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fandor.com/promo/world-cinema HOME STARRING ISABELLE HUPPERT, DIRECTED BY URSULA MEIER
Cinema is sometimes the only window we have into other worlds and Fandor has a catalogue stuffed with tales of people you’ve yet to meet and places yet explored. You have the chain-smoking French New Wavers and the black-and-white plight of Italy’s bicycle thieves down. You might be aware of Iran’s own New Wave and China’s Fifth Generation. But what about minimalism in Montevideo, punk-rock feminist indies in the East Village, or neorealism in Chad? Rifle through these pages to discover unseen worlds conjured by moviemakers in unsung hotspots now suddenly at your fingertips.
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Leo’s Room Gigante Hiroshima
6 7 8
Acadia Acadia?!? I Killed My Mother Monsieur Lazhar
10 11 12
Australia’s City Life
The Rage in Placid Lake BMX Bandits
Brazil’s Next Generation
Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures I Travel Because I Have to, I Come Back Because I Love You Neighboring Sounds
17 18 19 20
Chad Makes a Splash Sotigui Kouyate: A Modern Griot Daratt A Screaming Man
Romanian New Wave Tuesday, After Christmas The Way I Spent the End of the World Aurora
South African Cinema under Apartheid Come Back, Africa Terrorist Mapantsula
The Eastern European New Wave The Last Trick The Red and the White
Hong Kong’s New Wave Days of Being Wild
Europe’s Sexy Seventies Horror Daughters of Darkness The Shiver of the Vampires Successive Slidings of Pleasure
New York Underground Smithereens Variety Born in Flames
Scandinavia in Its Golden Age The Outlaw and His Wife Sir Arne’s Treasure Laila
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Montevideo Minimalism Some see Uruguayans as low-key compared to their more extroverted Brazilian and Argentinean neighbors. They moody national cinema also have a much smaller filmmaking culture. The country in three films has only had a steady film output for the past two decades. The pool of talent ranges from self-taught filmmakers BY GARY KRAMER to graduates of area universities, or the Uruguayan Film School, the country’s only professional film school. These filmmakers have produced features in every genre, from documentary to comedy and drama to horror and suspense. Most of the directors know each other—it is a small country—but they resist any “New Wave” label, as they each employ a film style that is truly their own. What is distinctive and perhaps indicative of Uruguayan cinema is that the filmmakers tell intimate stories that reflect their inidividual idiosyncrasies and particular melancholies. A trio of minimalist films from Montevideo about three very different shy-guy slackers showcases this thoughtful, moody national cinema well.
Showcasing a thoughtful,
Leo’s Room DIRECTED BY ENRIQUE BUCHICHIO, 2009
The title character in writer/director Enrique Buchichio’s affecting drama Leo’s Room is a student (Martín Rodríguez) paralyzed by having to make any decisions. After his girlfriend breaks up with him, Leo starts dating Seba (Gerardo Begérez), who would be a suitable boyfriend if Leo was not so reluctant to go out in public with him. Leo also reconnects with his former classmate, Caro (Cecilia Cósero), a woman who is extremely depressed— only Leo is too distracted by his own repression to notice. Most of the film’s action takes place in the characters’ cocoon-like bedrooms and homes, which only emphasize their cloistered, suffocating lives. However, once Leo reevaluates his feelings of shame, fear and isolation and understands the importance of companionship and affection, the film becomes a quietly moving tale of self-empowerment. Buchichio uses space extremely well to frame the characters (and their despair) before they achieve emotional release and epiphany. Watch Leo’s Room on Fandor
Gigante DIRECTED BY ADRIÁN BINIEZ, 2009
Gigante, written and directed by Adrián Biniez, has the oversized Jara (Horacio Camandule) working as a security guard for a supermarket. Locked in a small room with video monitors, he sees Julia (Leonor Svarcas) on-screen and becomes smitten. Jara starts following her secretly through town as she visits an Internet cafe, the cinema and the beach. However, he is too shy to talk to her—even when she tries to get into the club where he works on weekends as a bouncer. Biniez mines tension and humor as viewers wonder if Julia is aware or oblivious to Jara, before he drops a nifty visual clue. This sly, unpretentious film uses the city for a large-scale game of hide-and-go-seek in a series of playful, extended chase scenes. That, along with the winning performances by the two leads may be why Gigante is so enchanting. Watch Gigante on Fandor
Hiroshima DIRECTED BY PABLO STOLL, 2009
Writer-director Pablo Stoll’s “silent musical,” Hiroshima, is a modest gem; a witty comedydrama about an aimless singer, Juan Andrés Stoll (the director’s brother), who has little ambition for work, especially after winning a job in a lottery. Largely plotless, Hiroshima unfolds over a single day as Juan has a series of encounters before attending a concert that night. He models for an art class, meets his girlfriend and literally fights his father. He also travels to the countryside where he loses his clothes at the beach, plays soccer and meets a friend. Indie rock songs fill the soundtrack as intertitles provide the characters’ dialogue. The speech-free scenes only enhance Juan’s deadpan expressions and skillful comic timing. Hiroshima is a terrific showcase for Stoll’s masterful use of aural and visual cinematic techniques as he films Juan’s wanderings throughout town and country. Watch Hiroshima on Fandor
QuebecOIS Gems Canada’s French-speaking province Quebec has long had its own distinctive film industry, one that since the 1960s has unique piece of North produced some of the nation’s most admired films. Among American film culture them, Claude Jutra’s marvelous Mon oncle Antoine (1971) and Denys Arcand’s Oscar-winning The Barbarian Invasions BY DENNIS HARVEY (2003). What’s more, French-language Quebecois movies have often proven more popular and acclaimed than the English-language features produced elsewhere in the country. In recent years directors such as Denis Villeneuve (Incendies) and Jean-Marc Vallée (C.R.A.Z.Y.) have ridden their home-turf success to prestigious Hollywood assignments like Prisoners, Dallas Buyers Club and Wild. Here are a few highlights from this unique filmic culture.
