General Enrique and his rich family hide inside their mansion from the sidewalk protestors after he’s exonerated for genocide, and go on trying to act normal, though the servants flee and the General roams the house with a gun and the chanting continues. New maid Alma is teaching the kids how to hold their breath, because ghostly flashback reveals the General personally ordered her own kids to be drowned. Not that we ever suspected he was a nice guy, but at least his family’s eyes are opened before he inevitably dies.
Alma’s reward for starring in a well-liked foreign film is to be 30th billed in the new Black Panther sequel. A more popular Llorona movie came out the same year (per Indiewire a “schlocky jump-scare machine”) but this one is about real-life horrors in Guatemala, so it got lots of award nominations.
The opener was… Nerenai? That’s what I wrote down, though it’s not listed on the fest schedule… two women with two guitars, mic and drum machine.
You Can’t Stop Spirit (Vashni Korin)
Portrait of the Mardi Gras “Baby Dolls” shot like a Beyoncé video with dialogue loops and callbacks, fun. This came to mind again during the Big Ears festivities.
In Flow of Words (Eliane Esther Bots)
My fave of the bunch, though I remember it the least well now. Widescreen stories of translators who work on genocide trials.
The Last Days of August (Robert Machoian & Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck)
I knew the Killing of Two Lovers guy was going to be in this program, and recognized his style from the first frame… portrait of dying Nebraskan towns.
Our Ark (Deniz Tortum & Kathryn Hamilton)
3D models and simulationism. Our second Deniz collaborative short.
Nuisance Bear (Jack Weisman & Gabriela Osio Vanden)
Katy gave this a thumbs-down. Widescreen gliding camera discovers creatures on the outskirts of Canadian towns: snow rabbit, dogs, foxes, and the bears, who are caged and deported when they dare to involve themselves in the human civilization that has encroached on their territory and now comes out to gape at them as they migrate.
We showed up for the feature Dos Estaciones (Juan Pablo González), a re-enactment about an extremely buttoned-up woman running a failing tequila factory, but we ditched to get food and rest – it’s a lot of movies to watch over a long weekend.
Parallel Mothers (2021)
Ho-hum, another year, another exceptionally wonderful Almodóvar movie. Two hours with zero seconds of wasted time – this guy can just make a movie that’s about relationships, but actually about mistaken identity and mourning, but actually about mass murders in wartime. Shot digitally I’m guessing, has a sponsored-by-Apple feel.
Photographer Penelope Cruz and archaeologist Israel Elejalde:
Parallel mother Milena Smit:
The Human Voice (2020)
The least-talky version of this play ever produced, and maybe the shortest movie to ever play Phipps on its own. Absolute luxury mixed with staginess/artificiality.
The Apple sponsorship continues:
In the back of my mind I figured I’ve seen this years ago and just forgotten most of it, but nope, I couldn’t have forgotten this – a jaw-dropping sci-fi story (with funky music). Humans are pests and pets, the planet controlled by blue gill-eared giants. A highly-placed alien child calls his pet human Terr, which grows up and starts playing pranks and spying, eventually defecting to lead the tiny human revolution. Truce is called after the humans build miniature rockets, travel to the Wild Planet and laser down the alien sex statues.
Michael Brooke for Criterion:
Over four decades after its May 1973 premiere, it remains more or less unique. Its peculiar universe, designed by Roland Topor and realized by a team of Czechoslovak animators in Prague, is instantly recognizable from virtually any freeze-frame, and the film as a whole is so rich, strange, and sui generis that nothing has emerged since to retrospectively blunt its impact … [Topor] cofounded the Panic Movement with Fernando Arrabal and Alejandro Jodorowsky, named after the god Pan and intended to make surrealism as shocking as it had been in the 1920s, before its imagery and ideas were co-opted and diluted by the mainstream … he wrote the 1964 source novel for Roman Polanski’s disquietingly paranoid The Tenant (1976), appeared in Dušan Makavejev’s Sweet Movie (1974) and Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979, as the lunatic Renfield).
Les Temps Morts (1965)
I’ve seen Laloux’s earlier Monkey Teeth short, but this is when he teamed up with Topor. A grim little anthropological study of man’s propensity for murder. I think their sensibility worked better when applied to a fictional scenario – and the animation is in very rough form here, illustrations cross-faded in sequence, drawings shuffling Gilliam-style, but mostly the camera panning around stills. Some sharp stills, though – if you cut the live-action atrocity footage it’d make a good picture-book of horrors.
