I don’t want to be on your list of regrets. They all eventually regret me. You will regret me, too.
I want to run away and no one will know me.
I want to be someone else. Be someone else.
A Cure for Wellness, Alexandre Desplat, art, blogging, Call Me By Your Name, Coco, Columbus, Darren Aronofsky, Dunkirk, Faces Places, film, Film awards, Filmqueer, Get Out, Good Time, Hans Zimmer, I Am Heath Ledger, I Tonya, Jonny Greenwood, Kirsten Dunst, Kristen Stewart, Lady Bird, Lesley Manville, mother, music, Mutafukaz, Personal Shopper, Phantom Thread, Princess Cyd, Raw, Richard Jenkins, Safdie, Sean Baker, The Beguiled, The Florida Project, The Girl Without Hands, The Handmaiden, The Shape of Water, The Work, Thelma, Trainspotting 2, Window Horses, You Were Never Really Here
If you haven’t heard, let me tell you.
This year I decided to take matters into my own hands and create my own film awards.
Brace yourself for *drum roll* the first annual filmqueer Awards!
That’s my username on Letterboxd. And I like it.
What are the filmqueer Awards?
filmqueer Awards are my personal take on last year’s films. They are 1000% subjective with no specific criteria. I picked my FAVORITE films, not necessarily the best ones – the categories are all still dubbed Best but that’s only for the sake of practicality; a pragmatic misnomer.
There is a total of 14 categories. Each category includes a minimum of three and a maximum of six nominees. Some categories are classic, others original.
One original category is the Beyond Award category; it is similar to “special mention” except there are no nominees, only winners. As lame as that sounds, it is particularly important that I highlight these films because they may have been overlooked, underrated, or misunderstood and I reeeeally want more people to watch (or rewatch) these films. My perception of these films ranges from thrilling, to heart wrenching, to what the fuck. And it’s my pleasure to share them with as many people as possible.
I also eliminated the Best Director category and merged it with Best Film because…I can never really tell the difference, to be honest. In addition, I don’t have many technical categories (editing, sound mixing/editing, VFX, etc.) due to my limited knowledge of these fields. However, I hope that over the years I expand my knowledge to include more elaborate categories.
Nominations are listed below. The winners will be announced on April 28.
Note: Some of the nominees are officially 2016 productions but were released in my region later in 2017 hence their presence among my nominees.
Here we go!
filmqueer Awards 2018 – appreciating my favorite films of 2017
Call Me By Your Name – Luca Guadagnino
Good Time – The Safdie Brothers
Personal Shopper – Olivier Assayas
Phantom Thread – Paul Thomas Anderson
The Florida Project – Sean Baker
The Handmaiden – Park Chan-wook
Best Leading Actor
Adam Driver – Paterson
Daniel Day Lewis – Phantom Thread
Joaquin Phoenix – You Were Never Really Here
Robert Pattinson – Good Time
Timothée Chalamet – Call Me By Your Name
Vince Vaughn – Brawl in Cell Block 99
Best Leading Actress
Brooklyn Prince – The Florida Project
Eili Harboe – Thelma
Jessica Chastain – Miss Sloane
Kristen Stewart – Personal Shopper
Sally Hawkins – The Shape of Water
Saoirse Ronan – Lady Bird
Best Supporting Actor
Barry Keoghan – The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Michael Stuhlbarg – Call Me By Your Name
Richard Jenkins – The Shape of Water
Steve Buscemi – The Death of Stalin
Willem Dafoe – The Florida Project
Best Supporting Actress
Catherine Keener – Get Out
Kirsten Dunst – The Beguiled
Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird
Lesley Manville – Phantom Thread
Sylvia Hoeks – Blade Runner 2049
Best Ensemble Cast
The Death of Stalin
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
Call Me By Your Name – James Ivory
Get Out – Jordan Peele
Lady Bird – Greta Gerwig
Phantom Thread – Paul Thomas Anderson
The Death of Stalin – Armando Iannucci
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) – Noah Baumbach
Alexis Zabe – The Florida Project
Anthony Dod Mantle – Trainspotting 2
Bojan Bazelli – A Cure for Wellness
Paul Thomas Anderson – Phantom Thread
Roger Deakins – Blade Runner 2049
Sean Price Williams – Good Time
Alexandre Desplat – The Shape of Water
