SFFF Day 2 – Chillin’ with the Villains

The Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival went globe-trotting to start Day 2. The “Drawn from Around the World” block of animated shorts offered some enthralling works. Many conveyed a sad or lamenting poignancy. Keiro (Tatiana Jusewycz, Benoît Leloup, Franck Menigoz, Zoé Nérot, and Charlotte Poncin, 2016) traced a girl’s journey to adulthood and its effect on the giant creature that accompanies her, Beyond the Books (Jérôme Battistelli, Mathilde Cartigny, Nicolas Evain, Maéna Paillet, Robin Pelissier, and Judith Wahler, 2017) envisioned the highly detailed collapse of an impossibly immense library, the Spanish short Dead Horses (Marc Riba and Anna Solanas, 2016) revealed the brutality of war from a child’s perspective and amid fabric devastation, and the Indian film Schirkoa (Asian Shukla, 2017) imagined political strife in a world where citizens wear bags and boxes on their heads. Others brought the funny, like Daniel Sterlin-Altman’s Hi, It’s Your Mother (2017), about motherhood, blood loss, and middle class living told in crude claymation, and Deuspi (Megacomputer, 2017), a very short work about a pair of astonishingly inept stick-up men and their hilarious fates.

Three films stood out in the “Drawn from Around the World” block. Poilus (Guillaume Auberval, Léa Dozoul, Simon Gomez, Timothé Hek, Hugo Legrange, Antoine Leroy, and David Lashcari, 2017), which takes its title from the name for French WWI infantry soldiers, is an anti-war film told with anthropomorphized rabbits. In it, a young, harmonica-playing hare is caught in no-man’s land and is forced to defend himself with tragic results. Poilus is undeniably slight, but its world is gorgeously realized, from its lanky, Cat Shit One-realism to its colourfully punctuated middle sequence where the film’s central character defends himself on the battlefield against a fantastic monster. Aram Sarkisian crafts a snowy hell of murder and paranoia in —Winston (2017). Fevered letters recounting one man’s hatred for his neighbour offer a window into the main character’s descent into Poe-inspired madness and Sarkisian’s knack for stark design and affective montage (along with some great voice-acting) make —Winston a tiny masterpiece in the macabre. The animation block’s most audacious film was also its most successful. Nicolas Fong’s Yin (2017) takes the Myth of Aristophanes and transforms it into a psychedelic, M.C. Escher-inspired fantasia where unreal perspectives and impossible architectures work to divide the short’s would-be lovers. Fluid, intricate, and imaginative, Yin will likely set the standard by which all shorts at SFFF should be judged.

From acorns to oaks, the SFFF quickly switched gears to the epic with Jung Byung-gil’s The Villainness (2017). It’s difficult to imagine any film containing more action or plot than The Villainess. Almost laborious convoluted, it’s enough to say that The Villainess can be reduced to being a remake of La Femme Nikita. Kim Ok-bin plays Sook-hee, an already dangerous woman made into an assassin for a shadowy agency. Sook-hee’s loyalties are tested when her current assignments run aground of her past loves. Action in The Villainess is frequent and frenetic, from a ten-minute POV opening sequence through a crime den/drug factory, to an extended sword fight on racing motorcycles, to a daring car chase with Sook-hee steering a speeding car while riding on its hood. The film’s action aesthetic is all highly reminiscent of Hardcore Henry with its POV shakiness and its masked edits creating the appearance of a continuous shot. The Villainess abides this aesthetic style regardless of whether it explicitly assumes the perspective of a combatant or not and the film frequently shifts between participant and observer roles without an explicit cut, only adding to the movie’s cacophony of spectacle. What is more, The Villainess applies these same principles in telling its story, packing the film with narrative content, slipping between present-time and flashback without any formal break, and employing its propulsive power to smash through basic questions like who are these people, what do they want, and why are they fighting? The Villainess mostly resembles a video game with frenzied first-person action and over-wrought, melodramatic sequence breaks. Accept The Villainess for what it is and it may be the most thrilling thing you see this year.

There is something of a running joke about the SFFF programming films where animals are killed and so it’s no surprise to see Euthanizer (Teemu Nikki, 2017) on the schedule. What may be more unexpected is the film’s unlikely place as the most humane and conscientious work of the Festival. Finnish character actor Matti Onnismaa is Veijo, an amateur pet-killer offering discounted rates compared to the local veterinarian but a lot more judgment on the individual who bring their cat or guinea pig to his doorstep. Euthanizer‘s crime film conflict arrives compliments of a budding white supremacist, his request that Veijo finish off the family dog he can’t afford to spay, and a particularly despicable act that leads the film to its concluding vengeance. Nikki’s film has far greater depth than the usual revenge fantasy. Veijo’s stoic sympathy for animals is as much an act of penance as it is of benevolence, a complicated ethic explored in his flowering relationship with a nurse who cares for his ailing father and who is drawn to his sensitive but eradicating violence. Veijo wears his Nordic existentialism around him like a crown or like armour, bringing dignity in death where it was denied in life, assuming the creature deserves such respect. Euthanizer is about deciding which creature we all are – one deserving of mercy or one still owing atonement – and that makes it an unexpectedly poetic crime film deserving of a closer look.

