Director Harry Cleven Achieves Something Truly Remarkable With His Hypnotic Experimental Sci-Fi Film, “Zeria” [Chattanooga Film Festival]
Harry Cleven’s Zeria is a wondrous and enlightening celebration of all the things that make us human. Using a combination of miniature sets, practical effects, and puppet-like masks, Cleven creates a breathtaking and unforgettable world that’s mesmerizing, comforting, and terrifying all at the same time. The film is narrated by the last living man on Earth as he writes a letter to his grandson, Zeria, the first human born on Mars. The narrator (voiced by Merlin Delens) tells his grandson about his full and complicated life, offering insight, wisdom, and heartbreaking truth. He talks about his birth, his troubled childhood, his love life, the sociopolitical changes that happened throughout his lifetime, and his lifelong search for meaning, all while seeking connection with someone who has never experienced life on Earth.
One of the scariest things about cults is that they can form right under our noses. Cult leaders need to psychologically isolate their followers in order to maintain control, but they don’t have to keep everyone on a remote island in order to do so. Still, perhaps the best way to illustrate the intense psychological control that cult leaders achieve is to tell a story about a cult that’s geographically isolated from the real world. Perhaps the best way to demonstrate how a deeply disturbed man could earn the trust and respect of a whole community of devout followers is to confine that man and his followers to a remote location that seems to exist in a universe of its own. In Nikias Chryssos’s A Pure Place, a sickeningly imaginative film that he wrote with Lars Henning Jung, the entire population of a remote Greek island is under the spell of a charming and charismatic leader named Fust (Sam Louwyck). This deeply disturbed (but powerful) man is utterly obsessed with cleanliness, and he’s positioned himself as a savior who will lead the people to a pure place that’s free from man’s worst enemy: dirt. In addition to following Fust, the community also worships Hygeia, the Greek goddess of cleanliness. The cult is intense and otherworldly, so separated from the real world that Fust’s twisted desires have become the only law. The one thing connecting this mysterious island to the outside world is the product that Fust’s followers make in his factory: soap.
Part Expressionist Melodrama and Part Campy Horror, “The Attachment Diaries (El Apego)” Sends Mixed Messages About Trauma and Mental Health Issues [Chattanooga Film Festival]
Content/trigger warning: The Attachment Diaries deals with sexual assault, self-harm, mental illness, and abortion. These subjects are also briefly discussed in the review below.
The Attachment Diaries is a difficult movie for two reasons. First, it focuses on a handful of difficult topics (including abortion, which has just become more relevant than ever in the United States), and it presents those topics in a blunt and, at times, irreverent way. Second, it’s difficult because it asks us to think about imperfect people in imperfect situations. The film appeals to very raw and carnal emotions, asking viewers to indulge in the thoughts and feelings that we aren’t supposed to think and feel. It’s a good thing that The Attachment Diaries is so masterfully shot, because it may take several viewings to make sense of it.
Human Factors is a French / German drama written and directed by Ronny Trocker. After its debut at the Sundance Film Festival in 2021, it was described by critics as an “utterly intelligent thriller” and a “deviously constructed puzzle film [that] plays cat and mouse…with the viewer.” But these descriptions are deceptive. Human Factors doesn’t belong in the same category as psychological thrillers like Psycho (1960), The Sixth Sense (1999), A Beautiful Mind (2001), and Get Out (2017), all of which are fairly easy to follow even as they set the stage for groundbreaking plot twists. Unlike those films, Human Factors is not easy to follow. It’s less playfully deceptive than it is confusing, and it doesn’t play “cat and mouse” with us so much as it doubles back on itself to ensure that we’re paying attention. This is not to say that Human Factors is a bad movie. On the contrary, it’s well-written, wonderfully acted, and masterfully put together. But since it has been described as a psychological thriller, it’s important to let viewers know what they’re really in for. If you watch Human Factors expecting something like Shutter Island (2010) or Fight Club (1999), you’re going to be disappointed.
Making a movie about movie making is a fun way to experiment with self-referentiality and multiple layers of meaning. Plus, any movie about Hollywood and the film industry has magic built right in. There’s no shortage of movies about people who fall in love with the cinema and eventually rise to stardom (which is why La La Land wasn’t as entertaining or significant as it wanted to be), but such stories are still charming and nostalgic. There’s nothing more magical than a movie scene in which one of the characters goes to the cinema and gets lost in the magic of the screen, a familiar scene that’s been used to evoke a sense of wonder and nostalgia in films like Up, Australia, Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood, Cinema Paradiso, and others. The process of falling in love with cinema isn’t one that you can explain with words or even with a still photograph. It’s a process that’s best explained through the medium of film itself — which is why Shogo Sugitani’s manga series Pompo: The Cinephile just had to be made into a film. Director Takayuki Hirao rose to meet this challenge, creating an entertaining anime flick that’s wrapped in layers of self-referentiality.
