Primal instinct: “La región salvaje” [2016 Mexico]

Amat Escalante is renowned/infamous for gritty and at times shocking realism in his films. But his 2016 erotic Sci-Fi fantasy drama (or dark comedy even) “La región salvaje” [Eng. Title: The Untamed] is quite different, and happily so.

Simone Bucio in "The Untamed" (2016, Mexico)The film begins with what we assume to be an asteroid in space heading our way. The next scene is of a young Verónica (Simone Bucio) writhing in ecstasy in the arms of a tentacled creature, wearing the expression of a painfully dependent opium addict. As Marta (Bernarda Trueba), wife of scientist Verga (Oscar Escalante), clears away the blood-stained sheets from the bed, an injured Verónica is shown limping across mist-laden woodland to make it to her parked cross motorbike.

A still from "La región salvaje" (Mexico, 2016)Dr. Verga who’d housed and studied the tentacled creature from his cabin since its discovery, is convinced that it represents the most primal of nature’s instincts in its purest state, with even the wild animals getting irresistibly drawn towards the crater site to copulate. He also opines that Verónica’s recent rendezvous with the creature turned out bloody because it’d lost interest of her.

Ruth Ramos and Jesus Meza in "The Untamed" (La region salvaje) 2016A parallel storyline develops around unhappy Alejandra (Ruth Ramos) and her family. Her husband Ángel (Jesús Meza) had been having an affair with her brother Fabián (Eden Villavicencio), which the latter had wanted to end. Verónica strikes up a friendship with Fabián at the hospital where he works and divulges about a ‘lover’ who lost interest and ‘dumped’ her lately, and suggests he visit the cabin to find out for himself…

A still from "La region salvaje" (The Untamed), 2016 MexicoDuring the course of the film, it dawns on us that rather than a supposed sci-fi thriller along the lines of Alien, War of the Worlds, or even Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession (with which it shares some plot similarities), we’re indeed watching something allegorical. It is in effect a critique of everything that’s gone wrong in modern society. Some scenes are darkly funny even when something tragic is happening, which can hardly be considered unintentional, especially with someone of Escalante’s notoriety at the helm.

A still from "The Untamed" (La region salvaje) 2016The film happily defies categorisation – like an early Almodóvar who didn’t worry too much about having to be audience-friendly, this is Escalante simply having fun with different genres whilst striding the thin line between homage and parody. Yes, there is social commentary, but that’s not the film’s main purpose. To me it’s a celebration of the film making process itself; the film has integrity and pays enough attention to detail, and even if we’d seen more convincing FX creatures in Hollywood, it shouldn’t matter too much on this occasion. That said, the bizarre scene where various species of animals are seen merrily shagging away in a crater-like pit is a sight to behold. And we all know that even Stanley Kubrick would struggle to direct wild beast porn, so the effects department clearly earned their keep here. Recommended Viewing..! 🙂

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

 

The Nudity: Simone Bucio, Ruth Ramos, Jesús Meza, and Eden Villavicencio
Nudity from newcomers Simone Bucio (Verónica) and Ruth Ramos (Alejandra) are largely due to scenes featuring tentacular groping and masturbatory activity. Jesús Meza (Ángel) and Eden Villavicencio (Fabián) appear nude in a sex scene too.

Simone Bucio and Ruth Ramos star in Amat Escalante's sci-fi erotic thriller "La región salvaje" aka "The Untamed" [2016, Mexico]

Simone Bucio and Ruth Ramos star in Amat Escalante’s sci-fi erotic thriller “La región salvaje”
aka “The Untamed” [2016, Mexico]

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My body, my choice: “Vergine giurata” [2015, Italy, Albania]

Alba Rohrwacher in "Sworn Virgin" (2015)There’s no need for alarm; we needn’t fear a militant or agenda-driven feminist narrative in Laura Bispuri’s debut feature “Vergine giurata” [Eng. Title: Sworn Virgin]. It is rather a nuanced critique of restrictive sexual and cultural norms in some communities and our protagonist’s determination for the right to his/her own body.

Flonja Kodheli and Alba Rohrwacher in "Sworn Virgin" (2015)The film begins with ‘Mark’ – formerly Hana (Alba Rohrwacher) leaving her frozen Albanian village behind for an Italian city where Lila (Flonja Kodheli), the daughter of her foster parents, lives. They were close and grew up together, until Lila decided to elope with her Albanian lover barely a week before her arranged marriage.

