A brief review: “Las hijas de Abril” [2017, Mexico]

Wishing you all a very happy 2018!

 

Michel Franco is among the leading lights of Mexican cinema working today. Franco follows up on his impressive 2015 drama ‘Chronic’ with an equally devious and shocking family drama “Las hijas de Abril” (Eng. Title: April’s Daughters).

Enrique Arrizon, Ana Valeria Becerril and Joanna Larequi in "Las hijas de Abril" [2017 Mexico]The film begins with Clara (Joanna Larequi) preparing dinner seemingly unperturbed by sounds of lovemaking emanating from the room next door. When it ends and Clara goes out to make a phone call, her teenage sister and very pregnant Valeria (Ana Valeria Becerril) emerges sweaty and famished, followed by her equally young boyfriend Mateo (Enrique Arrizon). Clara was calling her ‘Spanish’ mum Abril (Emma Suárez) to inform her of Valeria’s pregnancy – something Valeria hadn’t been quite keen on telling herself, and we’ll begin to appreciate her initial reluctance through the course of the film.

Ana Valeria Becerril and Emma Suárez in "Las hijas de Abril" [2017 Mexico]Following their parents’ divorce, the sisters have been living in the family’s vacation home, largely keeping to themselves, but the anticipated arrival of a new member into the household had forced Clara to seek out their mum for help. Abril turns up, unexpectedly for Valeria, to take control over matters, with what by initial signs appear to be a genuine concern for the welfare of her daughters and the yet-to-be-born child.

Enrique Arrizon and Emma Suárez in "Las hijas de Abril" [2017 Mexico]With Valeria struggling with the rigours of motherhood after baby Karen is born, it is often left to Abril’s resourcefulness, experience, and initiative to cope with Karen’s matters. Valeria momentarily takes a back seat and a naive and clueless Mateo, whose parents have already rejected their bastard granddaughter, succumbs to Abril’s whims and schemes, which take on sinister dimensions.

Ana Valeria Becerril in "Las hijas de Abril" [2017 Mexico]After Abril puts Karen up for adoption without Valeria’s permission, we begin to see her transform, with little fanfare or notice, from a caring mother and grandmother into a selfish, narcissistic, and amoral bitch intent on wrecking the lives the very ones she’s supposed to care and protect. Valeria will be forced to grow up, swiftly, to reclaim her child by exhibiting the single-mindedness her mother is already known for…

Enrique Arrizon, Ana Valeria Becerril, and Emma Suarez in "Las hijas de Abril" [Mexico, 2017]Michel Franco’s little gem was one of the few films that truly impressed me at the BFI London Film Festival this year and I’d be surprised if it doesn’t go on to bag a few more awards. The great storyteller that he is, Franco’s off-kilter narrative succeeds in using seemingly austere imagery to deceive and challenge his audience by posing inconvenient questions. The film’s title itself – ‘April’s Daughter’, could more tellingly be named ‘Valeria’s Mother’, because the film is mostly about the mother, played with utter conviction by Emma Suárez – she has us glued to proceedings no matter what we feel about the character she’s playing. Equally impressive is debutante Ana Valeria Becerril who plays the young teenage mother. Needless to say, the film is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

 

The Nudity: Ana Valeria Becerril
A heavily pregnant Valeria enters the room naked to help herself to a snack while overhearing her sister Clara talking to their mum over phone. The scene is also surprising in that it is the opening scene of the film. She’s also later seen partially naked and sleeping on the sofa when Abril visits.

Scenes of Ana Valeria Becerril from the Mexican drama "Las hijas de Abril" [2017]

Scenes of Ana Valeria Becerril from the Mexican drama “Las hijas de Abril” [2017]

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Morning Interim – Episodes 3 and 4 [2017 Portugal, United Kingdom]

João Paulo Simões

João Paulo Simões

Halfway through the successful series of short films for his anthology “Morning Interim”, I caught up with film maker João Paulo Simões to talk about the latest episodes and also take stock of the series so far. As ever, he was forthcoming in answering my questions for another exclusive interview.