Highlights from this
Acadia Acadia?!? DIRECTED BY MICHEL BRAULT AND PIERRE PERRAULT, 1971
Quebec, like Canadian cinema in general, first excelled in the documentary field before making its mark in narrative features. Following that path is the late Michel Brault, an esteemed director and cinematographer. The Montreal native was a major figure in the nation’s “Direct Cinema” school, along with codirector Pierre Perrault, winning early acclaim with a series of films capturing the vanishing traditional culture of a remote fishing island in the St. Lawrence River. But the roiling sociopolitical changes of modern Quebec soon captured his attention in movies like Acadia Acadia?!?, a vivid nonfiction portrait of a 1968 student strike for greater recognition of Francophone culture in a onetime French colony within New Brunswick. Viewed with scorn by the English-language majority, this struggle was a microcosmic equivalent to the much larger one then taking place in nearby Quebec, where controversies of separatist identity remain vital nearly a half-century later. Watch Acadia Acadia?!? on Fandor
I Killed My Mother DIRECTED BY XAVIER DOLAN, 2009
Even amid a regional cinema history full of iconoclastic talents, there was no precedent for Xavier Dolan, a child actor who was barely twenty when his first feature as writer/ director premiered at Cannes. It won three prominent awards there, then three major Jutras (Quebec’s Oscars), among other kudos. Purportedly written by its creator at age sixteen, I Killed My Mother is an admittedly semi-autobiographical portrait of domestic warfare between tantrum-throwing gay high-schooler Hubert (Dolan) and his divorced mère Chantal (the formidable Anne Dorval). He’s impossible…but then, she’s not averse to histrionic displays, either. Dynamic, confident, over-the-top yet emotionally grounded, this debut loudly announced a talent that would not be ignored. Nor was it, with Dolan’s subsequent films Laurence Anyways and Mommy (in which he and Dorval ratcheted up the level of parent-child dysfunction even higher). While some of his Quebecois contemporaries have parlayed their success into big-budget American assignments, the stubbornly nonconformist Dolan has been going international in a different direction, with It’s Only the End of the World, starring major Gallic talent such as Marion Cotillard and Vincent Cassel. Hollywood may snare him yet as casting details for The Death and Life of John F. Donovan keep seeping into the trades. Watch I Killed My Mother on Fandor
Monsieur Lazhar DIRECTED BY PHILIPPE FALARDEAU, 2011
Amid more intellectual auteurs like Brault and showier stylists like Dolan, Quebec cinema has always had room for a strain of warm humanism most at home in low-key drama. The surprise international hit Monsieur Lazhar was a fine example, as well as a change of pace for writer-director Philippe Falardeau, who’d reached for very different effects with the fanciful comedy Congorama (2006) and the mordantly funny rampaging-brat saga It’s Not Me, I Swear! (2008). Monsieur Lazhar’s titular gentleman (Mohamed Fellag) is a middleaged Algerian émigré called in to take over a class of Montreal sixth-graders after their beloved teacher suddenly commits suicide. (Worse still, she does so in the classroom itself.) While helping these kids cope with that trauma, the reserved, thoughtful M. Lazhar trains particular attention on a couple of especially needy students and gradually reveals his own well-buried sources of pain. Based on Évelyne de la Chenelière’s stage play, this lovely tale mixes the currently popular theme of immigrant culture-clash with even more universal insights about education, parenting and the acceptance of profound loss. Watch Monsieur Lazhar on Fandor
Australia’s City Life As in many parts of the world, cinematic portrayals of the daily out of the outback experience of Australian citizens are painted in almost mythological terms—triangulated between the rural culture of the “bush” (or the BY ADRIAN MARTIN “outback”), the bustling metropolis of the “inner city” (the central business districts) and the mundane rituals of suburbia. Australian movies are obsessed with this triangulation, charting the movements of characters from one sphere to another—with all the upheavals, dramatic and comic, that this displacement entails.
Youth (childhood or adolescence) is a particular focus for these literal “rites of passage” in Australian cinema—whether it is the country teenager who finally makes it to the “big smoke”; the city kid on a precious, pastoral holiday; or the suburban dweller who breaks away from parental care and transplants himself or herself for a gritty, urban subculture. Many viewers outside Australia are familiar with expressionistic visions of the outback, such as Wake in Fright or Walkabout, both from 1971. But the accounts of city life—in the capitals of Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, Brisbane, Canberra, Adelaide, Hobart and Darwin— form an equally rich and diverse tradition in this national cinema. From comedy and surrealism to kitchen-sink drama and tragedy, Australian films have explored every angle.
