Transylvania Film Fest 2016 Preview: Beasts, Sono And No Limit

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Transylvania Film Fest 2016 Preview: Beasts, Sono And No Limit

The 15th edition of Transylvania International Film Festival will kick-off May 27 in the second most populous city in Romania.

The festival´s artistic director Mihai Chirilov programmed a thematic section called "#Animal". He explained: "The idea of a cine-zoo at Transylvania IFF came to me thanks to a slew of recent movies in which animals hold key roles: White God, Of Horses and Men, Dog, The Lobster, Rams, etc. What I was interested in while compiling this section, a true challenge given the thematic bet, were the various representations of animals in new fiction and documentary films“.

Among the animal-centric films is the sophomore fiction feature of Brazilian visual artist Gabriel Mascaro, Neon Bull (read the review), a Brazilian film with minority Dutch and Uruguayan co-production, supported also by the festival´s Hubert Bals Fund. Mascaro's body of work includes photographs and installations; as a filmmaker, he cut his teeth on documentaries mapping the mindscape of Brazilian society, social inequity, class division and changing of the country´s economic and political landscape.

His documentarian sensibilities contributed heavily to his formally inventive feature debut August Winds (2014), a contemplation on life, death, sex and memory, while in Neon Bull, Mascaro´s lyrical realism of a secluded community on the coast switched onto the topic he examined in documentaries, namely, the study of bodies in space and an examination of gender norms in regard to the boiisterous Brazilian socio-economic transition. The filmmaker follows a ragtag group of vaquejada rodeo workers in a loosely scripted observation of their bodies at various phases of mundane rituals: working, relaxing, bathing or copulating.

A series of events resembling a plot started unfolding in August Winds almost in the middle of the film. In Neon Bull, the plot is suppressed to a bare minimum in an attempt to foreground the significance of activities that would have otherwise little-to- no contribution to conventional narrative. However, they become irreplaceable in Mascaro´s artistic vision, avoiding stereotypes in design and substance as well as form.

The director keeps the sensuality of his previous fiction feature, although the lyrical wide-angle shots of lush nature are replaced by at times flamboyant and oneiric imagery, always maintaining the human body as the centerfold, scrutinized mostly from afar in the space.

In Mascaro´s own words: "So if I go close to the characters, I might slip into the stereotypes; the close-ups can play this role as well. Going further away, I am empowering the characters much more compared to being close to them. So I used the distance to provoke a more intense experience of the space and time, and takes are very long. That helps the characters to really experience the performance in the time and space".

Another film in the section also comes from Latin American cinema, a feature debut by a filmmaker working under the moniker Tião. Animal politico, the live-action fiction feature, stays true to the title at least in one aspect: the protagonist is a cow. Starting as a blunt fable and an outstretched gag, the filmmaker shoots the cow in a daily and mundane ritual of human activities – shopping, visiting a hairdresser, playing volleyball or visiting sports club – the comic depiction accompanied by the cow's confessional soliloquy on the burdening sense of existential void and personal crisis.

Tião soon disrupts the spiritual comedy by introducing alien elements into the space of the story: a handbook of technical standards, a torso-less robot. It's reminiscent of Douglas Adams´ pantologic computer and Stanley Kubrick´s Space Odyssey monolith. The filmmaker capitulates on linear storyline and story per se, creating a series of spectacles and digressions from humorous to harrowing in thematically-linked vignettes. It's a wedding video-installation approach with cinema.

A baby buffalo is a protagonist in Lost and Beautiful, a docu-fiction hybrid directed by Pietro Marcello that premirered at the Locarno film festival. It's also an Italian fable, an essay, a biography and a political commentary, blending fiction and reality together.

Two Czech titles made it into the beastly line-up, a political satire and auto-thematic comedy on the film industry by Petr Zelenka, and also the most critically lauded Czech film of 2015, Lost in Munich (read the review), and the sophomore feature by emerging talent Olmo Omerzu, Family Film, an observation of spoiled kids left to tend for themselves as their parents take an exotic cruise. Out of the blue, Omerzu shifts from behavioral observation of kids to a documentary-like examination of survivalist instincts of the family´s pet dog in an unexpected Robinsonade.

Sion Sono is the hero of the most explosive retrospective in the festival's history. A challenging and impossibly inventive iconoclast, this enfant terrible of contemporary Japanese cinema passes with breathtaking ease from one genre to another and pulls the rug from under your feet just when you thought you've caught him. His films are very diverse, although he churns them out one after the other in rapid succession, and they all breathe grace, horror, contradiction and excess through every pore.

But few have talked about love the way he did in his masterpiece Love Exposure. "A free spirit par excellence, Sion Sono will feel very much at home at TIFF 15,” says Chirilov. The retrospective covers Sono´s debut Bicycle Sights; Love Exposure (read the review); a genre-mix addressing social issue of suicides in Japan, Suicide Club; its prequel Noriko´s Dinner TableBe Sure to Share; a drama centering on the consequences of Fukushima disaster The Land of Hope; and a rich 2015 crop of Shinjuku Swan (read the review), The Virgin Psychics, Tag (read the review) and Love & Peace (read the review).

In the "No Limit" section, the programmers gathered films on the edge, characterized as “visceral, dramatic, spectacular and full of eroticism”, including a Greek coming-of-middle-age dramedy by Argyris Papadimitropoulos Suntan (read the review), the Polish feature debut by Kuba Czekaj, Baby Bump, surreal coming-of-age revolving around maturing of the protagonist Mickey House, his overprotective mother in combination pop-aesthetics and Švankmajer´s poetics.

Among daring oeuvres is also the one-shot, three-characters drama from the Philippines, Shadow Behind the Moon, set against the backdrop of guerilla warfare between the government and the communist resistance, South Korean noir Man on High Heels (read the review) with a transgender homicide detective as the protagonist, dark Finnish comedy Distractions, South Korean period drama The Treacherous (read the review) “inspired by historical facts from the Joseon Dynasty when a king was offered 10 000 women in exchange for political interests” or Belgian darkly absurd dramedy Death by Death about a young hypochondriac.

The 15th edition of the Transylvania International Film Festival runs from May 27 through June 5, 2016.

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Animal PoliticoClujNeon BullRomaniaSion SonoTransylvania Film Festival