Sunday, 26 July 2015

A film review: "Plemya" [2014, Ukraine]

Miroslav Slaboshpytskiy makes an assured feature film début with his astonishing film, "Plemya" [Eng. Title: the Tribe]. With dialogues entirely in Ukrainian sign-language (which the director himself is not fluent in) and presented without subtitles, voice-overs, or even background music, it forces the viewer to approach the film in the form in which it was originally invented - as a motion picture rather than a talking picture. All the film's main cast are deaf, and use sign language in their day-to-day lives.

Grygoriy Fesenko in "Plemya" aka "The Tribe" (2015) Yana Novikova and Grygoriy Fesenko in "Plemya" aka "The Tribe" (2015)
Yana Novikova and Grygoriy Fesenko in "Plemya" aka "The Tribe" (2015) Grygoriy Fesenko in "Plemya" aka "The Tribe" (2015)
Yana Novikova and Grygoriy Fesenko in "Plemya" aka "The Tribe" (2015) Yana Novikova and Grygoriy Fesenko in "Plemya" aka "The Tribe" (2015)

Thankfully for us, the storyline isn't complicated, and anyone who'd seen Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange" and Larry Clark's "Kids" would readily try and identify connections with the film. It begins with young Sergey (Grygoriy Fesenko) arriving to join a boarding school for the deaf. On the very same day, he is also introduced to the school's own violent crime gang who call themselves 'The Tribe'.

After passing through his initiation rituals, Sergey will begin participating in the gang's assorted acts of thuggery and drug-dealing. He will also become the replacement pimp for two of his fellow students from school, Anya (Yana Novikova) and Svetka (Roza Babiy), and help ply their prostitution trade at a night-time truck-stop.

His troubles begin when Sergey falls in love with Anya despite knowing that she's also the boss's girlfriend. He pays for having sex with her initially, but after Anya reciprocates his feelings, their love affair becomes earnest. When she discovers that she's become pregnant however, she wastes little time in having it terminated through an off-duty midwife. Unaware of this, a showdown with the 'boss' will loom large for Sergey who finds out that preparations are being made for Anya to be trafficked to Italy. More brutality ensues after Sergey is forced into conflict with the entire tribe in his quest to protect his love interest...

What marks the film apart is not just the detail that all cast members in the film happen to be deaf in real life as well, but also because it challenges the viewer at many levels; in bringing a generally 'marginalised' community into sharp 'mainstream' focus, in stating that people with disabilities are just as capable of adapting, behaving, and forming violent gangs as anyone else in wider society, and in demonstrating that what people with disabilities require is not sympathy, but empathy.

The film was in my must-watch list at last year's London Film festival after it deservedly swept through many awards at Cannes earlier that year. Watching it again more recently on DVD, I realise that there is not a single close-up shot used in the film - most scenes are shot from a distance in a 'detached' Antonioni style. Regardless, we are still privy to characters' thoughts and feelings at any given moment. The frantic gestures that they use in their sign language, whilst baffling at the beginning, start making sense as we delve into the way they communicate, which while remaining notionally silent, nevertheless convey their feelings in as clear and precise a manner as possible. Characters display the attitude of typical teenagers; they could be sarcastic, silly, and use swear 'words'. They could also be argumentative, reflective, and moving.

The film is equally challenging in its artistic and technical fronts. Most of the scenes are shot using long takes that require a great degree of coordination and direction to pull off, using what's essentially a non-professional cast. Having said that, the actors are totally convincing in their respective roles, and it is hard to believe that they've never acted in film before. Yana Novikova in particular shines in a role that is demanding not just physically, but also emotionally. This is the first seriously artistic film I've seen made in Ukraine, and was pleasantly surprised that the Ukrainian State Film Agency was as forthcoming in partly funding a film that isn't particularly uplifting, even though greatly thought-provoking. Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Yana Novikova and Grygoriy Fesenko
The film features extensive nudity and sex from the main protagonists. All of these scenes were accomplished with long takes using a single camera. There is also a disturbing scene where Yana Novikova's character is partially nude as she undergoes, in real-time, an abortion procedure.

Yana Novikova and Grygoriy Fesenko nude in the film "Plemya" aka "The Tribe" (2015)


Sunday, 19 July 2015

Twilight nirvana: "Anochece en la India" [2014 Spain, Romania, India]

Acclaimed documentary film-maker Chema Rodríguez makes his foray into feature films with the quirky and meditative drama, "Anochece en la India" [Eng. Title: Nightfall in India].

