Category Archives: World Cinema
If you’re already familiar with the outré cinema of Alejandro Jodorowsky, then you’re going to have a whole lot of fun spotting the real-life influences on his 1989 surreal horror Santa Sangre in this exuberant follow-up to his 2013 auto-biopic The Dance of Reality.
In 1940’s Santiago, alienated youngster Alejandro (Jeremias Herskovits) has an epiphany that his destiny is to become a poet. When he finally rebels against his ultra conservative father, Alejandro (now played by the director’s real-life son, Adan) moves in with a group of young anti-establishment artists, where he turns his hand to puppetry and clowning. Immersing himself in this carefree creative world, Alejandro’s metamorphosis leads him to discover an inner truth: that every path in life (both good or bad) is meant to be lived…
This is one Jodorowsky’s most personal films, where he strips away layers of ego to lay bare his inner self – and, in doing so, reveals up his influences for Santa Sangre. It’s also very much a family affair (both on and off-screen), for at the heart of his second auto-biopic is the troubled relationship that the director’s twentysomething self had with his father Jaime (played by another of Alejandro’s sons, Brontis).
Jodorowsky’s portrayal of Jaime is very much like the character of Orgo in Santa Sangre, which centred on the circus performer’s unstable son Fenix (who were played by brothers Adan and Axel) enacting revenge in the guise of his dead mother.
Watch carefully and you’ll spot a man with missing arms appearing in Endless Poetry. This is another reference to the director’s brilliant surreal horror in which Fenix’s mother Conchita has her arms cut off by Orgo after pouring acid on his testicles. Two other characters also appear – the Tattoo Lady (in the form of Alejandro’s red-headed muse) and the tutu-wearing Alma (as a dance-obsessed member of the art collective).
In Jodorowsky’s universe symbolism is everything, and here he weaves a visually-rich tapestry in which every image is a metaphor or signifier linked to the Tarot’s cycle of birth, death and renewal. Some images are quite strong – almost too much so, like the sex scene involving a dwarf having her period – but in Jodorowsky’s hand, these images become transformative rather than for shock value.
Others – like the incredible Day of the Dead carnival sequence – are just pure exalted joy. United these stunning images bring to visceral life the chaotic paths that we must all take to seek out our own inner truth, self enlightenment and life’s ‘endless’ poetry, which only Jodorowsky can get away with describing as ‘the luminous excrement of a toad that swallowed a firefly’ and make it sound truly beautiful.
We all know Rupert Everett for his foppish roles in a host of costumes romps, being GBF to Julia Roberts and Madonna in a couple of rom-coms, and for pulling on a frumpy dress to play an eccentric headmistress in the St Trinian’s movies, but did you know that back in the 1990s he also tried his hand at horror? It was in 1994’s Dellamorte Dellamore (aka The Cemetery Man), a strange brew of Italian arthouse cinema, horror comedy and Terry Gilliam-style absurdist humour, is director Michele Soavi’s adaptation of a novel by Dylan Dog comic book creator Tiziano Sclavi.
Everett plays Francesco Dellamorte, the complacent world-weary caretaker of the Buffalora cemetery, where the dead come to life seven days after burial. Francesco’s job is to terminate these ‘Returners’ before they escape over the walls. Cynical, amoral and fearful of an outside world where falling in love only ends in rejection, Dellamorte prefers the company of the (un)dead and his routine existence in the cemetery which he tends the help of his faithful assistant, Gnaghi (François Hadji-Lazaro).
But when Dellamorte does allow himself to fall in love – with a young widow whom he accidentally kills – his enchanted world is suddenly thrown into total chaos. What follows can only be ‘experienced’ as it’s a real rollercoaster ride of quirky and surreal happenings – a sort of Groundhog Day set in a graveyard.
Dellamorte Dellamore is stunning to look at – filled with the kind of light and colour that’s reminiscent of Mario Bava’s Italian horrors of the 1960s, while the use of an actual cemetery (in Guardea, Umbria) makes it even more fantastical. Everett is a bit wet as the titular hero (he’s certainly no Bruce Campbell), but Hadji-Lazaro is a revelation (his side story is a real treat). The humour might be a bit hit and miss, but it’s the visuals that will stay with you (my favourite – the talking head in a broken TV).
