2022 FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL: “BACK AGAIN”, PART ONE

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Montréal 2022

Guess who’s back—back again?

Giles is back: tell a friend.

7/14: Polaris

The Facts:

  • It is very cold
  • It is the year 2144
  • Languages have fallen out of fashion
  • Little girl has supernatural powers
  • Young woman has (probably) superterrestrial origins
  • I observed no men in this merciless snowscape

Polaris works more than it doesn’t, and why it doesn’t work for me is hard to pinpoint. Perhaps it is too bright? (But no, that’s an appropriate choice for a film set so far north and with so much snow.) Maybe the ferality of the people is off? (Eh, so long after societal collapse, that makes sense.) That green goo found throughout is a bit “much”? (Again, as a catch-all symbol for Earth’s empoisonment, it is up to the task.) Carthew crafts moments of powerful emotion, genuine wonderment, and striking brutality, making this an interesting choice to kick off our return to “normal”; worthy of another look by a different eye than mine.

7/15: Cavalcade of Perversions: A Regular Little Orgy

There was something about sitting in a darkened theater full of people, witnessing a middle-closeup of an emission on screen, that felt, I dunno—”cosmopolitan.” In one way I was not surprised by the string of erotically-charged (and in a few cases, outright explicit) short films being so up front, but in another way I can’t shake the feeling that the organizer for these various Cavalcades (there are two more to come, so to speak) would be happy to tilt the festival more towards poetical pornography.

But the films: there were nine in total, and while each could suffice with its own writeup, we’re on a byte budget. “Aspirational Slut”, “Pretty Pickle,” and “SOS Extase” all showed sex can be fun and funny, as well as be gen-yoo-ine film films, with “SOS” proving that absurdism, sex, and cinematography fit hand in (leather) glove. The last also wasn’t above some visual word play, giving literal manifestation to the term “leather fetish.” It wasn’t all fun and games, though. “Creature” was proof-in-celluloid that a women-loving-women cinema can be eye-droopingly boring while crushing you underfoot with a melodramatic bombast that, if pushed half a notch further, would have landed squarely in parody. The men-loving-men-eroticism of “Exalted Mars” (featuring that big-screen emission I mentioned) stood neck-and-neck with the yawn-inducement of “Creature”—but at least was more tranquil about it.

Top prize for most unabashed fun (and gayness and sex and &c.) goes to Mathieu Morel’s “Beauty and the Beast,” which combines public access story-telling flare, ’90s infomercial pastel sound, fun with English subtitles v. spoken French, and a jolly XXX-rated version of the classic story featuring a nude twink and a young nobleman dressed in a suede kind of dog outfit.

Only in Montréal, ammiright?

Swallowed

Chekhov’s Outhouse, anyone? Quipping aside, ‘s thriller has all the ingredients for an early Cronenberg feature, particularly by way of Naked Lunch: bizarre drug highs, creepy-gooey-toothy bug-worms, and casual queerness. Benjamin and Dom are something of a not-quite gay couple (as in, not-quite a couple; they are certainly gay, despite Dom’s early protestations otherwise). On the night before Ben leaves Small Town, Northern Maine for LA to begin a career in the porn biz, Dom wants to raise funds for his departing friend and so agrees to mule unspecified baggies across the border. The whats-its swallowed (hey…), things are going… well, well enough. That is until a violently homophobic redneck punches Dom in the gut at a rest stop just over the border.

Of the seven speaking parts, five of the characters are queer (and, I’d argue, that the sixth—the redneck—exhibits signs of a certain lack of self-awareness, if you know what I’m saying). Mark Patton plays the flamboyant “drug” “boss” (both words merit quotes separately; the first for bio-reasons, the second due to reluctance). He enters the story just as everything’s gone sideways: literally so for Dom, who spends about half his screen-time naked from the waist-down, and half of that on his side having baggies… extracted. Swallowed plays like your standard body horror, drug-deal-gone-bad, romantic-awakening movie, just with most everything a bit queer. LGBTQIA+ cinema continues to branch into the normative. (At least the weird-o-normative, at any rate.)

Enjoy remarks from Celia Pouzet, Fantasia Coordinator; the post-screening Q&A; and my interview with director Carter Smith.

7/16: Baby Assassins

Hugo Sakamoto’s silly comedy is a charming romp through a few weeks of the lives of Chisato and Mahiro, two recent high school grads who have difficulty holding down part-time jobs to supplement their alibis. They are, of course, a pair of professional assassins. Bullets fly, oh yes; kicks pirouette and punches are thrown, to be sure. But Baby Assassins also explores interpersonal dynamics, as extra-extrovert Chisato learns to live with her spectrum-ie bestie Mahiro. Coping with life can be a major drain for many, and as unlikely as it sounds, Sakamoto proves he is sensitive to the sensitives, with Mahiro and Chisato bringing out the best in each-other. Indeed, father-daughter dynamics and sibling rivalry, get some time in between the contracts—all of which are organized by an affable manager and tidied by clean-up contractor who just wishes these “professionals” would live up to that designation. Divergently recommended, this film gracefully shows that it takes all sorts to make a world.

