Tag Archives: film music

Ruined Heart: Another Love Story between a Criminal and a Whore

Ruined Heart
Ruined Heart

Seen at LFF 2015

Format: Blu-ray + DVD

Release date: 7 December 2015

Distributor: Third Window Films

Director: Khavn de la Cruz

Writer: Khavn de la Cruz

Original title: Pusong wazak: isa na naming kwento ng pag-ibig sa pagitan ng puta at criminal

Cast: Tadanobu Asano, Elena Kazan, Nathalia Acevedo

Philippines, Germany 2014

73 mins

Khavn de la Cruz’s Filipino musical noir compensates for its lack of plot with oodles of style.

At its worst, Ruined Heart feels like what happens when an ‘edgy’ fashion shoot gets out of hand, gets bitten by a radioactive DJ set and mutates into… something less than a movie. It doesn’t have a story as such. After some rockin’ black and white tattoos-on-a-dead-guy titles we are introduced to some archetypes: the Whore, the Criminal, the Friend, the Pianist, the Godfather. Everything after that is a series of rambling tableaux, set mostly in the crowded streets and covered markets of a nameless town (or towns) in the Philippines. Loosely, the Criminal falls for the Whore, the Whore gets killed by the Godfather, the Criminal takes up the gun, it doesn’t end well. But even this simple narrative is chopped and screwed. There’s no real dialogue, though occasionally characters utter poetic and lyrical profundities; instead we have an ultra-cool soundtrack playing over street celebrations and fights and fireworks and car rides and killings and parties and orgies and a lot of scenes of the Criminal and the Whore running and walking and dancing and fucking and falling in love. The imagery is occasionally upsetting and obscene, often repetitive and mystifying.

That said, the cinematography is by Chris Doyle, so it looks amazing and feels energised and rackety and fluid. Asano Tadanobu (Criminal) and Nathalia Acevedo (Whore) are both photogenic as hell and fun to watch, and the eclectic hip jukebox score is a blast. So while the film often tries the viewers’ patience it also delivers up sublime moments where it all clicks into place and you’re grinning from ear to ear as the characters dance, in a decidedly unchoreographed fashion, to ‘Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves’ by John Holt, or ‘She Said’ by Hasil Adkins. It tests Godard’s maxim that ‘all you need for a movie is a gun and a girl’ to breaking point, delivering both less and more than most would expect from a night at the picturehouse. We get dazzling imagery and fine musical moments by the skipload, and moments of that elusive beast ‘pure cinema’, but a decided deficit of anything else to chew on. It’s an exercise in style over, well, pretty much everything, but it’s a buzzy, seductive style nonetheless.

Much credit should go to Brezel Goring of Stereo Total, who created the bulk of the soundtrack, with mentions for contributions from Grauzone and the Flippin’ Soul Stompers, who play live on screen. Khavn De La Cruz wrote, directed and produced, I’d cast a wary eye out for the rest of his work, but I’d definitely accept an invite to any party he’s hosting.

Mark Stafford

This review is part of our LFF 2015 coverage.

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The Duke of Burgundy

The Duke of Burgundy
The Duke of Burgundy

Format: Cinema

Release date: 20 February 2015

Distributor: Curzon Film World

Director: Peter Strickland

Writer: Peter Strickland

Cast: Sidse Babett Knudsen, Chiara D’Anna

UK 2014

104 mins

Peter Strickland’s follow-up to the impressive Berberian Sound Studio is a strange and methodical study of a relationship under strain. We are introduced to Evelyn and Cynthia, the former apparently a servant to her cold lepidopterist boss, dutifully doing her chores, being found wanting, and suffering abuse. But it slowly emerges that this is an elaborate dominant/submissive game, in which both are playing their parts. The supposedly submissive Evelyn is actually in control, creating the scenarios that Cynthia has to precisely act out, selecting the clothes that her ‘master’ wears. Evelyn seems to be deliriously happy with the scenario at first, but for Cynthia the strain of maintaining the performance is beginning to show. As the days repeat the cycle of servitude, transgression and punishment, cracks start to form in the façade, and it seems inevitable that something will break.

