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Fantasia 2021 | The Sadness Review

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Quite simply, The Sadness is possibly one of the bloodiest and most brutal films I have ever seen. But it’s absolutely brilliant! If you don’t like blood or gore, then this is definitely not the film for you. But if you can stomach all the guts and gore, then you are in for a treat. Given the huge range of genre films shown at the Fantasia Film Festival it’s not often that Fantasia themselves have to give a trigger warning but The Sadness is just so extreme that it warrants one and Fantasia warn viewers to ‘proceed with caution’ if watching this ultraviolent Taiwanese film.

The Sadness is set in a world combatting a pandemic. There’s a virus with flu-like symptoms, that the public isn’t taking seriously. Many think it’s just a hoax surrounding the upcoming election and so everyone lets their guard. However, this mysterious ‘Alvin Virus’ spontaneously mutates giving rise to a mind-altering plague that very much ought to be taken seriously. Chaos ensues as the infected are running about like zombies doing the most cruel and nasty things they can. Murder, rape, torture; everything goes. The age of order is gone, and there is only ‘The Sadness’.

Now if you’re thinking, hang on a minute, this whole virus thing during an election year that the public aren’t taking seriously sounds a bit familiar, well you’re right. The film was entirely developed over the course of 8 months during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The development process all happened so fast with it being written in the spring, shot in summer and completed by the end of winter. The Sadness certainly isn’t for everyone; if you don’t want to see lots of blood or if you don’t want to watch a film about a virus and a pandemic then you definitely shouldn’t watch it. But if you do want to see that sort of film then you’ll have an absolute blast of a time with it.

The people infected with the virus can’t control themselves and will do all sorts of crazy things. Despite the terror that comes from the infected people being extraordinarily entertaining, the film isn’t just watching people being violently killed and seeing blood spurt all over the place. At its centre, the film follows a young couple who are on opposite sides of the city trying to find and protect each other from the chaos happening around the city.

It gets right into the action without stopping to ease you in as within the first half hour one of the lead characters gets his fingers ripped off which is very quickly followed by one of the infected eating one of his severed fingers. Instantly we know this film isn’t playing around. It’s horrific and so incredibly brutal. It’s a terrifyingly tense rollercoaster ride and for the entire runtime you don’t know who’s safe and who’s going to be viciously ripped to pieces in the next scene.

The Sadness is the feature film directorial debut of Rob Jabbaz who does a superb job with his first film. He manages to create such a suspenseful, fast paced film that has you on the edge of your seat for the entire runtime. It will shock you right to your core with the insane level of blood and violence in it. No Hollywood film would ever dare to reach the levels that Jabbaz gets to in The Sadness and it’s really great to see something this cruel and violent and to get such great entertainment value from it.

Not only is the action incredible but the film has such a suspenseful atmosphere to it. Right after we first see the outbreak and the extent to which the infected can cause chaos, the film cuts to a train. The scene holds for quite some time with nothing going on, just some casual conversations on the underground. But the viewer knows what’s about to go down. You’re sat there, with your heart racing, waiting for an attack to happen. And even though you know what’s coming and what’s about to happen, the suspense is killing you the whole time.

The film doesn’t quite manage to sustain itself throughout and it does lose a bit of momentum as it goes on. It starts to add an element of sexual violence and whilst the whole film is disturbing and unsettling, the sexual violence really elevates that unnerving feeling perhaps just a bit too far.

The Sadness is a film told with a huge amount of skill and flair as well as buckets and buckets and even more buckets of fake blood. It’s insanely horrific and visceral and simply put, it is the most brutal film you will see this year.

The Sadness had its North American premiere at Fantasia International Film Festival 2021.

We spoke to writer/director Rob Jabbaz about The Sadness and you can read that interview HERE

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Film Festivals

Instant Gra-TV-Cation: A Free Online Panel Discussion at London Film Festival

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This year’s 66th London Film Festival is taking place between 5th-16th October in London as well as in select cinemas around the country. But that’s not all, the LFF For Free lineup includes a number of events that can be enjoyed for FREE!

One of these wonderful events is Instant Gra-TV-Cation, a panel discussion featuring industry professionals looking at the rise of high-end television and what sets TV apart from film.