The Rage in Placid Lake DIRECTED BY TONY MCNAMARA, 2003
It is common journalistic practice to note the proliferation of “quirky” comedies in Australia, especially since the 1994 releases Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Muriel’s Wedding. Tony McNamara’s The Rage in Placid Lake fits the type. The teen hero, Placid (well-known singer Ben Lee), has a comic face. His parents (Miranda Richardson and Garry McDonald) are forever absorbed in New Age fads—the mother declaring: “He used to live between my legs! Live there!” Absurd plot threads—such as the recurrence of school bullies who keep chasing Placid into adulthood—are filmed at wacky angles and topped with upbeat music. But here’s the really quirky twist: Placid decides to stop being a rebel and starts chasing conformity— just as the secret love of his life, Gemma (Rose Byrne), goes in the opposite direction. So, Placid dons a corporate suit and heads off to work in the business district of Sydney… Watch The Rage in Placid Lake on Fandor
BMX Bandits DIRECTED BY BRIAN TRENCHARD-SMITH, 1983
The wonderful opening montage of BMX Bandits plunges us into the lives of ordinary kids who know how to work their city—intimate with its streets, corners and escape routes. The downbeat reality of their suburban life is played off against the momentary, ecstatic transcendence provided by bike riding. These teens perennially cruise streets, diners and secret haunts. There is an affectionate, whimsical emphasis on their open, shifting group relations, as Judy (a young Nicole Kidman) says of her friendship with P.J. (Angelo D’Angelo) and Goose (James Lugton): “You know what they say—two’s company, three gets us talked about.” Like many Trenchard-Smith films, this is fast, well modulated, and economically devised. The central narrative device is a simple communications gadget (a walkie-talkie), linking every character—including the cops and the bad guys. In its confident mixture of local color with an international genre form, BMX Bandits is among Australia’s best teen movies. Watch BMX Bandits on Fandor
BRAZIL’S NEXT GENERATION When Cineclube Jurando Vingar (literally, “Vowing Revenge”) began screening films in a Recife cultural center in 1989, Recife cycle flourishes, they drew on a tradition dating back to the silent era that continuing to excavate had fed the flowering of a French national cinema—the artful a rich cultural vein and appealing films of René Clair and Marcel L’Herbier, the Surrealist work of Germaine Dulac and Luis Buñuel and, years BY SHARI KIZIRIAN later, the groundbreaking films of the French New Wave. When these Recife cineastes began making their own movies, they also harked back to Brazilian traditions, when regional mini-industries, called “cycles,” thrived in the silent era, and, then in the 1960s, when the Cinema Novo movement agitated for a distinct national cinema. An expansive scrubland interior rimmed by a palm-dotted coast of urban refuges and paradisiacal beaches, Brazil’s northeast has always been mined for its cinematic potential, from 1953’s O Cangaceiro and Glauber Rocha’s 1969 Antonio das Mortes, both drawing on legends of the sertão, to Suzana Amaral’s Hour of the Star (1985), about a hapless northeasterner in the big city, and Walter Salles’s Central Station (1998), which moves from crowded, vertical Rio to the wide open spaces of the northeast. Now, a next generation Recife cycle flourishes, continuing to excavate this same rich cultural vein.
A next generation
Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures DIRECTED BY MARCELO GOMES, 2005
Jurando Vingar cofounder Marcelo Gomes set this road movie during World War II in Brazil’s parched scrubland, which spawned legends and iconic landscapes just like America’s Wild West. Beautifully shot in sun-bleached tones, the film takes place largely inside a small truck outfitted with an itinerant cinema driven by a good-natured German pacifist. He picks up a local looking to scrape together enough money to escape, and together they show travelogue films in town squares. As news from the war crackles over the radio, the Brazilian grouses about feeling remote from the world—“Not even bombs reach here,” he says—while the German is relieved to have left it behind. The monotony of the drive, and the view, is broken by riders who emerge from the seemingly same nowhere they disappear into, and the stopovers in towns still run like serfdoms reveal a way of life still in need of a local hero. Watch Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures on Fandor
I Travel Because I Have to, I Come Back Because I Love You DIRECTED BY KARIM AÏNOUZ AND MARCELO GOMES, 2009
Frequent collaborators Karim Aïnouz (Madame Satã, 2002) and Marcelo Gomes codirect this philosophical road movie about a homesick geologist surveying Brazil’s northeastern backlands (known as the sertão) for a major public works project. Documentary footage of his trip unfolds as an interior monologue, from the cataloguing of rock densities to his deep loneliness, spinning a hermetic cocoon. “It looks like rain,” he notes, as we see another cloud-laden sky through his windshield, “then it never rains.” Eventually, the seal breaks and the sertão and its inhabitants become more than mere data. He interviews a sex worker at a local market and, later, a leather worker, a metaphorical descendant of Brazil’s Jesse James, the cangaceiro (bandit) Lampião who became a legend roaming the sertão and defying the coronels. A former leather worker himself, Lampião designed the iconic cangaço headgear, with its wide, upturned brim decorated with silver stars. It remains a symbol of defiance. Watch I Travel Because I Have to, I Come Back Because I Love You on Fandor
Neighboring Sounds DIRECTED BY KLEBER MENDONÇA FILHO, 2012
Film critic turned filmmaker Kleber Mendonça Filho also heads the eight-year-old film festival Janela de Cinema based in that same cultural center in Recife, and his first fiction feature is set on the very street where he lives. A taut web of interlocking stories, Neighboring Sounds explores the tensions among people piled on top each other in high rises and squeezed alongside each other in tight patterns. We never know how the suspenseful scenarios will resolve: harmlessly, humorously, or in violence. When a security guard with a bum eye is asked about his suitability for the job, he calls up Lampião, whose own right eye was permanently blinded, to his defense: “[He] still managed to bring down a lot of people.” Even on these modern city streets the sertão is never far behind and the tensions that mount lead to a familiar standoff, between the omnipotent coronel and the avenging outlaw. Watch Neighboring Sounds on Fandor
Chad Makes a Splash Chadian cinema emerges with help from director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
The Chadian cinema industry is small, with two prominent filmmakers—Mahamat-Saleh Haroun and Issa Serge Coelo. But these two may be the beginning of something much greater, if a new film school in N’Djamena has its way. The school has been helped by Haroun, who won the Grand Special Jury prize at Venice for Daratt, and the Jury Prize at Cannes for A Screaming Man.
As the country’s premier director, Haroun acknowledges that “audiences all around the world have a lot of clichés about African cinema.” But his films, which feature non-professional actors, are created to honor the Chadian people and their experiences. Haroun’s films are spare, he says, because his childhood was “simple and bare.” His style of filmmaking is influenced by his landscape and his culture. “Light and shadow are part of daily life in the desert,” he observes, and this informs his filmmaking. “Visually, I like to compose my frame like a painting. Sometimes, a painting can move you without you understanding it. I try to mix different colors to generate emotion and let the audience feel the feeling of the character(s).” BY GARY KRAMER
His films are dramas about struggle and change, family and loss. Or, as he explains, “I try to tell stories that concern my country, my people—stories that have never been told.”
