Tag Archives: Italian

366 UNDERGROUND: DENKRAUM (2020)

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Weirdest!

Denkraum is currently available for VOD rental or purchase.

DIRECTED BY: Luca Paris

FEATURING: Manuel Melluso, Danilo Paris, Alba Barbullushi, Valerio Mariani, Ilaria Del Greco, Salvatore Di Natale, Giacomo Aversa

PLOT: Alex observes videos on a computer monitor for a new social network named “Denkraum” (which may also be a self-aware entity).

Still from Denraum (2020)

COMMENTS: I think it’s fair to call Denkraum a Surrealist film; although there might be a science fiction or even a mystical solution to its conundrums, any answers are buried under so many abstractions and layers of speculation and contradiction that the search for meaning becomes an exercise in the paranoiac-critical method. Fortunately, we have a director’s statement (appended to the end of this review) to provide some clues to interpretation. Even so, I think most viewers will be completely perplexed by the film’s ambiguities.

As a cinematic experience, the movie proceeds something like this: Alex (whose youthful baldness combined with a baby face make him look simultaneously thuggish and nerdy, a look that seems calculated to invoke Max in Pi) scrolls through videos on an app branded “DENKRAUM.” Every now and then, he clicks play and we “enter” a vignette and watch it play out. These may be real recorded events, memories, or dreams. Most are too dialogue-heavy to make much of an impression; in one of the better ones, four nymphs lead a man into a swimming pool and drown him while a woman in a red dress previously owned by a dead girl watches. Although they all seem to know each other and be part of the same social circle, it’s not easy to keep the characters straight or to construct any sort of narrative connecting them; this is probably intentional. When not watching videos, Alex texts with various characters or AI entities, stares at the portraits he’s hung on his walls, and walks the streets looking grim and intense, with a various color filters suggesting alienation. The screen is constantly invaded by text messages (originally scrambled, they decode before our eyes). Sometimes these come from characters in the videos, sometimes from “Denkraum” itself. They are rarely helpful (“There is a distant and hidden place where nobody listens to your screams and a drunken dancing snake.”). Are they real communications, or simply cybernetic manifestations of the voices inside Alex’s head?

Denkraum is packed full of themes, including a shadowy religious cult, schizophrenia, techno-alienation, postmodern philosophy, misogyny and sexual violence, stalker (but not quite Stalker) vibes, a possible murder or two, pseudo-fascist gangs, indistinct conspiracies, toxic homophobia, and apocalypticism. Even on multiple viewings, the choppy delivery of the ideas makes it almost impossible to form a firm interpretation of the film. Again, I suspect this is intentional: the deluge of information suggests a nightmare version of a Facebook feed, where a political rant is followed by a relationship update status followed by a kitty meme followed by a livestream of college girls making out, while various friends and acquaintances are Continue reading 366 UNDERGROUND: DENKRAUM (2020)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: IN SEARCH OF THE TITANIC (2004)

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Tentacolino

DIRECTED BY: Kim Jun-Ok

FEATURING THE VOICES OF: Jane Alexander (not that one), Anna Mazzotti, Francis Pardeilham, Gregory Snegoff

PLOT: Attacked while on an undersea exploration to find the wreckage of the Titanic (which evidently suffered no casualties following its run-in with an iceberg thanks to the intervention of an enormous doe-eyed squid), survivors Elizabeth and Don Juan, talking dog Smile and incorrigible talking rats Ronnie and Top Connors are rescued by the denizens of Atlantis, who ally with them in a battle against an army of rebellious rats, a group of shark inmates, and the evil human Lord Vandertilt, who wants the valuable shipwreck all to himself.

Still from In Search of the Titanic (2004)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: What ought to be a simple quick-buck exploitation to lure in dumb kids and their undiscerning parents by ripping off such entertainments as The Little Mermaid, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, and ’s Titanic swims proudly into its own realm of insanity. Impossible to dismiss as merely incompetent, the unfolding story contains enough deliberate intentions to force its consideration as art. The choices are almost painfully strange, forcing you to question the very fabric of reality. It’s like if a Penrose triangle were a movie.

COMMENTS: If you decided to turn off In Search of the Titanic after two minutes (a reasonable desire)—having only watched the opening credits consisting of scene snips from this film’s predecessor in which a man dances with a dog, an enormous octopus forces the two broken halves of the Titanic back together, and a blue whale catches a couple after they have fallen from the mighty ship’s deck—you could still make a solid case for it as one of the weirdest movies ever made. Having taken this hiatus from the film, you might then take a moment to dig into the history of its animation studio, which is based in North Korea and which has handled outsourced work for The Simpsons Movie and Avatar: The Last Airbender, at which point you might feel as though you were losing your grip and start doing that thing where you try to read a book because supposedly you can’t read in your dreams. But at this critical juncture, let me encourage you to head back to the film. Stick around. Ride this out. Watch the whole movie. Because believe me, your descent into madness is just getting started. Go with it. Let the insanity rain down upon you like mighty waters.

Because even after you meet the talking dog and the sharks who work on an underwater chain gang and the CGI that came from a 1990s DVD menu, it still hasn’t gotten amazing yet. You see, you haven’t met the leader of the sharks. You haven’t seen him wearing the dress-whites of the Titanic’s captain. You definitely haven’t heard him start to rap. And you certainly haven’t heard his backup chorus of clams who also double as a telegraph machine. Only when you’ve gotten this far can you even begin to imagine the scale of the Continue reading APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: IN SEARCH OF THE TITANIC (2004)

CAPSULE: L’INFERNO (1911)

DIRECTED BY: Francesco Bertolini, Adolfo Padovan, Giuseppe De Liguoro

FEATURING: Salvatore Papa, Arturo Pirovano, Emilise Beretta, Augusto Milla

PLOT: In the company of the poet Virgil, Dante Alighieri descends into Hell, where he discovers the variety of malefactors consigned to the netherworld by their misdeeds on Earth and the array of torments visited upon them.

