Let’s Watch: “Antiviral” (2012) or go get your virus du jour !

Obsession with celebrity reaching frightening heights maybe the catalyst of Brandon Cronenberg’s debut film “ANTIVIRAL” (2012) but it it surely is not the focus point.

Antiviral6

In a dystopian society, not too futuristic, fans of Hannah Geist (Geist meaning “ghost” in German, played by Sarah Gordon from Cosmopolis & A Dangerous Method ) go to great length to get a taste of their idol, by eating meat allegedly grafted from her and by acquiring her latest disease. Her diseases constitute a “line” sold by The Lucas Company, a corporation specializing in your everyday harmless virus infection such as herpes or the flue.

The film opens up with a shot of Syd March played by Caleb Landry Jones (who also starred in X-Men: First Class) with a thermometer in his mouth. His ethereal and ghostly look are matched by the floating white background that rudely turns out to be a poster of the aforementioned Hannah and the corporation. When Hannah is seriously ill, Syd is sent out to collect a sample of her illness for a future sale. He decides to be the human carrier of the virus in order to transmit it a third party, a pirate making money from illegal sales. Syd’s double agent-like behavior  (think Videodrome) goes wrong and foul play comes into action. Malcolm McDowell plays the doctor who tries to help both patients, himself consumed by celebrity frenzy.

Antiviral7

“Antiviral” subverts the depiction of infection by taking what was previously a common experience of an unwilling population and making it an isolated and individual choice. The transmission of such horrid diseases which you might have seen in Romero’s zombie films, started in the 70s with the rise of the AIDS paranoia but now, with Cronenberg it finds a radically different context, that of free will.The result is definitely a non-manicheistic movie with no genuine polar opposites, only a grotesque construction of “derivative products” of celebrities.

The outcome witnessed towards the end of the film, after some loose narration, is the complete reconstitution of a celebrity body through a Frankenstein type of infection making out of this human steak a human being reminiscent of eXistenZ.

antiviral3

There are several aesthetically fascinating aspects to the movie perceived through harmonious repetitions: A machine called “ReadyFace” actually puts a face to the virus it perceives and copyrights it. Just like celebrity portraits, patented viruses are corporate property and have their own special signature. The very images we see once this machine (that works almost like a camera but with a monitor instead of a lens) are truly amazing; distorted faces in an almost Francis Bacon-like manner.  They resonate very well with the rest of the medical imagery dispersed throughout the movie. Close-ups of needles in veins are real and do nothing to spare the viewer the gut-wrenching repetition. Also, “Antiviral” borrows a lot from still life painting and could be winking at Peter Greenaway‘s flowers, vases, tulips through the painting at the office of The Lucas Company’s boss and in the corridor leading to Syd’s apartment which, despite of their beauty, only hit at eventual decay.

Antiviral2

The fuzzy story-telling is sustained however by a gorgeous black and white chromatic palette; in Syd’s everyday outfits as well as white cubes, white shirts and posters, all brutally intercepted by red/black stains depicting his physical degradation. These stains are a constant throughout the film, especially with his blood-spitting ordeal under the watchful eye of a camera trying to transmit his suffering to Hannah’s audience (think La Mort en Direct by Bertrand Blier). Syd’s face only changes to express physical pain and so does his posture (like Christian Bale somewhere between Equilibrium and The Machinist) but his motivations remain unclear as to why he’s double-crossing his company. Is it money?

I would not want to compare Antiviral to David Cronenberg’s work anymore than I have done so already. The key is to look at the film as an independent oeuvre and enjoy its aesthetics (thanks to cinematographer Karim Hussein and moral ambiguity. The soundtrack by EC Woodley compliments the visuals but leaves you wanting more. Narration-wise, “Antiviral” is not the most solid movie out there but I am more than confident that Brandon Cronenberg will be delivering works no short of amazing in the near future.