Hans Zimmer – Dunkirk
Jonny Greenwood – Phantom Thread
Jonny Greenwood – You Were Never Really Here
Oneohtrix Point Never – Good Time
Best Animated Film
Coco – Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina
Mutafukaz – Shôjirô Nishimi, Guillaume Renard
The Girl Without Hands – Sébastien Laudenbach
Window Horses – Ann Marie Fleming
78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene – Alexandre O. Phillipe
David Lynch: The Art Life – Jon Nguyen
Faces Places – Agnès Varda, JR
I Am Heath Ledger – Adrian Buitenhuis, Derik Murray
The Work – Jairus McLeary, Gethin Aldous
Best Foreign Film
Aloys – Tobias Nölle (Switzerland)
On Body and Soul – Ildikó Enyedi (Hungary)
Raw – Julia Ducournau (France)
Thelma – Joachim Trier (Norway)
The Handmaiden – Park Chan-wook (South Korea)
The Insult – Ziad Doueiri (Lebanon)
Best Directorial Debut
Columbus – Kogonada
Get Out – Jordan Peele
Lady Bird – Greta Gerwig
Manifesto – Julian Rosefeldt
Most Beautiful Island – Ana Asensio
Raw – Julia Ducournau
A Cure for Wellness – Gore Verbinski
mother! – Darren Aronofsky
Oh Lucy! – Atsuko Hirayanagi
Princess Cyd – Stephen Cone
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – Luc Besson
World of Tomorrow: Episode 2 – Don Hertzfeldt
art, Cannes, capitalism, Captain Fantastic, cinematography, existence, family, fascism, film, film review, generation gap, humanity, life, love, Matt Ross, music, philosophy, religion, sex, society, Viggo Mortensen
Captain Fantastic (2016)
Director: Matt Ross
Like Ben and his children attending a funeral all dressed in bright red and green, Matt Ross’ Captain Fantastic is a soulful burst of color in the dark sad affair that is current moviemaking. Telling the story of the Cash family, the film follows the everyday life of Ben (masterfully played by Viggo Mortensen) as he trains and educates his six children in the middle of a forest. The setting may first seem like a summer camp but it turns out to be the permanent residence of the family where they exercise, hunt, play music, and learn everything from self-defense and bone carving to quantum physics and law. Their utopian microcosm is suddenly disturbed when they receive the news of their hospitalized mother’s death. What follows is the journey of a family vying to prove itself to the world.
The film is an outstanding social commentary on today’s world as well as a deliberation about the generation gap. At the beginning one may think Ben is hypocrite who decides to isolate his family from a corrupt world that indoctrinates all minds only to do that very same thing to them – protect them against the evil of the world by injecting them with his own set of beliefs. However as the film progresses we can see the nuances of Ben’s character, especially when contrasted against other characters. Other parental characters in the film are illustrated as either dictators who completely disregard their children’s wishes or blindly supportive shadows for their children and both juxtapose with Ben’s role in enlightening his family through free and unrestricted access to truth. Truth is a key concept that is tackled in an entirely original way: a multi-dimensional approach spanning different generations and mentalities. The film discusses the relationship between finding the truth and age. Ben refuses to lie to his children about anything and always divulges the truth about pertinent issues such as capitalism, sex, fascism, and religion which are generally avoided when talking to eight-year-olds. Unlike Harper (Kathryn Hahn) who argues that lying to children is for the sake of “protecting [them] from concepts that they are too young to understand,” Ben believes in no age when it comes to knowledge. However, what Ben eventually realizes is that knowing the truth about the world is not the same thing as living in it. He chooses to move his children into their grandparents’ residence and surrenders to the real world, accepting that this time he is not right and relinquishing his control. But he is not giving up; he’s giving in. Soon after returning back to the forest all by himself, Ben is surprised to find his children had followed him. The seeds he had sowed in their souls were blooming, the ideas growing into actions; he had raised them well and they were ready to face the world.
