The final day of the Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival opened with Matthew Rankin’s The Twentieth Century (2019), a fictionalized portrait of Canada’s weirdest, longest-serving, and middlest-of-the-road Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King. The film side-steps Mackenzie King’s secret spiritualism and instead creates a broader, stranger fantasy of Canada at the dawn of a new era. Rankin’s prerecorded introduction for the film described it as “nightmarishly Canadian” and his words were apt. The Twentieth Century is an Eraserhead/Isle of Dogs-esque imagining of Canadian history and culture, one obsessed with maple walnut ice cream, the scent of fresh timber, passive-aggressive manners, Indian leg wrestling, and medicinal “puffin cream.” Inspiration was taken from the Prime Minister to-be’s personal diary and Rankin connected with Mackenzie King’s tendencies toward vanity, repression, self-righteousness, and self-pity. Played by Dan Beirne with petulant primness, Mackenzie King struggles to achieve his maternally prophesied political and romantic aims (and sublimate his dominating shoe fetish), and the film traces his misadventures through the brutalist interiors of Rideau Hall, the frozen utopia of Quebec, a sunny and freshly logged, new age Vancouver, and a baseless and fetid Winnipeg.
A former Winnipegger himself, Rankin carries on the prairie post-modernism of Guy Maddin and John Paizs, and like his predecessors, Rankin finds ways to make a hard earned dime look like an eccentrically spent dollar (or loonie). Hand-painted and animated in sections by Rankin himself and utilizing a palette that evokes the colours of Canadian banknotes, The Twentieth Century’s stunning production design recalls earlier film eras with its intertitle chapter cards while it also embraces the fresh Canadianness established in the aesthetics of Group of Seven painters like Lawren Harris and York Wilson and the modernist designs of Expo ’67. Rankin even loads his historical subject with a gleeful perversity and a shameless phallocentricism that would do Ken Russell proud – watch out for that ejaculating cactus and that narwhal horn! The Twentieth Century is an acid trip-take on peace, order, and good government and it is staunchly glorious.
Oscilloscope Laboratories has picked up the rights to Rankin’s brilliant film and we can only hope that its eventual hard media release will not only include The Twentieth Century but also many (if not all) of Rankin’s short films including Negativipeg (2010), the most Winnipeg-ish thing I’ve ever seen committed to film.
Short films led the charge on the Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival’s third day with an eight film block of female focused shorts and another two short films that could have probably fit into the same section. Readers of last year’s coverage might recall my frustration with shorts that offer little more than spooky premises or creepy contexts, however you’ll find few such complaints amongst Day 3’s titles. Yfke van Berckelaer’s Lili (2019), an MMC! favourite at this year’s Buried Alive Film Festival, was screened, as did the Chattanooga Film Festival short, Sydney Clara Brafman’s gory and brief The Only Thing I Love More Than You is Ranch Dressing (2018). Adele Vuko’s The Hitchhiker (2018) was an entertaining blend of female road trip goodwill, real world violence, and well-timed supernatural intervention and was probably the easiest short to enjoy on Day 3. Valerie Barnhart’s Girl in the Hallway (2019) offered a true crime tragedy that powerfully wrestled with guilt, grief, and inaction through pained and worn stop-motion animation. Daniel DelPurgatorio returned to the SFFF with In Sound, We Live Forever (2019), a beautiful short in the agrarian horror mode that finds two young lovers beset by a monstrous killer in the rural American heartland. The short looks gorgeous, contrasting the serenity of its pastoral present against the intimacy and then terror of its past tense soundtrack, and it elegantly pivots into the full present tense to depict a desperate escape and a grim conclusion that posits the monstrous violence of the genre but also a kind of existential smallness that makes its horror seem almost meaningless.