Sotigui KouyatE: A Modern Griot DIRECTED BY MAHAMAT-SALEH HAROUN, 1996
Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s illuminating 1996 documentary is a portrait of Sotigui Kouyate, a griot descended from an honored lineage of storytellers who was brought to Paris by Peter Brook for The Mahabharata and remained, eventually started his own modern African theater company. Haroun weaves together interviews, film clips and videos of Kouyate teaching as well as footage of his remarkable performances. His son explains that his father was especially convincing as a tuberculosis patient because people thought he was truly sick. The documentary not only addresses the economic hardships the griot faced while struggling to earn a living but also his talents as a soccer player and his work as a doctor/ healer. A poignant section in the film depicts Kouyate’s poignant return to his home in Bamako. Viewers unfamiliar with the griot will be eager to seek out his performances, given how Haroun showcases this magical performer through the fascinating and inspiring film clips. Watch Sotigui Kouyaté: A Modern Griot on Fandor
Daratt DIRECTED BY MAHAMAT-SALEH HAROUN, 2006
Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s Daratt (Dry Season) is a deeply affecting drama about reconciliation. After a news report from the Truth and Justice Commission grants general amnesty to Chad’s civil war criminals, Gumar Abatcha (Khayar Oumar Defallah), a blind man, gives his grandson Atim (Ali Barkai)—his name means “orphan”—a gun to kill Nassara (Youssouf Djaoro), the man who murdered Atim’s father. Atim soon finds Nassara, a baker, in N’Djamena. But rather than avenge his family right away, Atim learns the baker’s trade, eventually becoming like a son to Nassara. Haroun artfully stages many intense, wordless exchanges between Atim and Nassara. Barkai communicates volumes with his expressions, revealing both fascination and contempt for his intended victim. Haroun’s spare, elegant direction is full of striking images, especially in the taut scenes of Atim taking careful aim at Nassara. Daratt is an arresting parable about forgiveness that builds to a devastating climax. Watch Daratt on Fandor
A Screaming Man DIRECTED BY MAHAMAT-SALEH HAROUN, 2010
This incredibly powerful drama by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun has Adam (Youssouf Djaoro, from Daratt) fighting for his job as a pool attendant at a fancy hotel in N’Djamena as a civil war erupts. “The pool is my life,” Adam, an ex-swimming champ, tells Mme Wang (Heling Li), the owner of the hotel where he has worked for thirty years. However, she reassigns him to be the hotel’s gatekeeper. Adam’s son, Abdel (Diouc Koma), is promoted to pool attendant—until he is conscripted by the military. The tensions between father and son permeate every frame, from a silent dinner to the poignant, haunting finale. Haroun never milks this story for melodrama. Instead he uses the deterioration of the country, the hotel and the family to address themes of loss and betrayal. A Screaming Man is absorbing throughout, and Djaoro gives a magnificent performance as man whose every action is freighted with love, guilt and anger. Watch A Screaming Man on Fandor
Romanian New Wave Apart from some isolated names and titles, Romanian cinema on a silenced history, remained virtually unknown to the rest of the world until the 2000s, when the so-called Romanian New Wave emerged. In and building a 2004, a series of internationally awarded shorts—Cristi Puiu’s national cinema Cigarettes and Coffee, Catalin Mitulescu’s Traffic, Corneliu Porumboiu’s Liviu’s Dream and Constantin Popescu’s The BY CRISTINA ÁLVAREZ LÓPEZ Apartment, among others—placed Romania firmly in view. In subsequent years, the Cannes Film Festival became the best platform for a new generation of filmmakers who were winning some of its most prestigious prizes.
Throwing some light
Several of these Romanian New Wave films are set during Nicolae Ceausescu’s dictatorship (1967–1989), indicating the need to throw some light on a silenced history in order to build a national cinema. Others are modern-day, character-based explorations that portray post-Communist society. The label that defines Romanian cinema is realism: austere, minimalist aesthetics, long takes and a camera that closely follows the characters. In these films, human relationships are usually subjected to power structures and class differences, while daily actions often become bureaucratic ordeals—but, in the best examples, filled with tension and suspense, punctuated by black comedy, or shaped by a conceptual approach.