Still from L'Inferno (1911)

COMMENTS: When the pioneers of the Italian film industry set about creating the country’s first feature-length motion picture (a format still in its infancy in 1911), they most decidedly did not screw around. No, they went straight for an adaptation of a foundational piece of literature, the one that did as much as anything to establish the language and the national identity. Without hesitation, they turned to Dante.

It’s an ambitious undertaking. “The Inferno,” the first part of Dante’s epic Divine Comedy, is a true horror story, a warning about the torture that awaits sinners in the afterlife. Part of what made Dante’s work so noteworthy was his willingness to name names. Various popes, Holy Roman Emperors, and other notable figures are depicted, along with their crimes and punishments. And his God is a harsh one: Julius Caesar’s assassins undergo perpetual torment, but Caesar himself was relegated to Limbo, an inferior paradise for those who made the terrible mistake of existing on Earth before Christ. It took a very pure life to stay out of Dante’s Hell, and he was only too happy to reveal the consequences of failure.

If all it took to get on our list was the “Indelible Image” category, L’Inferno would make the cut in a cakewalk. The limited practical and special effects of early cinema yield terrific results, conveying Hell as a real and horrible place in spectacular fashion. The harsh landscapes are difficult to navigate, and usually strewn with writhing bodies in some unholy mix of Hieronymous Bosch paintings and Spencer Tunick photographs. Multiple exposures conjure up rivers in the sky composed of thousands of the damned. Forced perspective brings the travelers into the realm of the mighty and rageful Pluto, and blackout techniques permit one doomed soul to carry his own head. The film’s climactic tableau combines these methods and more to present a three-mouthed Lucifer devouring some of history’s most notorious traitors; it resembles nothing so much as Goya’s grotesque classic “Saturn”. This appears simplistic to modern eyes but remains quite powerful in its effect. It’s as though the filmmakers carefully studied the magical techniques of Georges Méliès for the sole purpose of applying them to horror.

But alas, imagery alone is not enough to make a weird movie. The film of “The Inferno” suffers from the format that inspired it: it’s a travelogue. A travelogue through Hell, but a winding, episodic tour nonetheless. Dante visits a new circle of Hell, Virgil explains what the condemned did on Earth and what fate awaits them now, and we see that fate enacted. There’s not much more to it, so that this work of tremendous faith and contrition is reduced to a haunted house. Hell? It’s pretty bad, say the filmmakers. Rinse and repeat.

L’Inferno is a landmark film, and it creates dramatic and powerful screen pictures that most modern CGI-powered spectacles would be hard-pressed to match. Those pictures are often ugly and monstrous, and the rhythms are repetitive, which is probably why it hasn’t endured like more fantastical or pastoral works of the period. But it certainly deserves to be remembered. To abandon it to history would be a sin.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Anyone with an interest in the history of cinema should make an effort to seek this film out. Rightly famous, it is quite bizarre, unique and — in a way — haunting.” – Richard Cross, 20/20 Movie Reviews

(This movie was nominated for review by “Pete.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

23*. JULIET OF THE SPIRITS (1965)

Giulietta degli spiriti

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“I remember I had some exaltation about color. I see colors not like they are normally – we see colors in the object. In this case, I saw colors, just as they are, detached from the object. I had for the first time the feeling of the presence of the color in a detached way.”–Federico Fellini

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , Mario Pisu

PLOT: Juliet, a wealthy housewife, has reason to suspect her husband is cheating on her. She has always been attuned to the spirit world, and after a seance she begins seeing visions and hearing voices; one of the whispering entities tells her that her neighbor, the strange, sexually liberated Suzy, will be her teacher. As her marriage disintegrates, her visions become harder to distinguish from reality, until Juliet snaps and banishes the spirits.

Still from Juliet of the Spirits (1965)

BACKGROUND:

  • Fellini’s first feature-length color film (although his short segment for the 1962 anthology film Boccaccio ’70 was in color.)
  • Fellini took LSD (in a clinical setting) for inspiration in making this film. He found it “a little disappointing.”
  • Some of the biographical details of onscreen Juliet’s stories come from Giulietta Massina’s own experiences in her marriage to Fellini. The house seen in the film is the couple’s real house.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Juliet of the Spirits parades a host of bizarrely costumed Felliniesque grotesques across the screen in its 130 minutes, but aside from the perpetually smiling eye-of-the-storm Masina, the one who makes the biggest impression is buxom, bodacious Suzy (Sandra Milo). In one of the movie’s unforgettable scenes, she disrobes (offscreen) in the blink of an eye to demonstrate one of the hedonistic accoutrements in her bordello-like haven: a slide winding directly from her bedroom to her personal post-coital swimming pool.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Hermaphrodite swami reception; faceless purple nuns

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Like his previous 8 1/2, Juliet of the Spirits is a Fellini trip where dreams and fantasies—the more baroque and colorful, the better—intrude into reality as a way to explore the psychology of the film’s protagonist.


Original trailer for Juliet of the Spirits (1965)

COMMENTS: Juliet of the Spirits is transitional Fellini—most obviously, in updating the director’s palette to the full color spectrum, Continue reading 23*. JULIET OF THE SPIRITS (1965)