"The Dance of Reality"
In the opening minutes of "The Dance of Reality," cult director Alejandro Jodorowsky's first movie in 23 years, he appears onscreen reciting a poem that compares money to blood, Christ and Buddha, then equates death to consciousness and wealth. It's that combination of evocative prose and bizarre associations that define the director's appeal, which stretches back to the glory days of his midnight movie stardom with "El Topo" and "The Holy Mountain." While lacking their polished lunacy, "The Dance of Reality" maintains the gonzo spirit of its creator, virtually emerging directly from his psyche.
The movie finds Jodorowsky reteaming with French producer Michel Seydoux, with whom the director collaborated on a famously ambitious, uncompleted adaptation of "Dune" (a story told in the documentary "Jodorowsky's Dune," premiering at Cannes' Directors Fortnight section alongside the new work). In contrast to that costly endeavor, "The Dance of Reality" is a noticeably small, unapologetically messy, diary-like ode to his upbringing. Jodorowsky adapts his memoir of the same name in addition to elements of another book, "The Boy of Black Wednesday," in which he imagined a scenario that found his father scheming to kill Chilean president Carlos Ibañez del Campo as part of a communist plot. Meanwhile, the real-life Jodorowsky (now in his eighties), hovers in and out of various scenes draped in black to guide them along. In this regard, one gets the sense of the director guiding audiences through this chaotic world, never letting it drift too far from his personal connection. More than a return to form, "The Dance of Reality" deepens its possibilities without sacrificing the macabre freakishness coursing through the director's work -- and that's the prime reason for celebrating its continuation.
To some extent, Korean director Hong Sang-soo remakes the same movie each time out, with slight variations in character and tone, which means you either roll with his style or reject it outright. In most cases, Hong's movies contain minor plots involving a handful of neurotic characters, usually one of whom is a filmmaker; much of the exposition involves ample drinking and commiserating among romantic loners and old friends. Endless chatter drives everything. But within those constraints, Hong often strikes a nuanced tone pitched between philosophical intrigue and angst-riddled comedy, with some results more refined than others.
There are many variations on the Hong formula. In the past five years, he has completed eight features, including two that have premiered this year alone: Following the Berlin Film Festival entry "Nobody's Daughter Haewon," Hong has unveiled "Our Sunhi," his most enjoyable work since "In Another Country" -- at least for those who respond to the director's restrained approach. Yet it's also distinctly charming and funny, providing an ideal access point for those unacquainted with his other work.
Hong takes little time putting the basic pieces in place. Recent film school grad Sunhi (Jung Yumi) decides she wants to do post-graduate work in the U.S. before turning her attention to movies and asks her old professor Donghyun (Kim Sangjoong) for a recommendation. Later, she runs into Munsu (Lee Sunkyun), an ex-boyfriend who has made a movie based on their romance. Within short order, both Donghyun and Munsu dispense advice to Sunhi to explain how her lack of ambition clashes with her intellect, a point underscored when Sunhi reads her recommendation from her old teacher and discovers that it's rather mixed.
As usual, Hong's camera generally just sits there and lets the scenario organically unfold, but the actors are especially lively and the dialogue fits together with puzzle-like finesse. Even as everyone around Sunhi has an agenda for her, she's either too unmotivated or overwhelmed to choose one for herself. As usual with Hong, his subjects are stuck in a limbo of confusion that feels both strangely distant and, for the same reasons, true to life.
On March 29, 2012, as thousands of youth stormed the streets of Barcelona for a general strike against the nation's austerity plans, Ludwig Minkus' "Don Quixote" was performed at the Opera House. Filmmaker Viktor Kossakovsky ("¡Vivan las Antipodas!") threaded together these two seemingly unrelated events with a third: He sent 32 of his film students from his Master of Creative Documentary course at the Pompeu Fabra University to document the chaotic protests. The feature-length project assembled out of the extensive footage, titled "Demonstration," has been cleverly set to excerpts of Minkus' compositions, resulting in a ballet of moving images that simultaneously recounts the events while meditating on their significance.
The music lends a graceful quality to the chaos by playing against it with darkly ironic and often humorous results. Minkus' score crescendos as police swarm toward unseemly groups, batons in hand, and fail to do much beyond stir things up even further; elsewhere, a helicopter playfully drifts in and out of an otherwise empty shot of the cloudless sky, as if mocking the authorities' finicky response. Even if the gimmick runs its course before the movie's end, it maintains the vitality of the music by showing how the protestors skillfully dance to their own tune.
"A Letter to Nelson Mandela"
With the very recent passing of Nelson Mandela and the biopic "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" revving up for Oscar season with a recent White House screening, widespread veneration for South Africa's iconic leader has arguably never been higher. The mythology surrounding Mandela has grown so sacrosanct that the measured approach to his failings in Khalo Matabane's diary-like documentary "A Letter to Nelson Mandela" has almost radical connotations. However, far from issuing a subversive missive, Matabane manages a thoughtful analysis of Mandela's monolithic legacy through the prism of growing up in its shadow as a child of the eighties. Expertly assembled with a mixture of authoritative talking heads and the filmmaker's introspective first-person narration, "A Letter to Nelson Mandela" cannily deconstructs the messianic fervor surrounding its subject -- and, by extension, others like him.
Chinese artist Ai Weiwei might be restricted from leaving his country, but that hasn't slowed down his output. A touching portrait of a strong-willed young woman with AIDS fighting the government for better care, "Stay Home!" is a noticeably subdued production in contrast to the blatant flag-waving found in his other media works. It's center is Ximei, an ebullient young woman orphaned at an early age who spends her days living in a Chinese hostel and complaining about the limitations of her healthcare. Ai goes great lengths to establish the rhythms of Ximei's seemingly ordinary life so that she never takes on symbolic value, instead rooting the socioeconomic problem in her personal experiences.
Gradually, it becomes clear that Ximei leads an oppressed existence. Like Ai, she's stalked by the government at every corner, which only pushes her to complain louder, as she petitions the government for more affordable treatment and complains about the physical efforts she must invest in receiving it. While Ai has been the subject of several recent documentaries, as much as he makes an enticing figure of individual revolt, he's even better at finding it elsewhere.
"The Rendezvous of Deja vu" ("La Fille du 14 Juillet")
Plenty of contemporary movies are inspired by the French New Wave, but "The Rendezvous of Deja Vu," which premiered at Directors' Fortnight in Cannes, feels like it was made during it. The caustically playful debut of Antonin Peretjatko takes the form of a charming road movie in which enterprising young Parisian Hector (Gregoire Tachnakian) pines for the affections of a young woman (Vimala Pons) while the duo launch on an ill-fated trip to the beach with some friends. Along the way, they encounter a series of absurd setbacks that lead to the movie's main concern: high-minded slapstick humor and silly asides that never lack a heightened state of comedic inventiveness. With the police constantly on their tail (don't ask), the group veers from one bizarre scenario to another, from a deranged dinner party to the sudden news that the government has decided to cut summer break short, which causes further chaos for everyone involved. Imagine Godard's "Weekend" crossed with a Looney Tunes cartoon and you might start to get a sense for Peretjatko's wacky aesthetic, which ranks among the best debut stories of the year. Forget "Movie 43"; this is wacky sketch comedy at its finest -- and great filmmaking, to boot.