Whether proposing a Jormungandr-like penis sculpture or conducting the wind, Sir Ben Kingsley’s Salvador Dali gives Mary Harron’s “Daliland” its heart. The “naif in morally and ethically dubious environment” storyline adds nothing to Harron’s autumnal portrait of the mid-1970s high life led by Dali and wife Gala (Barbara Sukowa). Fortunately, Sukowa’s performance as an unapologetic cougar, some bizarre moments probably drawn from Dali’s life, and a darkly humorous tone lift Harron’s film higher than mindless entertainment.
Despite its title, there are no previously unknown cryptids to be found in Diego Cespedes D.’s short “The Melting Creatures.” Yet that doesn’t mean the unconventional people referenced by the title live mundane lives.
A nameless transwoman returns to the seaside transvestite community she left years ago, her daughter Secreto in tow. Despite the passage of years, the transwoman hopes to re-kindle her relationship with Leon, an ex-lover who lives as part of the community. Yet Secreto is dubious about the wisdom of this reunion.
Cespedes D. doesn’t go into onscreen detail about the transwoman’s prior life with the community of outcasts. Yet there’s a sense that even when she lived among them, the transwoman was an outsider. None of the transvestites express the slightest curiosity about what happened to her in the intervening years. Secreto and her mother going about in the daytime seems a mundane act, but it’s another marker of the division between the transwoman and the other transvestites.
Wearing thick makeup turns out to be a common trait in this community. But once the makeup goes on, the heat from the daytime sun must be avoided. An oddly disturbing image which explains the film’s title shows sweaty makeup dripping off Leon’s nose after exposure to a sliver of a sunbeam. Thus, the community members only go outside at night.
This stroll in the moonlight is perfect for the transwoman’s purposes. It’s noted that moonlight shows the true face of creatures who dwell in the darkness. Ironically, when Leon first appears in the film, the viewer has no idea of his true nature despite his spending the daytime in a dark indoor space. The transwoman hopes that despite Leon’s bad treatment of her in the past, their “strange” natures provide a strong basis for a relationship. The mention of the transwoman’s deadname at a particular moment delivers a decisive response to that hope.
In emotional terms, Secreto’s mother is symbolically another melting creature. Yet in her case, what causes her to melt happens to be her desire for happiness. But the empathetic song that ends the film touchingly summarizes the roots of this understandable desire.
Sophia Mocorrea’s Sundance Film Festival jury award-winning short “The Kidnapping of the Bride” offers a seriocomic look at the challenge of balancing personal needs against the sometimes imposing weight of tradition. As Mocorrea’s story shows, self-awareness of one’s needs matter more in this balancing act rather than evaluating things on a good/evil axis.
German citizen Fred Scholpert and Argentine national Lucia Martinez have decided to tie the marriage knot. As the countdown to the wedding approaches, differences in cultural traditions between the two families crop up yet get papered over. But when the titular Teutonic tradition takes place, it reveals a problem that might undermine Fred and Luisa’s love for each other.
Mocorrea takes a somewhat loving approach to depicting the two families’ varying traditions. Why the Martinez family has brought along several alpacas remains an enigma. The traditional wedding dress the Martinezes brought for Luisa to wear may symbolically crowd Fred out of a space in his car. However, compared to the dress Luisa originally intended to wear for the ceremony, the traditional dress does look way cooler.
The house the Scholperts offer the couple, though, is a different story. Certainly being gifted a house formerly belonging to a relative is a generous present, especially given the size of the proposed abode. However, while this house was perfect for hosting Syrian refugees, the husband- and wife-to-be have no plans or desire to have a lot of children…despite strong hints offered by Fred’s parents. A playful tour of the house and a leg-shaving sequence shows that Fred and Luisa’s bond remains strong despite these incidents.
The titular bridal kidnapping is a definite German wedding tradition. However, the brautentfuhrung that takes place in Mocorrea’s film doesn’t follow traditional expectations. No pub crawl is involved. Nor does Fred have to engage in detective work to find the missing Luisa.
The most disturbing aspect of this particular wedding abduction is how it comes down. Having a pair of cops perform the “kidnapping” may be unconventional but not alarming. Yet Anton the cop’s undisguised hostility towards Luisa definitely veers off script. Without any evidence, the cop accuses the Argentinian of pretending to be affectionate towards Fred for the ulterior aim of acquiring German citizenship.
The fallout from the “kidnapping” translates to a nicely suspenseful moment where the viewer is unsure whether the wedding tradition will have permanently tainted Luisa’s relationship with Fred. Mocorrea’s answer plays perfectly fair with the observant viewer.
Mark Cousins’ must-see new documentary “The March On Rome” cleverly begins with a closeup of the Orange Skull’s face. Far from being a gratuitous slam of the former thief-in-chief, the footage used relates to the subject of Cousins’ new film. For this unabashed authoritarian has zero qualms about approvingly Tweeting a sentiment expressed by notorious Italian fascist Benito Mussolini.
How the Italian fascist ascended to leadership of his country came via the film’s titular 1922 event. It was a march by the Black Shirts (Mussolini’s fascist supporters) from Naples to Rome intended to pressure the Italian King to proclaim Benito Mussolini the new Prime Minister of Italy. The reality of the march fell far short of a demonstration of political strength. The actual number of march participants turned out to be only half what was boasted. The rain that bedeviled the marchers made them look bedraggled. And Mussolini himself never appeared to even rally his forces. Yet the Italian public came to believe the march demonstrated the seriousness of the fascists’ demand to “Either give us the government or we will take it.”
