Friday, December 31, 2021

Senses of Cinema World Poll 2021: my favourites

Rahul Jain: Invisible Demons (FI 2021), a visionary, apocalyptic documentary essay shot in Hindi in India.

Senses of Cinema has again published its megalomaniac World Poll, and I had the honour to participate. The first list covers new releases and the second one older films rediscovered. It was the strangest year in film history. Never have I enjoyed more returning to the cinema, a symbol of which was the global, much postponed release of Daniel Craig's last James Bond film No Time To Die.

Sound of Metal (Darius Marder, 2019).
Hemingway 1–3 (Ken Burns & Lynn Novick, 2021). Screener.
Druk (Another Round, Thomas Vinterberg, 2020)
Dinosaurus (The Dinosaur, Veikko Aaltonen, 2021). Tampere Film Festival online.
Nomadland (Chloé Zhao, 2020)
Minari (Lee Isaac Chung, 2020)
Ammonite (Francis Lee, 2020)
Fucking with Nobody (Hannaleena Hauru, 2020)
The Father (Florian Zeller, 2020)
Ikuiseen rauhaan (Ville Suhonen, 2021). A sober documentary portrait of the Finnish conscientious objector Arndt Pekurinen (1905–1941) who was executed on the Eastern front in WWII. The title is Finnish for Immanuel Kant’s study Zum ewigen Frieden (Perpetual Peace).
Gosudarstvennye pokhorony (State Funeral, Sergei Loznitsa, 2019). Midnight Sun Film festival online.
Dorogie tovarischi (Dear Comrades!, Andrei Konchalovsky, 2020). Midnight Sun Film festival online.
Sokea mies joka ei halunnut nähdä Titanicia (The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic, Teemu Nikki, 2021)
Guled & Nasra (Khadar Ayderus Ahmed, 2021)
The Card Counter (Paul Schrader, 2021)
Invisible Demons (Rahul Jain, 2021)
Spencer (Pablo Larraín, 2021)
Annette (Leos Carax, 2021)
The Truffle Hunters (Michael Dweck & Gregory Kershaw, 2020)

The Rain People (Francis Ford Coppola, 1969). Screener. A subtle and refined 2019 American Zoetrope restoration of a lasting achievement of the American New Wave.
Moonlight on the Highway (James MacTaggart, 1969, SC: Dennis Potter). YouTube. In memoriam Sir Ian Holm, a Dennis Potter revelation, predecessor of Pennies from Heaven.
Fehérlofia (Son of the White Mare, Marcell Jankovics, 1981). In memoriam Marcell Jankovics, a 2019 restoration of a Hungarian psychedelic animation drawing on ancient myths of Scythians, Huns and Avars. Midnight Sun Film Festival online.
Araya (Margot Benacerraf, 1959). A poetic documentary epic about people working at the salt dunes of Venezuela. A brilliant Milestone Film & Video restoration seen at Il Cinema Ritrovato.
George Stevens: A Filmmaker’s Journey (George Stevens, Jr., 1984). Seen at Il Cinema Ritrovato, one of the most deeply moving portraits of a film director, the Dachau scene its burning center.
Lumumba, la mort du prophète (Lumumba, Death of a Prophet, Raoul Peck, 1991). Restored by The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project, seen at Il Cinema Ritrovato. Raoul Peck’s breakthrough film radiates intelligence, complexity and energy.
Sambizanga (Sarah Maldoror, 1972). Restored by The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project, seen at Il Cinema Ritrovato. A luminous and refined achievement of militant cinema.
Les Oliviers de la justice (James Blue, 1961). Restoration of a multi-dimensional drama of French life during the Algerian war. Il Cinema Ritrovato.
Alias Nick Beal (John Farrow, 1949). American politics as a Faustian pact with Ray Milland’s Nick Beal as Mephisto. Essential film noir. Il Cinema Ritrovato.
Kummatty (The Boogeyman, Govindan Aravindan, 1979). Restored by The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project, seen at Il Cinema Ritrovato. A haunting, poetic discovery of Malayalam cinema.
Il mulino del Po (The Mill on the Po, Alberto Lattuada, 1949). Restored by Cineteca di Bologna, seen at Il Cinema Ritrovato. A neorealist historical epic worthy of La terra trema.
Geomsa-wa yeoseonsaeng (A Public Prosecutor and a Teacher, Yun Dae-ryong, 1948). Digital reconstruction by Korean Film Archive of a late sonorized silent film. An anachronistic production and reconstruction, yet indispensable because of the byeonsa (voice narrator) Sin Chul, a representative of ancient oral traditions. Le Giornate del Cinema Muto.

I’m fed up with distant work, online meetings and virtual festivals. I was never happier than visiting the live edition of Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, although in Pordenone I was mostly distant working at my hotel room. There has never been such turbulence in the film world, and it was so exhausting that in 2021 I missed most films I wanted to see and had little energy to write.

