Posts Tagged ‘Harmony Korine’


From the auteur director who once declared “I like violence, I love violence!” and “I make films with my cojones” comes 2013’s most arresting and emotional film. The Dance of Reality retraces Jodorowsky’s troubled childhood in Chile with a wildly imaginative bent. Re-imagining his oppressive father as a Stalin doppleganger (performed by his son Brontis Jodorowsky) and his mother as an opera singer (Pamela Flores), Jodorowsky re-writes the stale rulebook of the biopic (or in this case the autobiopic) with a film that is as much a testament to his surrealistic voice as a director, as it is to the therapeutic power of cinema.


The ever-contentious innovator Harmony Korine achieves a bizarre combination of commercialism and radical formalism with Spring Breakers. The film is driven by a plot (written by Korine) that moves efficiently and relentlessly, while maintaining the illusion of chaos. Korine’s work with editor Douglas Crise (BabelArbitrage) is particularly impressive, as they weave together a cyclical, hallucinatory cutting rhythm, with which to sting out Korine’s raw coverage of hedonistic partygoers. Highlights include the opening beach party (set to an unexpectedly tuneful Skrillex soundtrack), a ruthless heist scene and James Franco’s stirring rendition of Britney Spears’ ‘Everytime.’


My Sweet Pepper Land from Iraqi–Kurdish director Hiner Saleem is a painfully funny film, with a fresh take on the Spaghetti Western. Following the fall of Saddam Hussein, Baran (a Kurdish Independence war hero) leaves the Iraqi city of Erbil to be stationed in a lawless town on the boarders of Iran, Turkey and Iraq where he begins a small, violent, revolution. Unlike many recent American Western, the film does not feel confined to history, owing to its contemporary backdrop of Middle Eastern rebellion. That said, the film still maintains many great Western tropes, making it an excellent contribution to the genre.


The greatest unexpected crowd-pleaser of the year was Frank Pavich’s celebratory documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, about Alejandro Jodorowsky’s attempt to turn Frank Herbert’s Dune into a film. With an invigorating, emotive narration from Jodorowsky himself, as well as contributions from many of the key players in the pre-production of the project, Jodorowsky’s Dune ultimately discovers how glorious it can be to fail spectacularly. Jodorowsky tells of his search for Orson Welles, his promise to pay Salvador Dali more money per minute than any other actor and his outrage at Pink Floyd as they munched hamburgers while he pitched them the project. It is also beautifully cut and animated.


Before Behind the Candelabra was cut from a television series into a film, Side Effects was Soderbergh’s cinematic swansong and it would have been sufficient. A sordid tale of moneymaking in the pharmaceutical industry, Soderbergh dramatises this biting critique immaculately, without selling out an ounce of tension to the film’s social commentary. Working effectively on both levels, the film also provides room for a career best performance from Jude Law, as well as a frighteningly sedate Roony Mara. Supporting roles are cast exceptionally, with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Channing Tatum both making an impression. Soderbergh’s own cinematography also creates an immersive atmosphere of depression, with gloomy tones and a foggy shallow focus captured on the Red EPIC camera.


With Harmony Lessons 29 year old Kazakh director Emir Baigazin announced himself as one of the world’s boldest young directors at the Berlinale 2013. The film tells of Aslan, a thirteen year old boy living with his grandmother in a small village in Kazakhstan. An intelligent boy, Aslan is bullied by the other students at his school, lead by the sadistic Bolat. The film observes Aslan’s descent into violence and sadism, as he transfers his angst towards various animals and insects, rather than his fellow students. The film’s style is boldly rooted in its local aesthetic, while simultaneously recalling the American tradition of the Gangster genre. The way Baigazin deals with violence is powerful and sometimes almost unbearable.


2013’s best hi-concept film was surely Gravity, a film so simple in its intent, yet so elaborate in its design and execution. Up with Jaws and Alien in its sense of dread, Gravity is a hugely tense thriller that overcomes shortcomings which include crude characterisation (George Clooney’s Matt Kowalski), unconvincing emotional stakes (Sandra Bullock’s Ryan Stone) and silly dialogue, with its overall purpose: the attempt to avoid dying alone in the void of space. If anything the film actually suffers from its efforts to add depth to the dilemma, because its horror is so fundamental and horrifying. That Cuarón rendered this horror so convincingly, with masterful long shots and subtle 3D, is the film’s true power.


An enormously ambitious follow up to 2010’s Blue Valentine for director Derek Cianfrance, The Place Beyond the Pines walks a fine line between cinematic epic and overreaching indie film, eventually emerging as a happy medium of the two. Cianfrance attempts a bold designation of screen time to the film’s four main male characters, defined predominantly by act. This creates a make-or-break situation for the viewer, some of whom will run with it, while others will baulk will the changing allegiances. For those who stay with the film, it has enormous emotional potential and boasts fine performances from Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper, as well as the younger Dane DeHaan.


