Stella Cadente (Lluís Miñarro, 2014)

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Lluís Miñarro’s opulent and riotous Stella Cadente (which means ‘falling star’) is being released on DVD in the UK next week courtesy of Second Run.

On the surface an account of the short reign of King Amadeo I of Spain in the early 1870s – although this is a film where surfaces can be deceptive – Stella Cadente also functions as a metaphor for contemporary Spain and its ongoing state of crisis. But this is far from being a fossilised heritage drama – the afore-mentioned deceptive surfaces are manifested via a state of Wonderland-like limbo within the walls of the palace, and Miñarro laces the film with perverse humour and surreal juxtapositions (if I recall correctly, Àlex Brendemühl’s Amadeo is dancing to the anachronistic sound of 1970s French chanson in the above image). I was rather bemused by the ‘busy-ness’ of the film when I saw it at EIFF in 2014 (my Eye for Film review can be found here) but liked it sufficiently to import the Spanish DVD the following year – its chief pleasures are sparky performances by Brendemühl and Bárbara Lennie (who plays Amadeo’s wife, María Victoria), and the sense of reality being challenged by illusion in the layered theatricality created by Miñarro (for me, this confusion of reality versus illusion – in combination with the royal milieu – brought Calderón de la Barca’s La vida es sueño / Life is a Dream to mind, although the director didn’t seem overly keen on the comparison when I asked about it during the Q&A). As I noted in my review, the film also includes my favourite subtitle of that year: “Set these rabbits free!”

Second Run’s presentation also includes one of Miñarro’s documentaries, Familystrip (2009) – while his parents have their portrait painted, the director converses with them about their lives, respective childhoods, raising a family in post-War Spain, and the social changes undergone by the country during their lifetimes. It combines oral history with a deeply affectionate cine-portrait of his family. You can buy the DVD directly from Second Run (it is also available from other retailers).

10,000 Km (Carlos Marques-Marcet, 2014)

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Carlos Marques-Marcet’s feature debut, 10,000 Km (also known as Long Distance), won him the ‘Best New Director’ award at the Goyas in 2015 – the film is available to view on Mubi UK for the next month. The use of social media and new technology onscreen is often cringeworthy but Marques-Marcet and co-writer Clara Roquet on the whole manage to utilise familiar forms of online interaction in a naturalistic way, and create an immersive experience – technology becomes both a point of connection and something that heightens different kinds of distance when a couple (Natalia Tena and David Verdaguer) try to maintain a relationship over the course of a year apart. The film is essentially a two-hander, and I wrote in my review from 2014 that:

Tena and Verdaguer make what could have been an inert series of monologues (we often see them as the other character would, meaning that they are talking direct to screen) into conversations with dramatic and emotional heft. […] That we see neither of them outside of their respective domestic spaces illustrates both the hermetically-sealed nature of Alex and Sergi’s relationship (they are each other’s world) and the limits of their interactions when they are so far apart. The time difference means that their communications are rarely spontaneous, instead becoming a rote series of appointments that make the lack of physical contact glaringly apparent – it is difficult to slow dance with a laptop (although they do try).

The rest of my review can be found at Eye for Film. Take advantage of the film’s appearance on Mubi because a) it’s a well-made romantic drama that is imbued with emotional veracity, and b) there is no UK DVD (although the Spanish DVD has optional English subtitles).

My Name Is Salt (Farida Pacha, 2013)

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The rather dry synopsis of ‘a documentary about salt production’ doesn’t really do justice to (or offer enticement to see) Farida Pacha’s documentary, which closely observes the rhythms and motions of one family on the salt marshes of Gujarat in India, following their routines during the eight months of the year that they spend cultivating and harvesting salt crystals before the annual monsoon season washes everything away. I like films that show the mechanics and processes of work / creation and this stark but beautiful film (a reflection of the landscape in which it takes place) was one of my favourites at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in 2014. By chance, I’ve just spotted that it is available to rent on BFI Player. My Eye for Film review from 2014 can be found here. You can also find further information on the film’s website.

