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This week’s picks - Striking Colour Schemes

Monday 4 May 2020, by George Crosthwait

Japanese Avant-garde and Experimental Film Festival [JAEFF] producer George Crosthwait picks his three favourite films currently available on streaming platforms in the UK. This time tailored to suit precise days. It’s May and the world is looking lush and vibrant (and empty). So this time I’m recommending three films with particularly striking colour schemes.

Viva - BFI Player

Watch on: Wednesday (because like a bored 70s housewife, you’ll only get through the rest of the week with cocktails and pastel colours).

Wandering through the twisting labyrinths of Netflix and Amazon Prime is maddening even when only occasionally required. With home entertainment the only entertainment, maybe you’re becoming more acquainted with streaming libraries than you ever dreamed possible. Now those endless “failure-to-choose-your-adventure” searches transcend frustration and erode your love of movies itself (dear Netflix algorithm, stop trying to make me watch Extraction). Praise be then for BFI Player’s “Collections” category for providing some thematic coherence to salve the choice-bloat of the larger VOD platforms.

The BFI Flare LGBTIQ+ collection is a fabulous starting point, full of queer jewels and softens the loss of the festival’s physical presence earlier this year. There’s a ton of great stuff here but my personal pick is the uniquely talented Anna Biller’s (The Love Witch) Viva. Ostensibly a pastiche of Russ Meyer-type 70s sexploitation, Viva (Biller herself) is your typical bored suburban housewife looking for sex, cocktails and liberation. Unlike films such as Black Dynamite, the recreation of genre aesthetics in Viva is both amazingly exact and surprisingly unreflexive. Biller herself frequently rebuffs terms like “homage” and “pastiche”, challenging her audience to view her films on their own terms. Indeed, her deliberate colour palette is like nothing else in contemporary cinema, something that we might only appreciate once we deactivate our desire to make comparisons to older films (a critical habit that’s hard to break). Viva is a work of high camp that nonetheless demands sincerity and rejects irony. A most ludicrous and enjoyable film that is somehow shockingly serious.

Revenge - Shudder

Watch on: Friday (because it’s the end of the working/furloughed week and you either need to blow off some steam or generate some energy for the weekend).

On the face of it, Revenge is another entry into the grottiest of cinema sub-genres: rape-revenge. Neither leaning on the male-avenger trope of Straw Dogs or The Virgin Spring/Last House on the Left, nor the cheap titillation of I Spit on Your Grave, Revenge aims to flip the stereotypes and gender roles around. The rape is deeply uncomfortable and un-sensationalised; the revenge is just really, really painful. Taking place in an unspecified and empty desert space, Revenge becomes a sandpit for eye-bleeding evisceration shot in extreme colour saturation. (male) Nude bodies glisten (with blood) under a burning sky as Jen (Mathilde Lutz) slays her way out of her nightmare vacation.

The recent successes of The Hunt and Bacurau suggest we’re currently all down for a bit of human hunting in our life. Revenge will scratch that itch whilst staring down genre misogyny and providing some wince-inducing catharsis.


Watch on: Sunday (because its an immensely long feudal war epic).

Amongst the many cinematic casualties of COVID-19, and particularly hard for me to take, is the postponement of the BFI’s massive Japan season, which had been due to start this month. A planned restoration of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai has also been shelved, but we can take some comfort by settling in with his (arguably—depends how you feel about Richard Gere) final masterpiece: the magnificent King Lear adaptation Ran. Kurosawa revised Shakespearean tragedies several times throughout his career. The Bad Sleep Well loosely used the structure of Hamlet, the wonderful and ghostly Throne of Blood (coming soon to BFI Player) took on Macbeth and Ran sets Lear in Feudal Japan.

Having already secured a place amongst the greats with his films made during the golden age of Japanese cinema, Kurosawa proved himself to be a master of colour with late period work such as Kagemusha, Dersu Uzala and Dreams. “The Emperor” was exacting and exacerbating in his methods. Chris Marker’s quasi-making-of-Ran, A.K. (also showing on Mubi this month) shows Kurosawa demanding that his production team paint an entire field of reeds gold in order to achieve the desired aesthetic quality. The scene was later cut from the final version of the film. Ran features a signature role for Tatsuya Nakadai (as the Lear surrogate), one of the greatest actors in cinema history. Also present is queer icon Pītā (Funeral Parade of Roses) as the Fool.

Ran is filmmaking on a scale to rival anything that Kurosawa, or anyone else, had attempted to date. It is one of the great historical epics and arguably the greatest imagining of Shakespeare ever set to celluloid.

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