Sensitive understatement had no place at SFFF’s midnight screening of Bad Black (Nabwana I.G.G., 2016), a gonzo action film from Wakaliwood, the DIY film industry of the Wakaliga slum of Uganda’s capital. The film’s title character (Nalwanga Gloria as Bad Black) is a street kid-turned-gang leader and gold digger who sets her sights on a rich man from the other side of town (Bisaso Dauda) and who steals from the local doctor (Alan Hofmanis) his father’s dog tags. This leads the doctor to being trained as a commando by a small but tough boy named Wesley Snipes and then going on a wild, gun crazy rampage. I can’t honestly say what else happens in Bad Black but it hardly matters. Bad Black exists to revel in a cinematic grammar that rejects narrative coherence or character motivation and to celebrate the lively spectacle of a community representing itself in cheap green screen effects and violent self-achievement. Wakaliga films are typically screened domestically with a live narrator riffing on the outlandish action and plot and this screening of Bad Black not only featured such a commentary track (complete with shouts “Supa Action!”, references to “poo poo water,” and an assurance that even the commentator can’t follow the plot despite being Ugandan) but also included onscreen shout-outs to the Hub City with captions like “Saskatche Keeck” (or some such expression). Few films can personalize their screening for an audience a continent away, but Nabwana I.G.G. and the Ramon Film Productions crew did just that, also sending for viewing multiple trailers of their films and a personalized introduction from Wakaliga to Saskatoon. It’s difficult to imagine a film better embodying the spirit of the Fantastic Film Festival and its aims of diversity, community, entertainment.  Thank you, Wakaliwood.

With a stacked day of screenings coming up on Saturday, the balance of our reports will follow next week. Check back for discussions on Dave Made a MazeBlade of the ImmortalNovemberLowlife, and more!

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The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki (Juho Kuosmanen, 2016)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki.

In the summer of 1962, small town Finnish baker Olli Mäki (Jarkko Lahti) has a shot at the world featherweight boxing title held by dominating American champion Davey Moore. Olli is thrust from his countryside home into a fraught training camp with the pressures of national stardom and a draining publicity circuit, but he has bigger problem – he has just fallen in love with a sweet country girl (Oona Airola) and can think about little else. Based on a true story, Juho Kuosmanen’s exquisitely lyrical, verité-styled inversion of the sports biography won the Un Certain Regard Prize, charming Cannes audiences with its gentle humor and bittersweet romance.

Disc Features:

  • High-definition digital master, supervised by cinematographer Jani-Petteri Passi, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New interview with director Juho Kuosmanen, production designer Kari Kankaanpää cinematographer Passi
  • New interviews with actors Jarkko Lahti, Oona Airola, and Eero Milonoff
  • Roadmarkers (2007), Citizens (2008), and The Painting Sellers (2010), three award-winning short films by Kuosmanen
  • Trailer
  • New English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: A new essay by critic Manohla Dargis

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Rare Exports Inc. (Jalmari Helander, 2003) and Rare Exports: The Official Safety Instructions (Jalmari Helander, 2005)

Christmas is nearly upon us and MMC! wanted to wish everyone a happy holidays with this pair of short films by Jalmari Helander.  These wonderful shorts take the “Murder Santa” trope into weird, fantastical places.  For those looking for more, we recommend Helander’s 2010 feature elaboration, Rare Exports.

Merry merry, happy happy, everyone!

The White Reindeer (Erik Blomberg, 1952)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films present The White Reindeer.

criterion logoShot in the Arctic Circle’s snowy expanses, Erik Blomberg’s The White Reindeer is a marvel of film fantasy.  Pirita, played by the director’s wife, Mirjami Kuosmanen, is a bewitched young woman wed to an often-absent reindeer herder.  Longing for affection, she carries out a sacrifice to empower a local shaman’s love potion and becomes cursed, transforming into a white reindeer by night and drinking the blood of local hunters.  Based on an old Lapp saga, The White Reindeer blends documentary travelogue with avant-garde experimentation and produces an art house horror film without compare, winning the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film and granted the prize for Best Fairy Tale Film at the Cannes Film Festival by Jean Cocteau’s presiding jury.

Disc Features:

  • New high-definition digital transfer of the film featuring 7 minutes of material not included in previously restored versions, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • Seven short films by Erik Blomberg: With the Reindeer (1947), From the Lemmenjoki River (1948), Gold and Sand (1948), Thirty Years of Work for the Finnish People (1948), Open the Way for Our Flags (1949), Before the Opening Night (1949), and The Beauty Pageant 1955 II (1955)
  • Kodin värit, Blomberg’s theatrically released commercial for the Tikkurila paint company
  • Trailers
  • Photo Gallery
  • PLUS:  A booklet featuring a new essay by film scholar Henry Bacon

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