Banned in its native India, Papilio Buddha is a fierce, relevant film defending the rights of the Dalit people in the Western Ghats of the country. Poet, turned director, Jayan Cherian brings a sensitive, crafted approach to a story that brims with political anger and injustice. While the film’s primary area of interest is its attack on caste oppression, it also deals with other issues of prominent contemporary concern, including deforestation, women’s rights and homosexuality. The irony of seeing such a film banned, is that it seems so relevant to many current issues of debate. Encouragingly, Papilio Buddha has just earned a place among the Panorama section of the Berlinale 2014, which should give the film the platform it needs.


A divisive film if there was one in 2013. For most viewers Only God Forgives was either a provocative success, or an insulting failure. For those who were not phased by the gratuitous violence, mannequin-esque performances, broody long takes and sometimes terrible dialogue, there was an immersive cinematic experience to be had. The film is adorned with Refn’s familiar ‘fetishistic’ elements (bold colours, long takes, minimalist acting, booming soundtrack), but this time he tries something new – he asks the viewer to indulge in his (occasionally crude) symbolism, to assemble the full story. Like it or hate it, each viewer will find something different; this makes Only God Forgives a genuinely refreshing thriller in the contemporary film market.

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“Spring break, spring break…“ Like a life-affirming mantra, rapper turned gangster Alien (James Franco), chants the words again and again. Like a drug-induced reverie, Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers takes the idea of spring break for more than a rite of passage, but for the very meaning of life. Some might argue that the film revels in style over substance, but Harmony Korine is a director who has always rewritten the rulebook. His style of filmmaking is the ultimate form of substance abuse and Spring Breakers is quite a trip.

In a piece of inspired casting Korine turns former Disney Channel stars Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens, alongside Ashley Benson and his wife Rachel Korine into a group of budding spring breakers. Gomez’s Faith is a good Christian girl, but she is bored by her immediate surroundings. Desperate to go on spring break the other three commit a robbery to fund the trip. The robbery is directed with a gritty efficiency, in one long tense take that feels like Killing Them Softly imbued in neon. Soon they are away from their world of stained glass churches and endless laptops, to Florida for naked bodies, drugs and booze.

Like a month spent on magic mushrooms, Spring Breakers flows with an extremely abstract sense of time. Korine drops in and pulls out key characters on a whim, while the editing of the sound and visuals is hallucinatory and cyclical. However, there is a ruthless efficiency in his scripting that drives the narrative forward into unexpected territory; this means our perception of who the main character is changes throughout the film. The film’s thriller set-up is never far from our minds though, making for an original juxtaposition of genre and art house styling (brilliantly shot and lit by Gaspar Noe’s regular cinematographer Benoît Debie.)

But cine-literacy is not the name of the game here; it is entertainment, albeit through Korine’s unique auteur eye. The film’s high points include a frighteningly convincing assembly of gangsters (headed up by rapper Gucci Mane) and a bizarre musical centerpiece where Alien and the girls sing ‘Everytime’ by Britney Spears. This moment recalls Korine’s glorious use of Madonna’s ‘Like A Prayer’ in his 1997 debut Gummo. Franco’s performance as Alien is also a surprisingly nuanced highlight. When he brags about his status as a ‘G’ with the words “look at all my shit!” (referring to his stockpile of guns and money), we know that underneath he is really a sweetheart.

While it seemed like 2007’s Mister Lonely was Harmony Korine’s closest stab at the mainstream, Spring Breakers has transcended even that. The best thing about this film though is that it still feels true to Korine’s own cinematic lineage, with moments of rough documentary style and a disturbingly ambiguous moral conclusion. The film’s elusive moral values may not work for all audience members, but for fans of his grungy tragedy Julien Donkey-Boy and his bittersweet Mister Lonely, Spring Breakers sees the enfant terrible at the chaotic height of his directorial powers.

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Why is it that many of the most gifted film makers also happen to be the ones who rarely make films? I’m thinking of Terrence Malick, the Salinger of American movies, or the enfant terrible of indie cinema Harmony Korine. We can add Leos Carax to this list. These directors share something in common; a belief in the spontaneity of the film, a desire to show something out of the ordinary, to capture a special moment no matter how small. Carax has not made a feature film for 13 years, since his troublesome Pola X. How does he fare coming back from the wilderness?