The film’s top moments involve death but they do not engulf the audience in melancholy but rather in the magnificent bond between humans, alive and dead. The first moment takes place early on in the film when Ben finds out his wife had died. Instead of inserting a typical hysterical reaction, Matt Ross chooses to transport us to a waterfall. Ben showers in the waterfall, bathing in nature’s ever flowing tears. The second moment is on the family’s bus where angelic music and light floods the scene as the children lay around their mother’s corpse on its way to be cremated. Death is portrayed as an ethereal experience not of loss but of love; a celebration of humanity. During the cremation ceremony, the children play music, sing, and dance while their mother’s body fades into ashes and her love flowers into them.
The use of close ups and music attenuates the emotional connection between the characters and the audience. We’re drawn into their special world where they celebrate Noam Chomsky day instead of Christmas and howl in excitement through their eyes and rhythms. Creating a successful dramedy, Ross fuses elements from different genres and the product is a genuine, thought-provoking, heartwarming experience of what it is to be alive.
Captain Fantastic won the Un Certain Regard Directing award at Cannes Film Festival 2016.
Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey (2016)
Director: Terrence Malick
Over the years, the name Terrence Malick has been associated with masterful yet divisive filmmaking. Not since his Tree of Life (2011) has Malick won the hearts of critics as his most recent films, including To the Wonder (2012) and Knight of Cups (2015), have been received with a mix of disapproval, if not total indifference, from critics and simultaneous fervent defense by those who still admire and appreciate his vision. However, his latest is an entirely different affair. Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey (2016) is not just another Malick production simply because it’s not a production at all; it’s a poem. Malick is finally free to speak and paint without the restraints of a screenplay, a narrative, the burden to satisfy the audience’s need for characters and plot. This film has been in production for over a decade due to Malick’s meticulous efforts to research, consult, and create exact and elegant shots of our universe. For the first time, Malick’s poetry is unleashed freely in beautifully constructed shots, ones we’ve always expected and enjoyed from him.
After watching the trailer, Voyage of Time might seem like Malick’s rendition of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood (2014) but about the universe instead of a young boy. After watching the film, that notion is shattered. Malick does not simply transcribe the birth of the universe and its life as it ages, instead he merges scenes of ineffable natural beauty with handheld footage of people from different cultures celebrating, protesting, begging, eating. The combination of wildlife nature and human nature composes an ode to the identity of our world. Nevertheless, this ode is not continually melodious and merry for at times it transforms into a somber song slowly surfacing from beneath the splendid scenery. This film will make you feel sad.
Embedded with Cate Blanchett’s voiceover as she calls out for “Mother,” lost and desperate, the film no longer provides us with gorgeous landscapes for the sake of art. It shows us the vast discrepancy between the flawlessness of nature and the cracks within the human ecosystem; two cultures eons away from each other yet coexisting on the same planet. The handheld footage brings humans into the picture through Hindu festivals, acts of civil disobedience, moments of humiliation; this is who we are. We are not majestic like the whales or powerful like lightning; we are broken smiles and repressed tears.
Yet Malick doesn’t want to dishearten us, he believes in us just as much as he does in the stars and the trees. He joins the two cultures by exposing their common key strength: they are unstoppable. When hungry, leopards attack their prey as do men who hunt for their tribes. When angry, volcanoes erupt relentlessly as do the revolutionaries in Tahrir Square. When passionate, waterfalls rush onwards as do the worshippers to their sanctuaries. Nature is unstoppable and so is the human race. Despite the differences between the purity with which humans interact and that of nature’s inexorable flowing life, we are made of the same stardust that makes us glorious and great. Such greatness is perfectly matched with a sensational classical score that can easily replace the voiceover without affecting the film.
