Tag Archives: Dreamlike

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: BARDO, FALSE CHRONICLE OF A HANDFUL OF TRUTHS (2022)

Bardo, Falsa Crónica de unas Cuantas Verdades

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Daniel Giménez Cacho, Griselda Siciliani, Íker Sánchez Solano, Ximena Lamadrid, Francisco Rubio

PLOT: A Mexican national film director receives an award in Los Angeles, causing him to reflect on his own artistic life and the Mexican immigrant/expatriate experience.

Still from Bard , a false chronicle of a handful of truths (2022)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: No director can adopt 8 1/2‘s self-reflective template without risking charges of narcissism, pretentiousness, and plagiarism. Iñárritu changes ahead anyway, and proves that there are still unexplored territories in the subgenre—and that you can keep a slice of the audience’s attention, as long as you keep it weird.

COMMENTS: If Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truth‘s daunting title doesn’t scare you off, maybe the 200 minute (scaled back from the 222-minute version that met with a mix of indifference and mild hostility at its Venice premiere) runtime will. Whenever a director decides to pursue a semi-autobiographical project in a surreal style, and amasses an epic budget to realize his dream, red flags start going up: get ready to gaze at a navel not of your own choosing. For these reasons, I approached the prospect of previewing Bardo with trepidation. But I’m happy to report that the movie, while it lags at times and never finds a way out of its own desert, delivers the necessary audacious panache to justify its aspirations.

Bardo begins with a shadowy man flying (well, jumping so high that he might as well be flying) over an endless desert scrub brush, reminding us of Guido’s opening dream of artistic escape. Later, a passerby addresses Silverio, our director protagonist, as “maestro.” Backstage at a popular Mexican TV show, he must weave through a throng of strongmen, dwarf matadors, a white pony, and primping showgirls in pink fur, a scene as chaotic as any Fellini circus. A character critiques the director’s latest movie (or the one we’re watching?) as “pretentious and pointlessly oeneiric,” surfacing Silverio’s own internal doubts.  Silverio sneaks out of an obligation to face the press just like . Silverio’s friends and family show up in a dreamscape in the end as a brass band belts a march that could have been written by Nino Rota in a mariachi mood. There are probably more 8 1/2 references stuck in Bardo, and of course the entire structure of the film—the leaps backward and forward in time, the confusion between reality and fantasy, the reappearance of vanished past memories in the present—comes straight from the maestro’s playbook. Iñárritu  could not have ignored Fellini’s influence without appearing like a thief, so he wisely honors the spirit of his filmic ancestor with these respectful tributes.

Where Iñárritu departs from Fellini is in his explicit Mexicanness, and his explicit politics. Fellini’s films were always completely personal; if they helped define the world’s view of what an Italian  man was, that was simply because Fellini could not exist in a world without pasta and palazzi. He had little interest in the partisan issues of the day, however. Iñárritu is far more didactic in his approach: a completely realistic breakfast conversation between the director and his teenage son exposes the tension between Mexican Americans who primarily identify with their homeland and preserving its heritage, and those who prefer to assimilate and embrace the opportunities of their new home. At other times, the symbolism is broad and powerful: in a centerpiece of the story, Silverio climbs a mountain of corpses in downtown Los Angeles, only to find Hernán Cortés sitting on top: the conquistador bums a cigarette, and they discuss colonialism.

Bardo is about 50% personal and 50% political, and while not all of it works—which is almost inevitable in a work of this scope—almost every scene has a weird dream twist to it to catch your interest. Sometimes, Silverio speaks without moving his lips, to the annoyance of his family. When the director meets his father in a men’s room, his own body digitally shrinks to the size of an eight-year-old. And there’s a great—shall we say “spare”—rendition of ‘s “Let’s Dance” on a crowded dance floor. By casting some element magically off-center in every scene—and occasionally throwing a curve ball to surprise us with sequences that are completely realistic—Iñárritu builds a dreamlike portrait of a man, of a diaspora, and of the tension between the two.

Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths streams exclusively on Netflix starting December 17.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The whole thing is supposed to run on a dream logic reminiscent of Jean Cocteau or Ingmar Bergman, but rather than immersive or contemplative it’s just confusing and weird.”–Jennifer Heaton, Alternative Lens (festival review)

CAPSULE: VIDE NOIR (2022)

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Vide Noir is currently available for VOD rental or purchase.

DIRECTED BY: Ariel Vida

FEATURING: Victor Mascitelli, Ashleigh Cummings, Todd Stashwick

PLOT: When his fiancée leaves him for a mysterious music promoter, Buck leaves his hometown in an effort to get her back.

COMMENTS: From what I’ve read, “Vide Noir” is a Lynchian-cool jazz-lounge space album that was quite well received. From what I’ve seen, I am unsurprised that Ariel Vida, director of Vide Noir, is a professional music video director. From what’s on the internet, the little consensus there is about this film can be summarized thusly: Golly if it doesn’t look good, but what’s up with the hazy story and crummy performances?

A hazy story is not a problem—not for 366 at any rate. But something has bothered me since I watched the eighth chapter of this film, which covers the closing twenty minutes. Until this “Z’oiseau” segment (preceded by others titled “the Emerald Star”, “Whispering Pines”, and so on, depending upon the locale/character/artifact focused upon), I really didn’t care what was happening. Everything looked neat, if a little over-edited for the purposes of a motion picture (90+ minutes of music video-esque shot blending is a little distracting); the sound design was adequate (all the little scrapes, plinks, and peripheral noises fleshed things out nicely); and the plot was clear enough. The title, and main narrative hook, “vide noir” refers to an hallucinogen that, as explained by one of the dead characters (this was an added ambiguity that was neither explained nor pertinent), “comparing ‘Vide Noir’ to LSD is like comparing a space shuttle to a Greyhound Bus.”

The Z’oiseau character is referenced throughout in hushed, often frightened tones. He is Vide Noir‘s “Mister Big”, and he does not disappoint: calmly suave, marvelously mustachioed, and endowed with an erudition Buck lacks. That might be part of the problem, come to think of it. Buck is determined, and modestly resourceful, but, for whatever reason, he oozes corn-fed “charm,” despite being a Detroit native. Which finally brings to mind Vide Noir‘s primary problem: the heroine-femme-fatale-mystical-beauty. As heavy a weight of mystery and charisma is laid on Z’oiseau, a far greater weight of sheer mythic wonderment is laid on Lee, the fiancée. Buck is obsessed with and smitten by her, which might be excusable considering his simple nature. What makes less sense is the Lee-adoration from the incidental characters Buck encounters, and it makes even less sense from the villain of the piece. Lee’s reputation for desirability cannot merely be stated ad nauseum—the audience needs to see it (and believe) themselves.

On the topic of this noir femme, a second element (just barely) saves this film from any withering flippancy I would have otherwise been tempted into. As flawed (or, more accurately, pointless) as the opening and middle might be, the ending is refreshingly unexpected. Buck spends days-to-weeks pursuing the girl. He suffers humiliations, encounters ghosts, endures violence, and barely survives one nasty-looking overdose on his quest to find her and take her home. But the poor bastard never considered for a moment that he was not the hero of Lee’s story. While Ariel Vida would have done well to have kept her mysteries mysterious, Buck would be better off had he spent more time thinking through his own motives.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The band Lord Huron has produced, I guess, this trippy feature film inspired by their album ‘Vide Noir.’ And for the record, the music’s pretty cool, kind of twangy ‘Twin Peaks’ ethereal, unmoored in time, fitting for a pseudo-psychedelic film noir set in 1960s LA. The movie? It’s best summed up by the phrase ‘interesting failure.'”–Roger Moore, Movie Nation (contemporaneous)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: TO SLEEP SO AS TO DREAM (1986)

夢みるように眠りたい

Yumemiru yôni nemuritai

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DIRECTED BY: Kaizô Hayashi

FEATURING: Shirô Sano, Koji Otake, Fujiko Fukamizu, Yoshio Yoshida

PLOT: A retired film star hires Uotsuka and Kobayashi, a pair of down-on-their-luck detectives, to track down her daughter Bellflower, who was kidnapped by riddle-loving criminals.

