This Week’s Featured Films: from Hong Kong Romance to Polish “Pornografia”

This week’s selections span the globe, including a quirky but formally rigorous short film by an acclaimed young Canadian filmmaker, a complex romantic drama set in Macau, a gritty German update of The Postman Always Rings Twice, and an intimate Polish drama taking place on the eve of World War II.  And as always, check back in a week for four new Featured Films!

01) Patterns (dir. Jamie Travis, 2005)

What It’s About: The first film in Jamie Travis’s Patterns trilogy suggests a surrealist homage to the psychologically charged set designs of auteurs like Alfred Hitchcock and Douglas Sirk. The premise is simplicity itself: a woman waits for a call in her immaculate apartment. Comfortably immersed in her bath, she reveals a strange dream to the caller. Travis’s calibrated formal manipulations work up a terrific surface suspense.

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“Jamie Travis may be one of the most visually minded contemporary filmmakers you’ve never heard of. With passionate stories of suburban woe and obsession played out against surreal, hyperdesigned backdrops, Mr. Travis’s films feel a bit like a mixture of work by David Lynch and Douglas Sirk.”

Mekado Murphy for Arts Beat (The New York Times)

“With its use of neon Lite-Brite colors and Warhol/Maxx wall space Travis’ triptych could be confused with a nutty bit of nod and wink nostalgia. Look deeper, whoever, and you will see something far more telling…and terrifying…and terrific.”

Bill Gibron for Pop Matters

Travis actually has an entire website devoted to the Patterns Trilogy, which includes trailers, reviews and other information.  In the Director’s Q&A he answers a number of questions about the trilogy:

Q: What is the meaning behind the trilogy?

A: I prefer not to to work in terms of meaning. That’s not to say there is no meaning behind the films, but meaning certainly was not the impetus behind my making them. The Patterns Trilogy comprises, for me, three highly self-conscious films—self-conscious in terms of style, genre, narrative structure and this so-called meaning. My favourite films are those that manipulate an audience with ease. I have tried to make this manipulation front-and-centre and unashamed. I have tried to make the audience instrumental in their own manipulation. This approach, I think, applies more to the first two Patterns.

Considering almost every review of Patterns discusses it within the context of the other two films in the trilogy, Patterns II and Patterns III.  Both of these films, as well as several other acclaimed shorts by Travis, are also available to watch on Fandor–make sure to check out!

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02) Isabella (dir. Edmond Pang aka Pang Ho-cheung, 2006)

What It’s About: An edgy, unforgettable drama gorgeously shot and directed.  A down-on-his-luck corrupt cop named Shing has a drunken one-night stand with the mysterious Yan, and as events begin to unravel, Shing discovers a shocking revelation about Yan. The award-winning Isabella is a compelling tale about regrets and lost love.

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“Hong Kong director Pang again shows his diversity and manages to find an unusual perspective on standard genre material in his latest film Isabella…”

Noel Megahey for The Digital Fix

Isabella works wonders with mood and performance, and Pang frames his subjects with effective filmmaking techniques…”

Kozo for Love HK Film

“As Hong Kong critic Perry Lam says, Pang “often demonstrates a Kafkaesque talent for seeing the absurd in the mundane realities of everyday life”, and that is what draws young people in both the mainland and Hong Kong.”

Liu Wei for China Daily

03) Jerichow (dir. Christian Petzold, 2008)

What It’s About: In a small desolate town in northeastern Germany, a handsome ex-soldier, a Turkish businessman and his beautiful, restless wife find themselves in a desperate love triangle in this suspenseful reworking of the James M. Cain‘s novel The Postman Always Rings Twice from acclaimed director Christian Petzold.

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Jerichow offers one of the most breathtaking and shocking endings in recent memory. It reinforces my perception that Petzold is one of the world’s more promising, provocative and puzzling directors.”

Craig Phillips for Keyframe.  Phillips provides an overview of Petzold’s career, focusing on Jerichow and Yella, also available to watch on Fandor.

“Nothing in this movie may be that simple. Petzold, who also wrote the script, doesn’t make level one thrillers, and his characters may be smarter than us, or dumber. It’s never just about the plot, anyway. It has to do with random accidents, dangerous coincidences, miscalculations, simple mistakes. And the motives are never simple.”

Roger Ebert

“But there is nonetheless something haunting about this film, a sense of desperation and defeat that seems less like a generic convention than like a genuine insight, an intuition into what can happen at the crossroads of lust, loneliness and materialism.”

A.O. Scott for The New York Times

04) Pornographia (dir. Jan Jakub Kolski, 2003)

What It’s About: In Warsaw, 1943, Witold meets the cultivated Fryderyk at a salon and they become friends. He takes Fryderyk with him to his country estate where he lives with his wife and teenage daughter Maria. Fryderyk embarks on a game to engineer the cuckolding of Henia’s fiancé by Karol, a youth in the household. Meanwhile, war intrudes on the country idyll, and the local guerrilla commander seems to lose his grip.  A murder happens at the estate, and rumors that the war may end soon don’t halt deadly turns.  Adapted from the celebrated novel by Witold Gombrowicz.

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“An astonishing, original work by one of Poland’s most innovative directors… [Pornographia] is the most sophisticated Polish film of the past few years.”

Sheila Skaff for Bright Lights Film Journal

“The most distinctive movie sensibility to emerge from Poland in a quarter-century, Jan Jakub Kolski is a mysterious, instinctive artisan, and his adaptation of Witold Gombrowicz’s philosophical-modernist novel is something to puzzle over.

Michael Atkinson for The Village Voice

“Unfolding with the deceptively lyrical and darkly comic surrealism of a diluted Emir Kusturica, Pornographia, a film based on a novel by Witold Gombrowicz, is the powerful and haunting tale… Kolski photographs the film in yellow-green hues and uses recurring ground level tracking shots and isolated, behavioral observations of animals and insects (reminiscent of Shohei Imamura‘s The Insect Woman) that heighten the somber unnaturality of the film’s tone and reinforces the instinctuality and desperation of wartime existence.”

Acquarello at Strictly Film School

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