Holy Motors is perhaps Carax’s strangest film yet. While his earlier films like Les Amants Du Ponts Neuf and Mauvais Sang dabbled in off kilter theatrics and shards of surrealism, Holy Motors goes full throttle in its search for the great unknown. The plot follows Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant), a Parisian, as he is chauffeured around town in a gleaming white limousine by Celine (Edith Scob), his elderly female driver. What goes on from here is a matter for the viewer’s own interpretation. Oscar has a set of assignments he has to complete, each involving a new character to embody; so he might be an old beggar lady wandering the streets, or a shellsuited thug. There is a touch of Harmony Korine’s last two films in this process; the mischievous hijacking of another’s identity, and the liberating feeling of being someone else.

There seems to be little purpose to any of the assignments. To the untrained eye, what Oscar is trying to achieve will forever be a mystery. It almost seems like performance for the sake of performance. If we were to follow the idea that Holy Motors is a love letter to cinema, then it makes sense as a piece of work. The world doesn’t need cinema, like Oscar doesn’t need to perform, so why not do it for the love of it? There is a telling piece of dialogue where Oscar laments the loss of cameras to watch him in his job, saying there are too small now; could Carax be lamenting the loss of the classic cinema as he knows it? The frequent interludes of silent cinema clips, the involvement of the starlet Eva Mendes and the references to George Franju’s Eyes Without a Face (Edith Scob wearing that mask) all points to a work that is in love with the silver screen.

Denis Lavant again proves that he is one of the most distinctive and mesmerising actors in film today. The De Niro to Carax’s Scorsese, his ageless physicality is on show not just in his ninja hijinks but in the way he swaggers along the floor as a leprechaun like figure, or emotes to his daughter. Without Lavant you feel this film would not exist, and the same goes for Carax’s whole career. They are brothers in lunacy. Which leads me on to the reason Holy Motors doesn’t grip me like some of his earlier films; Juliette Binoche. The relationship between Lavant and Binoche was both touching and electric, providing the warm, beating heart of his earlier films. With Denis Lavant on his own, the film is slightly colder for it, more melancholy and isolated. While the highlights are frequent and bizarre, there is something missing to tie it all together.

Despite this, Holy Motors is by far the most original and outrageous film you will see this year, or any other year for that matter. Leos Carax proves that he has more relevant than ever, a breath of fresh air compared to the stale, formulaic films of both the mainstream and the arthouse.

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There are filmmakers, and then there is Terrence Malick. On the surface this is a fairly conventional road movie following two young lovers on a crime spree. But Malick subverts the story of murderer Charles Starkweather for his own purposes; this is a dreamy, timeless film that hints at abstract emotions that transcend mere happiness or sadness. With his beautifully photographed Hopperesque landscapes and mute characters, Malick gives us something otherworldly and genuinely odd.


A letter of both love and hate to America, German auteur Wenders perfects the road movie with his tale of Travis, a loner who seeks to reunite his estranged family and rediscover the American Dream. A clever distortion of both the American road movie and the Westerns of John Ford, Paris, Texas really soars as a piece of melodrama. Harry Dean Stanton’s movingly hangdog central performance holds the film together, while the final monologue is both heart breaking and cathartic.


Alongside Kubrick, Russian director Tarkovsky is perhaps the only filmmaker to really push cinema to its limits on a large scale. This epic film follows the tribulations of painter Andrei Rublev through a period of religious strife and violence. While some of Tarkovsky’s other works veered too much towards introspective worthiness, this film utilises the director’s inventive technical vision to his greatest heights. The opening balloon sequence and the pagans on the river count as two of the most extraordinary set pieces committed to film. Existentialism and technical vision collide with aplomb.


Once voted the greatest Australian film of all time, this Peter Weir film is arguably one of the most curious and beguiling works in history. Based on the disappearance of several schoolgirls on a mountain in 1900, the film revels in it’s languid, strange atmosphere and sugar coated visuals. Bravely, Weir never seeks to solve the case- but in this case, it doesn’t matter. Weir challenges the audience to consider the idea that sometimes there are no easy answers, that not everything in this world can be categorised and put into boxes.


Francois Truffaut once said that all war films end up glamourising war, despite their best intentions. Come and See is one of the few films which genuinely challenges this theory. Set in Nazi occupied Belarus during WW2, the film follows the young Flyora as he seeks to evade the army which has killed his family. While most war films tend to lend an air of nobility to the fighting (cough Saving Private Ryan cough), Come and See shows wartime as it really is; a nightmare-ish hell where confusion and inhumanity reign. The film is redeemed as a genuine piece of art by the frequent touches of poetry, both in the vivid imagery and striking sound design. The shot of Flyora lying shellshocked by a dead cow will stay with you forever.


