Watched in November…and things to see in December

One of those months. I watched Chavela (Catherine Gund and Daresha Kyi, 2017) – a documentary about the life and travails of singer Chavela Vargas (who often features on the soundtracks of Almodóvar’s films) – on Filmin.

I want to direct your attention to two online film festivals taking place during December: ArteKino and Márgenes. ArteKino is a Europe-wide initiative (it runs in 45 countries) to support contemporary European arthouse (their term) films by offering a wider audience the chance to view them (film distribution being what it is these days). 10 films – all with subtitles available in French, German, Spanish, and English – are free to view between 1st-17th December. You can see the full line-up here. The selection includes Scarred Hearts (Radu Jude, 2016), one of the few films I’ve seen this year that I can wholeheartedly recommend – catch that one here.

I’ve written about Festival Márgenes for the past few years (last year’s post is here) and will likely write another overview post at some point later in the month. The 7th Festival Márgenes will also make films free to view – in this case, films from the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) and Ibero-America (Spanish and Portuguese-speaking Latin American countries), with an emphasis on documentaries and experimental formats. I think the online stage is either due to start tomorrow or on the 10th (it usually runs in the last three weeks of the year) but their website is currently down for maintenance The online stage runs 2nd-23rd December – the official selection can be found on this page(which is loading for me, but I’ve had that window open in my browser for the past week to remind myself about it – so I’m not sure that it will load for other people just now). There is also an online retrospective of the films of Luis Ospina. I don’t know whether all of the films listed will be available online in all geographic locations (there are sometimes restrictions around certain titles) and I have no idea about the subtitle situation. I only ever manage to watch a couple of films in this festival each year, but always find something interesting and worth seeking out – this year I will be aiming to watch (based on what I’ve read about them previously) Expo Lío ’92 (María Cañas, 2017), Los mutantes (Gabriel Azorín, 2016), and 25 Cines/Seg (Luis Macías, 2017). If I have time, I will write an overview in a similar form to previous years – but if not, I still wanted to highlight the festival to anyone who appreciates experimental film-making.

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Watched in October

History and politics mainly, with a dash of Busby Berkeley and Álex de la Iglesia thrown in for good measure (Herederos de la bestia is a talking heads / oral history documentary about the making – and the impact/legacy within Spanish cinema – of the latter’s much-loved second feature, El día de la bestia / The Day of the Beast (1995)).

 

Watched in September

Plus Piazza Vittorio (Abel Ferrara, 2017) (which doesn’t seem to have a poster), via Festival Scope’s Venice Sala Web – having pointed out the selection in last month’s post, I then only managed to watch one film there myself. I also missed all of Mubi’s Argentine cinema season, apart from La mujer de los perrosDog Lady (Laura Citarella & Verónica Llinás, 2015). I’ve not really been in a film-watching mood.

I am intending to watch Ken Burns & Lynn Novick’s documentary series, The Vietnam War, which is available on the BBC iPlayer during October if you’re in the UK (the first episode is here) – David Thomson reviewed the series in the London Review of Books (note: the version being shown in the UK is the 10-hour international cut, rather than the 18-hour version being shown in the US).

Vampir Cuadecuc (Pere Portabella, 1971)

‘Experimental making-of’ is usually the basic description of the film Pere Portabella constructed behind the scenes of Jess Franco’s Count Dracula (1970) – next week sees its UK debut on (region free) DVD and Blu-ray, courtesy of Second Run. I reviewed the film in 2015 when it was screening at the Berwick Film and Media Arts Festival as part of their ‘Fact or Fiction’ theme. As I pointed out, Portabella’s repurposing of what Franco was doing creates an interesting dissection of several levels of mythologising:

[…] the mechanics of filmmaking are as much an element of fascination for him as the mythology of Stoker’s Count. The two aspects come together in a sequence where Christopher Lee (who would collaborate with Portabella on another film – Umbracle – the same year) removes the prosthetics and accoutrements (contact lenses, hair, fangs) that transform him into an onscreen monster – a metamorphosis in reverse and a demythologising or deconstruction of both a film star and one of his most famous roles (something that Franco was cashing in on).

You can read the full review here.

