THE FIRST IMAGE of the primary film I watched at this yr’s Worldwide Movie Pageant Rotterdam set the temper: a girl splayed out on a pile of trash subsequent to a kitschy portray of a tragic clown. The rest of Winnie Cheung’s acid-washed pseudo-documentary Residency—made throughout a “lockdown” residency at Brooklyn’s Locker Room studio—follows swimsuit, monitoring Cheung’s crew of cloistered creatives as they work, occasion, shoot the shit, area out. Neglect what’s actual and what’s not. The chaotic DIY setting, deliriously rendered in abstracting close-ups and ruby-red atmospherics, resurrects the collective spirit that after outlined New York Metropolis’s inventive ecosystem, but the zombified enterprise spirals into derangement because the movie shifts into the mode of funhouse horror à la Ryan Trecartin. “I dreamt I used to be in a movie and my superpower was my capacity to promote my work” is a line that’s caught with me since.
2023 marks the bodily return of Rotterdam after two years of digital festivities in addition to intensive layoffs that hit a lot of its longtime programmers. The gloomy Dutch metropolis felt further gloomy this time round, however the feeling was not unfamiliar—it’s that discrete malaise of modern-day arts establishments buoyed by a excessive value of admission, underpaid (and/or) volunteer staff operating on fumes of ardour, and the reminiscence that it was completely different.
The titles of the mixed short-to-mid-length applications radiated the same misery. “9-5,” “Shared Areas,” “Personal Recollections,” “Centuries.” I used to be significantly taken by the three entries in “PoMoFoMo”—Postmodern Concern of Lacking Out—a package deal loosely concerning the smallness of the person within the face of monolithic and perpetually surveilling forces: Mateo Vega’s “Middle, Ring, Mall,” an incantatory meditation on the false hopes embodied by once-revolutionary developments in city infrastructure; James J.A. Mercer and Yifan Jiang’s “Trip,” a punchy animation in throwback Microsoft threads a couple of man who communes with the pure world solely to find that the animals work workplace jobs, too; and the veteran Croatian experimentalist Boris Poljak’s “Horror Vacui,” which applies the Aristotelian maxim to up to date militarization, presenting overlapping, detail-saturated pictures of tank parades and conflict tourism through excessive lengthy lenses to lugubrious, miragelike impact.
A number of of my favourite discoveries possess an uneasy relationship to the artwork life. From New York, Artemis Shaw and Prashanth Kamalakanthan’s mumblecore-esque New Strains gives an authentic tackle the pandemic image. Shot with a Hi8 digicam and full of woozy Stendhal Syndrome incursions attributable to mediocre seascapes, it’s a weirdo rom-com that presents cohabitating coupledom as a double-edged sword of existential solace and unfettered neuroses. La Palisiada, by the Ukrainian director Philip Sotnychenko (a present resident of Kyiv who has but to be drafted), is an indirect thriller about state violence on the grimly comedian pitch of Sergei Loznitsa’s Donbass. Straddling static painterly compositions and jittery, documentarylike realism courtesy of ’90s-era mini cameras that Sotnychenko discovered on eBay, it begins in Ukraine’s present-day cultural milieu, a world of wine-fueled chatter and gallery exhibitions seemingly distant from each the nation’s ongoing battle and the historic occasion on which the plot hinges—the execution of a scapegoat, the ultimate one earlier than the dying penalty was phased out in 1996.