Taking the form of a panel discussion, Instant Gra-TV-Cation will dive into the world of streaming. The panel will look at viewing habits and our growing obsession with TV to discuss why our watchlists might be too full. And given the rise in actors crossing over from the big screen to the small screen, just where do we draw the line between film and TV? This online showcase will feature a panel discussion which will launch on the BFI YouTube channel on October 14th. 

The panel will be made up of Lisa Kerrigan, Senior Curator of Television at the BFI National Archive, Oliver Lyttelton, screenwriter and creator of Cheaters (2022) and Wedding Season (2022), and Hanna Flint, film critic and author of Strong Female Character. The panel will be hosted by LFF’s Series & Episodic Programmer, Rowan Woods. 

Instant Gra-TV-Cation promises to be an excellent event and a great way to enjoy the wonders of London Film Festival not only from your own home, but also for free. You can find out more about the event here.

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Aftersun | Movie Review | Cannes Film Festival

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Every year at the Cannes Film Festival, there are one or two titles that catch fire and become the talk-of-the-croisette. Ruben Östlund’s raucous Palme d’Or-winning Triangle of Sadness made the most audible amount of noise this year (justifiably so). However, another film was on the tip of everybody’s lips and became a must-see sensation; Aftersun. The feature debut of Scottish filmmaker Charlotte Wells screened as part of the director’s fortnight section and is the little-indie-movie-that-could of not just this year’s Cannes Film Festival but of all of 2022. This special film has captured the hearts of all those who have seen it and will continue to do so for years to come. It’s why we keep coming back to the cinema: to discover exciting new voices and be completely absorbed in a story.

What’s remarkable about Aftersun (besides this being the debut of Wells) is how unremarkable and yet utterly captivating the story is. Set in the nineties, the plot follows a young single dad named Calum (Paul Mescal) who takes his spright 11-year-old daughter Sophie (breakout newcomer Frankie Corio) on a summer holiday to Turkey – and that’s pretty much it. For a film that lacks very little dramatic tension or conflict, Wells keeps you firmly and emotionally engaged throughout the breezy 95-minute runtime.

Sometimes, the little films about everything and nothing ring true the hardest and leave audiences the most moved. Stories that aren’t particularly flashy but manage to capture the beauty within the mundane little moments of life. Aftersun is one of those movies that will leave you weeping in your seat and wanting to call your parents after you’re done. Drawing from her own experiences with her father, Wells explores the dynamics of this paternal relationship without ever resorting to clichéd domestic squabbling that you’d typically expect from a premise like this. Thanks to her honest script and the marvelous performances from her two actors, it is joyful simply watching this father and daughter duo hanging out on vacation, discussing life, romance, drugs, hopes, and dreams with such candor.

Wells crafts a dignified two-person character study that is heartwarming but tinged with sadness. Her screenplay perfectly balances the two perspectives of the relationship allowing you to empathize with both characters. Sophie represents the bliss of youth as well the excitement of pending independence. At the same time, Calum represents the melancholy of youth-gone-by. Given the relatively small age gap between the two of them, Calum is often mistaken for Sophie’s older brother. While Sophie is clearly the light of his life, the drawback to becoming a father so young is that Calum sacrificed most of his own adolescence in the process. In a very touching scene that sees father and daughter sharing one single bedspread, Calum laments to his daughter that life didn’t exactly turn out the way he wanted, but we can see he wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s an absolute lightning-in-a-bottle pairing of actors, quality writing, and beautiful direction. The chemistry they share and the magic they create you can’t fake or teach.

Frankie Corio and Paul Mescal in Aftersun

Mescal’s ability to show internal hardship and regret with such subtlety is the reason why he is fast becoming one of the most sought-after talents of his generation. He’s had a tremendous few years with meaty projects such as Normal People, The Lost Daughter and his other hard-hitting drama to premiere at Cannes this year; God’s Creatures. Meanwhile, Frankie Corio is a revelation as Sophie. She effortlessly commands the screen with an emotional maturity well beyond her years. You would not know this was her first time in front of the camera from watching her performance. Memorize her name now, as this girl is undoubtedly destined for stardom.

Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk director Barry Jenkins served as an executive producer on Aftersun, and one can practically feel his steady guiding hand is resting on Wells’ shoulder. Given Jenkins’ propensity for creating films that sizzle with poetic chemistry, you can see he’s passed down sage advice to Wells on how to formulate an atmosphere that’s effulgent enough to bottle. It takes most filmmakers years of trial-and-error to master what Wells has accomplished on a first try. She confidently allows the story to flow naturally with a lazy holiday pace without ever becoming stagnant. Her ability to capture a moment in time is outstanding and extraordinarily impactful. Anybody that’s ever been on a package holiday to Europe will feel an immediate kinship with her story, and those who haven’t will still feel something anyway. Her emphasis on the little details; the arcade games, evening karaoke, doubles games of pool, screaming children at water parks, and eager holiday representatives cringingly trying to get tourists to do the Macarena – it’s all so familiar and makes Aftersun such an emotionally resonant watch. She also takes some risks with her narrative structure which certainly pays off, particularly with the last shot, which is slightly abstract but will bring a tear to your eye, leaving the audience on an achingly bittersweet note. She also uses brief flash-forwards that help recontextualizes the camcorder holiday footage that bookends the entire film.

Aftersun is a little miracle of a film that marks the ceremonious arrival of both filmmaker Charlotte Wells and her young star Frankie Corio. It also features a never-better performance from Paul Mescal, which at the very least should generate some awards-season discussion for the young 26-year-old Irish actor. Thanks to Wells’ wonderfully human characters, astute direction, and stellar performances, Aftersun truly is about the little moments that seem insignificant at the time but become the precious stuff we treasure as adults. It’s the type of film we’re lucky to have in our lives as it offers the viewer a window into the soul of a sensitive and wonderful new storyteller.

Aftersun premiered as part of the directors fortnight at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival. Aftersun is being distributed by MUBI for theatrical distribution in UK-Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Latin America, Austria, Turkey and India. And A24 has acquired the North American rights. Stay up to date with Luke’s coverage from the Cannes Film Festival via Twitter, Youtube, Instagram and TikTok @lukehearfield

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Tribeca: Signe Baumane & Dagmara Domincyzk Discuss Their Collaboration on My Love Affair with Marriage

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Animation is a beautiful medium to explore various subject matters. Just look at what Signe Baumane has done with her feature films. Baumane is living proof that animation is not merely for kids, and it’s possible to fully tackle adult topics with the medium. My Love Affair with Marriage covers the life of Zelma (Dagmara Dominczyk) as she discovers what love truly is. If you’re anything like me, the film will make you rethink your own love life.


Coastal House Media: Could share the story of how the two of you guys started this collaborative relationship?

Signe Baumane: I wrote the script in 2015 and I knew that the actor who would be the main character would be like Atlas, holding the whole film on her shoulders because she had to cover all the ages, from age seven till age 29, and she had to be [the] voiceover [narrator] and she had to do dialogues and she had to be very versatile and very great actor and we were like. “Where are we going to find such an actor?”

And so, my partner Sturgis Warner, [who] was also [the] co-producer of the film and casting director, he set out to look through a lot of actors and I looked on the internet. He [Warner] also knows a lot of New York theater actors and he happened to see Dagmara [Dominczyk] in several shows years before and he wrote notes. He was like, “Oh, there’s like a model, Dagmara, and she’s amazing.” He looked high up and there she was. She had a video of herself, reading her book. The book, [is] a lullaby for Polish girls, and she had the reading in a Montclair Public Library. And when we started watching this video, I was just instantly captivated by her storytelling ability. Of course, the story she told us was very interesting, but [so were] her skills to tell the story. It transported me and that’s how we got our main actor.

Now the trouble was to [get in] contact [with] her, you know, because she’s not easy to be contacted but we managed. And so, we sent her the script, and then she said yes, and we were just beside ourselves, very happy. And I don’t know how it’s from Dagmara’s point of view, but when we started working on the making [of] the character, bringing [her] to life, that was a process. I think it was three days of rehearsal and talking and discussing the character, but what also helped was that Dagmara is Polish. [There were] a lot of things she knew without me having to tell her. So, Dagmara, what is your take on that?

Dagmara Dominczyk: First of all, [it’s] quite easy to find me easy and thank God for my broad, Polish, you know, Slavic shoulders, I guess. Yeah. Your up suit, your broad shoulders. They’ve been brought into my life.