Orchestrator of Storms: The Fantastique World Of Jean Rollin

Oh, the mixed feelings. Not about the presentation—OoS is about as good as a talking heads/film footage/historical photograph documentary can hope to be, and it concerns an interesting subject, to boot. For those not in the know (and this was me before the screening), was a French filmmaker of the Surrealist/Symbolist vein, who spent much of his career dabbling in gore-horror and pornography, because he was not happy unless making a film. Misunderstood in his day, we are told, and blessed with a cult following these past couple of decades, this is the kind of guy that I feel sorry was unable to truly live his filmmaking dreams (as in, dreamier, less violent-or-sexually-explicit). Middlingly tragic life, stellar cinematic vision, and a penchant for photographing striking young women. (And yes, in case the name didn’t, that should tip you off he was a Frenchman.)

One and Four

If you’re looking for a yarn straight out of film noir, look no further than the morning of March 17th, when Sangyue wakes up with a fierce hangover in his forest ranger station. He’s sleeping off a bender he endured when a buddy delivered divorce papers from Sangyue’s wife (along with some potent sympathy hooch). Things get worse for our public servant when a gun-toting gunshot victim makes himself at home, explaining he’s part of forestry police and is pursuing a poacher. But is he? And why does Sangyue’s “buddy” randomly appear later in the day? A nice-‘n’-tight 88 minutes of mystery and deception, with a spike of surrealism concluding the claustrophobia, by the end of One and Four the trail to the truth becomes as cold as the Tibetan forest air, and our much put-upon protagonist could do well with a little hair of the dog.

7/17: The Girl from the Other Side

A young girl with a strange guardian witnesses her pursuer transform into a barren tree, elucidating the similarly leafless life surrounding her. Shiva, as is her name, sanguinely wonders aloud how nice it was that that in their shedding of humanity, they all came to be together anyhow. This vein of wondrous morbidity permeates The Girl From the Other Side, a beautiful new feature evolved from a short film that debuted some years ago at Fantasia. The palette is largely greyscale, rendering the flairs of color all the more energizing—particularly during an encounter between the girl’s guardian and “Mother” of the spirits, where Shiva’s essence hangs in the balance. Words fail me: I want to describe the experience as “pleasantly boring,” but in a far more poetical (and complimentary) manner. At any rate, for a sweet stroll through sombre imagery, you would do well to join Shiva and her sensei as they adjust to the curious existence that has befallen them.

Moloch

Hurrah for the B-movie horror film executed with A+ skill. Nico Van den Brink’s feature debut (preceded by some half-dozen short films over the years) suggests he’s on his way to a promising career in mainstream horror with a Dutch twist. This twist, in the case of Moloch, is a heavy influence from Netherlandish folk stories of death, betrayal, and bogs. Bodies (dozens of them) begin appearing in a swampy stretch near Betriek’s childhood home, bringing with them the attention of not just eager anthropologists, but a far more primordial force. Moloch feels like a peaty echo of The Wicker Man, as a festival for “Freike,” a deal-with-devil-making martyr from local tradition, kicks into gear after a dramatic theatrical reenactment by the local school children. The characters all have enough weight to carry the proceedings, even if the actor playing the visiting archaeologist was a distracting combination of and . Sound cues zing, mists plume, and blood spurts, and by the film’s malificent reveal, I was well under Moloch‘s spell.

7/18: Next Exit

Making a film about suicide in the form of a buddy-road-comedy is a non-traditional choice, but I am not surprised by ‘s method considering my experience with her career as producer. (During my first or second Fantasia experience, I endured the borderline-distressingly bizarre short film, “Peopling.”) Actors and Rahul Kohli have eezy-breezy chemistry as their characters (Rose and Teddy) travel from New York City to San Francisco in order to commit suicide for science. Oh yes, the plot device for this story: life after death has been proven, and is being eagerly explored by the “Beyond Life” science group—as well as a whole lot of people eager to get their current, living, circumstances out of the way. The subject matter’s somberness and the story’s chuckle-focus cruises along smoothly as Teddy and Rose travel cross-country, encountering various quest guides—a troubled priest who maintains his pro-living stance; an ex-border guard suffering PTSD, and a hippie-dippie star searcher named “Karma” (impeccably cast with Diva Zappa)—until the film comes first to a speed-bump, and then a near-fatal collision.

There is much to like about Next Exit, even beyond the organic feel of the comedy and focal pairing. But there is a part of me that wanted, to phrase it awkwardly, a messier experience. There are two plot choices Mali Elfman makes that left me more dubious than pleased. Understanding that “road-into-rom-com” is the ambition, I still wonder if the bonding between Rose and Teddy was too much to swallow. My second qualm pertains to the climax, so I shall give nothing away there, except to hint that while Elfman made an absolutely acceptable decision, it did not quite gel with the character’s trajectory as it had been laid out. These are minor quibbles, though, and I can recommend without (further) hesitation you catch a ride into the sunset with Elfman, Rose, and Teddy.

Enjoy remarks from David Mitchell, Fantasia Coordinator; the post-screening Q&A; and my interview with director Mali Elfman, star Katie Parker, and Producer Derek Bishé.

