Flowers Blooming in Our Throats (2020, Eva Giolo)

Nice sound design in an a/g short, how rare. Sync sound effects, professionally blended between shots. Focus on hands and arms… slapping and clutching, spinning tops, clipping flowers, with and without a red filter. I take the film as an ASMR parody, with its hair-brushing and rubberband-snapping, edited too quickly to evoke whatever trance state the youtubers seek.

Please Speak Continuously and Describe Your Experiences as They Come to You (2019, Brandon Cronenberg)

“Eventually I realize I’m in a kind of hell.” Deragh is a brain-implant patient describing the dream states the device puts her in. Three dreams under different color filters, then a good ol’ glitching-video-signal nude freakout before the Twilight Zone ending.

Tomb of Kafka (2022, Jean-Claude Rousseau)

Prague. A small room. The desk has a hat on it. One of the windows is green. Usually there’s a white-haired man without anything compelling to do. His activities have equal weight as the quick fadeouts or fidgets of the camera refocusing. Sometimes a cutaway to a forest or a dead bug. We watch the man read for a minute or two. Hey, I could be reading. Didn’t I get a new Laszlo Krasznahorkai book? I could’ve been reading that.

Dear Chantal (2021, Nicolas Pereda)

Chantal is renting a place from the narrator’s sister, a painter. He’s an Akermaniac so asks to be in charge of communication, which we hear as flatly-narrated letters. Nice shot of brushing leaves from a skylight. Opens and closes with the quote: “Letters never written nonetheless exist.”

Blank Narcissus (2022, Peter Strickland)

A “rediscovered” Midsummer Night’s Gay Porno with audio commentary by a director mourning his long-lost relationship with the star. Maybe Strickland isn’t as great as I’d been assuming.

Open Sky, Open Sea, Open Ground (2022, Baus & Gills)

Ecuador… Grainy film with a wrecked water/shuffle soundtrack of people running across a beach from boat to truck, delivering containers of fish while besieged by pelicans and gulls. I was rooting for the pelicans.

Emergence Collapse (2021, Rainer Kohlberger & Jung An Tagen)

Liquid cityscapes! Best guess is it’s nighttime photography turned into pure digital moosh with the color dial turned to eleven. Some of the most tripped-out shit I’ve ever seen. Loses a point for the nightmarish music, sort of a generative-autechre.

Mnemonics of Shape and Reason (2021, Sky Hopinka)

Wow, a convincing and succinct blend of earth, sky and water. Images upside-rightside overlapping, the sky masked by a person-walking silhouette, desert and plants blurred into blasted lines as if viewed out a rocket-car window.

Mélodie de brumes à Paris (1985, Julius-Amédé Laou)

The only short I watched from the free offerings of Prismatic Ground, which was like most film festivals in not having very clear communication about its streaming program.

Opens on a dubbed guy having a breakdown out the window of an artificial-looking apartment, yelling at neighbors and passers-by to blow up the buildings of the oppressors (start with the bars, banks and pay toilets). He mutters himself to sleep on the can, the synth soundtrack alternating with a pop song repeating the film’s title. In the morning he walks through the fog to a bar, his thoughts still on bombs, is the only customer but still can’t get served (because of racism, not because they heard him advocating for the violent destruction of all bars). He finds his dead father and confesses to being a merciless killing machine during the Algerian war. That night he’s being harassed by a drug dealer when a white doorman starts being racist, the director yells cut but the doorman doesn’t stop, and the cast and crew start fighting with the white locals.

Good looking movie with nice fourth-wall-breaking and synth music. I do think a few of the voiceover lines were clunky (guy is haunted by the past, we know because he says “the past, the past”). Star Greg Germain also appeared in the similarly themed Soleil O and popped up in everything from Chabrol movies to Emmanuelle sequels.

