Connect with us

Blog

Locarno Film Festival 2014: Horse Money, Los Ausentes, Alive, Navajazo, & More

The Locarno competition got back on track and then some with the arrival of Pedro Costa’s long-awaited Horse Money.

Published

on

Locarno Film Festival 2014: Horse Money, Los Ausentes, Alive, Navajazo, & More

After dipping into relative, perhaps unavoidable mediocrity in the aftermath of the sublime formalist treats offered by Lav Diaz and Matías Piñeiro, the Locarno competition got back on track and then some with the arrival of Pedro Costa’s long-awaited Horse Money. This fourth feature-length installment of his ongoing Fontainhas series retains Colossal Youth’s heavy stylisation and rangy protagonist, Ventura, only to turn further inward. Grown old and unable to control his ever-twitching fingers, Ventura has been committed to a psychiatric facility, whose shadowy, spectral corridors double up as passages through the mind. These halls can lead anywhere—a snaking labyrinth whose endless connections bridge past and present, Portugal and Cape Verde, Fontainhas and the forest, a dilapidated factory, and a harshly lit elevator where all things flow together.

The film opens with a sequence of Jacob Riis photos, and only accelerates in accumulating further references from there on in, bouncing allusions to the previous Fontainhas films, art, cinema, music, revolution, and politics off one another like light ricocheting through a perfectly hermetic hall of dark mirrors. Even trying to take in and digest this onslaught of ideas and the infinite web of relationships they form is futile, with the sheer richness of material here likely requiring numerous viewings to be truly unpicked. Yet what makes Horse Money such a striking achievement is how unique the experience of getting lost in its maze of thought and image really is, at once confounding, disquieting, stimulating, and hugely emotional, not least in one extended monologue that ends by describing the violent death of a horse called Money. Despite the film’s utter singularity, I was oddly reminded of Inland Empire at times, another late-career work that goes about creating a summation of sorts by collapsing all boundaries. It can only be hoped that Costa doesn’t take the same amount of time following up this strangely final statement as David Lynch thus far has.

Costa’s film had the strange effect of relativizing many of the films that came before and after, perhaps just another example of the double-edged sword that watching films at festivals frequently is. Before having my mind frazzled by Horse Money, I was full of righteous indignation at Mexican auteur Nicolás Pereda’s Los Ausentes not having been included in the main competition, which showed instead in the more than modest setting of the new “Signs of Life” sidebar, where only two screenings, neither for the press, mean little exposure. The pleasures of Pereda’s film are purely formal, the languorous travelling shots with which it tracks its three key locations—a house, the forest surrounding it, and a beach—producing a delight in discovering new visual details over time unusually reminiscent of James Benning.

Los Ausentes

Pereda’s images are beguiling enough for you to often forget the brief snippets of narrative detail they convey, one masterly shot that glides across the faces of the men sitting in a municipal courtroom before floating out of the window to take in the bustling street outside exemplifying his liking for blissful detours. It gradually emerges that the house is marked for demolition and seemingly inhabited by two men simultaneously who never appear to meet. This sets up a sense of perhaps over-clean ambiguity, which allows you to play around with different discrete interpretations (the same person at different points in life, father-son, two people living at different times) without any individual one feeling particularly vital. There’s a sense of innate safeness here, particular when compared with Costa’s much baggier grasp of semantics, which ultimately keeps the film from transcending the art-film register it so effectively mines.

The audacious, formally striking Alive by Park Jungbum managed to relativize Los Ausentes even further, with the inclusion of the young Korean director’s dark, unrelenting tragedy in the competition being at once bold and entirely justified, Costa or no Costa. This three-hour marathon starts off with a solitary man (played by Jungbum himself) doggedly trying to clear an area of woodland, while his mentally unstable sister self-harms in an abandoned building nearby. The siblings work in a struggling soybean paste factory in the middle of nowhere, living together with the sister’s young daughter in a tumbledown house where they are only even staying at the whim of the factory boss. From this already grim beginning, things spiral ever further downward, as the need for greater profit leads to corners being cut, the brother takes on more responsibilities than he can bear, and the sister’s condition gradually deteriorates.