Tuesday, After Christmas DIRECTED BY RADU MUNTEAN, 2010
After The Paper Will Be Blue (2006)—a historical take set on the last night of the Romanian Revolution—Radu Muntean directed two films dealing with the existential crisis of a man in present-day Romania. In Summer Holiday (2008), the protagonist indulges in a night of revelry to recover the freedom of his youth before returning to his family obligations. Tuesday, After Christmas (2010) explores the opposite situation: in this variation on the world’s oldest story, Paul (Mimi Branescu) is married to Adriana (Mirela Oprisor) but has a romantic relationship with Raluca (Maria Popistasu), his daughter’s dentist. A series of incidents during the Christmas period prompt Paul to make a choice between these two women. Composed entirely of sequence-shots that enhance the naturalness of the performances, Muntean’s camera always searches for the right distance from which to tell the story. Setting aside any moral judgement, Tuesday, After Christmas succeeds in exploring the range of emotions and reactions experienced within this love triangle and ends magnificently well: punctuating the immediate relief with a note of uncertainty that leaves us wondering about the future. Watch Tuesday, After Christmas on Fandor
The Way I Spent the End of the World DIRECTED BY CATALIN MITULESCU, 2006
Catalin Mitulescu’s 2006 debut feature is a charming teen movie set in the last months of Ceausescu’s dictatorship. The action that puts the film in motion is, initially, accidental, but it becomes political: Eva’s boyfriend breaks a statue of the leader; but it is she who is expelled from school while he, under his father’s protection, remains uncharged. However, the film—with its softly comic touches and intimations of magical realism— downplays the implicit harshness of the political context. In this sense, it can be related to certain nostalgic visions of the Communist era in other countries, such as Good Bye, Lenin! (Wolfgang Becker, 2003). The finest aspect of The Way I Spent the End of the World is its depiction of family relations, especially between Eva (Dorotheea Petre), the enigmatic protagonist, and her sibling Lalalilu (Timotei Duma). Most of the film hinges on Eva’s dreams, hopes, responsibilities and feelings—but they are almost unspoken, rendered through action scenes and ‘still lives’, as well as through the reactions of her secretly-in-love little brother. Watch The Way I Spent the End of the World on Fandor
Aurora DIRECTED BY CRISTI PUIU, 2011
Cristi Puiu’s debut feature, Stuff and Dough (2001), was the first sign announcing that something new was happening in Romanian cinema. But it was his second feature, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005), that inaugurated the Romanian New Wave when it won the Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes. It also marks the first of a six-part series titled (in homage to Eric Rohmer) ‘Stories from the Suburbs of Bucharest’ that Puiu has continued in 2010 with Aurora. Viorel (performed by the director) is a silent, inscrutable man who wanders the suburbs of Bucharest and, eventually, commits several murders. His motivations remain unknown until the end of the film. But there is much information that Puiu withholds or hides in order to confront the viewer solely with an obsessive, extremely detailed study of Viorel’s movements (and immobility). Stylistically, Aurora resembles many other films of the Romanian New Wave, but for most of its running time Puiu’s exercise seems almost a parody of a Jean-Pierre Melville noir that demystifies the hero and strips him of his aura in order to immerse him in tawdry, everyday reality. Watch Aurora on Fandor
South African Cinema Under Apartheid The history of South African cinema is marked by Apartheid, the system of racial segregation that granted enormous privileges awakens to to the white population while condemning black people to political and social misery and slavery. In cinema, as in every other field of life consciousness and culture, Apartheid politics translated into different films for different audiences shown in different venues: movies in BY CRISTINA ÁLVAREZ LÓPEZ local languages for a black audience (but made, mainly, by whites); and movies in Afrikaans destined for the white population. Cinema was merely an instrument to reinforce the state’s vision of itself—a propaganda tool.
A national cinema
During the 1960s and ’70s, in tune with the hardening of Apartheid laws, the situation got worse. Censorship ruled, and only in some rare cases did films manage to speak honestly about the country’s problems. It wasn’t until the 1980s, when a current of independent cinema emerged in South Africa, that some forbidden issues and injustices began to be treated openly. Some of these films were acclaimed internationally but remained unseen in their own country. The abolition of Apartheid brought, at last, the opportunity to construct a national cinema able to deal with its people’s history. But looking back today at some key films made in the official Apartheid years (1948–1992) gives us a better chance of understanding the contradictions of this era in the nation’s history. 28
Come Back, Africa DIRECTED BY LIONEL ROGOSIN, 1959
Filmed secretly, with a small crew and non-professional actors, this is one of the few South African films that truly captures the life of black civilians under apartheid. After his first feature, On the Bowery (1956), American independent filmmaker Lionel Rogosin traveled to South Africa and spent months getting acquainted with the people. Through the quest of Zachariah (Zacharia Mgabi) to find a job, Come Back, Africa exposes the mechanisms of white oppression—with special emphasis on the ridiculous laws of the “pass system,” designed to criminalize blacks by suppressing their freedom of movement and turning them into puppets of their oppressors. With its prescient mixture of documentary and fiction, Come Back, Africa does what no other national film dared to do at that time: it gives voice and visibility to blacks, tenderly portraying their thoughts, feelings and culture. The scene in the streets of Johannesburg (where the frantic performance of a group of kids draws a huge, astonished crowd) or the fabulous passage in the shebab, where an earnest sincere political/philosophical discussion precedes the entrance of singer Miriam Makeba—who truly fills the screen with her voice and body—are some of the best moments that cinema has ever given us. Watch Come Back, Africa on Fandor 29
Terrorist DIRECTED BY NEIL HETHERINGTON, 1978
Terrorist holds a fascinatingly ambiguous place in the history of South African cinema. Produced in 1976—the year of the Soweto uprising, where hundreds of students were killed by police—it wasn’t released until two years later. Today, the politics of Terrorist may seem in line with the state’s message of white supremacy encouraged through its propaganda films, but at the time, this movie encountered serious problems passing the dictatorship’s censors. Based on a real case, Terrorist was shot entirely on location in the former South-West Africa (in what is now Namibia) and makes powerful use of the landscape. But the film is, above all, a genre exercise, moving successfully from a home-invasion premise to an open-air manhunt by police. The portrait of the three black terrorists offered by the film is certainly grotesque, but Neil Hetherington seems interested in his characters only as archetypes that allow him to deploy a series of genre situations whose rules he knows perfectly well. Vigorous, tense, unashamed of its technical rawness, rejoicing in the exhibition of its inventiveness, Terrorist constantly plays with the rhythms of its vibrant musical score, showing off its taste for exploitation cinema. It’s pure cult cinema. Watch Terrorist on Fandor 30
Mapantsula DIRECTED BY OLIVER SCHMITZ, 1987
Mapantsula belongs to the current of independent films produced in South Africa during the 1980s. Director and cowriter Oliver Schmitz constructs a complex story whose protagonist is Panic (Thomas Mogotlane), a gangster with an individualistic philosophy who survives on petty thievery. The story unfolds in a series of intermingled flashbacks that narrate several events of Panic’s life, with fragments from his present time in prison. Although the film follows a sole character’s adventures, it constantly contrasts and relates them with larger historical issues: Mapantsula goes from Panic’s days and nights, from his attitude, way of life and dress code, to incidents of labor, racial oppression, suffering and hopelessness. Taking up the conversation initiated by Lionel Rogosin in Come Back, Africa three decades earlier, what Mapantsula aims to depict is that precious moment in which an individual, who has built a safety zone, setting himself apart from his people’s struggle, gains a sense of identity, and awakens to political and social consciousness. Watch Mapantsula on Fandor
The Eastern European New Wave After the devastation of World War II, many national film industries struggled to get back on their feet. For the Eastern European countries creativity after placed under Russian oversight in the Allies’ postwar political the ‘thaw’ wrangling, that was further complicated by the chill grip of Stalinist remote-control. Once that despot died, however, a “thaw” occurred BY DENNIS HARVEY that by the 1960s resulted in a remarkable flowering of cinematic creativity. Suddenly movies from Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Yugoslavia, Estonia and beyond were the talk of sophisticated film lovers worldwide. Some directors even went on to major commercial careers abroad, like Pole Roman Polanski (Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown) and Czech Milos Forman (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Amadeus). But the work they and others produced in their original heyday remains particularly diverse, adventurous and exciting.
