A 2021 Film Journey: Day 109

It feels weird to be going back to one post a day after the breakneck speed at which I was writing for SIFF. Though to be fair I am still finishing up with the last couple of SIFF posts, so I have a few more multi-post days to go. My major takeaway from the Festival, at least as far as writing goes, is that I can be doing much more than just these daily posts. I enjoy the personal nature that these posts take as opposed to the more formal reviews that I did for SIFF, but there is room in me for both. While I was writing a ton all last week, I am going to start expanding slowly to make sure everything stays sustainable. My plan as of right now is to post at least one bonus item each weekend. This weekend will be my Oscar picks and predictions, but I will be playing with the format from there. Anyway, here’s today’s movie.

Gunda (2020, Dir. Viktor Kosakovskiy)

Gunda' review: A wordlessly sublime slice of porcine life - Los Angeles  Times

My film festival may be over, but that does not mean I’m going to stop watching pretentious and artsy movies. Gunda had been on my radar for a while now. It had occupied one of the top slots on Metacritic for most of the film starved 2020, but after it was denied an Oscar nomination it took me a while to get around to it. I am glad that I finally did get around to the film though, because this was a glorious piece of experimental film making.

Devoid of any plot, message, or even dialogue, Gunda is a series of untampered scenes of animals on a farmyard. The titular Gunda is a pig who begins the film by giving birth to a little of piglets. These animals headline the film with extended shots of the piglets exploring or nursing. While the film spends some time focusing on the farm’s cows and chickens – including a loveable one-legged rooster – the piglets are effectively first billing.

If this explanation makes the film seem protracted, that is because it is, but the deliberateness is intentional. Gunda asks its audience to slow down and appreciate the miniscule realities of life along with curious piglets. For those who require another selling point, the black and white cinematography by Viktor Kosakovskiy and Egil Håskjold Larsen is beyond breathtaking. The camera is always at eyelevel with the animal subjects providing the fullest image of each animal. This combined with some of the crispest high definition I have seen had me constantly questioning if I had upgraded to 4k and forgot. It may be a movie where nothing happens, but that did not stop me from being transfixed the entire time.

One extremely minor caution with the film is that there is no non-diegetic noise, and at times the animal noises can be extremely loud. What I am trying to get at is that the first scene with the minutes old baby piglets was filled with enough baby pig noises that it slightly upset one of my cats.

A 2021 Film Journey: Day 98 – Day 108

I’m combining all of these days together because I’m attending the Seattle International Film Festival. Instead of a daily blog format, I’m writing individual reviews for every film that I watch. This post will just bee to ensure there’s some consistency when looking at the project as a whole and will have a quick personal blurb followed by a link to the individual reviews for each day.

Day 98 – First day of SIFF and I tried to hit the ground running. I made it through 4 films today including The Pink Cloud which was the film I had heard the most buzz for going into it.

The Pink Cloud (2021, Dir. Iuli Gerbase)

I’M FINE (Thanks for Asking) (2021, Dir. Kelley Kali and Angelique Molina)

Summer of 85 (2020, François Ozon)

The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be Quiet (2021, Dir. Ana Katz)

Day 99 – Only three movies for the second day of SIFF, but today’s lot included one of the longest films in the festival as well as the film I was inspired to write the longest review over.

Goddess of the Fireflies (2020, Dir. Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette)

Valentina (2020, Dir. Cássio Pereira dos Santos)

There Is No Evil (2020, Dir. Mohammad Rasoulof)

Day 100 – It feels somewhat anticlimactic to be hitting this milestone and treating it as a blurb in the midst of this aggregate post, but with 4 movies watched and a review written for each, today’s already been a long writing day. The only thing I really have to add is that this project has been amazing for me, and I feel much better 100 days later for undertaking it.

Bad Tales (2020, Dir. Damiano and Fabio D’Innocenzo)

Charter (2020, Dir. Amanda Kernell)

Summertime (2021, Dir. Carlos López Estrada)

Bebia, à Mon Seul Désir (2021, Dir. Juja Dobrachkous)

Day 101 – I’m not going to lie, I definitely underestimated the amount of work writing a review for this many films was going to be. It’s definitely slowing my watching progress (I assumed that weekends I could probably fit in five films when I only got through three today). I’m going to keep this up as much as I can, but wow am I exhausted.

Little Girl (2020, Dir. Sébastien Lifshitz)

Get the Hell Out (2020, Dir. I.-Fan Wang)
—– Also includes Mom Fight (2019, Dir. Mickey Finnegan)

Slalom (2021, Dir. Charlène Favier)

Day 102 – I definitely should have taken the week off of work. This has been an exhausting endeavor. The blog posts that I’ve done for this project thus far has not prepared me for the extend of writing I’m doing for this, but if I can at least keep making it through two movies a day I’ll call it a success.