Review: Black (Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, 2015)

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Out in the UK (cinemas and VOD) on 19th August, Black is a Romeo and Juliet-style tale of rival street gangs and immigrant communities in contemporary Belgium. I saw the film last year in Gijón and although I felt strongly (negative) about its depiction of sexual violence, it nonetheless has an undeniably strong sense of visual style and energy – its duo of Morrocan-Belgian directors demonstrate cinematic flair in abundance and an adept deployment of music – and two engaging performances from the non-professional leads, Aboubakr Bensaïhi and Martha Canga Antonio. My review from Gijón for Eye for Film:

 

Review: Queen of Earth (Alex Ross Perry, 2015)

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Queen of Earth was one of my favourite films last year (I saw it in April 2015 at the D’A Festival in Barcelona) and I’d been hoping that it would get UK distribution – as I said back in December, “this kind of film should be catnip to independent cinemas”. It is on limited release and VOD from today but if it’s not showing at a cinema near you (it isn’t showing anywhere near me), a Masters of Cinema dual format DVD/Blu-ray release will also be available from the 11th July. Prior to seeing Queen of Earth I was only familiar with Elisabeth Moss via Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake (I haven’t seen Mad Men), but between those two performances she marks herself out as someone whose work should be followed. She and Katherine Waterston (also excellent) clearly relished the opportunity to be put through the emotional wringer on camera – both deliver nuanced performances in a psychologically astute and darkly funny look at the deep bonds of female friendship and the damage that can be wrought by those closest to you. My 2015 Eye for Film review:

Nobody Knows Anybody will be relatively quiet for the rest of the summer. Back in May – when I decided that I would change my approach to the Carlos Saura Challenge – I made reference to the upheaval that my place of work undergoes like clockwork each summer. Three days later I discovered that this year the upheaval would be more unsettling than I had anticipated. I am one of the lucky ones because my job is intact – although my team has been reduced by 20% through existing vacancies being written off and some of my colleagues reducing their hours – but there are a lot of ongoing job cuts here and morale is low. Between that and the spectacle of my country deciding to flush itself down the toilet in slow motion, I’m not much in the mood for watching films at the moment – or writing about them.

Iberodocs 2016

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The 3rd edition of Iberodocs takes place in Edinburgh later this week from Wednesday 4th – Sunday 8th and there is plenty in their programme to recommend. Of the films I’ve seen, I’d recommend Llévate mis amores (which was my favourite documentary at last year’s EIFF), O Futebol and No Cow on the Ice – and also the shorts Ser e voltar (which is paired with the latter feature – both are by Galician filmmakers) and Sin Dios ni Santa María (which appears in the main shorts programme) – but I’ve also heard good things about Rio Corgo and Volta à terra, so I think that the festival is pretty jam-packed with things worth seeing. I have previously reviewed (in relation to different festivals) three of the films that are being shown and I have written another three this past weekend. I will add the links below as they are published over at Eye for Film.

These are likely to be my last reviews for a while, but I hope to get back to writing on here regularly.

Review: Beautiful Youth (Jaime Rosales, 2014)

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Desistfilm‘s 10th issue – titled ‘From the Pixel to the Glitch: Foundation, materiality and fictions’ – has arrived online today. It’s an exploration of the use of digital media in experimental film or how digital media is used by filmmakers to experiment with different textures and formats. Mónica Delgado (editor of desistfilm) writes that:

In this issue we want to explore about digital media and its variations in experimental cinema as variations of this media. How can digital texture open new paths in cinema opposed to analog cinema? How are the so called internet artists working the digital media? How about the glitch art or impressionist digital art? But we’re also interested to explore films about certain technologies and their expressions: glitch, memes, gifs, which circulate in Twitter or Facebook… how are they material to talk about youth sensibility in the new century? From intimate drama to wacky horror cinema, digital media from its materiality and virtuality in fiction.

I haven’t had the chance to take a proper look yet but there are four central articles in the dossier and an assortment of other related articles, profiles and interviews throughout the site. There is also a reviews section, which is where my own small contribution can be found. I have reviewed Hermosa juventud / Beautiful Youth (Jaime Rosales, 2014), which doesn’t initially have much to overtly connect it with desistfilm‘s thematic focus but the film undergoes a dramatic stylistic shift about halfway through wherein Rosales adopts an innovative approach to depicting the ‘digital generation’. My review is here.

 

Review: Ixcanul (Jayro Bustamante, 2015)

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My other ¡Viva!-related review is of Ixcanul / Volcano (Jayro Bustamante, 2015), a female coming-of-age drama set in the Guatemalan highlands. The film had rave reviews on the festival circuit last year (it won a Silver Bear at the Berlinale) but – although it is a well-made film – I wasn’t as taken with it (and if I never have to watch an animal be slaughtered on film again, it will be too soon). My Eye for Film review is here.

Review: Embrace of the Serpent (Ciro Guerra, 2015)

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The 2016 edition of the ¡Viva! Spanish and Latin American Festival (I’ve only just noticed as I typed that that they’ve removed ‘film’ from the festival’s title) in Manchester started this weekend – you can see their full line up here.

