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bendito machine

Seen at last year's Resfest, but as it turns out it's available online too: 'Bendito Machine', a short animation from Spanish Zumbakamera. An interesting mythological story, in an effective silhouette style, about two warring civilizations competing for the favor of the gods.

Bendito Machine

Update: Three more episodes of this wonderful animation are available on the Bendito Machine website.

Its parallel world has evolved but is still eerily like our own, full of superstition, greed and pollution, and showing the primitive side of our modern consumerist society - or, if you like, the striking modernity of an ancient civilization worshipping the golden calf.

The new website leaves room for a number of new episodes to come, and 'Bendito Machine IV' includes a call for crowd funding.

crime scene amsterdam

The 'Crime Scene Amsterdam' photo exhibition at Foam shows real crime scenes and real victims from police archives, taken between 1965 and 1985. Looking at these photographs will make you feel like a disaster tourist (to use a Dutchism), and reviewing them merely as art seems somehow irreverent.

At the same time, they are indeed of a "sinister, mysterious beauty." Taken out of their context, except for brief captions, the photographs become fragments of stories that leave you wondering what happened there and who these people were. Though some images are quite graphic, most evocative are the ones that show little - an empty "home interior after abuse," or a pair of bloodstained pumps on fireworks-strewn asphalt - but imply all the more in their carefully recorded details.

No images here - you can go see for yourself, at Foam until February 25.

eternal youth

According to the mythology of the Trobriand Islands, human beings used to be immortal, by simply shedding their skin when it grew old. At some point, however, they lost the power to remain youthful forever in a rather trivial incident...

Once upon a time there lived in the village of Bwadela an old woman who dwelt with her daughter and granddaughter; three generations of genuine matrilineal descent. The grandmother and granddaughter went out one day to bathe in the tidal creek. The girl remained on the shore, while the old woman went away some distance out of sight. She took off her skin, which, carried by the tidal current, floated along the creek until it stuck on a bush. Transformed into a young girl, she came back to her granddaughter. The latter did not recognize her; she was afraid of her, and bade her begone. The old woman, mortified and angry, went back to her bathing place, searched for her old skin, put it on again, and returned to her granddaughter. This time she was recognized and thus greeted: "A young girl came here; I was afraid; I chased her away." Said the grandmother: "No, you didn't want to recognize me. Well, you will become old -- I shall die." They went home to where the daughter was preparing the meal. The old woman spoke to her daughter: "I went to bathe; the tide carried my skin away; your daughter did not recognize me; she chased me away. I shall not slough my skin. We shall all become old. We shall all die."

From: 'Magic, Science and Religion' (1948) by Bronislaw Malinowski.

stand-in

This won't be the most objective review of Sieger Sloot Ernest van der Kwast's fast-paced and witty debut novel 'Stand-in', though it may well be the first one in English...

Update: Read this post about the book's stand-in author...

Ernest van der Kwast - Stand-in

Andreas Mahlknecht, a German street salesman living hand-to-mouth, gets offered a job by a literary agent as a stand-in for writers. He makes an explosive career at public readings, award ceremonies and interviews, becoming all the craze of the German literary scene, to the point where he finds himself the star of an evening of 'Heinrich Heine reading Heinrich Heine'.

I was no master of disguise, no double, no look-alike. I was a natural, and my talent was to flawlessly not be myself.

After representing a controversial writer, fundamentalists start burning 'his' book and Mahlknecht is forced to go into hiding. He decides to shed all his assumed identities and write his own autobiography, including his bizarre childhood story, which started as a 'scandal' while still in his mother's womb.

This is the proof of my existence. The way an average citizen's passport contains no secrets, this book will have to tell who I am. An average citizen. Someone who wanted to escape his fate, but instead walked into it with open arms.

The ultimate irony, however, is that when the notorious stand-in comes out with his own story, no one is prepared to believe him...

'Stand-in' and its chameleonic, scandalous narrator remind both of 'Being There' and 'The Tin Drum' -- though that may sound a bit too heavy for this rapid-fire collection of hilarious scenes and quotable oneliners.

iffr: half moon

Saving the best for last at the Film Festival Rotterdam, with Bahman Ghobadi's new film 'Half Moon' ('Niwemang'). Two years after his heart-wrenching 'Turtles Can Fly' won the audience award (and countless others as well), 'Half Moon' may be his most profound film yet.

Accompanied by his sons, the legendary, long-silent Kurdish musician Mamo sets out on a journey to give one last concert in the free Iraq. Travelling on an old bus through the barren mountains on the borders of Iran, Iraq and Turkey, Mamo's journey is haunted from the start by omens and visions of death. The number 14 in particular recurs as an unlucky symbol (in the lunar calendar, the 14th day is full moon).