Voyage of Time illustrates the might of the canyons and of the human will. The faces of scorpions and men may not look alike but their hearts beat together. This film will make you feel sad but it will also remind you that maybe you shouldn’t be.
I was bed ridden all day and instead of sleeping, I decided to make something, anything! Despite my passionate love for sleep, I knew I had to abandon the pattern of escaping into dreamworld and do something different. I’m a med student and I’ve been enamored by the human body for years. I enjoy studying it and learning all about its mechanisms. One field which I find especially interesting is pathology: the study of disease. My interest in pathology drove me to approach the subject in a different manner than typically undertaken in academic environments. Since I’m a huge fan of art in all its glorious forms, I fused artistic expression with pathological manifestation.
The following are edited images of different human body organs afflicted by various diseases. I thought it would be meaningful to try and change the way we perceive illness by adding a blast of color to things like cancer and infections.
Where babies come from
This is where your poop lives
STOP GIVING ME SHIT
Reach me rectally
Café Society (2016)
Director: Woody Allen
Woody Allen’s latest is a mesmerizing painting of 30s Hollywood life. Telling the story of a young Bobby Dorfman (satisfactorily played by Jesse Eisenberg) as he starts his blooming career in Hollywood, Café Society portrays youth in stunning smiles and sunshine. From a typical Jewish family, not unlike the many households depicted in previous Woody Allen films, Dorfman leaves New York to seek a job in his big shot uncle Phil Stern’s (Steve Carell) Hollywood agency. Although he finds little luck in the movie business, Dorfman stumbles upon a greater treasure on his journey: the equally bright and beautiful Vonnie (a hypnotic Kirsten Stewart). Predictably he falls in love with her but soon finds he’s not the only man in her life. In the second act of the film, the love triangle is front and center until Vonnie makes a choice and the film diverges accordingly. The third and final act falters as the story threads loosen into expected turns.
Woody Allen does not surprise. His film is a mix of typical Jewishness, existentialism, and Manhattan love. His quips permeate the screenplay and the neurotic still stands as his favorite protagonist. What distinguishes Café Society are its color and talented cast. Almost as brilliant as Allen’s iconic Manhattan (1979), the film boasts of its gorgeous landscapes accentuated by warm color schemes and dazzling lighting. The exquisite frames brimming with charm and love wouldn’t have been as impressive without the terrific lead performances. Jesse Eisenberg perfectly fits the ambitious young Jew vying to prove himself to the world but it is Kirsten Stewart that steals the spotlight with her simple yet solid performance as a woman torn in love. Other noteworthy performances include Parker Posey and Blake Lively.
Nevertheless, Allen’s attempt to make something new and original – unseen since his Oscar-winning Blue Jasmine (2013) – is not exactly successful. Sure it’s not a blunder but it does not manage to impress as a convincing comeback to the auteur’s excellent filmmaking we wish for. Enjoyable and visually pleasing yet not entirely outstanding.
Almost every decade since the sixties has had its hallmark sci-fi film that engenders a paradigm shift in what we believe is impossible. In 1968, Stanley Kubrick created a visionary tale about the history and future of mankind and to this very day 2001: A Space Odyssey stands as an iconic pinnacle of filmmaking. Nine years later, another masterpiece of science fiction was born when George Lucas released the first (or fourth) episode of his Star Wars series. Soon afterwards, the technological advance of filmmaking rapidly enabled and enhanced the production of scary brilliant stories spawned by the likes of Ridley Scott (Alien, 1979; Blade Runner, 1982) and Steven Spielberg, who made one of the highest grossing sci-fi films in history: Jurassic Park (1993). Before the turn of the 21st century the Wachowskis conceived The Matrix (1999), a revolutionary vision that amazed the world by its visuals and ideas. By then, CGI (computer-generated imagery), green screens, and many more techniques had become standard in the making of any visually stunning sci-fi movie and 2009 witnessed some of the most impressive feats such as James Cameron’s Avatar, Neill Blomkamp’s District 9, and Duncan Jones’ Moon.