Back in 2012, Shameless Screen Entertainment re-released this mini-masterpiece onto DVD and got director Michele Soavi and writer Gianni Romoli together to share their thoughts (in Italian) as a special feature. I’ve been watching it over and over every since, and revisited it again last night after checking out Shameless latest additions to their Soavi collection The Church and The Sect (check out my review real soon).
Out on DVD through Shameless Screen Entertainment
‘I loved this film. It takes over our waking thoughts, like a recurring dream we try to forget,
because we are fearful of finding out it may be a memory.’
Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity)
‘We Are the Flesh is a very personal, very powerful film that deeply impressed me.’
Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu (The Revenant)
From Mexico comes writer/director Emiliano Rocha Minter’s surreal fantasy horror feature debut We Are The Flesh (aka Tenemos la carne), which gets a UK Blu-ray and DVD release from Arrow Video.
Stumbling on the filthy lair of hermit Mariano (Noé Hernánedez), homeless brother and sister, Lucio (Diego Gamaliel) and Fauna (María Evoli), are given shelter in return for helping Mariano to create a womb-like structure out of scrap, and are then forced the siblings into having sex with each other. But incest isn’t the only taboo that the youngsters face as they are propelled towards self-awakening…
With its graphic displays of unsimulated fellatio, masturbation and menstrual blood licking, this is not for the faint-hearted, and most viewers (who do last the distance) will simply cast it off as pervy arthouse porn, but devotees of transgressive cinema will be primal screaming with delight as Emiliano Rocha Minter’s powerful head-fuck hums to the transformative beat of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s magick cinema and the unrestrained morality of the Marquis de Sade. Death, rebirth and the liberation of the soul is at the dark heart of the surreal journey which culminates in a cannibalistic orgy and a gender-blending metamorphosis.
Beautifully shot, with a haunting drone-like score and featuring an utterly compelling physical performance from multi-award winning Noé Hernánedez (Miss Bala) as the prophesying hermit, We Are the Flesh is a visceral cinematic experience like no other.
Highly recommended (after watching the film) is author Virginie Sélavy’s illuminating video essay on Minter’s theatre of cruelty, which puts the director’s vision in perspective and certainly made me revisit this surreal surprise a second time.
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) & High Definition digital transfer (DVD), with 5.1 surround and uncompressed stereo 2.0 audio options, and optional English subtitles
• Video essay by critic Virginie Sélavy
• Interviews with director Emiliano Rocha Minter and cast members Noé Hernández, María Evoli and Diego Gamaliel
• Two short films by Emiliano Rocha Minter; Dentro and Videohome
• Illustrated collector’s booklet
Varieté (1925) | Roll up for a gripping story of jealousy and hell with Emil Jannings and – The Tiger Lillies?
A key work of German silent cinema and an international smash on its release in 1925 and 1926, director EA Dupont’s Varieté is a visually arresting melodrama in which jealousy drives a man to murder.
When carnival concessionaire Boss Huller (Emil Jannings) meets young émigré Berta-Marie (Lya De Putti), it kindles his desire to relaunch his career as a trapeze artist. Deserting his wife (Maly Delschaft) and infant son, he sets out with Berta-Marie to Berlin where the two are soon hired by famed aerialist Artinelli (Warwick Ward) to headline the city’s premier circus attraction at the famed Wintergarten theatre. But while Boss rejoices in his new-found fame, Artinelli begins an illicit affair with Berta-Marie, which – when uncovered – drives Boss to plot his revenge…
This German silent masterpiece, which is told in flashback as an imprisoned Boss tells his tale to win his freedom, was instrumental in bringing its director Ewald André Dupont to the attentions of Carl Laemmle at Universal, who brought him to Hollywood.
But while Dupont never quite achieved the level of success in the US as he did in his native Germany (he was reduced to B-movie’s and genre fare like 1953’s The Neanderthal Man), his cameraman was the legendary Karl Freund, one of the pioneers of German Expressionism, who lensed The Golem (1920) and Metropolis (1927), and whose lustrous monochrome cinematography flair turned Universal’s Dracula (1931) and Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) into genre classics alongside his directorial efforts, The Mummy (1932) and Mad Love (1935).
Varieté’s success is quite simply down to Freund’s visuals, and the brooding central performances from Emil Jannings and Lya De Putti. The camerawork is hugely inventive here. It ranges from the use of a handheld camera to mimic the movements of acrobats – which culminates in a spectacular scene involving a blindfolded triple somersault; imaginative shots like a close-up of an ear dissolving into high heels walking along a corridor to capture the characters’ pent-up passions; and the use of cinema verite – horse shit on marble steps, the sad faces on fairground pageant girls in states of undress, drunk revellers dancing on tables, heavily made-up circus patrons – to give the melodrama its subtle social commentary.
