Orlando, My Political Biography FNC review

FNC Reviews: Orlando My Political Biography, Cielo Abierto, The Bride, Six Singing Women

Virginia Woolf’s gender-bending tale told through a modern lens, a Peruvian masterpiece of slow cinema, Japanese bird women and suffering Rwandan brides.

The 52nd edition of Montreal’s Festival du Nouveau Cinéma runs from Oct. 4 to 15. Read our reviews from our first dispatch here.

Orlando, My Political Biography

Orlando, My Political Biography FNC review
Orlando, My Political Biography (directed by Paul B. Preciado)

Adopting the aesthetics of Godard, Paul B. Preciado’s Orlando, My Political Biography begins with red text on a black screen. The film asks a loaded question, “But really, what is your gender?” Part essay, part documentary and part fiction, the film examines this question through the lens of Virginia Woolf’s pivotal gender-bending novel, Orlando. Halfway through the century-spanning book, the young titular male character wakes up as a woman. Preciado, a trans man, rewrites the film as an unofficial (auto)biography. The film examines the multi-faceted spectrum of gender identity and what it means to its various subjects, who recreate elements of Woolf’s text and perform in various skits that blur the line between fiction and non-fiction. The movie’s multi-textual approach uses many techniques from period readings, talking head interviews, absurdist improvisations and even a musical sequence. 

Colourful, inquisitive and playful, Orlando, My Political Biography carefully distinguishes between celebration and polemic. The film’s subjects share diverse experiences that reflect as much on storytelling (from narrative fiction to biography) as they do gendered experiences. Among the film’s most salient and compelling arguments is understanding humans, as well as storytelling, through the lens of metamorphosis rather than chronology. The film adopts a structure that mimics these ideas, focusing less on a progression of ideas accumulating toward a grand thesis — instead, the film’s design reimagines and revisits ideas through new perspectives and lenses. The filmmaker’s willingness to take risks does mean that not everything lands. Still, the ambition and fearlessness to fail or be seen as painfully earnest is part of the film’s endearing likability. (Justine Smith)

Orlando, My Political Biography screens at at Cinéma Quartier Latin (350 Émery) on Oct. 12, 9 p.m.

Cielo Abierto

Cielo Abierto (directed by Felipe Esparza Pérez)

In a masterful display of contemplative slow cinema, Cielo Abierto creates a profound narrative of solitude, artistry and the uncompromising connection between past and present. The film revolves around a Peruvian quarry worker father, credited as Johnny / Cantero (Dionicio Huaraccallo Idme), and his digital artist son, credited as Hijo de Johnny (Moisés Jiménez Carbajal). The father toils diligently, chiselling away with his hands, at “sillar” the white Peruvian volcanic stone that shapes a mesmerizing white landscape. In contrast, the son embraces the modern technological world, wielding cameras and drones to construct a digital 3D model of a church on his computer.

Their lives appear divergent, separated by the veiled spectre of loss and their unique vocations. However, as if guided by some ethereal force, their paths cross in elusive and profound ways. Both father and son are artisans, sculptors of textures and volumes, creators of sensations and perceptions. One crafts analogically, while the other creates digitally, yet both sculpt the future. As the story unfolds, Cielo abierto poses intriguing questions: Can the realm of digital art rekindle the embers of an ancient world? Can it breathe life into hearts grown cold and solitary? Can it build a solid future as chiselled stone once did?

Felipe Esparza Pérez’s directorial debut is a quiet masterpiece that embraces the spirit of slow cinema, a Frederick Wiseman meets Pedro Costa. This film isn’t a conventional documentary nor a pure work of fiction. Dispensing with conventional plot structures, it relies on a delicate aural design instead of a traditional soundtrack. Through its lens, we are sensitized to the rhythmic dance of day and night, the ethereal beauty of a solitary human voice singing, and the boundless expanse of the open sky. Cielo Abierto is a sensory meditation, an ode to the cyclical nature of existence and the delicate interplay of human emotions. (Chico Peres Smith)

Cielo Abierto screens at at the Cinémathèque Québécoise (335 de Maisonneuve E.) on Oct. 9, 3:30 p.m. Director Felipe Esparza Perez will be present.