SB: We should have sent you pigeon mail [laughs].

DD: I remember just getting the script from my agents and reading it and just being blown away. I knew it. I knew the characters, you know? There’s something about growing up behind the Iron Curtain, it does something to a person, a woman. And even though I had left early, I spent many years, every summer, with my grandmother, I had a very strong connection to my Polish heritage for good and bad.

I spoke the language in which Signa was telling this story and I thought it was like you said, very bold and very gritty and very “un-American.” And that appealed to me on many levels, culturally as a woman, as a writer, as a supporter of female artists, like every box was quickly checked and the idea of going to work and not having to wear makeup and just fucking showing up in my glasses, that was really nice, too.

SB: Yeah, I really liked working with Dagmara because it was like the discovery of the character, you know? You [Dogmara] knew her [Zelma], like, I could feel it. And then of course, when you had to do the other parts, like the voiceover parts that are kind of tricky, you know? And then also, one other thing that I forgot to mention, our actor had to have a sense of comedy and I thought you were spectacular. Like, [you had] the lightness, but you also got the drama and romance. You did amazingly well, and I heard your voice for seven years, you know? Because you don’t even remember what you did, but every day I would hear your voice. And every, every day I would be like, “I can’t believe how good you are.”

DD: After I said yes, I watched all the links to Signa’s work like Rocks in My Pocket and her series of short films about female sexuality and all that, and just was blown away. Even the art itself, [and] the animation brought back memories. I don’t know, it felt so familiar. And I did get that dark, morbid humor that we Eastern Europeans are famous for.

CHM: How does the recording process work on an animated feature? Are you (Signe), there with the actors?

DD: We were together with Sturgis [Warner]. I didn’t work with the other actors, but Signa and Sturgis were in the studio with me every day. I couldn’t do it without her.

SB: Something happened in 2017 before the pandemic so we could be friends all together at the same studio and be happy together and share lunches.

CHM: You’ve [likely] done animated projects before, but are there any challenges that come with voice acting for you, Dagmara?

DD: Well, I had recorded some audiobooks, a few novels; I think I did like four of them, so I like that. I enjoy it when your voice is your only instrument, you know? That’s challenging but exciting. And it was a very interesting process, to act almost in a void because you’re not reacting to the other actor in the studio.

So you really have to trust your director and the people with you there. I had more of an [easy time] when it came to the dialogues Zelma has than the narration. When I watched Rocks in My Pocket, Signa had narrated that, and she had this very lyrical, lilting, lovely accent; almost like she was telling a fairy tale. I maybe subconsciously decided to go with that to bring a little of her into my work. When I watched the movie, I said, “Oh yeah,” because I thought this is going to work this juxtaposition of a rolling, soft voice and all this fucking fucked up shit that happens to her. I think it works, but it wasn’t without its challenges. It was really exciting. And like, you felt alive because the challenge was to create a world when I didn’t have the animation [in front of me] and I didn’t have the other actors. All I had was the creator and she was there to answer every question and we would go back and forth about ideas.

SB: But Andrew also, Dagmara was the first kind of event of creating the character because when we edited her voice and then quoted other actors, higher voice acting was [the] basis for my animation. Like I animate the character and the voice informed me [of] the gesture, the expression, it was intuitive. Dagmara, it’s funny because it was my text, it was your voice, and then it became me animating like I was acting your voice, you know? It was a very collaborative, co-creation of the character [Zelma].

CHM: Could you guys name one strength that each of you brought to this project?

DD: I think we trusted each other, right, Signa?

SB: Yes.

DD: We didn’t know each other, but there was a trust.

SB: Trust is probably [a] very good word to describe it because we felt that we served the project; we served the higher purpose outside [of] me or you, you were there to build the character [and] to make her happen.

And there [were] like, no egos; nobody was trying to dominate anything. Like, any idea was welcome so we created it together. So I think the trust [is] probably the strength. But I’m also very grateful for Dagmara’s sense of humor, and likeness because the film is at times dark and I think that Dagmara is a special, super talent of lightness and humor, [and she] really served the project well.


My Love Affair with Marriage premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival on June 11. For more information, click here.

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