Category Archives: World Cinema
From 101 Films comes the UK Blu-ray of Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado’s Big Bad Wolves (2013), a brutal and unpredictable Israeli thriller that addresses the perils of victimhood and the consequences of vengeance.
SOME MEN ARE CREATED EVIL
Following the disappearance of a number of young girls in a small Israeli town, hardened police detective Miki (Lior Ashkenazi) fingers socially awkward religious studies teacher Dror (Rotem Keinan) as the culprit. When Miki is caught on-camera using extreme violence while interrogating the teacher, he is forced to let him go and is suspended from the force.
Unable to let the case go, Miki pursues Dror, but the two men are then kidnapped by Gidi (Tzahi Grad), the father of one of the girls, whose headless body has just been discovered, who plans to extract a confession out of the teacher. But as the tension mounts and Dror maintains his innocence, the lines between justice and vengeance, innocence and guilt, become increasingly frayed. Just how far should you go before you accept a truth? And what does it cost you to find out?
MANIACS ARE ONLY AFRAID OF MANIACS
Big Bad Wolves comes from Israeli filmmakers Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado, who are best known for their breakout festival hit, and Israel’s first slasher, the black comedy Rabies (check out my review here).
For their follow up, Keshales and Papushado have created a brutal scathing shocker that has divided both audiences and critics. Part giallo, part torture porn, part political comment, it’s really hard to pigeonhole this incredibly violent tale about child abduction and vigilante revenge, that even adds elements from the Hansel and Gretel fairytale into its sordid mix.
The political comment, laced with absurdist humour, is evident throughout, with much of it aimed at Israeli identity, attitudes towards their Arab neighbours, and the use of excessive force over due process and trial by jury. The vitriolic hate espoused by the characters as they dish out their extreme form of justice – which gets increasingly stomach churning as the film progresses – certainly does leave a bitter taste. But what really sends a shiver down the spine is how these characters end up appearing, which is best summed up in one of the film’s most chilling lines: ‘Smells like a barbecue. You have no idea how much I’ve missed that smell’. In the end you have to ask yourself, just who are the real big bad wolves in this world?
Released on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK, this release from 101 Films includes Last Night at the Empire: Big Bad Wolves at FrightFest, a brand new documentary on the background and impact of the film, and its UK premiere at FrightFest in August 2013. In closing the festival, it became the last film to screen in the Empire Leicester Square’s famous main screen, before it was refurbished and split in two. The other extras include AXS TV: A Look at Big Bad Wolves and the theatrical trailer.
From Eureka Entertainment comes The Holy Mountain, the greatest of the German ‘mountain films’ and the film that launched the career of Leni Riefenstahl , digitally restored in 2K and presented on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK as a part of The Masters of Cinemas Series.
German filmmaker Arnold Fanck made this beautifully photographed Bergfilm, or ‘mountain film’, in 1926. Written in three days and nights – especially for Riefenstahl, who would go on to direct the Nazi propaganda films, Der Sieg des Glaubens (1933), Triumph of the Will (1935), and Tag der Freiheit (1935) – The Holy Mountain (aka Der Heilige Berg) took over a year to film at the Atelier Staaken studio in Berlin and on mountain locations in Switzerland, with an entourage of expert skiers and climbers.
Ostensibly a tragic love triangle romance – between Riefenstahl’s young dancer and two mountain climbers, Vigo (Ernst Petersen) and his older friend (Luis Trenker) – Fanck relishes the glorious Alpine landscape by filming death-defying climbing, avalanche dodging, and frenetic downhill ski racing.
Digitally restored in 2K, The Holy Mountain is a visual feast – and a fascinating look at the origin of a genre.
• 1080p presentation on Blu-ray, from a 2014 2K digital restoration
• Score by Aljoscha Zimmerman, available in both LPCM 2.0 and DTS-HD MA 5.1
• Original German intertitles with optional English subtitles
• The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl (1993, 180 mins) – Ray Müller’s Emmy award-winning documentary on Leni Reifenstahl. In German, with subtitles.
• Audio commentary by film historian Travis Crawford
• Collector’s booklet
Twenty years after David Cronenberg prophesied the dark side of the Internet age in Videodrome, acclaimed French filmmaker Olivier Assayas (Irma Vep) updated it for the New Millennium in his startlingly prescient 2002 thriller Demonlover, a chilling exploration of the nexus between sex and violence available at the click of a button.
Up-and-coming executive Diane (Connie Nielsen) lets nothing stand in her way when it comes to landing the lucrative Tokyo Anime contract for the Volf Corporation, guaranteeing worldwide exclusive rights to the latest in cutting-edge hentai.
