Wednesday 17 July 2024

Object 817 (Olga Lucovnicova, 2024)

Somewhere deep in the Urals, abandoned buildings are holding more than just memories of the past. They also bear witness to a secret that has plagued the community since the Stalin era. Local people speak about strange events that occurred decades ago, leading to the gradual extinction of their once-bustling community. We discover a group of people on home footage taken at the local police station in the 90s. They examine an unusual creature, believed to be of extraterrestrial origin. Its appearance inspires fear and fascination, and soon it reaches a cult status. “The Kyshtym Alien” has its own monument, poems and songs.

Director's Statement

A few years ago, I discovered a declassified CIA document from the 1950s about the most secret city in the Soviet Union. It became the most monitored point on Earth from the sky by CIA satellites, sparking my curiosity and prompting an immediate decision to visit. In 2021, upon reaching the region, I found a driver who offered to give me a ride. He appeared peculiar, resembling and behaving like a retired KGB officer. He refused to be filmed or recorded and divulged nothing about himself. However, he suggested I interview his friend, a former police officer who, in the 1990s, discovered an alien. 

This alien became a landmark in the region, with locals erecting a monument in its honour. Some come to pray, while others come with anger to destroy the monument. As I delved deeper into this story, I uncovered strange hidden facts about the place. Witnesses reported strange flying objects, leading various ufological organisations to conduct expeditions tot he region. Additionally, the body of the alien was found near a huge secret object behind the fence, built in the 1950s. Since its construction, villages around it began to disappear, and people started dying young from mysterious illnesses. They became prisoners of a long-lasting secret that claimed the lives of their families from one generation to another.

Source/images: Flanders Image

Tuesday 2 July 2024

Orlando, My Political Biography (Paul B. Preciado, 2023)

Virginia Woolf's 1928 novel Orlando: A Biography has previously been adapted for the screen by both Ulrike Ottinger (Freak Orlando, 1981) and Sally Potter (Orlando, 1992).  While Ottinger's effort veered towards the experimental, Potter's relatively accessible work quickly outgrew the arthouse box it had initially been placed in, and the film became a box-office success as it cemented the star status of Tilda Swinton.  While Swinton—who was hitherto best known as Derek Jarman's muse—was joined by an eclectic supporting cast (Quentin Crisp, Lothaire Bluteau, Billy Zane), Orlando proved to be a rather brittle, hollow experience, and Potter ultimately hit the same hurdle as Ottinger: the novel is one in which much hinges on the title character's interior life.  That said, the essentially private nature of Woolf's coded book is somewhat tempered by its high-concept premise.

For Orlando: A Biography is a work in which its eponymous male hero—having reached the age of 30, or thereabouts—metamorphoses into a woman, and goes on to live for several centuries (the story begins in Elizabethan times and ends on the day the novel was published).  It is not hard to see why this back-of-a-beermat idea would appeal to filmmakers—even those as cerebral as Potter and Ottinger—yet the ease in which the basic outline of the story can be adapted for the cinema is soon offset by the knotty details in Woolf's writing.  Largely inspired by Virginia Woolf's complicated love affair with her fellow writer Vita Sackville-West—Orlando's dual existence is said to represent the two sides of Woolf's lover's personality—Orlando: A Biography is a roman à clef that has no particular interest in giving up the secrets swirling around its key.        

The latest filmmaker to take a tilt at Orlando: A Biography is first-time director Paul B. Preciado, who opts for a refreshingly different approach from those of Potter and Ottinger in his attempt to crack the novel's subtext.  Orlando, My Political Biography is a documentary in which Preciado presents 20 or so different trans and non-binary people, each of whom inhabits the Orlando character while narrating the events of their own life (while Woolf's pioneering book explored the concept of transgender identity, it operated strictly in binary terms).  Via this setup, Preciado actively leans into Woolf's surprisingly complex novel, and the results are satisfying in a way that soon outstrips both of the aforementioned film adaptations of this text; it's as if the director has realised that a more aggressive style is required to reach the heart of Orlando: A Biography.    

There's a real sense that this is the first screen version to successfully grapple with the source novel's central tenet; perhaps Preciado realised that, while Orlando: A Biography is classed as a work of fiction, its hero is a proxy for a real person and, as such, real people were needed to tease out what Virginia Woolf was driving at.  Thus, a fictional biography is both explored and augmented by a documentary film, and it's fascinating to witness the insights provided by each of Preciado's subjects.  As an adaptation, Orlando, My Political Biography is both daring and worthy; it's a slippery work, one that effectively plays Woolf's novel at its own game.  This ambitious film is one of the most original debut features in recent years, and a late, joyous appearance from author and filmmaker Virginie Despentes ensures it sticks the landing.

Darren Arnold

Thursday 27 June 2024

Raindance 2024: Dog War

Touching and action packed, Raindance selection Dog War follows a team of war-hardened, canine-loving combat veterans fighting to stop the dog meat trade in South Korea. Covertly and overtly, they infiltrate hidden farms and markets to rescue as many dogs as possible. The film’s wide range of interviewees—activists, politicians, dog meat farmers and vendors—provide a 360-degree view of this complex issue. Dog War is not just about dogs, but the clash of perspectives about what is right, ethical, and even natural or cultural. 

Director Andrew Abrahams: “My films often focus on hidden stories of suffering, places where boundaries or assumptions collide, and where new life can spring forth. Dog War can be intense and disturbing, but avoids demonizing a people or culture—or showing the brutalization of dogs, which could turn off viewers. Rather, it gives us a window into a country in transition, asking universal questions about animal rights vs. human livelihood, heroism vs. vigilantism, and the breach of contract with man’s best friend.”

The dog meat trade is most widespread in China, South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, Laos, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Indonesia and Nagaland in northern India. This trade is well-organized, with high numbers of dogs being stolen or taken from the streets, transported over long distances and brutally slaughtered. In South Korea, dogs are also intensively farmed for the meat trade. Dogs are also known to be eaten in certain African countries, but nothing compares to the sheer scale of the trade across Asia.

Source/images: ARPR