Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Trees, Mosquitos, and Black Bread

How do you rinse a piece of filth such as Super 8 from your system?

I tried Tree of Life, Mosquito the Rapist, and Black Bread, the new film from Augusti Villaronga.

All contributed in different ways to the flushing of the former's scum-like residue.

It was a long time in the coming, but Terrence Malick's Tree of Life, despite some uneven passages, was worth the wait. It's an ambitious piece which uses the metaphor of family to explore life's larger questions. The director's approach to the subject has a breezy, emotionally sticky cadence, and I felt myself being transported by it.

Malick's affection for the juxtaposition of the non-human world with the human world continues here, as does his preference for non-linear storytelling. At times it's a touch unfocused, but, ultimately, the bits combine to form a satisfying whole.

Hunter McCracken, a natural, talented actor, plays the young son of Brad Pitt, an insecure, domineering patriarch of a small Waco family. Through McCracken's gaze, the film's events play out. Sean Penn is the older version of the son and most heavily billed actor after Pitt, but he's only on screen for a limited time and mouths but a couple of choice lines. The majority of the film's emotional wreckage is driven by the death of a young child and Pitt's inability to truly connect with his children. So consumed with bitterness and envy for the lives of others and his own fears, he handicaps his shot at happiness.

Malick, eager to address absolutes, provides an impressive Creation sequence early in the proceedings. Reminding us that it didn't take long for nature to turn brutal, this almost surreal dramatic additive underlines how impossible it is for us to escape the darker aspects of our genetic selves. For mine, the placement of this Creation sequence felt wrong. Kubrick did his version at the beginning of 2001; Malick does it twenty minutes in. It might have worked better half way through once we'd gotten to know our characters a little better. Still, its effective in its own right, if not naturally layered in.

The screening I attended was accompanied by plenty of walkouts. Non-linear narratives clearly make some people uncomfortable.

Best seen with an open mind and a dash of patience.

Switzerland isn't known for its horror films. It's not a bubbling hub of any kind of cinema really. So, what if they did make a horror film?

"They" did, and that horror film is Marijan David Vadja's Mosquito the Rapist, a '77 curio that left me slightly speechless. My initial reaction to its crummy acting and overlit scenery was dislike. The musical score, which sounds like someone tuning instruments in a back room, irritated me. Then, as the film unspooled, I developed a strange, grudging respect for its intentions, if not its execution.

Werner Pochath plays 'Mosquito', a mute man who collects dolls (nothing wrong with that!), secretly lusts after his bohemian neighbor, and endures workplace harassment in his office job. A flashback tells us that Mosquito (a name he calls himself) spent his childhood being beaten by his father and bearing witness to the sexual abuse of his little sister. A lurid flashback shows us the drunken old man grabbing the little girl's bare ass.

The collective trauma of Mosquito's upbringing has turned him into a mute defiler of corpses and drinker of blood. The lad doesn't do much raping, but he does break into crypts and funeral homes to dig the eyeballs out of the head and drink the blood of the recently deceased. He takes the eyeballs home and places them carefully in preservation formula.

Now and then, Mosquito smashes his dolls and rips their limbs off. He stalks around in an obvious, creepy manner, and never looks like he's up to anything but evil. Eventually, his traumas and flashbacks get the better of him.

The storyline I've just described sounds pretty damn fascinating, right? Well, that's the part I respect. It's the presentation, the style, and the tone that sucks. Shot the same year as George Romero's far superior Martin, which it resembles in some scenes, it's simply an incompetent attempt at genre filmmaking. Directed in the most ham-fisted, patchy manner, it's more Ed Wood than Romero, and lacks rudimentary qualities such as a uniform style or lighting that is suited to the subject. It's a strange thing to say, but if the film had the grainy, murky look of, say, Basket Case or Nekromantik, it would be 100% better. Not without a budget, the cinematography is, in fact, too clean, often flat, and overlit when it needs to be moody and shadowy. It's like nobody involved had a real clue about what they were doing.

Mosquito's most potentially horrific scenes involve Pochath drinking blood from corpses via a straw. He stabs the straw into their flesh and gulps away. Recalling Martin's syringe sequence on the train and the blood drinking in Larraz's Vampyres, these bits feel like horror, but their intensity is undercut by the moodless lighting and general cleanliness of the surroundings.

Mosquito does no actual raping in Mosquito the Rapist (aka Bloodlust), but I'm sure he thinks about it when his bohemian neighbor begins dancing half dazed and half naked on the rooftops.

