Quick Film Guide: The Phantom of Liberty (Luis Bunuel, 1974)

Le Fantôme de la liberté
Directed by Luis Bunuel
France, Italy

Luis Bunuel followed his Oscar-winning film, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie with another gem of surrealist cinema: The Phantom of Liberty. Here, he explores the idea that humans are trapped by social codes and structures and, as the title suggests, that freedom is just an illusion.

The Phantom of Liberty is inspired by events from Bunuel’s own life, though each is altered and distorted, and featured within a narrative Susan Suleiman suggested as based on “a principle of infinite suspension.” It moves forward via the chance encounters of its diverse cast of eccentric characters, and every sequence is suspended by the intervention of yet another sequence, with many of them left unresolved.

Thus, the film’s narrative structure is integral to the filmmaker’s final message that freedom exists in the imagination. In other words, it is the narrative form Bunuel employs that suggests that imagination is the thing that allows us to knock down the structures we’re trapped in. This is not only represented by the way in which The Phantom of Liberty knocks down narrative conventions, but also in the way it represents such taboo subjects as pedophilia, execution, incest, religion and more.

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Quick Film Guide: What’s Up, Fatlip? (Spike Jonze, 2003)

In 2003, Fatlip released a single titled “What’s Up, Fatlip?” about the horrors of getting older and coming to terms with the harsh realities of life. This self-lacerating track was accompanied by a memorable video by director Spike Jonze, mixing reality and fiction and shot in the guerrilla style that was quite trendy at the time.

During the filming, Jonze decided to shoot a spontaneous, candid documentary with the hip-hop artists. Whether between takes or on the way to the different shooting locations, the former Pharcyde member opens up about his career in a relaxed and disarmingly honest way, whether retracing his career up to that point, talking about the inspiration about his latest cut and recalling some events in his personal life that left a mark on him creatively.

What’s Up, Fatlip? is no biographical documentary and that is, perhaps, what makes it such a special, priceless and profoundly real. Jonze delights in documenting Fatlip, who is completely at ease in front of the camera and willing to reveal less-than-glamorous aspects of his life and music career, like having to ride a bus despite his videos being on MTV or recalling a personal incident involving a transvestite.

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Quick Film Guide: Black Dynamite (Scott Sanders, 2009)

Black Dynamite
Directed by Scott Sanders

Black Dynamite is a former CIA-man turned kung-fu-fighting gangster, who wages a war against “the man” that takes him all the way to the White House – of Honky House – to avenge his brother’s death and protect his black neighborhood.

Scott Sanders’ film is more than a mere tribute to blaxploitation, though its devil-in-the detail care, 35mm photography and even its funky soundtrack flatter its tradition. It is also a modern black reclamation of this ’70s subgenre that, despite its cult appeal, was defined by a disproportionate stereotypical representation of black Americans.

All elements of Black Dynamite are deliberately familiar; the film is both a kickass action film and a hilarious parody. Characters, storyline and situations from various ’70s flicks are mashed up into a densely rich romp and turn to gold in the hands of Sanders and co-writers Byron Minns and Michael Jai White. The latter also stars in the film’s title role, arguably the most memorable of his career.

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Quick Film Guide: Lulu in the Nude (Sólveig Anspach, 2013)

Lulu femme nue
Directed by Sólveig Anspach

Lulu (Karin Viard), a repressed woman approaching middle age, decides to take a break from her ordinary life as a wife and a mother after a botched interview. Along the way, on this unofficial “holiday,” she meets some people and shares a connection with her that will help bring some glow back to her unhappy life.

Lulu in the Nude is perhaps the film that best showcases the balance of Nordic and French storytelling in Sólveig Anspach’s cinema. While its structure seems lifted out of an Aki Kaurismaki work, it also renews Anspach’s commitment to a type of feelgood vibe marked by subtle feminism – including here, a giveaway reference to Simone de Beauvoir.

A tastefully restrained comedy-drama that comes from a very real, ordinary situation, Lulu in the Nude does have its visually pleasant moments, including one that sees its lead character night swimming naked, which is hinted at in the title.

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Quick Film Guide: The Patriot Game (Arthur MacCaig, 1979)

The Patriot Game
Directed by Arthur MacCaig

American director/cinematographer Arthur MacCaig charts the history of Northern Ireland from its inception in 1922. He particularly takes us right in the midst of the action, capturing the street riots, police violence and firebomb attacks of the period between 1968 to 1978 via shocking footage he shot himself.