The Roundup

This was a bit dumb, and very bombastic, but walking into a Korean pop-action movie, the former is a risk, and the latter is a promise. The plot (on the off chance you were interested) concerns a really nasty piece of work who’s been kidnapping Korean tourists in Vietnam, and the crack squad of borderline-goofs who end up pursuing him. Ma Dong-seok (sometimes known as Don Lee) carries most of the film’s weight; appropriately so, as he’s a big man in Korean action cinema, and packs the biggest onscreen punch I’ve ever seen. Those punches are why the film works as well it does, particularly when let loose in the twenty-minute+ fightin’ finale. Watching Ma Dong-seok smash up a bus with his fists was a pleasure. But while the teetering into camp violent set-pieces are a joy, the casual comedy in between skates a bit closely to “trying too hard.” The director should have followed Ma’s lead: that guy lands every blow, and makes it look effortless.

7/19: Cavalcade of Perversions: A Lewdly Religious Glare

Cameron, get your notepad out and give this list a looksie. Tuesday afternoon’s “Lewdly Religious Glare” was a festival of cryptic-cool, sinister-style, and chuckling-chagrin; a veritable thermos of steams pouring out in a cleverly curated order of oddness. But enough with the alliteration. As much as I can rock out to watching art-porn with other theatergoers, this collection of short films scratched so many more itches.

Though not the first to play, I’ll start with some praise for friend-of-366 ‘s short, “The Blood of the Dinosaurs,” which skittered nicely around stock-footage and what looked like homemade “adult” scenes, with everything anchored by an ebulliently unsettling Public TV-style children’s program. Before Badon’s fun-time nonsense, the audience explored an investigation-perhaps-collapse into alternate/desired reality with Ryley O’Byrne’s haunting “Immaculate Virtual.” Aussie director Michael Anthony Kratochvil mused on future time travel vacations with the rapturously violent “Sweet Mary, Where Did You Go?” The whimsically absurdist (and absurdly whimsical) “Danzamatta” brought us boogie-ing beyond the grave. And, most impressive of all, the collection’s closer, “From Beyond”—a striking, docu-feel montage of the sociopolitical fallout of a visitation by increasingly omnipresent, but utterly incomprehensible organisms who crash into our planet. More religion should be as multivarious in tone, scope, and awe and… Okay, I should stop. Someone is smoking cannabis by my hotel room and I am losing focus here.

Please enjoy Celia Pouzet’s introduction of the films and selected filmmakers, as well as an informational Q&A session from after the screening.

Chorokbam

This tragedy of the mundane feels as if deeply moving molasses were flowing slowly along a decline, forming intermittent patterns of hushed despair, as the lives of a father and son tip from quietly saddening to quietly tragic. Events begin when the father, in his capacity as a night security guard, discovers a dead cat hanging in a park. This, it seems, is the final straw, as whatever proactivity he might have once had becomes muted; the son, likewise, shows no emotion other than exhaustion. Even the camera feels tired. And while it may have stemmed from a miscalibration of the ambient volume at the screening, the weight of life’s incidental noises created a heightened, hum-drum dread. Every soft shoe shuffle, every cracking crunch of chicken, and even every quietened swallow filled the auditorium. And somehow, I was more mesmerized than not. I would never hope to see this slice-of-death drama again, but I am glad to have endured it.

Chun Tae-il: A Flame That Lives On

The director, Jun-pyo Hong, introduced this film as a movie he wanted to make suitable for viewers of all ages. It is a rare example of feature-length Korean animation (they are quite famous, and prolific, when it comes to animated shorts, and being the work-house for innumerable Japanese and US productions), and its gravity combined with its accessibility makes it a wonder. Even the subject matter is unlike anything I’ve seen around: the life and times of a labor organizer in 1960s Seoul who immolated himself in protest against conditions in the sewing district. Beautiful, realistic backdrops are peopled by approachably “soft,” smooth characters. A montage early on marvelously illustrates a grip on artistic and efficient story-telling, as a whirlwind of Chun Tae-il running from task to task, and job to job, brings him from his small-town life to the big city. Highly recommended—for all ages.

Week one: done and dusted. Local observation: cannabis smokers seem to have reached parity with tobacco smokers hereabouts.

2 thoughts on “2022 FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL: “BACK AGAIN”, PART ONE”

  1. There was something about sitting in a darkened theater full of people, witnessing a middle-closeup of an emission on screen, that felt, I dunno—”cosmopolitan.”

    Lol. I’m all of a sudden feeling unsophisticated and that I simply must get out there and see an emission on a large screen.

    Though I’m struggling to imagine how it would feel. Would it be more like, ha, well there you go then. Or terror as if I’m being chased by The Blob.

    1. I won’t lie to you, it was a slightly odd feeling (as well as feeling “cosmopolitan”). We all knew what we were probably getting into when we assembled together for an anthology titled “A Regular Little Orgy”, but I felt a sense of much of the group thinking, “Mm-hm, mm-hm. This is happening. Good, good; we’re good.”

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