Only ‘rule’ I have for these lists (and because these lists are arbitrary anyway) is: A film qualifies if there was no way I could have physically seen it before 2018 -which includes legally-gray means of seeing things. Not everyone lives in New York or Paris, and not everyone can just get on a plane and go to Locarno or Cannes or wherever for a week. I consider myself lucky to have received a Press and Industry accreditation for TIFF this year. Fingers crossed it happens next year.
Nota bene: It’s impossible for me write about specific films in way that satisfies me personally without giving away some plot points, but at the same time most of the films I tend to enjoy don’t rely that much on plot anyway.
1. Unrest by Philippe Grandrieux
Watched all three in Grandrieux’s trio as he had intended them to be seen: A triptych, all playing side by side simultaneously, with this in the center, White Epilepsy on the left, and Meurtrière on the right. As a whole, it works. This ends after 47 minutes, and the two flanking it continue for another 15 minutes and change drastically in tone…but I also cheated and restarted it while the other two continued. I don’t think this was a cheat though, because it’s clear that we’re meant to experience this spatially/phenomenologically and not narratively/temporally. I could talk forever about this film and the triptych but I have an article in the can and forthcoming. Sorry to be aloof about this one just now but I would recommend watching each in the triptych individually and simultaneously, because even if you don’t follow Grandrieux’s career or care about his sensibilities, they are a unique experience.
2. Fausto by Andrea Bussmann
A liminal space. Article at Lo Specchio Scuro.
3. Les garçons sauvages / The Wild Boys by Bertrand Mandico
Daniel Bird and I talked briefly earlier this month, and he put it perfectly when he said that there’s “something interesting happening in French cinema right now and Bertrand is in the middle of it.” He’s right. Article at MUBI Notebook.
4. Un couteau dans le coeur / Knife+Heart by Yann Gonzalez
Not a pastiche or an homage to giallo but something that simply occupies the genre and would stand easily with the best of the genre. This film is the real deal: violent, exciting, poignant. From early experimental roots to later hangout films to more explicit provocation, this feels like the thing that Gonzalez has been building toward his entire career so far. Here he goes for it, and delivers. Also, the less you know about the cast going in the better, I think, because there are several surprise cameos that I loved, including one about halfway through in a scene that takes place in a graveyard that is so good I wanted to applaud it.
5. Altiplano by Malina Szlam
It’s only sixteen minutes long but I could have watched this for hours. Article at Lo Specchio Scuro.
6. In Fabric by Peter Strickland
Like Knife+Heart, this film made my heart glad that we have filmmakers with a genuine and un-ironic love for so-called ‘disreputable’ cinema of the past. My hope is that with this film, audiences will come around to appreciating Strickland’s sense of humor (most critics haven’t, unfortunately). This was reductively -unfairly, ignorantly- described as an ‘homage to giallo films’ after its premiere in September, but if you’re a seasoned viewer of mid-century fantastique, you’ll know that Strickland’s subversive tendencies here have more in common with those in Romero’s Dawn of the Dead and Rollin’s Fascination. This is your movie. Article at Lo Specchio Scuro.
7. Edge of Alchemy by Stacey Steers
Stunning stop-motion animation in that handmade, Eastern European register, and with music by Lech Jankowski.
8. Zan / Killing by Shinya Tsukamoto
9. High Life by Claire Denis
10. Cruel Optimism by Paul Clipson
The organic and the artificial routinely imposing themselves on each other. RIP.
11. Slip by Celia Perrin Sidarous
12. Axolotl by Olivier Smolders
Smolders has always done better in short ‘collage’ form, as when he takes his cue from animated collage works of the Marker/Borowczyk/Lenica bloc for Argos Films back in the 1960s and 1970s. Anyone who has seen his best works -which are in my opinion Mort à Vignole and La part de l’ombre if you’re curious- will know that Smolders is obviously obsessed with dissecting photography as a voyeuristic medium and with how that intersects with popular notions of ‘recorded history’ and the ‘unreliable narrator.’ Here he shows us literal acts of voyeurism primarily through still photography, and it is only through the act that what the voyeur sees comes alive. The structure is obviously indebted to Marker’s La Jetée, but who cares -everyone and their cousin has ‘borrowed’ from Marker at this point.