The Patriot Game was MacCaig’s feature debut and it is arguably his best-known work. It was deemed controversial at the time because, from the beginning, he makes it a point to establish his perspective, siding with the point of view of the Provisional IRA, the Irish Republican paramilitary organization that emerged at the beginning of 1970 and sought to end British rule in Northern Ireland, and facilitate the reunion of Ireland in an independent republic.

The documentary is emotionally charged and focused. One can feel the filmmaker’s passion for the topic at its every moment. It is also a complete portrayal, including historical context, shocking first-hand footage, on-field interviews, and the music and words of the rebel songs.

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Quick Film Guide: The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (Luis Bunuel, 1972)

Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie
Directed by Louis Bunuel
France, Italy, Spain

Luis Bunuel had aged like a fine wine. In 1972, he delivered one of his greatest masterpieces since 1926’s L’Age d’Or: The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. This is an inventive surrealist romp complete with dream sequences and unexpected turns that ranks highly in the director’s filmography.

The film doesn’t follow a standard narrative structure, following the attempts of six members of the upper-middle class to have a sophisticated dinner together. Every time, however, their plan is thwarted by circumstances and events each stranger and more absurd than the next.

Bunuel seems to have reached a point in his career where he has fewer reservations about what he says through his films and it is interesting to see him openly attack a large portion of his own arthouse audience. This is perhaps why, to this day, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is defined as “funny,” with less consideration about how frightening and bitter it is.

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Quick Film Guide: Fifi Howls from Happiness (Mitra Farahani, 2013)

Fifi az khoshhali zooze mikeshad
Directed by Mitra Farahani
USA, Iran, France

Filmmaker Mitra Farahani’s documentary about eccentric Iranian painter Bahaman Mohasses, once known as the Persian Picasso, is an intimate portrayal of mortality. She meets him and films him during the last months of his life. At the time of filming, he was living alone, as a recluse, in a hotel room in Rome, Italy.

Fifi Howls from Happiness no standard biographical documentary. While it touches on many events of the artist’s history and the historical context during which they originated – particularly that of pre-revolutionary Iran – it is more driven by Farahani’s camera, constantly facing Mohasses and rarely distracted, ready and eager to capture anything from one of his priceless anecdotes, to his chain smoking habit, to him watching archive footage of himself as a younger man, to a burp.

In a sense, the documentary does come across as a filmic testament but it is just as much a brutally honest portratal of an old man who, at the end of an apparently fulfilling life, only finds solace in the thought that the leopards and the lions will be replaced by little jackals and hyenas – to paraphrase Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, whose novel The Leopard is a leitmotif of the feature.

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Quick Film Guide: The Queen of Montreuil (Sólveig Anspach, 2013)

Queen of Montreuil
Directed by Solvéig Anspach

Agathe (Florence Loiret Caille) returns to her home in Montreuil, France, one early summer, carrying the ashes of her dead husband. The arrival of a few interesting characters to her house will help her get her life back on track and process the loss.

Queen of Montreuil, directed by French-Icelandic filmmaker Sólveig Anspach is a comedy drama about dealing with loss and the importance of human connection. While it isn’t a very original take, it has a simple, feelgood charm about it and impresses for its quirky sense of humor, subtle celebration of multi-culturality and moments of realism – including the presence of a sea lion and uses of animation.

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Quick Film Guide: Collateral Damage (Andrew Davis, 2002)

Collateral Damage
Directed by Andrew Davis

After seeing is wife and son die in a terrorist attack, and out of frustration for the political red tape surrounding the investigations, a firefighter decides to take matters into his own hands and seek revenge.

Collateral Damage was filmed before the tragic events of 9/11, which inevitably affected its release and editing process. If it hadn’t been for that, it most likely would have looked like an aged action movie and one of many starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The film has all but been forgotten now, but it was interestingly the Austrian-born actor’s second-last role before he became the Governor of California.

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Quick Film Guide: David Lynch: The Art Life (Jon Nguyen, Rick Barnes, Olivia Neergaard-Holm, 2017)

David Lynch: The Art Life
Directed by Jon Nguyen, Rick Barnes, Olivia Neergaard-Holm
USA, Denmark

David Lynch: The Art Life is a splendid documentary that tells the story of cult filmmaker David Lynch’s formative years – from childhood to his acclaimed experimental feature film debut, Eraserhead.

Unlike many other docs of its kind, David Lynch: The Art Life is less caught up in chronological rhetoric and more driven by a logical thread. Furthermore, it is told through the voice of Lynch himself, who really opens up in this series of 20 conversations recorded at his home.

Adding to the appeal of the film is the inclusion of never before seen material, such as homemade movies, behind the scenes footage, documents, photographs and paintings. It is a must-watch for all Lynch fans but also for anybody interested in becoming an artist, whether they may be looking for guidance or comfort.

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