Here are gathered in this report several proposals of the festival in terms of experimental and animation, old and new, superb and disappointing, backfiring and black and white.
It is one of the merits of the Etrange Festival and not the least to make us (re)discover every year artists out of the ordinary, unknown or forgotten. Thus two documentaries rehabilitate two astonishing and iconoclastic artists. Two visual artists, Pierre Pinoncelli and Steven Arnold, literally devoted body and soul to their work. A life of total art.
Heavenly Bodies, the magnificent documentary by Vishnu Dass, celebrates the journey “bigger than life” – although considerably narrowed by his premature death – of Steven Arnold, psychedelic dandy, in love with beauty in all its forms, from his outfits to his photographs, paintings and movies. Let’s not talk about his residences which served as a backdrop for filming his “camp” fantasies, erotic delights and orgies of glitter. Vishnu Dass also created a Steven Arnold archival fonds
His discovery of this playful genius is a good metonymy for the film. Dass befriended during a Burning Man, this festival of margins and excesses in the Nevada desert, with a woman who later hosted him. He then fell in love with a photo of Steven Arnold hanging in her home. Their friendship refers to those, very strong, built by Arnold, the time of a life far too short, but incredibly full.
According to Dali’s protege, without friendship there is no life. The dying artist formulates this wish of friendship until the end of his illness to his Oscar-winning friend, actress Ellen Burstyn during a very moving scene. A lover of androgynes and fiery girls, Arnold filmed Ruth Weiss, the first beat poetess, her queer muse, Pandora and a thousand other shooting stars that flash in her magical and radical firmament. Sophisticated kitsch with impressive style. We bet that these coctald shards will know more and more exposure. In France, the great artist has not yet had the right to a solo retrospective. XB
Following the screening of the documentary, the evening continued with four works by Steven Arnold, three shorts and one feature. Brilliant demonstrations of the surrealist and baroque inspiration of the artist.
The Liberation of the mechanical manniquemade in 1967, then Posts, Posts (1968) and finally Various incantations of a Tibetan Seamstress (1969), in addition to bearing particularly evocative and poetic titles, constituted a very fine introduction to the subject before our discovery of the only feature film by the artist, who ultimately made few films, devoting himself to other arts such as photography, drawing and sculpture.
If each of these three shorts is experimental and develops its own universe, we are struck by the stylistic similarities they develop, so much so that we end up considering them as a whole. After all, Steven Arnold expresses himself through surrealism, expressionism, the mask and make-up, and each piece of his artistic edifice is like a facet of the same diamond. Their mute character highlights the music, psychedelic, languorous, which adorns its favorite performers with dreamlike scents. Captivated by faces and bodies, Arnold films them, admires them, superimposes them, in superb superimpositions which also like to mix the feminine and the masculine. Androgyny, nudity, exuberance twirl in moving shots, which try to capture a moment, a pose, a look, a gesture, while revealing through the editing their powerful vivacity, their constant energy, their beauty not frozen, but vibrant and alive.
So many elements that we will find in 1971 in Luminous Procurement, which does not abandon the wavering in favor of a more consistent narrative thread, since the longer duration of the film stretches the wandering more than it develops a story. At best we can see this colorful and intoxicating wandering as the initiation of two young men landed in a strange world populated by tempting creatures and omnipresent sensuality. Arnold deploys his film like a series of paintings, with even more unbridled care given to hairstyles, makeup and sets, here filmed in color unlike the previous shorts. The hypnotic music of Warner Hepson, the almost inaudible invented language, making the dialogues similar to chants, the beauty of Arnold’s favorite performers, Ruth Weiss in the lead, and the heady eroticism distilled by these hedonistic ceremonies make Luminous Procurement a visual and sensory delight. What is also striking is the complicity uniting the participants, and the joyful character of the filming, which shines through in the laughter and the looks that break the fourth wall while integrating perfectly into the filmed phantasmagoria, which mixes genres, bodies, sexualities, in a mystical, organic and fantastic ode, a veritable bath of cinematic youth. AJ
Inu-Oh, by Masaaki Yuasa, presented in the Mondovision category, was eagerly awaited! From its revelation in 2004 with Mind Game until Japan Sinks 2020his most recent television series, the Japanese animator has indeed brought in his wake a cohort of admirers of his unbridled style, of a crazy inventiveness and capable of rubbing shoulders with many genres.