Despised by her assistant (Chloë Sevigny) and engaged in a risky game of corporate espionage, her ruthless ambition meets its match in Elaine (Gina Gershon), the charismatic representative of an American Internet porn company called Demonlover.
However, the company is only the front for an online portal to the Hellfire Club, which gives its users control over the next big thing in interactive extreme pornography: real women, tortured according to subscribers’ whims, in real time.
Diane wants a piece of the action, and will stop at nothing to get it; but as she delves deeper into the twisted world of the Hellfire Club, reality slips away and the stakes of the game are raised to the point of no return.
Armed with a pounding score by Sonic Youth, Assayas’ neo-noir/cyber horror is finally unleashed for the first time on Blu-ray from Arrow Academy, with revealing extras and a new director-approved restoration.
BLU-RAY SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
• Brand new 2K restoration of the 121-minute director’s cut, approved by Olivier Assayas
• High Definition Blu-Ray (1080p) presentation
• Original 5.1 DTS-HD master audio
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
• Audio commentary by writer/director Olivier Assayas
• New visual essay written and narrated by critic Jonathan Romney
• Peripherie de Demonlover: Behind-the-scenes documentary directed by Yorick Le Saux
• Archive interviews with Olivier Assayas, Connie Nielsen, Chloë Sevigny and Charles Berling
• SY NYC 12/12/01: The Demonlover Sessions: a fly-on-the-wall documentary about the recording of the music score by Sonic Youth
• Q&A with Olivier Assayas filmed at the Wexner Center for the Arts in 2003
• Extended version of the Hellfire Club sequence
• Original theatrical trailers
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Chris Malbon
• FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Anne Billson
One of the most underrated and oft-neglected genre filmmakers of his generation, Spanish-born director José Ramón Larraz (Symptoms) finally receives his due with this collection of his work, the first of its kind, bringing together a fascinating cross-section of films from the first half of his lengthy cinematic career.
In Larraz’s debut feature, the hitherto ultra-rare Whirlpool (1970), Vivian Neves stars as Tulia, a young model invited to a photographer s secluded country home for what purports to be a quiet weekend retreat – but soon transpires to be anything but. 1974 s Vampyres – perhaps the best known and most widely-released of all José Larraz s films – sees a duo of blood hungry female vampires prowling the British countryside, from where they lure unsuspecting male motorists back to their imposing, dilapidated mansion for draining… in more ways than one. Meanwhile, in 1978 s The Coming of Sin (La Visita del Vicio, in its native Spanish), a young gypsy girl experiences a violent sexual awakening as her dreams of a naked young man on horseback become reality.
By turns terrifying, titillating, artful and scandalous, these three films collected here – all newly restored from original film elements, with Whirlpool and The Coming of Sin making their Blu-ray world premieres – collectively offer film fans a unique perspective on the fascinating, highly-varied career of one of the horror genre’s most-overlooked auteurs.
On Blu-ray 25th March from Arrow Video
LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS
• Three films from José Ramón Larraz: Whirlpool, Vampyres and The Coming of Sin, all newly-restored in 2K from original film elements
• English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing for all features
• Newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx
• 80-page perfect bound book featuring new writing by Jo Botting, Tim Greaves and Vanity Celis
• Original US Theatrical Cut
• Brand new audio commentary by Tim Lucas
• Obsessive Recurrence: The Early Films of José Larraz – author and critic Kim Newman reflects on the recurring themes and underlying obsessions linking together the early productions of José Larraz
• A Curious Casting – actor Larry Dann on the strange story behind his casting in Whirlpool
• Deviations of Whirlpool – featurette comparing the differences between the US Theatrical Cut and a previously circulated, alternate cut of the film
• Archival interview with José Larraz
• Image Gallery
• Brand new audio commentary by Kat Ellinger
• Brand new interviews with producer Brian Smedley-Aston, actors Marianne Morris, Anulka Dziubinska, Brian Deacon, Sally Faulkner, makeup artist Colin Arthur and composer James Kenelm Clarke
• Reimagining Vampyres – a brand new interview with Larraz s friend and collaborator Victor Matellano, director of the 2015 Vampyres remake
Archival interview with José Larraz
• Jose Larraz and Marianne Morris Q&A at 1997 Eurofest
• Image Gallery
THE COMING OF SIN
• Spanish and English language versions of the feature
• Brand new audio commentary by Kat Ellinger
• Variations of Vice: The Alternate Versions of The Coming of Sin exploitation expert Marc Morris on the strange and scandalous release history of José Larraz’s most censored film
• Remembering Larraz author and filmmaker Simon Birrell shares his memories José Larraz
• His Last Request (2005, 27 mins) – short film by Simon Birrell
• Archival interview with José Larraz
• Image Gallery
World on a Wire (1973) | Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s virtual reality sci-fi epic is a retro noir wet dream
Originally made for German TV in 1973, Rainer Werner Fassbinder‘s science-fiction thriller World on a Wire (Welt am Draht) is a frightening look into the world of virtual reality and a masterful adaptation of Daniel F Galouye’s 1964 novel Simulacron-3 (aka The Counterfeit World).
