Stockholm Film Festival 2016

I watched ten films at the 2014 festival, fourteen last year (at two festivals back to back), and this year I managed ten again. I had bought tickets for fourteen, but stuff got in the way: a huge blizzard that knocked out public transport, subtitles disappearing, and a call to marital duty.

The people who book movies for this festival really know what they’re doing. Half of the ones I saw get my special recommendation:

  • Small Town Curtains / Småstad. Five middle-aged siblings play five middle-aged siblings dealing with the death of their father. In Vadstena. In a broad Östergötland dialect. With liberal use of the family’s old home movies. I smiled and cried and loved this movie. This is the film about Sweden that I want foreigners to see!
  • A Decent Woman / Los decentes. Love-starved and inhibited woman gets a job as a housemaid in a sterile, lifeless, affluent gated community. Discovers that across the fence is a free-love commune where people laze about nude in the sun all day giving each other intimate massages in a paradisiacal setting. She promptly joins and begins commuting between the two worlds. Delightfully strange film.
  • Fiore. Young love between inmates of an Italian juvenile detention centre.
  • Fritz Lang. Demonic movie director becomes obsessed with serial killer and faces his own inner darkness.
  • American Anarchist. Documentary about the infamous bomb manual The Anarchist Cookbook, largely consisting of extended interviews at 65 with the man who wrote it aged 19.

Four were well worth watching:

  • Malaria. Meandering tale of teenage runaways in Teheran who make friends with a bumbling feckless musician. So focused on smartphones that it looks like a commercial at times. Fine snippets of life in contemporary urban Iran, but fairly plotless. Nobody has believable motivation.
  • SHOT! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock. Rock celebrity-strewn portrait of prolific photographer Mick Rock and his oeuvre. Interesting to folks like me who like 70s UK/US music. Probably irrelevant to others, who can better enjoy the pictures in a gallery or book.
  • Baden Baden. Eventless study of a young woman’s relationships with the people around her over a few weeks as she renovates the bathroom of her dear hospitalised grandmother.
  • All These Sleepless Nights. Entire film is a string of clips from indoor and outdoor nights on the town among young Warsawites. All the dialogue is drunk and/or stoned. Strangely interesting despite these handicaps.

And only in one case would I suggest that you give it a miss:

  • The Wedding Ring. Naïvist movie about a lovesick young noblewoman in Niger. Many beautiful shots but slow, plotless and amateurishly acted.

The movie that I left after 20 mins when the subtitles cut out looked really promising: Kills On Wheels, about Hungarian contract killers in wheel chairs.

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Weekend Fun

Space Wale

Space Whale

The past two weekends were a lot of fun.

  • The Royal Technical College’s orchestra and several combined student choirs from Sweden and Finland performed Giuseppe Verdi’s 1874 Requiem, an intricate and operatic farewell to fellow composer Gioachino Rossini and poet Alessandro Manzoni.

    Hallwyl House: carving in the doorway between the ladies' drawing room and the Golden Salon.

    Hallwyl House: carving in the doorway between the ladies’ drawing room and the Golden Salon.

  • Gig with King Khan and the Shrines. Imagine a tall, psychedelic, semi-nude, portly, Canadian Wilson Pickett of Indian extraction belting out soul rock with a band consisting of extremely enthusiastic Germans. First time I’ve seen a horn section playing to a microphone stuck down the front of the lead singer’s hot pants.
  • Played Elfenland and Plato 3000.
  • Watched the 1955 Brando-Simmons-Sinatra-Blaine movie version of the 1950 musical Guys and Dolls. Impressed by Brando, didn’t know he could sing. Ugly sets and boring dialogue though. The reason that we watched it was that Jrette is playing Nicely-Nicely Johnson in an upcoming school production. Made me want to read some Damon Runyon.
  • Gig organised by Undergången with three unsigned Swedish psych acts. Space Whale are four very young and very strong musicians with excellent songs. They really blew me away! Besvärjelsen are a heavier and more metal-oriented quintet that I would really like to hear studio work from. And the Magic Jove trio are basically Cream. Extremely proficient musicians!
  • Hallwyl House: Swedish logging magnate’s daughter marries Swiss count and has some of 1890s Stockholm’s best architects and artists build them a town palace, no expenses spared, which she proceeds to fill with Early Modern art and craft objects. All of this remains in place and is now a museum, large parts of which is free of charge, and which is located a short walk from the Central Station.
King Khan

King Khan

Notes on the new Star Wars movie

Vague and sweeping spoilers below.

The Force Awakens is fully on a level with the original three films, as far as I remember them. These are four good scifi action movies. The new one is actually better in being much more inclusive of women and non-Europid people. It’s quite a loving re-visit to the original material.