Still from To Sleep so as to Dream (1986)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: The detective genre is turned on its head and spell-bound to slumber in Kaizô Hayashi’s silent film debut. This playful noir is fueled by dream logic, pantomime capering, and a nostalgia more full-throated than ‘s—as well as hundreds of hard-boiled eggs.

COMMENTS: In the market for the best P.I. in town? Then look no further than the Uotsuka Detective Agency. Sure, his schedule may be empty—so much so that his chalkboard agenda has nothing more than a doodled face on it. And he may not have the best assistant—Kobayashi idles away his time riding a pneumatic horse. But Uotsuka is as hard-boiled as they come, as proven by his in-office hen and his egg-only diet. Fine, fine, he may not be the best for everyone, but for an aging silent film star whose daughter has disappeared, his knack for riddles and protein-fueled energy fits the bill perfectly.

Kaizô Hayashi places his love of nigh-lost cinema squarely in the foreground in To Sleep So As To Dream, his directorial (and screenwriting and producing) debut. He presents the film in the Academy ratio, records in black-and-white, and, in his clever way, makes a “silent” film. Audio effects (knocked doors, clinked metal, thumped guns) are sprinkled in judiciously, but there is no spoken dialogue from the on-screen characters, who communicate through facial expressions, gestures, and often-novel intertitle cards. (As the detective obsesses over the clue “General Tower,” those words completely fill the screen.) Two circumstances break this silence: whenever a recording is played—invariably from the kidnappers, whose love of money is matched only by their love of riddling—and in the presence of a benshi.

Another throw-back to classic Japanese cinema, the benshi was the live narrator of a silent film, telling the story and interpreting the on-screen action as a film is projected. This aural eccentricity underpins the embellished performances, making for a self-aware, but never parodying, silent-style experience. The combination of off-kilter and heightened reality makes To Sleep a creditable facsimile for a dream, and Kaizô is well aware of what he’s up to. Pursuing a trio of gyroscope-peddling magicians (a “chase” sequence I can only describe as “goofily suspenseful”), Uotsoka has a nasty run-in with a handful of goons and loses two million yen. After awakening from his wallop, he meets up with his client to reassure her, “…Bellflower and the money will be found—if the whole thing isn’t just a dream.”

Kaizô Hayashi is a film nostalgist, bringing to that embryonic genre his impressive visual sense and deft sound engineering to craft an experience both innovative and sentimental. (If To Sleep So As To Dream wasn’t an inspiration to Maddin, I’d be much surprised. ) Our experience of Uotsuka’s and Kobayashi’s serpentine meanderings through theme parks, carnivals, dreamscape movie theaters—and even a memory-warping film shoot—is what movies are all about: the bending of technique to vision so as to create storytelling art.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Cinema is of course a medium of dreams, and this metacinematic film about the belated, backward-looking pursuit of something as elusive as lost youth or a bygone medium certainly comes packed with elements of an oneiric nature. Not since Giulio Questi’s similarly surreal Death Laid An Egg, from 1968, had there been a film so singularly obsessed with chickens and eggs…”–Anton Bitel, Little White Lies (Blu-ray)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: AFTER BLUE (DIRTY PARADISE) (2021)

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Weirdest!
After Blue (Dirty Paradise) is currently available for VOD rental or purchase.

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Paula-Luna Breitenfelder, Elina Löwensohn, Agata Buzek,

PLOT: On the all-female planet “After Blue,” an ingenue digs up a woman in the sand, who turns out to be the monstrous killer “Kate Bush”; she is tasked with killing it, under the supervision of her hairdresser mother.