There is nothing in the Spanish side of the programme that interests me, so I’ve reviewed two of the Latin American titles for Eye for Film. First of all, El abrazo de la serpiente / Embrace of the Serpent (Ciro Guerra, 2015), which has certain commonalities with Miguel Gomes’s Tabu (2012) and is an original take on the ‘journey up river / through the jungle’ film. It will actually be released in the UK in the summer and it’s worth catching if it plays near you. My review is here.

Reviews: AV Festival 2016

The AV Festival runs from 27th February – 27th March. That’s an unusually long runtime for a festival but there are events and screenings spread throughout that whole month, so my reviews will be appearing over the same time period. That said, quite a lot of the films being shown are ones that I either own on DVD or can access via VOD (for a lower price than a cinema ticket), so I’m currently attempting to get a head start on my reviews by watching those films at home. I’m aiming to review 20 films overall, some of which are screening during the last weekend of the festival so I will add titles and links to this post as and when the reviews go online. The first batches of reviews are for collections of shorts but almost all of the rest will be standalone features.

British Doc shorts

1930s – 40s British Documentary Movement –

Showing as part of the ‘Resistance: British Documentary Film’ strand, this collection of four shorts from the 1930s and 40s picks up on some of the same issues raised by George Orwell in The Road to Wigan Pier – namely poor housing conditions and precarious employment in industrial areas. According to the festival’s website, the screening at the Tyneside Cinema on 1st March will show them on 35mm – I watched them on the BFI’s 4-disc boxset, Land of Promise.

 

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Finest Hour: Films by Humphrey Jennings –

Jennings is perhaps the best-known name among the British documentary makers of the era and is rightly revered for his poetic artistry. What I’ve liked most though is his eye for the small details – often moments of happenstance – that have the spark of real life rather than something stiltedly staged (or self-consciously presented) for the camera. Some of his films are in the Land of Promise boxset – and the BFI also has three volumes of DVDs dedicated to the director – but several of them (indicated below) are also available to watch for free on the BFI Player.

 

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Between Times: Marc Karlin –

On the weekend of Friday 4th – Sunday 6th March, AV Festival are focussing on director Marc Karlin (details here) who spent several decades as a filmmaker consistently questioning and critiquing the British Left. I will only manage to see a couple of his films during the festival, but almost all of the films that are being screened (including the five on Nicaragua) are also available to rent on Vimeo courtesy of the Marc Karlin Archive (here) – I’m certainly planning to investigate his other works.

 

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Nightcleaners 

This documentary about the 1970-72 campaign to unionise the cleaners who worked overnight in London office blocks was screened on International Women’s Day. I didn’t have time to write about it until two days later, by which time I felt that something of its quicksilver and abstract nature had already slipped beyond my grasp. It is by no means ‘difficult’ viewing (I hadn’t been sure what to expect – it caused a stir in academic circles at the time of its original release and a lot of the contemporaneous writing about it seems to verge on the incomprehensible) but it is a film of many layers. It is also the best film I’ve seen so far this year.

 

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Levels of Democracy: Ukrainian Film Weekend

This weekend (18th-20th March) the AV Festival is focussing on radical Ukrainian documentary. Within that context they are creating a profile of Sergei Loznitsa by screening three of his films – his latest, The Event (2015), as well as Maidan (2014) and Revue (2008). I was supposed to be seeing The Event and two classics from the silent era – Earth (Alexander Dovzhenko, 1930) and Enthusiasm (Symphony of the Donbas) (Dziga Vertov, 1930) – but that is not how my weekend has turned out, so there will only be my review of Revue (available on DVD in a set with his films Blockade and Landscape, which is how I saw it) for this section of the festival. If you’re interested in Loznitsa, Maidan is also available on DVD and the majority of his other documentaries are available as VOD on the Doc Alliance site (note: I wasn’t overly fussed by Revue but I like some of his other films considerably more).

  • Revue (Sergei Loznitsa, 2008)

 

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March to Aldermaston: Free Cinema

As part of the ‘Resistance: British Documentary Film’ strand, the festival is screening a showcase of shorts from the Free Cinema movement – March to Aldermaston (Lindsay Anderson, 1959), Refuge England (Robert Vas, 1959), and We Are the Lambeth Boys (Karel Reisz, 1959). The latter two are available to watch for free on the BFI Player – here and here respectively.

That’s it from me in terms of AV Festival reviews. My report on the British documentary section will appear after Easter.