5. The Dance of Reality
It’s been 23 years since cult filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky made his last feature, and this surrealist biopic of his childhood proves he hasn’t lost his fantastical touch. Set in Tocopilla, Chile the young Jodorowsky (Jeremias Herskovits) is raised by his Operatic singing shopkeeper mother Sara (Pamela Flores) and his Stalin worshipping communist father Jamie (Brontis Jodorowsky). Jamie’s strict parenting toward Jodorowsky causes a rift between the two as the young son tries to win his father’s approval and affection. Jamie, who was once a fireman but had to quit following his son’s emotional breakdown at a funeral march and was too embarrassed to return, plans to assassinate Chilean dictator Ibanez. It is through this assassination attempt and father-figure worshipping that parallels are drawn between Jamie and political leaders, and the young Jodorowsky and his father.
Jodorowsky’s real father was a Stalinist tyrant who wanted to murder the dictator, but never did, and his mother wanted to be an Opera singer, but was consequently forced to work in the family-owned store. Therefore, this part fantasy and part biopic is less about the retelling of his former years, and more of a recollection of moments, memories, and reimagining’s from those aforementioned years; hence the respective parents in the film enact their desires, and highlights how contradictory they are to one another.
Jodorowsky himself acts as a spiritual mentor to his younger self, marking this significantly a more cathartic experience. For the spectator, therefore, it is less a collection of facts, and more of an emotionally vivid and psychologically complex recollection of his childhood; noteworthy moments include the young Jodorowsky and a group of lads rubbing phallic shaped rocks, only for him to be ridiculed for his ‘mushroom-shaped rock’ signifying the anti-Semitic rhetoric that surrounded him. And his father berating his son for his emotional outburst and the apparent embarrassment this has caused, which cuts to an imagined trio of fireman laughing at the cowardice of Jamie’s son.
A film littered with such surrealist imagery will unlikely find new audiences, but fans of his prior work will find delight in seeing the 85-year-old auteur has still plenty to offer. It is more accessible than the likes of his earlier films El Topo and Holy Mountain, but it’s still in abundance of surrealist imagery in this deeply personal film.
4. That Sugar Film
Super-Size Me in 2004 saw filmmaker Morgan Spurlock undergoing a 30-day challenge to consume McDonald’s foods out various outlets across America. Further, he was to accept the Super-Size option if offered, and as the film highlights, this had major adverse effects on his health. While it has since been proven to be pretty much bullshit due to questionable results, its objective to bring the obesity epidemic too much wider audience in the West was accomplished. That Sugar Film takes the overconsumption of modern society a significant step further by highlighting adverse health effects are in all foods.
Australian actor/filmmaker Damon Gameau underwent a 60-day diet of low-fat “health” and “diet” foods and beverages, only to discover he had significant weight gain, felt lethargic, and erratic mood swings. Upon his own further analysis he discovered sugar was in much of modern processed foods, it could be more detrimental to our health than any types of fats, and began to reevaluate the relevance of calorie counting.
This horrifying discovery has now made dietitians globally to reevaluate the sugar content in all our foods. Obviously, canned drinks and confectionary has always been laden with the sweet stuff, but when it is discovered to be used as a supplement in regular foods like pasta sauce then it undoubtedly becomes an epidemic.
Through Gameau’s own journey one is given an insight into the global monopoly companies like Coca-Cola has on certain towns, the financial incentives for lower-income families to turn to processed foods (and it’s consequently a myth), and the links between this ever-present substance and the modern consumerist, fast-paced culture. The case studies presented in this seldom veer towards hyperbole as they sound too familiar – are you an adult, eat properly, and feel tired half the time? This film argues that’s a sugar crash, yet, due to its omnipresence in our foods, it’s almost unavoidable and has become the norm of modern living. This revealing and shocking documentary is easily one of the most important to be released this summer, and, so far, this year.
3. Mr. Holmes
What if Sherlock Holmes was a real character? This film approaches this query with nuance, warmth, and melancholy. A retired Holmes (Sir Ian McKellen), residing in a Sussex country farmhouse as a beekeeper, with his housekeeper Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney) and her son Roger (Milo Parker), reflects upon a traumatic event 30 years prior. The narrative flips not only between these two-time periods, but also this division between the true detective and the mythos Watson had created i.e. Holmes had never smoked a pipe, nor did he wear a tweed jacket/deerstalker hat.
The playfulness with this fictionalized character is more than a meta-textual romp – though the scene where Holmes sees a falsified portrayal of his life in the cinema earns a chuckle – as it adds yet another perspective to this iconic character. Much of this is made possible by Bill Condon’s direction, which, alongside the original source material and its adapted script, allows these references to past incarnations of Holmes to flourish. Furthermore, Condon’s restrained visual approach allows the performances to flourish.
McKellen’s Holmes is terrific as one who can convey such a bountiful of emotions and thoughts just through a series of grunts, moans, and dismissive grumbles. The chemistry between he and the mother/son has a number of gems that veer between embitterment and genuine affection; notably Roger pressuring Holmes to do his quick analysis of a person’s outwards appearance towards Mrs. Munro, only to have irrevocable consequences.
This warm afternoon movie will be remembered as one of McKellen’s best little-known performances, and a nuanced approach to one of literatures and cinemas finest detectives.
2. The Wonders
Italian filmmaker Alice Rohrwacher draws upon personal experiences to tell the story of an isolated traditionalist family of beekeepers. The narratives primary focus is on Gelsomina, a teenage girl who becomes curious of the modern world following a brief encounter with local television presenter Milly (Monica Bullucci). Tensions begin to rise as the family’s patriarch is uncomfortable with Milly’s proposal to include their family on a low-budget show to celebrate Etruscan culture, and Gelsomina’s inquisitive nature to explore the world beyond.
Rohrwacher’s hand-held camera direction, the use of unknown/non-professional actors for the family unit and fellow farmers, and the minimalist expository dialogue foregrounds the oneness these characters have with their natural environment. This narrative aesthetic works to emphasize their traditional lifestyle. These facets are further foregrounded with the casting of Bullucci – an actress known for her big-budget Hollywood roles (Matrix: Reloaded) and a number of European art-house projects – to mark a distinct contrast between their environment and the televisual world of modernity. This conflict may sound tiresome, but the performances by the family members ensure this remains warm, engaging, and with moments of intellect – notably, the usage of pesticides by certain farmers are becoming a detriment to their beekeeping operations.
This Earthly textual film will appease those looking for a movie which experiments with a multitude of tensions between tradition and modernity through form, narrative, and text.
1. Slow West
One of two Westerns this year sees a European migrant make their way to the Wild West (the other being The Salvation). A Scottish high-born named Joe Cavendish (Kodi Smith-McPhee) searches for his love Rose (Caren Pistorius). Joe, almost robbed and murdered by bandits, is saved by bounty hunter Silas (Michael Fassbender), who agrees to assist Joe in finding Rose. Through a series of encounters, reminiscent of any Coen Brothers film, the two form a strange bond based on mutual survival.
This slow-burning Western offers plenty of insight into the callous survivalist culture that was the Wild West. The characters range from the desperate married couple through to the intellectual thief signifies a lawless world, and yet it is conveyed not wholly mean-spirited, and with oddly black comedic moments. It’s through these encounters, and an overarching distrust that plagues the lands, that keeps the narrative in full momentum.
Ben Mendelsohn’s Payne, leader of a gang Silas was once associated with, is a microcosm of all the ills of this film’s world; quasi-Machiavellian, oozes distrust, and the sole purpose to accumulate money through an equally high body count. These unbecoming traits contrast greatly to that of the innocent, and naïve, Joe. It is through his narrative trajectory, sliced with Silas’ voice over narration for greater context, that one witnesses the unfolding of a violent and cold existence.
The unsavory portrayal of many (if not, all) the characters contrast greatly to the lush landscapes and bountiful forests; never has an open field felt so claustrophobic. Slow West is a perfect little Western gem for those looking for a slow-burning alternative to contemporary dramas, or for those with a deep affection for the genre. It is a remarkable debut by its filmmaker John Maclean.