 

A halfway interview with João Paulo Simões

A still from "The Beast" (1975)To what extent has the Polish-French auteur Walerian Borowczyk’s ‘The Beast’ influenced ‘Morning Interim’ series?
I consider Borowczyk’s La Bête a crucial influence that goes beyond the surface or aesthetics. Like Morning Interim, which evolved from unfinished material shot with the purpose of being part of a sequel to the feature film Antlers of Reason (2006), the Sirpa Lane scenes in La Bête (1975) were also originally conceived to be part of Borowczyk’s anthology film Immoral Tales (1973). So I guess both projects share that same “salvaging of unused material” approach. I think this can contribute to a very specific formal outcome, which can translate as having elements that pulsate with their very own energy and identity within the overall narrative. But, I must say that La Bête has been a far more direct influence in Antlers of Reason. Aside from the few brief references made in the film, I semi-consciously borrowed specific concepts, such as the materialisation of fantasy into the reality of the central character’s life and the primal connection she, as a young woman with a blossoming sexuality, has to Nature – itself embodied in the beast-like figure of the antlered god Thalus.

 

From Morning Interim, Episode 3 [2017]The ‘Morning Interim’ series is turning out to be a mystery thriller by drawing elements from ‘exploitation films’ of yore but you’d given it an entirely distinct treatment. Placing it somewhere between an unapologetic Jean Rollin and a Lynchian drama, are you consciously building a new ‘genre’ for the age with this series?
It is certainly (and hopefully) an exercise in broadening the scope of the web-series format, which itself is a liberated by-product of a digital age. It’s fair to say that I am channeling all the mythological subtexts and suggested narrative strands of Antlers of Reason into a considerably experimental approach. The eight-episode format provides it with a definite structure (with its own self-imposed set of restrictions), but frees me creatively to pursue other ideas that can alternate between the abstract, the minimalist and the atmospheric. In many ways, the majority of the web-series that one finds out there still operate within conventional broadcast rules, with minor adjustments to cater to the immediate satisfaction of the digital age. I can’t think of anything more ‘pornographic’ than that. So to make something that would, ironically enough, feature sexually-explicit elements, but would adopt a sense of nostalgia for both the analogue and a foregone era of Cinema seemed to me an irresistible proposition…

 

A still from "Morning Interim" Episode 3 (2017)Here you are, a director making ‘European’ films whilst living in an England that has a distinct film-making heritage of its own. Was that a choice, and if so, is that because Britain, for all its much-talked about ‘Britishness’, still remains a veritable melting pot where different ideas find space and thrive?
It’s definitely been a permanent “fish out of water” situation, I must say. Whilst Britain has, so far, enabled a variety of cultures to settle within its cultural barriers, its filmmaking traditions have remained rooted in a constant reassertion of their identity. I find the approach of social realism incredibly tedious, to be honest. That said, the reality of a Northern England (and a lot of what it evokes, as filtered through my foreign eyes) has been pivotal in the formulation of a lot of my projects. Antlers of Reason would’ve never existed without it. And, by default, neither would’ve Morning Interim.
Still, what many would consider “creating in isolation”, I choose to look at as “being left to do your own thing”.

 

João Paulo Simões in "Morning Interim" (2017)While Episode 3 (Re-enactments) injects conventional plot elements to an otherwise cryptic first two episodes, Episode 4 (Further Illicit Diagrams) not only introduces a new character named ‘Fern’, but also hints at a different side to Jay aka Thalus. Is this going to turn into a morality tale of sorts..?
That is a very interesting question. The morality tale aspect reverts, once more, back to the film that originated it all, Antlers of Reason. The episodes of Morning Interim though, shift between what you define as cryptic and a plot device that takes the shape of personal investigations that unearth a dark Past (and the shadows it continues to cast over the existence of certain characters). We are driving towards a specific destination – that is ridden with guilt and loss and certainly tinted with personal moral dilemmas.

 

Alexandra Patriarca in "Morning Interim" (2017)Now, to the star of Episode 4 – Alexandra Patriarca plays ‘Fern’ and this episode largely focuses on her intimate encounter with Jay. I’m also surprised to hear that this is Ms. Patriarca’s first film.
Alexandra is one of those rare cases of someone who can effortlessly inhabit space and, with her gentle presence, extend a moment outside its time limits. This is rare to find and can’t be taught in acting classes. It’s intrinsic to who she is, as an individual.

