7. In the Woods (Angelos Frantzis, 2010) / Greece
Weirdness of the pansexual kind
The affinity for the saturated colors which sporadically tear the Athenian night in “A Dog’s Dream” Frantzis demonstrates in his third feature as well. Both crude and oneiric, “In the Woods (Mesa sto dasos)” defies any categorization, so the closest way to describe it would be a combination of video art, documentary, pseudo-mystery and romantic drama.
Without a (conventional) plot and with the dialogue reduced, Frantzis relies upon the improvisation of three young and inexperienced, yet resourceful and daring actors, exploring their relationship in the process of releasing and spreading the omnisexual energy. Using cheap equipment – an amateur digital camera, sound recorder and laptop – he achieves the retro-look of a Super 8 footage.
His intention is to “materialize” the emotions boiling in the lecherous “trinity”, so with his camera, he gets as close as possible to Katia Goulioni, Iakovos Kamhis and Nathan Pissoort who play the unnamed characters.
In depiction of their self-discovery and confrontation, he draws inspiration from classic fairy tales, initiation rituals, found footage films and the art of fauvism and surrealism, communicating through the language of primordial symbols (fire, water, stone, wood, blood, sperm). Through silence and minimalistic drones of Coti K. he emphasizes erotic tension.
8. Road to Nowhere (Monte Hellman, 2010) / USA
Weirdness of the art vs. life kind
“Road to Nowhere” marks Monte Hellman’s first feature after a two-decade long hiatus and it shows. It is a languorously paced neo-noir film (based on a fictitious true event) within a film that doesn’t always work as intended, but there’s something personal and yet universal about the whole proceedings that makes it stand apart in the crowd.
Shot on a budget much lower than many famous Hollywood stars’ salary, it focuses on the trials, romance and tribulations of a passionate auteur, Mitchell Haven (Tygh Runyan), whose project is also titled “Road to Nowhere”.
Mitch’s main interest is to create his own version of the events surrounding the fraud and faked deaths of Velma Duran and her politician lover Rafe Tachen in their small town. Going against all odds, he rejects the idea of big names in the credits and hires an unknown actress, Laurel Graham (the magnetic performance of Shannyn Sossamon), whose uncanny resemblance to real Velma causes controversies amongst the crew.
Addressing unhealthy obsession, life’s meaning(lessness), cinema’s illusory nature and the pains of creative process, Hellman blurs the line between fiction and reality in a convoluted story which is definitely not about the destination, but the long and arduous journey itself.
9. Bobby Yeah (Robert Morgan, 2011) / UK
Weirdness of the wonderfully gruesome stop-motion kind
“A weird kid obsessed with monsters and the things that hide under rocks”, in his own words, the independent British animator Robert Morgan is one of the most original voices of stop-motion medium. But, that is not the only reason his longest short film has its place on this list.
“Bobby Yeah” is the stuff nightmares are made of, the visceral and cerebral viewing experience, as well as the clear indicator of its creator’s evolution as an artist. It takes you to a new, utterly twisted dimension woven of long-forgotten fears and deeply repressed guilt, and inhabited by creatures with swells and ulcers all over their malformed bodies, from tadpole-spitting worm to an ithyphallic, crow-headed freak, all drenched in dark blues and sickening pinks.
Morgan’s grotesque, delirious and disturbing body-horror puzzle looks like it is created by devilish clones of Bosch, Lovecraft, Dalí, Švankmajer, Cronenberg, Lynch, Barta and the Quay brothers. And yet, beneath its slimy skin, there is something almost child-like and empathy-invoking about the meaty “rejects” wailing and squealing to the pulse of dark ambient score. (Not to mention plenty of themes skillfully incorporated within a limited time frame.)
Additional note: “Bobby Yeah” is available on Morgan’s official vimeo channel.
10. Keyhole (Guy Maddin, 2011) / Canada
Weirdness of the Guy Maddin kind
Maddin’s avant-garde crime drama/thriller chronicles a strange housebound odyssey of a mob boss, Ulysses (Jason Patric), and a handful of gangsters. Their guide is a blind drownee, Denny (Broke Palsson), whose escort is a bound and gagged hostage – Ulysses’s son Manners (David Wontner). Going from door to door of his villa (and opening each one by pulling hairs out from a keyhole!), our hero seeks after his wife Hyacinth (Isabella Rossellini) who waits in the attic, next to her father Calypso (Louis Negin) chained naked to the bed.
Defying trends as he always does, the Canadian master surrealist spins a cheeky, elusive, hermetic phantasmagoria of fragmented narrative brimming with many unanswered questions and references to Greek mythology.
