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A celebration of the female: “Las hijas del fuego” [Argentina 2018]

Las hijas del fuego (2018)Albertina Carri herself has gone on record for describing her latest film “Las hijas del fuego” [Eng. Title: Daughters of Fire] as feminist porn. But the ever so modest Carri has also packaged something extra in it, as the title suggests. It is an obvious reference to feminist angst, while also paying homage to the place where the (porn) road movie begins its journey – Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost tip of Argentina, and a mere ‘hop’ away from Antarctica. Now that’s shooting porn in some style!

Mijal Katzowicz and Carolina Alamino_in Las hijas del fuego (2018)Agustina (Mijal Katzowicz), an aquatics athlete training in the tundra, is thrilled when her filmmaker-lover (Carolina Alamino) comes visiting. Together they decide to go on a road trip up north to stop Agustina’s mother (Cristina Banegas) from disposing off her dead dad’s old banger – well, it holds an emotional value for Agustina.

Wanda Rzonscinsky and Rocio Zuviria in Las hijas del fuego (2018)This is the premise, but in keeping with the diktats of feminist porn, their journey will turn into an estrogen-fuelled voyage of promiscuity and rebellious hedonism. Picking up like-minded women along the way, they will indulge in threesomes, partner-swaps, and generally ‘go with the flow’ as often and wherever they can, as is expected in porn films. They even have to exchange their stolen SUV for a camper van, for lack of room.

Las hijas del fuego (2018 Argentina)But unlike your average Internet-era porn, we get to feast our eyes on threesomes against a stunning Patagonian backdrop, and lesbian re-enactments of Armando Bo’s film-scenes in resplendent black and white. There’s also a lesbian threesome in a church-setting while Agustina watches and masturbates from the door; deviant porn indeed!

Erica Rivas and Wanda_Rzonscinsky in Las hijas del fuego [2018]The film features a grand sadomasochist-themed orgy mimicking what we might have seen in films elsewhere, the only difference being that this is organised by females, for females. Amidst their frolicking in the fiery tongues of unbridled sexuality, the girls find time to take on altruistic duties as well, like rescuing battered women from their horrible husbands, and showering love on women with low self-esteem; they truly become the daughters of fire. There in also lies Ms, Carri’s message.

Mijal Katzowicz, Carolina Alamino and Rocio Zuviria in Daughters of Fire [2018, Argentina]It’s interesting to see Ms. Carri join a growing list of auteurs, from Gaspar Noé to Lars von Trier, dabble in porn-making just because they can. But her film is different from the others in that not all her protagonists conform to mainstream ideals, specifically male ideals of beauty and desirability. The dolly-mixture cast come in all shapes and sizes, and also include established mainstream actresses, albeit in non-sexual roles (Sofía Gala, Erica Rivas, and Cristina Banegas). Ms. Carri certainly believes that there is no difference between women despite appearances; that they are all truly beautiful and sexually desirable. She urges women (and probably men) to challenge male constructs, so who can argue with that. And yes, this isn’t exactly porn, it is rather a celebration of the female, and definitely Recommended Viewing..!

 

No DVD-Link (yet)
Not sure if it was screened in MUBI at some point, but will update this part when more information becomes available.

 

The Nudity: Mijal Katzowicz, Carolina Alamino, Rocío Zuviría, Wanda Rzonscinsky, María Eugenia Marcet, Ivanna Colona Olsen, Carla Morales Ríos, and others
The film features intermittent sex scenes of an explicit or kinky nature, and all the main cast perform non-simulated sex. There are BDSM-themed scenes, and one even suggesting female ejaculation (probably for the first time in any non-porn film). The alpine-meadow sex scene reminds one of German sex-comedies from the seventies, but the pièce de résistance is certainly the in-your-face masturbation, shot in real-time, as the group of revellers in the background gradually thin away. This long scene is the film’s closing shot, suggesting in auteur-terms perhaps, that she is the female voyeur as well as the participant. Hurrah to self-love!