Fatty and Mabel Adrift (1916, Roscoe Arbuckle)

Farmhand Roscoe marries Mabel and they move into a cottage her parents buy when a shady realtor’s car breaks down outside their house. R&M sleep as far apart as possible inside, while outside his romantic rival the Hated Milk Machine conspires with some random thugs to … push their house into the ocean? Or it happens to slide away during a storm while HMM and the thugs are attempting to break in. Either way, they don’t become adrift until the last 7 minutes. The cops and parents somehow save them, meanwhile HMM and the thugs gamble all night, argue over the wad of cash, then all die in an accidental explosion. I know that watching silents while listening to Zorn is a cliche with me, but Cleric playing Bagatelles vol. 12 was perfect for this.

Mabel’s parents with villain Al St. John as the HMM:

One of Strickland’s insular alternate-reality weirdo movies, about an artistic residency by a group of “sonic caterers,” is secretly a comedy about bandmate relationships. “I’d say misunderstanding between us is probably the key to our sound.” Of course it looks excellent.

Fatma X2:

On the residency side of things, Gwendoline Christie (returning from In Fabric) is famed Director Jan. Beardy journalist Stones, documenting the musicians, is a Greek guy from Chevalier whose digestive issues are more fascinating to the group than to hilariously snipey Dr. Glock. After music performances, the invited audience “pays tribute” (sexually), which Stones also documents. And another music group was rejected from the institute, is now threatening violence. In a tie-in to Crimes of the Future, everyone in this movie wants to be in a culinary art collective.

Stones vs. the Doctor:

The band is led by Strickland muse Fatma Mohamed, who says within earshot of the others that they’re not a collective – she’s the leader and the others are replaceable. Ariane Labed and Asa Butterfield (Hugo himself) make up the rest of the trio. Asa is especially cute in this – his emo haircut sticking out through the eyeholes of his crime-catsuit is a nice touch.

On Letterboxd: “Some Might Say” by Oasis

Cold Meridian (2020, Peter Strickland)

Rehearsal footage from a recent dance piece never publicly performed, edited with a shampoo-hair ASMR lady whispering to her online viewers about their previous site activity. Nice thing to watch while drowsy on a plane – as far as the ASMR stuff goes, the shampoo thing is interesting at least, the whispering is nice, and I don’t get the crinkling paper/cellophane thing at all.

De Natura (2018, Lucile Hadzihalilovic)

Beautiful little film. Two girls are out in nature, and we get shots of sky and trees and mushrooms, all more rapidly edited than the Strickland until it gets dark and chills out at a campfire in the end. Streams and waterfalls much nicer than crinkling paper.

Olla (2019, Ariane Labed)

Very red-haired Olla is visiting a guy she met online for the first time. He speaks French, she doesn’t know it, but practices while cleaning the house in high heels while he’s at work… so she’s a servant/gf? Nice looking movie, shot on 16mm. She carefully removes his mother from the apartment before blowing it up in the end.

Which is Witch (2020, Marie Losier)

A man in fancy military dress is frozen stiff, gets dragged into a cave by a deer woman. Then three women wearing statue of liberty crowns dance around him, and he’s released… but still frozen, so I’m not sure what this accomplished. My first Losier, not the Guy Maddin collab, but still the kind of hazy costumed maximalism I enjoy. Thanks to Mandico in the credits, that makes sense.

Elektra (2020, Asia Argento)

Like a music video montage of scenes from a longer film, which I appreciate in a way since the longer film doesn’t look very good. A daughter is resentful of her mother, both of them in glamorous feather dresses from the company that commissioned this short, until matricide ensues, then a straight-up fashion show in an abandoned palace (Guadagnino hid his movie’s advertising origins better). It’s at least better than the last movie I saw that Argento directed.

The Little Story of Gwen from French Brittany (2008, Agnes Varda)

Promo-looking movie about an LA film programmer from Varda’s own neighborhood who moved out to the states and made it work. Shout out to Marker’s Immemory!

