Hsiao-Hsien Hou – Beiqíng chéngshì AKA A City of Sadness (1989)

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A City Of Sadness opens with a credit sequence-shot of total darkness as the solemn voice of Emperor Hirohito is heard over a radio broadcast announcing the unconditional surrender of Japan on August 15, 1945. The setting is then faintly illuminated by the warm glow of candles to reveal an anxious Taiwanese household that is preparing for the imminent birth of a child in the midst of a power failure. As the electricity is restored, the audible agony of the expectant mother gives way to the sound of a crying infant. The apparent metaphor is then reinforced in the subsequent intertitles that reveal that the concubine of Lin Wen-heung (Chen Sown-yung) had given birth to a son whom they name Kang-ming, meaning ‘light.’ However, as the film chronicles the lives of the Lin family during the turbulent four years between the Japanese withdrawal from Taiwan after 51 years of occupation in 1945, to the secession of Taiwan from mainland China in 1949, the hopeful and optimistic tone of the film’s introductory sequence seemingly proves untenable. Continue reading

Werner Nekes – Uliisses (1982)

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The film is a Homeric journey through the history of cinema. Its theme is based on the mythological Odysseus of Homer, the Ulysses of James Joyce, and the synthetic figure, Telemach/Phil, from the 24-hour-long piece «The Warp,» by Neil Oram. Werner Nekes combines these three figures, and he shows their stories within the history of «lighterature,» writing with light = film. His central theme, however, is visual language in of itself: Odysseus/Bloom is transformed into Uli the Photographer, Penelope/Molly into his model, and Telemach/Stephen into Phil, who begins his «Telemachia». The connecting of their three lives occurs during the course of a single day, in September of 1980, in Germany’s industrial Ruhrgebiet region, preceding the elections in the Federal Republic. Continue reading

Ulrike Ottinger – Freak Orlando (1981)

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As Orlando (Magdalena Montezuma) enters the world of “freaks,” the movie develops scenes from a mythological netherworld, the Spanish Inquisition, the Middle Ages, and a few other settings to focus on unusual characters with physical or mental oddities. By the time the various vignettes that take place in these separate periods are completed, each with their own points and counterpoints, the “freaks” seem much less odd than their physically normal contemporaries. After Orlando has revealed much about the human condition through glimpses of a P.T. Barnum side-show, Siamese twins, as well as modern sexual morés, her journey with the viewer is completed. The device of Orlando, the time-traveler and liberated bisexual is based on Virginia Woolf’s “Orlando: A Biography.” The same set of actors play different roles in each of the five chronological segments. ~ Eleanor Mannikka, Rovi Continue reading

Maureen Blackwood – Perfect Image? (1989)

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Bright and imaginative in its approach to its subject, PERFECT IMAGE? exposes stereotypical images of Black women and explores women’s own ideas of self worth. Using two actresses who constantly change their personae, the film poses questions about how Black women see themselves and each other and the pitfalls that await those who internalize the search for the “perfect image”! Continue reading

Yermek Shinarbayev – Mest AKA Revenge (1989)

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A child is raised in Korea to avenge the death of his father’s first child in this decades-spanning tale of obsession and violence, the third collaboration between director Ermek Shinarbaev and writer Anatoli Kim. A study of everyday evil infused with philosophy and poetry, this haunting allegory was the first Soviet film to look at the Korean diaspora in central Asia, and a founding work of the Kazakh New Wave. Rigorous and complex, Revenge weaves luminous imagery with inventive narrative elements in an unforgettable meditation on the way trauma is passed down through generations. Continue reading

Barbara Sternberg – Transitions (1982)

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“Transitions” is a film of inner life and speaks of time, reality, power. It depicts the disquieting sensations of being between – between falling asleep and being awake, between here and there, between being and non-being. These metaphysical themes are evoked by the central image of a woman in white over which layers of images and sound (voices) are superimposed. Continue reading