Katy’s Criterion Channel pick is my first Kiyoshi in a few years, having skipped the alien visitation movies. I found it barely recognizable as a Kiyoshi, not sensing the horror atmosphere that others mentioned in reviews. A few days in the life of Yoko, on location in Uzbekistan with an easily defeated TV crew (when one segment falls through they don’t have any backup plans, hadn’t even read Lonely Planet: Tashkent on the plane). They each become familiar over the fairly long 120 minutes: director, cameraman, flunky, and translator – though the viewer is always on Yoko’s side (Seventh Code star Atsuko Maeda).

The movie gives us a symbolic goat which the TV crew pays to free, then pays again after it gets recaptured, then Yoko sees it in the hills at the end. The one time the camerawork feels complex is when Yoko wanders into an opera house and gets jump-cut between ornate rooms before finding herself both in the seats and onstage. After visualizing her inner yearning, KK shows the absolute lack of imagination of her coworkers – the translator suggests shooting in that opera house, explains its specifically Japanese origin and his rich emotional history with the place, and the director shrugs it off, saying their viewers wouldn’t care.

Opens handheld with a total Veep gag, an incompetent newsman who turns the camera off whenever he meant to turn it on. Our newsman Armin (Hans Löw, who had a small part in Toni Erdmann) takes a girl home from a bar, makes an ass of himself and she ditches. He goes home to be with his father and dying grandma. Then he falls asleep by the river, and wakes up as the last man on earth.

The movie is into long takes, but not absurdly showy long takes (though a dizzy race through abandoned streets in a stolen sports car is impressive). The sounds of dying grandma, and a dying dog the next day, are prominent and awful, and seem to soundtrack Armin’s helplessness. But then there’s a jump forward by an unknown amount of time…

Michael Sicinski in Cinema Scope:

In cinematic terms, Köhler’s treatment of Armin’s survival is highly unique in that he solves almost all of his major crises in an undefined but clearly substantial temporal ellipsis. Following the time gap, Köhler gives us a completely transformed Armin. In a nearly silent second act, we see that Armin has lost weight, become a skilled horseman, and, most astonishingly, built … a deluxe home with running water, solar panels, a menagerie of useful farm animals, and most importantly, fully reliable shelter from the elements.

Armin has a gas generator but is working on getting his hydroelectric going, to be fully self-sufficient. That old helpless Armin is still with us at times, like when his newborn goat (more notable sound effects: the mama goat giving birth) is stolen by a dog. This is Armin’s introduction to the only other person in the latter half of the movie, Kirsi (Elena Radonicich). And even though the movie has constructed a little paradise for these two survivors, when old “civilized” Armin starts creeping back, Kirsi decides to get back on the road.

Played Cannes in the Certain Regard with Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Rafiki and Border. Ulrich Köhler made Sleeping Sickness, and is not Ulrich Seidl who made that Safari film at True/False – I will try to stop getting my Ulrichs confused. His romantic partner Maren Ade is a producer, and I just saw her name on Synonyms as well.

As for what it all means, see the Sicinski article. Köhler:

For me, the interesting point is that a character who refused to adapt to a bourgeois lifestyle starts building a future once the society he didn’t want to be part of disappears.

Possibly even more of a casual hangout movie than The Other Side, refusing any backstory or narrative momentum. And as with that one, I never have any idea if what we’re seeing is pure documentary, or what has been invented for the film. These aren’t complaints! Handheld cameras shoved right into actors’ faces in low lighting while nothing much happens isn’t usually my aesthetic preference, but I do love Minervini’s work so far.

Sara lives and works on a goat farm with her large, homeschooling family (there are “bad influences” in the public schools), sells at farmers’ markets and directly to neighboring families, like the rodeo down the street, where Sara makes smalltalk with young Colby. It’s so low-key that you wouldn’t think there’s a budding relationship there, but for a couple marriage conversations she has at home (and is that an old-fashioned wedding dress she’s wearing in the final shot?). More than half of the movie is rodeo and praying. Substituting for the armed, drunken racist horror that was the last half-hour of The Other Side: a short scene, unexplained, of a cross burning in a field at night.