Freund’s close-ups also capture the artistry of Jannings – a master of controlled emotion, who can turn his Boss from alpha male to wounded lover in a single glance; as well as the cold beauty of De Putti, who looks every inch the femme fatale, and the wonderfully villainous turn from Warwick Ward, who looks a dead ringer for Basil Rathbone and Conrad Veidt.
As part of Eureka!’s The Master of Cinema Series, Varieté is presented here in a new restoration by the Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation of the original German 1:34:28 version, with PCM audio on the Blu-ray and optional English subtitles.
The special features include a choice of three scores, from Stephen Horne, Johannes Contag and The Tiger Lillies, plus the complete American version of the film that was released on 27 June 1926 which tightens up the story by juggling scenes and cutting some out altogether, including one that was disapproved by the US censor (de Putti disrobing). A booklet featuring new writing and archival images is also included.
When I heard that The Tiger Lillies would be composing one of the three scores on this release, I thought this tale of jealousy and hell and ultimate redemption was the perfect match for the avant-garde British musical trio’s dark cabaret sound. And it most certainly is, working best when the group whip up a frenzy of accordion, band saw and Theremin, while lead singer Martyn Jacques uses a host of different vocal tones to utter the word ‘Variety’, as the film’s moves inexorably towards its heated climax. Now that I’ve hear their score, I can’t wait to revisit this little gem again to hear the other two scores.
When Under the Shadow had its UK cinema run late last year, everyone was raving about it and comparing it to the masterful Australian psychological horror The Babadook (you can read about that film here). Well now I’ve finally gotten to watch it on DVD and it’s every bit as good as those reviews, and so deserving of its – to date – 11 awards, including the London Critics’ Circle Film Awards and the Douglas Hickox Award at the 2016 British Independent Film Awards. Hickox, as some may know, was the director of my all-time favourite Theatre of Blood. And more awards are set to follow, as the horror thriller has also been nominated for two gongs at this year’s BAFTA’s taking place on 12 February.
Making his feature debut, writer and director Babak Amvari 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.
It’s a little unfair to compare Amvari’s thriller with The Babadook, as 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 – unsuprisingly – 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 a islamist republic.
Narges 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 is so engrossing to watch. So much so, that the film’s ending is a huge let down. I won’t reveal it here, but 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.
Under the Shadow (15) is out on DVD in the UK from Precision Pictures from Monday 20 January 2017
One of the most iconic masterpieces in cinema history, Robert Wiene’s Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari shook filmgoers worldwide and changed the direction of the art form.
Incalculably influential, the film’s nightmarishly jagged sets, sinister atmospheric and psychological emphasis left an immediate impact in its wake (horror, film noir, and gothic cinema would all be shaped directly by it).
Back in 2014, Eureka! released the definitive restoration on dual format as part of their Masters of Cinema Series, now the expressionist masterpiece is back in a special Steelbook Blu-ray edition, which includes the 2014 documentary, From Caligari to Hitler, a two-hour exploration of German Cinema during the Weimar Republic (1918-1933). Plus, there’s a host of brand-new bonus extras to savour.
WHAT’S IN THE BOX
• High-definition presentation, from the extensive FWMS restoration
• Option of Stereo and 5.1 surround scores
• Original German intertitles with optional English subtitles
• From Caligari to Hitler: German Cinema in the Age of the Masses
• You Must Become Caligari: Video essay by film critic David Cairns
• Exclusive audio commentary by film historian David Kalat
• Caligari: The Birth of Horror in the First World War: 52 minute documentary on the cultural and historical impact of the film
• On the Restoration: three short video pieces on the film’s restoration
• Trailer for the release of the new restoration of the film
• Booklet featuring vintage writing on the film by Lotte H Eisner; an original Variety review of the film; and rare archival imagery
Crawling, Crushing Colossus of Terror!
A team of archaeologists led by Dr John Fielding (John Merivale, Circus of Horrors) descends on the ruins of an ancient Mayan city to investigate the mysterious disappearance of its inhabitants. However, the luckless explorers get more than they bargained for when their investigation of a sacrificial pool awakens the monster that dwells beneath its waters – the fearsome and malevolent god Caltiki.