Just like Denny, you realize that something is wrong, because you can’t hear your own thoughts, being trapped in an endless labyrinth of someone else’s subconscious mind and crippled memories. Accompanied by the sounds of thunder and phantom rain, you wander around in the state of a feverish dream, trying to find the way out in vain.
From the whirl of distorted camera angles, blurry double expositions, sudden bursts of color and dissonant score emerges an unnerving, psychosexual, self-indulgent mystery of grimly melancholic atmosphere and bizarrely perverse beauty.
11. Snow White (Pablo Berger, 2012) / Spain | Belgium | France
Weirdness of the twisted fairy tale kind
The most inventive adaptation/deconstruction of a famous brothers Grimm fairy tale is a daring version originally titled “Blancanieves” by Spanish director and writer Pablo Berger. His gothic & tragicomic melodrama takes the viewers back to the first quarter of the 20th century, giving them the opportunity to feel the magic of the European silent cinema.
Dressed in a traditional Andalusian attire, a familiar story seems fresher than ever, whereby the treatment of themes and motifs reflect Berger’s prudence, cleverness and mildly twisted sense of humor.
In this rendition, Snow White – pardon – Carmen’s mother is a flamenco singer & dancer who dies giving birth to her. Following in the footsteps of her father, she (respectively played by Sofía Oria and Macarena García) becomes the first female toreador in the fictitious world of the past, despite the efforts of her evil nurse stepmother Encarna (Maribel Verdú, brilliantly wicked) to get rid of her. The magic mirror is replaced by a hired painter and fashion photographers, whereas there’s only six of dwarves for some reason.
Berger goes against the stereotypes by excluding a prince charming and by emphasizing Carmen’s success in a profession which is considered masculine. Taking nothing away from her femininity, he depicts her as both gentle and strong, psychologically stable individual who is brave enough to confront Encarna’s tyranny.
Giving her a bitterly tragic and, to a certain extent, morbid epilogue which is the biggest deviation from the source material, he puts an exclamation mark on his social statement about domestic violence of which women are often the victims.
12. Helter Skelter (Mika Ninagawa, 2012) / Japan
Weirdness of the haute couture kind
The sophomore feature from Mika Ninagawa who almost blinded us with the penetrating colors of her historical drama debut “Sakuran” is the adaptation of an eponymous controversial manga by Kyōko Okazaki.
Portraying physical and mental breakdown of a model, LiLiCo (Erika Sawajiri), it raises the questions regarding the price of success, the relation between happiness and beauty, the consequences of plastic surgery and the shallowness of showbiz marionettes. It also touches upon the fans buying lies, blindly glorifying their idols and thus, keeping the cult of celebrity alive.
Considering her background in fashion photography, one might say the director is at home here, but in spite of that, “Helter Skelter” does have its share of flaws, considering Ninagawa doesn’t pay equal attention to body and mind decay. On the other hand, Sawajiri delivers a superb performance, even though her character which epitomizes vanity and egotism is very unlikable – only at a few points does she seem like a human being worthy of some compassion.
The movie’s strength lies in the hyper-stylized visuals dominated by reds (as a symbol of fire the anti-heroine plays with) and cleverly utilized music which puts hysteria around LiLiCo in the focus.
13. The Dance of Reality (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 2013) / France | Chile
Weirdness of the autobiographical kind
More than two decades after “The Rainbow Thief”, Alejandro Jodorowsky makes a triumphant comeback with a phantasmagorical autobiography “The Dance of Reality (La danza de la realidad)”. Although it is much tamer than his cult features of the 70s, this “psychomagic fairy tale” of difficult and unhappy coming-of-age does contain the right amount of subversion mirrored in the author’s fetishes.
Clowns, dwarves, cripples, transvestites and eccentrics who look like the tarot deck characters parade around the confused pubescent Alejandro (played by the talented non-professional Jeremias Herskovits), while he’s guided by the director himself who poses as a guardian angel. Whispering mystical advices to his younger self, Jodorowsky invokes the ghosts of the past and faces the causes of traumas by giving them a new form defined by distorted memories.
Along with a subjective, mythologized, ironically nostalgic representation of his childhood, he also reviews the socio-political climate in Chile of the 30s and touches upon some universal and oft-marginalized issues, demonstrating that his alchemist edge hasn’t dulled yet.
Walking a thin line between gentle mother’s yin and despotic father’s yang, he reveals the boy still hiding in the artist we know today. Notwithstanding the limits of digital cinematography, this Chilean provocateur prepares a sublime feast for the eyes where all the dishes are peppered with personal symbols.