If a lesbian sub/dom two-hander already seems to be a singular enough cinematic prospect, this does not begin to prepare you for the oddness of Strickland’s treatment. We are in an unnamed location; although it was shot in Hungary, British accents dominate, and the trappings of the story suggest a rural home counties university town. We are adrift in time, too, though the technology, dress and pastiche title sequence suggest that it is set in the 60s-70s. There appear to be no men, and the evening’s entertainment consists of lectures about butterflies, moths and crickets, which are attended by immaculately styled ladies, and the occasional shop window dummy. The suggestion is that everybody in this world is in a similar relationship to Cynthia and Evelyn’s: the services of a specialist bondage furniture maker are in high demand, and Cynthia suspects her lover of betrayal in polishing another woman’s boots. This appears to be an attempt to allegorise and abstract the nature of all relationships. The Duke Of Burgundy is focused on the moments where passion gives way to obligation and duty, and the demands made on a couple as they try to keep each other happy begin to eat away at the affection they are trying to maintain. It’s a film about performance and the people we have to be.

It’s also a film of very precise and measured derangement. The production design, wardrobe (by Andrea Flesch) and set dressing seem to have been agonised over, creating a specific, very sensual world of patterned tile and wallpaper, pencil skirts and corsets, silk, mushrooms and endless mounted butterflies. The soundtrack is an extraordinary thing: the music by Cat’s Eyes ranges from dreamy folk to near Morricone operatics, supplemented by foregrounded foley work and amplified insect noise. As with Berberian Sound Studio, there is a growing sense of insanity, of reality slipping its moorings. The editing brings to mind the work of Nic Roeg and Donald Cammel, cross-cutting from scene to scene, repeating visual motifs that all culminate in an extended nightmarish sequence where Cynthia’s anxieties burst into a riot of moth wings and horror movie symbolism. In its emphasis on power shifts it recalls Joseph Losey’s The Servant (1964). In its dreamy look it brings to mind the 70s euro-sleaze of Rollin and Franco.

But all of this would be worthless without the committed work of Sidse Babett Knudsen as Cynthia and Chiara D’Anna as Evelyn, both giving performances of performances for much of the running time, leaving the moments when the masks slip to display the increasing desperation and dissatisfaction, the fleeting moments of joy. D’Anna’s glowing face as she waits expectantly for chastisement is funny and affecting, Knudsen’s slow breakdown as she fails to deliver the requisite level of bitch is quietly devastating. At 104 minutes it overstays its welcome a little, although it is both amusing and entrancing. It is hermetically sealed, and some will find it suffocating, too mannered and strange for proper engagement, but Strickland is aiming for something ambitious and transcendent, and pretty much gets there. Pay attention at the end for some of the oddest credits you’re ever likely to read.

This review is part of our LFF 2014 coverage.

Mark Stafford

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A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

Format: Cinema

Release date: 22 May 2015

DVD/Blu-ray release date: 24 July 2015

Distributor: Studiocanal

Director: Ana Lily Amirpour

Writer: Ana Lily Amirpour

Cast: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Dominic Rain

Iran, USA 2014

100 mins

One of the top picks in the outstanding selection of this year’s Etrange Festival, Iranian filmmaker Ana Lily Amirpour’s debut feature mixes sumptuous high contrast black and white cinematography, Italian Western music, Jim Jarmusch driftiness, comics influences, Farsi language and a chador-wearing skateboarding vampire girl to create a seductive, singular world entirely her own.

In the Iranian ghost town of Bad City, a hard-working boy with a 50s car and a junkie father tries to confront the nasty drug-dealer who has them under his thumb, and encounters a strange, silent black-cloaked girl in the process. Tentative love slowly develops between the two even though unbeknownst to Arash the Girl continues to stalk the streets at night and feed on the desperado denizens of Bad City.

The loose narrative meanders with achingly beautiful melancholy through one poetic moment after another. The Girl’s skateboard rescuing of a tripping Arash dressed as Dracula in a deserted street is sweet and funny. The oppressive, forbidding-looking machinery in an oil field is a recurrent backdrop, most notably in a scene where a romantic gift is received in a way that undercuts any potential sentimentality. Similarly, a slow-motion scene of developing intimacy set to White Lies’ ‘Death’ is both tender and charged with an undercurrent of danger.

