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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Baxter (Jerome Boivin, 1989)

BEWARE OF THE DOG THAT THINKS

Jérôme Boivin’s faithful adaptation of Ken Greenhall’s novel Hell Hound takes viewers into the coldly logical mind of a bull terrier, creating a uniquely dark twist on the boy-and-his-dog story.

The inner thoughts of a brooding canine named Baxter reveal the animal’s unhappy search for an ideal master. Dissatisfaction with his elderly and afraid owners lead to the dog plotting their demise and it is not long before the ingenious Baxter finds the perfect guardian – a lonely, introverted boy with a macabre interest in Hitler’s personal life and a strategy to turn the pet into a thoroughbred killing machine.

Both chillingly satirical and bitingly terrifying, Baxter is an under-appreciated art-horror masterpiece that resembles American Psycho starring a sociopathic dog and set in a French suburb.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

  • Brand-new 2K restoration from the original camera negative, produced by Arrow Films exclusively for this release
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • Original French mono audio (uncompressed LPCM)
  • New English subtitles
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Brand-new appreciation by John Waters
  • New interview with director Jérôme Boivin
  • New interviews with actors Evelyne Didi, Catherine Ferran, and Sabrina Leurquin
  • Theatrical trailer
  • FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Booklet featuring writing on the film by Bruce Cherry

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Aboard the Calypso – Sea and Cinema with Jacques Cousteau

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Aboard the Calypso – Sea and Cinema with Jacques Cousteau.

Explorer. Inventor. Author. Conservationist. Filmmaker. Jacques Cousteau was an iconic figure in marine exploration, spending more than sixty years investigating undersea kingdoms and sharing his tales with the world. Over three award-winning feature films spanning twenty years, Cousteau reveals the beauty and dangers beneath the waves of the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean, and the frozen Antarctic, finding seldom seen tropical wonders, describing the pressures of living in an underwater base for weeks at a time, and persevering through the life or death struggle to survive at the South Pole. Both the committed naturalist and the keen showman, Cousteau portrayed his oceanic marvels with the idealism and the spectacle of science fiction and inspired generations to care for alien worlds here at home and no longer hidden from view.

Special Edition Three-Blu Ray Set Features:

  • New high definition digital transfers of The Silent World, World Without Sun, and Voyage to the Edge of the World, with uncompressed monaural soundtracks on the Blu-rays
  • French and English-language audio tracks
  • Introductions by Wes Anderson, James Cameron, and Werner Herzog
  • Of Silence and Men: The Pioneers of The Silent World, a 50-minute documentary featuring interviews with Jacques Cousteau, co-director Louis Malle, camera designer André Laban, Cousteau scholar Franck Machu, and Malle biographer Pierre Billard
  • Two Men, A Masterpiece, an interview with Jacques Cousteau and Louis Malle
  • The Silent World’s Legacy, interviews with Jacques Cousteau, Luc Besson, and Jacques Perrin
  • Early films of Jacques Cousteau: 18 Meters DeepShipwrecksLandscapes of Silence, Seals in the Sahara, Around a Reef, Off Tunisian CoastsOne sortie du “Rubis,” SCUBA DiaryDanger Under the SeaRhythm on the Reef, and The Red Sea
  • Station 307 and The Fountain of the Vaucluse, a pair of short films by Louis Malle made in collaboration with Jacques Cousteau
  • Edmond Séchan’s Academy Award-winning short The Golden Fish, produced by Jacques Cousteau
  • Restoration demonstration
  • Trailers
  • New and improved English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by filmmaker Luc Jacquet and excerpts from Cousteau’s 1953 book The Silent World: A Story of Undersea Discovery and Adventure

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Logorama (Ludovic Houplain, Herve de Crecy, and Francois Alaux, 2009)

Back in January, the Criterion Collection paired the Oscar-winning short film Logorama (Ludovic Houplain, Hervé de Crécy, and François Alaux, 2009) with Jean-Luc Godard’s Masculin féminin (1966). Created by the French collective H5, the short constructs Los Angeles entirely from (3,000 or so) trademarked logos and then presents these sanitized images of friendly consumerism in the sun-drenched violence typical to films like To Live and Die in L.A. (William Friedkin, 1985) and Heat (Michael Mann, 1995). The result is a clever statement on the ubiquity of capitalist commodification in our daily life and a somewhat nasty dismantling of the corporate messaging shorthanded into these capitalist symbols. Those interested in the legality of Logorama (or at least the American legality of a French film) should read Rose Lawrence’s “LOGORAMA: The Great Trademark Heist.” Lawrence’s unpacking of the legal tests for parody, satire, infringement, and dilution are particularly useful in considering the artistic aims, popular interactions, and social commentaries at work in the short film. As a bonus, Lawrence also touches upon important legal texts like George of the Jungle 2 (David Grossman, 2003) and Aqua’s “Barbie Girl.”

Quest for Fire (Jean-Jacques Annaud, 1981)

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.

Shout Select“TENSE, TOUCHING … AND FASCINATING.” — LEONARD MALTIN

Oscar-winning* director Jean-Jacques Annaud transports audiences 80,000 years straight back in time to the last Ice Age with this accomplished prehistoric spectacle. Three Neanderthal men (Everett McGill, Ron Perlman, Nicholas Kadi) go on an epic journey of survival to bring fire back to their tribe, encountering along the way savage predators, dangerous cannibals, and a mysterious woman unlike any they have seen before (Rae Dawn Chong). Shot on location in Scotland, Iceland, Canada, and Kenya, this award-winning drama of early man’s survival is a singular cinematic experience and “a first-rate, compelling film about the dawn of man” (Video & DVD Guide).

* 1977: Best Foreign Language Film, Black and White in Color, Jean-Jacques Annaud

Special Features:

  • NEW Hi-Def Transfer From The Negative, Scanned At 4K And Supervised By Director Jean-Jacques Annaud
  • NEW Interviews With Director Jean-Jacques Annaud And Actors Ron Perlman, Everett McGill, Nicholas Kadi And Rae Dawn Chong
  • Audio Commentaries With Director Jean-Jacques Annaud
  • Audio Commentary With Producer Michael Gruskoff and Actors Ron Perlman and Rae Dawn Chong
  • The Quest for Fire Adventure – TV Featurette With Orson Welles
  • 15 Video Galleries With Director’s Commentary
  • Interview With Director Jean-Jacques Annaud
  • Backstage of Quest for Fire, a featurette for French television by Michel Parbot
  • Trailers and TV Spots

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SFFF Day 3 Report – Youth in Revolt

saskatoon_fantastic_film_festivalDay 3 put generational conflict at the forefront of the SFFF and the kids were far from alright. It also marked the Festival’s greatest distance from the horror genre, moving into the rock-doc, the coming of age film, and whatever kind of trash bag meltdown The Greasy Strangler may be. That’s no criticism of Jim Hosking’s film; just a statement of fact. We’ll get to 2016’s most notorious film soon enough, but first things first…
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