We evolve here in fifteenth century Japan, where Inu-Oh, a deformed and masked creature, a virtuoso dancer, crosses paths with Tomona, a blind biwa player with whom he will form a duet that will electrify the public until he becomes real celebrities. Narratively, the film turns out to be quite
classic, since the journey of the two characters is described in a chronological way, the mystery reigning around the curse which transformed Inu-Oh into this disturbing creature, while the evolution of Tomona also occupies a large place at the beginning of the story. Where Yuasa stands out is undeniably in the style adopted, a deluge of visual and auditory effects, enhanced by an irresistible musical comedy dimension, an assumed kitsch, and perfectly becoming the properties of animation, which alone can give flesh to this colorful fantasy, between traditional formal beauty and more experimental attempts pushing the already impressive qualities of Yuasa to their limits. Under his direction, the malleability of the animated forms works wonders with the monstrous side of the character of Inu-Oh, while the dance and the music literally take flight. The rock opera of the year! AJ
Animation always, with one of the very beautiful ideas of this edition: the complete Alberto Vázquez. The same session therefore allowed us to see the five short films of the Iberian illustrator and animator, as well as his first feature, presented at the festival in 2018, Psychonauts.
Over birdboy (2011), which inspired Psychonautsof Ramiro, Sucia Rata (2012), by Blood of Unicornio (2013), which served as the plot for Vázquez’s brand new film, Unicorn Warswhich we will discuss next, Decorated (2016) and Homeless Home (2020), the sensitivity and dark poetry of the artist bursts forth. Characterized by the use of anthropomorphism – all the characters in these films are talking animals – the work distills a certain perfume of dream and innocence always perverted by nightmarish gaps, or at least a melancholy that lurks behind round shapes and
pastel colors. Animation is not just for children and Alberto Vázquez has been giving this branch its letters of nobility for more than a decade. The world in which his characters evolve is harsh, cruel, terribly contemporary, barely softened by the artist’s delicate line. Loneliness, the uncertain future, the fate of our planet are the themes that lurk from film to film, with the humanity of its little animated characters as a rampart. This panorama of a single jet was therefore a superb opportunity to dive into the sweet and bitter world of Alberto Vázquez, who presented the session very sympathetically by talking about his work and his inspirations.
Following this copious and very beautiful preamble, we were impatiently awaiting the new feature film by Alberto Vázquez, Unicorn Wars, the seed of which had been planted, as he explained, by his short Sangre de Unicornio. A cross between Apocalypse Now and Bambi having been announced to us, and knowing the talent of the author, we were very curious. Alas, the disappointment lived up to expectations. Unicorn Wars takes place in a universe where unicorns are evil beings, which the race of bear cubs fights. In a military training center run by Sergeant Groscâlin, Célestin and his roommates prepare for their major offensive operation. The horrors of war await our cubs, then transformed into cannon fodder. If the idea of the opposite seems attractive at first, it becomes particularly heavy in the reality of the film, with all these hearts, these “hearts on you, my commander”, this omnipresent candy pink signage, these puns which make it tons and turn something a little off into a big repetitive gag. The set-up is very laborious, and when the bear cubs finally leave for the forest and the red and rainbow massacre begins (amputations, shredding and other joys), the result turns out to be more filling than delirious. We look in vain for the poetry that we loved so much in Vázquez and which barely emerges at the turn of a few scenes, we cling to the superb compositions and colors of the landscapes, we sometimes taste the underlying cruelty of the tale, and the we are negatively picked up by the naivety of the final image, which we saw coming. No, definitely, it is with sadness that we say to ourselves that Alberto Vázquez, no doubt wanting to rally the followers of the Happy Tree Friends series, has lost something, a part of sincerity which made the beauty of his cinema , which gets lost here in provocativeness and one-upmanship. Too bad ! AJ
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