Mijal Katzowicz, Carolina Alamino, Rocío Zuviría, María Eugenia Marcet and others nude in "Las hijas del fuego" aka "Daughters of Fire" (2018, Argentina)

Mijal Katzowicz, Carolina Alamino, Rocío Zuviría, and María Eugenia Marcet from Albertina Carri’s
“Las hijas del fuego” aka “Daughters of Fire” [2018, Argentina]

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Should artists stay above politics? “Werk ohne Autor” [2018 Germany]

Lars Eidenger in Werk ohne Autor (2018)Though this is not the central theme, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, in his Oscar-nominated semi-biographical epic “Werk ohne Autor” [Eng. Title: Never Look Away], poses a rarely discussed question; Are artists – as liberators, revolutionaries, and thinkers, letting themselves down by endorsing one or the other political party? The argument, as expounded by the art movement in the Düsseldorf Art Academy of the 60’s, assumed that artists cease being revolutionaries the moment they try to answer the questions that their own art raises. These days, many dismiss the thought as elitist and often root for a particular party that they consider the lesser of the evils, while some go all the way to establish their own political party. It’s an interesting thought nevertheless, one that will shape the art and work of the film’s protagonist Kurt Barnert (Tom Schilling), whose character was inspired by the life of one of modern Germany’s celebrated painters, Gerhard Richter.

Saskia Rosendahl in Never Look Away (2018, Germany)Young Kurt lives with his parents and his mother’s extended family in a middle class household near Dresden. He has a close relationship with his beautiful teenage aunt Elisabeth (Saskia Rosendahl), who would sometimes take him to modern art galleries, or stop by the bus station to listen to buses blaring their horns in unison when requested; little Kurt and Elisabeth were close friends who shared their thoughts and secrets.

Saskia Rosendahl in Never Look Away (2018, Germany)Unfortunately for Kurt, he’s also growing up in 1930’s Germany after the Nazi’s took power, and whose presence and ideology were fast infecting all aspects of life. Their Eugenics-supporting family doctor and Nazi member forcibly removes Elisabeth from the family home after falsely attributing her eccentricity and creativity to schizophrenia.

Saskia Rosendahl and Sebastian Koch in Never Look Away (2018, Germany)Elisabeth languishes in a mental institution bereft of any legal recourse, and thanks to another evil Nazi Medical Officer, Professor Carl Seeband (Sebastian Koch), is sent to the gas chambers during the last days of World War II. Kurt’s father is forced to join the Nazi party in order to keep his teaching job, a move that’ll hinder his prospects for the rest of his life.

Tom Schilling and Paula Beer in Never Look Away (2018 Germany)Kurt’s life changes after ending up in the Communist Eastern side following Germany’s postwar partition. As an art student, he finds the Communist approach to art not too dissimilar to that of the Nazis. He however falls in love with Ellie (Paula Beer), a fashion design student at the academy, who bore a striking resemblance to his beloved late aunt ElisabethEllie’s father, none other than Professor Carl Seeband himself, had cleverly managed to evade the War Crimes Tribunal and also found for himself an important position within the Communist establishment. But Kurt is unaware of Seeband’s role in Aunt Elisabeth’s tragic fate, and neither it seems, is Seeband aware of Kurt’s relationship to Elisabeth.

Tom Schilling in Never Look Away [2018 Germany]Kurt and Ellie get married and defect to West Germany just before the Berlin wall goes up. Determined to pursue art in Düsseldorf, Germany’s most avant-garde academy, Kurt finds himself creatively challenged by professors and peers alike. The fertile environment, not least his father-in-law’s overbearing put-downs, enable him to evolve his own style and eventually discover himself…

Tom Schilling in Never Look Away (2018 Germany)After exploding onto the world of cinema with a BAFTA and Academy Award in his magnificent debut feature ‘The Lives of Others’, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck returns to form with a beautifully scripted and ‘complete’ film. At over three hours, it is epic in its scope, but it has its audience engaged all the way through, to the extent that one might even be inclined to endure another hour of this saga without losing interest. Adapting freely from Gerhard Richter’s life story, von Donnersmarck nevertheless stays true to essential facts and details (including the staircase portrait), and gives it a life of its own. The cinematography, production design, casting, and script is award-worthy, with notable performances from the main cast. The only jarring note I felt was the Hollywood-style music score which was unnecessary for a film of such substance (perhaps it has something to do with the Walt Disney connection). And for a pleasant change, one finds the English title for the film being much more apt than the original German title. Needless to say, this gem is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon.de DVD Link [PAL] | Amazon.de Blu-ray Link