 

Written by Haneen H aka Kinofrau

Join us on Facebook for more photos, posters and discussions from and about “Antiviral” and for a portrait of David Cronenberg, click here

Let’s watch: “Creature From The Black Lagoon” (1954) or Marketing, Dames and Sexual Exploitation

Universal Studios and director Jack Arnold gave moviegoers a new form of horror when Creature from the Black Lagoon was released in 1954. Marketing for the film was very unique because it catered towards a new experience of the movie theater, 3-D. Despite already being used in many other horror films of the 50s, Creature was a much more valuable candidate because of its release through Universal Studios.

Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954) – USA Poster
But the most marketed aspect of the film was the very appealing Julie Adams, the woman whom the Creature desperately falls in love with. Many of the promotional images of the film show the Creature and Julie Adams character (Kay) together in an almost submissive and dominant manner. The most famous of these images shows Julie Adams sitting at the feet of the Creature while he is looking down at her after she is kidnapped and taken to his lair.

Interestingly enough, the sexual connotations expand far beyond this image and into the actual film itself.
Once the team of scientists set out deeper into the Lagoon to search for what they think might be a rather large fish, Kay decides to swim without really considering the possible dangers of the water. The oldest and most experienced scientist spots her out in the distance and yells from the boat, “Kay! You are out too far! Come back!” She doesn’t hear his warning and continues to swim.

The viewer sees her mature figure wearing a rather revealing white bathing suit that is much too provocative for the time. The camera cuts beneath her and a point of view shot from the Creature’s eyes shows her body from the bottom and she looks fully nude due to the lighting and color of her swimsuit. The Creature looks on in a lustful manner as she continues to do backstrokes in the water and when she eventually dives deeper the Creature begins to follow her from a distance. Once she goes back up towards the surface he swims underneath her while looking up and he mimics her every move.

In this context, when looked at in a much more explicit angle, the Creature and Kay are participating in a synchronized love dance or possibly the actions of both characters was a metaphor of interracial relations that was still very taboo and unacceptable in 1950s American society. It is also quite possible that this scene provided viewers with a sense of scopophilia, or in terms of taboo relations, a different race or species that wants something they can’t have.

Once Kay retreats back to the surface the Creature swims back to the seaweed that was concealing him and looks up at her and the oppressors (scientists) whose lifestyles prevent him from experiencing another type of species or Creature.

Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954) – French Poster

Written by Matt Lockwood.
Matt Lockwood holds a B.A. in Cinema Studies from Oakland University. He writes extensively about race, gender, class and politics in film. 

All rights go to Matt Lockwood.
I am not the author of these images. All rights reserved.

Let’s watch : A Serbian Film or why did the “J” word magically get omitted ?

Film Reviews and political correctness have joined hands for  a 2010 “snuff” production by the name of “A Serbian Film”, directed by Srdjan Spasojevic.

It’s pretty interesting how just about every analysis of this movie follows the same pattern: Firstly, an elaboration of its violence (and it IS violent with its protagonist raping his own kid, a dead body and just about everyone he meets). Secondly, a well-developed mention of the scandalous NC-17 rating, as if no other film in the history of mankind ever received such censorship. And lastly comes the beloved topic of aesthetic inspiration of Spasojevic, which ranges from Brian de Palma to The Human Centipede. Impressive.

One may not want to admit it, but violence has indeed lost much of its subversive power. Long gone are the days were people, unexposed to gore, shook in awe before the film that even remotely depicted such taboos. Especially with websites like ogrish.tv roaming free in cyberspace, which put forth over and over again everything from terrorist acts to execution and suicide, “snuff” is no longer mysterious or innovative. So if A Serbian Film is visually outdated, what is the problem?

In a very “by the way” fashion, did political implications get treated, interestingly enough, especially if you consider the title. The use of the word “Serbian” has mislead many viewers and critics (especially Serbians among them such as Dragan Bjelogrlić. Surprise, surprise) into thinking that the movie is either plain stupid or plain cathartic in its allusion, or lack of it thereof, to Serbian nationalism. After all, every country with a nationalist past, has to, at a given point in time, get it out of its system and this is, to many reviewers and viewers, what the film is trying to do, in its own special way. Only it ain’t so.

