SFFF Day 6 – Into the Unknown

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.

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Keep An Eye Out! (Quentin Dupieux, 2018) – Ithaca Fantastik 2018

Designed for the film lover in mind, SHOUT SELECT shines a light on films that deserve a spot on your shelf. From acknowledged classics to cult favorites to unheralded gems, SHOUT SELECT celebrates the best in filmmaking, giving these movies the love and attention they deserve.

TO THE POLICE STATION!

When Louis Fugain (Grégoire Ludig) finds a dead body in front of his apartment building in the middle of the night, he makes a terrible mistake and reports it to the police. Obsessive police superintendent Buron (Benoît Poelvoorde) makes Fugain his chief suspect, leading to an absurd, all-night interrogation set in a campy ’70s police station and Fugain’s increasingly compromised memories. Soaked in dark humor and bloody fun throughout, Quentin Dupieux’s latest opus, Keep An Eye Out!, is a twisted celebration of classic French police procedurals through the lens of his own nonsensical brand of quirky, offbeat humor, performed by France’s most refreshing comedic talents.

Special Features:

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White, White Storks (Ali Khamraev, 1966)

In an isolated and conservatively traditional Muslim village in Uzbekistan, a married woman, Malika, falls in love with a soft-spoken foreigner, Kayum, who has brought liberal Soviet attitudes and principles to the community, sometimes setting himself against the subordination of the town’s women by their male counterparts. Tensions rise as Kayum and Malika openly grow closer, raising the ire of Malika’s father and her husband as well as among those interested in maintaining the village’s old ways. A breakthrough film for Ali Khamraev, White, White Storks is a beautifully rendered docudrama that combines the textured honesty of Italian Neorealism, the family dynamics and tragedies of Yasujiro Ozu, and the poetry of Mikhail Kalatozov’s The Cranes Are Flying.

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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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Three Films by Ryan Prows

I had planned to wind up MMC!‘s coverage of the Chattanooga Film Festival with an imagined Arrow Video edition of Ryan Prows’s Lowlife (2017) but no sooner had I done my research and began writing did Shout! Factory announce a Blu-ray edition of the film slated for release on August 7. I’m usually pretty stoked to cross any film off my list of potential MMC! subjects as their circulation is far more gratifying than writing about them here, but I’m a little disappointed not to discuss Lowlife at greater length. I have stumped for Lowlife a fair amount already so let’s instead spend some time with three of Prows’s earlier shorts films, all of which seem to be working through some of the themes and concerns at play in Lowlife and all of which should be included as special features on the upcoming Blu-ray edition.

In case you’ve forgotten, here is a quick refresher on Lowlife taken from the film’s press kit.

When a simple organ harvesting caper goes awry, a twist of fate unites three of society’s forgotten and ignored: EL MONSTRUO, a disgraced Mexican wrestler working as hired muscle for a local crime boss. CRYSTAL, a recovering addict desperate enough to arrange a black market kidney transplant to save her husband’s life. And RANDY, a loveable two-strike convict fresh out of prison, cursed with a full-face swastika tattoo and a best friend guilting him into some hair-brained kidnapping scheme.

As the sordid lives of these small-time criminals collide, they must fight tooth and nail to save a pregnant woman from a certain, and surely gruesome, death.

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Tigers Are Not Afraid (Issa Lopez, 2017)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Tigers Are Not Afraid.

Issa López’s festival-favourite is a darkly magical tale set in the real world tragedy of Mexico’s violent drug war, where thousands of murdered and missing people result in countless orphaned children forced onto the streets to fend for themselves. When her mother disappears, a young girl named Estrella uses one of three wishes granted to her to ask for her mother back and finds herself haunted by a vengeful ghost. Estrella takes up with a quartet of street kids led by Shine but the boys have their own problems, pursued by a vicious gang intent on reclaiming a lost iPhone. Blending artfully immediate handheld cinematography and convincing fantastical digital effects, López creates a realist fairy tale that stands as a prescient statement on Mexico’s deadly drug cartels and a hauntingly magical fairy tale.

Disc Features:

  • 2K digital transfer, approved by director Issa López, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New interview with López, acting coach Fátima Toledo, and filmmaker Guillermo del Toro
  • Tan Callando, López’s 1994 student film made at Mexico’s National University, with introduction by the director
  • Trailer
  • New English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: An essay by novelist Stephen King

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