After Before (2016, Athina Rachel Tsangari)

Hangout behind-the-scenes and rehearsal and shoot footage isn’t usually terribly interesting, but we are suckers for the Linklater/Delpy/Hawke trio.

Some movies watched before, during, and soon after the China trip:

The Illinois Parables (2016 Deborah Stratman)

I know I watched it late at night, in Alpharetta, and somehow took no notes, and enjoyed it. Landscapes and history lessons. Sure sounds interesting from the letterboxd writeups! Maybe kinda if General Orders No. 9 was much better, and had been highly influenced by Profit Motive.

Widows (2018 Steve McQueen)

After all the hype – the follow-up to his best-picture winner with an outstanding cast – somehow I lost interest in this by the time it came out, and caught up months later on the seat-back of a plane. It’s overwrought and overstuffed, but undeniably pleasurable in its performances and genre plotting.

I wonder if the male actors were sabotaged in an attempt to draw attention to the heist-gone-bad widows Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki and Michelle Rodriguez – or if they just misjudged the tone of the movie. Colin Farrell overacts as a cartoon-villain politician, Daniel Kaluuya plays a basic enforcer of a crime boss/politician stalking Viola Davis, and Liam Neeson goes from sympathetic victim to archvillain when he’s discovered by wife Viola (in the movie’s best scene) to be shacking up with the fourth widow after arranging the deaths of his buddies to get away with all the money. Does Viola throw aside spousal emotion for the sake of sweet revenge, killing Liams herself at the end? She does!

Transit (2018 Christian Petzold)

Watched at the Tara, huge, alone. Sicinski’s review says it all.

High Life (2018 Claire Denis)

I took no notes about this, mostly remember the ending of Robert Pattinson and daughter alone on the ship hurtling towards a black hole, and the haunting Pattinson-sung Tindersticks song. These two most recent Claire Denis features have helped offset the brutal unpleasantness of her previous two, and even though this one has its share of rape and murder, it also has beauty and wonder and general strangeness… and that song…

Us (2019 Jordan Peele)

Watched with Pro at Atlantic Station – on the secret screen with its own bar, not that this mattered. I don’t have a firm handle on the symbolism, but it’s a hell of a thriller regardless. See smart articles by Kyle, Monica, Mike, and Carol.

In Fabric (2018 Peter Strickland)

Watched at the glorious Plaza as part of the Atlanta Film Festival.

Marianne Jean-Baptiste (Secrets & Lies) visits a creepy clothing store during sales week, is talked into buying a cursed red dress by a cheerfully coercive saleswoman (Fatma Mohamed, speaking in retail-poetry). Marianne dates Barry Adamson (a Bad Seed!), gets chastised by boss Julian Barratt, and keeps getting injured until she’s finally killed in a car crash. It’s a strange tone overall, kind of a creeping dread mixed with splashes of comedy – but Marianne is a sympathetic character stuck in a crappy job, being intimidated in her own house by her son’s new girl (Gwendoline Christie of Top of the Lake season 2), so the campy horror-comedy gets overwhelmed by sadness. The dress survives, and gets shared by another guy with a crappy job (Leo Bill) and his girlfriend Hayley Squires (of the latest Wheatley and second-latest Loach), misfortune and death follow, but this time the department store burns down during a consumer brawl.


A lot of us filmmakers have had to do the kinds of jobs these characters do: temping, retail. The challenge is to usher those experiences into one’s films without it feeling like a vendetta, because a lot of those experiences are quite ball breaking. It’s more desirable to find humor there, to take characters like [Sheila’s employers] Stash and Clive and make them funny.

Election 1 & 2 (2005/06 Johnnie To)

Watched a couple of HK double-features on the long flight back from HK – on the iPad, tragically, so no screenshots. These are Hong Kong underworld power struggle movies – Lok (Simon Yam, star of at least six other To films) wins the election that Big D (Tony Leung 2: Evil East) thought he’d bought, so Big D revolts and threatens to start a war. Lok placates the dude, offering him the chairman position after Lok’s two years are up, and the two become friends – until the moment Big D lets his guard down and gets murdered.