Beans (2021, Dir. Tracey Deer)
—– Also includes Bub (2021, Dir. Oriwa Hakaraia and Te Mahara Tamahana)

Waikiki (2020, Dir. Christopher Kahunahana)
—– Also includes PIIKSI/Huia (2021, Dir. Joshua Manyheads and Cian Elyse White)

Day 103 – A busy day at work again kept me limited to two viewings. Like I mentioned yesterday. If I can routinely make it through 2 movies with reviews while working full days, that’s a win.

Sweat (2020, Dir. Magnus von Horn)

The Earth is Blue as an Orange (2020, Dir. Iryna Tsilyk)

Day 104 – Another busy one today, but I made it through another 2 films. The festival fatigue is really hitting (even with it being exclusively virtual), but I’m still glad I’ve kept this up even if the reviews come increasingly late.

Strawberry Mansion (2021, Dir. Kentucker Audley and Albert Birney)
—– Also includes The Other Morgan (2021, Dir. Alison Rich)

Wisdom Tooth (2019, Dir. Liang Ming)

Day 105 – I managed to suppress a bit of the festival fatigue today by watching the first film of the night outside on my balcony. The fresh air really helped. Today’s offerings were very uneven. One film that I did not connect with and the other that jumps into the to tier of the ones I’ve seen for the festival.

Rebel Objects (2021, Dir. Carolina Arias Ortiz)

Topside (2021, Dir. Logan George and Celine Held)
—– Also includes Huntsville Station (2020, Dir. Chris Filippone and Jamie Meltzer)

Day 106 – This was a surreal day for me involving this project. Earlier in the week, my review of Valentina got the notice of the film’s twitter account. That made me feel great, but I realized it was just free PR for the film. Today’s engagement level was different. The positive review I gave for Too Late resulted in not just a retweet from the film’s account, but retweets from the director stating that I made her happy cry and a DM from the lead actress left me flabbergasted. This is the best I’ve felt in a long time.

Too Late (2021, Dir. D.W. Thomas)
—–Also includes Unholy ‘Mole (2019, Dir. David Bornstein)

The Spy (2019, Dir. Jens Jonsson)

Day 107 – The second to last day of the festival and even though it was a weekend I’m approaching the end of the list of films I pegged for watching, so I let today be a relatively light day before a final push tomorrow.

The Teacher (2019, Dir. Ming-Lang Chen)

Ma Belle, My Beauty (2021, Dir. Marion Hill)

Day 108 – The last day of SIFF. For today only, I chose to adjust my schedule a bit. I had been writing each film’s review before proceeding the the next, but for the final day I watch movies straight through so I could get as many in before the end of the festival as possible. I’m happy with the decision even if it means I’m going to be juggling multiple projects for the next couple days.

Fly So Far (2021, Dir. Celina Escher)

The Perfect Candidate (2021, Dir. Haifaa Al-Mansour)

God Exists, Her Name is Petrunya (2019, Dir. Teona Strugar Mitevska)

Son of Monarchs (2021, Dir. Alexis Gambis)

A 2021 Film Journey: Day 97

Today marks the final day of my interlude between completing my Oscar viewing and the beginning of SIFF. Before jumping into today’s feature, which was another choice of a film that I’d been wanting to watch for a while, I want to talk a bit about my plan for the next 11 days of the festival. Rather than an informal blog post at the end of each day like I’m doing now, I’m hoping to write something more akin to mini reviews for the films that I watch. I’ll likely aggregate a day’s worth under this post category for continuity’s sake, but I won’t be doing double work.

Russian Ark (2002, Dir. Aleksandr Sokurov)

I don’t believe I’ve ever felt less cultured by a film before. Aleksandr Sokurov’s technical tour de force is a love letter to Russian Empire and the art housed in the Saint Petersburg Winter Palace. Taking place over a 96-minute single shot, the film traverses eras from the 1800s to present day as the palace is used for operas, a ceremonial imperial audience, a ball, and museum attendance. Each of these moments represent an important moment in Russian history that I wish my subpar US school system prepared me to appreciate more.