 

Alexandria Patriarca and João Paulo Simões in "Morning Interim" (2017)The episode features perhaps the most explicit and dare I say ‘passionate’ sex scene in the series so far, notwithstanding your character’s (Jay/Thalus) largely passive and ‘robotic’ nature – the passion is entirely from Ms. Patriarca. Could you shed some light on how you came to cast her for the role?
Once I identified that very special quality about her, my mission became to preserve it – and never to corrupt it. She’s actually one of the most coherent and earnest people I ever met. With great humility she accepted my challenge and ‘donated herself’ to the project – a beautiful act of faith and trust.

 

What was Ms. Patriarca’s reaction to performing explicit sex for camera, and that too on her film debut? Was any of the crew present during the shoot?
There was never an issue. Her personality and aforementioned presence really suits the minimalism that I wanted to bring back (and improve upon) from Episode 2 – Illicit Diagrams become Further Illicit Diagrams, after all. I’ve developed a way of working that keeps production elements to their bare minimum. Only those essential to the scene in question are allowed in.

 

Luisa Torregrosa from "Morning Interim" (2017)Something tells me Fern isn’t just ‘another’ victim of Thalus, but without giving away any plot points, could you confirm if this is not the last we’ll hear from her in this series?
Very far from it. Although one could argue that she’s constricted to a film world of a specific era (the 1970’s), the importance of her role will unfold in upcoming episodes. Whilst the Mystery Woman (played by Luisa Torregrosa) is instrumental in bridging crucial gaps in the Present, Fern’s identity and ambiguous relationship to Jay will be gradually revealed as the transitional stepping stone of the Past.

 

A still from "Morning Interim" Episode 3 (2017)I’ve so far enjoyed several aspects of this series from a film-buff’s point of view. There are ‘atmospheric’ touches scattered throughout, like in the start of Episode 3, which surely is a nod to David Lynch/Carlos Reygadas. Some characters and place names even have direct references to films from the past. I also like the concept of film within a film that’s already within a film. The insertion of a clip from a supposed 1975 film titled ‘Ninho das aguias’ (Eagles’ Nest) does not only look convincing – it also doesn’t clash with the rest of the narrative. Is this your homage of sorts to Seventies and Eighties cinema?
Glad to hear that. Very much appreciated. The goal was precisely that: to bring a sort of analogue-transmutation to proceedings, in the way the footage of that fictional film is treated to evoke a very specific type of 1970’s Cinema.
It’s not wrong at all to call it an homage. It’s a throwback to a way of doing things that simply got lost, as your priorities become surreptitiously defined by others. There was just something very genuine and pure about a lot of those films – regardless of how explicit and supposedly exploitative most were. But, its insertion in the episode poses certain fundamental questions that could be pointing towards a “pretty meta” reveal, when it comes to the character of Jay.

 

A still from "Antlers of Reason" (2006)What can we look forward to in Episode 5? Any new or legendary faces we can expect to see?
Episode 5 is currently in production. Again, there will be a return to more traditional horror elements and Nature will come to the foreground once more. It’s entitled “This Place, That Time” and, in conjunction with the subsequent Episode 6, will give a face to the hidden forces and interests at play. It will center mostly on new characters, but their introduction will help make sense out of a lot that we’ve seen so far.

 
 

Streaming Link for Film | Become a Patron
Morning Interim, Antlers of Reason and other works by filmmaker João Paulo Simões are all available on The Vault of Alternative Cinema. You can also support the project directly on Patreon.

 

 

The Nudity: Luisa Torregrosa, João Paulo Simões, Monica Calle, Erica Rodrigues, and Alexandra Patriarca
The third episode (Re-Enactments) features an explicit sex scene between Luisa Torregrosa and João Paulo Simões. The fourth episode (Further Illicit Diagrams) features yet another explicit sex scene between mature Monica Calle and João Paulo Simões. Erica Rodrigues also appears nude in a brief scene. However, the highlight of the episode will have to be a gratuitously explicit sex scene between newcomer Alexandra Patriarca and João Paulo Simões – something I also touched upon during the interview. The found projector-with-footage effect used in the scene, whilst not as convincing as shooting it in 8mm directly, is effective enough in conveying the feel given the budget and resources. Recommended Viewing..!

