Sunday, July 19, 2009

Bon cinéma!: Fantasia Fest 2009, week one

Every summer Concordia University in Montreal plays host to North America's greatest genre film festival.

A couple days after arriving back from beautiful Montréal's incredible, annual Fantasia Fest, I've plucked some favorites from my overcrowded brainpan.

1. Love Exposure (Sion Sono, 2008): What an experience! A four hour perverted paean to love that coasts along with uniquely Japanese pop charm. Exhilarating, cross-cutting montages meld with heartbreaking melodrama with the stamina of a marathon runner. Seeing it with a sold out enthusiastic audience---God bless those daring young Québécois---was the highlight of a strong festival week.

2. White Lightnin' (Dominic Murphy, 2009): I've not seen the well-regarded documentary Dancing Outlaw, nor did I manage to see the follow-up doc The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia (which also played at this year's Fantasia), so I was a wee innocent to the exploits of mountain dancin', gas huffin' Jesco White. This is the film Walk the Line never coulda been, a truly debauched and thoroughly rollicking bit of psychosis! Filmed in Desatura-Vision in the wilds of West Virginia and...Croatia!

3. Die Schneider Krankheit (Javier Chillón, 2008): A faux-documentary short film should be awful, but this 10 minute gem shot on 8mm Tri-X stock is brilliant. It's a mocked up German newsreel about a mysterious pandemic and science's strange efforts to contain it, including the breeding a leech-turtle hybrid. Guy Maddin should be envious.

Here's a brief trailer:

4. The Clone Returns Home (Kanji Nakajima, 2009): Refreshingly quiet, this cosmic vision of regret, sadness, and loss of identity is enriched with lovely imagery of Japanese countryside. It gave me goosebumps.

5. House (Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1977): In stark contrast to the painterly beauty of the previous film, lays House. Resurrected in vivid HD, this collage of a film engulfs the audience in cliché, kitsch, and lysergic imagery straddling the line between cartoon and genuine madness. Definitely overdone in every respect, it nevertheless projects a primal love of cinema.

Smoked meat! Bagels! Poutine!!! Fantasia's disturbing subway posters.

After bingeing on movies and Tim Hortons coffee (“Toujours Frais,” indeed) for a week reality starts to slip away, screenings run together in my mind (the two Clive Barker adaptations that premiered, Book of Blood and Dread have congealed into one lumpen mass). Such is the overwhelming joy of Fantasia.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Naked City: "Carrier" (1963)

This woman is dangerous. Sandy Dennis plays a carrier.

Kept in isolation in an island hospital since the age of fourteen, Loraine Kirshwood has been shielded from the outside world because she is the carrier of a fatal disease, the rare Van Norton Sawyer's Fever from New Guinea. One day she slips out of her entrusted prison into New York City. The police---led by the ever earnest Paul Burke---are called in to track down this modern Typhoid Mary.

Sandy Dennis is perfect casting for Loraine, a person truly out of step with the world. Hopelessly naïve, tentative in every step, Sandy brings much charm to this tabula rasa. Her first destination on her journey is a children's zoo, where she encounters an eight year old schemer who charges a quarter to escort her inside. That night she is enticed into a bossa nova nightclub by a lecherous scumbag with promises of an empty apartment to stay in. Escaping from his groping hands, she encounters Alan, an agoraphobic confined to his efficiency apartment---a person just as imprisoned as her. These two people, alienated through separate afflictions, begin a sweet romance.

Alan, imprisoned by agoraphobia.

When the police catch up with Loraine, Alan escapes his confines in concern for her. Loraine is returned to her island, while Alan promises to return to see her. As he bends in to kiss her, she backs off.

Paul Burke as Detective Adam Flint closes another case.

It's a somewhat bittersweet ending. Well, it's a particularly bitter ending for that slick-haired, smooth-talking degenerate from the nightclub. He dies a prolonged, dehydrated death, the sole fatality from Loraine's little adventure.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

That Cold Day in the Park (1969)

Sandy Dennis in a beautifully sad moment courtesy of
cinematographer László Kovács.

(Busy blogger Jeremy Richey has dedicated the month of February to films which have eluded the U.S. DVD market over at his excellent Moon in the Gutter blog. Check it out, I guarantee you'll come across a slew of movies that you must see now. This is my nomination for digital revival.)

“I want to tell you something. If you feel you want to make love to's alright.” She instantly corrects herself: “I want you to make love to me.” Then whispers, “Please.” It's the films most touching dialogue, part of lengthy confession delivered in Sandy Dennis' trademark halting, uneasy manner. The scene's resolution---or lack thereof---is the greatest frisson in a film immersed in cold, damp loneliness. Frances Austen's human contacts are limited to her prying maid and nearly-embalmed set of friends (on of whom is in constant pursuit of her affection). An act of impulsive naivete, leads her to invite an apparently mute young man out of the torrential rain into her cloistered apartment. The two forge a grotesque relationship, she living out a childlike daydream of a domestic partner---chatting, preparing meals, shopping for his clothes. He, at first silently observing a woman out of touch, soon becomes imprisoned.

It's a horror film about being alone and about body repulsion (Frances' trip to a gynecologist is supremely creepy, as if filmed by a voyeur). Often compared to Repulsion (1965), That Cold Day in the Park presents a far more sympathetic monster than icy Catherine Deneuve. Sandy Dennis' Frances Austen is touching and cute (“I've never seen someone go about without socks before, it gave me such a peculiar feeling,” she delivers with sincerity), socially inept, and, probably, mentally ill. This is the darkest role Ms. Dennis ever played, and her idiosyncratic ticks are perfectly at place in this character who fumbles for words, and hides her shyness behind her deceased mother's sense of order. It's a performance that builds to a crescendo in the aforementioned plea for companionship, which is brilliantly cut off at the point of hysteria, denying the character (and viewer) any release.

Frances Austen procures a prostitute (the wonderful
Luana Anders) for her prisoner.

Occupying an important place in Robert Altman's filmography (right after Countdown, just before his critical breakthrough MASH), That Cold Day began a thread of female melancholia explored further in Images (1972) and 3 Women (1977). Though those later films are more refined (and far more hallucinogenic) That Cold Day in the Park, with its fluid László Kovács photography and haunting Johnny Mandel score beguiles in its awkward intimacy.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

L'Éternité pour nous (1963)

Jean Marc (Michel Lemoine) is a moody piano player in a desolate seaside hotel, pounding out simple tunes for simple tastes. His wife and chanteuse (Sylvia Sorrente), with an obscene body threatening to explode out of skin tight sweaters and hot pants, feels her raging youth being snuffed out by the quiet surroundings. In a room upstairs lays a man dying, the elderly husband of the hotel manager, Maria. Languishing in this off-season purgatory, the beautiful characters engage in various erotic trysts, in between staring out of windows and laying face down in sand. This is like an Antonioni film with more of an emphasis on large breasts. There is a murder (the old man gets extinguished with arsenic), and all the dramatic posturing and platitudes just fill in the time between several artfully shot, genuinely sexy sequences. Jose Bénazeraf carefully stages the actors movements, exploiting the erotic potential of the widescreen format.

Sorrente is an amazing presence, her body impossibly athletic and pneumatic. Her dance scene to a slinky Louiguy composition is a stunner, surely the highlight of the film.

Carefully avoiding nudity, L'Éternite pour nous still manages to smolder. It's Bénazeraf's most classically made film, downright humanistic compared to the films to follow.