Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Film review: Lower City

Alice Braga in Lower City

Brazilians used to joke that national films always had to feature 'naked women'. That comment was particularly relevant in the 1970s, when an erotic/comedic genre known as pornochanchada marked the national industry with a very strong sexual element. The comment also stems from the dubious relationship the country has with its sexually-charged image as a nation, which mixes pride with shame.

Novo Cinema Novo, the new phase of Brazilian cinema started in the mid-90s with the success of Central Station, hasn’t resorted to much eroticism to market its films, although the new film Lower City (out 2/12) seems to usher in a wind of change. Produced by Walter Salles’s company, the film seems to hark back to the ‘good old days’ of naked breasts and colour-saturated sex scenes, while also adopting an international visual grammar of ‘indie cinema’ with hints of road movie. It also features the mandatory coke-snorting scenes.

The story is hinged around a love triangle formed by Karina (Alice Braga), who picks up best friends Naldinho (Wagner Moura) and Deco (Lázaro Ramos) on her way from Vitória to Salvador, Brazil’s most African city as well as the symbolic cradle of the country. Karina has sex with both men and they both fall in love with the sexy-but-tender beauty who becomes a prostitute in Salvador in order to make ends meet. Prostitution is not used as the source of any conflict or the launch pad of a social-realist discourse on class exploitation. It’s just a given and its representation is rather authentic. Given Karina’s choice of work and the fact that she can’t make up her mind about which of the boys she loves more, all that is left to Naldinho and Deco is to fight over their muse. Literally.

Lower City ticks all the boxes of the modern slick independent feature: it looks good, the acting is good too (especially Moura’s) and it nods to the stylistic mannerisms of the Novelle Vague. But for some reason, the film seems to be devoid of any depth or real psychological dimension. Perhaps the same factors that make it technically good fail Lower City in artistic terms. It’s the kind of film that will please readers of Sunday supplement magazines as well as fans of boxing as a metaphor.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Venue tip: Greenwich Picturehouse

Looking for something off the beaten track. Then head to the Greenwich Picturehouse, which is in Greenwich, therefore off the beaten track. There's always something going on there on Sundays and here's where you can find out more.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Six years without Quentin Crisp

Gosh, hard to believe it's been six years since the wonderful Quentin Crisp (pictured) passed away at the age of 90. So here's The Filter's homage to this unforgettable character who inspired the John Hurt-starred film, The Naked Civil Servant.


Friday, November 25, 2005

Norwegian film festival

Still from the film Tinkers
Ever felt an overwhelming desire to see Norwegian films? Here's the chance. The Barbican and the Norwegian Film Institute present the Norwegian Film Festival, one of a number of events marking the centenary of Norway as an independent nation, following the peaceful dissolution of the union with Sweden. The festival includes a screening on Saturday 3 December of Sara Johnsen's Kissed By Winter (Vinterkyss), the Norwegian entry for the foreign language Oscar this year and which was awarded the International Feature Competition's Grand Jury Prize at the recent AFI FEST 2005 awards ceremony.
Also on Saturday 3 December at 2pm, director Karoline Frogner will introduce and do a q&a for her fascinating documentary Tinkers (Tradra - I gar ble jeg tater) (Norway 2004 88 min), which follows the plight of Bjørn who discovers at the age of 45 that the Norwegian State removed him from his biological parents at just one day old, because his parents were Travellers.

On Thursday 1 December at 7.30pm, the Festival opens with An Enemy of the People (En Folkefiende) (Norway 2005, dir Erik Skjoldbjærg 91 min), followed by a Barbican Screen Talk with director Erik Skjoldbjaerg. An Enemy of the People is a modern version of Ibsen’s classic play. A TV celebrity intends to revitalise his native village in partnership with his brother by marketing the local spring water. However, their venture stumbles as traces of a banned pesticide are found in the water, bankruptcy threatens and the brothers are divided on the best course of action. Director Erik Skjoldbjærg first gained international recognition with his 1997 feature debut Insomnia which was followed by Prozac Nation.

The Norwegian Film Festival runs from 1-4 December at the Barbican. See links for details.



Jorgito & Malu in Viva Cuba

The Discovering Latin America Film Festical arrived at its fourth edition last night with an emotional opening speech by Yos Rivas, one of the co-founders of the organisation (DLA) that not only acts in the film arena, but in other cultural and intellectual spheres as well and applies any revenue from their events into projects across Latin America. Peru is the beneficiary this year. DLA has raised £30,000 in its three and a half years of existence.