Antti Alanen, film programmer (KAVI / National Audiovisual Institute, Helsinki)

Saturday, December 25, 2021


Paul Verhoeven: Benedetta (FR/NL 2021) starring Virginie Efira as Benedetta Carlini.

Benedetta / Benedetta.
    FR/NL © 2021 SBS Productions, Pathé, France 2 Cinéma, France 3 Cinéma. Co-PC: Topkapi Films ; Belga Productions. P: Saïd Ben Saïd, Michel Merkt, Jérôme Seydoux.
    D: Paul Verhoeven. SC: David Birke & Paul Verhoeven – inspired by the book Immodest Acts : The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy (1986) by Judith C. Brown. DP: Jeanne Lapoirie – colour – 2.39:1 – source format: ARRIRAW 3.4K – master format: digital intermediate 2K – release: D-Cinema. PD: Katia Wyszkop. Cost: Pierre-Jean Larroque. Makeup: Odile Fourquin. Hair: Virginie Duranteau. SFX: Paulo Galiano. VFX: Alain Carsoux.
    M: Anne Dudley. M selections:
– Hildegard von Bingen
– "Dies irae" (Gregorian chant probably from the 13th century, probably by Tommaso da Celano) arr. Erik Nordgren for Det sjunde inseglet (1957).
    S: Jean-Paul Mugel. Mixing: Cyril Holtz. ED: Job Ter Burg. Casting: Stéphane Batut.
    C: Virginie Efira (Benedetta Carlini), Charlotte Rampling (Sœur Felicita – Abbesse), Daphné Patakia (Bartolomea), Lambert Wilson (Le Nonce), Olivier Rabourdin (Alfonso Cecchi), Louise Chevillotte (Christina, daughter of the Abbesse), Hervé Pierre (Paolo Ricordati), Clotilde Courau (Midea Carlini), David Clavel (Giulinao Carlini), Guilaine Londez (Sœur Jacopa).
    131 min
    Filming dates: 16 July – Sep 2018.
    Loc (from IMDb): – Montepulciano (Siena, Tuscany, Italy). – City gate: Porta al Prato. – Convent church interiors: Abbaye de Silvacane (Route de La Roque d'Anthéron, La Roque d'Anthéron, Bouches-du-Rhône, France). – Convent interiors: abbaye cistercienne, Le Thoronet, Var, France. – Piazza Filippo Silvestri: convent exteriors of Bevagna (Perugia, Umbria, Italy). – As Florence, devastated by the plague: Perugia (Umbria, Italy).
    Languages: French and Latin.
    Festival premiere: 9 July 2021 Cannes Film Festival.
    Finnish premiere: 17 Dec 2021, released on 4K DCP by ELKE / NonStop Entertainment with Finnish subtitles by Kanerva Airaksinen.
    Corona precaution: 100% capacity with vaccine passport, hand hygiene, obligatory face masks.
    Viewed at Finnkino Strand 3, Iso Kristiina, Lappeenranta, 25 Dec 2021.
AA: Paul Verhoeven, like Quentin Tarantino, is a master of the lavish art exploitation cinema. They make films that satisfy genre expectations and obey genre conventions. They also transcend them.

The typical convention of nunsploitation cinema is the figure of the sex-obsessed nun. It is a woeful cliché and a flagrant affront to the noble legacy of monasteries.

But it is in the nature of the cinema to be subversive and transgressive. Cinema is the art of the dream mode, as defined by Susanne Langer. It has direct access to the unconscious. The lure of the offensive is irresistible. Taboos are to be broken.

The central emblem in Benedetta is a pocket Virgin Mary statuette doubling as a vibrator. (Based on reality, such an object is mentioned among others by Eduard Fuchs in his Illustrierte Sittengeschichte. I seem to remember that Luis Buñuel was fascinated by the phenomenon).

Staging scenes of unapologetic sexploitation, Verhoeven does not limit himself to luscious Lesbian love scenes in the interest of the male gaze. As proudly interpreted by Virginie Efira as Benedetta and Daphné Patakia as Bartolomea, his film is a celebration of female power and emancipation. Men appear as predators. Among women, love is possible.

The characters may be lacking in realism and nuance, but they are complex and haunting. The performances of Virginie Efira and Daphné Patakia are too modern to be historically convincing. They wear nuns' habits; their habitus is secular. They certainly are charismatic. The film as a whole is well cast.

Verhoeven has little patience with the sacred. Religion and the church appear as mere mystification, hoax and deceit. Even Sister Benedetta is not free from a huge, life-size lie, or perhaps she is capable of a magnificent self-deception. There is a grand paradox. Benedetta's faith is genuine, and hers is a true power of the spirit. We are left to contemplate: is her faith based on self-deception? Or does her faith have a more profound fountain, too overwhelming for available conventions and expressions to convey? For me, the answer is a bit of both, gravitating towards the second one.

The novelty of the figures of Benedetta and Bartolomea is that they are true believers who are frank about sexuality. In contrast to the rest of the world, they are not hypocrites. They succeed in integrating their faith with their sexuality. The power of the spirit and the power of sex are one.