Even though there are still four more years ahead of us, it’s as good a time as any to examine the turning points in sci-fi filmmaking of the 2010s. This decade started on a high note with Christopher Nolan’s mind boggling puzzle Inception (2010) and in the years that followed few films, if any, matched its artistry. Among the noteworthy achievements are low budget indies like Another Earth (2011) and Coherence (2013), as well as major studio productions like Gravity (2013) and Edge of Tomorrow (2014). In late 2014, Nolan made a strong comeback with another Oscar-winning film; Interstellar pushed the boundaries of filmmaking through its gorgeous and scientifically accurate space visuals, not to mention its perplexing plot of time-twisting and space-bending adventures. Last year signified a surge of masterful sci-fi filmmaking that included the return of excellent filmmakers and long-awaited franchises: Ridley Scott’s The Martian, J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens, George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road and Alex Garland’s splendid directorial debut Ex Machina.
All the aforementioned 2010 productions, whether due to their exquisite visual and sound effects or wonderful stories, surprised and impressed us on different levels but personally none of them left that distinctly unforgettable mark in my mind. I greatly appreciate and admire all of them for many reasons but they don’t quite do it like Jonathan Glazer’s latest. In 2013, Glazer gifted us with a unique film that did more than its fellow sci-fi tales. Under the Skin (2013), originally a Michel Faber novel, is not a CGI extravaganza that boasts of its visual tricks – the now-accepted ABC of any sci-fi movie – and in that sense it surpasses the expectations of the common moviegoer. Many have told of aliens yet Glazer’s portrayal of alien life is exceptional. The film’s focus is an alien predator albeit of a very unusual nature and with more unusual aims, roaming the streets of Scotland to lure men into darkness. Casting Scarlett Johansson for the role is quite unexpected as her face is one of the most distinguishable in the industry; this casting choice seems to be only the beginning of a long process carefully carried out by Glazer whose vision is not to merely tell another alien story, on the contrary, it is to expose a human one. Under the Skin poses one of the most important philosophical questions of all time: what is it to be human? Unlike philosophers, Glazer attempts to answer this question by observing aliens not humans, or more accurately by observing aliens craving humanity.
In its opening sequence, the film demonstrates the human entity as its most basic function: a machine. The sequence shows the alien’s birth, or rather the transmogrification of the alien into its human (dis)guise. The audience can see the formation of a pupil as several spherical structures come together to form a human eye. In voice over, the alien is slowly practicing the English language by vocalizing letters and sounds. The alien undergoes two key changes to “become” human, if only externally, the first is to gain a human form, specifically eyes, and the second is to learn language. The conception of the alien-human tells us that, at the simplest level, being human is essentially being a processing machine; with eyes to receive data from the external world and language to communicate data to the external world. Afterwards, the alien begins its journey in Scotland where the first thing she does is shop for clothes and make-up. This step addresses a social aspect of being human: to be accepted as an individual in society, one must look like others. This fact is evident now more than ever as xenophobia is a world-wide plague ravaging even the most liberal of societies (read: burkini ban). The shopping mall scene may seem simple and straightforward in the context of the plot. The alien after all needs to clothe itself regardless of social acceptance. However, the focused shots on women in make-up do tackle an important human trait; humans always crave acceptance and to achieve that they usually resort to physical conformity.
In one of the film’s most striking scenes, the alien is standing by the sea and starts a conversation with a foreign swimmer when they notice a child drowning and his mother rushing after him trying to reach for him as the father lags behind her, struggling against the waves. The moment the swimmer sees them, he leaves the alien and dashes to save the father. Meanwhile, the alien apathetically watches the tragic scene from afar. She does not react in any way and only approaches the swimmer to kidnap him for her own agenda, abandoning the dead family. The juxtaposition of the swimmer’s reaction and the alien’s lack of one establishes another characteristic human quality: emotive response, a sense of duty and responsibility for fellow man, even conscience. A key feature of humans is their humanity and this is exemplified through the sharp emotional contrast between human and alien in this scene.
