Cast: Anne Marie Chertic, Constantin Chiriac, Paul Chiributa
Somewhere in Palilula anything can happen, and frequently it does. We are invited into a world turned upside down in Silviu Purcărete’s carnivalesque triumph. Serafim, a young paediatrician, arrives in this ghost town, and we learn about the place and its inhabitants through his eyes and the stories he tells. Hard spirits and cigarettes are the staple diet of a community of drunks, doctors, cleaners, prostitutes and a hermaphrodite. There are no children, the hospital patients are not sick, and soon Serafim starts to adapt and feel like he belongs there. Purcărete lifts us to emotional heights with a scintillating score (by composer Vasilé Şirli) and awe-inspiring theatrical tableaux (production designers are Helmut Stürmer and Dragoş Buhagiar), then lets us fall into depths of visceral mire, then up again and so on. The director immerses us in fantasy but his tale is hugely allegorical. Here, the legacy of Soviet rule and the onset of market economy in Romania are parodied and mythologised. By pushing surrealist and magic realist genres of cinema, Purcărete carves out a space for himself alongside Luis Buñuel and Federico Fellini. This UK premiere at the EEFF comes highly recommended.
The East End Film Festival opens on 3 July and runs until 8 July 2012. Somewhere in Palilula screens on 7 July at the Rich Mix. For more information please visit the East End Film Festival website.
Perfectly timed for the arrival of the Olympics, an event even the most hardened Londoners are sick to the back teeth of before it has even begun, this collaboration between artist, filmmaker and restless rambler Andrew Kötting and writer, cultural investigator and psychogeographer Iain Sinclair is a match made in heaven. Kindred spirits who both share a physical and spiritual attachment with the South Coast, the pair first met when Sinclair reviewed Kí¶tting’s Gallivant for Sight & Sound and then maintained a correspondence before collaborating, tentatively, on the filmmaker’s cross-channel Offshore.
In many ways a summation of the themes and practices that have acted as signposts in their respective careers, the film, commissioned as part of Abandon Normal Devices, is a travelogue-cum-odyssey of suitably Olympian ambition as the two fearless explorers and a stolen plastic swan pedalo christened ‘Edith’ (named after the ancient English queen Edith Swan-Neck, whose statue can be seen at the Hastings suburb of Bulverhythe, cradling the dying King Harold after the Battle of Hastings) travel Jerome K. Jerome-style on the waterways of south-east England to the riverside fortress that will become East London’s Olympic 2012 site.
Having aborted several attempts to pen a synopsis, here is the filmmaker himself on the kernel of Swandown: ‘For four weeks throughout the months of September and October 2011 Andrew Kötting and Iain Sinclair pedalled a plastic swan over 160 miles from the seaside in Hastings to Hackney in East London. They drank 84 litres of water, 2 bottles of whisky, 4 bottles of wine and 24 cans of special brew. They got through 8 pairs of sunglasses, a handmade suit, a pair of walking boots and a camper van. Andrew Kötting wore the same clothes throughout. Iain Sinclair was changed regularly. They met all sorts en route, from the hoi polloi to the hoity toity, from the very old to the very young, with the pedalo acting as catalyst and magnet. Sometimes they were accompanied by invited guest pedallers - sage and comics creator Alan Moore, comedian and cultural commentator Stewart Lee, actor Dudley Sutton [who appeared in Kötting’s Emile Zola-inspired second feature This Filthy Earth], neuroscientist Dr Mark Lythgoe and artist Marcia Farquhar.’
A liquid road movie evocative of Gallivant, which Swandown frequently echoes, it also conjures the ghost of Herzog’s Aguirre: The Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo, playfully referenced via audio excerpts of Les Blank’s Burden of Dreams. Shots of the two self-confessed ‘codgers’ strenuously dragging their vessel across fields and roads to the next stretch of water add to the Herzogian tone. Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is another frame of reference. I was also, if a little perversely, reminded of John Huston’s The African Queen. For its creator, the endeavour also acts as a tribute to the acclaimed performer, traveller and conceptual artist Bas Jan Ader, who in 1975 was lost at sea attempting to cross the Atlantic in a pocket cruiser. ‘Swandown was always meant to be a homage to him and the ridiculousness of his quest,’ comments Kötting.
Jovially described by Sinclair as ‘a blend of Benny Hill, Stan Brakhage and Joseph Beuys’, Kötting adopts the role of athlete, fool and visionary, larking about and cheerfully interacting with the flotsam and jetsam of British life. He is both Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. The director suffers for his art, contracting trench foot from his waterlogged boots and a nasty leg infection from a dog encountered en route. Sinclair is cast in the role of the cynical, weary, literary, philosophising wordsmith. Will Self in Shooting Stars in essence. The blend is perfect.