Alba Rohrwacher in "Vergine giurata" (2015)While Lila has since established a family in Italy, a tomboyish Hana found the idea of becoming a traditional housewife oppressive, and has hence drawn upon a right from local custom that would allow her to forego her societal obligations as a woman – she had taken a community-sanctioned vow to celibacy by cutting her hair short and dressing up as a man.

Lars Eidinger and Alba Rohrwacher in "Sworn Virgin" (2015)While Hana may have, in theory, became Mark – she had a man’s rights, including the right to bear arms and hunt for a living, she was in practise already branded for life a sexual identity from her days as Hana, and her new-found independence as Mark only led to her further isolation. She had to leave, and hence her arrival at Lila’s doorstep unannounced. A new life now beckons for Hana

Flonja Kodheli and Alba Rohrwacher in "Vergine giurata" (2015)The thoughtfully meandering film inter-cuts the past with the present to paint a vivid portrait of Hana and her world, one that resonates universally despite its specifics. As our evolving understanding of sexuality and identity keep reshaping modern lives, it’s imperative to keep the ‘dialogue’ within society open without necessarily being combative or antagonistic. The film achieves this in no small measure thanks to Ms. Bispuri’s commendable direction and Ms. Rohrwacher’s assured performance. For once, it’s also a relief to see Albanians not portrayed as criminal or refugee stereotypes, but as fellow humans with life goals not too dissimilar to our own. Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]

 

The Nudity: Alba Rohrwacher
Since the film specifically focuses on Hana’s metamorphosis from someone uncomfortable with her body and identity – to the extent of even living in discomfort by wrapping layers of cloth around her breasts to appear less feminine, brief nudity becomes unavoidable while portraying her gradual transformation.

Alba Rohrwacher from the Italian-Albanian film, "Vergine giurata" aka "Sworn Virgin" (2015).

Alba Rohrwacher from the Italian-Albanian film, “Vergine giurata” aka “Sworn Virgin” (2015).

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A brief review: “170 Hz” [2011 Netherlands]

Joost van Ginkel’s debut feature “170 Hz” concerns two deaf youths from different backgrounds falling in love.

Gaite Jansen and Michael Muller in "170 Hz" [2011]Evy (Gaite Jansen) and Nick (Michael Muller) are lovers, but the only thing they have in common, apart from their love for each other, is the fact that they’re both deaf who communicate through sign language. Apart from that, their worlds couldn’t be further apart.

Gaite Jansen in "170 Hz" [2011]While Evi’s middle class upbringing has come packaged with doting , if conservative, parents, Nick is from a less wealthy environment, and by all indications, has had a troubled childhood. Apart from being bullied by peers for his disability, Nick singularly also fails to impress Evi’s father when he’s invited home for dinner.

Gaite Jansen and Michael Muller in "170 Hz" [2011]With a father demanding her to stay away from Nick, Evi hatches a plan to force her parents to accept Nick into the family – to elope together for a few months and return after becoming pregnant. A eager Nick accepts, and after picking a disused submarine for their hideout, stacks it with provisions for their long stay.

Gaite Jansen and Michael Muller in "170 Hz" [2011]But Nick unexpectedly brings forward their day of elopement, and when Evi tries to ask for an explanation, he tactfully changes the topic. Their following days are spent in loving embraces and blissful abandonment. Fissures in their relationship first appear when Nick discovers and rewrites Evi’s typewritten diary with false details. When Evi learns about her pregnancy and suggests to Nick that it is time to return home, Nick dithers. Evi will discover that Nick has been hiding a dark secret from her all along…

Gaite Jansen and Michael Muller in "170 Hz" [2011]For a debut feature, the film is technically well done; the visuals are pretty and the performances are not bad either. But having said that, I failed to notice anything unique about the story line or narrative, save the protagonists’ hearing impairment. Outcast lovers in film – yes we’ve seen them in various forms already, but while some have managed to touch the audience at some level, I couldn’t say the same about van Ginkel’s first attempt. The director nevertheless shows promise which I hope to see realised in his subsequent films. I have to confess that the only reason for picking this film has been the lovely and memorable Gaite Jansen.

 

The Nudity: Gaite Jansen
While there are few scenes with nudity from Gaite Jansen, they appear to be a bit over-polished, like watching a Cadbury’s Flake commercial. Perhaps it’s the jaded voyeur in me, or perhaps its the director-cinematographer combo honing their skills to make a killing in the advertising world – you decide. 🙂

Scenes of Gaite Jansen from the Dutch drama, "170 Hz" [2011].

Scenes of Gaite Jansen from the Dutch drama, “170 Hz” [2011].

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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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