The Bride

The Bride (directed by Myriam Uwiragiye Birara)

One of the great pleasures of a festival like FNC is the ability to experience films from all across the world. From Rwanda, The Bride, directed by Myriam Uwiragiye Birara, opens as the young Eva (Sandra Umulisa) is kidnapped and raped off-screen. Set three years after the Rwandan genocide, Eva is forced to marry her rapist and live with him in his home. There, she strikes up an increasingly intimate friendship with his cousin as the two young women find refuge in each other’s company. Though it embraces facets of melodrama, the film subverts many of those expectations as it keeps most violence off-screen and also favours carefully composed shots that emphasize both the enormity of the environment and the confined nature of the young women’s movement. Featuring some of the most beautiful images of the year, The Bride works best as a study of movement and composition and how it reflects its characters’ inner lives. 

The performances err a bit on the amateur side, but given the film’s careful compositions, it contributes to its deliberate thematic and aesthetic resonance. Despite the dark subject matter and some difficult-to-watch sequences (not necessarily for how graphic they are but how mundane the treatment of individual and systematic violence is), The Bride balances this hopelessness with the hope offered by the film’s central friendship. The two young women see each other as people in a social world that reduces them to commodities and objects. They share intimate secrets and dreams; they can also live out some semblance of a robbed childhood, finding a deeply rooted connection that rarely seems possible post-puberty. (Justine Smith)

The Bride screens at Cinéma Quartier Latin (350 Émery) on Oct. 12, 9:15 p.m. and again on Oct. 13, 8:30 p.m. 

Six Singing Women

Six Singing Women (directed by Yoshimasa Ishibashi)

Director Yoshimasa Ishibashi, renowned for the eccentric Milocrorze: A Love Story, returns with Six Singing Girls, a mesmerizing fantasy drama that dances on the delicate border between enchantment and reality. The film opens with captivating shots of nature and an inspired drone shot from a wasp’s point of view following Uwajima’s reckless driving. Then, a mysterious accident is caused by a woman dressed in white with a paper umbrella, who eerily eats a wasp just moments before the crash. The men in the car, Kayajima (Yutaka Takenouchi) and Uwajima (Takayuki Yamada), wake up in a mystical forest village where they’re held hostage by six women representing different animals. The women pre-masticate in a bird-like feeding method where they chew on raw animal entrails to break them down and feed that food directly to them from their mouth to their captives.

Yutaka Takenouchi and Takayuki Yamada deliver standout performances as the two male leads, infusing their characters with distinct differences, one representing good and the other evil. Their characters fight and try to run away, only to find out they’re stuck in a loop-like state, unable to leave. The women are presented with a slow-motion music video-like sequence that becomes repetitive and on the nose showing what animal they represent. With night rituals, drug-inducing hallucination sequences and flashbacks, we try navigating a story that lacks any sense of subtext or cinematic timing. The film’s sound design shines with detail and layering, but it’s overshadowed by a subpar score. The editing and direction falter most of the time. Overusing multiple shots for basic actions disrupts the film’s rhythm and detracts from the gravitas of certain scenes. Knowing when to linger on a shot and when to cut is crucial, and this film struggles with finding that balance.

Ishibashi’s storytelling takes us on a surreal journey that traverses genres, from an erotic thriller to an eco-fable and even a cosmic opera. Six Singing Girls, much like the enchanting village it portrays, encourages us to see the world through a different lens. However, it falters in its attempt to fluently speak the language of cinema, leaving a sense of unspoken potential. (Chico Peres Smith)

Six Singing Women had its world premiere at FNC and doesn’t currently have a Montreal release date. 

For the complete Festival du Nouveau Cinéma program, please visit their website.

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