Wiktor Grodecki – Not Angels But Angels (1994)

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Interviews with a procurer and with nineteen boys and young men who are prostitutes in Prague. The youths range in age from 14 to 19. They hustle at the central train station and at clubs. Most of their clients are foreign tourists, many are German. The youths talk about why they hustle, their first trick, prices, dangers, what they know about AIDS, their fears (disease and loneliness), and how they imagine their futures. The film’s title, its liturgical score, much of it elegiac, and shots of the city’s statues of angels underline the vulnerability and callow lack of sophistication of the young men. Continue reading

Segundo de Chomón & Giovanni Pastrone – La guerra ed il sogno di Momi (1917)

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Little Momi’s father has left to be a soldier and his letters are eagerly anticipated by his family at home. In one of them he recounts the adventure of little highlander Berto, who saved his mother from an attack by the Austrians by running to warn the Italian troops. Momi is impressed by the tale and falls asleep on the sofa, hugging his favourite toys, agile Trick and violent Track; as soon as the child is sleeping Trick, Track and their troops unleash a battle with a vengeance, featuring heavy artillery, chemical weapons and air attacks. Finally, in the vehemence of their clash, Momi is involved as well and prodded with bayonets. Nevertheless… it is only a rose thorn and the battle was only a dream. Momi confidently keeps looking forward to the return of his father from the front, together with his mother and grandfather. This masterpiece by the wizard of “special effects” Segundo de Chomón is a war story, divided into a first live-action part and a second animated one in stop-motion, with a skill that still leaves one gaping even today. Visual inventions and sophisticated technical solutions follow each other: from the bellows sucking in the fumes of the chemical attack to the soda bottle used to extinguish fires in the city of Lilliput after the air incursion. Continue reading

Raoul Ruiz – De grands événements et des gens ordinaires AKA Of Great Events and Ordinary People (1979)

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In 1978, Ruiz was commissioned to make a television documentary about the French elections from the viewpoint of a Chilean exile in the 11th arrondissement. But, contrary to the producers’ expectation, the Left lost. Ruiz seized on this anti-climax to make a documentary about nothing except itself – a film whose central subject is forever lost in digression and ‘dispersal’, harking back to his Chilean experiments of the ’60s. It is the best, and certainly the funniest, of self-reflexive deconstructions of the documentary form. Ruiz drolly exaggerates every hare-brained convention of TV reportage, from shot/reverse shot ‘suture’ and talking-head experts to establishing shots and vox pops (narrator’s note to himself: “Include street interviews ad absurdum”.) Every fragment of reality (e.g. polling booths on voting day) comes through the lens as a pre-fabricated televisual cliché. And, as always, Ruiz detonates his own auteur status.As an essay-film, Great Events contains many echoes – and a cheeky critique – of the sophisticated political filmmaking of Chris Marker. But Ruiz increasingly spices up the lesson with surreal elaborations – such as progressively shorter re-edits of the entire film, avant-garde decentrings of image and sound, and crazy runs of ‘secondary elements’ such as particular colours, angles and gestures. Continue reading

Oliver Laxe – Mimosas (2016)

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Mimosas (original title: Mimosas) is a 2016 drama film directed and co-written by Oliver Laxe, described by Laxe as ‘a Religious Western’. The film is a co-production between Spain, Morocco, France and Qatar. It was screened in the International Critics’ Week section at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Nespresso Grand Prize. Continue reading

Mark Cousins – Atomic: Living in Dread and Promise (2015)

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This hypnotic documentary by cinephile par excellence Mark Cousins takes a brave – but increasingly rewarding – abstract angle by seeking through aesthetic rather than conventional exposition to capture the strange, sensory ethos of the Atomic age (a period spanning approximately 1940-60 but having a far-reaching legacy up to the present day). Using Mogwai’s ethereal electronic soundtrack as his conduit, Cousins takes us through the history of the Atomic period through sound and image alone (there is no overt narration) – even trying ambitiously to suggest that splitting the atom and creating atomic weapons were not in themselves immediately malign developments but almost the end-game of a form of evolution, and symbol of mankind’s mastery over the properties of his planet. Hence Cousins finds in the famous, awe-inspiring images of atomic mushroom clouds a correlation with more common sights of proliferation in nature (a bud that grows, a flower that blooms, sperm that fertilises an egg). Continue reading

Adam Curtis – The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom (2007)

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The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom is a BBC documentary series by British filmmaker Adam Curtis, well known for other documentaries including The Century of the Self and The Power of Nightmares. It began airing on BBC Two on 11 March, 2007.

The series consists of three one-hour programmes which explore the concept and definition of freedom, specifically “how a simplistic model of human beings as self-seeking, almost robotic, creatures led to today’s idea of freedom.” Continue reading

Zabou Breitman – No et moi AKA No and Me (2010)

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Lou has few friends and her mother’s addiction to tranquillisers increases her feeling of isolation. For a school project, she must prepare a presentation on homelessness. At the Gare d’Austerlitz she comes across a homeless girl who calls herself No because this is what everyone says to her. In return for a drink, No agrees to let Lou interview her. No reveals that she is 18 and has spent her whole life in care. Lou is moved by No’s story and begins to see her as a friend. When No disappears, Lou sets out to look for her, convinced that they both need each other… Continue reading