Though Riccardo Freda received sole directing credit, a significant portion of the film was in fact the work of Mario Bava, who also served as its cinematographer and was responsible its striking special effects. Drawing on a diverse array of influences, from The Quatermass Experiment to the works of HP Lovecraft, Caltiki the Immortal Monster is a unique and unforgettable sci-fi chiller which showcases these two legendary filmmakers at their most inventive.
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
• Brand new 2K restoration of the film from the original camera negative
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
• Original mono Italian and English soundtracks (lossless on the Blu-ray Disc)
• Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
• Audio commentary by Mario Bava biographer Tim Lucas
• Audio commentary by Italian Giallo cinema author Troy Howarth
• From Quatermass to Caltiki: a new discussion with author and critic Kim Newman
• Riccardo Freda, Forgotten Master: an archival interview with critic Stefano Della Casa
• The Genesis of Caltiki: archival interview with filmmaker Luigi Cozzi
• Archival introduction to the film by Stefano Della Casa
• Alternate opening titles for the US version
• Newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
• First pressing only: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Kat Ellinger and Roberto Curti
The Dance Of Reality (2013) | Alejandro Jodorowsky’s autobiographical drama gets its premiere screening on Film4
Legendary writer-director Alejandro Jodorowsky returns after 23 years with his quasi-autobiographical drama The Dance Of Reality. Set in his birth town of Tocopilla in the Chilean desert, the film follows a young Jodorowsky through a lonely childhood, mixing his personal experiences with the poetry and mythology of his imagination. Watch it tonight on Film4.
From Eureka Entertainment comes the Blu-ray release of the 1974 biopic on Edvard Munch, the famed Norwegian Expressionist painter of The Scream, who was born 153 years ago today in 1863 and died, aged 80, on 23 January 1944.
Described by Ingmar Bergman as ‘a work of genius’, the Bafta-winning film found British director Peter Watkins’ using his revolutionary vérité style (which he developed in The War Game and Punishment Park) to paint a compelling portrait of the famed artist and a vivid picture of the emotional, political, and social upheavals that informed his art.
In late 19th century Kristiania (now Oslo), the young artist (played by Geir Westby) has an affair with ‘Mrs. Heiberg’, a devastating experience that will haunt him for the rest of his life. Critics and public alike attack his work and he is forced to leave his home country for Berlin, where, along with the notorious Swedish playwright August Strindberg, he becomes part of the cultural storm that is to sweep Europe…
The Masters of Cinema Series Blu-ray presentation includes the director-approved high-definition restoration of extended 221-minute, optional SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing, and a collector’s booklet with a Peter Watkins self-interview, writing by Joseph Gomez, a Munch timeline, and numerous artworks.
‘If he really is a ghost… then I won’t be able to kill him’
Out of his depth police officer Jong-goo (Kwak Do Won) investigates a spate of bizarre killings and outbreak of madness seemingly connected to the arrival of a mysterious Japanese man who lives in the outskirts of a remote mountain village. What’s more, Jong-goo is horrified to discover his young daughter, Hyo-jin (Kim Hwan-hee), may have fallen under the stranger’s curse. This prompts him to call on a charismatic shaman (Hwang Jung-min) to free his daughter, but the shaman’s intense exorcism ritual ends up worsening the situation, and forces Jong-goo into confronting the malevolent evil himself.
Breaking box office records in South Korea, and winning Best Film of the Focus Asian Selection and Best Cinematography at the 49th Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival, The Wailing from Na Hong-jin fuses a detective story with Exorcist-styled chills to create an unsettling occult thriller that takes full advantage of the country’s majestic rain-drenched mountain terrain – but! and here’s the ‘But!’… it’s painfully ponderous, and in desperate need of an editors’ eye and some action.
Imagine a modern take on a Kabuki show where every character screams over and over, but very, very slowly. Yes, there are some exciting set pieces (some are funny, others downright scary), but by dwelling on the internal drama of the main characters (who are all excellent by the way, especially Kwak as the corpulent, incompetent cop and Kim as his possessed daughter), the film moves at a snail’s place, which only makes its two hour plus running length feel even longer. It also does a disservice to the film’s best scene – an exorcism that feels frighteningly authentic.
The Wailing is out in UK cinemas and On Demand from 25 November