 

The Nudity: Saskia Rosendahl, Paula Beer, Tom Schilling, Eva Maria Jost, and others
The film features some of the most delightful nude scenes seen in cinema after a long time. A sweeping statement this might be, but here’s my explanation; the scenes are liberating rather than exploitative, and they’re unapologetic about depicting it in a matter-of-fact manner. They give an artist’s point of view, and more importantly, they don’t pander to trendy nonsense such as the so-called concern regarding the ‘male gaze’ – this is after all a film about an artist who actually painted nudes as part of his art, and as the title suggests, never shied away from looking. Coincidentally, some of the scenes do remind you of Eliseo Subiela’s similarly titled ‘Don’t Look Down’. There are at least eight noteworthy scenes in the film, of which four feature frontal nudity.

Saskia Rosendahl, Paula Beer, Tom Schilling, Eva Maria Jost and others in "Werk ohne Autor" (2018, Germany)

Saskia Rosendahl, Paula Beer, Tom Schilling and others from the German epic, “Werk ohne Autor” aka “Never Look Away”, 2018.

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A brief film review: “Alanis” [2017 Argentina]

Sofía Gala in "Alanis" (2017)Anahí Berneri captures a moving and at times probing portrait of a young mother and sex worker in her drama “Alanis”. But instead of the gloom and melancholy usually associated with films delving into the subject, it is surprisingly positive and life-affirming.

Sofía Gala in "Alanis" (2017)The film begins with Maria aka ‘Alanis’ (Sofia Gala) being evicted from her Buenos Aires flat along with her toddler Dante following a police sting. Her partner however isn’t as lucky and lands in jail.

 

Sofía Gala in "Alanis" (2017)With prevailing social safety nets unable to offer shelter to women of her disposition, Maria is left to fend for herself. She approaches a distant relative who allows her to crash at her shop floor until she could get back on her feet. An immensely resourceful Maria does manage it in the end…

Sofía Gala in 'Alanis' (2017)More than the individual plot points, where the film shines is in its flawless, intimate, almost voyeuristic cinematography, and an empathetic performance by Sofía Gala (Sofía Castiglione). While she’s had a fine collaborator in her real-life son who plays Dante, she uses her presence in almost every frame in the film to emphatically paint a multidimensional, wholesome image of the character she’s playing. Ms. Berneri has created a precious, elegant, and understated gem that deserves wider recognition. Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon Prime Link

 

The Nudity: Sofía Gala Castiglione
There are brief and intermittent scenes of nudity, mostly of ‘Alanis’ breastfeeding spontaneously. The film also features a prolonged, discomfiting sex scene which, when seen in context, provides added insight into the lead character.

Sofía Gala Castiglione nude in the Argentinian film, Alanis, 2017.

Sofía Gala Castiglione from the Argentinian film, “Alanis”, 2017.

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A load of bull: “El árbol de la sangre” [2018 Spain]

And they end up being as attention-gathering as only a Julio Medem can manage (apart from Bigas Luna, of course). While the bulls and cows in his latest drama, “El árbol de la sangre” [Eng. Title: The Tree of Blood] might bear special cultural significance to Spaniards, others with a lesser acquaintance will nevertheless discern the passionate undercurrents these creatures will come to represent in this pheromone-fuelled family saga.

Úrsula Corberó and Álvaro Cervantes in "El árbol de la sangre", 2018Rebeca (Úrsula Corberó) and boyfriend Marc (Álvaro Cervantes) are staying at his stepmother’s idyllic farmhouse in the Basque country to try and piece together their extraordinary family tree, while opening up to and coming to terms with secrets and betrayals within their own relationship. They begin by recounting the early lives of their respective mothers.

