Modern loneliness

25 04 2017

 

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I saw two films at the International Film Festival which, by coincidence, both explored the theme of loneliness. Oliver Assayas’s “Personal Shopper” stars my new fave Kristen Stewart, as a searcher, a psychic, looking for something more than the unwanted life she has found herself in at the periphery of the fame machine, as a Paris celebrity’s personal shopper. Its a strange, meandering little film, full of moments of stillness but also little revelations, not the least of which is Stewart’s great central performance or her effortless normcore lesbo-chic styling. I saw it on a rainy day, the last day of my holidays, at Kowloon’s eighties-tastic Cultural Centre with the director himself in attendance.

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A few days later, the Monday night of my return to work to be precise – I journeyed out to Kowloon Tong, to see “Corpo Electrico” – the Body Electric. It is the first film from Marcelo Caetano, who previously worked on Neon Bull, and that film’s tone is evident again here: an almost plotless (and some might find, pointless) slice-of-life drama, but filled with beautifully observed scenes of every day life, almost like an anthropological documentary, and human warmth. We watch the handsome main character Elias as he daydreams at work, drinks with friends, smokes and does his laundry. Elias, played beautifully by Kelner Macêdo, works as a pattern maker in a Sao Paulo garment factory, passing his time with semi-flings with friends and ex-boyfriends.  At the time, I was charmed but slightly bored by his life, but now the day after I find the film lingering in my thoughts for its loving and very real portrayal of gay life in the early twenties : its intense and flirty friendships,  camaraderie and cliquishness, non-career job boredom and hedonistic weekends, all floating under an unformed and seemingly ominous future.





The amazing images of…

8 04 2017

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https://vimeo.com/211519393





Silver screen

3 04 2017

This weekend was marked by two great – and very different – movies. Despite their differences, both films had one common element; they powerfully explored the idea of a sense of place.

Ghost in the Shell was, surprisingly, fabulous.  The film is a blazing rush of CG-bling shot in a techno-enhanced Hong Kong. Yau Ma Tei alleyways, Quarry Bay, the Lai Tak Tsuen tower and Aberdeen cemetery appear behind filmy layers of GIF-like holographic billboards and Blade Runner Asia-futurism. Plus: creepy robo-geishas, handsome men, Juliette Binoche appearing in almost a parody of the sci fi blockbuster role her character derided in “Clouds of Sils Maria” and an intelligent script that stayed true to the spirit of the original and made short work of those would decried Scarlett Johansen’s casting as whitewashing (no spoilers!) I saw it twice.

“Wake in Fright” by contrast is an oldie, 1970s “Ozploitation.” A schoolteacher finds himself in the isolated Outback town of Bundayabba (“The Yabba”) and descends there into a circle of alcoholism and degradation. Its classic 1970s Australian cinema in its horror and loathing of the Australian landscape, portrayed as vast, cruel and trapping. As they say though, the past is another country. The Australia of the 1970s – both in the Hellish Yabba and the free-spirited and progressive outlook of the film itself (hello, male nudity!) both now seem like things of the distant past.





Cavemen and Kristen Stewart

27 03 2017

My twin obsessions this week, oddly, were Kristen Stewart in the strangely luminous “Clouds of Sils-Maria” and prehistoric man, courtesy of the surprise hit book “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.”

My curiosity for Olivier Assayas’s “Clouds of…” was piqued by the rave reviews for his upcoming “Personal Shopper” (for which I had snagged tickets at the Hong Kong International Film Festival) and which also starred his (rather unlikely) new muse, Kristen Stewart.

The formerly much-derided Twilight star has been amassing accolades. I have seen her variously described as “the greatest actress of her generation” and “a star for our times.” I didn’t get it. What was the buzz about? But halfway through this movie, which I had originally found slight and rather dull before it totally sucked me in, I twigged. Stewart is a naturalistic actress par excellence. She doesn’t look like she is acting. So at first I took her for granted – where were the virtuoso emoting I associated with “great acting”? Where was the transformation?  She looked like she always does, shaggy dark hair, stumbling over her words, willowy frame in clothed in grungy lesbian-chic. But then I realised that despite that, this character isn’t HER. She is a multimillionaire, not Julian Binoche’s ambitious assistant in the Alps, and the fact that I had forgotten that shows what a great performance it was.

“Sapiens” was also something of a revelation. The book, by Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari, traces humanity from its origins to the present day. Powerfully written, Yuval kicks off with the sensational reminder that although today there is only one human species, used to thinking of itself as the pinnacle of all evolution, we know that once we shared the world with at least six other human “species” – the homo erectus and Cave of the Red Deer people in China, the dwarf-like homo floresiensis of Nusa Tenggara, the Denisovans in Sibeia. the neaderthals in Europe…. The book claims that humanity’s “original sin” was perhaps the genocide of our brothers and sisters, leaving us alone as the sole surviving humans on the planet.

 





Stars of Neon Bull

6 03 2017

What a strange, strange movie this is. Neon Bull is set, like the other Brazilian movie I watched recently, Aquarius, in the Northeastern state of Pernambuco. And like that movie it is a meandering, understated story – more a character study than a traditional narrative. It offers a documentary-like slice of life view on an outrageously sexy rodeo worker, his friend (or sister or ex-girlfriend?) played by my new favourite actress, Maeve Jinkings, and her pre-teen daughter.

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The film doesn’t play by the usual rules of independent cinema. Although the story centres around an itinerant group of cowboys and cowgirls in the parched sertao badlands of the Northeast, don’t expect poverty porn. The film downplays the characters’ lack of economic prosperity to show a (generally) happy family (of sorts) striving gently for their own little dreams – with occasional flashes of surrealist imagery.  Maeve Jinkings dances in a strip club in a horse costume and argues with her stroppy daughter while sweet (and very heterosexual) cowboy Juliano Cezarre dreams of becoming a fashion designer. This is interspersed with many scenes of life on the farm, some dreamy interludes and a pretty noteworthy sex scene.

I’m really not sure what to make of Neon Bull. While watching it, I veered towards being bored several times – as well as confused – but afterwards it has lingered in my mind…and  star Juliano Cezarre exudes cinematic pheromones in every scene. He is simply sexy, even eclipsing  Maeve Jinkings, the wonderfully expressive actress I had originally wanted to see, and star of both Aquarius and Neighbouring Sounds (below).

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Here Maeve talks (in Portuguese only) about her role in Neighbouring Sounds:





Age of Aquarius

28 02 2017

Kleber Mendonça Filho’s “Neighbouring Sounds” was a strange, understated tale of deeply submerged injustice played out on the sunny streets of an upper-middle class beach-side suburb of Recife.

The same theme and setting is explored again in “Aquarius.” This time though the director’s trademark light touch, so powerful in his last film, underwhelms. It is all so subtly and slowly unwound that I found myself wondering where the story was in endless scenes of Sonia Braga letting her hair down and listening to 1970s Brazilian records in her lovely oceanside apartment. There are also rambling flashbacks and passing mentions of unexplored plot points, metaphors for cancer and gay sons, flutteringly light social commentary and surprising sex scenes. But what there is not is any sense of tension or excitement, or – in the end – meaning.

It did have one powerful and unexpected side effect though. The boyfriend was inspired to go out and buy a vinyl record player!





Moonlight orchestra

23 02 2017

This track, The Middle of the World, is a highlight of the sumptuous classical score of Moonlight. The much-heralded black gay arthouse sensation also incorporates a performance by Janelle Monae, a song by Caetano Veloso and a flurry of references to Wong Kar Wai, to name just three of this blog’s favourite people.