Clara Voda and Juan Diego in "Nightfall in India" (2014) Juan Diego in "Anochece en la India" (2014)
Clara Voda and Juan Diego in "Nightfall in India" (Anochece en la India, 2014) Clara Voda and Juan Diego in "Nightfall in India" (2014)
Clara Voda and Juan Diego in "Nightfall in India" (2014) Juan Diego in "Nightfall in India" aka "Anochece en la India" (2014)

Ricardo (Juan Diego) is an ageing paraplegic hippie suffering from a degenerative decease. His grumpy attitude, and generally obnoxious behaviour is nevertheless tolerated by his quietly spoken live-in Romanian carer Dana (Clara Voda). For obvious reasons, Dana is also the longest have lasted in her job.

When Ricardo breaks the news that he will no longer require her services since he will be travelling to India, Dana isn't particularly overjoyed, not least because of the fact that he shouldn't be travelling in his present state of health. As if travelling the normal way wasn't enough, he also wants to make his final trip in style, just the way he used to all those years ago, by following the hippie trail through Eurasia.

Dana too decides to return to Romania, and accepts a lift from Ricardo because it is also on his way, but as destiny would have it, she will end up accompanying him all the way to India. We learn that Dana doesn't really need to work for a living, but does so in order to escape a cruel hand that fate has dealt her earlier. To compensate for her inabilities, she had decided to take on the role of Ricardo's angel, and has also fallen in love with him.

For his part, Ricardo had tried to shield himself from potential heartache through his grouchy demeanour. His real reason for travelling to India will not remain a secret for long; rather than his stated claim of reconnecting with his sweetheart from years ago, his trip to India is for taking his life, and he had made all the necessary arrangements to that effect. In his misery and suffering, he had found precious little will to live.

But Ricardo's cocksure ideas about life and death are put to test under unexpected circumstances, after they find themselves trapped in a desolate ravine following an accident. With little else to do while waiting for help that might probably never even arrive, they have a proper chat for the very first time. Will the two, who have been refusing to face up to some bitter truths in their respective lives, finally have the courage to seek enlightenment...

The film isn't your everyday road movie, because the journey that the protagonists undertake is not only physical but also metaphorical. Ricardo and Dana both have issues that require addressing despite them doggedly pursuing their own objectives. Rodríguez doesn't judge their decisions but merely places them in context, allowing viewers a glimpse into the overall picture. The principal actors give a convincing performance, but the star of the film has to be the quirky, yet nuanced screenplay that is engaging through both its humorous and introspective moments. The film dedicates considerable attention to the little details that significantly enhance the 'bigger picture'. If I have to express an opinion about this little gem in Ricardo's inimitable style, it'll be "de puta madre!" - in other words, Highly Recommended Viewing..! :-)

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Clara Voda and Vanessa Castro
Vanessa Castro, as Ricardo's old flame from the past, appears nude in a brief black and white collage. In another scene, Clara Voda attempts to make Ricardo change his plans in India, but fails.

Clara Voda and Vanessa Castro nude in "Anochece en la India" aka "Nightfall in India" (2014)


Sunday, 12 July 2015

The difference between looking and seeing: "Central Bazaar" [1976, United Kingdom]

It helps once in a while, to digress slightly from a topic under discussion, if only to return and refocus with a fresh 'eye'. Since this site discusses what may essentially be seen as a voyeuristic pursuit, namely nudity and their context in film, what better way to re-validate its purpose than refer back to Stephen Dwoskin - a US-born British film maker whose lifetime of camera-gaze had sought to articulate everything that can be associated with seeing and feeling, and voyeurism is pretty much on that list.

Artist, illustrator, graphic designer, writer, and film-maker, Dwoskin was an important part of the avant-garde and experimental film scene of the sixties and seventies, a truly 'free' artist who had no qualms about departing from established form and structure. His cinema in particular is renowned for asking pertinent questions to audience concerning what we see and what we fail to see.

"Central Bazaar" [1976, UK] Central Bazaar [1976, UK]
"Central Bazaar" [1976, UK] "Central Bazaar" [1976, UK]
"Central Bazaar" [1976, UK] "Central Bazaar" [1976, UK]

Among his works that explore voyeurism and sexuality is "Central Bazaar", also one of his longest features. The film has neither a premise nor a narrative; Dwoskin assembled a group of free-spirited strangers in his place, only expecting from them a willingness to express their emotions and fantasies freely. Dwoskin and his camera would be there to capture them over a period of four weeks.

Among the group, the only one with any discernible acting background was German actress Carola Regnier. Dwoskin's final cut, whittled down from fifteen hours of material to around two and half, might as well be seen as a compilation made from found footage, chopped and reinserted elsewhere as he saw fit. It is one reason the film cannot be compared to "Big Brother" style reality television. Besides, Dwoskin's film is arguably a wee bit more sinister.