Throughout the first hour of the film, countless shots of people on the street are used to show the audience the environment which the alien now inhabits. She drives a white van and wanders the streets looking for her next prey. Scottish strangers of different genders and ages are filmed crossing the street, shopping, dancing, drinking, conversing with friends, mostly doing mundane daily acts that all people do. These shots are the most direct illustration of human activity and they aid in familiarizing the alien with her new home and in contrasting her behavior with theirs.
During the second half, the film takes a turn as it explores a new dimension of the alien’s character. She’s no longer satisfied by carrying out her deadly missions and gradually expresses a core human attribute: curiosity. At first, she was nothing more than a huntress on a mission but throughout the rest of the film she becomes curious about her form, her environment, and all the possibilities that come with becoming human. Her becoming is charted chronologically in five stages that depict her curiosity unleashed in forms of examination of body, experimentation, emotional activation, openness to art, and sexual awakening.
The first stage is rooted in self-perception. Although the mirror is an object familiar to the alien – she uses it at the beginning of the film to put on make-up – it is used differently during this stage. The alien examines her face in a mirror, staring at it in bewilderment. Later, she poses naked in front of a standing mirror and studies her figure as her hands wander over its unblemished terrain. These two shots exemplify an important transition in the alien’s development. She now possesses a personal gaze with which she observes her physical self; the idea of observing one’s body is a simple but significant feature of her becoming and it drinks from the everlasting well of curiosity. She becomes curious, she looks. The next stage of the alien’s becoming is experimentation. Perhaps more clearly correlated to curiosity, this stage is where the alien crosses the lines drawn for her to try new things. She goes to a restaurant and orders a slice of cake. Glazer presents her first interaction with food in close-up to emphasize the experience; the alien’s mouth opens to receive a small piece of cake seated on a fork. She barely chews then quickly spits it out in disgust. The alien follows her curiosity and ventures beyond the limits of her missions to get a taste of the human life, even if turns out to be unappealing to her virgin taste buds. These initial two stages target the primitive physical aspects of the human life: the body, its form, and its needs. As the alien’s curiosity grows, her adventures progress into more complicated aspects of the human experience.
The third and fourth stages of the alien’s becoming illustrate her maturation as she grapples with higher level processes of human behavior. The third stage is emotional activation; the alien’s curiosity surpasses materialistic goals and targets social connection to others. On one of her missions, the alien picks up a man with a severely deformed face, and like all previously captured prey, she takes him home to seduce him into oblivion and death. However, this time her approach to the man is different in two respects. Firstly, when she picks him up she does not treat him like she did other men. She employs her standard flirtatious tricks but she also touches him and invites him to touch her. They hold hands and she guides his palm over her cheek and neck. Such interaction marks a first for the alien in the realm of sensual experience for although her main mission involves the utilization of sex to hunt men the process never escalates to actual intercourse or even touch. Secondly, this encounter with man is different because the alien lets him go at the end of the night and does not capture him as she did with previous prey. These two decisions represent the growth of the alien’s emotive response, which was otherwise nonexistent. Her curiosity pushed her to reach out to an alien lifeform (from her point of view) and feel sympathy and responsibility towards him to eventually prioritize her conscious emotional state over her mission. After abandoning her mission, the alien feels despondent and walks the streets aimlessly until a stranger offers his help. Although at first reluctant, she finally accepts and goes with him home where he provides her with the night’s accommodation and later they spend more time together. This second instance of emotional connection is evidence of the alien’s morphing into a social animal. Earlier in the film, strangers were lured by the alien back to her place but now the tables are turned and she goes along with a stranger. Her decision to go home with the stranger exemplifies a reversal of roles which denotes her transformation into a more human entity. The fourth stage is potentially the strongest symbol of the alien’s evolution and assimilation into the human collective. A song plays and as the alien listens to it, she taps her fingers along its beat. A seemingly simple act but it nevertheless indicates the alien’s perception of music and symbolizes her openness to culture, specifically art.