The protagonist at the center of these very intimate crimes of necrophilia and pedophilia, played by Srdjan Todorovic, is constantly being ordered, drugged, coerced, forced and threatened by a mad director behind the camera filming the snuff movie in the making. Through this reflexivity, the director implicitly refers to ethnic cleansing and the government’s implication in it. As you may have expected it, his own opinion about his work is not nearly this complex, he talks about how everyone in Europe has lost their feelings. So he made a snuff film to show that he still had some ?? No!

The issue which is getting repeatedly left out here is that Spasojevic is NOT representing a bygone era in the history of Serbia, the way let’s say “Downfall” (2004) represents WWII, but one which unfortunately is still part of the country’s ideological and non-cathartic discourse. This is where a nice reading of the evening news is in order.

The fact that in 2011, murderer Slavisa Buric, killed in 1993 was commemorated as a national hero, while he is responsible for mass rapes and the notorious Srebrenica massacre says a lot. Also, flags depicting Ratko Mladic (huge Serbian war criminal currently on trial in The Hague charged with the Bosnian Genocide ) during a commemoration ceremony for Bosnian Serb soldiers killed in the Bosnian War of 1992-1995 right when Bosnia morns its 700 000 citizens killed in the ethnic cleansing, on the hands of people like Mladic should make you wonder about “A Serbian Film”.

The J-word the title refers to is clearly “JUSTIFICATION” and the scenario is the obvious “the government made me do it” just as the protagonist was forced by the director to commit the depicted crimes. There is no catharsis to consider, precisely because catharsis is not possible when the country is still knee-deep in ideology and demonstrating it during memorials.
So, A Serbian Film does NOT refer to Serbian nationalism, there is NO reference here or anything of the sort, only justification of what this nationalism apparently made people do. And there’s nothing more disgusting than one of the biggest blemishes in the history of crimes against humanity, which is the ethnic cleansing, than those who try to redeem themselves from its responsibility.

To put it in even clearer terms: A guy tries to justify the mass murder of 700 000 people and what the public is upset about is that his movie looks very snuff-ish ? Really ??

Written by Hanine H aka Kinofrau 

Let’s watch: “Nokas” (2010) by Erik Skjoldbjærg, or just how unlikely it is to commit a crime in Norway.

Norwegian director Erik Skjoldbjærg, with his debut film “Insomnia” (1997), starring Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård, delivered a work of extreme aesthetic ambiguity, literally. Just as the character of Skarsgård is himself somewhat suspicious and ambiguous, just as the nature of the crime he’s investigating is unclear, just as the region in the north pole that he’s visiting is also confusing, the visuals of the movie are the same. Through overexposure instead of dissolution to mark time ruptures, Skjoldbjærg was able to deliver an extremely nuanced neo-noir. And if you have seen and appreciated “Insomnia” for the masterpiece that it really is, the masterpiece of depicting the darkest of tales in the brightest possible conditions (the midnight sun), you are likely to walk out with a lot of ideas after watching  his “Nokas” (2010).

I think the English title “Hold-Up” is not a very appropriate one, because the film does not represent the actual crime in its totality. At the beginning, emphasis is somewhat placed on cleaning rituals of the criminals. At this moment, I feared that it would get too moralizing for my taste. After all, good cops who die (or not) just to reinforce the power of the social order has been the Hollywood discourse during the 30s with films repeating over and over again the whole “public” enemy notion, very James Cagney. And, nowadays, with postmodernism, the gratuitous aspect of violence is also sufficiently emphasized, so “Nokas” could have swayed either way, and failed. But it didn’t.

The interesting thing about “Nokas” is that it overtakes (but does not subvert) these cinematic models primarily thanks to its depiction of the robbery by means of testimony.
“Nokas” is entirely constituted based on what eye-witnesses remember of the incident and most importantly, HOW they remember it. The use of slow-motion when depicting the very first attempt the robbers did to break the bank window, remembered by the desk clerk, the going back and forth in time through the “5 minutes earlier” inserts highlights this .

Sure, in a scene when police dogs are needed for a mission but are unavailable because they’re on vacation, it makes you wonder how serious their work is, and yes, when the cops get sent out across town just to survey an overloaded truck, you are inclined to suppose that there has got to me more serious crimes out there. But in fact, the answer is no and this is the actual overtaking that I am talking about. The very first reaction the cops, as well as the crowds had when the hold-up at the Cathedral Square (where the actual crime took place) started is “Is this a training exercise?” & “is this a drill?”, furthermore enhancing just how unimaginable it is (apparently) in Norway to actually go for a passage-a’-l’act and fully commit a crime. The film depicts this with extreme subtlety and success.