More than anything else, what stands out when watching Russian Ark is the spectacle of it all. The single take gimmick is the showiest aspect of the spectacle. As the Steadicam moves at a rather deliberate pace, the impressiveness of the single shot filmmaking is less about any singular difficult moment and rather at the grandiose scope of it all. The final 20 minutes in particular as the camera weaves through hundreds of dancing extras all meticulously costumed for a period ball is breathtaking in it’s beauty. When the music finally ends and the hundreds of actors all proceed to exit the palace bringing the camera with them, it’s as if the film is taking a bow with one final acknowledgement of the technical feat that was accomplished over the last hour and a half. Even with a lacking at best knowledge of the Russian Empire’s history, these moments sold the occasionally opaque film for me.

A 2021 Film Journey: Day 96

Today again I found myself with a little decision paralysis in picking what to watch. With the entire cinematic library as an option, it was hard to know where to begin. I only have three days between the conclusion of Oscar viewing and the start of SIFF, so like yesterday I chose a film that was of personal interest even if it wouldn’t be considered a blind sport by any traditional metric. The main difference between today’s viewing and yesterday’s is that yesterday’s film was the last film I hadn’t seen by a director, while today’s film was the second I’ve watched from a director I’ve want to see more from.

Hotel by the River (2019, Dir. Hong Sang-soo)

Hotel by the River Review: Hong Sang-soo Almost Makes a Rom-Com | IndieWire

As blockbusters stuffed to the gills with loud action set pieces occupy an ever-increasing market share of the world’s films, I’m thankful that directors like Hong Sang-soo are around to create wonderful works of slow cinema. Movies that the most people would turn off after five minutes from boredom are frequently my favorites. The lethargic pacing creates a meditative experience that enhances my personal viewing experience. Hong builds on the natural meditative qualities of the film’s pace with a complete lack of non-diegetic music and black and white cinematography. This allows for limited distractions for the audience encouraging self-reflection.

While the specifics of the story, the little that there is, is largely unimportant the themes are the heart of the film those being fear of change. In this way, the hotel reflects a purgatory where the characters hide from progress. Ko Young-hwan (Gi Ju-bong) has been staying for them for two weeks and suffers from visions of death and creative blockage. A-reum (Kim Min-hee) fakes a burn injury and is distraught over a recent breakup. Both characters are visited by friends and family, but others are unable to convince them to movie on. When Ko Young-hwan is forced to leave the purgatorial hotel before he’s ready, he retaliates in a definitive way. Hotel by the River was wonderful experience for viewers with the patience to appreciate its minutia.

A 2021 Film Journey: Day 95

After almost a month straight of watching Oscar shortlisted or nominated films, I almost didn’t know what to do with myself today. With no feeling of obligation to watch any specific thing, I chose to cross off a film from my personal list. It’s not especially a blind spot because I don’t think it’s seen as a seminal piece of the cinematic landscape, but it was the only film I had yet to watch by a director I appreciate more and more with each additional film’s first viewing or re-watch of any of his other works.

Millennium Actress (2001, Dir. Satoshi Kon)

Millennium Actress (2001) directed by Satoshi Kon • Reviews, film + cast •  Letterboxd

We’ll never know how much amazing cinema we lost with the untimely passing of Satoshi Kon. He only made four feature films before unexpectedly passing away from pancreatic cancer at the age of 46, but each one is brilliant in its own way. Much of what makes Kon’s films so spectacular is the editing in his films. He makes frequent use of match cuts to blur scenes and realities together. This combined with shot durations shorter than physically possible lends a frenetic energy to each of his works.

Millennium Actress makes clear use of this cinematic signature by blending an aging actress’s life story with the films that she starred in. When the presumed flashback is first betrayed as a scene from one of her films, the speed of the story begins a constant acceleration as each film receives slightly less time, and the barriers between filmography and memory blur. While this could come across as muddled and confusing in search of the character’s truth, this is not a fault of Kon’s. Rather, the muddled events between Chiyoko Fujiwara’s career and life reflect the duality of her life. Satoshi Kon’s style works perfectly to express the complexities of the human experience in this mock biopic.

A 2021 Film Journey: Day 94

Normally I’m still finishing up watching the Oscar nominees as late as the morning of the ceremony, but today a full three weeks before this year’s event, I’ve finished watching everything on the lists. I don’t believe that I started substantially ahead of any prior year, but rather the combination of this film watching project and no new releases in theaters has kept me singularly focused on this set of films.

Greyhound (2020, Dir. Doug Roland)

Critique du film « Greyhound » : court ? Oui. Passionnant ? Et comment ! -  digitec

I appreciated this much more than I thought I would. Much of my Oscar viewing this year has had me considering on the cinema landscape has changed in my lifetime. The Oscar bait picture, while not completely dead has no real room anymore. Within the first 10 minutes of the film, I was worried that Greyhound was going to fall into that trap as a film out of time. In those minutes, Captain Krause (Tom Hanks) and Evelyn (Elisabeth Shue) discuss their shared love and plans for the future. With this framing, I anticipated a 90s style sprawling love story through a lens of war, but after this initial scene, the romance component was dropped for the remainder of the film for all intents and purposes.

Instead of relying on the schmaltz set up in the initial scene, the film relies on 80 plus minutes of continuous tense set pieces that are as exhausting to watch as they are for the characters. This relentless pacing is what elevates Greyhound beyond the Oscar bait premise. By staying so one note and continuously elevated, the film takes on an almost experimental stance eliminating much of the three-act structure for continuous action. And while it doesn’t quite succeed on that level, its uniqueness is much appreciated.

The Life Ahead (2020, Dir. Edoardo Ponti)

The Life Ahead movie review & film summary (2020) | Roger Ebert

Make that two for two on films that subverted my expectations tonight. When I viewed Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga I commented on how the films nominated exclusively for best original song are the bane of Oscar film watching. The Life Ahead, however, felt like the kind of film I would catch at an arthouse theater and attempt to champion in vain. While the nominated song was fine, the movie itself was the standout. The film is essentially a coming-of-age story for they young Momo (Ibrahima Gueye) as he’s forced to carry out the last wishes of Madame Rosa (Sophia Loren) his ailing caretaker. The emotions expressed by the film are well earned even if the film verges on melodrama at times. In full disclosure, I’m going to keep this post rather short, because the character of Lola (Abril Zamora) has me intrigued enough to write a longer piece on the film. For now, just know that the film gets a recommendation from me.

A 2021 Film Journey: Day 93

I’m in the homestretch of my Oscar viewing of the year, and I should easily be able to finish up with time to spare before my film watching is consumed by SIFF for a week and a half. Today I chose to focus on the last untouched category that I have and watch all of the live action shorts. This is a category that has been pretty bleak since I started watching them all in 2012, and nothing I’ve seen in the years since is has lived up to 2012’s winner Curfew (Dir. Shawn Christensen), but here’s hoping for this batch to break both of those trends

Feeling Through (2020, Dir. Doug Roland)

Feeling Through short film

This was a good start for not having all of the films be incredibly bleak this year. In fact, Feeling Through was downright heartwarming. The story of a homeless teen Tereek (Steven Prescod) finding a passing meaning in life by helping Artie (Robert Tarango) a deafblind man catch his bus. In fact, the heartwarming aspect may be a bit of the film’s downfall as it short feels a little twee at times taking away from the dark reality of the characters circumstances. This doesn’t make the short bad, but it deprives if of any real commentary on Tereek’s predicament.

The Letter Room (2020, Dir. Elvira Lind)

Watch The Letter Room - Stream Full Movies Online with Topic

Okay, this one was excellent. Not quite to the level of Curfew, but The Letter Room will be a short that I remember after this Oscar season and that’s saying a lot for this category. Oscar Isaac plays Richard a corrections officer for death row who is transferred to the mail room to read through all incoming and outgoing correspondence. Through this intimate contact, the inmates are humanized for him, and he develops a connection to each of them even if only one way. The third act presence of Alia Shawkat is what really sells the short. Her vulnerability in the face of a system that destroyed her life is wonderfully realized, and further cements Richard’s viewing of inmates as humans first.

The Present (2020, Dir. Farah Nabulsi)

Farah Nabulsi on Twitter: "Our Palestinian film, The Present- one of only 2  Arab films just selected in competition at the Brussels Short Film  Festival. Only 62 International films were selected from

One of the best ways to demonstrate oppression is to show how even the most mundane of activities are impacted. The Present taps into that vulnerability when setting its sight on the Israel’s apartheid of Palestine. Yusef (Saleh Bakri) and his young daughter Yasmine (Mariam Kanj) only want to bring home a new fridge as a surprise for their wife/mother but living in an apartheid state makes the simplest of actions something that has a possibility of having a gun pointed at their heads. This film emphasizes how telling a specific story can be enlightening on a universal level.

Two Distant Strangers (2020, Dir. Travon Free and Martin Desmond Roe)

Two Distant Strangers' Picked Up by Netflix With April Release Date -  Variety

Is the Groundhog Day (1993, Dir. Harold Ramis) framing device the best for telling a police brutality narrative? I get what filmmakers Travon Free and Martin Desmond Roe were trying to accomplish. By utilizing that framework, it represents the feeling of inevitability many black men must face living in America. The talk-it-out-with-your-oppressor turn the second half of the short makes muddies the message to the point that. While even that approach doesn’t work in the end, by focusing on it so intently the message is muddied. I’m always in the market for more media on the BLM topic, I just don’t think Two Distant Strangers has a cohesive message to succeed as a short.

White Eye (2020, Dir. Tomer Shushan)

Israeli short film 'White Eye' focusing on African migrants nominated for  Oscar | The Times of Israel

The single shot film has always been a wonderfully showy gimmick in filmmaking, but in 2021 we are a long way removed from Hitchcock’s Rope (1948). As the long shot has become increasingly less difficult to accomplish, though still not easy, the implementation of the technique needs to be considered less the film be showy for the sake of being showy. A long shot is normally implemented to build tension or to create a meditative state in the viewer, but White Eye doesn’t implement it for either effect. Instead, it feels like a directorial boast while leaving the underlying film feeling slight.

A 2021 Film Journey: Day 92

For today’s films I’m closing a cultural blind-spot that I never really had much interest in closing and It’s Oscar nominated sequel. I’m not going to lie I’ve been secretly dreading this viewing experience. I know that the Borat films have a lot of critical acclaim, but they heavily utilize a type of humor that makes me extremely uncomfortable watching. Regardless I’ll consider this me attempting to broaden my horizons.

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006, Dir. Larry Charles)

Borat 2'—Everything We Know About Sacha Baron Cohen's Secret Sequel

The first Borat film was about why I expected. While I’d never watched it before, much of the punchlines have been circulating for a decade and a half now so those bits offered none of the punch they may have back then, and I found the undercover set pieces just as comfortable as I thought I would. While I may have had to pause at various moments from discomfort, I do think that I understand the film. It does what all great comedy does and that’s punch up and thereby uncovers the seedy underbelly of the jingoist American culture. While the comedy works, despite my discomfort, I think the film lacks the heart to make it a really successful film. Thankfully, that shortfall was answered by its sequel.

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (2020, Dir. Jason Woliner)

An Oral History of the Giuliani Scene in 'Borat 2' | IndieWire

The introduction of Maria Bakalova as Borat’s daughter Tutar elevates Borat Subsequent Moviefilm from a comedic novelty to a fully realized film with a character arc. The film is still as biting as ever in its unmasking of the US’s racist culture. It’s arguable that the commentary hits even harder in 2020 when America’s racist nature is more front and center than ever. Yet even with the unending commentary potential, the film focuses more on its personal story which allows the film to stand alone as cohesive story rather than only a collection of cringe inducing vignettes.

It makes sense that Borat Subsequent Moviefilm received one additional Oscar nomination over its predecessor for the supporting performance by Maria Bakalova. Her arc from gaslit teen to someone making decisions on her own brings a level of humanity that the first film was missing. Her presence even causes Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat to undergo a transformation, something lacking from the first movie. These cinematic breaks from the schtick helped make the film a less uncomfortable experience for me to watch too, but it’s the heart they provide the film that makes the sequel the superior film.

A 2021 Film Journey: Day 91

Welcome to month four. Starting today this project becomes even more difficult for me to maintain as I need to balance my movie watching with baseball season. For opening day, work may have suffered some as it occupied most of my attention, but tonight I was able to fully dedicate my time to watching one of the few remaining Oscar nominated films this year. Though given the film I watched tonight, a distraction may have been welcome.

Hillbilly Elegy (2020, Dir. Ron Howard)

Review: A 'Hillbilly Elegy' adaptation, hold the politics

Hillbilly Elegy is the exact sort of film that I pretend no longer exists. The extremely heavy-handed family drama reminds me of films from 30 years ago, but that saccharine schmaltz sticks out like a sore thumb in today’s movie landscape. The motifs are too well trodden and the style too familiar to justify its existence in the current film landscape. As the state of cinema has evolved, I feel like Ron Howard hasn’t, and his direction which has always been unobjectionable appears tired offensively naïve in this film.

If I’m going to say something positive about the film, Glenn Close and Amy Adams are amazing as always. Their over-the-top characters and are enigmatic and fun to watch. Close’s Mamaw in particular is the most empathy inducing person in the entire film. Unfortunately, these two characters are in support of the protagonist J.D. who is played flatly by his two actors Owen Asztalos as a teenager and Gabriel Basso as a mid-20s law student. These uninspiring performances dampen the effectiveness of either actresses’ more endearing ones.

I do worry that I’m being a little too negative in this review. There’s nothing outwardly offensive about the film, but there’s also no reason for the film to exist in such a milquetoast form. As cinema evolves, a quaint throwback without a hint of irony is more grating than enjoyable.