Part two is more complicated, starring Jimmy (Louis Koo, the movie star in Romancing in Thin Air) as a businessman using his gangster ties to get ahead, but with plans to go straight – until he’s arrested and forced by the mainland government to run as their puppet chairman. Lok attempts to run a second time, which is against the rules, Kun (Ka Tung Lam, a cop in some of the Infernal Affairs movies) kidnaps some of the elders to get ahead, and Jet (Nick Cheung of Exiled) attempts to eliminate the competition. In both movies, the baton signaling the chairman’s power is hidden as a strategic move, then the baton is recovered through scheming and brutality.

A Better Tomorrow 1 & 2 (1986/87 John Woo)

I alternated these with the Election movies, and they’re either good indicators that John Woo is no Johnnie To, or that the 1980’s were a horrible decade for filmmaking. Gangster Ho (Ti Lung of a ton of Shaw Brothers movies) is protective of his cop little brother Kit (Leslie Cheung). He tries to get out, but they pull him back in! A few years later, Kit and Ho and his best friend Mark (Chow Yun-fat) sort-of team up to take down the gangster boss. The movie’s main attractions are guessing where the shifting loyalties will land, and watching Chow Yun-fat overplay his part as the super-cool guy, a schtik that nobody would fall for (jk, he became a massive star from this role and won the best actor award). At least he definitively dies at the end of the movie, so he won’t be in the sequel.

Part two is pretty much the same movie, Ho and Kit versus new gangster Lung (Dean Shek of Drunken Master), but it turns out Lung is being set up, so they all team up against the new superboss. Kit is killed as his baby is being born across town (by Emily Chu, also Cheung’s costar in Rouge the following year). The movie suffers from the lack of Chow Yun-fat’s stupid energy… ahhhh kidding, he appears as Mark’s identical twin brother, a non-gangster who transforms into a Mark-like badass after about twenty minutes.

Alternate prequels were filmed – producer Tsui Hark made the official A Better Tomorrow III, and Woo adapted his own prequel script into Bullet in the Head (in which Simon Yam played a character named Lok, an unexpectin’ Election connection).

Lu Over The Wall (2017 Masaaki Yuasa)

Schoolkid meets a manic pixie dream mermaid – sort of a Walk On Girl-distorted version of Ponyo. Not as thrillingly nuts as Walk On Girl – surprising, since that’s a teen drinking drama and this one’s about a rock music-loving mermaid. She gets discovered, captured, rescued, etc., less interesting for the story than the wavy-jumbly animation style.

Diamantino (2018 Gabriel Abrantes & Daniel Schmidt)

Loopy, extremely fun cult flick about a massive soccer star manipulated by his scheming sisters, a mad scientist, and a cop who masquerades as his adoptive daughter. Everyone spends the movie trying to catch him out, but Diamantino is too simply sweet to be scheming.

Lead actor Carloto Cotta also starred in Tabu, and appears in Mysteries of Lisbon and all three of the Arabian Nights. I’ve been rooting for Abrantes since his Brief History of Princess X, so glad this was wonderful. I haven’t watched many movies at the Plaza since getting back, but between this and In Fabric, they’ve been extremely Plaza-appropriate.

Complicated movie about a complicated relationship. I’ll bet this is fun to watch a second time. Cynthia seems an awful high-haired rich woman who mistreates her maid Evelyn, but it turns out these two are in a relationship, and Evelyn is ordering Cynthia to order Evelyn around – even providing a script for Cynthia to follow. One or both of them are lepidopterists and/or cheating with the neighbor or the custom-furniture saleswoman. I can’t tell if it has a happy ending – or if it has an ending, or simply loops back on itself. It has sensuous atmosphere in spades – no shit, from the director of Berberian Sound Studio. I like what he does, the hermetic cinephile worlds he creates, but never seem to fall in love with the films.