Najwa Nimri and Daniel Grao in 'El árbol de la sangre' 2018Rebeca is the child of Macarena (the beautiful Najwa Nimri), conceived during her mother’s wild rock star years. As a baby, Rebeca had to undergo life-saving organ transplants that’ll deeply affect Macarena for the rest of her life. When one of Macarena’s fans, Victor (Daniel Gra0), expresses his love for her, she decides to get married and settle down, and Victor eases into the role of Rebeca’s doting stepdad.

Angela Molina and Najwa Nimri in El árbol de la sangre, 2018Marc’s single mother Nuria (Maria Molins) is a publisher who befriends and has a fling with writer Amaia (Patricia López Arnaiz). Young Marc first set his eyes on Rebeca at Amaia’s wedding; the groom being Victor’s brother Olmo (Joaquín Furriel). When Amaia introduces Olmo to Nuria, she recognises him instantly as the person with whom she had a brief sexual encounter that led to Marc’s birth. As the complex relationships within this coincidental family take shape, murkier details of the brothers before they entered Rebeca and Marc’s lives come to the fore, with unforeseen  consequences…

Úrsula Corberó and Álvaro Cervantes in El árbol de la sangre, 2018Even with a long run-time of 135 minutes, the narrative is pretty fast-paced; blink and you’ll likely miss a plot point, so this might require more than one viewing. As a keen follower of maestro Medem’s films, I find this screenplay his most ambitious and convoluted yet; instead of neat patterns exemplified in Lovers of the Arctic Circle and Sex and Lucia, we have strands that twist, branch off, and occasionally intertwine.

El árbol de la sangre, 2018And then we have the pervasive symbolism of bulls and cows as facets of conflicting but coexisting qualities between the various characters; be it moral, political, or sexual. They make an appearance in unexpected places, which might be off-putting to those used to more ‘plausible’ story lines, but they’re there for a purpose. As in many of Medem’s films, sex is an important ingredient that drives the narrative.

El árbol de la sangre (2018)Several of his trademark motifs that depict elementary forces also make an appearance in the film. Right from the exquisite cinematography, background score, choice of shots and editing, we see glimpses of the vintage Julio Medem that we love and miss.  If only he could make films more frequently! Performance-wise, the slightly under-used Najwa Nimri, and an ever-elegant Angela Molina playing the brothers’ mother stand out, and the rest of main cast give a decent account of themselves. On the whole, while this adequate Netflix production might not have scaled the heights of gems such as Tierra and La ardilla roja, it is still a full-blooded Medem in all respects, which on any day is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Blu-ray Disc Purchase Link [PAL]

 

The Nudity: Lucía Delgado, Joaquín Furriel, Patricia López Arnaiz, Maria Molins, Úrsula Corberó, and Álvaro Cervantes

Lucía Delgado, Patricia López Arnaiz, Maria Molins, Úrsula Corberó, and others from "El árbol de la sangre" aka "The Tree of Blood" [2018, Spain].

Lucía Delgado, Patricia López Arnaiz, Maria Molins, Úrsula Corberó, and others from
“El árbol de la sangre” aka “The Tree of Blood” [2018, Spain].

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Grow more pineapple! “Der Geschmack von Leben” [2017 Germany]

No, this is not a new UN directive concerning public nutrition (though it might be a refreshing idea), but it might increase demand for pineapple if Roland Reber and his vlogging protagonist Nikki’s advice to drink more pineapple juice is taken seriously by men across the world.

In his latest film “Der Geschmack von Leben” [Eng. Title: Taste of Life], the maverick filmmaker and his co-conspirators Antje Nikola Mönning and Mira Gittner toast to the life-quality-enhancing properties of ‘cum’ (ok – semen, for the exasperatingly prude), and extol the benefits this symbiotic exchange would entail for men and women alike.