Half Moon - 01

Adding to their perils is the fact that Mamo insists upon taking along a female singer, who they will effectively have to smuggle into Iraq. In an unforgettable scene, they travel to a remote village where 1334 female singers are exiled (touching upon the fact that women are no longer allowed to sing in public in Iran). As Mamo enters the village, the women all welcome him with song.

Half Moon - 02

Though the first half of the film is lighthearted, with many funny scenes (the bus driver especially serving as comic relief), tragedy slowly takes over. Interestingly, 'Half Moon' was commissioned by New Crowned Hope, the Vienna festival commemorating Mozart's 250th birthday, and the film was based on Mozart's 'Requiem'.

Even after their instruments have been destroyed by a border patrol, their singer has disappeared (captured?) and part of their group forced to turn back, Mamo will not give up his dream. Finally, when a mysterious girl named Niwemang ('Half Moon') appears, saying she will replace their singer, Mamo's visions become reality. The moon is full, and he entrusts himself to this angel of death to help him cross the border.

Half Moon - 03

In Ghobadi's unique blend of comedy and tragedy, 'Half Moon' reflects the dire situation of artists in a region torn by fanaticism and war, but it also tells a mythical story about the magic of music and the journey to death.

iffr: build a ship, sail to sadness

Another road movie and another poetic title at the Film Festival Rotterdam, with Laurin Federlein's debut film 'Build a Ship, Sail to Sadness'. It is perhaps best summed up as 'Breaking the Waves' meets Stephin Merritt.

In the desolate highlands of Scotland, Vincent (Magnus Aronson) has a dream of setting up a mobile disco. Riding around on his moped - and sniffing gasoline fumes - he tries to rally sceptical locals to his dream, insisting on their (projected) loneliness that needs alleviating.

The film contrasts bittersweet pop songs with a gritty hi-8 style of video noise and oversaturated colors to evoke Vincent's romantically warped vision. It's biggest charm is that in the clash between Don Quixotian naivety and cold harsh reality, both are equally persistent.

iffr: scream of the ants

The Rotterdam Film Festival is always a good place for Iranian cinema. Tehran was one of this year's hot spots, and there was also master-in-exile Mohsen Makhmalbaf's new film, 'Scream of the Ants' ('Shaere Zobale-Ha'), a philosophical road movie full of beautiful imagery and thought-provoking ideas.

Scream of the ants - 01

An Iranian couple, burdened with very Western problems, travel to India on their honeymoon searching for spiritual enlightenment. The woman is religious, while her husband, a former communist, is an atheist.

On their journey, which confronts them with India's grave poverty and suffering, they meet various 'wise men', all of whom defy their expectations. One of them, a man who is supposedly able to stop a train with his eyes, turns out to be a cripple who is put on the tracks by beggars so they may receive alms from the forced-to-stop train's passengers. But then, the first person they met, a journalist, had already warned them that miracles don't exist - except life itself.

Scream of the ants - 02

At one point the woman wonders whether her own journey can be justified when it aggravates the suffering of others. Taking this idea to its extreme, she imagines hearing the scream of the ants she crushes beneath her feet with every step she takes...

While the ongoing debates are perhaps too theological for some tastes, the stunning documentary cinematography of the 'real' India, combined with the leasurely pace, make for an exotic journey by itself.

iffr: the paper will be blue

First of only a couple of films seen at the International Film Festival Rotterdam this week was 'The Paper Will Be Blue' ('Hirtia va fi Albastra'), a darkly humorous docudrama set during the Romanian Revolution.

In the night of December 22, 1989, when dictator Ceausescu had vanished and left the country in turmoil, a militia group patrols the streets of Bukarest. Chaos rules, communications are scarce, and without any orders from higher up, the group is increasingly uncertain of their mission's purpose. Who and what are they supposed to guard? And who is the enemy now?

The Paper Will Be Blue

One of the group's members decides to defect and join the revolutionaries, but it turns out not to be very clear who they are either. As the platoon sets out to search for their colleage, the film follows their often farcical adventures through the night, until the ultimately tragic ending at dawn. The meaning of the title (which i won't spoil here) is not revealed till then. Suffice to say it poignantly brings out the absurdity of a totalitarian regime that has lost its head.

As director Radu Muntean explained in the Q&A after the screening, most of the story was based on actual events, researched from hundreds of hours of footage from state television archives. Ironically, and mirroring the confusion of events at the time, the footage was not preserved in chronological order, forcing them to distill their own history from it.