The fifth stage is a combination of both physical and emotional curiosity: sexual awakening. After the alien spends a day out with the stranger, they go back to his flat and start making out in bed. He undresses her slowly and intends to penetrate her when she pushes him away in a jolt. She approaches a standing mirror and spreads her legs, looking more closely at what’s between them. Her sudden sexual rejection is not based on a reassessment of their relationship; it’s due to her new found knowledge of her own female anatomy. Unlike a young teenager who slowly comes to understand what genitals are and how they function over time, the alien receives such information one moment before sexual intercourse and it shocks her completely. The shock generates curiosity about her body and provides a glimpse into her perception of herself as a sexual being; a typical feature of human growth.
These five stages delineate the alien’s becoming, her integration into the human experience. However, in a single final scene Glazer perfects the definitive moment where the alien can truly be branded human. After wandering alone in the woods, the alien seeks refuge in a rest house where she accidentally falls asleep only to be woken up by a man’s hands crawling underneath her trousers. She jumps up and runs away but is eventually chased and held down in the middle of the woods. The man forces himself on her and gradually strips her until, to his shock, her skin starts peeling off to reveal a black interior. He retreats. She disintegrates as her skin slides off her coal-like form. As she crawls away, the man returns and pours gasoline over her body and sets fire to it. This last minute climax provides the perfect conclusion to the alien’s becoming: injustice. Being subjected to injustice is an inextricable part of the human experience. Whether in the context of war ravaged homelands, political corruption, economic gaps, chronic disease, emotional afflictions, or spiritual suffering, all humans endure one form of injustice or another during their lifetime and this satisfies a criterion of being human.
So what is it to be human? Is it to satisfy bodily needs? Is it to emotionally connect to others? Is it to suffer injustice? Or is it to be curious? To be curious to a deadly extent that leads to one’s own scorching demise and consumption? Through his film Under the Skin (2013), Jonathan Glazer argues for the latter through the changes his alien heroine experiences when she gradually mutates to a human persona as a result of her fizzing curiosity. His exploration of this philosophical problem is a captivating 108-minute film that outshines the more traditional sci-fi productions we’ve encountered this decade so far. I do not underestimate the quality of recent sci-fi films for they too tackle crucial issues such as the stamina of the human spirit. Yet Glazer’s vision is distinctly singular in its approach, whether technical or thematic, for expressing our base and complex nature, our desires and dreams, and our worst fears about our humanity. Glazer amazes; he takes the road less traveled and chooses to tell us about ourselves through a sci-fi marvel that uncovers the mysteries lying under our skin.
A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (2014)
Director: Roy Andersson
Roy Andersson’s final part to his Living trilogy is a gentle bedtime story about the most primitive intricacies of the human experience. Stylistically consistent with its predecessors, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence is composed of simple, at times minimalistic, portraits of the moments in which we’re most beautifully and sadly human. The film begins by several title cards including “Three Meetings with Death” which is followed by three different death scenarios. The “meetings” range from spontaneous (a man falls dead while uncorking a wine bottle for dinner) to comically grave (a dying hospitalized mother tightly clasps to her jewelry-filled handbag as her three kids try to yank it away from her). Later the film mainly follows two salesmen, attempting to sell vampire teeth, silly masks, and other gags, and their travels among indebted and uninterested customers.
Interspersed amid the salesmen’s adventures are small side stories, limited to a shot or two, about distinct human qualities. The side stories personally intrigued me more than the main plot line. Bare of dialogue, if not sound altogether, the side stories paint lovers sharing a cigarette by a window, a dance class led by a lustful older woman yearning for a younger student, a cleaner on her knees talking on the phone quietly. We no longer wonder who these people are or why Andersson is telling, or more accurately showing, their stories; we simply absorb the subtle images and enjoy the bliss, longing, or loneliness reflected off the screen and deep into us. Nevertheless, when characters voice their thoughts, the dialogue they share can be just as effective as silence. The characters usually get into juvenile debates, even if lightheartedly, about important issues such as emotional maturity and manipulating people as well as more commonplace discussions like the importance of keeping track of time.
