Tag Archives: film festival

PH at Berwick: Deconstructing the Monster

Gautam Valluri

Christopher Lee's Dracula is reincarnated for a more profound purpose in Vampir - Cuadecuc

Christopher Lee’s Dracula is reincarnated for a more profound purpose in Vampir – Cuadecuc

Pere Portabella’s Vampir – Cuadecuc (1971) is a masterpiece on all accounts. Made on the sets of Jesus Franco’s Count Dracula (1970) starring Christopher Lee and shot on high-contrast black and white film stock, the film was controversial at the time of its release– in the final years of the Fransisco Franco regime in Spain. Allegedly, the film was presented under the name of ‘Vampir’ at the Cannes Film Festival and Portabella credited as ‘Pedro Portabella’ because the Catalan name Pere and the film’s title ‘Cuadecuc’ were not allowed to be used. The word itself just means ‘The Worm’s Tail’ in Catalan, which is also the term used to refer to the unexposed footage at the end of a roll of film.

The film echoes the look of early-cinema expressionist horror classics such as Nosferatu and Vampyr. Some of the exterior shots are so overexposed that the image degrades into almost two dimensional shadows, the slightest suggestion of an outline but enough for our eyes to perceive beauty. The film opens with an incredible experimental electronic soundtrack by Carles Santos, which is borrowed by Ben Rivers in his new film A Distant Episode (2015) (also featured at Berwick this year). The pre-credits sequence is a glorious exercise in painting with shadows and light. There is a sinister presence of dark, looming shadows both visual and implied. It is only after the credits sequence that the film dives fully into its ‘behind the scenes’ approach. We are presented with fully blocked scenes from Count Dracula and the monster is presented in his fearful glory, only to be brought down by the revelation of the special effects and the crew of people working behind the camera to make the monster believable.

This has been popularly associated as a takedown of the Franco regime. Lee’s Dracula here stands in for Fransisco Franco, a fearful presence and a figure of awe. Portabella puts forward a very convincing in argument through is his film– ‘how fearful is the monster when all the smoke and mirrors behind him are exposed?’ Perhaps this is also the significance of the film’s title– the worm’s tail, the ‘unexposed’ tail-end of a film roll, now exposed.

The film carries a sense of humor and deliberate self-parody. We see actors having fun between shots and crew working to set up elaborate special effects sequences. The visual deception of cinema is being exposed here and helping make another kind of cinema. Far before ‘behind the scenes’ featurettes were common practice, Portabella employs it not as a record for the making of another film but as the basis of a different kind of film.

Portabella’s film could only exist in that place and that time. It is an example of a piece of work which deceptively seems like an elaborate exercise in artistic self-indulgence and is lost on most people. But once you dig deep enough, it has rich undercurrents that is perhaps only possible in a zeitgeist of political repression.

PH at Berwick: Desktop Documentaries

Gautam Valluri

All That is Solid (2014)

All That is Solid (2014)

The tagline (and overall theme of the event) for this years Berwick Film and Media Arts festival is ‘Fact or Fiction’. One can find banners carrying this phrase throughout the town and sometimes even in small alleyways. This is also the string that ties together the various short works programmed under the Berwick New Cinema Shorts umbrella. This is what happened.

The program kicked off with Tim Leyendekker’s Blinder, a film that stuns the eyes. The film allegedly ‘consists of 6,386 photographs representing every character and object featured in the English translation of José Saramago’s novel Ensai sobre a Cegueira’. These ‘images’, filmed in lush black and white flash at breakneck speeds before the viewer can even manage to process their relevance on screen. The synopsis further claims that the film’s soundtrack ‘is comprised of 6,386 audio samples extracted from Blindness, Fernando Meirelles’ feature film based on Saramago’s novel’. The film is an incredible visual experience and garnered a heart-felt round of applause from the audience even as the next film’s opening titles started rolling.

The second film in the program was Jean-Paul Kelly’s The Innocents. This is a dissonant, loose-collage piece that is brought together by the looming shadow of Truman Capote’s seminal non-fiction book In Cold Blood. Kelly’s film is incoherent and jumps between found photographs with circular forms of various sizes cut out of them, a ‘re-enactment’ of a Truman Capote documentary (as the synopsis claims) which involves Kelly himself donning a white plastic bag over his head and lip-syncing (probably) to sub-titles of Capote’s text and grainy footage of painted circles that probably are the cut out parts from the first section of the film. The film briefly starts seeming interesting once it starts addressing Capote’s explanation of a real-life event possessing all the qualities of an engaging fiction piece and then having the added dimension of having taken place in reality.