13. Água Forte / Strong Waters by Monica Baptista
First half is a recitation of a world origin myth set against images of a river in Peru, second half literally takes the film medium back to its own origins.
14. Night Pulse by Damon Packard
A million things I could say about this, but suffice it to say that this was an absurdist -and occasionally very funny- depiction of the culture industry in the early 1990s. In a way it’s like a Ragtime of 1991 in its references to popular culture of the time -Julia Roberts, Janet Jackson, Sade, Bono, et al- and in another way seems to lampoon the convergence of the political economy under George H.W. Bush and American pop culture branding. The only other Packard I had seen was his Early 70s Horror Trailer, which I liked even though I couldn’t tell if he was making fun of the subject or not. It’s obvious here though. Characters inexplicably fall from windows and chase each other for no reason. Characters watch television all the time even though there’s nothing on except phone sex commercials and movie trailers. There are also elements of the occult and a spatial-temporal portal (?), and an impersonation of William Friedkin that made me laugh. A lot.
15. Hagazussa by Lukas Fleigelfeld
Motherhood as a horrific experience, superstition in late-medieval Germania translated literally into cinema form. Like Eggers’ The Witch, this film seems to genuinely believe in demonic forces, and to want to get inside the mind of a person in the early modern period.
Ribâzu ejji / River’s Edge by Isao Yukisada
Super Dark Times by Kevin Phillips, 2017
Between these two films, it is no longer necessary for me to make a semi-autobiographical nostalgia movie about dumb mid-1990s kids in shapeless clothes getting into trouble. Brief note on both films at MUBI Notebook.
Un Certain Regard
Touch Me Not by Adina Pintilie
I loved how this managed to be clinical and humane at the same time. It may not be perfect and I get the criticisms (even among people who like it) that parts of this come off as childish or naive, but I think that’s because deep down Pintilie has a big heart. This film is admittedly hard to evaluate because she places a premium on the subjects’ thoughts and feelings while simultaneously trying to understand their trauma and sexuality as a phenomenon in an ‘objective’ way. It’s a flawed film but it’s not a bad one, as so many critics want you to think. I have a long essay about this one that I’ve been sitting on for a while but I don’t know if I want to publish it…
Gimny Moskovii / Hymns of Muscovy by Dmitri Venkov
When I was in middle school, my history teacher took a globe and turned it upside down, saying that while the rotational axis of the earth was a concrete thing that exists, the notions of ‘north,’ ‘south,’ ‘east,’ and ‘west’ -and even our notion of ‘up’ and ‘down’ and ‘left’ and ‘right’- were predicated entirely on language and one’s phenomenological sense of the world via sight (which is in part predicated on gravitation and on homo sapiens being base-2 organisms), and how the modern notions of ‘direction’ and ‘orientation’ were developed largely in the early modern (western) world. That stuck with me, and this film, while perhaps relying too much on a gimmick, reminded me of that. We live not on a planet dictated by language, but among a shapeless void.
Varia by Marta Giec
About two women who at first don’t seem to be connected in any way, but are. They never meet, but a relationship between them is eventually (haphazardly) revealed. The narrative is immaterial, however. Giec is more interested in capturing characters in specific moments, like an impressionist. The film moves fluidly between DSLR, 16mm, and camcorder footage, and is also filled with ambient and vaporwave music. At its best it suggests a silent film or early experiment by Joseph Cornell or Myron Ort or somebody. The last ten minutes are kind of disappointing plotwise, but again that isn’t really the point.
Laplace’s Witch (Takashi Miike), Hoarders Without Boarders (Jodie Mack), Before We Vanish (Kiyoshi Kurosawa), Double Lover (François Ozon), Unsane (Steven Soderbergh), First Reformed (Paul Schrader), Nancy (Christina Choe), The Wolf House (Joaquin Cociña and Cristóbal León), A Thought of Ecstasy (Rolf Kahl)