Keep in mind that in Norway, the maximum penalty is a mere 21 years and criminals are not even handcuffed or in uniform in court laws. I suppose crime is pretty law but can offer no real statistics to back this up but it all the more enhances the unlikelihood of a robbery taking place. People passing by the besieged square, ask the criminals politely if they can cross the road and if the hooded men are not too busy to let them do it.  At one point, a confused bus driver gets a call telling him that the square is under attack and him, not knowing what to do, asks the caller which direction to take. The caller ultimately tells him to get to the square and ask the police instead of the usual “run for your life!”.

There is no excess aggression on both sides, the film is surprisingly violence-free. Naturally, cops can seem somewhat comical as they struggle to put bullets in their outdated pistol which looks right out of a John Wayne film, but there is no gore, no blood and almost no real cold-blooded murder. The situation is just absurd. The film focuses on these little absurdities and the exchanges between cops, criminals and people passing by instead of telling us that the crime has actually been committed. We barely see the robbers take the money and it’s only at the end that the director writes it to us.


So bottom line is, if you’re interested in Scandinavian cinema, check out Insomnia first and then make the natural shift to this one, Nokas. NB- If you’re interested in Norway, check out this documentary about Norwegian black metal, nationalism and violence: https://kinoimages.wordpress.com/2012/06/13/black-metals-until-the-light-takes-us-2008/

Written by Hanine H aka Kinofrau

Let’s watch: “Bo” (2010) or Let Her Be Adored

A very interesting work that sprang out of Belgium two years ago is a little film called “Bo” (2010) directed by Hans Herbots. My introduction to this work was through a Danish rock band named “The Raveonettes” and their remake of The Stone Roses’ hit “I wanna be adored” which features parts of the film.
Telling the tale of a 15 year-old girl (beautifully played by Ella-June Henrard in her cinematic debut), very economically deprived, who finds her way into the world of escorts which quickly becomes prostitution. Through a school acquaintance, she tries to get rid of her financial problems and lives to suffer the consequences.

Sure the film follows a somewhat classical approach to the subject of the ‘ poor girl who prostitutes herself’, think Brook Shields in “Pretty Baby” (1978, dir. Louis Malle), but it delivers a very nuanced aesthetic work. Through blue-lit close-ups on Henrard’s gorgeously seductive face, Herbots attempts a certain intimacy (but not identification) with the main character, named Deborah/Bo but at the same time distanciation.

Her relationship to her “pimp”, Vincent (played by Thomas Ryckewaert, who looks a little like a young version of Klaus Kinski) goes from sentimental to detrimental, same as her rapport to her family which ultimately gets sacrificed.
Time is represented through shots of Antwerp’s left bank scenery along with the name of the month which offer a very interesting panorama of the Flemish town.

I tend to not be fond, to say the least, of moralizing films or ones that end up reinforcing the social order by means of crime and punishment but “Bo”, in a way, overtakes this notion by adopting a much more poetic tone. It focuses on the character’s loss of innocence and yet, her ever-present beauty throughout the story.

It would be erroneous to compare “Bo” with “Christiane F” (1981, dir Uli Edel), since the latter puts forth a whole mechanism of testimony in an almost documentary fashion which Hans Herbots does not play out, nor do these films share same aesthetics or political references.

“Bo” is an interesting film to watch, especially for a closer look at Henrard’s beautifully rendered face. She does indeed shine in her debut role and has more than enough potential to deliver serious work. As well as this, it would be unfair to limit Belgian cinema to big names like Chantale Akerman, as impressive as she may be, because after all, opting for a panorama of a country’s production is, to me, substantially more interesting than going through masterpieces alone…

NB- For another interesting Flemish film, check out my little post about “Loft” https://kinoimages.wordpress.com/2012/05/30/loft-2008-belgium/

Written by Hanine H aka Kinofrau