Fantasia: August 1

Quality films are definitely not in short supply at Fantasia but today’s feast of cinematic excess tends toward the dark, wild and dangerous side of the tracks, with an acid-trip from Manila, evil-anime from Japan and drug-pushing gangsters from Iceland.



While the title suggests that Mondomanila may be drawing on the tradition of Mondo documentaries (an exploitation subgenre that presented violent/sexual/bizarre scenes from around the globe through a dubiously anthropological lens), to expect anything traditional from this balls-out Filipino film would be short-changing it. Part neo-realist acid trip, part gross-out satire, part Bollywood musical and entirely insane, Mondomanila is less a film than an incessant barrage of images that ping-pongs from heartfelt family moments to, point-blank suicides, frantic masturbation and an extreme close-up of someone shitting.

What little plot there is follows a group of young slum dwellers in their day-to-day existence as they struggle to survive in a run-down section of Manila. Dwarf pimps, one-armed rappers, transvestites, pedophiles and a seemingly endless assortment of freaks and misfits congregate in a kaleidoscopic mess of scatological jokes, homophobic slurs and one insanely catchy production number.

Often headache-inducing with its stroboscopic editing and manic characters, Mondomanila is ramshackle and amateurish but entirely compelling in its celebration of bad taste. It’s hard to explain and harder still to wrap your head around; I suspect there’s even less to it than it seems, but that doesn’t diminish the film’s power as an absolute mindfuck. It might not be entirely clear what director Khaven de la Cruz is going for, but he seems to be confident that he’ll get there. (AR) 3:10 p.m., J.A. De Sève Theatre (1400 Maisonneuve W.)


Revenge: A Love Story

Wong Ching-Po’s drama opens with a man being strangled in real time and the discovery of a fetus in a floating plastic bag, and grows increasingly twisted and uncomfortable from there. This is no mere cops-and-robbers saga, however; director Wong weaves the more prurient aspects of the rape-revenge and torture-porn genre with the more measured (relatively speaking) likes of Scorsese and Abel Ferrara.

Young dumpling vendor Kit (Juno Mak) is taken with one of his customers, a simple-minded but beautiful young girl named Wing (Sola Aoi). When her grandmother (and sole guardian) passes away, Wing is left in the care of the state. Kit and Wing’s strange, gentle relationship is shattered when Wing is raped by a policeman and the crime is covered up by his fellow officers, leading Kit on a path of revenge and destruction.

At times derivative (a police interrogation leads to some ear torture that, while gross in a different way, recalls another slightly more well-known scene of  aural trauma), consistently unsubtle and prone to inexplicable stylistic choices (the director is particularly fond of slow-motion at inopportune moments), Revenge: A Love Story nonetheless packs a wallop in terms of downbeat brutality. It’s so relentless in its ever-escalating levels of intensity and horrible events befalling our main characters that it sometimes threatens to become outright parody.

Thankfully, Wong has an eye for the grimy and morally dubious that elevates the film beyond the sphere of the grotesque. It takes on too much to not eventually falter here and there, but it’s a genuinely disturbing and compelling film at its core. (AR) Tonight, 5 p.m. and Saturday, August 4, 11:55 J.A. De Sève Theatre.



Set against a backdrop of famine in medieval Japan, this anime from director Keiichi Sato (Tiger & Bunny, Karas) is based on George Akiyama’s controversial banned manga Ashura, notorious for beginning with a series of scenes depicting cannibalism and other images of extreme violence.

Asura is being hailed as the anti-Miyazaki of anime, perhaps because instead of making friends with whimsical talking animals, its title character, eight-year-old Asura, prefers to chase them with an axe while frothing at the mouth, or tear out chunks of their flesh with his miniature vampiric fangs while bemoaning the meaningless of life.

“I never asked to be born,” Asura moans, as he attacks a cuddly monkey desperately trying to protect her own young from the wild ragamuffin. Asura’s own mom, mad with hunger, throws Asura in a fire and tries to eat him while he’s still a baby. From that point on, Asura survives through murder and cannibalism, without morals, empathy or even language.

Sato presents us with an unrelentingly bleak depiction of the depths humans can sink to during times of desperation. However, according to Sato, he also wanted to provide survivors of Japan’s 2011 tsunami with a message of hope. A monk who teaches Asura Buddhist mantras and appeals to his humanity, as well as a young woman called Wakasa who befriends him and teaches him how to speak, offer Asura a glimmer of redemption.

A new animation technique which merges 2D and 3D images for added depth was invented for Asura, and the backgrounds are hand painted in a fluid, watercolor style. It’s a beautiful, unflinching look at misery, death and violence that offers hope by refusing to cave to its own despair. (ES) 7:40 p.m., Hall Theatre (1455 Maisonneuve W.)


Black’s Game

According to the text that precedes the film Black’s Game, it’s “based on shit that actually happened.” But from the way this Icelandic gangster story is assembled, it seems more likely that the “shit” happened in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas, Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting or executive producer Nicolas Winding Refn’s Pusher trilogy. Writer-director Oskar Thor Axelsson’s debut feature clearly owes more to the cinematic influences it wears on its sleeve than it does to any real-world events.

It’s 1999 and Reykjavík’s drug trade is a violent, shifting landscape. Stebbi (Thorvaldur David Kristjansson) is in trouble with the law and reaches out to old chum and local drug lord Tóti (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson) for help, which is happily offered but which comes at a price.

Stebbi quickly finds himself swallowed up in the Icelandic underworld, enjoying all the flash living that accompanies a crew of high-rolling gangsters. When Tóti teams with the psychotic Bruno (Damon Younger) to take down the old guard, however, everything gets turned on its head, leading Stebbi desperate to find a way out.

In a lot of ways, Black’s Game is an exercise in style over substance. Characters are thinly drawn and the plot often seems secondary to the violence, posturing and overall cinematic approach. But credit must be given when due — Axelsson knows his movies, clearly borrowing from the best. He’s put together a slick, attractive and easily watchable crime flick that benefits from its unique setting.

Pay particular attention to the playlist of late-’90s local music (including an early track from Sigur Rós) that provides the film its pulse and rhythm. It’s not often you get the opportunity to hear so much obscure Icelandic rock in one sitting! (BF) 9:45 p.m., Hall Theatre

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