During their journey our intrepid, increasingly stiff-legged Marco Polos listen to the ambient echoes of British culture (historical, literary, political and depicted through Super 8 and archive newsreel footage from the South East Film and Video archive as well as a re-enactment of Shakespeare’s Ophelia as depicted in Millais’s pre-Raphaelite painting) and tune in - like ‘flesh radios’, as Sinclair says, channelling the cultural unconscious - to the secret voices of England today and yesterday. The result is a factual, frolicsome and fun film/text/Dada performance piece that offers an artistically riotous response to the corporate spirit dominating London in Olympics year. As Stewart Lee comments, ‘Iain Sinclair hates the Olympics. He doesn’t think anything should happen in Hackney without his permission’.
The two key points on the Swandown itinerary are its start and end: Hastings (from where ‘Edith’ originates and the actual physical launch point of the trip, a disastrous and inauspicious event hilariously captured on camera) and Hackney, homes to Kötting and Sinclair respectively. ‘The two geographies are intimately connected,’ says Sinclair - ever since a chunk of Hackney’s old artistic-bohemian population moved down to the South Coast, in search of freedom, inspiration and an affordable cost of living. ‘The old Hackney of anarchy and poverty has drifted down towards Hastings, whereas Hackney is now a virtual Wizard of Oz city of supermalls and surveillance. We had the idea of doing an anti-project, against the global corporate entities of the huge projects being done in Hackney in the name of the Olympics.’
Sadly, Sinclair’s commitments force him to abort the voyage before the Olympian Citadel is breached, leaving Kötting to pedal the final leg of the journey alone. The tone of the film becomes ever more melancholy as rural idyll gives way to urbanisation (a river littered with rubbish, frequent shouts of abuse rather than encouragement from passers-by and fellow river-dwellers) and a sporting project ensnared in bureaucracy, security and secrecy. The somewhat downbeat conclusion, however, never for a moment overshadows the project’s impish inquisitiveness and quintessential Englishness. Featuring many of Andrew Kötting’s long-time collaborators, including musician Jem Finer, cinematographer Nick Gordon-Smith and sound recordist Philippe Ciompi, this is an enduring and entertaining male buddy movie the likes of which we haven’t seen before.
The East End Film Festival opens on 3 July and runs until 8 July 2012. For more information please visit the East End Film Festival website. Swandown screens on 7 July at the Rio (London) and is released in the UK on 20 July by Cornerhouse.
Kotoko starts with an intensity that doesn’t diminish throughout the film. The story could pan out as a recognisable tale of a woman whose anxieties are exacerbated by her role as a new mother. Kotoko is paranoid, exhausted, and losing her grip on reality. So far, so what? But Shin’ya Tsukamoto has a unique vision, as we know from his Tetsuo films. In actual fact, this familiar account, shot in vérité style, includes an extreme level of violence. This brutality takes place in the narrative world of the film: Kotoko experiences beatings but also administers them generously herself. It is also part of Tsukamoto’s treatment of her psychological state and her mental decline. One technique is to manipulate diegetic sounds to create a sense of overwhelming agitation. He makes cooking with a large wok sound like being run over by a truck. This is interwoven with sweet and contemplative shots, many lingering on Kotoko, played by Tsukamoto’s attractive writing collaborator and star of the film, Cocco. Images of beautiful women harming themselves don’t do it for me but, on the whole, this filmmaker’s capacity to portray transgressive violence on screen, which you can feel in your own body as you watch, is pretty phenomenal.
The East End Film Festival opens on 3 July and runs until 8 July 2012. Kotoko screens on 5 July at the Rich Mix. For more information please visit the East End Film Festival website.
Cast: Sami Bouajila, Julie Gayet, Jean-Pierre Andréani
Those who cling to wealth and power by forcing conformity, stifling creativity and crushing the very essence of humanity are the faceless dominant evil that exploits the most vulnerable aspect of what it means to be human. It is ultimately our spirit which is, in fact, not as indomitable as we’d all like to believe. Through indoctrination and constant scrutiny we are reduced to lumps of clay. We are moulded in the image our true rulers want to see. They want us tied to the consumption they control. Call them what you like, but they are indeed The New World Order.
And they are winning.
And, worst of all, the loser is love.
And without love, we all become prey.
Harkening back to great 70s science fiction film classics like The Terminal Man, Colossus: The Forbin Project, A Boy and His Dog, Silent Running and THX 1138 - when the genre was thankfully bereft of light sabres, Wookies and Jabba the Hut, when it was actually ABOUT something - Jean-Baptiste Léonetti’s debut feature film Carré blanc is easily the finest dystopian vision of the future to be etched upon celluloid since that time.