The film chosen for the opening was Juan Carlos Cremata's Viva Cuba (2005), a humorous road movie starred by two children. A realist piece on the surface, it draws on elements of the African heritage of the country and sprinkles the narrative with visual puns that are reminiscent of Latin American children's TV. Although a bit too cute at points, the overall tenderness won the audience over.
The story is very simple: Malu and Jorgito (played by eponymous actors) are best friends, kind of childhood sweethearts living in a neighbourhood of Havana. Their respective mothers don't like each other very much. Malu's mother (Larisa Vega Alamar), a petit borgeoise, does not approve of her tomboyish daughter hanging out with Jorgito's gang. But the children love each other and even bury a box with a promise they will remain friends forever.

When Malu discovers her mother is planning to take her abroad to live with a foreign lover she's constantly on the phone with, she runs away in the company of Jorgito and the duo start on a road trip to Malu's father's lighthouse in the farthest corner of the island, Punta de Maisi. Their journey turns out to be a discovery of friendship with the typical adventures involved, but it is also a love poem to one's land and roots. Malu doesn't want to leave Cuba, her friends and her school. And why would she? Her life is surrounded by so much sweetness that it makes you wish you could have a childhood like that. She even uses the word comrade at one point when she asks a cave explorer not to turn her in (the duo become national news while on the run), which drew laughter from the audience.

But Cremata is not interested in complex 'adult' politicking as it becomes very clear at the end. Viva Cuba is an ode to the sincerity of children's feelings, their view of the world around them and how much wiser than adults they can be. Never patronising, Viva Cuba treats children as they should be treated: as sensitive, creative and imaginative beings who are much more intelligent than we credit them for.

Check the site for more information of the programme, which runs until 4/12.

Out 25/11

There are the new releases gracing screens across London this weekend. However, if none of these film releases seem appealing enough, there still is time to catch some Balkan cinema being shown as part of the Art in the Balkans event and which continues until the 28th of November. The ten films on offer come from Bulgaria, Macedonia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro.


Thursday, November 24, 2005

Brazilian view at 291 Gallery

Next Wednesday, the 291 Gallery (the church on Hackney Rd, E2) will present a programme of Brazilian short films dealing with politics of the country, the diaspora and its London focus plus animation. The event also includes live music and a DJ.

291 Gallery, Wednesday 30/11 7pm


Tuesday, November 22, 2005

German Film Festival in London

The 8th Festival of German Films returns to London for one week from Friday 25 November to Thursday 1 December 2005 with a 'programme that tunes into the German psyche of today and yesterday'. The festival also includes a masterclass with cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, who will give a Kubrick Masterclass, co-presented by The Script Factory and NFT, plus a retrospective of his work.

The opening film is Barefoot (2005) an offbeat comedy come tender love-story, written and directed by Til Schweiger, who also stars, about an unlikely couple who embark on an extraordinary road romance. Leila (Johanna Wokalek) is an institutionalised young woman who’s spent her life in almost total isolation while Nick (Til Schweiger) is a responsibility-shy drifter who moves from job to job. Leila attaches herself to Nick, after he prevents her from committing suicide and despite themselves they take to the road.
The festival ends on a different note with Zeppelin! (2005), directed by the veteran of German cinema Gordian Maugg, which dramatises the mysterious circumstances of the fire which destroyed the LZ 129 Hindenburg on 7 May 1937, taking with it crew members including Robert Silcher. Grandson Matthias Silcher is determined to lift the shroud of secrecy surrounding the crash of the world’s biggest spaceship.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Double Lunar Trouble at the Whitechapel Gallery

The event is the first in a series of four guest-curated screenings focussing on 'the best of British artists' films.' Inspired by Joan Jonas' Double Lunar Dogs (1984), this programme presents the multi-layered, high-digital practices of Benjamin Callaway and Hilary Koob-Sassen. Each artist uses the materiality of the video medium to address memory, uncertainty and dislocation. Incorporating performance, biopolitics, surveillance, future-gaming and SFX, they 'challenge the production and organisation of images and our orientation towards the future'. Curated by Stuart Comer.

Whitechapel Gallery, 22/11, 7pm


Interview with François Ozon

I interviewed French director du jour, François Ozon, during the London Film Festival, when he came to London to promote his new film, Time To Leave, due out early 2006.


