Category Archives: World Cinema

Beyond the Door | The infamous 1970s satantic shocker gets a limited edition 2k Blu-ray restored release – Hail Satan!

Prolific producer and director Ovidio G Assonitis, whose Tentacles (one of my all-time faves) and Piranha II: The Spawning cashed in on the killer fish craze that followed Jaws, scored his first worldwide hit in 1974 with Beyond the Door – the infamously insane riff on The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby.

Jessica (played by Juliet Mills of TV’s Nanny and the Professor fame) is the wife of a music executive Robert (Gabriele Lavia) in San Francisco who starts to develop strange behaviors whilst pregnant with her third child. Before you can say ‘split pea soup’, she’s displaying signs of full-blown demonic possession – complete with projectile vomiting and fully-rotating head!

Her obstetrician Dr George Staton (Nino Segurini) believes Jessica should to be placed into a sanatorium, but a mysterious man called Dimitri (Richard Johnson) then reveals himself to be her former lover and a satanist who has a made a pact with the devil to deliver him Jessica’s newborn in exchange for having been saved from a car accident…

Described as ‘disgusting’, ‘scary trash’ and ‘maddeningly inappropriate’ by film critic Robert Ebert, the supernatural shocker (which was the subject of a successful lawsuit by Warner Bros over its direct rips from The Exorcist) has been given a brand-new 2k restoration release on Blu-ray from Arrow Video, packed with stacks of bonus extras. But is the film worth all the bother?

As the old saying goes, ‘You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear’. But in the case of Beyond the Door (AKA The Devil Within Her), I’m sure it was a hell of a lot of fun trying. Yes, its cheaply made (in all apects – from its production design to its dire editing), but it does have some effective scares that keep you entertained – and they are the main reason why the film made such a killing at the box office.

I grew up watching Juliet Mills as the wise and wonderful magical nanny Phoebe Figalilly on TV, so seeing her as satan’s Antichrist incubator spewing obscenties and green sick was quite a shock. But whatever the two-time Golden Globe nominee’s reasoning was for accepting the role, Mills’ physical performance certainly impresses in the scenes in which she goes full-on Linda Blair.

Another standout is when Jessica’s two brats – foul-mouthed Gail (Barbara Fiorini), who is so obssessed with Erich Segal’s novel Love Story that she owns multiple copies, and her little brother Ken (David Colin Jr) – are terrorised by supernatural forces in their bedroom. The whole room starts shaking like a dollhouse, the kids are thrown about like ragdolls, and the eyes of their toys light up as though possessed. I loved this scene and I’m sure the kids did too. Colin Jr would next turn up in Mario Bava’s Shock in 1977, which was released in the US as an unofficial sequel to Beyond the Door.

Of course, this tawdry occult tale is all overseen by the Devil himself, who narrates throughout (by an uncredited British actor Robert Booth, who did bit parts in Z Cars and The Professionals and some voice work on 2006’s Tardisodes). And he gets some great quotable lines like, ‘Nobody knows the exquisite suffering of the damned’.

Interestingly the film’s co-producer was Edward L Montoro, whose own real-life story is worthy of a film itself. He embezzled over $1million from his film production company, Film Ventures International (which did two of my faves, Grizzly and Day of the Animals), and vanished, never to be seen again.

Here are the full specs on Arrow’s big release. No screeners were available, so I can’t comment on the extras.