KING JAMES VERSION GENESIS CHAPTER NINETEEN (title has to be capitalized for all purposes) is an unexpectedly tacky masterpiece. A film by Martin Sulzer, it takes us into the grey world of tacky 3D motion-capture animation. It is a word-to-word literal adaptation of the take of Sodom and Gomorrah. We are presented with graphic (literal here too) images of nudity, sexual practices and even incest, much like the original text in the bible. Sulzer, who was present in person at the screening, did a brief Q&A with the audience during the break in the program and he seems to stand by his decision to make a very literal film adaptation of the text. The visuals are horrifically presented and is perhaps very fitting in a program that asks if something is fact or fiction. Is the literal adaptation of a text a fact or a fiction?

Hacked Circuit by Deborah Stratman is a slow-moving single-steadicam-take film about a team of sound engineers carefully re-creating the sounds of Gene Hackman breaking down his apartment towards the end of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation. The film, dedicated to Walter Murch and Edward Snowden, very cleverly alludes to the idea of surveillance. Stratman’s camera floats through a circular path beginning on a street and then walks through a sound studio and then comes back out onto the street to the very same point where it began.

All That is Solid is perhaps the most-boundary pushing film in this program. Louis Henderson’s ‘desktop documentary’ uses Wikipedia, iCloud, Mac OSX video preview and Quicktime video window layering to play the hard against the soft/hard drives against cloud storage that is. Or is it? It is also about neocolonial gold mining in Africa. The film claims to have an agenda to ‘dispel the capitalist myth of immateriality of new technology – thus revealing the mineral weight with which the Cloud is grounded to its earthly origins’.

PH at Berwick: The Fruits of War

Gautam Valluri



At it’s heart, Tangerines is a moral tale. It has a very simplistic anti-war agenda but at the same time it transcends all the trappings of such a film and becomes something else. It would be somewhat suitable to describe it as Winter Sleep meets The Burmese Harp if it were directed by the Dardenne Brothers.

The film is about men of different ages caught in the currents of a looming war. The war is between Georgians and Abkhazians, in the early nineties, sometime after the fall of the Soviet Union. Ivo, the oldest is an Estonian man living in a village-turned-ghost town. He makes wooden crates all day long to help his friend and neighbour Margus harvest a good produce of tangerines. Margus, also Estonian, is much younger and a simple man who also remained in the village, to harvest his tangerines for one last time and then move to Estonia. The other two men are sworn enemies, brought together by fate after having survived in a crossfire between their respective groups of soldiers and nursed back to good health by Ivo.

While the premise sounds like the start of a poor joke (two Estonians, a Chechen and a Georgian sit around a table and have tea), the film manages to become a strong chamber drama with a good  sprinkle of social realism added in. Urushadze’s camera has a stillness that is reminiscent of the films of Nuri Bilge Ceylan. The stillness is a mirror of Ivo’s level-headedness, even in a time of war when everything around him is burning to the ground. Most of the film takes place inside Ivo’s house.

The film has a texture that is warm inside the house and cold outside it. When we are inside Ivo’s house, we feel safe and well-fed but the moment we step outside of it, an unsettling fear looms over us. Ivo is our protector, our grandfather. His Christopher Lee-like tall presence assures us that if anything were to happen to us, it will be over his dead body. The film is also severely drenched in masculinity. It’s wartime– the harmful play of men. The only female presence in the film is a photograph of Ivo’s grand-daughter. She is there to be looked at and her beauty admired in an innocent way. She seems the only thing that is pure and pretty in the ugly grey clouds of war. Perhaps, this is what the Tangerines represent– innocence and simplicity. Margus and Ivo are trying to harvest a bountiful crop not because they want to get rich but because they feel its a waste to let a good crop go uncherished. Even in the middle of war, they will do what is necessary to keep life going.

Tangerines, in the end is a rather simplistic film with a rather straightforward message, like the aforementioned fruit. They are just fruit and these men are just trying to harvest them. In the same way, this is just a film about the loss people experience in war– loss of life, humanity, innocence etc.