Antje Nikola Mönning in Der Geschmack von Leben (2017)The film’s title illustrates the evolution of Nikki (Antje Nikola Mönning) in the classical image of The Road to Homo Sapiens, accompanied by a soundtrack that’s a knowing wink to Paolo Sorrentino’s ‘The Young Pope’ theme song (Devlin’s Watchtower). The montage culminates with Nikki armed with an iPhone attached to a selfie stick. As you might’ve guessed by now, this is a comedy, with some serious Reber-style bits from his previous films thrown in.

Antje Nikola Monning and Andreas Pegler in Taste of LifeNikki is an ebullient vlogger, filming and sharing freely her dogging-style sexual encounters, and interviews with random people who readily open up to her. Barely dressed most of the time, she drives through the countryside in a vintage Land Rover looking for ‘victims’, while espousing to the viewer through an in-car camera, her philosophy of sexual living without the restrictions of conventional love and coupling.

Antje Nikola Mönning and Marina Anna Eich in Taste of LifeNikki’s interviewees include women of all sorts; some suffer from religious guilt, some jaded in love, some are still waiting for the right man, and some of them, kinky. Nikki’s advice to all of them is to enjoy the ‘taste’ of life in order to be happy. Morality for her is about accepting and rejoicing in sexual pleasure. “My Jesus is a kind Jesus and pleased when I suck dicks”, she’d emphatically claim.

Antje Nikola Mönning in Taste of Life (2017)The thrust of the narrative is however Nikki herself; living life to the full and ‘feasting’ on cum on her own terms. When a ‘victim’, hoping for some kind of compliment after generously splashing his cum on her, asks if he was good, Nikki dismissively tells him that as far as she was concerned, he was just another blow-up doll who could come, and to add insult to injury, forewarns him that his ‘cumming’ days are numbered.

Norman Graue as Jesus in Taste of Life (2017)Since the dawn of cinema, we’ve had vampires (Nosferatu, Dracula) as an implicit metaphor for women’s need for emancipation, equal rights etc. Later, and as a reaction to feminism, came films depicting women either as oppressors of men in a dystopian future, or as vampires themselves. Reber and Mönning seem to have taken a rather vegan, live-and-let-live approach to post-feminism – no one needs to get killed (and no souls harvested by the devil). What’s more, they’re also promoting pineapple juice, and much like Carla Juri’s pizza-toppings (Feuchtgebiete, 2013), introducing culinary to unusual ingredients, even though they will remain an acquired taste for some.

Antke Nikola Mö and Iris Boss in Taste of Life (2017)Male secretions apart, what struck me was the quality of the film’s production. Mira Gittner’s cinematography, colour-grading, and editing is significantly superior to previous efforts, and it shows. The film is funny for most of its duration – in fact it begins with a scene that self-deprecatingly parodies one of Reber’s own earlier films. But what I like most about the film is that it is not pretentious; it doesn’t seek approval for what it is, it doesn’t compromise, and it farts in the general direction of unwritten film convention. Amen to independent cinema, and Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon.de Blu-ray Link | Amazon.de DVD Link [PAL]

 

The Nudity: Antje Nikola Mönning, Norman Graue, Iris Boss, René Müller, Alex K, Agnes Thi-Mai, Ute Meisenheimer, and others
Antje Nikola Mönning is naked or partially naked, well, for most of the film, and participates enthusiastically in two explicitly filmed oral sex scenes that few porn veterans, let alone Maitland Ward would equal – Ms. Mönning even explains it all in this interview. René Müller and Alex K are her willing ‘victims’. Norman Graue plays a hilarious naked Jesus. Iris Boss is the hitchhiking young girl who goes skinny dipping with Nikki, and is later groped in a sex bar while performing striptease. Agnes Thai-Mai who kinda reminds one of Alizee if she were younger, voluptuous, and of course naked, spends the entire duration of a song in the nude, begging to be whipped. Ute Meisenheimer briefly appears topless as a mature housewife. Other nude men and women appear in walk-on roles.

Antje Nikola Mönning and others nude in Roland Reber's comedy, "Der Geschmack von Leben" aka "Taste of Life", 2017, Germany.

Antje Nikola Mönning and others from Roland Reber’s comedy, “Der Geschmack von Leben”
aka “Taste of Life”, 2017, Germany.

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