If there is one place on Earth where film lovers can truly find solace, it has to be in Sitges during the Festival Internacional de Cinema Fantàstic de Catalunya, which this year celebrated its 46th birthday, presenting yet another packed programme to a hungry audience. For the power of cinema to transform, there can be no better example than a seaside town turning itself into a Mecca for lovers of genre film. For 11 days, Sitges eats, breathes and lives film, with queues of filmgoers on the streets, the celebrity spotters, the red carpet junkies and much, much more.
With Europe still reeling from economic mishaps and with unemployment sky high, it would be foolish to expect any festival to remain untouched. However, it is to Sitges’s credit that the festival managed to maintain an aura of positivity and encouragement, reminding audiences that art plays an important role in lifting the mood of people, as well as in creating new channels of debate.
Although this year’s edition saw many heavy-hitters within the genre present their work to the public, including Eli Roth, Ti West and Lucky McKee, it was the smaller, lesser-known films that stole the limelight.
Afflicted (Derek Lee, Clif Prowse, 2013)
Although at first glance, it seems like just another entry in the over-crowded found-footage market, Derek Lee and Clif Prowse’s entry in the genre proves to be head-and-shoulders above most of their competition. Focusing on the directors’ attempt to travel around the world, Afflicted sees Derek contract a mysterious disease. As his body starts to reject all food and begins to show signs of superhuman strength, the two best friends try to figure out the source of the illness and save Derek before it’s too late.
While Afflicted suffers from all the negative trappings of the found footage film, it’s not long before the keen eye of the directors makes itself felt. The set-up is familiar, yes, and the acting decidedly hit and miss, but it’s the technical prowess and the sheer adrenaline excitement of some of the set pieces that really carry the film forward. Reminiscent of the last climax of Josh Trank’s Chronicle (2012), these set pieces are both technically impressive and visually exciting, giving the film a momentum that at other times can be lacking. Overall it can be considered a very impressive calling card from two young directors who prove what you can achieve with very little money.
Les rencontres d’apràs minuit (Yann Gonzalez, 2013)
Ali and Matthias, along with their transvestite maid Udo, prepare for a midnight orgy in their apartment – they’re waiting for the arrival of The Star, The Teen, The Slut and The Stud. With such a set-up, the audience might expect some sort of vivid, garish and highly questionable scenes to play out, as one after another the members of the orgy arrive. What we get instead is a delicate and very deliberate rumination on the nature of time, on love, on desire and on very large penises.
With thrilling and seductive electronic sounds from M83, Yann Gonzalez’s first feature-length film may fall short of its ambitions, but nonetheless this is one of the more original and engaging films to emerge from any country this year. Boasting a talented cast including Eric Cantona as The Stud, Les rencontres d’apràs minuit (You and the Night) deserves to find an audience with those willing to take their cinema in more intelligent form.
Watch the trailer for Les rencontres d’apràs minuit:
Possession (Brilliante Mendoza, 2013)
Brilliante Mendoza’s winning streak comes to an end with his depiction of the supernatural invading the immoral battle between rival television companies. Playing out like a cross between over-wrought satire and found-footage genre film, Possession (Sapi) tells the story of Meryll Flores (Meryll Soriano), who after being unable to get the footage she needs to boost the ratings of her Sarimanok Broadcasting Network, uses underhand tactics and buys the footage of a real-life possession, filmed by the camera crew of their rival network, Philippine Broadcasting Channel. The director plays this in tandem with the members of the team slowly becoming ‘possessed’ themselves; whether the supernatural stands as a metaphor for the greed and anger that pervades Philppine media is for the audience to decide.
However, the structure of the film does not work with the usual hand-held style of the director, and becomes grating by mid-point. The analogy between the evil that men do and the actions of those in the media feels overdone, and while some of the special effects are eye-popping, there’s nothing here for the audience to really hang onto. Although overall a mess, there’s no doubt to Mendoza’s talent – but it remains up to the director to perhaps distil his message more precisely for his next project.
Watch the trailer for Possession:
Real (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2013)
Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s foray into science fiction is built upon an intriguing premise: Manga artist Atsumi (Haruka Ayase) lies in a coma after trying to killer herself by drowning, leaving her lover Koichi lost and bewildered. Koichi (Takeru Satoh) agrees to use new ‘sensing’ technology, which allows him to step into her subconscious and try to bring her back out. However, complications arise when Koichi is inside Atsumi’s mind, experiencing the version of reality created by her subconscious.
Similar in concept to last year’s Vanishing Waves, the film’s promising start gives way to a dull and plodding series of events, which seem to go nowhere. Although Kurosawa continues his exploration of themes such as alienation, loneliness, the self and reality, Real ends up being nothing more than a very forgettable and obvious effort. The deft touch he showed in films like Retribution, and even his recent TV series, is missing here, and what the audience is left with is a bland trip into the subconscious, punctuated by the most ridiculous third-act revelation. An unusual miss from the master.
Watch the trailer for Real:
Ugly (Anurag Kashyap, 2013)
Last year’s Gangs of Wasseypur represented a pinnacle for director Anurag Kashyap: a culmination of his skills in one of the most important films of Indian cinema, a rule-breaking behemoth that defied pretty much everything an industry is known for. However, if Ugly is anything to go by, Anurag Kashyap has not stopped striving; perhaps best described as a low-key companion piece to Gangs of Wasseypur, it is another prime lesson in confrontational cinema.
Rahul, a wannabe actor whose chance to succeed is fast running out, is spending the day with his 10-year-old daughter from a former marriage to Shalini, now a middle-class housewife kept prisoner by her police-chief husband Bose. When Rahul leaves his daughter Kali in the car to pick up a script from his casting-director friend Chaitanya, the little girl goes missing. What follows is the ugliest, most brutal damnation of human nature that cinema has seen for a long, long time. Playing out like a shrine to humanity’s failings, Ugly is one of the darkest, most impressive noir films you could ever hope to see. No one, and it’s worth repeating this, absolutely no one in Ugly has any redeeming qualities, and if anyone makes the mistake of making any humane gesture, they’re promptly punished for it. From the desperate father with a star complex to the ex-wife with suicidal tendencies, Anurag Kashyap exposes all his creations as twisted and horrifying. His ability to take standard Bollywood characterizations and put them through the greed and hunger of the 20th century creates unforgettable moments in a film filled with desperation and excess.
Kashyap also managed to pack into the tight running time some of the most incredible cinematic sequences seen this year. Ultimately, the film is further proof that there’s something very exciting and remarkable happening within Indian cinema; it remains to be seen what Kashyap will offer us next – whatever it is, it certainly will be worth watching.
Watch the trailer for Ugly: