The Films of 2017

Discuss films of the 21st century including current cinema, current filmmakers, and film festivals.
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Michael Kerpan
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Re: The Films of 2017

#76 Post by Michael Kerpan » Thu Apr 05, 2018 3:17 pm

Naoko Ogigami's Close Knit (original is something like "when they knit earnestly (together) ..." -- sort of parallel construction to Naruse's "When the Woman Ascends the Stairs ....") finally showed up in Boston, courtesy of the 34th Annual LGBT Film Festival. This story of a neglected 11 year old girl (a mother almost as problematic as the one in Kore'eda's Nobody Knows) being taken care of by her uncle and his transgender (almost fully transitioned) girlfriend seemed to be a crowd pleaser. Plenty of comedy mixed into a story with lots of serious elements (child neglect, home/trans-phobia, school bullying, etc.). The young heroine (Rinka Kakihara) is very well done -- and the performances are all quite good (as usual for Ogigiami). Not sure that all plot points fit perfectly, but didn't find anything especially aggravating.

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DarkImbecile
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Re: The Films of 2017

#77 Post by DarkImbecile » Thu Apr 12, 2018 12:06 pm

Samuel Maoz' Foxtrot is purposefully disorienting - with an elliptical structure, surreal imagery, animated interludes, and a strong lead performance by Lior Ashkenazi that is (purposefully) often withholding and near mute for much of the film - but the audience's inability to get a firm grip on the film's aims for much of its runtime is ultimately more appropriate to the material than frustrating, as the emphasis put on Foxtrot's titular metaphor is (arguably more than) enough to make both its intended points clear by the conclusion. Jumping between a family receiving tragic news about their son and that young man's time at a border checkpoint somewhere in Israel/Palestine (though neither nation or their people are mentioned by name), the narrative ultimately coalesces around a sharp sociopolitical criticism couched in character-driven drama, bolstered by striking cinematography and production design that emphasizes the sense of place in (and the distance between) the muddy, ragged outpost and the upper class urban apartment that serve as the primary settings.

Though obviously very different in form and plot, I was strongly reminded during Foxtrot of the sensibility of Waltz With Bashir; that film's director, Ari Folman, was - like Maoz - deployed to Lebanon during the 1982 war, and both films are clearly grappling with the personal and societal impacts of that conflict. I haven't seen Maoz' debut feature, 2009's Lebanon, which appears to cover events similar to those in Bashir through a more gritty and realistic lens rooted in Maoz' experience, but there's enough clearly biographical detail in Foxtrot to infuse it with a sense of personal and social urgency that provides clarity to what could have been a more obtuse, less compelling film without it. Definitely recommended, and worth heading out to the theater for as it continues its limited release in the US.

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Re: The Films of 2017

#78 Post by knives » Thu Apr 12, 2018 1:51 pm

Lebanon, which I voted for in our war list, isn't quite a realistic film with a lot of fantastic imagery (the polarizing donkey tears being the most obvious point) though it is a film of psychological realism.

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domino harvey
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Re: The Films of 2017

#79 Post by domino harvey » Sat Apr 14, 2018 11:50 pm

Lady Macbeth (William Oldroyd) One of the things I've noticed from tours of colonial homes is how terribly noisy everything is, and if nothing else, this 1800s Brit-set film shows how hardwood floors got their name! The title clues you in to what will transpire as the new lady of the house deals with an impotent husband by fucking the help and then killing everyone who gets in the way of continuing-- and I do mean everyone! This one gets away with being predictable by virtue of not flinching, and the film crafts an expert unease throughout its compact running time that makes for a stressful viewing experience regardless of knowing the beats it's about to sound

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Re: The Films of 2017

#80 Post by Michael Kerpan » Sun Apr 15, 2018 4:36 pm

domino harvey wrote:Lady Macbeth (William Oldroyd)
I find it hard to imagine this story without the tremendous music Shostakovich created for its operatic adaptation (and which put him deep inside Stalin's cultural dungeon).

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domino harvey
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Re: The Films of 2017

#81 Post by domino harvey » Sun May 20, 2018 10:29 am

La jeune fille sans mains (Sébastien Laudenbach) French animated film adapting the Grimm Brothers' fairy tale about a miller who inadvertently sells his daughter to the Devil in exchange for limitless riches. Like a lot of the Grimm fairy tails, the actual narrative elements of the film are horrific-- the Devil wants his young prize "dirty," so the father, keeping his promise to the Devil, traps her up a tree guarded by vicious dogs until she's soiled herself. However, since she's wiped away the tears from her eyes, her hands are too pure to be carried off to Hell, so the Devil makes the father chop her hands off... All of this is depicted in the film's wonderful elliptical art style, with every image looking like an unfinished sketch:

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I gather from reading comments elsewhere online that this style is maddening for some, but for me it's obviously the film's raison d'être. This film was apparently singlehandedly illustrated by Laudenbach, and it bears a distinct charm by virtue of its style. At 75 minutes, it's about as long as this kind of experiment can sustain, and the narrative, while dark and grotesque (no need to dub this into English for kids, they'd probably be either bored or terrified if they got far enough into this), does not ask much more of us than to sit back and watch it unfold prettily. Shout quite unexpectedly put this out on Blu-ray, and it's def worth picking up, especially since they threw in a handful of shorts by the director as well.

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Re: The Films of 2017

#82 Post by colinr0380 » Sun Jun 24, 2018 5:41 am

The Wound (Inxeba) (John Trengove, 2017)

"They trust you with the softies. I'd just make them cry."

Major spoilers:

This is the film that has apparently been extremely controversial in South Africa, to the point of being banned from mainstream theatres (despite being not all that explicit), seemingly because its central setting is around portraying the Xhosa circumcision manhood ritual and the weeks of seclusion that follow it before the boys emerge as 'men' and rejoin society, which is a period that is apparently meant to be kept private and not discussed 'off the mountain'. This film has been given a bit of an air of authenticity by being co-written by people who actually went through the initiation. Combining a portrayal of that initiation period with a gay themed drama as well has likely only added to its controversy, as apparently according to Tregove in his interview on the DVD, the initiation was supposed to act as a 'cure' for homosexuality by imposing masculine behaviours onto a person.

Both the initial bloodletting and sex are relatively discreetly shown (certainly more discreetly than the goats that get killed! Though the death of the goats are used metaphorically to stand in for characters in some respects). The film is perhaps less about the initiation ritual period itself, though that is the unique backdrop, and more about class and generational conflict (westernised, 'white' (in mind if not in body) urban cities versus traditional rural communities) as well as about power dynamics in relationships.

We get introduced to a factory worker in Johannesburg, Xolani, who apparently travels to the mountains each year to be a 'caregiver' for each new batch of initiates. This year he has been given the privileged son of a successful family to take care of, Kwanda, whose father wants him to toughen up and go through the ritual in the traditional way rather than more safely in hospital back in 'Joburg'. The estranged father is also suspicious about his son's sexuality due to living too much with the mother and the amount of time the boy is spending 'locked in his room with his friends', which is kind of ironic since he is sending him away to be in a hut for a fortnight with events entirely revolving around his penis. But that is the 'acceptable' form of being locked away with other men, I suppose! (As well as acting as a bit of a punishment)

Once up in the mountains Xolani meets up with another caregiver Vija, and it turns out that these two men have been meeting each year to have a sexual relationship with each other on the side during the period of seclusion their initiates have to go through. Vija is married and his wife has just had a baby, whilst Xolani is single and apparently just lives for this couple of weeks each year when he and Vija can be together, even though it is pretty apparent that Vija just sees him as a 'fuck buddy' and is only using him for sexual relief whilst away from his wife. The early moment where Xolani talks about moving jobs from Joburg to somewhere closer to his friend so that they could potentially meet up more often (which is met by stony silence and a concerned look from Vija) suggests Xolani's love-blindness after seemingly many years of these routine meet ups as to the nature of their relationship. There is a pretty tragic view of not just unrequited love but also the non-life giving aspect of homosexuality there as Vija's life is constantly moving on and developing in the normal course of things and he is building up a family as 'all men do' (his Christian cross twinkling around his neck only becomes more prominent as the film goes on as well), whilst Xolani (and Kwanda, though Kwanda is part of a younger generation who is less closeted and more accepting of his feelings. But Kwanda has his own trials to face) is trapped in stasis, waiting for a brief show of affection on an annual basis that will keep him going for the next year.

It is perhaps a telling moment of priorities that on the first private meeting between the two men that the sex takes place first (with Vija the top, arm wrapped around Xolani's neck as he takes him from behind. Vija is always the top, controlling the encounters), and then Vija asks Xolani how he has been, and appears glad to know that X has not changed at all.

The rest of the film becomes about the interesting shifting relationship between this pair that gets complicated and brought to a head by Kwanda's growing suspicions about his caregiver's sexuality. Kwanda himself is described by his father in that first scene, as well as the other initiates, as being 'soft' and 'urban' due to everyone having at least suspicions about his homosexuality and jealousy over his privileged lifestyle with his expensive trainers and having an iPhone. However Kwanda is not soft but one of the hardest characters, continually challenging his elders (asking questions about the ritual and even refusing to speak to the elders to complete his part in the ceremony, which is perhaps another controversial part of the film) and acting haughty and aloof to everyone around him in this primitive environment that is demanding respect and obeisance from him.

As in the contrast between Xolani and Vija, Kwanda is also being contrasted with the other initiates who are smoothly going through their initiations in the manner expected of them by the society, and coming out through it with their masculinity defined and their roles laid out and celebrated for them (with their initiation huts burnt as the elder's encourage them to fulfill their role as men, have sex and grow the tribe using their newly modified penises for that purpose). However whilst Xolani as a member of the previous generation stayed closeted and moved away to the big city to avoid taking on those responsibilities of child rearing, Kwanda as a product of the city does not care about the traditional meanings behind the ritual and thus keeps entirely undermining it. His father perhaps wanted to impose 'manhood' on him, but Kwanda knows that it is only a couple of weeks before he goes back to Joburg again, with its less strict notions of sexuality. It kind of ends up being true that Kwanda is too urban, too 'white' in his thinking and behaviour. But that appears to attract Vija towards him - is Vija looking to drop Xolani for someone younger and fresher? Or is Vija interested in Kwanda because of his urban nature, seeing that Kwanda understands the nature of casual commitment-less sex and is not going to become as needy and fixated on him, with impossible dreams of being together, as Xolani is? Either way, it fuels Xolani's, steadily more justified, paranoia and insecurities about their interactions.

There is some amazing juxtaposition of imagery here, especially in the late fight between Vija and Xolani (which kind of mirrors their sex) where Xolani gets subdued by Vija, as Kwanda feet away subdues and cuts the throat of the stolen goat, thereby sort of making his own transition from being the 'soft, bottom' that Xolani is getting revealed to be and towards becoming the 'callous, dominant, top' like Vija. Xolani himself is going to end up attempting his own deadly gesture at the climax of the film, but one which will entirely alienate him from society rather than bonding him with it.

Though in his forthright comments and confrontational attitude in a situation where everyone might have benefited from him not behaving in such a manner, Kwanda also ends up being an interestingly abrasive character himself, eventually fatally overconfident in his own approach to the world and that the old world does not matter or have any impact on him (which of course it did, as for everyone else in that initial circumcision scene). Kwanda bluntly reveals the truth behind situations and drags the metaphorical down to the prosaic by constantly revealing the contrived mechanics of the initiation process, undermining the male bonding that is supposed to be taking place, and is occurring between the other initiates. He is not appreciating the significance of his initiation, which makes sense since he was forced into it! Perhaps it would have been better for everyone if he had had his circumcision done in the hospital after all, if he was going to have to have had it!

This all reaches its climax in Xolani and Vija being discovered post-sex by Kwanda. Kwanda has to forcibly out both of them because he does not understand the power of brief liaisons and the power of love, even if it is driven by impossible yearnings. In fact he thinks it is stupid, and understandably berates Xolani for being in the closet and ruining his own life by allowing himself to be used by Vija (Xolani is constantly being equated with dogs as a metaphor for his subservience. Even rabid ones). They chase Kwanda into the forest but lose him (though Kwanda's expensive sneakers don't save him from a nasty fall!) and eventually Vija returns to the group of initiates completing their manhood rites (with encouraging speech about procreation from the elder) and being welcomed back to the village and society, whilst Xolani tracks Kwanda down in the wilderness, both entirely apart from society at that point.

Kwanda is fine with that and in his final scene is relating his own philosophies on life and how (ironically for a circumcision ceremony participant) stupid it is that men think with their dicks all the time and the pointlessness of sexuality as a whole, and is wanting to expose Vija for his hypocrisy. Kwanda is speaking this way to Xolani because he thinks they have some solidarity together because of their shared sexuality. But that is not enough, as Xolani ends up pushing him off a cliff to his death before he catches a truck back into the city, never to return to the mountain. The music over the end credits goes from tribal chants to electronica.

It is a devastatingly powerful ending as In a way despite Kwanda's murder the whole film is Xolani's tragedy. Is the murder about Xolani's jealousy of Kwanda? Perhaps, as he does seem to realise that Kwanda is much more secure in his sexuality (and defiant about it) than he is. But its also as much about Xolani sacrificing himself on behalf of Vija, murdering Kwanda so that Vija's hetereosexuality remains unassailed because X himself has nothing to lose from doing that. Maybe Vija told him to do it, or maybe Xolani did it off his own bat. Either way it ends with all three characters entirely separated from each other, which no possibility of return.