André Gil Mata’s sluggish cinema homage The Damned Yard, Benjamin Deboosere’s joyously idiosyncratic reinvention, The Life and Unusual Shocking Adventures of Robinson Crusoe Who Lived for Twenty and Eight Years All Alone on an Inhabited Island and Mentioned It Was His, and Morgan Quaintance’s rhythmic ode to fashionable labor, “Repetitions,” stand out among the many competition’s youthful, less-established filmmakers. IFFR mainstays like Lav Diaz, Aleksandr Sokurov, and Albert Serra offered their newest movies—as did Ulrich Seidl. The Austrian formalist claims that Depraved Video games represents the unique (and fewer simply distributable) idea behind his earlier two movies, 2022’s Sparta and Rimini. Final yr, I used to be alleged to see Sparta on the Toronto Worldwide Movie Pageant, however a number of hours previous to my press screening, the movie was pulled as a result of publication of a Der Spiegel article accusing the director of exploiting the minors in his forged. Paradoxically, Depraved Video games premiered within the “Harbour” part, a “protected haven to the complete vary of latest cinema” per the net notes. The movie shifts between the sweat-slicked Romanian backcountry, the place Sparta’s repressed Ewald establishes a day camp for the native boys, and the coastal Italian ghost city of Ewald’s brother and Rimini’s protagonist, Richie, a leonine lounge singer-cum-sex-worker. Seidl’s work persistently writhes within the muck of recent European life, poisoned on the root by a historical past of fascism, yielding, if not specific Hitler salutes, then needs and rules with equally perverse energy dynamics. Not that the brothers are unambiguously villainous. With Ewald, Seidl mounts one among his biggest provocations: Regardless of the character’s deviance, he supplies a type of sanctuary for boys whose homelives are stricken by home violence and gross machismo, with the real bond he kinds with one of many group’s beta-members corresponding to the corrupted codependency of the Nazi soldier/Jewish prisoner romance (i.e., 1974’s The Evening Porter). Maybe the sympathetic gentle forged on the slimy Ewald is just too straightforward, too predictably exculpatory coming from a filmmaker with allegedly questionable practices, and there’s something to be stated concerning the parallels between Ewald and Seidl. Each are emboldened, comparatively well-to-do Austrians who set store in a deprived nation, their actual intentions obscured from the members of the neighborhood. Ewald limits his exploits to shirtless roughhousing and gazing, capturing movies of his pupils that he revisits in non-public, grist for the mill of his sexual gratification.
The competition’s choice felt significantly attuned to cinema’s spectral qualities, its fraternization with the ghosts of historical past: Khavn De La Cruz’s Nationwide Anarchist is a compilation of scraps by the Filipino filmmaker Lino Brocka, and Jeronimo Atehortua Arteaga and the late Luis Ospina’s Mudos Testigos (Silent Witnesses) creates a fictional melodrama utilizing footage from the silent period of Colombian cinema.
No movie proved as haunting as Steve McQueen’s deceptively titled Sunshine State, a double-sided, two-channel set up housed on the fifth flooring of the Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen. Set on loop, the piece chops and screws a pivotal sequence from The Jazz Singer (1927) wherein Al Jolson slathers his face in black make-up and performs on stage; in McQueen’s work, as Jolson applies the colour, his face disappears, making a void the place the pinnacle as soon as was. Each side of the set up are the identical, however the side-by-side screens cycle by completely different elements of the identical sequence in several keys: The pictures typically play in reverse, the black-and-white flips to adverse, Jolson’s actual face often comes into being because the “invisible” paint is rubbed off within the rewound iteration. What extra, McQueen strips The Jazz Singer of its declare to fame—its sound—inserting his personal voice as an alternative. He tells a narrative about his father who was almost lynched and repeats it time and again—in full, then in nonchronological fragments, snatched phrases and phrases. Ultimately, it’s simply Jolson on the stage on each screens, the background denuded of element. Because it reaches its crescendo, Sunshine State turns into a flicker movie, each screens quickly switching between black and white. Then the pulsing, hypnotizing solar, which throws the cacophony of the Jolson sequence into aid.
Of McQueen’s previous work, J. Hoberman has written about its impulse towards the “destruction of which means.” By compulsive repetition, picture and narrative takes flight, transforms, collapses, flatlines. Sunshine State, commissioned for Rotterdam’s fiftieth anniversary and drawing on a movie that embodies the fraught historical past of transferring pictures, stands out as the reverse of a “love letter” to cinema, seeing within the medium and its legacy a type of devastation. I’m reminded of a poem by Henri Michaux: “Relieved of the abscess of being somebody, I’ll drink anew the nourishing area . . . I’ll expel from me the shape they thought so nicely connected, composed, coordinated.” It’s known as “Clown.”
The 52nd Worldwide Movie Pageant Rotterdam ran from January 25 to February 5.