Author: Raj-Kabir Birk

Review: Schultze Gets the Blues

As contemplative, bittersweet comedies go Schultze Gets the Blues can do no wrong. The film follows the journey of its titular character from mine worker to traveller – a journey infused with a sense of internal and external exploration. Schultze (Horst Krause), when forced to retire from his mining job, finds himself in the uncertain certainty of post-work life. He visits his mother, spends time with his friends, and plays the accordion, destined to do so until his last day. But when he hears something unfamiliar and yet all too familiar on the radio, he bursts into action. The...

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Planet in Focus 2016 Review: Behemoth

In Zhao Liang’s affecting documentary Behemoth, the coal-mining industry in China is brought into startling view as gaping landscapes become filled with sky-high structures. With impeccable compositions and sensitive portrayals of the workers involved, Liang’s camera reflects the human and global cost of a country’s desire to build its urban centres. Through surreal depictions of the rumbling dirt paths and endless underground abysses, Behemoth imbues each frame with silent and meditative qualities, contemplating the hardship that goes hand in hand with making a concrete and iron ‘paradise’ of high-rises. This is a paradise without the peace or humanity, leaving in its wake the death of its workers and the dismantling of their families. However, Liang doesn’t solely search for the human element, finding chasms within the earth to explore the ancillary effects on our environment. Striking and current, Behemoth finds itself at the apex of ideology and aesthetic, putting forth ideas and arguments for our past, present and future, while exuding contradictory beauty in every...

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Review: Transpecos

Drug wars on the US-Mexico border is an oft-explored theme in recent films, rife with the possibility of action and moral exploration, and Transpecos, the feature debut of director Greg Kwedar, is a notable entry in the sub-genre. The film follows the tumultuous 24 hour journey of three Border Patrol agents who, after discovering one of them has insidious motivations, are led on a journey of betrayal and redemption. Finely paced and well-rounded, this taut thriller succeeds where similar films sometimes fail: remaining focused throughout, the narrative never veers from the simple but effective logic of cause and effect. As agent Jonny Simmons, played by Benjamin Davis, commits to certain courses of action, the reactions of other characters are defined, laying the course for sustained tension and narrative progress. While other “border thrillers” tend to overplay the socio-political realities of illegal drug trafficking that occurs between the US and Mexico, Transpecos grounds itself in the insular reality of its main characters. It doesn’t focus on the overarching human repercussions of the drug-war in the way Traffic and Sicario do so effectively, but instead hones in on two character-based conflicts that subtly provide the backdrop for greater questions around the fluidity of morality in extreme circumstances. As we follow these Border Patrol officers, the film is not asking us to consider the broad impact of drug-trade on either the US or...

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TIFF 2016 Review: Short Cuts Programme 1

Short Cuts Programme 1 balances the surreal with the straightforward, the poetic with the obtuse, and the thought-provoking with the heart-warming. A little bit for everyone, it is a compelling compilation of international shorts. Highlights include Samedi Cinema, Night Dancing, Nutag – Homeland, Romantik, The Pine Tree Villa, and Tshiuetin. Samedi Cinema – 11 minutes When cinema evades you, its images become otherworldly. This is at the crux of Samedi Cinema, which follows two adolescent boys as they try to raise money to go to the movies. Leveraging his ability to write, the younger boy goes from client to client, raising one franc at a time by composing their letters. In using his ability to write, the boy writes the stories of his clients, whilst still yearning for the stories of the silver screen. Solidly crafted, Samedi Cinema explores the dissonance between our lived stories and the stories that are presented to us. Night Dancing – 6 minutes Intimate and subtle, Night Dancing finds a man hallucinating dancers outside of his home. Paralleling his personal desires for self-expression with the innate need for expressed love, the short challenges our expectations while reeling us into the soft movements of its dancers. We are lulled into the poetic expression that the protagonist is, and the short will hold your attention, keeping the narrative engaging. Nutag – Homeland – 6 minutes Exploring the diasporic experience of...

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Self-censorship: the rise and fall of the Hays Code

Every year, without fail, film ratings cause furor amongst filmmakers, critics and audiences alike. Whether the prevailing position was that a particular rating was too hard, too lenient, or completely trivial, exhibitors are confronted with the reality of a limiting or broadening audience for the films they screen. The extent and breadth of these controversies are different film to film and country to country, and even province to province. The debates are ceaseless, but the specific debates that have emerged recently are not in question here. What is in question is how a system of censorship was initially implemented, and how that system engendered and encouraged the central conflicts between the art and business of film. In terms of relevance and impact, one cannot look beyond the overbearing influence of the MPAA on American mainstream cinema, and the strong enforcement of the Hays Code from the 1930s through till the 1960s. The Inception of the Hays Code The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), founded as the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA), was formed by the major Hollywood studios in 1922 as a means of self-regulation. Attempting to limit government interference and censorship in the motion picture industry, they ensured limits placed on studios were placed by studios themselves. With the impending popularity of talkies, the first director of the MPPDA, William Hays, oversaw the introduction...

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Review: Multiple Maniacs

As someone new to the work of John Waters, I didn’t know what to expect from Multiple Maniacs. Recently restored by The Criterion Collection, it was a rare opportunity to experience an infamous filmmakers work for the first time. His frequent use of the performer Divine, and knack for crafting cult hits, preceded him – Pink Flamingos and Hairspray being amongst his most beloved films – and his aesthetic and subversive narratives are now iconic. When actually watching one of his films, all of these elements are immediately foregrounded: this is John Waters, and this is what he does. And so, we get Multiple Maniacs. The film follows the escapades of the sideshow ‘Lady Divine’s Cavalcade of Perversions’, which invites audiences to look upon various ‘perverse’ acts. The audience is eventually robbed by the ‘perverse’ performers, as the troupe go on to their next group of targets. Divine leads the troupe with her boyfriend Mr. David, and their contentious relationship drives the remainder of the story. In truth, any synopsis is inadequate for Multiple Maniacs, as the film is driven by moments as opposed to a single narrative. A risk-taker and maverick, Waters keeps the pace moving and the images engaging as his cinematic language is strongly visible in what is only his second feature. Its value lies in its exploration of perversion in a material world. This is...

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Revolting youth: Michael Haneke’s images of adolescent violence

The relationship between the fetishistic possibilities of imagistic violence and its cyclicality through iterations of “real” and seen violence is at the core of many of director Michael Haneke’s films. Whether it is the sadist, baseless violence of Funny Games, the measured but distant violence of Caché, or indeed the impartial, impassioned violence of Benny’s Video, each of these films deal with the relationship between images of violence and the malleable youth that at once consumes and is consumed by these images, most pertinently when the repercussions of committing violence are never experienced. Benny’s Video opens with hand-held scene of a pig being moved by a group of farmers from a barn to an open area. The camera follows the farmers as the pig finally stops walking, only to be stunned and killed by a captive bolt gun. The footage then stops, goes into rewind, and continues this killing in slow motion. There is an architect to the violence, the footage, and its repeated viewing. Later in the film, we see the protagonist – teenager Benny – use a similar captive bolt gun on a friend in his room. She falls to the floor, and Benny proceeds to kill her without a hint of remorse or emotion. This is all visible through a television, which is connected to a camera that is pointed at this act of violence. As Benny’s...

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