It centres around a highly-advanced project designed to elevate conventional computer technology to a new level by creating a virtual reality inhabited by computer-generated people or ‘identity units’.
When the head of the project dies mysteriously, Dr Stiller (Klaus Löwitsch) becomes his successor and sets out to probe deeper. Making contact with an identity unit called Einstein (Gottfried John), Stiller faces a terrible truth: that his world is actually a simulation of another world one level above…
Forget The Matrix and its ilk, Fassbinder’s two-part TV adaptation was way ahead of its time and has been praised as a science fiction masterpiece. Featuring some familiar faces from the director’s company of actors (Berlin Alexanderplatz‘ Brigette Mira, Tenderness of the Wolves‘ Kurt Raab, Effi Briest‘s Ulli Lommel and Ali: Fear Eats the Soul’s El Hedi ben Salem), the dystopian thriller also sports superlative production design (that probably influenced Blade Runner, and certainly has an Alphaville feel about it). So, for anyone into 1970s fashion, architecture and design, the sets, costumes, lighting and location shots are a retro noir wet dream (I know I could quite happily live in this simulated world). It might be dense in parts, made more so by the heavy German accents, but taken as instalments, World on a Wire is a revelation.
This new restoration, supervised by The Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation and cinematographer Michael Ballhaus (Goodfellas, The Departed), comes 46 years after its initial release and still pushes audiences to question the world around them.
It is now being released by Second Sight in a Limited Edition Blu-ray which includes a 50-page collectors booklet and a host of outstanding new special features.
• No Strings Attached: interview with assistant director Renate Leiffer
• Observing Fassbinder: tribute to photographer Peter Gauhe
• Looking Ahead to Today documentary
• On-set featurette
• Original Broadcast Recap
• The Simulation Argument: interview with Professor Nick Bostrom
• 50-page collectors booklet featuring new essays by Anton Bitel and Daniel Bird, archival writing by Daniel Oberhaus and Christian Braad Thomsen, stills and rare on-set photos by Peter Gauhe
Beyond the Clouds (1995) | Michelangelo Antonioni’s final film is a reflective walk through love’s labour’s lost
Michelangelo Antonioni returned to his birthplace in Ferrara, Emilia Romagna for his directorial swansong, 1995’s Beyond the Clouds (Al di là delle nuvole), a gorgeous-looking quartet of erotic tales, co-directed by Wim Wenders, dealing with love and desire that harks back to auteur-lead anthology films like Spirits of the Dead and Boccaccio ’70.
From out of the clouds, an American film director (John Malkovich) arrives in Europe in search of inspiration for his next picture. What follows are four stories, each about the hypnotic effect women can have on men, including the director himself – who literally stalks Sophie Marceau’s husband killer in a deserted, off-season Portofino.
This really is Men Are from Mars, Women Are From Venus territory with each story adapted from a vignette in Antonioni’s 1986 book That Bowling Alley on the Tiber. But beware, as the director makes no excuses in portraying women the way he sees them, which means breasts and lots of them – exposed by some of Europe’s leading actresses.
In the first tale, set in the fog-shrouded streets of Ferrara, Silvano (Kim Rossi Stuart) meets Carmen (Ines Sastre) and asks her out on a date. But despite his attraction, he can’t follow through on his feelings for her. Cue: sex and some lovely scenery.
The film then moves to Paris, where New Yorker Roberto (Peter Weller speaking perfect French) starts an affair with an Italian girl (Chiara Caselli). But despite his stale marriage to the drunken Patricia (Fanny Ardant), he still loves her.
Also in Paris, Carlo (Jean Reno) arrives in his swanky apartment by the Seine to find his wife and furniture gone. When Ardant’s Patricia arrives to view the apartment, she reveals that she too has left her husband and taken the furniture as well. Cue: a caress, and the possibility of something new.
