With the half-way point of Kurosawa's career reached last week, Kyle and I have decided to take a break. For the next week Kyle will be sharing his thoughts from the Milwaukee Film Festival. We'll return with our Kurosawa coverage on 10/19. For now, here's Kyle!
So the Milwaukee Film Festival is going on right now and I'm trying to see as many movies as I can. The selection of films is surprisingly large and varied, so I've tried to pick something from each program, and wound up with quite a few from The Onion/A.V. Club Milwaukee's roster, appropriately titled “Cinema Hooligante.” They also have a special ad produced each year by a local advertising agency to recognize all of the festival sponsors that plays before each movie, and this year's includes what looks to be a Jerry Garcia wizard driving around the city in a VW minibus with a projector on the top. That's a little part of the festival everyone should experience, so you're welcome. The ratings out of 5 accompanying each movie are what I gave them on the Audience Award ballot.
Filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof was imprisoned in Iran in 2010 along with Jafar Panahi (This Is Not a Film) for crimes against the state, and Goodbye, made in the days leading up to his arrest, shows a daily existence filled with paranoia and quiet dread. Leyla Zareh stars as Noora, an activist lawyer whose license has been revoked, whose husband has fled to a disconnected southern portion of the country following the closure of his radical newspaper, and who is trying with persistence and surprising calmness to leave Iran forever under the false pretense of delivering a legal talk outside of the country.
Rasoulof shows an Iran often cloaked in shadow, with Noorah frequently walking down dark passages or holding conversations in hushed tones that barely conceal the urgency of her situation. The aesthetic is fit for a spy movie, but here the slow, deliberate pacing and devotion to showing mundane steps in her daily life create a maddening effect — that she must rigidly maintain the illusion of normalcy underlines how severely one can feel trapped in their own life, especially when governmental and social circumstances leave so little agency for the individual. As the film progresses and we see more of the steps Noora must follow in order to successfully flee Iran, we also see how at any moment she could be subject to searches from mysterious agents of the state, denied simple rights because she cannot act as a single woman without the approval of her absent husband, and generally a multitude of ways her plan could crumble in an instant that are totally beyond her control. Rasoulof complicates the basic Orwellian premise of the story by making Noora's current pregnancy a key step in her escape plan, and complications that arise late in the film lead to a haunting final sequence that makes clear the depth of her desperation to leave the country. The film seems utterly assured of what it thinks about the effects of oppressive and intrusive regimes on their people, but unsure of just what it thinks of Noora.
Beyond the Black Rainbow (3/5)
Beyond the Black Rainbow is a hallucinatory Kubrickian homage film about a young girl with psychic powers being held against her will in a THX-1138-inspired medical complex by a pyramid made of fluorescent lights controlled by a mad doctor who looks like Peter Cushing and Christian Bale hooked up and popped out a love child in the 80s. If that sounds like something you want to see, then see it. Made in 2010, the film has gained a cult status touring film festivals throughout the U.S. and Canada (it was made in Vancouver by the aptly and excellently named director Panos Cosmatos). It's hard to put into words the level of bizarre power a number of sequences manage to achieve through psychedelic sensory strategies involving color and music. If the director and cinematographer can collaborate again working on a slightly more focused vision, they will produce a masterpiece.
As it stands Beyond the Black Rainbow is surprisingly uncommitted to the core of its vision at times, adding in opaque expository scenes that slow the pace of the movie and undo the mesmerizing spell cast by many of it's better sequences (just look to a scene in which the doctor unleashes waves of yellow smoke into the complex's halls by pushing a glowing cube into a slot on the wall and then releases a “Sentionaut,” a towering red figure who looks like the most terrifying motorcyclist you've ever seen, all while an aggressive synth score throbs in the background). What's miraculous about the movie is how well many of these sequences of weirdness actually work, and when it's operating as a 100% sensory experience devoid of plotting considerations, it's hard to deny—that Cosmatos feels the need to impose even the most basic plot structure is unfortunate, but even these scenes maintain a masterfully controlled aesthetic. Considering the number of direct visual homages, Beyond the Black Rainbow manages to be both utterly familiar and undeniably unique. David Lynch's Inland Empire also had a special screening at this year's festival. Consider this: Inland Empire is not the weirdest film at this year's festival.