The love between Arash and the Girl slowly grows amid a sombre world where relationships are all tainted: Arash’s parents, the tragic prostitute Atti with Arash’s father Hossein and the abusive drug dealer/pimp have woven webs of desperation, selfishness, violence and untold grief, sometimes punctuated by awkward, misdirected affection. As the bond between Arash and the Girl tightens, they discover that love is about accepting the other’s ‘badness’ and finding the human warmth you didn’t even know you longed for.

Detached and alone, the Girl is a terrific character, both touching and fearsome, combining childlike ingenuity with a menacing edge. Her charismatic presence quietly dominates the film, and she only needs to appear to create a force field of dark energy on the screen. There is also the clear intimation that she and Atti, the only two women in the film – and maybe the street urchin who has a few alarming encounters with the Girl – know more than the hapless male characters, who do not seem to perceive the forces that influence their lives.

Rich in atmosphere, deliberately slow and stylized, the film is in the vein of Let the Right One In, Only Lovers Left Alive and Nadja, using the vampire figure to dreamily evoke loneliness, desperation and the slim hope for a non-toxic human connection. With very little dialogue, the film uses a striking, luminous visual language of its own creation to tell the beginning of cautious new love. A true gem that is not to be missed.

Virginie Sélavy

This review is part of our Etrange Festival 2014 coverage.

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The Streetwalker

The Margin
The Streetwalker

Director: Walerian Borowczyk

Writer: Walerian Borowczyk

Based on the novel by: André Pieyre de Mandiargues

Cast: Sylvia Kristel, Joe Dallesandro

Original title: La marge

Alternative title: The Margin

France 1976

88 mins

I think it was Lacan who asked the question: if we’re always thinking about sex when we’re doing other things – eating bananas, driving fast cars, learning French – what are we thinking about when we’re actually having sex? When Sylvia Kristel’s streetwalker Diana has sex in Walerian Borowczyk’s 1976 film The Streetwalker (La marge), it’s so obvious as to almost be ludicrous. She stares at the money that she has clutched in her hand with such intensity as to leave no doubt, even as her John, Sigimond (the iconic Joe Dallesandro) thrusts intently away. Sex is a transaction, a way of earning money. Sigimond is a rich vineyard owner with a young family visiting Paris for business. He is a romantic. He is not lonely and Borowczyk shows his home life to be sexually satisfying, idyllic even. He’s prone to mutter mid-coital silliness such as ‘You are the gift and the giver’. And so his dalliance and experimentation while away on his ‘business trip’ has nothing to do with filling a vacuum. He just wants to have some sex. When he is having sex – to answer Lacan’s question and in opposition to Diana – he is thinking about the sex he is having. The film will trace his increasing distraction and the tragic price to be paid for such guileless romance, even as Diana becomes more aware of sex as something other than a way of earning money, which in itself proves a painful reawakening.

Released two years after Kristel achieved notoriety and worldwide fame as Emmanuelle, the film stands as a testament to her genuine ability as an actress, and it is cited by the actress as her favourite role. Her fragility – the gnawing anxiety that she is already being superseded by younger models of her former self – and her growing yearning for something other than monetary gain is played out in a brilliant and nuanced performance. With the shifting of porn into the mainstream via the internet and the proliferation of sexposition in TV drama, the film doesn’t even seem particularly pornographic today, but on release it was received as another attempt to gain art-house respectability for sex films. Kristel’s fame possibly damaged the film as it was remarketed in some regions as Emmanuelle ’77. However, despite the movie star beauty of the prostitutes, Borowczyk never celebrates sex unambiguously, juxtaposing it with the banal. A beautifully shot strip show takes place as a crate of booze is delivered to the bar by a working stiff – sign here, keep a copy – and Diana will retire to the same backroom for a quick delivery of her own. The prostitutes are bitchy and Diana herself is dishonest and angry. Her pimp is a lazy dressing-gown-clad psychopath who does target practice with his pistol in his hotel room. But it is not just the sex that has to contend with the banal, but tragedy too when Sigimond reads a terrible letter from home while gazing over the most unromantic Parisian view of a huge building site.

Camera Obscura: The Walerian Borowczyk Collection is released by Arrow Academy on 8 September 2014. This unique limited edition box set (Dual Format DVD + Blu-ray) includes the short films, The Theatre of Mr and Mrs Kabal, Goto, l’île d’amour, Blanche, The Beast and Immoral Tales – it does not contain The Streetwalker.