We won't know details of what transpired among group members during their four-week commune; how well they got along, the number of break-ups and breakdowns, the darkest and deepest fantasies laid out bare, or their personal history. Barring a couple of scenes, Dwoskin had completely replaced whatever conversation there is in the film with various music soundtracks in accordance with the scene's mood.

Nevertheless, we can safely assume that the group would've got to know each other quite intimately, probably even better than people in their personal lives. Many in the film are frequently seen in a state of undress or under-dress, desperately seeking either acceptance or sexual excitement, and on the verge of stepping into an orgy at any moment. Face masks are in place, and lines are blurred between what they are and what they want to be.

All the time, actors are fully aware that they are being filmed. In scenes where they don't break 'the fourth wall' themselves, the camera itself tries to start a bizarre conversation between the watcher and the being-watched. One where the camera (Dwoskin) persistently tries to capture more than the groups actions by piercing through their tear-stained make-up, pimples, and peer into their very self.

Dwoskin, after enticing the voyeur in us with the welling sexual tensions within the group, takes away our ability to dictate proceedings by empowering his subjects to perform on their own terms. The camera moves, not necessarily to offer a 'better view' of what we like to see, but to what the director thinks we might probably be overlooking. Towards the end of a testing two and a half hours that occasionally take on proportions of an endurance, we not only feel awkward for entering into someone's personal space, we are also left emotionally drained. It's plain that we were not merely looking at them passively all this time.

In a way, the film can be seen as an extension of themes that Dwoskin had been working in shorts such as 'Girl' and 'Trixi', that in turn vaguely remind us of Chantal Akerman's earlier 'New York' series of films. A more articulate write-up on Stephen Dwoskin's life and work can be found in the BFI magazine archives. "Central Bazaar" is highly experimental and raw for mainstream tastes - it requires one to forego many preconceptions about cinema before sitting to watch it, but if you're curious about the subject of voyeurism, the film is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Maggie Corey, Marc Chaimowicz, Carolyn Rogers, Libby Spry, Eddie Doyle, Mike Flower, Iggy Evelyn Joyce, and others
The actors - both male and female, are frequently seen in the nude, and some of the scenes are also fairly explicit. Flashy reds, painted bodies, generous body hair, and oriental chicks - now that's as Seventies as London gets..! :-)

Maggie Corey, Marc Chaimowicz, Carolyn Rogers, Libby Spry, Eddie Doyle, Mike Flower, Iggy Evelyn Joyce, and others nude in "Central Bazaar" [1976, UK]


Saturday, 4 July 2015

A film review: "Eva Braun" [2015, Italy]

Simone Scafidi had stated that his latest feature "Eva Braun" was inspired by the Italian sex scandals of the Berlusconi years where political favours and business contracts could apparently be procured for a price.

Adele Raes and Andrea de Onestis in Eva Braun (2015) Giulia Faggioni in "Eva Braun" (2015)
Federica Fracassi, Giulia Faggioni, Adele Raes, and Nathan Macchioni in "Eva Braun" (2015) Susanna Giaroli and Andrea de Onestis in "Eva Braun" (2015, Italy)
Adele Raes, Andrea de Onestis, and Federica Fracassi in "Eva Braun" (2015) "Eva Braun" [2015, Italy]

Scafidi's not-too-subtle satire picks up a strand from Marquis de Sade's "120 Days of Sodom" to propel the story. Pier (Andrea de Onestis) is a powerful media baron but his connections extend well beyond the media industry. And importantly for him, many people are also aware that he has these connections.

Romy (Susanna Giaroli), Pier's secretary and lover, scouts, contacts, and encourages the young unemployed, struggling artists, and businessmen in financial trouble to come and meet her boss at his private villa to find a solution for their problem.


In exchange for Pier's favour, they'll have to perform any task that he asks them to do, no matter how outrageous or humiliating they might be. Romy assembles one such group for a week at Pier's villa, and they include Elisa (Federica Fracassi), a former teacher hoping to set-up a spa business, her wannabe pop-star son Matteo (Nathan Macchioni), his girlfriend and faltering left-wing newspaper publisher Marta (Giulia Faggioni), naive graduate Bea (Adele Raes), and Sara (Gabriella Riva) - a budding film maker seeking finance for her film.

They have to entertain and role-play games that Pier comes up with, and if they do what he asks of them, they'll get what they've come for. The twisted and often sick games that Pier devises will test the extent to which they'd debase themselves in order to please him. Pier's vicarious pleasure-seeking and sadistic urges barely conceal his insecurities in forming meaningful relationships.