In the final – and best story of the feature – set in that French tourist Mecca, Aix-en-Provence, a young woman (Irene Jacob) leads the desperately-in-love Niccolo (Vincent Perez) on as he persistently follows her to church, unaware that she is to become a nun. No wonder some men turn gay, poor Niccolo.
Completed by Wenders after Antonioni suffered a stroke, Beyond the Clouds is a gentle, reflective walk through love’s labour’s lost – although Malkovich’s ponderings do get a little tiresome. Beautifully shot, with a terrific score (thanks to Van Morrison and U2), it also boasts a great cameo from Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau as two old-timers debating the worthiness of copying an artist’s work at the 1hr 16hr mark.
Beyond the Clouds is available on DVD from Second Sight (2009) and also screens at the BFI Southbank on Sunday 17 February and Thursday 21 February 2019 as part of their Antonioni season.
In 1972, Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni was given the rare opportunity to film in China. It was an era of change for the isolated country, which was in the grip of Mao Zedong‘s Cultural Revolution, and Antonioni aimed to capture that. But his documentary, Chung Kuo, China, ended up being condemned by the Chinese authorities, and was banned in China, along with all of Antonioni’s films, until 2004.
Long regarded as something of a ‘holy grail’ of world cinema, Antonioni’s film is one of the few first-hand accounts of life behind the bamboo curtain in the 1970s. Apart from a screening at the BFI back in 2005, it’s rarely been seen in the UK, until Mr Bongo Films released it onto DVD in 2012. Now its being included in the BFI Southbank’s major retrospective of the celebrated film-maker’s work (Sunday 3 & 9 February 2019).
Using his trademark style (ie: lots of long takes), Antonioni and his small crew travelled the vast country, visiting Beijing, Nanjing, Suzhou, Shanghai and Henan along the way, to film everyday life as it happened. The result is a three and a half-hour long visual meditation on Chinese culture in which images of progress and development interact with those of peaceful Hutongs (many of which do not exist today) where children play and old men practice their T’ai Chi.
With sparing use of voice-over (Antonioni’s own) and no scored soundtrack, Antonioni allows his camera to do all the work. This is most apparent in the Beijing section. Now, anyone who has visited the city will be familiar with the over-crowded streets and excessive air pollution caused by industry and car fumes. Back in 1972, however, Beijing was a different place altogether. While the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square still loomed, the streets surrounding them were much quieter with just the sound of bike bells ringing in the distance.
With so much change that has gone on since Mao’s Cultural Revolution, Antonioni’s documentary must be one of the most important visual documents of a defining period in modern China. It might take a few sittings to get through, but it will certainly leave you thinking, ‘What those people have seen’.
La signora senza camelie (1953) and Le amiche (1955) | Michelangelo Antonioni’s early dramas shine a light on Fifties Italian womenhood
Michelangelo Antonioni, who is getting a major retrospective at the BFI Southbank in January and February 2019, belonged to that elite group of Italian film-makers who made a huge impact on world cinema following the Second World War.
Best known for maverick fare like L’avventura, Blow Up and Zabriskie Point in the liberated 1960s and 1970s, Antonioni actually honed his unique vision in a series of wry character studies of Italian mores in the conservative 1950s.
Back in 2011, Eureka! Entertainment released newly-restored versions of two significant features from the celebrated film-maker as part of their Masters of Cinema series in which the director moved away from neo-realism – the dominate style of 1940s Italian cinema – to try his hand at new techniques of story-telling.
1953’s La signora senza camelie (The Lady Without Camelias) – one of the most insightful films about cinema ever made – tells the story of a former shop assistant called Clara Manni (Lucia Bosé) who finds herself thrust into movie stardom.
Clara has incredible beauty, but little talent or assertiveness to survive in the male-dominated film-making world that Antonioni portrays as fickle, frivolous and lacking in soul. But despite the disappointments and humiliations Clara encounters in both her career as an actress and in her loveless marriage to the wealthy, jealous Gianni, she is a woman whose inner resilience shines through.
La signora senza camelie – a play on Alexander Dumas’s famous romantic work, The Lady of the Camellias – is a carefully-crafted character study about a woman out of sorts with her environment (a theme that would recur in Antonioni’s subsequent works). It’s also an opportunity for the director to poke a stick at the film-making process – in particular, Rome’s Cinecittà – making this a great companion piece to Minnelli’s Hollywood melodrama The Bad and the Beautiful (made the previous year) and Godard’s introspective art piece Le Mépris (made a decade later).