Sidse Knudsen (Borgen, After The Wedding) is Cynthia and Chiara D’Anna (a tormented actress in Berberian Sound Studio) is Evelyn. Shout out to Buñuel – one of the few auxillary characters is named Dr. Viridiana.

Uses songs by Flying Saucer Attack and Nurse With Wound. Great credits, with Human Toilet Consultants, recording notes on all the insect audio (“Gryllotalpa africana: recorded by D.R. Ragge & W.J. Reynolds on 21st May 1974 at 14:00 hours on a nagra 4d tape recorder and sennheiser mkh 405 microphone in very dim light at 25 degrees centigrade”), and this right after the human cast:

J. Teodoro for Cinema Scope:

Though not used as a one-to-one metaphor, the shadows that will soon enter Evelyn and Cynthia’s perverts’ paradise are telegraphed in The Duke‘s hallucinatory images of butterflies, pinned, with labial wings spread, neatly contained in frames and displayed in seemingly infinite rows, their ornate patterning and careful classification rhyming with Evelyn’s carefully composed erotic scripts – written in an elegant calligraphic hand – to which Cynthia is meant to scrupulously adhere.

M. D’Angelo:

Strickland is clearly a heavy-duty cinephile—Berberian Sound Studio paid tribute to Italian giallo, and there’s a dream sequence here that includes an homage to Stan Brakhage’s avant-garde short Mothlight — and he has a lot of fun early on establishing the parameters of his Eurotrash softcore aesthetic. The movies he’s ostensibly aping, however, took place in an erotically exaggerated version of the real world, whereas The Duke Of Burgundy dispenses with literally anything that doesn’t meet the needs of its story. Other women are seen from time to time, but nobody does anything resembling “normal” work; the entire population appears to consist of amateur lepidopterists, who gather regularly to take turns giving lectures on various species of butterflies and moths.

In a BFI interview Strickland lists influences: Mothlight, Morgiana (1972), Belle de Jour, A Virgin Among The Living Dead (1973), Mano Destra (1986) and The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant.

The inclusion of an obscure reference done in an obvious fashion can be precarious in terms of what that reveals about a director’s motivations. At worst, the act of homage is merely posing and diverting attention onto the director rather than the film, but when done organically and effectively, as with both Greenaway at his best and Tarantino, it enriches the film and places it within a wider (albeit self-imposed) lineage that can be rewarding for the curious viewer.

Squeamish British sound engineer Toby Jones arrives in Italy to work on a movie called The Equestrian Vortex, not realizing it’s an extra-bloody horror film. Supposedly he was hired because the film’s director Santini holds him in high regard, but nobody else in the studio could care less, and his requests meet with blank stares and insults, as over the weeks of work he gets more shaken by the company and his work stabbing and snapping vegetables as torture-foley.

Like the 1970’s and 80’s Italian horrors Berberian claims to be recreating (we never see a scrap of footage from the film-in-a-film except its opening titles), this movie cares much more about atmosphere than anything else, and does a great job creating that through image and sound. With Jones playing a foley artist and sound recorder, they knew we’d be paying close attention to the soundtrack, and it’s wonderful. But while the Argento and Fulci movies have overstuffed but ultimately empty stories submerged in their gothic atmosphere, this one mostly dispenses with story and lets its atmosphere do all the talking. In fact, they seem to have forgotten to give the movie an ending. It has a neat build-up, as Toby’s letters from home bleed into his work, a story of a birdnest rampage paralleled in the inner film’s carnage and in editing-room chaos after a wronged actress takes out her frustration upon the audiotapes, but then it peters out after that.

Very nice touch that sound equipment is activated by a black gloved hand in close-up. Shot by Nic Knowland (Institute Benjamenta, Piano Tuner of Earthquakes). I must find Strickland’s earlier feature, a Romanian revenge drama.