Tag Archives: Brillante Mendoza

Sitges Film Festival 2013


Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival of Catalonia

11 – 20 October 2013

Sitges, Spain

Sitges website

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 Fant&#224stic 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’apr&#224s 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’apr&#224s 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’apr&#224s 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:

Evrim Ersoy

Venice International Film Festival 2012

The Fifth Season

Venice International Film Festival

29 August – 8 September 2012

Venice, Italy

Biennale di Venezia website

The 69th Venice Film Festival opened with a slightly beleaguered air. The encroachments of international – Toronto overlaps with Venice – and domestic rivals seem to have taken their toll. The veteran organiser Marco Mueller had left with his address book and took over Rome, which is rumoured to be lining up an impressive roster of films for November. Meanwhile, the programme of 18 films in competition and a bunch in sidebars looked like a chance to see some festival regulars (Ulrich Seidl, Kim Ki-duk, Takeshi Kitano, Brillante Mendoza) and a couple of big Hollywood films (most notably The Master) only days before they were screening at Toronto. As a knock-on effect, there were practically no Northern American journalists on the Lido this year. And yet the festival turned out to have more than one surprise.

In an early scene from Terrence ‘The Machine’ Malick’s new offering To the Wonder, two lovers, Neil (Ben Afleck) and Marina (Olga Kurylenko), on a visit to Mont Saint Michel almost get caught with the tide coming in. Light will be captured through the spray of a garden hose, there will be mist, and rain, snow and puddles, but it is this moment of time passing, an unstoppable and dangerous flux, which the film returns to again and again. And again. And Neil and Marina’s French passion fizzles in the suburban spaces and wide skies of Oklahoma. With a firmly established aesthetic – ‘magic hour’ photography, copious voice-over, elliptical narrative – last year’s Tree of Life divided audiences along the fully clothed and the obviously nude emperor line: one thing not in doubt was that even if you hated the film, there was ambition and great technical skill. When we hear the first word of the voice-over in To the Wonder– ‘newborn’ – the heart sinks. Here we go again. The voice-over tells us why Neil and Marina are in love and what happens in their relationship while we watch them acting out the narration. There’s no reason they’re in love or out of love except what we are told. A guess might be that Neil gets bored of Marina’s interminable dancing, her embracing of the sunlight, her dashing off through fields and not only her tree-hugging but at one point twig-licking. And the film dances along with her. The Steadicam swoops and the sequences are all cut like some intellectual Michael Bay, never allowing us to settle and actually engage in character, or watch the drama unfold. This is essentially a melodrama directed by someone who doesn’t understand melodrama: there’s nothing to latch onto. No characters, no conflict. And no blocking. Afleck and Kurylenko look lost. Javier Bardem turns up as a Catholic priest and gives us some tedious preaching about love and Jesus. His social conscience is signalled by the fact that he wanders around (also looking lost) in a poor neighbourhood. The moment is insultingly flippant. What made Malick’s previous films was the way they portrayed characters in the midst of an environment that had a vital relationship to them. Here however the GPS signal is weak.

Whereas Tree of Life was determined to involve all elements, To the Wonder is a watercolour, the only Malick film I’ve seen not to have some fire at its heart, both literal and metaphorical.

Also set on a precarious waterline is Brillante Mendoza’s Thy Womb (Sinapupunan, 2012). Set in the out-to-sea Philippine stilted villages of Tawi-Tawi, Mendoza’s film tells the story of an infertile midwife, Shaleha (Nora Aunor), and her husband Bangas An (Bembol Rocco). Following an almost fatal shooting incident, Shaleha decides to find her husband a second wife who will be able to bear him a child. Mendoza and his actors create real people with a subtle awareness of gesture and asensitivity to the complex emotions the two characters are living through. There could not be a starker contrast with Malick’s unconvincing meandering.

Also in competition, but sadly neglected when it came to awards, was Jessica Woodworth and Petter Brosens’s The Fifth Season. Closing a trilogy of films that included Khadak (2006) and Altiplano (2009), the latest work from Belgian husband and wife team is a piece of magical realism. Seen from within the limits of a small Belgian village, a calamity strikes nature, putting the seasons out of joint. Winter refuses to budge and the crops fail, soon starvation beckons. The slow disintegration of social ties and the descent towards irrationality and cruelty is seen through the wide staring eyes of Alice (Aurélia Poirier) and Thomas (Django Schrevens), two youngsters, whose love also suffers. The Fifth Season is a deliberate and moving piece of work, which is informed also by an absurdist sense of humour that bursts from outsider and beekeeper Pol (Sam Louwyck). Here there was danger and love and an environment broken. There was also humour and wit amid the horror that made this one of the most effective films of recent years to talk to our changing relationship to the environment.

John Bleasdale