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More Marina for your reading room…

Having been reluctantly drawn out my hole, here’s a bit of (slightly late) news. Photographer Thomas Karsten has just self-published his own Coffee Table edition of sensual nudes of a stunning-as-ever Marina Anna Eich titled:

Marina Anna Eich

black white and naked

Marina Anna Eich - black white and nude

Marina Anna Eich: black white and nude © Thomas Karsten.

 

 

While as sumptuous as the previous edition, the new book, to me at least, is a whole lot more creative (unless my self-induced exile has made me see things differently).

Creative and sensual: Marina Anna Eich, black qhite and nude

Creative and sensual – from “Marina Anna Eich: black white and nude” © Thomas Karsten.

 

There are more for preview here: Thomas Karsten Photography
The book can be ordered by directly contacting Thomas Karsten.

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New WTP Film:
In a slightly related topic, it’s thrilling to learn that WTP Film are finally coming out with their next film after a gap of few years. Titled “The Taste of Life”, it features Antje Nikola Mönning in the starring role. Ms. Eich has only a short on-screen role in it – understandably so, considering the enormous workload of managing and coordinating with the fifty-strong team and crew. The film is in post-production and its release date would be announced soon. We can’t wait..! 🙂

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Using failures as stepping stones: “Nome Próprio” [2007 Brazil]

Murilo Salles co-opted author Clara Averbuck’s alter ego Camila from her groundbreaking novel (Máquina de Pinball) for his drama “Nome Próprio” [Eng. Title: Camila Jam].

Leandra Leal in "Camila Jam" (2007 Brazil)Set in São Paulo, the film begins with Camila (Leandra Leal) being kicked out of the apartment by boyfriend Felipe (Juliano Cazarré) following a flaming row between them – apparently she’d ‘cheated’ on him and he wants her out of his life. Camila’s shame, outrage, and vulnerability is underscored by the added detail of her also being completely naked when the eviction happens.

Leandra Leal in "Camila Jam" (Brazil, 2007)Camila wants to be a writer, and whilst waiting for her inspiration, keeps herself engaged socially by maintaining a blog where she’d also built up a following. After a friend in whose apartment she found shelter vacates and leaves unexpectedly, one of her blog fans comes to her rescue and offers her a place a stay.

Leandra Leal in "Camila Jam" (2007, Brazil)But Camila also doesn’t want to be just any writer – she craves for poetry and intensity in everything she does, and she seeks them wherever she can, regardless of the people she might hurt, or despite unfailingly getting hurt herself. Her resourcefulness and chutzpah allows her to dust herself off after every little calamity and and keep chasing that elusive something she’s looking for. As she herself admits, “Sometimes they break my legs, they kick me in the face, and they stomp on my fingers. I survive. I’m scarred too, but I make the most of each and every one of my scars.”

Leandra Leal in "Nome Próprio" (2007, Brazil)Leandra Leal makes the film special by her unforgettable no-holds-barred portrayal of Camila as an intense and worryingly unsatisfied woman. And of course, the credit for that can justifiably be shared with the director too for helping Ms. Leal bring this character out of her. Watching the film after nearly a decade and with a bit more ‘mature’ eyes certainly helped me discover nuances I had missed earlier. I’m aware of some films from elsewhere that touches on similar topics, but the intensity seen in this film is certainly unique. Needless to say, this little gem is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

DVD Purchase Link [NTSC]

 

The Nudity: Leandra Leal, Rosanne Mulholland, Ricardo Garcia, and Gustavo Machado
Leandra Leal appears nude in a number of scenes, most of which are also long and intense. Rosanne Mulholland plays Camila’s best friend Paula and appears nude in a post-coital scene with Leandra Leal. Ricardo Garcia and Gustavo Machado appear briefly nude during their scenes with Camila. The film also features one of the more ‘intriguing’ sex scenes not often seen in mainstream cinema. A drunk Camila taunts, teases, rejects, and challenges an equally drunk Rodrigo (Ricardo Garcia) in a scene that oscillates between rape and seduction for over 8½ minutes – a scene that I’d also love to discuss with readers in the comments section.