Once you’ve seen a Jodorowsky film, you’ll start to wonder how every other filmmaker is so bloody….mundane. Jodorowsky’s films touch on religion, sex and death, but it is the striking visuals and mind boggling set design which mark his work as cult gems. The baffling plot revolves around the ‘thief’ and his quest for immortality, leading to a series of wild adventures. If Dorothy had taken a tab of acid on her route down the Yellow Brick Road, this film would probably have been the result.


Hal Hartley came to prominence in the late 80’s in US independent cinema, embarking on an inexplicably good run of films, like Scorsese/Coppola in the 70’s. His De Niro is Martin Donovan, a chiselled jawed, verbose actor who stars alongside the late, elfin-like Adrienne Shelly. The film follows Shelly as the brattish teenager who discovers she’s pregnant and homeless, and her chance meeting with Donovan, an older man undergoing his own existential crisis. Hal Hartley is extremely influenced by Godard and Bresson, even taking scenes wholesale, yet he is much warmer than Godard and funnier than Bresson. His films have often been compared to choreographed dance, where the characters waltz around each other in torment and lust, and in Trust we have his most defining film.


Leos Carax is regarded as some kind of renegade in French cinema, with his films usually set around outsiders from society. Mauvais Sang, his second film revolves Alex (Denis Lavant), a prodigious lock picker who gets involved in a heist with Marc (Michel Piccoli) and his young lover Anna (Juliette Binoche). Tensions between the three of them grow as Alex begins to fall for Anna, and the film is essentially a romantic thriller. Denis Lavant is one of the most unusual actors around, his reptilian features and penchant for acrobatics and impromptu dance routines making him irresistible. Binoche has never been more radiant as Anna. Edited in a poetic, elliptical style, Mauvais Sang is a cult gem, full of vitality and life.


Bruno Dumont is another French filmmaker influenced by Bresson’s stark humanism and obsession with faith. Yet, Dumont has his own style influenced by his time as an industrial corporate film maker; static images of desolate Northern France and vivid cinematography give the impression of thereness. Pharaon De Winter is the detective of a small rural town where a young girl has been found murdered. A childlike man, De Winter struggles to solve the case, and all the time the audience is questioning his role in the film.  L’ Humanite deals with sex and violence in a non-judgemental, matter of fact way, and the film veers between tenderness and brutality with ease. A sinister, disquieting film yet strangely invigorating in it’s realness.


One of a handful of films that could have potentially hinted at a new direction for cinema. There is nothing quite like enfant terrible Korine’s debut, save perhaps his idol Herzog’s Even Dwarfs Started Small,which has a similarly scant plot and improvisational feel. Set in the fictional town of Xenia in small town America, the multi stranded film meanders through a series of vignettes of the distinctly dysfunctional inhabitants. Mixing pop culture as diverse as Roy Orbison and Sleep, naturalistic performances and moments of poetry, Gummo is a singular oddity that lingers in the mind long after the end credits. While some have labelled it exploitative, there is a sense of compassion and genuine affection running through the film from Korine.

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Upon reviewing Harmony Korine’s 1999 film Julien Donkey-Boy, esteemed film critic Roger Ebert placed Korine amongst the most significant of all film artists saying he: “belongs on the list with Godard, Cassavetes, Herzog, Warhol, Tarkovsky, Brakhage and others…” going on to call him “…the real thing, an innovative and gifted filmmaker whose work forces us to see on his terms.”

So, true to form, Korine‘s latest release is Umshini Wam (Bring Me My Machine Gun) a short film starring South African Rave-Rap artists Ninja and Yo-Landi Vi$$er from Die Antwoord. The film tells the story of two wheelchair bound ‘gangstas’,  who shoot guns, sleep in the woods, wear bright coloured jumpsuits and smoke massive joints with the ultimate goal of obtaining some serious credibility by upgrading their wheelchairs.

Harmony Korine is keeping it real, but perhaps this is not what Ebert meant by “the real thing” twelve years ago. Umshini Wam doesn’t entirely fit with the art film credentials Korine was known for with Gummo and Julien Donkey-Boy; this film is pure, ridiculous, undiluted entertainment. This said the film makes good use of its two peculiar lead actors, has a great soundtrack courtesy of the unseen member of Die Antwoord DJ Hi-Tek and cinematography by Alexis Zabe who shot Silent Light with Mexican auteur Carlos Reygadas.

While it is hard to imagine Roger Ebert consigning this film next to those of Tarkovsky it is fair to say that Korine is consistent in creating work unlike anyone else. For what it’s worth Umshini Wam is a fun addition to the predictably unpredictable career of Harmony Korine and reports suggest that there is more to look forward to, as Korine is in talks with James Franco to make a film involving real life gang fights. I’ll believe it when I see it.


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