Category Archives: Bright Future

People inhabiting places: Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s “Mekong Hotel” and Vladimir Todorovic’s “Disappearing Landscape”

Mekong Hotel (2012).

Mekong Hotel (2012). Photo: IFFR.

The Mekong river is ever silent, always moving and giving life to its banks, vegetation and animals. Along its way, a sturdy hotel stands in Thailand, permanently inhabited by stories and ghosts of past visitors. Staying the night means interlocking with the history of the place.

Switch to Singapore: humongous block buildings, motor ways and loading docks dominate the land. Messages (SLOW, SPEED CAMERA) turn ordinary language as alien as the objects feel huge and foreign. You cannot leave your mark anywhere.

Poetic and thoroughly impressive cinematic works, Mekong Hotel and Disappearing Landscape share many things. Both films study people and their relationships to their surroundings. Both avoid traditional, symmetric shot-reverse shots. Takes are unusually long and editing is sparse, camera still and framing elaborate. Greenish night and twilight are among the most popular hues.

Both films belong to the top of the 2013 IFFR’s selection.

Disappearing Landscape (2013).

Disappearing Landscape (2013). Photo: IFFR.

World-famous Thailandian director Apichatpong Weerasethakul continues in Mekong Hotel the themes of his past films, of which Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010), a lucid celluloid dream of reincarnation and family ties, won him a Palme d’Or.

Mekong Hotel is just the perfect holiday spot. Diegetic music, produced by a classical guitar player, soothes us into the lives of the inhabitants: two young couples, artists and Aunt Jean, who just might be a Pob, an all-devouring female ghost. Dialogue marries military history, government’s flood politics and everyday worries about which T-shirt should I wear without any worries.

Most striking is the universal kindness, respect for things slow and past generations found in Weerasethakul’s oeuvre.

Serbian visual artist Vladimir Todorovic formed his second feature of three parts: starting from Singapore, a relatively new supercity, through rural Serbia and landing in the old continent Barcelona. Often people move through spaces, rather than inhabit them. Human connection, however, can make a home out of any place.

In a few scenes, modernist architecture shakes hands with hard surfaces which are tainted with posters. Leaving your mark is, after all, possible.

Cosplay photoshoot in Disappearing Landscape. A sign of alienation and the power of human imagination? Photo: IFFR.

Cosplay photoshoot – Sign of alienation or the power of human imagination? From in Disappearing Landscape (2013). Photo: IFFR.


Cinematographer steps up in the enjoyable “Frankenstein’s Army” (Richard Raaphorst, 86′, HDCam)

Karel Roden (Hellboy) does a memorable cameo as Dr. Frankenstein.

Karel Roden (Hellboy) does a memorable cameo as Dr. Frankenstein. Photo: IFFR.

Audience reactions at the World Premiere of Richard Raaphorst‘s splendidly gore and funny Frankenstein’s Army suggested that we were all trying out a new themepark ride rather than buried deep into our cozy seats in Pathé 4 theatre, watching guts, brains and blood gush on the screen: gasps, laughter and spontaneous ovations slit the musty, anticipation-filled air like an eye in Un chien andalou (1929).

But there are more than one points of departure that set this Dutch-Czech Republican production, initially named “Worst Case Scenario”, apart from the rest of the candidates for the FIPRESCI Jury Prize in the Bright Future section.

Frankenstein’s Army is audience manipulation at the purest, a Nazi Zombie intersection of splatter and gore that uses every known trick to surprise us and get us hooked. Soviet soldiers get lured into the secret lab of Doktor Frankenstein whose insane experiments in combining human and machine parts are meant to save the world from both Communism (left side of the brain) and Nazism (right side).

Most of the debut feature films in Rotterdam are smaller in scale, ambiguous and undefinable rather than genre per se, like Frankenstein’s Army. The film took 10 years to complete. It shows, in a good way.

Instead of forcing us to image what fun this could’ve been, as with recent films of the same genre (War of the Dead: Stone’s War, Dead Snow), Frankenstein’s Army delivers, from the concept (Stalin’s handpicked war photographer follows a combat team on a mission, later footage is found and hence, the film) to its execution (characters address the camera, ie. the audience directly) and cheezy dialogue spoken in bad, Eastern European accents.

Computer games are obvious source of inspiration to the “dungeon” scenes where all hell breaks loose. Key to their effectiveness lies in the rhythm: intense rampage is generally preceded and succeeded by quiet, strength-gathering phases. Sound effects are, faithful to the genre, loud and expressive.

That particular drilling sound still haunts me.

Huge and fragile build-up succeeds. Frankenstein’s diabolical man-machines – designs that even Guillermo Del Toro could envy – get crazier and meaner the deeper we stumble into the madman’s lair. Diegetic use of camera is maintained throughout. The wall between infront and behind the camera, however, isn’t.

And here comes the prize: a film like Frankenstein’s Army, that could so easily be overlooked on an arthouse festival, does for cinematographers what Brian de Palma’s Blow Out (and more recently Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio, also playing here at IFFR) did for sound recordists.

In a few ingenious turns of events, Richard Raaphorst makes the DoP’s work (à la Bart Beekman) visible to audiences in a way they might have never thought it before. The question posed is: What is it like, staying behind the camera?

The answer, given at the gloriously fun and bloody end of the joy ride, must be shared by most of the directors and cinematographers in the world:

Better than being in front of it.