That false belief became implanted in the Italian public’s mind thanks to a so-called record of the fascist march called “A Noi! (To Us!).” Cousins’ documentary shows how and why “A Noi” (as the film will be referred to) deserves to be called the world’s first political propaganda film. The Italian film came out more than a decade before Leni Riefenstahl’s notorious “Triumph Of The Will.” It even predates Sergei Eisenstein’s world cinema classic “The Battleship Potemkin.” As Cousins also demonstrates, unabashed dishonesty and deliberately deceiving people has a decidedly conservative bent.
Umberto Paradisi, the director of “A Noi,” may claim his film was an accurate portrait of the rise of Italian fascism. But Cousins’ dissection shows how Paradisi’s so-called accuracy turned out to be a spiritual predecessor of Faux “News”’ so-called “fair and balanced” reporting. For the techniques Paradisi employed wound up being repeatedly utilized down through the decades by other right-wing propagandists.
For example, footage of the Black Shirts marching to Italy’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and Mussolini meeting the fascist marchers there were intended to show the Black Shirts were patriots symbolically anointed by God. But in reality, that film sequence resulted from splicing together such things as a sunlight-drenched repetition of the original march, Mussolini’s appearance at the Tomb a week later, and even passing off a truck of pro-democracy supporters as fascist allies.
Cousins’ film is filled with such engrossingly granular analyses of Paradisi’s paean to the glories of fascism. The director’s lilting voiceover goes beyond just explaining such technical details as “A Noi”’s footage being the product of three separate cameras. His verbal surgery and use of choice film clips provide the ugly historical connections that advocates of the “Mussolini as one bad apple” point of view prefer to keep buried.
One such pertinent film clip comes from Augusto Tretti’s 1971 film “Il Potere (The Power).” In it, a symbolic Greek chorus of a lion (military), a tiger (commerce), and a leopard (landowners) discuss how Mussolini can be a tool to protect their political interests. At the time of the march to Rome, the socialists had gained power through Italy’s first national elections in 1919. Needless to say, the wealthy and powerful had little desire to see the socialists change Italian society to disfavor their interests.
In one of the best (and most disturbing) sections of “The March On Rome,” Cousins mentions some of Mussolini’s historical admirers outside of Italy. Adolf Hitler, Generalissimo Francisco Franco, and Japanese Far Right leader Akano Saito can be counted among the usual fascist fanboys. But what is a viewer to make of Sigmund Freud gifting a book to Mussolini? And is there a difference between the New York Times’ and Washington Post’s both-sides treatment of the Orange Skull’s (and the GQP’s) fascist bent and the two news organs’ open admiration for Mussolini?
One of the best ironies Cousins teases out of “A Noi” comes from a bit of body language analysis. The footage of Mussolini’s appearance at the Tomb was shot a few days before the fascist was appointed Prime Minister of Italy. Yet for someone heading a supposed organized force ready to take power, the future Il Duce neither exudes power nor even acts as if he’s in control of the situation.
Actress Alba Rohrwacher appears throughout “The March On Rome” providing commentary of a different sort. Her nameless character symbolizes the sentiment of the ordinary Italian citizen, which goes from excitement and optimism at the fascist leader’s desire to pull Italy away from its “wrong direction” to disillusionment at living with the practical consequences of fascist rule (e.g. having her 4-year-old son inducted into the Black Shirts).
Benito Mussolini met his well-deserved fate in 1945. But it can’t be fairly said that Italian society has fully exorcised the fascist leader’s baleful influence. A site for fascist mass rallies is still used today for big soccer games. The 6-floor building with a frontage of 9 arches per floor still stands today despite its being an architectural homage to Il Duce (hint: count the letters in Mussolini’s name). Then again, seeing the Cinema Troisi re-purposed from a temple of fascist cinematic “art” to a venue for more left-of-center films (e.g. its hosting an appearance by defiantly left-wing film director Ken Loach) gives a viewer hope that Mussolini and his bully boys don’t have the last word.
Still, fascism seems to be flourishing quite well around the world. The Orange Skull’s pre-eminent South American fanboy, ex-president of Brazil Jair Bolsonaro, also openly and approvingly quoted Mussolini. What was the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol but a modern day iteration of the fascist march on Rome? And does current Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s political allegiances need to be spelled out? In a chilling coda, Cousins asks the viewer to consider why the pro-fascism myth the March on Rome embodied still exerts a baleful influence despite the literal passage of decades.
(“Daliland” has been acquired for commercial distribution by Magnolia Pictures and will be commercially released later this year.
“The Melting Creatures” is part of the “Shorts 1: Generations” program screening at 5:45 PM on April 21, 2023 at the CGV Cinemas San Francisco (1000 Van Ness, SF).
“The Kidnapping Of The Bride” screens with “Balikbayan” and “No More Longing” at 12:15 PM on April 23, 2023 at the CGV Cinemas San Francisco.
“The March On Rome” screens at 7:00 PM on April 20, 2023 as part of the “Persistence Of Vision Award: Mark Cousins” program. The screening takes place at the Berkeley Art Museum Pacific Film Archive (2155 Center Street, Berkeley).
For further information about the films reviewed here and to order advance tickets, go to www.sffilm.org .)Filed under: Arts & Entertainment