Leandra Leal, Rosanne Mulholland, Ricardo Garcia, and Gustavo Machado in "Nome Próprio" aka "Camila Jam" (2007, Brazil)

Leandra Leal in scenes from “Nome Próprio” aka “Camila Jam” (2007, Brazil).

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A film review: “The House” [1997 Lithuania]

Sarunas Bartas:

Sarunas BartasAs one of Lithuania’s foremost auteurs, Sarunas Bartas is known for his poetic, brooding, and contemplative cinema that allow themselves to be interpreted variously based on individual experiences. If some critics are eager to brand his work pretentious and self-indulgent, it is perhaps because the films might appear opaque to casual viewers. While his films feature no formal narrative and no directly expressed opinions, one could yet detect meaningful undercurrents if they’re willing to immerse themselves in his slowly-meandering stream of visuals. By ‘slow’, we’re talking Béla Tarr and Theo Angelopoulos ‘slow’. His visuals themselves; be it the grandest of Tarkovskian outdoors, the decaying rooms, or the sympathetic wrinkles on a sun-beaten face, are nevertheless stunningly captured in all their glory and fans of cinematography will find it very hard to not like his work.

 

“The House” (1997)

The House (1997)In a way, “The House” (Orig. Title: A Casa) makes a departure from Sarunas Bartas’s earlier films in that it is un-apologetically allegorical. It is also less ‘accessible’ than his earlier films because it relates more closely to local history. The fact that there are very few words spoken in the film also encourages us to over analyse every scene and look for clues. It works better if we don’t.

"The House" (1997)The film begins with a view of a mansion that had certainly seen better days, and a male voice is heard reading from what could be a page from a diary. He opens up to his mother on things he had always wanted to talk about, but never managed to during his previous visits. He confesses to having imaginary conversations with her and receiving her (imagined) replies, the way it used to be during his childhood. We’re taken indoors where a disheveled young man (Francisco Nascimento) wakes up in a room surrounded by fluttering decorated pigeons, and that’s just a couple of minutes into our two-hour film.

Valeria Bruni Tedeschi from "The House" (1997)As he goes through each room, we witness groups of people and animals who don’t originally belong in the household seeking refuge there, about which the protagonist isn’t too perturbed. We see a lonely woman (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) unresponsive to calls for attention by a different man next door, but instead entertains herself by enacting her backstory using finger-puppets.

"The House" (1997)We see an elderly couple join others for dinner but go back upstairs their separate ways. We see a room filled with naked children, and one with naked women caressing our protagonist. And before the revelation that happens at the very end, we see fireworks around a decorated tree in one of the rooms, with half naked men and women going around it in costume, while fireworks are also let off over the frozen lake outside…

"A Casa" (The House), 1997Bartas’s personal film engages us with little other than sumptuous visuals until the very end, but it leaves us engaged more vigorously after the final credits start rolling. While the eponymous house most definitely signifies Lithuania itself, we are left to our own devices to freely interpret who the ‘mother’ is and what everything else represent. Whether one sees this as cinema at its very best or at its most pretentious, it is certainly worthy of a challenge and an opinion. And who knows, if approached with the right frame, one might also find it illuminating. Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon.fr DVD Link [PAL]

 

The Nudity: Egle Kuckaite, Greta Sapkaite, and others
As the review indicates, there are several instances of nudity from younger residents in the house featuring children and teenage girls. The individual scenes feature Egle Kuckaite attending dinner in the nude, and Greta Sapkaite observing herself in the mirror. She appears again in the scene where the protagonist is caressed by several young women.

Egle Kuckaite, Greta Sapkaite, and others from the Sarunas Bartas film, "A Casa" aka "The House", 1997, Lithuania.

Egle Kuckaite, Greta Sapkaite, and others from the Sarunas Bartas film,
“A Casa” aka “The House”, 1997, Lithuania.

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