Portabella has had a long and varied career and is still (occasionally) making films. His most recent was documentary Informe General II: El nuevo rapto de Europa (2016), which is a sequel of sorts to his 1976 epic Informe general sobre algunas cuestiones de interés para una proyección pública – I’ve seen the latter but not the former (yet), and the two are available together in a boxset that has optional English subtitles. [UPDATE 11/10/2017: Mubi are showing those two films for the next 30 days – here]. I watched Vampir Cuadecuc from a career-spanning boxset of Portabella’s work (it covers 1967 – 2009, containing all of his films apart from Informe General II), which is produced by Intermedio (I bought my boxset directly from them) and likewise has optional English subtitles on all of the films. I particularly recommend his short films (Poetes Catalans (1970) is my favourite – I wrote about it on the old blog in a 2014 ‘best of the year’ post).

Watched in August

All watched on VOD (various platforms) as my DVD player died at the start of the month.

Camilo Restrepo’s essay film about violence in Colombia – La impresión de una guerra / Impression of a War (2015) – is available to watch on Mubi UK for another week.

Jonás Trueba’s La reconquista / The Reconquest (2016) is unexpectedly on Netflix UK (I had a one-month free trial this month – which I won’t be extending into a subscription because I didn’t watch very much, although there are quite a lot of recent Spanish titles on there…and a number of Jason Statham films), as is the very good documentary I Called Him Morgan (Kasper Collin, 2017).

Festival Scope has just started its Venice Sala Web again (effectively a range of films from the current Venice Film Festival as VOD) – I haven’t watched anything yet but have taken advantage of their 5 tickets for 10€ offer (films are otherwise 4€ each). The viewing dates for the films are staggered throughout the festival’s run and it’s worth seeing them sooner rather than later as sometimes titles can disappear (speaking from previous experience).

Under Sandet / Land of Mine (Martin Zandvliet, 2015)

I reviewed Land of Mine in 2015 (I saw it at the Gijón International Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award) – and I mentioned it in one of my festival diary posts – but it finally goes on theatrical release in the UK today (after receiving an Oscar nomination in the Best Foreign Language Film category earlier this year). It’s a well-made film; although conventional in its narrative structure and character arcs, it adeptly pulls the audience into the story, constructs multiple sequences of high tension, and shines a light on a little-known event from the end of WW2. It also boasts several very fine performances. My 2015 Eye for Film review is here.

 

Watched in July

I’ve not had much time (or inclination) for film watching in July; the two features were watched on the last Saturday of the month. If I want to have the next stage of the Carlos Saura Challenge in early 2018, I need to be watching several of the relevant films each month – that’s unlikely to start before September, but hopefully I’ll manage to realign my life/work balance soon.

Radu Jude’s follow-up to Aferim! (one of my favourites in 2015) – Inimi cicatrizate / Scarred Hearts is available on Mubi until 5th August.

Watched in June

A slower month.

Tijuana Tales (Jean-Charles Hue, 2017) is one of a collection of shorts from Cannes available to view on Festival Scope until 7th July.

‘The Carlos Saura Challenge: 1962-1979’ will start tomorrow with an introductory post, to be followed on subsequent days by posts on each of the thirteen films from this first period of the director’s career.

Watched in May

All watched at home on either DVD or VOD.

In relation to documentaries, I have discovered that PBS has a documentary strand called Independent Lens (it’s a bit like the BBC’s Storyville strand insofar as the films don’t appear to be specifically made for the channel), which puts films online for a limited time period after they’ve been broadcast – and they’re viewable outside of the U.S. One note of caution: they edit the films to fit a specific time slot – so although The Prison in Twelve Landscapes is 90 minutes, the version I watched was only an hour long. Still worth keeping an eye on though.

Also: where Doc Alliance has become a subscription service (you used to be able to rent individual films but that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore – a subscription gets you access to everything on the site), they seem to have expanded their collection. I watched Deborah Stratman’s Illinois Parables on there but they also have films like The Event (Sergei Loznitsa, 2015) and Toponymy (Jonathan Perel, 2015) – and in many cases you have the option of paying to download a permanent copy of the film. I haven’t fully explored their catalogue yet, but if you’re into documentaries, I’d recommend taking a look.

