SFFF Day 4 – Fractured Minds and Fantastic Capitalism

Day 4 of the Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival was loaded with screenings and bracketed by a pair of animated programs – the Saturday Morning All You Can Eat Cartoon Party and the web-series Crisis Jung (Baptiste Gaubert and Jérémie Hoarau, 2018). MMC! has already proclaimed the greatness of Crisis Jung and we’re loath to spoil Keir-La Janisse’s program of Saturday morning content given that it continues to tour festivals and cinematheques. Themes do tend to run through the Cartoon Party programs and “women’s lib” stood at the forefront with cartoon episodes on equal opportunity, commercials for the YWCA, and PSAs that addressed federal pay equity laws through iconic comic book figures. The Cartoon Party enjoyed a large audience that was quick to applaud for great content and progressive messages and to shout along with the enthusiastic narration of the cartoons. Expect to see another Cartoon and Cereal Party at SFFF 2019!

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SFFF Day 1 Report – An Apocalypse, a Dystopia, and a Hyperreality Walk Into a Film Festival …

The Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival has upgraded the apparatus with its 2018 edition. That means fewer midnight screenings in favour of an extra day of programming, a 3-hour cartoon and cereal party, a snazzy new booklet, new voting ballots, some clever bumpers running before the screenings, sponsorships and promotions from Vinegar Syndrome and Shudder, and even an after party with cast and crew of Supergrid. And with turnout for Day 1 looking robust, Festival Director John Allison and his team must be feeling positive about the prospects for this year. There’s always a desire to find a theme to a given day’s program but finding a common thread between Anna and the Apocalypse (John McPhail, 2018), Rock Steady Row (Trevor Stevens, 2018), Videodrome (David Cronenberg, 1983), and their supporting short films is something of a challenge. At best, it might be said that most of these films attend to breakdowns in community and some very unlikely ways to reassemble them.

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I Remember You (Ali Khamraev, 1985)

Like Fellini’s Amarcord, whose title it recalls, I Remember You is a semi-autobiographical meditation on the past. Kim, a veterinarian, leaves Samarkand at the request of his seriously ill mother and heads on a voyage across Russia in search of the grave of his father who died during the war. Reflecting Ali Khamraev’s own personal history – his Ukrainian mother and Tajik father, his father’s death during World War II, his own subsequent voyage with his brother to find the grave – this poetic journey into the subconscious memory is rendered in images of extraordinary intensity and beauty and one of Khamraev’s true masterpieces.

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Triptych (Ali Khamraev, 1980)

Ali Khamraev’s sleek, stylish film, a modernist political melodrama that earned prizes abroad but official disapproval at home, interconnects the stories of three women struggling with traditional social constraints in post-World War II Uzbekistan. One is an illiterate but very determined young woman committed to building a house even though local custom does not permit it without the approval of her absent husband. Another is a school teacher seeking to bring progressive ideas to a village long subjugated by strict old-fashioned practices. The last is an elderly woman who was kidnapped by a poor peasant in her youth and forced into marriage. A dreamy and impressionistic remembrance set in a hardscrabble world, Khamraev’s Triptych is an underseen achievement in international art house cinema.

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The Rugged Odysseys of Ali Khamraev

Eclipse is a selection of lost, forgotten, or overshadowed classics in simple affordable editions. Each series is a brief cinematheque retrospective for the adventurous home viewer.

An artist of rock-solid humanism and amazing expressive power, Ali Khamraev is a giant who sits astride the history of Uzbek cinema. A graduate of Moscow’s Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography in 1961, he went on to make more than thirty documentaries and twenty feature films – criss-crossing between romantic comedies, Western adventures, political dramas, TV mini-series, and art cinema. Through them all, Khamraev engages in the unveiling of traditional Muslim Uzbekistan and expresses a faith in the modernizing influence of Soviet values and technology. A wizard with landscapes and an instinctual expert of social dynamics, Ali Khamraev is truly an underappreciated master of world cinema.

White, White Storks (Belye, belye aisty)

Influenced by Mikhail Kalatozov’s black-and-white classic The Cranes Are Flying, the Italian Neorealist movement, and the interpersonal dramas of Yasujiro Ozu, Ali Khamraev traces the impossible romance of a married woman and an unconventional outsider in a small, traditional Uzbek village called “White Storks.”

The Seventh Bullet (Sedmaya pulya)

Set during the Central Asian revolts of the 1920s, a Red Army commander allows himself to be captured by a Basmachi warlord to reunite with his imprisoned battalion and lead them to victory in this Western-inspired adventure in the Soviet frontier.

The Bodyguard (Telokhranitel)

A grizzled mountain trapper and a conscientious revolutionary are tasked by a Red Army unit with the difficult task of transporting a captured sultan, along with his daughter and his loyal servant, through a harsh mountain landscape to a neighbouring province while pursued by a ruthless Bashmachi warrior.

Triptych (Triptikh)

This modernist political melodrama set in a small northern town in 1946 follows three women struggling with the social constraints of post-World War II Uzbekistan: an illiterate girl who wants to build a house on her own, a school teacher aiming to bring progressive ideas to the villagers, and an old woman kidnapped in her youth by a poor peasant and forced into marriage.

I Remember You (Ya tebya pomnyu)

In this semi-autobiographical meditation on the past, an adult son’s journey from Samarkand across Russia to find the grave of his father becomes a poetic voyage into his subconscious memory and an exploration of intersecting Uzbek and Russian traditions.

With notes by Kent Jones

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Trailer Tuesday

It’s another great month of announcements from the Criterion Collection and I’m very excited for Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man (1995), a film that I greatly enjoy even if I can’t ever seem to stay awake through it. This trailer is wonderful, showcasing Neil Young’s superb score, the film’s impressive cast, and my absolute favourite moment – Billy Bob Thornton’s complaints about his hair. Criterion’s edition looks great and even includes the amazing Iggy Pop reading William Blake’s poems.

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