Still from After Blue (Dirty Paradise) (2021)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: It may have its rough edges, but every post-apocalyptic sci-fi psychedelic lesbian acid western that comes down the pike gets automatic consideration as Apocrypha.

COMMENTS: Together with Katrín Ólafsdóttir, Bertrand Mandico has proposed a “Manifesto of Incoherence” for making films. If the notion of a set of rules designed to produce incoherence sounds a little, well, incoherent to you, then you’re not alone. After Blue (Dirty Paradise) is the kind of paradoxical work produced from a dogma of incoherence.

Incoherent, in Madnico’s sense, doesn’t necessarily mean inconsistent. The rules of the planet of After Blue may be insane, but the script adheres to them faithfully. There are no men on the planet because their hair grew inward, killing them. Shaving (of the neck and chest, with a glowing neon razor) is an important ritual for the women of After Blue; as a hairdresser, it’s part of Roxy’s mother’s regular duties. Outsider Kate Bush, by contrast, is known for her hairy arm. Is this making sense? Yes, and no. The shaving motif is a minor point, but it does illustrate how the world of After Blue operates according to its own dreamlike logic. The planet’s inhabitants, on the other hand, don’t always seem to act logically or consistently—at least not according to our understanding of human nature. Kate Bush promises to grant Roxy three hidden desires. In typical fairy tale fashion, these wishes rebound on the wisher; or maybe, her deepest desires Kate Bush grants are different than the wishes Roxy articulates. Or maybe Bush selfishly doesn’t grant them at all, but just does what she wanted to do anyway. It’s difficult to say. When you have a movie in which a blind manbot expels a goo-covered green marble through his nipple, normal behavioral rules may not apply.

The film’s surrealist assembly—part Barbarella, part live-action Fantastic Planet—is more consistent, providing the picture’s actual unity of purpose. We begins with shots of planets submerged in swirling rainbow nebulae, which dissolve into women’s faces as Roxy recites the history of the founding of After Blue to an unseen interrogator. Natural landscapes display After Blue’s strange geology and flora: penile crystals growing on the beach, giant fungi, coral growths, strange tentacled branches. Villages and other structures are built of stone in a ramshackle medieval style; despite the inhabitants’ professed disdain for high technology, they often feature neon lighting. Mandico shoots every scene through colored gels and filters: purples seem to be his go-to shade, but he cycles through oranges, greens, blues and yellows scene by scene. He also favors double exposures and other optical distortions. Oh, and the lithe women of his cast are frequently nude—and engage in a lot of flirtatious seduction, though no actual sex.

With such a lovingly created psychedelic playground to romp in, it’s a shame that Mandico gives his characters little of interest to do or say. After Blue is high on dialogue, low on action. The fairy tale quest structure mostly involves Roxy and her mother Zora traveling a lot, eventually encountering a mysterious character named Sternberg and her illicit cloned android (the only male on the planet). Sternberg seems vaguely threatening, but ultimately neither helps nor hinders our heroines. In fact, other than Kate Bush, the characters have little agency; the movie happens to them as they float through Mandico’s atmosphere. Zora trods through the film wearing a Navajo jacket and a constant expression of bewilderment, an emotion the audience can relate to. Since events on After Blue are self-contained, with no real relevance to concerns of the real world, the story begs for a dynamic and coherent self-contained presentation. Naming a character after an 80s cult songstress is not a strong enough joke to hold our interest for two hours. As it is, it’s like watching a beautiful surrealist slideshow; but your mind is likely to wander during the slow patches. This flaw makes it a missed opportunity for a crossover cult classic, but After Blue sports more than enough visual interest and general weirdness to make it a near-must-watch for this site’s readers.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… a fantasia perched somewhere between Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics and the darkly surreal universe of William Burroughs’ books… there were moments when the fantasy locale Mandico conjures stopped giving me new things to look and marvel at, but the journey still crackles with a febrile excitement, a playfulness of moods and images that makes it easy to be lulled in all the bizarrerie.”–Leonardo Goi, The Film Stage (festival review)