Author: froiden (page 2 of 7)


In the short psychological thriller Beulah (Denise Alessandra Ambroggio and Gordon James Asti, 2017), an emerging actress names Mia attempts to understand her fears in the days before the opening of her play. At night, she seems plagued by dreams that her boyfriend is attacking her, that her director is a Machiavellian monster, and that she can never escape being lost in the woods. Despite all these fears, everything appears to be going her way, and so she begins to feel more and more unnerved when can’t account for these feelings.

BEULAH is at its best when it thins the lines between the stage, film, and real life. Mia switches from the pink, fake, wonderland forest of the stage to a more dark, imposing forest as she moves from reality to dream—at certain times, her dreams appear to be in the milieu of the real world when she is not. The same slipperiness occurs as well. Later in the film, it shows us a scene of Mia’s boyfriend screaming threats on the telephone. As the camera pulls back, however, we learn he’s merely portraying a character in a film. And this makes sense: filmmaking and the theatre are in and of themselves surreal by design. Each gives viewers an uncanny sense of reality not through mimetic representation but through the ability to illustrate a mode of truth and reality through metaphor.

However, this slipperiness also proves to be BEULAH’s greatest challenge. While its milieus are fabulous and strange, we don’t necessarily know enough about Mia to sustain her character arc. Mia remains opaque throughout the film; all her dreams tell us that she is afraid, but they don’t necessarily explore why, at least, not to the extent that we understand them. In her boyfriend is cast as the main villain, yet he is nothing but sympathetic to her career and her person in real life. Is she jealous? Does he have an evil side? The film never tells us.

Nevertheless, BEULAH embraces some of the most interesting traits of surrealism and links them to the historical importance of Italian theater. In its world, the theater, the dream, and reality are all part of a continuous system through which its character navigate. And, like life, can take both disastrous and magnificent turns.

Soul Communicator

Despite its unnerving mixture between cuteness and absolute tragically, the oddest, most surreal part of SOUL COMMUNICATOR (Liang Kai Wei, 2017) is its personified animals, or, more precisely, Yu Zhou’s mental image of what these animal souls look like. Yu Zhou, it seems, can communicate with animals, or, more precisely, their souls, through a psychic connection. Animal owners come to her when the animal has been (or appears to be) unhappy or distressed, and Yu Zhou helps the owners figure out what’s wrong.

When the film lets us see what Yu Zhou sees, however, the animals souls are both cute and disturbing. Dressed in their underwear, with beatific smiles or small whimpers, these animal souls explain what’s wrong; a rooster wants to know why he’s not bought like the chickens, or a bunny suggests that the pressure to love is just too much. Crouching and shivering, these animal souls placed into human bodies have a bit of the uncanny valley to them. And Yu Zhou knows this as well—these humans don’t really want to know what the animals think, they want simple solutions that make them feel like their pets or work animals are happy. The rooster wants to be loved, for example, as the chickens are loved, and taken away, but this is, of course, too morbid for the owners.

Yu Zhou’s psychic animal connection is the backdrop for the story’s larger narrative thread—the disappearance of a girl from Yu Zhou’s school. The girl in question, Ying Ying, helps Yu Zhou with odds and ends around her establishment. She also brings Yu Zhou a client: the headmaster from school, whose bunny is anxious around his wife. While the bunny is not actually anxious, he lets a few secrets slip, disturbing Yu Zhou, and leads her to question the moral character of the headmaster.

This strange, unnerving thread mirrors the animal souls and the aesthetic of the film in general; on the one hand, everything is adorable (roosters! bunnies! children!). The film’s visual tone is made seamless by a general wash in a light Hello Kitty pink. However, everything is also askew, off-kilter, and odd. These animals don’t really know what’s happening, Ying Ying’s happy demeanor hides malevolent secrets, and adults manipulate children, who really don’t understand anything.

While the film’s end monologue is a bit overly melodramatic and doesn’t remain stylistically consistent with the rest of its sensibilities, SOUL COMMUNICATOR nevertheless points the inherent problem of cuteness. Cute things are cute because they don’t understand; they are vulnerable and childlike. However, what is cute is also a subject with goals, intelligence, and their own desires, however hidden.


The best kinds of cinematic love triangles are the ones that we aren’t even sure are love triangles: Tom’s obsession with Dickie in The Talented Mr. Ripley; Julio and Tenoch queer friend-zoning in Y tu mamá también, or Mrs. Danver’s unhealthy fixation on the dead Rebecca deWinter. These ambiguous relationships hint at the deep intimacies that friendships can bring. The same is true—at least at first, in Bernard Kordieh’s MELODY (2017. Leah, who is having a hard time with her boyfriend (who may or may not be cheating on her), chooses to go out and forget her troubles with the dynamic Melody (played by Maisie Richard Sellers of The Force Awakens, Legends of Tomorrow, and the world’s most ridiculous TV show, Of Kings and Profits). The two friends seem intensely intimate, to the extent that the viewer questions Melody’s designs on Leah. Does she want to make her only feel better, or is it something else?

The night fills out as one would expect. They smoke some pot, take some pills, make out a bit in the bathroom, and dance until dawn. However, when Leah’s boyfriend reinserts himself into the picture, Leah can’t help but take him back, even though he’s clearly a smarmy rogue who’s up to no good. The power struggle between Leah and Melody, however, seems to eventually decide whether or not the two lovers will stay together.

The performances are generally quite sophisticated; Leah (Maja Laskowska) retains that half-drunk/half-startled deer-in-headlights look that is characteristic of confused, lovelorn young women. But it’s Richard Sellers that is the force behind the film. She really embodies that kind of ultimate version of the self that awkward, self-conscious girls want to be. Gorgeous, demanding, and honest, she controls herself and world around her.

While the very end undermines the fun of the first three-quarters of the piece, MELODY nonetheless speaks to ways that women can really know each other as themselves, in a way that their boyfriends or lovers do not. This female friendship, intimate, physical, and honest, highlights the ways that women’s introspection—and their emancipation from their male counterparts– may be key to their own self-fulfillment.

The Truth Danger

In Luigi di Donato’s IL PERICOLO DEL VERO (THE TRUTH DANGER) (2017, a man struggles with memory, unsure of what did or did not happen. But, in a larger sense, the film is interested in the masks we wear and how—if at all—those masks speak to what’s going on inside of us.

In the film, the unnamed protagonist (Giovanni Pagliaroli) lives his day-to-day life, going to work and being a normal citizen. However, as the film progresses, he appears compelled to take a trip to the country, perhaps to attempt to remember something that he has tried to forget. As he takes his journey, ghosts appear to him to reveal past nightmares—or perhaps even past actualities.

The film’s most interest sequence is the shift from the more realistic milieu to the highly artificial theatrical stage. The protagonist is reaching deep into the art of melodrama, shouting to an empty theater “I didn’t want this.” The “this”—in this particular scenario, could mean a lot. On this one hand, it could mean anything, his bourgeois life, his job, his car. But more likely, he means his memories, or the fundamental knowledge of the truth of who he is.

The film’s plunge into the highly theatrical augments the early narratives highly melodramatic sensibilities, perhaps even calling into question the truth of the previous story. Here, the piece seems to revel in its own performance, aware of the possibility of the masks of theatrical performances and those of our performances in the rest of the world may be more similar than different. As such, it brings a sense of playfulness to what seems to be a rather serious text. While the film has challenges as a naturalist piece, its move toward theatricality marks it as a more thoughtful interaction between highly performative theatrical drama and the more naturalistic drama of narrative film.

The Little Chapel

The one or two sentence story has its own long and storied history. The famous—and incorrectly attributed six-word story—“Baby shoes: for sale, never worn” was supposedly drafted by Hemingway to win a bet. Then, there’s also the unsettling story by Argentinian writer, Julio Cortazar: “When he woke up, the dinosaur was still there.” But it’s the short horror story that has become the internet favorite, as horror fans try to out-scare each other with two-sentence horror stories. The most successful of them rely on atmosphere as opposed to complex plots and draw on long-tested horror tropes.

The tiny horror film functions much in the same way. With very short horror films, the piece needs to rely on our history of fears to create something imminently frightening. THE LITTLE CHAPEL (Richard Schertzer, 2016) relies on such techniques, drawing from Catholicism and ghost story traditions. The film’s story is vague, but its familiar images lead us toward terror. In the narrative, a young woman enters a chapel, seemingly bent on using magic or witchcraft to raise someone from the dead. Under the watchful eye of a series of Virgin Mary icons, the young woman chants her resurrection spell. However, it seems like the words work only too well, and whoever it is, wakes up very angry.

THE LITTLE CHAPEL’s successes lie in its simplicity. Student films can often be overly noisy, incorporation too much information that makes them inchoate and messy. The Little Chapel, however, relies on subtle music cues, darkness, and an iconic atmosphere to create its unease. It’s dark, it’s fun, and it’s the tiniest bit campy—as horror movies should be. While there are some slight aspects that do illustrate its status as a student film (the lighting is a bit amateur, for example), the film has a good sense of pacing and an elegance that elevates above most student attempts.

Moving Picture

In the short, experimental comedy MOVING PICTURE (Mor, 2016), an artist’s film escapes and he finds that he needs to hunt it down to recapture it. Falling asleep one night in his workspace, the artist wakes up to find his film is running away from him. He chases the film but finds the only way he can control the film is to destroy it.

Both Moving Picture and the artist’s creation take us back to an earlier day of film, for better and worse. With an analog projector, archaic pull-down screens, and the ubiquitous flicker, MOVING PICTURES appears to be a love letter to old 16mm and experimental film. The film that we’re watching mimics the elements that we see in the artist’s creation. Both the creation and the larger film embrace the sights and sounds of the old fashion projector—that ubiquitous clicking of an older projector that returns the viewer to the films of the past. This, in part, makes the artist’s creation destructible. Analog film, unlike digital, is a finite, singular object. While analog film is infinitely reproducible, it needs to be reproduced. Once digital film is online, it exists everywhere and nowhere. The artist’s analog piece—his only copy, it seems—has a finite lifespan.

His film, however, also seems slightly archaic. Because we don’t see the entire piece, it’s hard for us to draw meaning from his piece. However, the recurring line that we do hear, “Many of the most successful girls aren’t necessarily the prettiest,” calls to mind some kind of instructional modeling film or dating self-help piece. As such, it begs the question as to whether or not the work is trying to escape him because it’s a thematic object from the past, just as its aesthetics are.

We have to wonder if MOVING PICTURES is a larger commentary on authorial intent. Does the artist want to destroy his creation because he can’t control it? If so, should we really feel sympathy for him? Artwork, once it’s released out into the world, is always outside of the artist’s control. Regardless of much the artist tries to control is, his quest is essentially futile.

Chronicles of Religious Persecution in China

Since Mao Zedong and the Chinese communists chased the Chang Kai Shek out of the Chinese mainland, Communist China has had a strange and complex relationship with large and small organized religions. While religion is seen as a distraction in orthodox Marxism, China nevertheless had centuries of religious history and literally millions of religious practitioners at the start of the Communist regime. Local, traditional religions were often tolerated more than large, organized ones, especially those religions (such as Catholicism) that sprung from Western culture. While there are contemporary, mainstream Christians, Buddhist, and Taoists in modern China, there has nevertheless been a history of persecution of specific religious groups and individuals. Fear of government persecution has driven some religious practices underground, and even as it touts religious freedom, China still creates obstacles that make complete freedom of religion a challenge.

THE CHRONICLES OF RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION IN CHINA—THE CHURCH OF THE ALMIGHTY GOD (Jason Jia 2017) attempts to recount the story of one of those groups, the people of the Church of the Almighty God, also called the “Eastern Lightning.” The cast and crew are refugees that have fled persecution of the CCP and are attempting to show the world their interpretation of what’s going on inside China. The film itself stylistically draws from both Christian and Chinese propaganda, using, for example, superflat animations over live action footage, smoky reenactments, and beatific narratives of martyrs and survivors. Large swaths of history are covered and the film makes strong claims. Its own narrative uses ecclesiastical language to describe its communist tortures, referring to Karl Marx as a disciple of Satan and the CCP as a horde of demons. Like many other religious films, it has a clear antagonist and its moral quandary is Manichean at best. And it seems,

And yet, it remains a crucial interpretation of how a persecuted subculture understands its own maltreatment, and as such, is a document uses media culture in interesting ways. At once a product of—and rejection of—the past twenty years in China, THE CHRONICLES OF RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION speaks to the clash between a restrictive large government, a religious uprising, and particular media traditions that both groups somewhat share.

ShotKam MK IV – Ordinary People

Short films are often brought down by their terrible editing. Unfettered by a feature-length time frame, they lack the quick progression that fits with a short film’s story space. This is absolutely not true of SHOTKAM MK V-ORDINARY PEOPLE (Michael Siebert, 2017), which seems to feed off its lackadaisical editing and extension of time. The two main characters pace, bicker, even occasionally nip off a bottle in the kitchen, but their rising excitement over their soon to arrive package (the ShotKam MK V) makes for an unnerving exhibition of self-justification and cruelty. Constructed as a video interview in progress, the film captures a father-daughter duo as they wait for the arrival of an important package, the ShotKam MK-V image that they have ordered. The ShotKam, it seems, is a contraption with a dual trigger; it can take a picture and shoot bullets simultaneously. As such, it captures a photograph at the moment of impact.

The father and daughter praise the contraption and the artistry of the picture, but the viewer can see that even they don’t entirely believe in what they are talking about. The father vacillates between happy and angry, becoming increasingly furious as their package is further and further delayed. The daughter, on the other hand, appears both in awe of her father, anxious to leave him, and increasingly frustrated with his position as the paterfamilias.

In literature and cinema, there is a long tradition of equating the camera with a gun, from Virginia Woolf to the early days of King Kong to the contemporary global gangster film. And yet, there is something ambitious about throwing off the metaphor and entirely embracing the ideas of the literal voyeur-killer. The characters even feel it; being so used to equating photographic subject with a victim, they are obviously unnerved at being themselves placed before the camera. Eager to forestall his nerves, the father’s boastful art criticism and punchy violence make it difficult to stay with him. It’s the conjoined nervousness, pretentious pleasure, and extended time that make the film so unnerving. The film builds up the tension until it finally shows us the image from the ShotKam 5, and, when we finally see it, we are already complicit in its production.


It takes a sharp eye, especially in short film, to create a film from a child’s perspective and have it appeal to all audiences. In a few short minutes, however, POSSUM (Dave Whitehead, 2016) manages to view a first trip to the woods and hunt for a menacing creature through children’s eyes, focusing on the joy of the chase and the excitement of the wilds that helps adults reimagine the joys of their youth.

Somewhere in rural New Zealand, two young brothers go with the father (a nice turn by Taungaroa Emile) up the mountain on a camping trip. Nathan (the older child) is somewhat dismissive of his younger brother David, who is– to him– a bit of a whiner and a crybaby, like younger brothers always are. The first night, their dad’s friend tells the two boys about a mean possum named Scar, who’s old and ornery and a bit dangerous. When something visits their tent at night, they are fairly convinced that it is Scar, stalking and hunting them. As their dad chops wood out in the bush, Nathan and Daniel search out Scar to take him out.

Two elements of this film make it incredibly charming: its child actors and its embrace of the fantastic. Duane Evans Jr. and Te Ahitaewa Hakaraia-Hosking make for two excellent brothers, they bicker and play with each other like pros, and their search for Scar evokes memories of childhood trips of the past. Moreover, we get Scar point of view shots, puppet-like shadows of elk, and most importantly, a charming Scar animatronic that is made of a child’s imagination. And of course, the New Zealand woods are beautiful and slightly dangerous, threading that line between awe and fear that usually creates children’s worlds. Between the vast, sweeping landscape that makes New Zealand both massively gorgeous and strangely familiar and the sweet brotherly affective of two young boys, POSSUM earns its place a charming coming of age moment that never becomes saccharine or cliché.

Foxhole Conversation

To its credit, Pranay Noel’s FOXHOLE CONVERSATIONS (2017) smartly avoids the meaning of its title until the last few minutes of the film. As such, it’s a smart illustration of the silence between brothers, the ways that we ignore what happens after war, and the problems of the pathetic divorcee genre that has been common over the past 20 years.

The majority of the film concerns Lauchlin, a middle-aged, divorced dad who doesn’t get to see his daughter much and is wasting away in a middle management cubicle. Lauchlin is sadder because it seems he could be doing much better. He’s smart, he’s interested in the world, and he’s writing himself a screenplay. His colleague even tells him that he should leave his boring corporate, pencil-pushing job because he wants to “do something” and probably could.

After his ex-wife refuses to let him come into his daughter’s birthday party, he and his brother Colin(who is unemployed and has recently come to live with him) get colossally wasted and pass the night on the couch, talking about their past, dreams, and failures. It’s the turn at the end–the one that makes the viewer rethink the entire film–that saves the movie’s narration. It’s neither a twist nor a plot point. Instead, it’s about what we never talk about. As a family, as a society, and as a culture.

While the acting is a bit hit or miss at times, the two main characters nonetheless manage to establish a kind of bro-ish charm. They let gross humor and childish sexual innuendos speak for them. It seems that they are having a good time, but their good time is also a fatal flaw. Brothers joke around, it seems, but can never say what’s going on. But we don’t want to see either because Hollywood film has trained us that the sidekick is never the main character. Except, possibly, he is to the sidekick himself.

Older posts Newer posts

© 2018 Ouchy Film Awards

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