Friday, November 18, 2005

Out 18/11

Not a great film release weekend, unless you like Harry Potter.

Follow my advice and see William Eggleston in the Real World.
There's more magic in reality than in silly fantasy movies.

Jake Gyllenhaal: Yeah, right

Jake Gyllenhaal is on the cover of Details magazine this month to promote the gay cowboy flick Brokeback Mountain. Here's the quote on the cover:

"I approached Brokeback Mountain believing these guys are actually straight guys who fall in love"

'My character is not gay...and neither
is his boyfriend'

Erm...okay... I wonder what the definition of straight is these days. Has it changed? Or have the studio bosses told Jake to start saying rubbish like that lest his female public does not think he is actually...what's the word?... gay?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Brokeback Mountain poster Titanic connection

They say that the poster of the eagerly awaited gay cowboy Ang Lee film, Brokeback Mountain (out in the UK on 29/12) was inspired, among other films, by the poster of Titanic.



Skin's new video

You've been wondering where Skin (ex-Skunk Anansie) is these days?
Here she is.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Pipilotti Rist at the Tate Modern

Pipilotti Rist, Sip My Ocean, 1996

Swiss video art pioneer Pipilotti Rist will be giving a talk at the Tate Modern on Thursday (17/11) at 18:30 when she will discuss her work with the aid of screen samples. Rist's 'digital utopias captivate, float and shimmer with saturated colour and animated camerawork, just as they reveal the darker dimension of their own desires and aspirations', says Tate. Rist is a bid admirer of video clips and she often resorts to their visual grammar to compose her own feminist works. The event coincides with the opening of Rist's show at the Hauser & Wirth gallery, between 16 November and 17 December.

Discovering Latin America

Latin America is hot these days and one of the nice consequences of that is the number of films from that part of the world we get to see in London these days. The latest addition to what seems an endless roster of mini festivals and screenings is the Discovering Latin American Film Festival, which takes place between 24 November and 4 December. The programme includes 18 features and shorts, nine documentaries and 11 events that also include film screenings. The venues involved are all over town and these include the Chelsea Cinema, Ritzy, Tate Modern (where a couple directors will be interviewed live) and Odeon.

Festival site

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

British film online

The BFI has put together a comprehensive online database dedicated to British cinema and television called Screenonline. For fans and buffs alike.

Review: William Wiggleston in the Real World

William EgglestonHuntsville,
Alabama 1978.
The influence of American photographer William Eggleston is all-pervasive: from the realist fashion photography of Juergen Teller to the downbeat films of Gus Van Sant and Harmony Korine, Eggleston's eye for the detail and detritus of modern America has become emblematic of a certain trend in the visual arts that focuses on what classical photography would leave out of the frame, that is, the ‘ugly’ and seemingly trivial.

In a way it is strange that photography took so long to turn its attention on the details of life, or realia, when literature had been doing that since the 19th century. That may be because until Eggleston came into the art world fray, colour photography, without which photographic realism is much more difficult to achieve, was seen as the technique of amateurs. His show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in the mid-seventies was the second time the institution hung colour photo prints on its walls. Controversy ensued and critics panned the show as banal and boring.

Nowadays Eggleston is hot property and his name is securely engraved in the pantheon of modern art, hence this mini-season dedicated to him at the ICA in London. Michael Almereyda's visual essay on the artist, William Eggleston in the Real World, does a fine job in creating a vivid, candid portrait of the man, who comes across as a sweet poet with a love of music and an almost child-like enchantment with the world. His idiosyncratic personality is miles away from the often pretentious art world that idolizes him. Eggleston, who hails from Memphis and still lives there, is more like a character in a Korine movie; is basso, growling voice adding makes his quirky persona even more endearing. In short, he's a picture of authenticity and this revealing film portrait adds an extra layer of verity to his work.

Spanning roughly over four years, the film follows Eggleston on one of his photo sprees and then takes us to his home, friends and a lecture at an unspecified venue. The footage is interspersed with Eggleston’s art photographs and family memorabilia. The style of the film is rough, the camera is as unstable as in a home video, but this visual approach fits perfectly the subject because anything too polished would have resulted in something incongruous. Almereyda succeeded in putting together an unobtrusive documentary that gets as close to the truth as possible. In this age of fakes, Eggleston is a fresh sight of genuineness and humility.

'William Eggleston in the Real World' plays at the ICA from 18 Nov to 1 Dec.

Monday, November 14, 2005

The mother of American independent cinema


If the word pioneer can be applied to some artists, then Maya Deren certainly deserves the description. A vanguard female filmmaker in the 1940s, in a period when women certainly were scarce in the film world (and, proportionally, still are), Deren made some of the most widely seen experimental pieces in American independent cinema history. She lept to artistic prominence with the 1943 'Meshes of the Afternoon', which was referenced to by David Lynch in Mulholland Drive. Born in the Ukraine and raised in New York, Deren often performed in her own films, which often had a dreamy, surreal feel. In 1947 she was awarded a grant from the Guggenheim Foundation to travel to Haiti to make a film about Vodou and the result of her meeting and subsequent involvement with the religion is the film Divine Horsemen: Living Gods of Haiti. Deren died in 1961 at the age of 44 from a brain haemorrhage.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Magic realism

I found a link to my review of Innocence in an interesting site called Angel Fire dedicated to magic realism. Well worth a look.

Out 11/11

are the films coming out today.
Should you want something
more stimulating
than this,
try the ICA,
where they are showing
Serbian films as part of the
NO EXIT season.
If you can't be bothered with
going anywhere, you can watch
some movies

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Filter goes to Brazil

I suppose the good thing about weblogging is that you can blow your own trumpet too so here I go: I got two of my own short films selected for two different festivals in Brazil: Love in the Time of the Dog Collar will be presented at the Mix Sao Paulo, a major lesbian and gay showcase in the Brazilian megalopolis, and 'Job Interview', my Warhol-esque foray into improvised performance, will be seen at the Vitoria Cine Video.

By the way, Lobo Pasolini is my pseudonym as videomaker.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Beat That My Heart Skipped's UK Box Office Success

UK indie distributor Artificial Eye is having a good week. Its latest release The Beat That My Heart Skipped by Jacques Audiard grossed £85,410 on its opening weekend when it was shown across 25 screens, 13 of which in London. This places the film as the fourth biggest opening weekend figure for a foreign language film this year.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

DVD Review: Summer Storm

Camp as a rower in tents: Summer Storm
If you are one of those people who wonder how you should define a 'gay film', Summer Storm (Sommersturm) will provide all the answers since it ticks all the boxes of the sub-genre. No, it's not porn and there are no drag-queens. But if there is one type of gay film that really epitomises the genre is the coming-out movie because it puts 'being gay' (or, as they used to say, 'homosexuality') at the heart of the conflict.
Gay films tend to be quite conventional since they have a story to tell and some preaching to do. Summer Storm is no exception and followa all the rules in the book, so experimental cinema lovers can look for their wobbly camera work and elliptical editing elsewhere. Directed by Marco Kreuzpaintner, it is set in the world of German high schools and summer camps (I know). Robert Stadlober plays Tobi, the leader of the rowing team who is in love with his best friend, Achim (Kostja Ullmann - that's a boy's name, by the way). The friends wank and smoke pot together and poor Tobi has to endure the obscure object of his desire talking about a girl. In short, typical teenage stuff with a very strong influence of American teen movies, both in terms of narrative and style - there's even some soft rock music in the soundtrack, a fact that gives further ammunition to those who like to detract the German taste in pop music.
Tobi's big coming out moment will take place al fresco, by a beautiful crystalline lake. It just so happens that one of the competing rowing teams at the summer camp is gay: they hail from Berlin (this is Germany, after all) and are called Queerschlag. A stolen kiss from one of the queer rowers and Tobi is off on his path t0 gay happiness, not before having to confront his girl-suitor Anken, who turns out to be very understanding indeed, and have a bonding moment with Achim, who looks more gay than he does.
Summer Storm looks like the gay film Leni Riefenstahl would have made if she had grown into an old lesbian auntie while retaining her penchant for youth in action and love of the body beautiful and the mountains. The naivete of the film at first irritates those who need their daily dose of irony, but somehow the film wins you over as it progresses. Perhaps we still need films with basic lessons like this one, after all.
Summer Storm is release on DVD on 14/11/05.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Runa Islam and Isaac Julien: video installations

Two video installations currently showing in London are coming to the end of their run this week and are well worth a visit. Runa Islam's How Far To Fårö at the Camden Arts Centre is a poetic and technically accomplished piece on the nature of narrative. Borrowing heavily from Ingmar Bergman (who lived on the island of Fårö mentioned in the title), Islam makes full use of the possibilities of triple screening to compose an open-ended piece that is better than most films you'll see on the big-screen.