Hollywood Reporter:

Minervini is particularly successful at suggesting the parallels between Colby and Sara. A skinny, sweet-natured cowboy who’s all sinew but no muscle, he needs focus and determination to master his rodeo skills and avoid injury. A born nurturer with a special feeling for animals, she holds sacred beliefs yet at the same time is needled by doubts and fears that she’s unable to articulate, which her mother assures her are an inevitable part of the battle for inner peace … And while it isn’t quite a performance in the standard sense, it’s difficult to imagine the film working to the extent it does without a figure of such emotional transparency and innate spirituality as Sara Carlson at its center.

EDIT: an essential interview with Minervini at Filmmaker.

Maybe the darkest movie I’ve ever seen – by which I mean a lack of light, even in the outdoor scenes, to the point where I sometimes could not tell what was happening. Wondered if the projectionist screwed up, but the trailer seems pretty damned dark on my laptop too, so maybe it’s just one dark-ass film.

Settlers with proper settler-names like Mercy and Caleb, exiled from the main town are torn apart by either evil forces or their crazed, fanatical imaginings of evil forces… but let’s say it’s the former. A goat named Black Phillip and at least one woods-dwelling witch get involved. Our protagonist is eldest child Thomasin, whose dad is a deep-voiced beardo and mom is Kate Dickie of Red Road. There’s a brother and a baby and some mischievous twins – more characters for witches and spirits to pervert and murder.

Bookmarked an article called “The Witch is a radicalization narrative,” which I don’t think I’ll read after all. In summary, I don’t know where this Mr. Eggers came from, but I assume he’s the younger brother from “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” and if he makes another dark film-video about witches I will go see it.

The trailer and the IMDB plot summary are both slightly misleading – one gives the movie a narrator, an explicit theme of rebirth and the other gives it a human lead character and a story setup. The movie itself has none of these things, and requires none. The advertising was all for naught anyway – it was just me and one other guy on opening night at the plaza.

The trailer narration is useful – explains that the movie is illustrating the reincarnation theory of Pythagoras (a native of the area where the film was shot) which claims that each person has lived before as a mineral, a plant, an animal. The film is full of births and deaths – quiet, no dialogue or narration at all, but I found it beautiful and interesting, and meditative without being boring.

In order, as far as I remember it. Guy is on a steaming rock pile, slapping it with a shovel. A shepherd is taking his goats out to pasture, seems to have trouble walking home. That night he mixes some powder with water and drinks it before bed. Next day, collects snails in a pail, tries to fashion a lid so they won’t escape. Goes to church where he trades a bottle of milk to a woman for a packet of dust, which she has swept up from the floor. That day in the field he loses the packet, and is distressed about it when he gets home, goes to church but nobody answers. Next morning is the most impressive long-take I’ve seen all year. The camera is across the street from the man’s house, facing it, above the fenced-in pen where the goats are kept. A passion play is coming down the street, and some late-arriving centurions park across the street, propping their car tire with a rock. After the parade goes by, a boy lagging behind is threatened by the shepherd’s dog, distracts the dog by throwing rocks, dog grabs the one under the car, car rolls into the fence freeing all the goats. I can’t imagine wanting to coordinate a ten-minute shot with a cast of sixty townspeople in which the lead actors are a young child and a dog. Anyway, the shepherd is discovered dead, the goats rampaging through his house. A couple of new guys are taking care of the goats, but the movie doesn’t linger on them, takes the goats’ point of view for a while. We see a goat give birth (this is why Katy didn’t want to see the movie), the small goats play inside while the grown ones go to pasture, and finally when they’re old enough the small ones tag along – but one gets lost, presumably freezes to death under a tree. The tree is cut down, dragged into town and lifted up for some kind of festival, then taken down, chopped to bits and given to the coal man. He arranges the wood in a very orderly pile, covers it and sets alight, tamping it down from above to make coal. And that’s where we came in.

“The only professional used in the film, claims Frammartino, was the dog.”

Frammartino also made a movie called The Gift, which I must find sometime.