Ramón Lluís Bande’s Equí y n’otru tiempu (2015) is available on subtitled DVD directly from the production company – here. Between 1937 and 1952, armed resistance to Franco continued in the Asturian mountains with many of the resistance fighters dying within that landscape. Bande’s film ‘proposes a cinematographic shift from the document to the monument, by filming in the present the places in which the major figures of the Asturian Guerrilla Group were killed’ (taken from the publicity material). I’m intending to watch his subsequent film – El nome de los árboles (2015) – which is available as VOD on Filmin. The 2nd film forms a diptych with the 1st, this time switching to oral history as the witness testimonies of those events need to be captured before they disappear from living memory.

The Carlos Saura Challenge: I had a fit of enthusiasm, rewatched a couple of the films and watched two others for the first time. I’ve re-written the nine posts that were part of the original run of the challenge on the old blog, and also written a completely new one for an early film that wasn’t available then…and then I thought “You’re still not even a third of the way through his filmography!” and got a bit disheartened. I had seen it as a possible way of kickstarting getting back into the habit of writing again, although – given that I’ve always struggled with momentum on this particular project – maybe that’s not a good strategy. I don’t want to give up but was thinking that simply watching the films would have to be my way of completing it because writing about them as well ends up making it into (what feels like) an epic endeavour but also something of a chore.

However, having mulled it over, I think I’ve found a way of breaking it down into stages of a more manageable size. I’m going to divide his filmography into three almost-equal periods: 1962-1979; 1980-1999; 2000-2017. I am aware that the first period might be better to end in 1981 (which is when he ended his run of thirteen films with Elías Querejeta) but 1979 represents his last film (of eight) with Geraldine Chaplin – and I’m not actually arguing that these are ‘phases’ in his career (the break with Querejeta is a dividing line in that respect); I just want to divide the time span up, and grouping by decade seems easiest. I need to write about Elisa, vida mía / Elisa, My Love and Los ojos vendados / Blindfolded Eyes but that then leaves me only one film away from completing the first period (Mamá cumple 100 años / Mama Turns 100 is the one I haven’t watched yet). So I’m intending to have a fortnight dedicated to Saura’s 1962-1979 films probably in early July (I’ve got other things going on this month), with a post on each of the thirteen films from those years. I will then move on to watching and writing about sixteen of the seventeen films (one is completely unavailable) from 1980-1999 (the films aren’t equally shared between the periods, but there’s not much I can do about that) with the intention of posting that collection over two weeks towards the end of the year – but there’s obviously a strong chance that it’ll be early next year instead. I won’t give an ETA on the last period until I know how long the middle one takes (only nine films in the last collection at the moment – Saura’s still making films – so that should feel easy-peasy in comparison). Dividing the thirty-nine (and counting!) films into smaller collections feels more do-able.

Watched in April

Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro was my first trip to the cinema this year – so far I haven’t seen details of any DVD/VOD release, so it’s worth catching if it plays near you. As someone who was not overly familiar with James Baldwin’s writing (I’ll be looking to correct that), I found it riveting and sadly all-too-relevant viewing.

I’m still not watching films all that regularly. I’ve had two weeks of annual leave this month and thought that I’d watch a lot during that time (specifically some of the half dozen or so Spanish DVDs that I’ve bought in the last few months), but didn’t. However, feeling that I ‘have to’ watch stuff is part of what I’m trying to get away from, so I’m watching things as and when they take my fancy rather than setting myself a schedule.

For those who like ghost stories – Bertrand Bonello’s macabre short, Sarah Winchester, Opéra Fantôme / Sarah Winchester, Ghost Opera (2016), is currently on Mubi UK but I’ve found that it is also available in its entirety (with subtitles) on YouTube courtesy of Opéra National de Paris (who commissioned the film).

I watched Sumie García’s Relato familiar / Familiar Story (2017) and Marko Grba Singh‘s Stars of Gaomeigu (2017) [no poster available for the latter] on Festival Scope as part of the selection from Visions du Réel 2017 – the films (all are shorts or mid-lengthers) are free to view until 14th May. It’s worth checking the public (as opposed to professional) Festival Scope site fairly regularly as they have different collections available throughout each month (related to recent film festivals).