Compared to Vija's almost practical use of sex and Kwanda's dismissal of it, Xolani seems like the only character to understand the power of sexuality as a driving force. Albeit to a murderous extent, so even that is complicated! All three characters are stepping outside of the circumscribed bounds that the society has allowed them into 'unacceptable' territory. But it also seems that the society understands the erotic power of homosocial bonding and potentially illicit love between men, as long as there remains a 'don't ask, don't tell' attitude about it all. Which is something that Kwanda fatally does not seem to pick up on, being unable to survive his initiation into flawed, compromised, hypocritical manhood.
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In terms of the visuals I actually had a few concerns about the handheld nature of the photography and filming style at the beginning, but ended up quite liking its half too close (to the protagonist)-half too distant (from other characters, though they often move about in the background in a well calculated manner to catch the audience's attention from the corner of their eye) approach to action, especially the way that the camera feels tied closely to the character. It is perhaps not quite as rigorous as a Dardennes Brothers over the shoulder style (the film feels distant from all three main characters at certain times, rather than complicit with them), but close.

It was really interesting to hear on the interview with Trengove on the DVD that he was purposefully trying to get away from a 'National Geographic' well composed approach to photographing the scene, as well as trying to eschew beauty spots because he did not think that the characters in this film would be in the natural world for the purposes of appreciating the beauty of nature around them but for more practical purposes to do with the initiation ritual. When I was looking at the film I kept thinking that some areas reminded me of a field I live nearby or a copse of trees, rather than a grand vista, and it was interesting to hear that this kind of down to earth approach to nature was quite intentional (the opposite kind of film to this would perhaps be something like that Mexican film Heli, where the action is confined and grubby, but the natural world surrounding the characters is grand, immense and spectacular in aspect. Both approaches can work in sketching in characters and their relations to their landscape depending on what the filmmakers are going for).

Having said that there are the three sequences of intimacy between Xolani and Vija the develop interestingly in relation to their environment: the first is their initial sex scene inside an abandoned building (the only building we see other than the Johannnesburg warehouse in the opening shot); then the lyrical amlost Malick-esque golden hour discussion-turned-fight in the field between the pair (though even this is shot in a down to earth manner, with electricity pylons in the background); and then finally perhaps the most cliched image of all: the waterfall sex where Kwanda discovers the pair in flagrante delicto!

However Trengove's comment on damping down on the beauty of Africa in the photography made the Gerry-style ending in particular quite amusing, as Xolani guides Kwanda up to the top of the cliff, and the one slightly panoramic view of the landscape, purely for the purpose of pushing him off it!
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I would also highly recommend watching Trengove's short film The Goat from 2014, which kind of acts almost as a prequel to The Wound (certainly themes and images in the later feature), as a young man in his initiation hut asks a young boy outside whether anyone other than his mother has asked for him and then when it seems that his friend is not coming climbs out and wanders across the landscape before perhaps disappearing into it. The young boy then brings his friend to Xolani's hut (for at the end we find out that the young man here has the same name as the protagonist in the later feature) and on hearing what sounds like screaming coming from it peer inside only to find a bleating goat staring back at them!

This is perhaps because Trengove collaborated on both the short and feature with Thando Mqgolozona‚ using his book A Man Who Is Not A Man as part of the research into the subject matter. There are a lot of interesting aspects carried over from The Goat into The Wound - young boys hanging around the initiates as kind of helpers during the healing period; the idea of strange sounds coming from Xolani's hut (in The Wound Vija tells a story of Xolani fighting off a rabid dog with his bare hands that had wandered in there); and the whole goat getting equated with the young man as being a softer, sacrificial figure in the eyes of tougher figures.
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So The Wound is a very interesting film, despite the primary metaphor being a rather blunt one of having to cut away the most sensitive part of yourself (literally) to fulfill your role in society. Although it is difficult to call it a 'metaphor' since this kind of act is literally being carried out for that intended purpose! That idea though of becoming callous and hardened to your feelings is probably what ties everything together, from the circumcision and initiation period as a whole (with its laddish banter), to the closeted gay liaison theme. A male bonding through bloodletting and pain rather than through sexuality and other bodily fluids. Though the way that Xolani is able to carry on an affair with Vija (though it is a problematic one with no good ending) undermines that idea that such feelings have been 'cut away' in the adult man. They are still there, albeit deeper under the surface and harder to reach. That perhaps only makes them more intense when they eventually come to their long delayed climax.

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