A flowering of
The Last Trick DIRECTED BY JAN ŠVANKMAJER, 1966
Sometimes without even knowing it, many Western audiences got their first taste of cinema from behind the “Iron Curtain” via cartoons, often dubbed and re-edited for foreign tastes. Animation was an area where the artistic imagination could run free with (usually) less censorial interference, resulting in such unique talents as Czechoslovakia’s Karel Zeman (The Fabulous World of Jules Verne) and a world-famous school of animators in Zagreb, Yugoslavia (now Croatia). Most renowned of all was the still-active Jan Švankmajer, who in recent decades has made features drawn from such diverse sources as Lewis Carroll, Poe, Goethe and de Sade. But even his earliest works were daring in both technique (mixing live action, collage, puppetry, stop-motion, et al.) and surreal, macabre content. This short first film reflects his background in avant-garde multimedia theater, while presenting a fully developed sensibility of nightmarish absurdism that’s not really meant for kiddies. Two men wearing doll-like wooden masks perform a series of “magic tricks,” often of a grotesque, bodily-invasive nature. Their mutual courtesy finally devolves into grotesque violence. By burying any political commentary deep in fantastical imagery, artists like Svankmajer were generally able to evade the heavy hand of Soviet cultural watchdogs bent on sniffing out any subversive messages. Watch The Last Trick on Fandor
The Red and the White DIRECTED BY MIKLÓS JANCSÓ, 1968
Emboldened by such international successes as Ján Kadár’s The Shop on Main Street (1965) and Jirí Menzel’s Closely Watched Trains (1966), to name just a couple, Eastern European directors became more daring in both scale and viewpoint. Budapest native Miklós Jancsó’s Hungarian-USSR coproduction was expected (by Soviet officials, at least) to be a straightforward hymn to proletariat heroism. But in portraying the bloody 1919 rural skirmishes between Czarist White Guards, Bolshelvik troops and Hungarian WW1 POWs caught between, Jancsó refused to provide conventional uplifting propaganda. Instead, his dispassionate yet brutal chronicle shows war as undiscriminating slaughter, denying us even the emotional outlet of clearly labeled protagonists. (There are a few principal players, but they surface and disappear from the action unpredictably.) Moscow was unhappy with the result, yet The Red and the White was so widely acclaimed that the bureaucrats could hardly prevent its international success. No one disputed the formal beauty of the B&W Cinemascope photography, whose impressive tracking shots became the director’s signature to such an extent that, two years later, his Winter Wind filled eighty minutes with just twelve unbroken, elaborately choreographed duets between moving camera and actors. Watch The Red and the White on Fandor
Hong Kong’s New Wave Hong Kong was the Hollywood of East Asia throughout the sixties and seventies, cranking out romances, melodramas, costume Kar-wai’s first pictures and especially martial arts action films. In the 1980s, masterpiece DAYS the latter style got an adrenaline boost when Tsui Hark returned OF BEING WILD from American film school with new ideas on moviemaking. But where directors like John Woo (The Killers), Corey Yuen (Saviour BY SEAN AXMAKER of the Soul), and Ringo Lam (Full Contact) were reinventing action movies and big screen spectacle with whooshing camerawork, dynamic editing and action exploding all over the frame, Wong Kar-wai was casting the stars of those films in more intimate and impressionistic films. His debut film As Tears Go By (1988) turned the “heroic bloodshed” genre of Triad gangster movies into a young adult melodrama.
