An orbiting satellite picks up a beautiful song being played on Earth. Moved by the song, and facing an eternity of lonely obsolescence thanks to the incoming fate of being replaced by new machinery, the satellite decides it wishes to find the source of the tune, and so crashes down to the planet below, where it promptly turns into a teenage girl able to fly with Astro Boy-like rocket feet and fire her arms as weapons. Meanwhile, the songwriter behind the ditty is broken-hearted and so has been turned into a cow, akin to the farmyard beast fate that has befallen other broken-hearted folk. This has led to him and others like him being hunted by a human villain who uses a plunger to extract their organs, as well an incinerator machine that is fuelled by the broken-hearted. Also, there is a wizard named Merlin who makes it his mission to assist the satellite girl and the cow, except Merlin has undergone his own transformation recently and happens to be a roll of toilet paper.
BFI London Film Festival 2014
The rustic, lyrical sophomore feature of writer-director Josephine Decker, Thou Wast Mild and Lovely proves as slippery and elusive a film as its characters do to one another. A work of atmospheric dread enhanced through loose editing and heightened colours and sound design, it opens with a sensual female voice discussing an unknown lover – “But the way my lover opened and closed my legs, the way my lover folded and unfolded me into my lover’s breast, my lover knows how to love me” – over the image of a perturbed, barking dog, this coming right after footage of a father and adult daughter playing in a field with a headless chicken, each with the exuberance of running puppies. What follows rarely deviates from that enigmatic prologue’s register.
Once every few years a film comes along which immediately feels so original, vital and provocative that your preconceived expectations of the art-form are challenged. Whilst that inspiring instinct is invoked by The Tribe, it is also suppressed by the film’s unrelenting brutality, on both a physical and metaphorical level. The film charts the devastating experience of a serious minded youth, Sergey (Grigoriy Fesenko) ,who is assigned to a chilly and dilapidated boarding school. Falling under the sway of the institution’s gang, Sergey experiences a brutal hazing exercise and then becomes enmeshed with the school’s alpha delinquents, meddling in a mugging here and some narcotic abuse there, whilst the crew also conduct their own brutal protection racket and, rather more seriously, pimp out two young girls, Anna (Yana Novikova) and her friend (Rosa Babiy) to sexually service the nearby trucker community. This may sound like a somewhat conventional pathway for a serious and dour minded example of contemporary world cinema, but The Tribe has one fascinating ace up its sleeve – the boarding house is a school for the deaf and all the non-professional actors communicate only in sign language, the film yielding no consideration for audience comfort with no voiceover, no subtitles, and (quite frankly, as the plot gains traction) no mercy.
In its frequently sorrowful tale of young Japanese siblings struggling through the tail end or immediate aftermath of World War II, anime Giovanni’s Island faces seemingly inevitable comparisons to both Grave of the Fireflies and the Barefoot Gen features. Mizuho Nishikubo’s film, however, has a spirit all of its own, even if you can trace in it bits of those other films’ DNA, as well as notorious British anti-war animation When the Wind Blows, whose art style it resembles more than the likes of Studio Ghibli. It stands apart in offering a look at an aspect of Japanese history rarely explored in any art form to date, that of the Russian occupation of the island of Shitokan after Japan’s defeat in 1945, as seen through the eyes of two Japanese children among the residents whose lives are upended by the new rule.
Following their mildly acclaimed 2012 effort Resolution, directing duo Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead further establish themselves as some of the most promising gruesome genre mechanics to be observed – if from a safe and secure distance. In their new film Spring they turn their gaze to a beloved titan of the macabre, channeling an eternal struggle of the ancient ones that H.P Lovecraft would enjoy, with creatures most cryptic dwelling among an unsuspecting population.
The mysterious and secretive figure of Alan Turing has undergone something of a political and cultural renaissance in the UK over the past few years. A young mathematic prodigy, Oxford graduate, and cryptographer par excellence, he was ushered into the ultra top secret Bletchley Park programme during the Second World War and tasked with the impossible: to break the German military codes through a captured sequencer which could potentially offer billions of responses to any clandestine communication. Socially incompetent and ruthlessly dedicated, Turing willingly threw himself into the arena of cerebral combat, along the way erecting much of the intellectual and theoretical infrastructure of the modern computing world. But as a closeted homosexual his treatment at the hands of the authorities in the post-war period should cause the great British bulldog to hang its head in shame, with he and his team’s contribution to the continuation of civilisation remaining cloaked for over half acentury due to the Official Secrets Act. Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown would later make an official public apology on behalf of the British government for “the appalling way he was treated,” while the Queen granted him a posthumous pardon on Christmas Eve 2013.