LIMITED EDITION TWO-DISC BLU-RAY CONTENTS
• Brand new 2K restoration of the extended Uncut English Export Version
Possessed: a brand-new feature-length documentary on Italian exorcism movies!
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Marc Schoenbach
• Reversible fold-out poster
• Perfect-bound collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by John Martin and Alessio di Rocco

DISC ONE
• Brand new 2K restoration of the Uncut English Export Version, released as The Devil Within Her (108 mins)
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Original uncompressed mono audio
• Optional English subtitles
The Devil and I: Interview with director/producer Ovidio G. Assonitis
Barrett’s Hell: Interview with cinematographer Roberto D’Ettorre Piazzoli
Beyond the Music: Interview with composer Franco Micalizzi
The Devil’s Face: Interview with camera operator Maurizio Maggi
Motel and Devils: Audio interview with actor Gabriele Lavia
• Alternate Italian Chi Sei? opening titles
• Alternate Behind the Door VHS opening titles
• Alternate Japanese Diabolica opening and ending sequence
• Trailers, TV and Radio Spots
• Image Gallery

DISC TWO
• The alternate US Theatrical Version
• Italy Possessed: Feature-length documentary on Italian exorcism movies!

Anti-Worlds proudly presents its inaugural taboo-busting Blu-ray releases

For cinema fans who like their films daring, innovative and controversial, then take a look at new production company Anti-Worlds, who are releasing their first slate of Blu-rays, featuring high-quality feature-film presentations from some new, ground-breaking film-makers, and each one complemented by an array of extensive bonus content.

CHAINED FOR LIFE
Aaron Schimberg’s impressive second feature is his response, as a filmmaker with facial deformity, to cinematic portrayals of disfigured people, from Freaks to The Elephant Man. Simultaneously empathetic and sardonic, Chained for Life’s multi-layered meta-narrative casts Jess Weixler (Teeth) as Mabel, a well-intentioned Hollywood star. She takes the role of a blind woman in a hospital-based horror movie about abnormalities, directed by an egomaniacal German filmmaker. As shooting progresses, Mabel gradually falls for her friendly British co-star Rosenthal, played by Under the Skin actor Adam Pearson.

BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES
DISC ONE: CHAINED FOR LIFE
• High Definition presentation
• Original mono soundtrack
• Audio commentary with writer-director Aaron Schimberg
A Different Kind of Intimacy (2020, 18 mins): actor Jess Weixler reflects on the themes and production of Chained for Life
Good Things Happen to Good People (2020, 10 mins): actor and activist Adam Pearson discusses the role of Rosenthal
We Are Family (2020, 17 mins): actor Sari Lennick recalls her experiences of making the film
• Eight deleted/extended scenes (12 mins)
• Super 8 on-set footage (2018, 2 mins, mute), silent material shot by film archivist John Kalcsmann
Late Spring/Regrets for Our Youth (2009, 5mins): short diary by Aaron Schimberg
• UK and US theatrical trailers
• Teaser trailer
• Image gallery
• English subtitles

DISC TWO: GO DOWN DEATH (LIMITED EDITION EXCLUSIVE)
• UK premiere presentation of Aaron Schimberg’s 2013 debut feature
• High Definition presentation
• Original mono soundtrack
It would be sad to see this end up in a dump (2013, 6 mins): rare behind-the-scenes footage shot by producer-editor Vanessa McDonnell
• Nine deleted scenes (32 mins)
• Theatrical trailer
• Image gallery
• Optional English subtitles
• Limited edition booklet containing new writing on Chained for Life by David Jenkins, Jeff Billington on the 1950 exploitation film Chained for Life, Alejandro Bachmann and Michelle Koch on Go Down Death, and film credits
• Limited edition of 3,000 copies

HOLIDAY
This controversial drama, passed fully uncut by the BBFC, tells the story of the trophy girlfriend of a Danish drug lord who sets a dangerous game in motion when she seeks the attention of another man whilst on vacation in the Turkish Riviera. Included in the Hollywood Reporter’s list of the ‘Best 20 Films from Sundance 2018’, and in IndieWire’s list of Sundance standouts that deserve to find distribution. Director Isabella Eklöf was also selected in the ‘10 Directors to Watch’ list by IndieWire.

BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES
• High Definition presentation
• Classified fully uncut by the BBFC
• Original 5.1 surround sound
On ‘Holiday’ (2020, 20 mins): in-depth interview with writer-director Isabella Eklöf on the creation and production of her debut feature
• Q&A with Isabella Eklöf (2019, 29 mins): the filmmaker in discussion with Lizzie Francke, recorded at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA)
• Deleted scene (3 mins)
Willy Kyrklund (2002, 11 mins): short documentary portrait of the acclaimed author and poet, directed by Eklöf
• Theatrical trailer
• Optional English translation subtitles
• Optional English subtitles
• Limited edition booklet containing new writing on Holiday by Anna Bogutskaya, an interview with Isabella Eklöf by Addy Fong, Peter Walsh on Willy Kyrklund., and film credits
• Limited edition of 3,000 copies

RELAXER
Set on the eve of Y2K, Relaxer is a mind-bending drama about a young man who is tasked by his overbearing brother to get to level 256 on the classic computer game Pac-Man, and not to leave his couch until he does. Inspired by Luis Buñuel’s absurdist classic The Exterminating Angel, the film premiered at the 2018 South by Southwest festival, and won the Best Actor award at that year’s Fantasia Film Festival.

BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES:
DISC ONE: RELAXER
• High Definition presentation
• Original stereo soundtrack
• Audio commentary by writer-director Joel Potrykus
• Behind the Scenes (2018, 7 mins): on-set footage featuring Potrykus and actor Joshua Burge
• Deleted scene (5 mins)
• Rehearsal footage (2018, 10 mins)
Milk Party (2001, 9 mins): the real-life inspiration behind one of Relaxer’s most memorable scenes
• Four short films by Joel Potrykus: Ludovico Treatment (1999, 2 mins), Ludovico Testament (1999, 4 mins), Coyote (2010, 25 mins) and Test Market 447b (2019, 2 mins)
Follicle Gang (Green) (2011, 2 mins): music video for Heavier Than Air Flying Machines, directed by Potrykus
• Image gallery: behind the scenes photography
• Theatrical trailer
• David Dastmalchian promos
• Optional English subtitles

DISC TWO: BUZZARD (LIMITED EDITION EXCLUSIVE)
• UK premiere presentation of writer-director Joel Potrykus’ 2014 feature
• High Definition presentation
• Original stereo soundtrack
• Audio commentary by writer-director Joel Potrykus
Buzzard: The Rehearsal Cut (2014, 65 mins): alternative version of the complete film comprised entirely of rehearsal footage
• ‘Buzzard’ at Locarno Film Festival (2018, 9 mins): short documentary on the filmmakers’ trip to Milan, Italy, shot and edited by director of photography Adam J Minnick
• Behind the scenes footage (2014, 8 mins): a selection of outtakes and on-set material
• Seven deleted/alternative scenes (9 mins)
• Hidden ‘Buzzard’ (2014, 1 min): a guide to the ‘Easter eggs’ within the film
• Image gallery: behind the scenes photography
• Theatrical trailer
• Festival trailer
• Optional English subtitles
• Limited edition booklet containing new writing on Relaxer by Nathan Rabin, Joel Potrykus on the making of Relaxer, Caden Mark Gardener on Buzzard, Alex Ross Perry on Potrykus, and film credits
• Double-sided inlay with full Buzzard artwork
• Limited edition of 3,000 copies

Under the Shadow | Babak Anvari’s 2016 Sundance hit gets a UK Blu-ray release

Iranian director Babak Anvari’s 2016 Sundance hit Under the Shadow is loved by audiences and critics alike. Part ghost story, part social thriller with cutting political commentary, the film is already considered a genre classic and now gets a UK Blu-ray debut in a feature packed Limited Edition box set, courtesy of Second Sight.

Making his feature debut, Anvari has crafted an outstanding piece of work. It follows mother Sideh (Narges Rashidi) struggling to cope in a post-revolution, war-torn Tehran of the 1980s. After being blacklisted by the authorities from continuing with her medical studies, Sideh finds herself reduced to playing housewife and exercising to Jane Fonda work-out videos on a contraband VHS machine.