The 2019 Buried Alive Film Festival kicks off today with its Sinema Challenge screenings. Four days of feature and short film programming commence tomorrow with the “First Shovel in the Grave is Always Best!” Shorts Block and the hits just keep coming after that. In anticipation of BAFF, MMC! offers ten great reasons to get Buried Alive this Thursday and Friday. Laughs, scares, and some stomach-churning content awaits, so don’t miss it!
Check out BAFF’s schedule for screening details and check out my Letterboxd list of the Fest for MMC! reviews.
1. VFW (Joe Begos, 2019)
Full disclosure: I haven’t seen Joe Begos’ VFW (2019). That might make it an odd place to start for recommendations, however reviews for VFW have been uniformly positive. This throwback action film pits a collection of war veterans (and an innocent teen) against a drug dealer and a horde of mutant junkies. Recalling John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), Begos offers a intricate plot and a bounty practical effects, creating a gory, siege film spectacle. Word is that VFW is best seen with a crowd and one will surely be waiting at the 7 Stages Theatre on Friday at 8 pm.
The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents The Green Fog.
Commissioned by the San Francisco Film Society to close the 60th San Francisco International Film Festival, The Green Fog is the latest from Canadian iconoclast Guy Maddin and is an unusually evocative homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo assembled from Bay Area footage taken from a diverse array of sources including studio classics, ’50s noir, experimental films, and ’70s prime-time TV. With the help of co-directors Evan and Galen Johnson, composer Jacob Garchik, and musicians Kronos Quartet, this San Francisco fantasia celebrates the city through a century’s worth of assembled film and television, while also capturing the obsessive pull of Hitchcock’s spellbinding classic. The result is inventive, invigorating, and hilariously quirky, offering a “parallel-universe version” of a canonical cinema masterpiece, an unlikely city symphony, and a refreshing document of film history.
The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Maya.
Maya, a Hindu word describing magic and illusion, is embodied in Bella (Viviane Romance), a bewitching prostitute in an atmospheric port town who conjures the fantasies of visiting travelers and temporarily becomes the women of their dreams. The pragmatic Bella has no expectation of finding true love or leaving her profession until she meets Jean (Jean-Pierre Grenier), a passing sailor who saves her from the police and devotes himself to building a life with her, provided fate does not intervene. Based on Simon Gantillon’s successful play and produced by Viviane Romance herself, Raymond Bernard’s Maya deftly blends the styles and techniques of poetic realism, film noir, melodrama, and Cocteau-like fantasy to create a world of mystery and eroticism.
- Restored high-definition digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
- “The Film That Made You,” a 1989 conversation between Viviane Romance and Louis le Roy
- Interview with film critic Italo Manzi on the casting and distribution
- New English subtitle translation
- PLUS: Essay by filmmaker Guy Maddin
Alan Clarke’s Elephant (1989) is a short film made for television and produced by Danny Boyle and BBC Northern Ireland. Set amid the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the short presents 18 matter-of-fact murders with a coldly observational approach, providing limited dialogue and utilizing the predatory look of steadicam follow shots. The film takes its title from Irish writer Bernard MacLaverty’s description of the Troubles as “the elephant in our living room,” and it served as an inspiration to Gus Van Sant’s Elephant (2003), a film that likewise attended to the broader social problems that underlie American school-shootings and gun violence.
Clarke’s short is overdetermined in its intentions, being full of intense men and purposeful walks, yet it is also disturbing empty. Despite its apparent single-mindedness, there are no explanations of the hows and whys of its killings and there are nearly no sounds of surprise or panic, yet there is always the banality of violence and death, a lifeless body in a drab room and a getaway that rarely strays from the same purposeful walk. For more on Elephant and the psychology it embodies (or withholds) in its particular cinematography, MMC! offers Jordan Schonig’s impressive and insightful video essay, The Follow Shot: A Tale of Two Elephants (2018). Schonig’s essay provides a concise exploration of what may be contemporary cinema’s most ubiquitous and conspicuous shot and perfectly unpacks the themes and tensions at work in Clarke and Van Sant’s respective films.