This week’s Featured Films from Fandor’s curators are an even more eclectic bunch than usual, spanning an eccentric period piece with a long, unpronounceable German name from one of Japan’s most beloved cult directors, a British period drama featuring Gandalf in his first major film role, an acclaimed documentary intertwining several fascinating stories of personal revelation, and enlightenment and a shoot-em’-up Hong Kong action flick starring a young and sexually ambiguous Chow Yun-Fat. In other words, something for everyone!
What It’s About: Set in a 1920s Japan saturated with decadence and nihilism, Zigeunerweisen is the tale of a disparate characters drawn together by unseen strings of fate and nearly driven mad by their own fears and desires. Aochi, a Japanese professor of German, vacations in a seaside town and discovers former classmate Nakasago, now a full-time vagabond and suspected serial killer. During their reunion, they both fall hard for the beautiful local geisha Koine and the men’s mutual obsession for Koine escalates into paranoia and treachery, spiked with undercurrents of witchcraft and the sinister presence of the supernatural. Based on the novel by Hyakken Uchida.
“Zigeurnerweisen is “the first chapter in a loosely knit trilogy all set during the affluent, decadent 1920s, and all intensely, drowsily tripped out on reflexive slippage, narrative Dada, and gender-combat ambiguity… Astonishingly, it swept the Japanese Academy Awards.”
–Michael Atkinson for The Village Voice
“With Zigeunerweisen—shot in 1980, after Suzuki took a 10-year break from directing—Suzuki retires the cumbersome plots and predictable settings of his genre films, and lends his bizarre, outrageous, and completely visual language to a bona fide art film.”
–John Behling for Slant Magazine
“Zigeunerweisen is unmistakably a Suzuki film from the very first frame, fully indulging the elaborate set design, theatrical lighting and broad, stage styled acting that the director has always favored.”
–Todd Brown for Twitch
What It’s About: Protagonist is a documentary exploring extremism through contrasting stories of personal revelation. The film features four individuals who have been devoted to personal odysseys (a cause, a quest, an ideal) to the point of total consumption. At first glance, the characters appear disconnected: a former German terrorist, an “ex-gay” evangelist, a bank robber and a martial arts student. But as their stories unfold, one starts to see the parallels between the “uncommon” common experience of these four men.
“Jessica Yu’s previous film, the strangely enthralling In the Realms of the Unreal challenged concepts of what a documentary can and should accomplish, and she does that again with her latest work.”
–Maryann Johanson, The Flick Filosopher
“The film bears the mark of a real directorial talent, eager to push the documentary form in inventive directions, just like Errol Morris and Werner Herzog, and for that alone, it deserves a nod of appreciation.”
–Noel Murray for The A.V. Club
“Inspired by an absurdly challenging request to make a doc about the Greek tragedian Euripides, Yu’s alternative approach was to deconstruct the playwright’s ideas through an articulate, motley quartet of extremist personalities… Yu’s rousing, difficult-to-classify exercise in parallel storytelling is surprisingly accessible, and all the more insightful for it.”
–Aaron Hillis for The Village Voice
What It’s About: In his first major screen role, Ian McKellen portrays writer D.H. Lawrence in all his rebellious grandeur, thumbing his nose at authority while still managing to write masterpieces. The film begins with the English government burning copies of The Rainbow and continues through his exodus around the world, joined by his combative wife Frieda (Janet Suzman). Also starring Hollywood legend Ava Gardner, Priest of Love provides a colorful and insightful portrait into the life and art of one of the great artists of the 20th century.
“Priest of Love from 1981 deserves a major re-evaluation. This biographical movie about the last years of ‘notorious’ author D.H. Lawrence is a welcome surprise, an intelligent and engaging look at the writer, his loving and loyal life with his wife Frieda and his globetrotting literary adventures… Ian McKellen gives one of the best filming portrayals of a writer I’ve seen, while Janet Suzman is riveting as his courageous wife, a woman who threw off the bonds of convention when doing so was much more daring.”
–Glenn Erickson, The DVD Savant
“If Priest of Love somehow captures the spirit of Lawrence on film, it also captures the spirit of the whole effort, now spanning a half century, to present the artist and his works on screen… Priest often proves compelling, even remarkable…”
–Louis K. Greiff, D.H. Lawrence: Fifty Years on Film
“The casting here is the thing, even to the smallest role.”
Michael O’Sullivan, Mike’s Movie Projector
What It’s About: Chow Yun-Fat‘s most explosive performance fuel Full Contact, a first-rate, high-octane tale of revenge and retribution. To help his buddy Sam (Anthony Wong) settle a gambling debt, Jeff (Chow) reluctantly agrees to join forces with Judge (Simon Yam) for a daring weapons heist. But Sam and Judge betray Jeff and leave him for dead. Once nursed back to health, Jeff plots the ultimate payback. Based on the novel The Hunter by Donald Westlake.
“Director Lam and star Chow Yun-Fat keep the action moving at somewhere close to lightspeed, with fireballs and muzzle-flash galore. This may be the first Hong Kong action film with a smooth and seductive gay villain, too, which injects a note of slightly-skewed reality into what otherwise might have ended up as just another cartoon bad guy. Despite the obvious comparisons to [John] Woo‘s films, Full Contact survives on its own gritty merits. It’s a down-and-dirty little actioneer that leaves you squirming, breathless in your seat.”
–Marc Savlov for The Austin Chronicle
“A totally unhinged blast of pure, adrenaline pumping carnage from start to finish…”
“It doesn’t take much to make an action movie, even a good one, but it’s very rare that they come along as stylish as this. High octane gunfights, knife-fights and occasional fistfights amidst a barrage of bullets and flying debris are fantastically choreographed, chaos becoming a work of art, painted with literally gallons of blood and baptised in fire.”
–Wayne Southworth for The Spinning Image