Les Escargots (1966)
A different kind of apocalyptic movie, this one really takes a turn. Farmer realizes his crops will only grow if he cries on them, so he walks around the field holding cut onions, reading sad books, and wearing an ass-kicking machine. The giant plants attract snails, which also grow giant, slide over to the nearest major city and utterly destroy it. Little Shop of Horrors may have been an influence.
Really there were only a few crowd-pleasing hits at this year’s T/F, which was interrupted (for us) by a snowstorm and fouled by some too-late nights and difficult film picks. This was one of them, despite being a two-plus-hour crackpot investigation into unprovable murder cases. I caught up with Brügger’s The Red Chapel shortly before this year’s festival slate was announced, and this was the #1 Sundance movie I was pulling for.
Some good uncomfortable laughter, some twisty investigation and humor in construction/presentation offset the ultimate topic: power grabs, espionage, mercenaries, murders, white supremacy, attempted genocide – US and UK governments blatantly destroying Africa’s hopes of self-sufficiency. Göran sparks off the investigation and does all the background research, and Mads provides context, theatrical antics and the overall sense that we can’t tell how much of this is true.
Opener was River Arkansas again, but with new songs, and we grabbed a juice at Main Squeeze beforehand.
Silent newsreel footage played at a handful of frames per second, beginning with Il Duce’s death. Unfortunately I am not someone well-versed in history who says “ah it’s that famous footage I know so well of the notorious event at the end of Il Duce’s life,” but rather I am someone who has to wikipedia who Il Duce was… ah, it’s Mussolini, fascist dictator of Italy for twenty years. The movie then flashes back to footage from early in his reign and carries on forward.
It’s silent for the first ten minutes, then gentle glimmering drone music kicks in as Duce stands at some kind of parade or rally, looking like the fourth Stooge. Closeups of the Great Man get intensely slowed down, while crowd shots of darker-skinned people run at almost full speed.
Segment 3 in Tripoli features a Florence Foster Jenkins song about modern Europe letting refugees die. 100,000 Libyans were shot in the 1920’s? Italy carried out a North African genocide by raining poison gas from planes? Someone needs to look into this. The movie is doing some sort of Ken Jacobs thing, hypnotizing the viewer with archive footage (I fell asleep at least once and had to rewind). “Barbaric Land” was a phrase used about Ethiopia when Italy was colonizing.
The evil dictator… the fascist system… the normal people who carried out orders to exterminate thousands, photos of them smiling casually next to their planes loaded with poison gas, and period pictures of Africans representing the victims… a photo slideshow, the pictures handheld by gloved fingers, trembling in front of the camera.
The Avengers and the Guardians and all the new guys like Strange and Panther collide, as a space monster with a firm belief in genocide as the cure for the universe’s problems kills a few people (Loki, rainbow bridgekeeper Idris Elba, green Guardian Gamora, Vision) en route to collecting the Infinity Stones vaguely mentioned in previous movies. The heroes put up strong resistance, but the movie’s all about personal sacrifices – brothers Thor/Loki, lovers Scarlet Witch/Vision, lovers Starlord/Gamora, foster family Thanos/Gamora/Nebula, barely-just-met-allies Strange/Iron Man. Some are prepared to sacrifice, others aren’t so sure, and their hesitation gives Thanos the edge, so he gets the stones, literally snaps his fingers and kills half of everyone everywhere, including: Black Panther, Scarlet Witch, Bucky, Don Cheadle, all the Guardians except Rocket, and Samuel L. Jackson. We are assuming that either (1) Benedict Wong uses space-time powers or (2) Ant-Man uses subatomic multidimensional powers to somehow undo the carnage, or (3) everyone who wanted out of their contracts got turned to dust and we just carry on with whoever’s left, throwing in some X-Men and Captain Marvel and Young Han Solo or whoever to take their places.
I was worried that with my poor memory of the previous movies, we’d be lost as to the location and importance of each infinity stone, but the movie does a good job explaining stuff without getting bogged down Matrix-style – all you need to remember are the characters. Mostly it’s ‘splosions and wisecracks, as usual, and those are on point. We dug Peter Dinklage as a giant dwarf weapons forger, can’t make myself care about Young Spider-man or Iron Man’s wedding to Gwyneth Paltrow, didn’t miss Hawkeye. Was warming up to Strange, surprised to see him and Panther turned to dust already. It’s disappointing that these movies are doing the same things as the X-Men series but in a different order… I suppose next we’ll get Avengers: Days of Future Past.