The future it creates is not all that removed from our current existence.
Carré blanc screens on 6 July at the Rio Cinema, London, as part of the East End Film Festival (3 July – 8 July 2012). For more information please visit the East End Film Festival website.
Léonetti announces himself as a talent to be reckoned with. This low-budget science fiction film astounds us with its visual opulence. That, of course, is because it’s obvious that Léonetti has filmmaking hardwired into his DNA. NEVER does the film feel cheap or low-budget. Never do we feel like it has structured itself around all the usual budget-saving techniques that so many other first-time filmmakers unimaginatively opt for. Léonetti has wisely, painstakingly chosen a number of actual exterior and interior locations that fit his vision perfectly and work in tandem with the narrative. His compositions are rich and because his location selection has been so brilliantly judicious, he clearly had the time to properly light and dress the images.
The next time I hear some young filmmaker whining about the ‘challenges’ of their one-set low-budget production I will consider placing them on my list of those who shall feel the wrath of my Baikal semi-automatic Russian assault rifle when civilisation collapses and it becomes one giant free-for-all.
Though Carré blanc shares a specific approach with past work to a genre that can, perhaps more than any other, effect true analysis and possibly even change, there is nothing at all retro about the picture - no obvious post-modernist nods here. It is completely unto itself.
Carré blanc is fresh, hip, vibrant and vital.
Blessed also with a deliciously mordant wit, Léonetti delivers a dazzling entertainment for the mind and the senses.
The tale rendered is, on its surface and like many great movies, a simple one. Philippe (Sami Bouajila) and Marie (Julie Gayet) grew up together in a state orphanage and are now married. They live in a stark, often silent corporate world bereft of any vibrant colour and emotion. Muzak constantly lulls the masses and is only punctuated by announcements occasionally calling for limited procreation and, most curiously, promoting the game of croquet - the one and only state-sanctioned sport.
Philippe is a most valued lackey of the state - he is an interrogator-cum-indoctrinator - and he’s very good at his job. In fact, with each passing day, he is getting better and better at it. Marie, on the other hand, is withdrawing deeper and deeper into a cocoon as the love she once felt for Philippe is transforming into indifference. In this world, hatred is a luxury. It’s a tangible feeling that the rulers would never tolerate and would punish with death.
Indifference, it would seem, is the goal. It ensures complete subservience to the dominant forces. Love, however, is what can ultimately prove to be the force the New World Order is helpless to fight and the core of this story is just that - love. If Philippe and Marie can somehow rediscover that bond, there might yet be hope - for them, and the world. It is this aspect of the story that always keeps the movie floating above a mere exercise in style.
So many dystopian visions suffer from being overly dour. Happily, Léonetti always manages to break the oppressive force of the film and its world by serving up humour. Most of the laughs in Carré blanc occur within the context of tests delivered by the interrogating indoctrinators. In the world of the film, suicide is often the only way out for those who have a spirit that cannot be crushed. One early scene features Philippe as a young teen and another boy his age who have both attempted unsuccessfully to kill themselves (by hanging and wrist-slashing respectively).
Both boys are led into an empty room where smiling corporate lackeys speak to them in tones of compassion. They are both asked to engage in a test to cheer them up. Lying before them is a body bag. The test is thus: which one of them will be first to go inside the bag?
Let us just say that we laugh in horror at what follows. (I wasn’t the only one laughing in the packed house at the film’s premiere screening. A few sick puppies belched out appreciative guffaws.)
Narratively, this sequence reveals that Philippe is clearly an interrogator in the making. The test itself is a perfect way to not immediately ‘waste’ potential ‘talent’ by snuffing them out before seeing what they’re really made of. As the film continues to unspool, some of the biggest laughs and equally chilling moments come from the tests Philippe concocts and metes out to discover those who must be weeded out of society - permanently. Other laughs derive from the odd announcements and pronouncements over the endless loudspeakers.
To Monsieur Léonetti, I offer a tip of the hat for coming up with so many dollops of darkly humorous nastiness throughout the proceedings. They not only offer entertainment value, but are inextricably linked to the world he creates, a world so similar to the one we live in and one which feels just around the corner if humanity does not prevail over the force of a very few.
Love becomes the ultimate goal of Léonetti’s narrative and as such, he delivers an instant classic of science fiction. At the end of the day, the best work in this genre IS about individuality and the fight to maintain the indomitability of spirit.
It might, after all, be the only thing we have left.