The roots of Wong
DAYS OF BEING WILD DIRECTED BY WONG KAR-WAI, 1990
Days of Being Wild, Wong Kar-wai’s second feature and his first collaboration with cinematographer Christopher Doyle, was his first masterpiece. Set in the 1960s and shot on practically deserted locations, there isn’t much “story” to this impressionistic film, but the languorous atmosphere of longing and emotional isolation is hypnotic. Doyle perfected Wong’s signature skip-frame technique (which Wong described as his answer to John Woo’s slow-motion action) and delivered the woozy color and intimate slow-dance handheld photography that defined Wong’s style in Chungking Express (1994) and In the Mood for Love (2000). The score consists of lush Hawaiian exotica and lounge music, but the sounds of ticking clocks, echoing footsteps down empty hallways and alleys, and the squeak of windshield wipers reflect the characters empty lives and broken relationships. It’s an arthouse film with music video stylings and a pop art sensibility. It wasn’t a commercial success but Days of Being Wild swept the Hong Kong Film Awards, taking home five including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematographer and Best Actor (Leslie Cheung). It also launched Wong’s reputation around the world, igniting a rich career of enigmatic, impressionistic, sensual films about yearning characters and unconsummated affairs with cinematic textures just as expressive as the performances. Watch Days of Being Wild on Fandor
Europe’s Sexy Seventies Horror A new subgenre opened up in the shadowy margins between married surreal beauty art cinema and sexploitation in the cinematic permissiveness of the seventies. In the U.S., it was mostly seen in grindhouse films and weird poetry with from directors aspiring for something more meaningful (see Joe lurid style and gothic Sarno‘s Sin in the Suburbs, 1964) or drive-in titillations from hungry young filmmakers with room to slip something personal sexuality between the sex scenes (like Roger Corman‘s “Student Nurse” BY SEAN AXMAKER films). The Europeans, however, traditionally less coy about sex, seemed to work sexuality into everything from social commentary (I Am Curious Yellow) and sophisticated psychological cinema (The Lickerish Quartet) to a whole subgenre of horror sometimes known as “Eurotica.” While most were crude, clumsy films that dropped sex and nudity into new takes on familiar stories, the best married the surreal beauty of French fantasy seen in the le cinéma fantastique of Cocteau‘s Beauty and the Beast and the weird poetry of Franju‘s Eyes Without a Face with the lurid style and sexuality of the gothic horrors of Hammer Films. If the tradition of French fantasy is about dreams and nightmares breaking through the fabric of reality, the seventies added desire and sex to the equation and brought elegance and class to exploitation cinema.
The best of ‘Eurotica’
Daughters of Darkness DIRECTED BY HARRY KÜMEL, 1971
Harry Kümel‘s elegant and sexy vampire film combines the legend of Hungary’s Countess Elizabeth Báthory, the notorious “Blood Queen” who bathed in the blood of innocent maidens, with the lesbian vampire story Carmilla. Delphine Seyrig brings dignity and cool grace to her ageless countess, entering like some out-of-time aristocrat from Weimar cabaret in perfectly coiffed hair and a deep red gown that radiates both opulence and taste. Kümel places this jewel of an actress in a perfectly elegant setting: a grand but empty hotel, the ominous mood of the Belgian coast in winter, the handsome medieval architecture of Bruges, where a day trip brings the newlyweds face-to-face with another in a string of murdered women, all young, beautiful and drained of blood. Sleek, stylish and layered in levels of desire and control, this is as beautiful as the genre gets. Watch Daughters of Darkness on Fandor
The Shiver of the Vampires DIRECTED BY JEAN ROLLIN, 1971
Jean Rollin is one of the strangest directors in the pantheon of horror filmmakers. A horror fantasist whose reputation never really extended beyond cult circles, Rollinâ€™s weird sensibility, distinctive style and use of imagery in his sex-and-horror exploitation films made him a legend in some circles. He also had an ability to create unsettling atmosphere out of simple locations and minimalist sets. The Shiver of the Vampires is one of his most strange and surreal films, a nutty mix of hippie vampires, lesbian seduction, moonlight ceremonies in a graveyard bathed in red and blue light, and naked women wandering castle hallways and bursting out of grandfather clocks. Itâ€™s a mad skin flick for surrealists, where sketchy performances, slapdash effects and narrative abstraction are transformed into an aesthetic that has given Rollin a cult following. This is Eurotica as outsider art. Watch The Shiver of the Vampires on Fandor
Successive Slidings of Pleasure DIRECTED BY ALAIN ROBBE-GRILLET, 1974
Alain Robbe-Grillet‘s erotic thriller stirs murder and sadomasochism into a kinky mix that recalls Jean-Luc Godard and Jean Rollin. It’s ostensibly a murder mystery about an exhibitionist/conceptual artist suspect (Anicée Alvina, mostly unclothed), a surrealist playing detective playing private eye (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a convent with a sex dungeon, a mother superior who personally metes out corporeal punishment on the naked skin of her female prisoners, and a judge (Michael Lonsdale) lost in his own words. As a murder mystery, it’s as abstract as the austere, blinding-white sets of the artist’s apartment and convent prison cell, and the free-association design of the film detours into what could just be the sexual fantasies of our heroine (and possible sex-maniac killer) spinning her already perverse situation into wild sexploitation set pieces. It’s postmodern erotica with pleasures both cerebral and conceptual … and with a lot of sex in it. Watch Successive Slidings of Pleasure on Fandor
New York UNDERGROUND In the late seventies and early eighties, when the American independent scene was making the leap from film festivals to college campuses, women of NY’s arthouses and even mainstream theaters (thanks in part to Siskel and indie film scene Ebert throwing a spotlight on the films in their TV film review show), of the 1980s New York spawned its own distinctive indie film movement. Nurtured by the underground film scene (as seen in the documentary Blank BY SEAN AXMAKER City), and in part from the filmmaking program at NYU’s School for the Arts, it was raw, often political and grounded in the social culture of the city. This is the crucible from which Spike Lee and Jim Jarmusch (among many others) emerged. It also gave voice to women filmmakers in numbers unseen elsewhere, among them Susan Seidelman and Amy Heckerling, both of whom went on to direct major studio productions, and Sara Driver, who produced Jarmusch’s first films before directing her own work. They drew from the vibrant culture around them, not just filmmaking but music, theater, art and political action. Most importantly, they made movies about women who defied the familiar conventions of studio films. Here are three defining films of the short-lived era of truly independent filmmaking.