My main complaints with the new one are that

  • The tempo is too uniform and too high
  • No time seems to pass between scenes, with the main characters never even having a change of clothes
  • People need no training to operate star ships and military weaponry
  • The story is a clear and intentional repeat of A New Hope
  • It reintroduces the exact threat that the three original movies dealt with, obviating the entire struggle there. Cf. Sauron showing up and making trouble long after Morgoth got tossed into the Timeless Void.

Stockholm Film Festival 2015

It’s been a busy movie-going month for me with the Monsters of Film festival, where I saw six films, and now the Stockholm International Film Festival where I’ve seen eight. Last year I saw ten films at the latter festival, and I enjoyed most of them, but overall I liked this year’s crop even better. All but two get my special recommendation:

  • As I Open My Eyes. A late-teen girl discovers love and experiences political repression while singing in a band in pre-revolution Tunis — five years ago.
  • Dope. By happenstance three geeky straightlaced ghetto kids find themselves in possession of a large amount of drugs, and have to find a way to get rid of them. Without either getting killed by a drug gang or ending up in jail.
  • Makeup Room. Humorous and unromantic look at a day in the make-up room on a Japanese porn film set. Written and directed by a veteran of the business, with porn actors delivering fine performances in most of these speaking roles.
  • North. Visually stunning uncritical documentary about the Kurdish guerilla. Grade: Pass With Distinction. (Note however that the Turkish Ministry of Culture does not agree. They banned the film from the Istanbul Film Festival, giving it huge free publicity.)
  • Price of Love. An Ethiopian Taxi Driver in a visually captivating Addis Ababa and with a less crazy & violent Travis Bickle.
  • Unexpected. White high school teacher realises she’s pregnant around the same time as one of her black senior students. Friendship ensues with much discussion of career and motherhood. Fun and none too preachy.

This one was fully OK too, but a bit clichéd to my jaded Western eyes:

  • Masaan (“Crematorium”). Two young people love and lose and live on in a gorgeously shot Benares waterfront quarter next to the cremation pyres.

The only film I found kind of slow and pointless was one of the festival’s most high-profile entrants, screened as the opening flick for the whole event and recipient of festival awards for best directorial début and best male lead actor, plus a special award funded by a telecomms company. YMMV.

  • Mediterranea. Two Burkineans go to Italy, endure slow plotless hardship, pick lots of oranges.

A funny detail to me is how many of these films show women’s breasts in fairly unpornographic situations. My reading of these scenes is that the boobs are being reclaimed and defused here, not exploited. Kind of a win-win for me, since I both support women’s right to their own bodies and enjoy seeing breasts.

Monsters of Film

Turbo Kid -- see this movie!

Turbo Kid — see this movie!

Encouraged by my first film festival last year, I’ve signed up for two this year. This past week it’s been the genre festival Monsters of Film, which leans towards horror but has a lot of other stuff too (but very few monster flicks, actually). I saw 5½ films in five days. Two get my special recommendation:

  • Turbo Kid. Fun over-the-top 80s superhero-comics nostalgia in a post-apocalyptic wasteland with BMX-riding road warriors.
  • Remake, Remix, Rip-off. Documentary about popular low budget Turkish movie-making in the 50s to the 90s. Voluminous interviews intercut with clips of period films, no voiceover.

Three others were also well worth watching:

  • Sensoria. A woman is in bad mental shape after a miscarriage and a divorce. She moves into a haunted apartment and quietly goes nuts.
  • Cherry Tree. English kitchen-sink school story about teen pregnancy gets hijacked by luridly baroque Satanist cult, calling to mind the X-files episode where the Parent-Teacher Association is a witch coven.
  • Spring. Bereaved young Californian goes to Italy and gets involved with a pretty girl who turns out to have serious problems of an X-files nature. Drawn-out biotechnobabble ensues, leaving nothing unexplained.

I walked out of the shorts anthology México Bárbaro halfway through when the raping and child necrophilia started. Bleagh. There are a lot of things in horror that will gross you out and depress you without scaring or intriguing you. Some of the other shorts in the anthology were OK though.

Stockholm Film Festival 2014

Before this month I’d never attended a film festival in any concerted way. But I was inspired by Ken & Robin’s podcast to do so, and got myself a membership card for the Stockholm Film Festival, 5–16 November. The festival’s excellent web site made it easy for me to choose which viewings to attend. And I enjoyed myself! Teaching in Umeå and a boardgaming retreat in Nyköping took chunks out of the festival for me, but I still managed to see nine feature films and a programme of nine short films.

Three of the feature films have my particular recommendation:

  • A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night. A tale of a skateboard-riding female vampire shot in gorgeous black and white. And in Persian. With lots of classic Americana. Beautifully druggy and funny and strange.
  • The Two Faces of January. Young huckster tries to trick old embezzler in Athens. Two people die by happenstance. The noose tightens. Will there be a final paternal benediction?
  • A Hard Day. Violent and humorous police action in South Korea. Crooked homicide detective commits hit and run. Has he been seen?