When her husband (Bobby Naderi) is called away on military service, Sideh refuses to take her daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi) to her in-laws despite the very real threat of a bomb attack on the city. And when one such bomb crashes through the family’s apartment block, it doesn’t so much as detonate, as bring with it something far more deadly – malevolent spirits called djinn that begin to haunt her home.

Many critics have compared Anvari’s thriller with 2014’s The Babadook, but its a very different entity indeed. While writer/director Jennifer Kent’s Aussie howler was about how grief, guilt and loneliness can manifest the monster inside us all, Under the Shadow is much more subtle affair – but one that’s not lacking in two seriously unnerving sequences.

The ‘monster’ in question in this Tehran-set chiller (that was – unsurprisingly – shot in Jordan) is an unseen malevolent force that is felt not only by Sideh and little Dorsa, but also their neighbours. But we see little of that, as everything happens behind closed doors. It’s all very much a metaphor for the country’s new world order under the Khomeini regime. And Amvari is certainly using his ghost story for some social subtext – especially with regards to the role of women following the revolution that toppled the country’s more liberal monarchy and replaced its with an Islamist republic.

Rashidi brings a wide range of emotions to her role as an educated young woman at war with her own internal demons  – she wants to rage against the machine and motherhood. And once her husband leaves, we are left pretty much with a two-hander, as Rashidi and Manshadi’s Dorsa soon come to blows over a missing doll and VHS tapes. And its their chemistry together that makes the film so engrossing to watch. I won’t reveal anything about the ending here, but I must admit I was begging to know what happens next. One final point is the Farsi language spoken throughout – it’s a wonderfully clear and melodious delight to the ear.

If you haven’t seen it yet, then do check out Second Sight’s new UK Blu-ray release, which is packed with some fantastic extras…

SPECIAL FEATURES
Two & Two: Babak Anvari’s BAFTA Award nominated short film
Escaping The Shadow: a new interview with director Babak Anvari
Within the Shadow: a new interview with actor Narges Rashidi
Forming the Shadow: a new interview with producers Lucan Toh and Oliver Roskill
Shaping the Shadow: a new interview with cinematographer Kit Fraser
• A new audio commentary with Babak Anvari and Jamie Graham

LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS
• Limited Edition of 2,000
• Rigid slipcase featuring new artwork by Christopher Shy
• Soft cover book with new essays by Jon Towlson and Daniel Bird plus behind-the-scenes photos and concept
illustrations
• Poster featuring new artwork

Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado’s Big Bad Wolves gets its UK Blu-ray debut from 101 Films

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.

Big Bad Wolves (2013)

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?

Big Bad Wolves (2013)

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.

Big Bad Wolves (2013)

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.

 

The Holy Mountain | The German silent that launched Leni Riefenstahl’s career on Blu-ray

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.

Order via the Eureka Store or Amazon

SPECIAL FEATURES
• 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

Demonlover | Olivier Assayas’ neo-noir/cyber thriller unleashed on Blu-ray

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

Blood Hunger: The films of José Larraz | A trio of delights from the Spanish auteur

One of the most underrated 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), 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.

Out now on Blu-ray from Arrow Video

LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS
• Three films 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
• Collector’s book featuring new writing by Jo Botting, Tim Greaves and Vanity Celis

WHIRLPOOL
• 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
• Trailer

VAMPYRES
• 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
• Trailers

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
• Trailer

World on a Wire (1973) | Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s virtual reality sci-fi epic is a retro noir wet dream

world on a wire (1973)

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).

world on a wire (1973)

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…

world on a wire (1973)

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.

world on a wire (1973)

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.

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.

Beyond the Clouds

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.

Beyond the Clouds

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.

Beyond the Clouds

Wim Wenders with Michelangelo Antonioni

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.

Chung Kuo, China (1972) | Michelangelo Antonioni’s absorbing behind the bamboo curtain documentary

Chung Kuo China

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’.

For more information about the BFI’s Antonioni Season, check it out HERE

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