frustration and embarrassment, and the movie is a whole different thing – some of the same scenes in the same order, but more mysterious. It’s unusual anymore that I read a book in anticipation of a new movie coming out, so it’s hard to imagine what the viewing experience would’ve been like had I not already known the story. For instance, the three sections of the book are set in different years, clearly stated, where the movie will just cut to the next scene and suddenly Zama’s hairstyle is different and every other character we’d met is gone, replaced with a new cast.

As usual for Martel, the framing is enticingly unusual, but I was not prepared for the shock of saturated color in the last section. Each of her features has had a different cinematographer – Rui Poças is Portuguese, has also shot a bunch of films by Miguel Gomes (Tabu) and João Pedro Rodrigues (The Ornithologist). Almodóvar regular Lola Dueñas is Luciana, whose affair doesn’t go as far as in the book. Zama is Daniel Giménez Cacho, who apparently played the same coroner character in We Are What We Are as he did in Cronos.

After a pretty decent Thursday night at the festival, we plunged right into the deep end on Friday morning with this year’s True Life Fund film, a doc following two cousins who have survived terrible traumas.

I stupidly wondered when their aunt mentioned in the description was going to arrive, not realizing until late that she’s the filmmaker. “Dear diary”… confessions and backstories are staged in uniquely visual ways – one is told to a friend in a lighthouse, one in a theater to an audience, plus the centerpiece long-take of the girls speaking to each other. Ro was kidnapped, beaten and burned, and is recovering from extensive plastic surgery, and Aldana was abused by her dad – both attackers caught and imprisoned with no images of either in the film. But Katy dug up a fascinating fact – the director’s previous film appears to have focused on the abusive dad before his crimes were discovered.

A dead-looking seal on a beach who turns out to be just resting… a crocodile girl… stuttery skype call… gymnastics. The visuals sometimes remind me of LoveTrue, which we saw last year on this same screen. In the final section, the girls are invited from their homes in different parts of Argentina to a performing arts program in Montreal. It’s not clear to me if the Montreal thing is an organized program for dealing with trauma, or if that’s how the girls and their aunt are approaching it, in conjunction with their poetry and stories and crocodile-play. The girls seem smart and open with supportive families – they’re as easy to root for as last year’s family.