Five others I also found to be well worth watching:

  • Five Star. Fatherless Brooklyn ghetto youth gets drawn into the drug trade by a paternal and semi-unwilling gang boss but sees through the game.
  • Hill of Freedom. Cut-up story of a man who goes looking for his lost love in South Korea, has a lot of mildly humorous and calculatedly cringy conversations, and hooks up with the cashier at the Hill of Freedom café.
  • Dear White People. Unrealistically attractive cast plays unrealistically articulate US college students who never seem to study. Makes the trite points that race issues are hard for everyone to deal with and that in the end money talks.
  • Northern Soul. Plotless story of 70s working-class teens who obsess about soul music, gobble amphetamines and dance a lot. I guess you need to have been there to care.
  • Camera. Near-future extreme surveillance in Hong Kong. A young man obsessively films everything, exchanges one eye for a camera, and is hired to follow a mysterious girl.

I left after half of Mirage, a slow and largely wordless story from Hungary of a slave farm on the puszta. Beautiful images but I found it boring.

Of the shorts, I particularly liked the thoughtful micro-drama Listen, about an Arabic-speaking battered wife’s attempt to get help from the well-meaning but clueless Danish police.

Riff-raff at the School for Vampires

i-8588e0031abf0b041f938bc807b22961-lenny.pngI’ve found out about the spooky cartoon show my daughter watches that I wondered about, the one where one character looks just like Riff-raff in the Rocky Horror Picture Show. It’s Die Schule der kleinen Vampire / School for Vampires, a co-production among Germany, Italy and Luxemburg. The Riff-raff look-alike is named Nestor (Lenny in the English version). Explains the show’s web site,

Nestor is the heart and soul of the school.

Driver, cook, janitor, secretary, guide, nurse – there is nothing that Nestor can’t do.

And he is the only one at the school who was not born a vampire, but was bitten by a vampire…

i-0225332e503a0aad297b607d8fcdba0c-riffraff(2).jpg
“He’s just a little brought down, because when you knocked, he thought you were the candyman”

Banal Sex

One of H.P. Lovecraft’s least successful horror stories is “Medusa’s Coil“, a 1930 collaboration with Zealia Bishop. The story builds to one of the hideous final denouements that Lovecraft liked to end his stories with.

Nor was it right that the neighbours should know that other horror which my strange host of the night could not bring himself to tell me–that horror which he must have learned, as I learned it, from details in the lost masterpiece of poor Frank Marsh.

It would be too hideous if they knew that the one-time heiress of Riverside–the accursed gorgon or lamia whose hateful crinkly coil of serpent-hair must even now be brooding and twining vampirically around an artist’s skeleton in a lime-packed grave beneath a charred foundation–was faintly, subtly, yet to the eyes of genius unmistakably the scion of Zimbabwe’s most primal grovellers. No wonder she owned a link with that old witch-woman Sophonisba–for, though in deceitfully slight proportion, Marceline was a negress.

THE END

Modern liberal readers of course find “Medusa’s Coil” laughable rather than horrific. The reason is that we are neither the misogynists nor the racists that the story presupposes. Lovecraft probably never stopped to think that he might one day be read by African American women or by anyone who considers such women to be people worthy of common respect.

I was reminded the other day of “Medusa’s Coil” by the ending of the five-part TV miniseries Criminal Justice 2. It’s the story of a woman who murders her husband over some dark secret between the two of them. Throughout there are enigmatic hints about some sort of violence or oppression she has suffered from her husband. But the viewer is left to wonder up to the last moment. Before the dramatic conclusion, in the court room, we learn that the husband had made a habit of raping his wife. And then, as the camera pans along the ranks of horrified jurors, we are finally told the shocking truth: it was anal sex!!!

Oh. OK. So the big thing here isn’t that she kept getting raped by her husband, but where, specifically, he put it in her. Are we to take it that if he had just used more conventional means to commit those rapes, then she wouldn’t have been driven to kill him?

Of course, forced entry hurts your bottom more than your vagina. But, beyond the physical pain involved, screen writer Peter Moffat clearly expected a strong sodomy taboo among the viewers. In 2009. Moffat very correctly judged that it would have been completely ineffective to use vanilla domestic sexual coercion as a plot twist. We’re supposed to be shocked not so much because the woman’s bottom hurts, not because she kept getting raped over and over again, but because she has been forced to take part in a Forbidden Act.

Nerve Magazine ran a “The Mainstreaming of Anal Sex” article in 1999. Slate ran theirs in 2005. To readers of Cosmopolitan Magazine and fans of the Sex and the City TV show, anal sex is about as controversial as Pilates. Mainstream on-line book stores offer many handbooks on the subject of how you might enjoy your own male or female little tush sexually. It’s optional: it’s your bottom and you decide what you’d like to try and what you’d then like to try again — or not. Everybody knows that the basic rule in bed is “consenting adults”. Therefore the Criminal Justice miniseries ends in anticlimax: when we learn that the long-withheld secret is rape we find it sad but banal. Even though it was anal.

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