Key motifs throughout the film include money, status, and sadism. In one scene, black prisoners are forced into a huge cylindrical container which then rotates over a lit fire. An eerie image, not-so-subtly reminiscent of Nazi “ovens” especially that as the container is rotating with smoke rising in the background, a curtain unveils a group of aristocrats, on the opposite side, in formal dress being served wine as they watch the smoke dance around the container. The notion of atrocity as entertainment reinforced by apathetic spectatorship is demonstrated silently with no expressed anguish or panic. A scene that tells so much about today’s heartless society in two shots and zero words.
Andersson’s shots can be easily identified by their simplistic composition, pale color scheme, and static camera. At first alienating at high doses, this style has a rather numbing effect on the audience however after getting acquainted with it, other prominent and elegant features come into focus. Andersson is a master of deep staging and his trilogy is an epitome of utilizing the frame to its maximum capacity. Deep focus is almost always used in every single shot but that’s not the only technique employed to create the signature depth which characterizes Andersson’s style. His shot design typically includes hallways, windows, doorways, and reflections with movement in the background all of which are elements that provide a beautiful visual depth to the shot. In addition, Andersson’s camera is never positioned centrally, his shots are asymmetrical; instead he places the camera slightly to the left or to the right so that room corners are at the center of the frame – another inventive technique to embed his shots with an almost tangible dimensionality.
Roy Andersson’s film may not be everyone’s cup of tea since it’s no blockbuster or innovative indie but perhaps it’s precisely because of its unique natural portrayal of reality that it’s not mainstream, afterall not all of us find real life appealing or enchanting but we’re thankful someone, an artist, Roy Andersson does.
Director: Park Chan-wook
Low angle camera, a hidden dark face, and rushing music: this is how Park Chan-wook chooses to open his masterpiece Oldboy and this is how he chooses to kill us. The film follows Oh Dae-su (Min-sik Choi), a man imprisoned for fifteen years without knowing why. The audience witnesses his release and journey of vengeance in a two-hour adrenaline-infused epic of suspense and violence. The film is a vision of brilliant cinematography and editing. There is no single camera technique which highlights the filmmaker’s talent instead he masterfully utilizes a wide range of shots, movement, and angles and that is exactly how he shows us his talent: he can do everything. Most prominent is the fluid camera movement that feels like a free wandering eye sometimes racing from one place to another thus conveying a dramatic effect and at others gliding between bodies and faces thereby demonstrating the interconnectivity of characters. Not only camera movement but close-ups, focus, crane shots, and long takes are all key stylistic elements employed to their full potential throughout the film.
However, the film wouldn’t be the same without its magnificent editing style. The cut is skillfully used not merely as a tool but as language, speaking to the audience and revealing only what should be revealed; the necessary and the beautiful. Furthermore, the editing techniques used – including jump cuts and match cuts – weave together events from the past and the present, from different places and points of view; it is done seamlessly and the audience is immersed in every moment. Unlike the standard action movie, Oldboy does not use a thrilling score with a fast tempo; on the contrary, most of its musical score is classical, fitting perfectly in the atmosphere of the film’s suspense.
The film’s shocking reveal is beyond anything we can expect or imagine that it leaves us as devastated as Oh Dae-su, if not more so since we can do nothing but watch from afar as he and his captor battle till the very end. The film succeeds because of its technical excellence but also because it addresses universal themes and clicks into our innermost fears of humiliation, shame, and loss of love. With elegantly terrifying images that capture and transmit fear, the film kills us over and over again with every close-up, scream, and camera jerk.
“Thank you for listening to a terrible story till the end,” writes Oh Dae-su and to Park Chan-wook we reply, “Our pleasure.”