Smithereens DIRECTED BY SUSAN SEIDELMAN, 1982
The culture of New York’s East Village is as much a star of Susan Seidelman’s feature debut as actors Susan Berman or Brad Rijn. Berman is a Jersey girl trying to self-promote her way into the Manhattan music scene by sheer will, jumping from guy to guy out of opportunity, desperation or mercenary calculation. Talent has nothing to do with it. Seidelman, who cowrote the film with future Oscar nominee Ron Nyswaner, shot the film on the streets and filled scenes with such local personalities as punk icon Richard Hell, John Waters regular Cookie Mueller and fellow indie filmmaker Amos Poe. It was accepted into competition for the Palme d’Or at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival and it brought Seidelman to the attention of producers Sarah Pillsbury and Midge Sanford, who hired Seidelman to bring her indie flair for New York’s bohemian culture to their offbeat studio comedy Desperately Seeking Susan. Watch Smithereens on Fandor
Variety DIRECTED BY BETTE GORDON, 1984
Bette Gordon’s unusual study of one woman’s fascination with pornography provides a curious boomerang on sexuality, image and voyeurism. A ticket seller (Sandy McLeod) in a Times Square porno house takes quiet pleasure in the discomfort her gaze causes the male patrons, and her obsession soon sends her to sex shops and strip clubs and gets her spinning pornographic fantasies like cheap novels to her befuddled boyfriend (Will Patton). When she begins stalking a regular who abandons her in the middle of a date, the film takes on a twist out of Coppola’s The Conversation, with our heroine as the voyeur. Novelist Kathy Acker wrote this feminist take on the effects of pornography, but its portrait of the seedy culture of Times Square in the Reagan era is just as fascinating. And what a talent pool: it costars photographer Nan Goldin and a young Luis Guzmán and features music by John Lurie and cinematography by Tom DiCillo. Watch Variety on Fandor
Born in Flames DIRECTED BY LIZZIE BORDEN, 1983
Set ten years after a Second American Revolution, this cinematic manifesto argues that the proposition that all men are created equal still leaves women out of the equation. So women organize, mobilize and take the revolution into their own hands. The feminist science fiction provocation from Lizzie Borden (now thereâ€™s a name for a filmmaker who takes on patriarchy) straddles the boundaries between independent and underground cinema. Shot on 16mm black-and-white film on the streets of New York City, featuring ragtag production values and often stilted performances and built on debates strewn with Marxist rhetoric, Born in Flames takes on sexism with a wicked sense of humor to match its sense of angry indignation. It bristles with ideas and a different brand of creative political action. Future Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow worked on the production and even takes a brief role on-screen. Watch Born in Flames on Fandor
Scandinavia in its Golden Age For a brief period between 1913 and 1924, the most sophisticated, mature and visually majestic films were coming scouted monumental from the Scandinavian countries in general and Sweden in outdoor backdrops for particular, a trend that impressed Hollywood so much that characters driven by the studios started importing Scandinavian artists: Victor Sjöström (who became Seastrom in Hollywood), Mauritz powerful psychological Stiller, Benjamin Christensen, Lars Hanson and of course and emotional forces Greta Garbo. One of the unique qualities of this regional BY SEAN AXMAKER cinema was the embrace of the landscape as an essential part of the stories. Where Hollywood filmmakers of the 1910s generally scouted locations near the studios (when they didn’t try to construct their own worlds on studio stages), Sjöström, Stiller, and others took their cameras deep into the wilderness and the mountains to find majestic views and epic vistas unseen in other national cinemas, a fitting backdrop for characters driven by powerful psychological and emotional forces. The roots of Ingmar Bergman, whose natural landscapes are much more intimate yet just as expressive and evocative of his themes, can be traced back to the silent era; he cited Sjöström as one of his most important inspirations and influences and paid tribute to his legacy by casting him as the old professor in Wild Strawberries.
The Outlaw and His Wife DIRECTED BY VICTOR SJÖSTRÖM, 1918
Victor Sjöström is a godfather of Swedish cinema and this elemental drama illustrates why. He is on both sides of the camera here, playing an escaped convict (imprisoned for stealing to save his starving family) who falls in love with a young widow (Edith Erastoff, Sjöström’s real-life wife) and then retreats to the mountains when his criminal past is revealed. Set in the unforgiving wilderness of nineteenth-century Iceland and shot against the dramatic landscape of Mount Nuolja in northern Sweden (with some exteriors shot in Iceland itself), it’s a gorgeous film and a devastating drama. Sjöström the performer is memorable as the handsome and courageous man who stands up to injustice and hypocrisy at the cost of his own freedom, and the epic power of his imagery reflects the passions and torments of the characters. Watch The Outlaw and His Wife on Fandor
Sir Arne’s Treasure DIRECTED BY MAURITZ STILLER, 1919
At a rural port in northern Sweden in the sixteenth century, three Scottish soldiers of fortune ruthlessly massacre and pillage a small-town vicarage then await the thaw to return home with their treasure. But nature isn’t so forgiving, and the icy winter freezes the ships fast in the harbors and inlets. As in the films of his colleague, Victor Sjöström, director Mauritz Stiller takes his cameras into the snowy hills and frozen coast to capture the elemental power of the natural world, but the ice storms aren’t merely a dramatic metaphor for the turbulent human drama. Stiller gives the weather an almost supernatural quality, as it rises up like a force of cosmic justice in the face of tragedy and sacrifice. Sir Arne’s Treasure is one of the masterpieces of Swedish cinema, and the final images are among the most sublime in all silent film history. Watch Sir Arne’s Treasure on Fandor
Laila DIRECTED BY GEORGE SCHNÉEVOIGT, 1929
The last great Norwegian epic of the silent era is a reminder of what the cinema lost in the transition to sound. Set in a frontier era that evokes the American western (right down to the prejudices) and shot on location in the mountains of Norway, Laila is a love story between a “savage” Lapp lass and a Norwegian storekeeper, an impossible romance in the segregated societies of nineteenth century Norway. George Schnéevoigt brings a brawny power to the often old-fashioned direction and a visual sweep and scope that disappeared in the early days of sound filmmaking. The story is steeped in cliché, but the stunning landscapes and dramatic mountain backdrops, rugged in the winter snows and pastoral in the summer sun, give the romantic drama an elemental quality, while the textural details of life on this frontier give the film a charge of early documentary. Watch Laila on Fandor
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