The physical production of the film, designed by Katia Wyszkop and shot on location, is vivid and engaging but at times with a digital animation look. The film has been shot in Tuscany, in the heart of the Renaissance, where the actual events took place during the Counter-Reformation.

A hundred years have passed since Luther's theses against the hypocrisy of the Vatican, condemning indulgence payments for instance. In Verhoeven's film corruption is rampant. Salvation can be bought, and the Nuntius (Lambert Wilson) breaks his vow of celibacy, sleeping with prostitutes and impregnating his maid while condemning a genuine love between nuns.

It is an age of discrimination of women and persecution of sexual diversity. It is also an age of persecution against Jews who were cast as scapegoats for the plagues. This is reflected in the figure of the Jewish nun, Sister Jacopa (Guilaine Londez).

The cinematography by Jeanne Lapoire is eloquent. The interiors are candlelit, and the warm glow is appealing and sensual. Verhoeven studied Eisenstein's Ivan the Terrible Part II for double camera set-ups in tight corridors, and pays homage to Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal in crowd scenes of plague, persecution and burning at the stake.

Anne Dudley's score is enchanting, with passages from Hildegard von Bingen and the Gregorian chant "Dies irae" with cinematic resonances from Lang (Metropolis), Dreyer (The Day of Wrath) and Bergman (The Seventh Seal) to Kubrick (The Shining).

The premiere of Benedetta, shot in 2018, was postponed until 2021 due to the pandemic. It is uncanny how powerfully its epic scenes of plague and lockdown resonate in this year.

NB. Paul Verhoeven has a special attraction to a brave, intelligent and highly-pheromoned blonde heroine. In the beginning there was Renée Soutendijk (Spetters, The Fourth Man). In Hollywood he cast Sharon Stone (Total Recall, Basic Instinct). In Showgirls there was Elizabeth Berkley, in Black Book, Carice van Houten and now we are stunned by Virginie Efira. (Not ignoring Verhoeven's great non-blondes such as Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Gershon and Isabelle Huppert).

Thursday, December 23, 2021


Anna Eriksson: W (FI 2022).

Anna Eriksson: W (FI 2022).

FI 2022. PC: Ihode Cursum Perficio Production. P+DP: Matti Pyykkö.
    D+SC+PD+AD+Set Design+Cost+Make-up+VFX+S+Sound Design+ED+Casting: Anna Eriksson. M: Anna Eriksson, Juri Seppä. S mixing: Anna Eriksson, Juri Seppä, Jaakko Heikura, Tuomas Seppänen.
    C: Anna Eriksson, Hanna Trygg, Jussi Parviainen, Parco Lee, Jooseppi Pyykkö, Iida Rauma, Ninja Sarasalo, Karina Kivilahti, Kirsi Nisonen, Marianna Uutinen, Eeva Trygg, Minttu Vesala.
    101 min
    Preview at K13, Finnish Film Foundation, Helsinki, 23 Dec 2021.
    HIFF (Helsinki International Film Festival Love & Anarchy) preview link viewed at home in Lappeenranta, 9 July 2022.

Ihode Cursum Perficio official synopsis: "Europe is a mortally sick woman who is killing time with her Chinese Man Machine. They are at their last post. Outside lies a snow covered wasteland. "
" Elsewhere, on a glacier is an institute, where a group of nurses are faithfully playing their regressive part in the execution of a new world order. Their trance is disrupted by a stranger. "
" All is lost. The final act is about to begin

AA: W is M upside down, and Anna Eriksson's new film is the antithesis of its predecessor.

A primal scream is unleashed in a mystery play that seems to happen in the waiting-room of Weltuntergang. Faces are masks, bodies are battlegrounds of surgical cruelty. Associations run from the shock value of female splatter to the flesh impact of performance art. Blood, milk, sweat, spit, sperm and urine run in liberal quantities. In M, a woman was the object of the look. In W, Eriksson returns the look and assumes a Medusa visage, turning the spectator into stone. Even mirrors reflect masks.

Desolate corridors and soundtrack references evoke the cosmology of Stanley Kubrick, but Kubrick's Lux Aeterna has disappeared. It has been replaced by darkness which tightens around us as we enter interior and exterior prison camps, guarded by severe nurses. We are living like there is no tomorrow, and on the final beach a cosmic draught is blowing. The snowdrift in the beginning of it all resembles television static.

In the heart of the nightmare are the sins of the fathers: incest, rape, and abortion, punished with castration, genital mutilation and self-cutting. The sado-masochistic martyr in W shares the fate of Lulu in Pandora's Box and Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks. From the unhealed scars of sexual violence thoughts lead to the sounds of war dominating the soundtrack in the finale and to structural violence denying women's self-determination over their own bodies.

Rakkautta & Anarkiaa / Love & Anarchy: 35th Helsinki International Film Festival Catalogue, September 2022, Next Level Gala, 16 September 2021, Kinopalatsi 1, Helsinki