How Far To Fårö

Over at the Victoria Miro gallery Isaac Julien is showing Fantôme Afrique and True North, which continue the artist's trademark preoccupation with African diaspora and dislocation. Julien is not as apt as Islam is at maximising the potentiality of the installation medium and these pieces could just as well be single-screen works. But they do convey great lyricism that not even his penchant for too much gloss manages to compromise.

Fantôme Afrique

Runa Islam's How Far To Fårö is on until 13/11.
Isaac Julien's Fantôme Afrique and True North is on until 12/11.
Both can be seen free of charge

Friday, November 04, 2005

Vincent Gallo sells his sperm


If you're having trouble getting pregnant and would like your child to have an indie-film actor manic look, help is at hand, or better, in tubes. Seminal actor Vincent Gallo is selling his sperm, which he promises to be healthy since he is 'drug, alcohol and disease free'. Funnily enough, 'gallo' means 'cock', the bird, in Latin languages.


Out 4/11: Black Orpheus

Black Orpheus
One of the most curious releases this weekend is the reissue of the classic Franco-Brazilian film Black Orpheus. A splash of colour that paints on the screen some of the most postcard images that Rio de Janeiro will ever get, Black Orpheus introduced to the world the Bossa Nova and won the 1959 Palme d'Or at Cannes and the Oscar for best foreign language film in 1960.
Directed by Marcel Camus, the film is set on the heights of a rock mountain in Rio where the dwellers of a 'favela' (slum) are getting ready for the carnival celebration. The cast is led by the handsome Breno Mello (Orpheus) who falls in love with Marpessa Dawn's Eurydice against the backdrop of romanticised shacks and broad-smiled noble-savages straight out of a vintage Coca-Cola advert.
The Cinema Novo (Brazil's neo-realist film movement) people hated this film because of its foreign, romanticised view of the poor as naive Olympian gods living in the firmament (the film is set on top of a mountain and the sky is often the background). They were right about this as Camus did cast a very Gallic, stylised and stereotypal look at that universe that looks like a Pierre et Giles photograph. However, the film did take samba outside the ghetto at a time when it was still taboo to enjoy the music, which the white middle-classes perceived as a subversive, low-brow expression. It had been banned from the Rio Carnival until the 1930s.
The film has not survived the test of time without looking like a kitsch relic of Rio de Janeiro memorabilia, but it does look beautiful. The scenario by Vinicius Girl from Ipanema Morais is messy and the re-contextualisation of the Greek story in a modern setting is often contrived. But the music alone justifies watching this film, which is very evocative of a more naive world that died during the 1960s.
Black Orpheus is showing at the Tate Modern , the ICA and selected venues.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Repertory watch: Brazilian Contemporary Arts

Still from Narradores de Javé

More Latin stuff: the Brazilian Contemporary Arts' cineclub will show next Tuesday, 8/11, the film Narradores de Javé, directed by Eliane Caffé. The illiterate population of the small town of Javé charge Antônio Biá with the mission of writing the story of the town, in an attempt to stop the construction of a hydropower dam that would destroy the village. They start remembering (or making up) great local personalities and events.


Filtered anticipation: Truman Capote, film star

Hoffman (right) as Truman Capote
Fans of the writer Truman Capote (author of Breakfast at Tiffany's) will be treated with a Capote revival soon. A new biopic is already generating the 'Oscar buzz' we normally start to hear about at this time of the year, the recipient in this case being the skilled Phillip Seymour Hoffman in the shoes and bow-tie of the high pitch-voiced, celebrity-loving writer. A film version of his other famous book, In Cold Blood, is currently showing in the US. All hail the queen, then.
By the film:

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Filtered homage: 30 years without Pasolini

Pier Paolo Pasolini

If you undertand Italian, click here for a radio webcast on the 30th anniversary of the death of Pier Paolo Pasolini, one of the most important Italian post-war directors and intellectuals. Pasolini was murdered by a teenager on this date in Ostia, just outside Rome, as a consequence of foul play, although there has always been strong suspicion that he may have been killed by the fascists because of the strong content of his last film, Salo.

Still from Salo

Filtered news: Short films online

First, there was the festival in September and now it's all online. The organisers of the Talent Circle Super Shorts Film Festival 2005 are have announced the launch of their web site containing what they say is the UK's largest collection of British-made short films. 375 shorts across 13 categories can be webstreamed and none is longer than five minutes.