Family can be a mysterious and dangerous matrix of locked doors and supressed secrets, with loving family members willing to do almost anything to preserve a thin veneer of moral unity. That’s the central premise of Shrew’s Nest, another gory, effective entry in the recent plague of Spanish shock cinema which has infected markets beyond the Iberian motherland. Restricted to one expansive apartment in a post-civil war Madrid, the film unfolds as an interlocking cavalcade of cause and effect, leading to a the illumination of a family’s most brutal and buried secrets.
One of the distinct pleasures of a feast of film is the screening of vintage classics, restored and resurrected for a new generation of film lovers. This year the London Film Festival is screening glossy new prints of George Cukor’s airy comedy Born Yesterday, John Schlesinger’s 1967 Hardy adaptation Far from the Madding Crowd, and unveiling another collaboration with the Scorsese Foundation to bring Michael Powell’s The Tales of Hoffman to a new generation of cinephiles. Following a more international bend, the Thrill strand of the programme is also hosting a lavish 4K restoration of Dragon Inn, a Chinese world cinema classic which has been re-issued through the Chinese Taipei Film Archive at L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory in Bologna, culling a new digital dervish which has been colour-supervised by original director of photography Hui-ying Hua.
Foul-mouthed octogenarian rappin’ n’ scratching grandmothers. Abrasive, gold-laminated 3D holographic shamans. A scene -tealing human-beatbox waitress, buxom yakuza mistresses, sex-crazed adolescents, breakdancing ninja dervishes, and tank-wielding Shibuya henchmen. All these ingredients and more are present in the latest dish of neon-lit lunacy from Japanese provocateur Sion Sono, a filmmaker with a long and distinguished relationship with the London Film Festival following exposure for his earlier cult cuts Cold Fish, Exte: Hair Extensions, and Why Don’t You Play in Hell?. His latest film, Tokyo Tribe, is another one for the midnight movie crowd: a delirious contemporary musical based on the popular manga by Santa Inoue, it’s a phantasmagorical pop art pastiche of the American rhythms of Streets of Fire, West Side Story, and The Warriors.
The found footage genre gets an Iberian injection in La cueva, retitled In Darkness We Fall for English-speaking markets, which is playing in the Cult movie strand of this years London Film Festival. Certain specific Spanish atrocities have been well-received by genre fans over the past few years, so the textbook found footage premise may initially raise hackles, yet could be mined for some forlorn hope of entombed originality.
A couple of years ago, Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio seemed to materialise from the ether and spear the hearts of giallo and cult murder movie fans everywhere with its exquisitely executed homage to the murdering grounds of Argento, Bava and Martino, so his long-anticipated follow-up as been eagerly received throughout the international festival circuit. This time Strickland has mounted a similar etymology of cult movie history in the form of 1970’s Eurotrash exploitation pictures, soft-core seductions from the likes of Jess Franco or Umberto Lenzi, with a reincarnation complete with creeping zooms, trance-like montages, and a rather flippant approach to narrative coherence, sacrificed on the altar of pure cinematic sensation.
Australian documentarian Mark Hartley crafts his third vigorous valentine to exploitation cinema, alongside Not Quite Hollywood and Machete Maidens Unleashed!, with Electric Boogaloo, an explosive trawl through the snarling ferocity of Cannon Films before its inevitable bankruptcy in the early 1990s. Whilst the former documentary in the cycle celebrated the boom in Ozploitation cinema of the 1970s and 1980s, and Maidens! took a appreciative scan of the laxly monitored Philippine film factory, this time the viewfinder shifts to the excessive and action packed oeuvre of Israeli movie moguls Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, whose 1979-founded company became an explosive production house in Hollywood during the Reagan-mandated 1980s. Much to the disgust of snooty critics and prestige-minded executives, Cannon (an apt name) forged repeated success due to their box office-incinerating brand of chaotic, cheap and politically dubious action and exploitation films, bringing the grim jaw lines of Chuck Norris, Charles Bronson and Sylvester Stallone to international markets.
Cinema rarely looks to events of a pre-biblical vintage, but a mini-genre of pre-civilisation survival pictures does exist for those who pray to the old ones. The first instance of this primitive return to our roots which spears our interest was Clan of the Cave Bear, mysteriously directed by frequent Scorsese cinematographer Michael Chapman. More recently Kevin Reynolds took us on a adventure to Easter Island with Rapa Nui, and Roland Emmerich’s credibility was crushed with 10,000 BC, whilst the more seriously minded Nicolas Winding Refn added his brooding masculinity to the genre with his monosyllabic Valhalla Rising. Perhaps the highest profile film in the prehistoric swaps of survival is Mel Gibson’s brutal Apocalypto, which seemed to have been culled from the video game techniques of peril and boss fights rather than the historical archive of the local Natural History museum, with a colonial conclusion that left a bitter taste in the mouth.