With a score from some giants of 1970s music, a stunning extended use of Pink Floyd’s ‘Shine on You Crazy Diamond’ and some fantastic cinematography by long-time collaborator Bernard Daillencourt, the film is a beautiful melancholic meditation on sex in a dirty, dirty world.

John Bleasdale

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Only Lovers Left Alive

Only Lovers Left Alive
Only Lovers Left Alive

Format: Cinema

Release date: 21 February 2014

Distributor: Soda Pictures

Director: Jim Jarmusch

Writer: Jim Jarmusch

Cast: Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, John Hurt, Mia Wasikowska

UK 2013

123 mins

After Jarmusch’s last film, The Limits of Control, it seemed that another great director was close to losing his genius, but there is a welcome sense of rebirth about Only Lovers Left Alive from the moment it opens. Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston make for a brilliant pair of vampire lovers who have been truly, madly, deeply in love for centuries, yet are now living apart. Swinton’s resilient and enigmatic Eve resides in lush Tangiers while Hiddleston’s disheartened underground musician, Adam, is holed up in the outskirts of derelict Detroit. When their longing for each other becomes unbearable, Eve decides to take on the difficult journey (she can only travel at night) to reunite with Adam, but soon after the couple are back together, their gently hedonistic idyll of non-murderous blood and old vinyl is disrupted by the arrival of Eve’s unnerving, uncontrollable younger sister (Mia Wasikowska).

Nothing much happens in Jarmusch’s sensuous fantasy of night and nostalgia, apart from the fact that the pair are running short of the sort of pure, uncontaminated blood that they now need to keep them going. But watching these two archetypal outcasts, still in full possession of their animal instincts, as they roam around trying to blend in with their surroundings, is an undemanding, irresistible pleasure.

This review was first published as part of our Cannes 2013 coverage.

Pamela Jahn

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As always with Jim Jarmusch, music is crucial to the film, not just as sonic accompaniment to the images, but also as an integral part of the story, starting with a main character who is a musician and lives in a house full of vinyl and vintage guitars (almost all of the records actually belong to Jarmusch).

The score was written by Jozef Van Wissem, avant-garde composer, lutenist and guitarist, with contributions by SQ&#220RL, a trio featuring Jarmusch, Carter Logan and Shane Stoneback. Van Wissem’s music is beautifully sparse and evocative, punctuating the story with nonchalant, unhurried, fuzzy guitars that moodily drift in and out, just like the characters.

Only Lovers Left Alives is released in the UK on DVD, Blu-ray and limited edition Steelbok (BR) on 15 September 2014. The Jim Jarmusch Collection with the director’s first six films will also be released by Soda Pictures on 6 October to tie in with the BFI Jim Jarmusch Season, which will include the re-release of Down by Law on 12 September 2014.

In addition to the score, there are a number of original songs that are heard at key moments in the film. The opening track is a woozy, slowed-down, even ghostlier remix of Wanda Jackson’s spine-tingling ‘Funnel of Love’, which flows over a hypnotic pan of the various characters in different locations, all tripping out after drinking blood. Later we’ll also hear the louche guitar riff of Charlie Feathers’s terrific ‘Can’t Hardly Stand It’ and Denise LaSalle’s laidback and soulful ballad ‘Trapped by a Thing Called Love’. But it’s not all classic soul and rock’n’roll, and Jarmusch’s enduring love for the 50s and 60s is complemented by new music from the likes of American psychedelic rock band White Hills, and Lebanese singer Yasmine Hamdan in an atmospheric, Moroccan-set café scene.

The Only Lovers Left Alive soundtrack is out on ATP Recordings. It is available on double 180 gsm 12” red vinyl (with download code), CD, and digital download. There is also a limited edition of 1000, all-black 180g 12″ vinyl singles featuring ‘The Taste of Blood’ (Jozef Van Wissem and SQ&#220RL), ‘Funnel of Love’ (SQ&#220RL and Madeline Follin) and ‘In Templum Dei’ (Jozef Van Wissem and Zola Jesus). To listen now to ‘The Taste of Blood’, please click here.

Virginie Sélavy