“Knocking” Takes Its Time Building Suspense, but Cecilia Milocco’s Steady Performance Will Keep You Hooked
If you’ve spent any time living in an apartment building or a dorm, you’ve probably had a few run-ins with noisy neighbors. It takes guts to knock on a stranger’s door and ask them to keep it down. Depending on what kind of noise you hear, you might even opt to skip the awkward conversation and call the police. But what happens when nobody else can hear what you’re hearing? What do you do when someone is calling out to you for help and the police don’t believe you? Who can you turn to when your neighbors think you’re having a psychotic break? In Frida Kempff’s psychological thriller, Knocking, a woman named Molly (Cecilia Milocco) becomes suspicious of the men in her apartment building when she hears persistent knocking and crying coming from the floor above her at night. No one else can hear it, and no one is interested in helping her solve the mystery. But Molly knows what she heard, and she’ll stop at nothing to help the unknown woman on the other side of her ceiling.
Time Is of the Essence in “Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes,” a Delightful and Intellectually Stimulating Feature Film From Theatrical Troupe EUROPE KIKAKU
We go to movie theaters to see blockbusters. We go to film festivals to see experimental movies — and we hope that these cinematic experiments will have something fresh and new to offer. In 2021, film festival goers from around the world were able to satisfy their appetite for something new with Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes, the first feature film from Japanese theatrical troupe EUROPE KIKAKU. The film’s fluid long takes, stylized comedy, and mind-bending plot impressed audiences at the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival, the Fantasia International Film Festival, Arrow Video FrightFest, and Fantastic Fest. Starting Tuesday, January 25, 2022, you can watch Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes from the comfort of home. And might I suggest getting really comfortable for this one, because it just might make your brain hurt.
When it comes to fairy tales, setting is key. Fairy tales don’t have to take place in the past or in distant kingdoms, but their settings should invoke a sense of wonder and enchantment. The setting of a fairy tale should work alongside the other thematic elements to draw out and challenge the hero’s best and worst character traits. And if there’s any place where we’ve seen the best and worst of people over the past few years, it’s been right here on the internet. Therefore, it’s no surprise that writer/director Mamoru Hosoda chose to set his 21st-century adaptation of a classic fairytale in a bustling and vibrant virtual world. With a little help from VR technology, the heroine of the story, Belle, can be whoever she wants to be — and her counterpart, “the beast,” can hide his true identity behind a curated “tough guy” internet persona. Belle is a rich, detailed, and ambitious film that’s part fairy tale, part coming-of-age story, and part VR adventure.
In the Style of Teen Classics Like “The Breakfast Club” and “Dead Poets Society,” Daigo Matsui’s “Remain in Twilight” Appeals to Our Restless Youthful Spirits With Wit and Sincerity [Fantasia International Film Festival]
It’s not every day we get the chance to chat with a loved one who has passed on. Skeptics would say that we never get that opportunity. If you’ve lost someone important to you, you’ve probably at least imagined having one last conversation with them, whether you believe in the afterlife or not. Imagining that conversation can provide a sense of comfort and closure that unexpected death does not grant us. But if you did get the chance to spend a day with someone you’ve lost, would it really be enough time to get the closure you need? Writer/director Daigo Matsui builds an elaborate fantasy based on that very question in his latest feature film, Remain in Twilight, which screened at the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival. Based on Matsui’s play of the same name, the film provides a funny, sincere, and powerful take on grief and mortality.
Discover New Life in “All the Moons (Todas las Lunas),” an Enchanting and Bittersweet Vampire Fantasy [Fantasia International Film Festival]
No country’s literature or filmography is short of romance stories. If a writer tells you they’re working on a piece about love, you’ll probably assume they’re talking about romantic love. We live in a culture that prioritizes romance and marriage, and it’s easy to forget that other types of love can be just as fulfilling. When Igor Legarreta and Jon Sagalá wrote a screenplay about a girl searching for love in her doomed existence as an immortal vampire, they decided not to turn their bloodsucker story into a romance. In All the Moons, which screened at the Fantasia International Film Festival in August, the young heroine discovers meaning in her wretched existence not from a romantic relationship, but from the love of a lonely man who becomes the parent she never had. Legarreta and Sagalá undertook a great challenge in choosing to write a vampire movie (at this point, what hasn’t already been done with vampires?), however, they made the most of this fantasy/horror sub-genre by exploring parent/child relationships and the question of consent in matters of life and death. The final product, directed by Legarreta, is an enchanting fantasy that wraps the joy, wonder, and melancholy of an entire lifetime into a single feature-length film.
"Our embodied spectator, possibly perverse in her fantasies and diverse in her experience, possesses agency...finally, she must now be held accountable for it."