By forcing the group to breach their morals, Pier is questioning society the limits to which they're willing to go in order to get what they want. To what extent is ambition a true virtue, and what depths are these people willing to descend in chasing it...


While the film isn't nearly as shocking as Pasolini's own adaptation of Marquis de Sade's work, there's still an air of decadence, menace, and decay that won't go unnoticed. Like Pier, everything around him is fading away. It is a thought-provoking black comedy whose scope certainly extends beyond Italian politics. It is evident from the film's title that Scafidi was also experimenting with additional themes, and mostly succeeds in Romy's characterisation. The cast give an honest, uninhibited performance, and there's nothing pretentious about their characters. Some scenes in the film are positively erotic, perhaps disturbingly. It is nevertheless Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL] | Amazon Instant Video


The Nudity: Giulia Faggioni, Adele Raes, Federica Fracassi, Nathan Macchioni, Gabriella Riva, and Susanna Giaroli
The film features scenes of frontal nudity from most of the main characters, but none of them are explicit. There is also a montage of an 'orgy' set to classical music that some may find interesting.

Giulia Faggioni, Adele Raes, Federica Fracassi, Nathan Macchioni, and Susanna Giaroli nude in "Eva Braun" [2015, Italy]


Thursday, 2 July 2015

A film review: "Nessuno si salva da solo" [2015, Italy]

Sergio Castellitto partners once again with his writer-wife Margaret Mazzantani to create an evocative portrait of modern marriage in his latest drama, "Nessuno si salva da solo" [Eng. Trans: You Can't Save Yourself Alone].

Jasmine Trinca and Riccardo Scamarcio in "Nessuno si salva da solo" [2015] Jasmine Trinca and Riccardo Scamarcio in "Nessuno si salva da solo" [2015]
Jasmine Trinca in "Nessuno si salva da solo" [2015] Jasmine Trinca, Riccardo Scamarcio, Angela Molina, and Roberto Vecchioni in "Nessuno si salva da solo" [2015]
Jasmine Trinca and Riccardo Scamarcio in "Nessuno si salva da solo" [2015]

Estranged couple Gaetano (Ricardo Scamarcio) and Delia (Jasmine Trinca) meet up at a restaurant to decide how to share the children's summer holidays. Their 'civil' exchange of pleasantries nevertheless barely conceal mutual resentment and anger, borne through frustration and the obvious love they still feel for each other.

What starts off as a potential mud-slinging match is quickly diverted thanks to their random trips down memory lane, and the mostly good things that they shared between them over the years. We see them when they first met, at a clinic where Delia, a nutritionist, diagnoses Gaetano. She's taken aback by the gumption with which he asks her for a kiss straight after just making fun of her teeth. "Of course, you cannot", she says, but before long they find themselves making passionate love after closing time.

So begins Delia and Gaetano's stormy odyssey through love, marriage, parenthood, heartbreak, and break-up. Their twelve year journey, shown through a series of montages, is as much about their individual failings as a sign of the self-centred society that they live in, inspired by fashionable cliché and convention.

Watching their animated exchanges a few tables away are a smooching elderly couple (Roberto Vechhioni and the inimitable Ángela Molina). Later, they briefly join Delia and Gaetano for a stroll down the streets of Rome recounting their own affair, with the hope of witnessing a miracle that evening...

Miracles don't always happen, but the film's beautifully shot closing sequence will nevertheless linger in your memory long after the end credits start rolling. Make no mistake - this is as mainstream a film as you can expect, but it is made special, thanks to the organic character development and an intelligently original script. Castellitto creates his own magic in the way he brings out the explosive chemistry between his protagonists that even a cynic would find it hard not to root for the couple to get back together. The actors - both Riccardo Scamarcio and the talented and beautiful Jasmine Trinca, shine in the hands of this able director who has a keen eye for blocking and timing his scenes. The soundtrack complements the film's message and tone, and the other technical aspects are clean and professional. This sentimental but amiable film will be ideal for couples to enjoy, and is Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link [PAL] | G-Translated English Subtitles


The Nudity: Jasmine Trinca, Ricardo Scamarcio, and Marina Rocco
Ms. Trinca appears either nude or bottomless in at least four scenes. Some happen to be passionate lovemaking scenes alongside Ricardo Scamarcio. There's also a scene where Gaetono interrupts Delia while breastfeeding and demands a bit of 'bitti' for himself. :-) Marina Rocco, as Gaetano's lover, appears partially nude in a couple of scenes.

Jasmne Trinca, Riccardo Scamarcio, and Marina Rocco nude in scenes from "Nessuno si salva da solo" [2015, Italy].