1955’s Le amiche (The Girlfriends) looks like a rehearsal for Antonioni’s masterworks. Adapted from Cesare Pavese‘s novella, Le amiche charts the story of Clelia (Eleonora Rossi-Drago), a successful dressmaker who returns to her native city of Torino (Turin) where she becomes involved with a group of wealthy women. But she soon finds herself torn between the conservative world of her working-class origins and the glamorous environment in which she now resides. It is only when one of her new friends commits suicide that she realises she belongs in neither.
In this character-driven snapshot of the lives of five women, Antonioni experimented with a radical new style which would become his trademark: instead of the normal narrative structure, he presented a series of seemingly disconnected events – often using long, carefully framed, takes. This gives him the chance to explore each character and their own personal journey. It’s a tad stagy and experimental (his ideas would finally pay off in 1960’s L’avventura), but remains absorbing.
Both La signora senza camelie and le amiche address the role of women in modern Italian society. Over half a century later, they still have something to say and are now a window on an Italian landscape (both human and otherwise) that has changed so dramatically over time. For cineastes familiar with Antonioni’s better-known works, this pairing is the epitome of the director’s 1950’s period.
The Lady Without Camelias screens Saturday 12 January at the BFI Southbank, while Le amiche has four separate screenings, with the first on Wednesday 9 January. To book and for more information, check out the full season HERE
Throughout January and February 2019, the BFI Southbank in London will honour Italian filmmaker, Michelangelo Antonioni, who profoundly influenced cinematic style, mood and outlook, with screenings of some his most iconic works – from his striking 1960’s works like La notte (read my Blu-ray review here) and L’avventura to his extraordinary expressionistic international endeavours like Blow Up, Zabriskie Point and The Passenger, which gets a cinema re-release from today (Friday 8 January 2019).
Plus, there will be a series of illuminating talks surveying his artistic vision, a study day devoted to the use of landscape and architecture in his canon, and a six-session evening course on all things Antonioni.
The Pyjama Girl Case (1977) | Flavio Mogherini’s Down Under-set Italian giallo is a mixed bag of treats
From Arrow Video comes a new 2k restoration on Blu-ray of director Flavio Mogherini’s Italian-made 1970s thriller The Pyjama Girl Case, starring veteran Hollywood star Ray Milland.
When the burnt body of a young woman is found on a Sydney beach, former Canadian Inspector Thompson (Ray Milland) comes out of retirement to help local homicide detectives crack the case. Treading where the ‘real’ detectives can’t, he doggedly pieces together the tragic story of Dutch immigrant Glenda Blythe (Dalila Di Lazzaro) and the unhappy chain of events which led to her grisly demise…
In between dodging fearsome felines in The Uncanny (filmed in Canada) and facing a Cruise into Terror (off the California coast), Ray Milland headed Down Under to appear in this offbeat Italian-made thriller that comes from the tail under of the giallo boom period. Inspired by a real-life case which baffled the Australian police back-up in the 1930s, The Pyjama Girl Case is a mixed bag of treats.
There’s a memorably melancholic score by veteran composer Riz Ortolani, but the disco tracks featuring the fabulous Amanda Lear feel quite incongrous to the sun-drenched setting: a lunchtime riverboat cruise filled with families and pensioners. It’s great seeing Milland get all sweary, but he seems out of place (like he should be in another movie). And indeed that’s what happens after he makes his ‘dramatic’ exit (no I won’t reveal that), when events involving Dalilia’s Glenda take a turn for the sordid, forcing us ‘the viewer’ to become voyeurs on her sex life (a hotel scene involving sweaty fat men is quite the stomach churner).
Interestingly Mogherini ditches the postcard approach to show a different side of Sydney, with lots of shots of 1970s shopping arcades (Gene Wilder’s Silver Streak was showing at Plaza Cinemas at the time), and people playing bowls and hockey (which certainly reminded me of my Australian heritage, as did those shopping centres). But the one image that will remain with me forever is of the burnt corpse placed in a case and put on display. It’s quite disturbing, but so are the people getting their jollies out of viewing it.
The Arrow Video Blu-ray release features a brand-new 2k restoration of the film from the original camera negative, newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack and optional English subtitles, plus the following special features…
• New audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films
• New video interview with author and critic Michael Mackenzie on the internationalism of the giallo and on how this film may have inspired Dario Argento’s Sleepless
• New video interview with actor Howard Ross
• New video interview with editor Alberto Tagliavia
• Archival interview with composer Riz Ortolani (I loved this)
• Image gallery
• Italian theatrical trailer
• Original and newly commissioned artwork by Chris Malbon
• Collector’s booklet (first pressing only) featuring new writing by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas