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There are a lot of great films getting drunk, high, or otherwise loaded and pursuing the idea of a drunken point of view. It’s not so much the drunkenness itself but that intimate connection between camera and perspective. In Ken Russell’s Altered States, scientists even imagine inebriation as the entry into a new reality, in which drugs become the cinematic catalyst for playing with light, sound, angle, color, and perspective, all in ways that defy typical perception.

Andrea Baglio’s NATURAE (2017) is a short made with that tradition in mind. In the film, a young man–caught in the throes of a drunken haze—staggers into the wilderness (or, at least, a very large garden). There, the camera seems to shift from watching the young man to adopting his point of view. This is where the photography becomes beautiful, almost sentient. As we jump back and forth between the view of our drunken protagonist and his POV, we see nature as an oversized expression of the sublime. Flowers grow to oversized behemoths; winter trees are shrouded in mystery and secrets of the world. Nature is by turn beautiful, horrific, gross, overwhelming, and sensual.

NATURAE gestures toward Antonin Artaud’s experimental theater and art spaces, toward the happenings of the 1960s in which the sensory experience mattered far more than the narrative representation. While it doesn’t necessarily completely reach that sensory overload, it nonetheless brings a fresh sense of experimentalism into a contemporary film, which is so often dominated by strong storylines. NATURAE celebrates the pure image, which really can only work if the photography is strong, which it is.

Happy Dolls

Being in a teenaged girls head is a little bit like being in a lunatic asylum. Not in the sense that teenaged girls are crazy, although that may or may not be the case, but that they are always told that they are crazy and that “sanity” is right around the corner if they just try hard enough. Unfortunately for them, however, those who are driving them crazy are also telling them to be better. Girls are sold an amazing amount of mixed messages: they are beautiful just as they are but should buy make-up, creams, and serums to look better; that they should be confident but not too confident; sexy but not too sexy; that they are beautiful, that they are ugly. With all of these competing ideas scurrying around in a rapidly growing, hormonal brain, it’s no wonder that girls often turn to anorexia, bulimia, self-harm, and drugs.

HAPPY DOLLS attempt to get inside the mental space of one of those teenaged girls. A teenaged girl, spurred by a fleeting moment of self-confidence, ask out a boy on whom she has a crush. He, however, instead crushes her dreams and expectations by mocking her with another friend. Disappointed, she wanders off, but the bullying has obviously gotten under her skin. She transfers these feelings from other onto herself in violent and abusive ways. In this case, HAPPY DOLLS speaks to ways that girls believe criticism and turn in inward, usually with vicious and detrimental results.

While HAPPY DOLLS does a good job in getting its point across in a very short period of time, its imagination is nonetheless bigger than its production values. The film struggles with less experienced actors and little budget, filming in a naturalistic style that doesn’t really connect to the gravity of its subject. However, what we do see here is Beltran’s strong point of view and willingness to experiment, which is what young filmmakers need to grow.

Rooftops of My City

Maya Jasmin’s seemingly semi-autobiographical ROOFTOPS OF MY CITY explores how people come to find a city home, especially in the transient, cosmopolitan, immigrant-rich New York. The story follows two characters, a young Swiss burgeoning actor named Oliver, and a German up-and-coming DJ named Lena, whose diverse origins leave her struggling to contact with other. The two live one rooftop apart, and even have some conversations but only begin to really know each other after Oliver overhears Lena speaking German and recognizes as linguistic kin. In getting to know each other, the two discover that they have that ex-patriot bond that seems to connect so many émigrés in foreign lands. They miss Becks beer and speaking German. They both feel like their backgrounds are amorphous and hard to describe. Lena feels German, Japanese, and Polish simultaneously, while Oliver feels not-quite-German at German bars.

There’s a lot to ROOFTOPS OF MY CITY that is quite refreshing. Oliver and Lena have good chemistry that is not romantic but evokes the odd compatriotism that émigrés share. The photography evokes everything that is simultaneously great and problematic about Brooklyn. The pastel shades and dusky light conveys the strange, urban beauty and lonely strangeness that characterizes Brooklyn, a place in which you can be always and never alone simultaneously. Moreover, the actors are sweet, credible, and awkward enough to show how strange a new, actively pursued friendship can be. The director plays Lena, who is clearly a version of herself, while Terrence Schweizer has a very credible performance as a burgeoning actor.

The dialog can be a bit awkward and forced, however, and the revelations that the two have are fairly normal for anyone of complex backgrounds. It seems that this is older, well-worn territory for young people who have grown up in this globalized world. The characters are charming, though, which makes up for the facileness of their conclusions. ROOFTOPS evokes that first move after college and struggle to make our place in a brave, new, world. We really root for them to succeed in their new homes, and, in such a character-driven movie, and may be the real thing that recommends it.

The Contract

In Mehmet Ger’s THE CONTRACT, it’s crucial to convey meaning outside of the dialog. Of course, film is clearly a visual medium, but we often forget the significance of sound. Sound creates three-dimensional space, helps characters move, emphasizes mood, and uses dialog to create meaning. In a film like THE CONTRACT, in which dialog is absent, the key is to be able to convey both mood and meaning without talking.

However, what is the most fun of The Contract is how it uses sound to play with depth. In the short piece, an unnamed man enters into a non-descript high-rise for an interview. The vast majority of the film is the figure traveling through space and the auditory signals that go along with it. He opens doors, traverses long highways, and otherwise makes space real in this echoing, almost empty building. As he is led through the labyrinthine hallways, the clicking of his female guide’s pointy stilettos dominates the soundscape.

The juxtaposition between silence and background noise creates an ominous mood that is matched by the austere, empty setting and harsh, corporate lighting. Like many films that use a blue filter, the film presents a cool, harsh landscape that seems infertile and sterile, which fits in excellently with the film’s final images.

However, even given the film’s limited scope, it seems to have challenges conveying it’s meaning. The film leaves several questions unanswered, including what is the larger background of the world in which this particular event takes place? The film’s combination of knowing glances and blank stares create an eerie sense of a world without human desires, needs, or wants. However, the film leaves with a strong mood—but little sense of the circumstances that make this world possible.

That being said, the film is definitely a fun experiment in sound at a time in which sound has become second to the dominance of the image. Much like its earlier predecessors of the early sound era that attempted to understand the role of diegetic sound in the moving images, The Contract emphasizes the three-dimensionality of cinematic space, even though its characters are fundamentally two dimensional.

The Moustache

Some of the best comedy is built on absurdity. In Kubrick’s DR. STRANGELOVE, the heightened symbolism that connects sex, dominance, and war provides a fantastic spoof on hyper-masculine American military culture. Meanwhile, in films like Gilliam’s BRAZIL, banal disinterest in catastrophe, terrorism, and torture speaks to our ability to slide quite easily into authoritarianism. This is not to say that Michael Schaar-Ney’s THE MOUSTACHE rises to the level of BRAZIL or STRANGELOVE, but it nonetheless plays on our culture’s most ridiculously tendencies, in this case, the notion of fashion and image as self-improvement.

In the film’s narrative, a portly, nebbish office worker named Mike decides on the fly to grow a mustache. While he hopes it may make him appear more charming (especially to his neighbor), he is surprised by the radical changes that a mere mustache made in his life. His neighbor notices him for the first time, he gets a promotion at work, and his life starts to turn around. Of course, as it begins to pay off for him big time, he also begins to get carried away by the glory of his mustache.

Like most good comedy, the film’s humor comes from its pacing, reiterated. Mike appears somewhere, and people at first flustered then intrigued and then entranced. And, because it’s a comedy, the banal workspaces, bars, and apartments serve only to highlight the absurdity of Mike’s newfound celebrity.

While all this doesn’t raise THE MOUSTACHE to a comedic masterpiece, it does show an emerging filmmaker who understands what makes absurdity great and can accomplish this in a small piece.

To Valhalla

In 2016, the Norwegian MMA (mixed martial arts) fighter Emil Weber Meek attempted to make a name for himself by fighting Rousimar Palhares, who had been kicked out of the league for violence. The story seems like a work of fiction—a young outsider, determined to make a name for himself goes up against a world champion. The documentary TO VALHALLA (Even Evensen, 2017) charts the journey to the Meek’s big fight.

While the story plays out like a fairly common sport’s narrative, the film plays with national imagery and the sports genre in interesting ways. Meek seems endlessly fascinated with ancient Vikings and those warriors and explorers that made it to Valhalla through their heroic deeds. Valhalla—a wooden hall helmed by the god Odin himself, is a place in which chosen and tested warriors plan their next battle. The film definitely capitalizes on the Viking motif, filming Meeks at abandoned forts and castles and in candle-lit wooden structures. Moreover, the film is peppered with shots of the fantastic mountains and rivers that evoke a previous, ancient era of warriors and tribes.
Sometimes, however, he seems like more of the joyful kid he his, excited about breakfast cereal, or more vulnerable than the Vikings, such as the moments in which he’s trying to make weight. The films most interesting moments, in fact, is when it charts the machinations that have to be done to Meek’s body. To shed 10 kilos, he must not eat or drink and sweat out fluid through hot baths and steams. Afterward, when he’s allowed to eat, he looks physically and mentally smaller, spooning out yogurt in his hotel bed.

The Nordic styling can verge on somewhat overdone here. The film vacillates between being an investigation of the event and pro-MMA propaganda, and the propagandistic side can appear a bit over the top.
Over, even the film’s enthusiasm leaves room for a bit of ennui. Without giving away who wins at the end, I think it’s fair to say that the end is a bit anti-climatic. As Meek himself say “Its six years of training for 45 seconds,” and there is, of course, always the next fight to look forward to. Much like the Vikings will have to fight for Odin even in the afterlife, an MMA fighter only continues to be good if he (or she) is still in the game.


In the United States, it’s estimated that between 20 to 25 percent of the country’s homeless are mentally ill, compared to 6 percent of the broader population. It’s unsurprising; while many in America find themselves homeless at one time or another, individuals with mental conditions are less likely to be able to hold down a steady job or engage in some of those necessary functions that allow people to live independently. In the US, people can fall through the cracks and out of the system.

In BENCH (2017), Charles J. Ouda attempts to humanize both homelessness and mental instability—in this case, in the form of a veteran’s PTSD. This film starts with Emma, a young job seeker in a new city that feels like she’s having a really bad day. She stabs herself with her mascara wand, spills coffee on herself, and fails about in her morning job interview. She finds herself in the park, complaining to her mother about her failures. While she’s there, however, she meets a George, a black man who may or may not be homeless. George gives her a pep talk and tells her to have more confidence. Even as he makes her feel better about herself, she gets a call from her prospective employer that turns her day around.

This seems like, at first, the classical “magical negro” trope, in which an older black man helps a younger white woman to be happy. However, the films take a more interesting turn when he needs help, and it turns out that she is incapable of helping him, in part because of real and assumed prejudices against mental illness.

BENCH explores the ways that the world is set up to benefit some and not others. Emma spills coffee on herself and acts like a spaz, but still gets the job, as the interviewers like her verve and “spirit.” When George acts abnormal, he (and the rest of the world) sees it as threatening and shameful.

Despite the film’s at times uneven technical elements, it does highlight the talents of Nathan Hinton, who conveys the horror, fear, and shame of PTSD without overplaying it. The final image, of George fearfully hugging himself on the sidewalk, far away from his beloved park, shows the director’s potential as a nuanced filmmaker, able to show complex problems that might not have individual answers.

The Bed

In India, prostitution is a multibillion-dollar business, with as many as 10 million sex workers conducting business there at any one point in time. Anand VRS Tomar’s THE BED (2017) attempts to illustrate the ways that this trade can affect children and, indeed, the ways that early exposure to prostitution can shape how children live their lives. THE BED primarily works in simplicity and frankness, which creates a kind of horror.

The film takes place in one long-take reverse zoom, which initially focuses on a child’s amidst the sound of disconcerting masculine sexual grunting. Because the shot is so tight, it’s impossible to see what’s actually happening. As the shot pulls outward, the viewer can see that the child is a little child, terrified, hiding under a bed, while above sex is being sold, most likely by her mother. After the man gets up, pays, and leaves, the woman attempts to comfort the child. It’s the juxtaposition, however, of the man’s grunting with the child’s face that is entirely unnerving and horrific. Like the child, we are unable to see or know what’s going on—we also sit in the vulnerable position. Moreover, it’s the young girl’s acting that really works here. It’s incredibly challenging to have child actors maintain the character for such a long take, and she accomplishes the task masterfully.

While the subject is both sensitive and relevant, the film does read more like a public service announcement or another kind of commercial than as a piece of cinema. It is absolutely shocking, but its length means that it really can’t go into the challenges and nuances that exist in the world regarding sex work, underage prostitutes, and trafficked children in Asia. Because of its length, it does gesture toward melodrama do much of its work. However, as a short work that attempts to introduce its audience to a painful and often shameful problem, it does simply and elegantly that primary staple of film –the close-up—to make its point.

City of My Heart

Of the city, Walter Benjamin wrote that “to lose one’s way, in a city, requires some schooling. Street names must speak to the urban wanderer like the snapping of dry twigs, and little streets in the heart of the city must reflect the times of day, for him, as clearly as a mountain valley.” Michel de Certeau, a bit more clearly, wrote that “The moving about that the city multiplies and concentrates– makes the city itself an immense social experience of lacking a place — an experience that is, to be sure, broken up into countless tiny deportations (displacements and walks), compensated for by the relationships and intersections of these exoduses that intertwine and create an urban fabric…” Both writers thought, in other words, that cities are not only spaces but also movements and practices. Streets are not static but change with time and persons present, in that they are pulsing with life more in that instant.

The short, experimental piece CITY OF MY HEART (Kostas Petsas, 2017) seems to agree. Madrid, it appears, is a city of dancing. Petsas juxtaposes images of architecture with dancing feet and music with poetry. In so doing, the film imagines the city as an amalgamation of disparate elements that are able to connect from time to time, in fleeting moments. Moreover, the camera follows this sensibility of synthesis. It starts with a bird’s eye view of a crowded sidewalk, in which people rush by, unconcerned about looking at the camera. It often switches, however. In other shots, pedestrians stand still in front of the camera, or the film gives us a close-up, POV shot, or a wide cityscape that appears to be taken by drones.

This makes for a stylistically coherent piece, despite its seeming restlessness. If a city is more than its businesses, governments, and corporations, if it—in fact—a different city at every second in every day, then it must be captured through the vacillations of everyday life, be it from a bird’s eye perspective or from the point of view of its denizens. While the film struggles to illustrate it a larger point, it nonetheless is a beautiful technical collage of sounds, images, and rhythms.


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.

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