Alive

In the hands of a lesser director, all this doom and gloom could feel over-calculated or even laughable, yet Jungbum is thrillingly up to the task. The wall-to-wall despair is leavened by occasional moments of well-placed surrealism, whose bright colors break the otherwise grim palette of blacks, browns, and grays: a high-end television showing different animals on loop, the reddish bloom of a chick embryo growing inside an egg, a trip to a bra shop where no bras seem to come in white. Still very much anchored within the plot, these brief interludes of color are also emblematic of an affluence so far out of the characters’ reach it feels almost otherworldly. Yet this isn’t the only way in which the film sidesteps the formal monotony of a lot of superficially similar social realist tracts.

Like Pereda, Jungbum’s method of choice to capture this universe of suffering is the tracking shot, but unlike Pereda, these shots are interested in tracking something other than just breathtaking locations, serving instead to record and unify the many shifts in mood that go hand in hand with the protagonists’ struggles. Over the course of Jungbum’s sustained, beautifully choreographed shots, a simple set of questions can tip over into a witch hunt, an announcement of job cuts can morph into a beating, and a girl who seems utterly alone is suddenly able to direct things herself for the very first time. Perhaps most significantly, Alive may be a difficult, gruelling film, but it isn’t a cynical one. People visit pain on one another, but at least the option of kindness also remains ever present, if often far out of reach.

The “Cineasti del presente” sidebar, the second main competitive section of first and second films, has been home to such bracing, challenging works as Mouton, Manakamana, Costa da Morte, and Nana over the last few years, which left me with perhaps unreasonably high expectations for this year’s selection. But I was still surprised by the general mediocrity on display, whether tame forays into the increasingly over-mined border zone between fiction and documentary (Frère et Sœur), well-behaved essayistic documentaries (La Creazione di Significato, Songs from the North), or almost painfully archetypal Asian festival films (Hold Your Breath Like a Lover, Exit). Even the more successful films were still pretty modest in that success. Oscar Ruíz Navia’s Los Hongos is a look at the multi-faceted, globalised nature of Colombian society through the eyes of two young slackers which is almost utopian in its generosity and tenderness, though the way it fluffs the appearance of actual violence in the final act leaves it feeling slight. Antoine Boutet’s documentary Sud Eau Nord Déplacer pleasingly eschews direct commentary, wordlessly allowing the repercussions of a grand-scale national construction project to direct water from the south of China to the north to emerge. Visually striking, well edited, yet slightly overlong, it’s hard to criticize, but equally hard to get excited about either.

Navajazo

Luckily, though, there was one film that truly stood out from the crowd: Ricardo Silva’s salacious, unpleasant, yet utterly transfixing fiction-documentary hybrid Navajazo, which not coincidentally walked off with the main prize. Flecked with hypnotic essay-film passages that meld impressionistic video and 16mm footage of Tijuana with intertitles detailing how cancer spreads, the film otherwise jumps back and forth between a set of equally degenerate protagonists. These include a Gene Simmons lookalike singing mordantly funny synthesiser numbers, an American porn director casting his next production (which is to focus on true love), a junkie couple shooting up and getting it on, and two battle-hardened men willing to fight for money. Much of what these protagonists do, or are made to do, in front of the camera is depraved or even exploitative, but still gruesomely compulsive to watch, with the total lack of delineation between staging and real life adding an additional layer of fascination. While showing a desperately high junkie taking out her companion’s flaccid cock is problematic whether staged or not, and portraying Tijuana as a darkly funny, entirely one-dimensional hotbed of drugs, sex, and violence is equally questionable, the film is at least utterly mesmerizing in its perversion.

The Locarno Film Festival ran from August 6—16.

You can follow James Lattimer on Twitter here.

Advertisement
Comments

Blog

Let Your Sanity Go on Vacation with a Trip to the Moons of Madness

If you dare, ascend into the horrors of the Martian mind and check out the trailer for yourself.

