Adam takes a look at some wicked pieces of genre from other parts of the world and finds so much to relate to.
I’m more than a dozen films down and I’m thirsty for more. Though, I wish I was in Austin at the festival getting to see these films on the big screen. If you’re reading this when it posts it’s the final day of the fest. Many films were shown. Secret Screenings were had – Werewolf by Night and Hellraiser (both streaming in less than a week). Awards were given out.
It may be the sweet sorrow of parting from the in-person festival but we’ve still going strong for another week or so on the Virtual End of things. Rest assured that we’re going to continue to cover as much as we can. These roundups seem to be curated but they’re not intended to be. It just so happened that all of these films happen to be from different parts of the world. Without much more ado, let’s get to the movies…
Some films as a reviewer are meals unto themselves that take some time to truly unpack properly. Writer/Director Sadrac González-Perellón has created a tryptic heavily influenced by Superhero conventions. That is not to say that it’s a Superhero movie. Far from it. This darkly comedic thriller is something more akin to the work of Pedro Almodóvar than it is the MCU.
Elisa (Jana San Antonio) is a 12-year-old convinced that she has superpowers much to the exasperation of her single father Esteban (Ivan Massagué). Úrsula (Silvia Abascal) is dealing with marital issues and heavy depression as her artist husband Héctor (Asier Etxeandia). A mysterious Woman (Claudia Bouza) may be the personification in reality of the superhero that Elisa is obsessed with is going through experiences similar to her comic book avatar. As their stories run parallel it becomes apparent that they will intersect but in unexpected ways.
Amazing Elisa is a film that isn’t easily defined. It traverses multiple genres with the grace and ease of a Tarantino film but never feels derivative of that filmmaker. González-Perellón’s distanced style is more akin to the work of Yorgos Lanthimos though Amazing Elisa always feels empathy for its characters in a way that Lanthimos’ work does not.
Like Lanthimos’s work, there is a remarkable amount of sexuality and sexual politics at play that is never defined by morality. Some may find this more disturbing than the violence portrayed in the film. The way that the film comments on the dynamics of the power of sexuality, violence, and the abuse of those acts through various narrative frameworks like superhero tropes or social drama, or sexual thriller is some of the smartest in recent memory.
Amazing Elisa may not be an easy film to dissect but its powerfully and purposely elliptical ending will warrant multiple viewings as one dives into González-Perellón beautifully layered film.
I did not see this one coming.
This unnerving tale of a family that is dealing with not just the suicide of their Grandmother but their Grandfather Manuel (Zorion Eguileor) apparently headed quickly into dementia. As we all know in these types of tales nothing is as it seems as Grandpa is doing and saying some truly disturbing and creepy things. The father Mario (Gustavo Salmerón) thinks nothing more than his father is sliding into dementia because of the grief and needs them to be there for him rather than place him in a home. The mother Lena (Irene Anula) is concerned that Grandpa will be a danger to her pregnancy. The daughter Naila (Paula Gallego) knows something is off but thinks that they need to care for him rather than toss him into a retirement home. Oh, how they are all right but very wrong about everything, and before it’s too late figure this out.
Directors Raúl Cerezo and Fernando González Gómez have created a film that is both tense, nervy, and unafraid to go to those dangerous spaces we all gasp at. The Elderly is powerful because it uses both traditional horror tactics and social drama troupes more effectively than any film about one or the other. The script by Cerezo, González Gómez, and Rubén Sánchez Trigos understands that the most powerful moments come from the reality of not only losing an older loved one but the stress it puts an entire family under. There is a moment at the beginning of the third act that is possibly the most uncomfortable and tense moment of any film this year and has nothing to do with any bit of horror. A very real moment that people have had to deal with that’s twisted and contorted in such an effective way that when the scares do begin it’s almost a release.
The Elderly is a highly effective polish piece of horror that’s final shot is so good you may end up either clapping or jaw agape. Please seek this one out and not wait for the inevitable big-budget studio-produced remake.
This alien “immigration” story feels more like the work of Hong Sang-soo than Roland Emmerich. At 80-minutes the film is so slight you may blink and miss it. Writer/Director Jude Chun creates a quiet milieu of working-class honest folk trying to survive their daily existence. The film is composed of vignettes that range from faux documentaries to musical numbers to modern dance to social realism. All concerning the citizens of the world 29 years after multiple unidentified objects began to appear above the world’s biggest cities.
The film feels more like a tone poem or an abbreviated version of the pastiche work of Robert Altman. Where Altman’s work always felt a part of a large whole Unidentified is concerned with its micro and not the macro the sum of their parts is a bit lacking. There are moments where everything crystalizes giving us a bigger picture but those are too far apart to build to something greater than the sum of its parts. One wishes that there had been more cohesion and a bit more plot to wrap around a beautiful but at times confusing non-narrative collage.
From a technical standpoint, Unidentified is a minor miracle of lo-if ingenuity. Chun working with cinematographer Bae Jin Baek in the academy 1.33 ratio creates a film of smaller visual splendor. A small-scale vista that slowly and assuredly scales larger until the final moments and a character takes us around the world documenting the various unidentified objects.
Stay for the marvelous end credits which pay credit to the cast and behind-the-scenes crew by catching each of them in moments during the production.
Heroes of Africa
Then you have another film using the visuals of Superhero films to tell a historical tale to elevate it to a tale of LEGEND. Heroes of Africa enters the ring to fuck up all challengers.
The tale of Tetteh Quarshie – who Wikipedia tells us is an “agriculturalist and the person directly responsible for the introduction of cocoa crops to Ghana, which today constitute one of the major export crops of the Ghanaian economy.” is one of cultural significance in Ghana. Heroes of Africa takes this piece of history and creates a hyper myth out of Quarshie’s story, mixing fantasy, action, and melodrama into a package so good you can’t help but smile the entire 80-minute runtime.
Writer/Director Frank Fiifi Gharbin’s film is designed as a wild thrill ride that recontextualizes the Agriculturalist’s life into a Monomyth Hero ala Luke Skywalker. A man with a mission though he has only been told just enough to begin his journey.
The film packs an entertaining punch as it mixes genres as quickly as it mixes tones. One would think this is a hindrance leaving the audience’s head spinning and confused. It is in fact, Heroes of Africa’s manages to be its superpower. Elevating what could have been a specific kind of historical drama into a wildly entertaining fantasy adventure.