Published

on

Moons of Madness
Photo: Rock Pocket Games

The announcement trailer for Moons of Madness opens with an empty shot of the Invictus, a research installation that’s been established on Mars. The camera lingers over well-lit but equally abandoned corridors, drifting over a picture of a family left millions of kilometers behind on Earth before finally settling on the first-person perspective of Shane Newehart, an engineer working for the Orochi Group. Fans of a different Funcom series, The Secret World, will instantly know that something’s wrong. And sure enough, in what may be the understatement of the year, Newehart is soon talking about how he “seems to have a situation here”—you know, what with all the antiquated Gothic hallways, glitching cameras, and tentacled creatures that start appearing before him.

As with Dead Space, it’s not long before the station is running on emergency power, with eerie whispers echoing through the station and bloody, cryptic symbols being scrawled on the walls. Did we mention tentacles? Though the gameplay hasn’t officially been revealed, this brief teaser suggests that players will have to find ways both to survive the physical pressures of this lifeless planet and all sorts of sanity-challenging supernatural occurrences, with at least a soupçon of H.P. Lovecraft’s cosmicism thrown in for good measure.

If you dare, ascend into the horrors of the Martian mind and check out the trailer for yourself.

Rock Pocket Games will release Moons of Madness later this year.

Continue Reading

Blog

Watch: Two Episode Trailers for Jordan Peele’s The Twilight Zone Reboot

Ahead of next week’s premiere of the series, CBS All Access has released trailers for the first two episodes.

Published

on

The Twilight Zone
Photo: CBS All Access

Jordan Peele is sitting on top of the world—or, at least, at the top of the box office, with his sophomore film, Us, having delivered (and then some) on the promise of his Get Out. Next up for the filmmaker is the much-anticipated reboot of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, which the filmmaker executive produced and hosts. Ahead of next week’s premiere of the series, CBS All Access has released trailers for the first two episodes, “The Comedian” and “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet.” In the former, Kumail Nanjiani stars as the eponymous comedian, who agonizingly wrestles with how far he will go for a laugh. And in the other, a spin on the classic “Nightmare at 20,0000 Feet” episode of the original series starring William Shatner, Adam Scott plays a man locked in a battle with his paranoid psyche. Watch both trailers below:

The Twilight Zone premieres on April 1.

Continue Reading

Blog

Scott Walker Dead at 76

Walker’s solo work moved away from the pop leanings of the Walker Brothers and increasingly toward the avant-garde.

Published

on

Scott Walker
Photo: 4AD

American-born British singer-songwriter, composer, and record producer Scott Walker, who began his career as a 1950s-style chanteur in an old-fashioned vocal trio, has died at 76. In a statement from his label 4AD, the musician, born Noel Scott Engel, is celebrated for having “enriched the lives of thousands, first as one third of the Walker Brothers, and later as a solo artist, producer and composer of uncompromising originality.”

Walker was born in Hamilton, Ohio on January 9, 1943 and earned his reputation very early on for his distinctive baritone. He changed his name after joining the Walker Brothers in the early 1960s, during which time the pop group enjoyed much success with such number one chart hits as “Make It Easy on Yourself” and “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore).”

The reclusive Walker’s solo work moved away from the pop leanings of the Walker Brothers and increasingly toward the avant-garde. Walker, who was making music until his death, received much critical acclaim with 2006’s Drift and 2012’s Bish Bosch, as well as with 2014’s Soused, his collaboration with Sunn O))). He also produced the soundtrack to Leos Carax’s 1999 romantic drama Pola X and composed the scores for Brady Corbet’s first two films as a director, 2016’s The Childhood of a Leader and last year’s Vox Lux.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Donate

Slant is reaching more readers than ever, but as online advertising continues to evolve, independently operated publications like ours have struggled to adapt. We're committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees—so if you like what we do, please consider becoming a Slant patron:

Patreon

You can also make a donation via PayPal.

Giveaways

Advertisement

Newsletter

Advertisement

Preview

Trending