After a late night with Mosquito, I was enthusiastic about rising this morning to watch my just-arrived DVD of Black Bread (Pa Negre), the brand new movie from Augusti Villaronga, the director of In A Glass Cage (El Tras Cristal).

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you would know how much I love and adore (yes, ADORE, fuck it!) In A Glass Cage. It's easily one of my favorite films of all time -- of any genre! -- and possesses a level of cinematic accomplishment most films can only aspire to. As horror, it's without peer. As drama, it's intoxicating.

I've seen all of Villaronga's films since Glass Cage and have liked -- not loved --  them a lot. If I had to pick two favorites post-Cage, I'd go with Moonchild ('89), a dreamy, surreal adventure, and 99.9 ('97), a moody horror outing. Despite a great title and high expectations, I was disappointed with his Aro Tolbukhin in the Mind of a Killer ('02), a thriller without thrills that got too bogged down in character at the expense of pace and plot.

Hopes, therefore, were high for Black Bread, a 2011 recipient of Spain's Oscar, the Goya, for Best Actress, Best Director, and Best Film. It also earned a Best Actress plaque at the 2010 San Sebastian Film Festival.

Without a doubt, this is Villaronga's best film since In A Glass Cage, and, once again, achieves a peak of cinematic accomplishment that is breathtaking.

A bravura opening scene involving a murder in a small Catalan village and a stupendous piece of trickery with a horse establishes the film's tone beautifully. We are then introduced to Andreu (Francesc Colomer), a naive Catalan boy whose father, Farriol (Roger Casamajor), known for his leftwing political leanings, has become a suspect in the murder. Subjected to his father's insistence that the high moral ground always be taken, Andreu is about to learn the true meaning of ambiguity. Shunted off to a relative's after his father goes into hiding, the boy's relatively simple life is upended by shocking revelations and a force that intervenes on his behalf.

As in In A Glass Cage, Villaronga explores the gray, and is careful not to crucify his characters with moral indignation. A young girl, her hand destroyed by a bomb, is having an affair with her teacher, but does Villaronga take sides? No, he presents the man as a human being, a creature with both redeeming and morally murky qualities. Andreu's relationship with his father is equally fascinating as the boy's belief in him swings from admiration to accusation.

One of the film's most potent metaphors is Farriol's bird collection. Early on in the story, Andreau is seen tending to them with Farriol, demonstrating his love for his father via his affection for the winged creatures. When Andreu's world turns topsy-turvy, the birds become an outlet for the boy's rage.

Tonally similar to Del Torro's Pan's Labyrinth, but told with greater simplicity and little fantasy, Black Bread is an even stronger echo of Rene Clements' Forbidden Games, one of the greatest films ever about the consequences of war on children. Certainly not as dark or baroque as In A Glass Cage, it is, nevertheless, a brutally honest and realistic exploration of human darkness.

The DVD from Spanish label Cameo boasts a superb rendition of the film's subtle beauty and nuance.


  1. jervaise brooke hamsterJune 22, 2011 at 9:52 AM

    Why couldn`t you have shown a still from Mosquito of the old geezer groping the little girls arse ?, i could`ve jerked off to that. By the way, that little girl from Forbidden Games is one of the most gorgeous little girls i`ve ever seen.

  2. jervaise brooke hamsterJune 22, 2011 at 10:09 AM

    Brigitte Fossey, That gorgeous little darlin` from Forbidden Games is now a hideous old slag of 65. 59 years can be so cruel to a gorgeous little 6 year-old sexpot.

  3. Good to hear there is a new film by Villaronga! I have only seen 'In A Glass Cage', but I'm eager to see anything else by him. I heard it's been on a new theatrical run and played at the Nuart last month. Did you happen to see it? I wish I could have seen it. Honestly, there needs to be more people giving a voice of admiration for 'In A Glass Cage'. It is a truly dark film, but it is so insightful and remarkably well done (even if there are a few problems with the DVD, like the audio-syncing and some print marks), yet none of my friends have ever been able to get over the opening scene. The rest of the film is tarnished for them because they can't look beyond it, or INTO it. I hope it isn't due to the predominant colors and setting! Anyway, your blog entries on the film were awesome (especially the mat-prints you've shared!) and the conversation we had at Drunken Master about the film was great!

    That DVD cover for 'Mosquito' has to be for the 1995 film of the same name which stars Gunnar Hansen. That is one of my favorite ridiculous B-horror films ever! I own it on...VHS.

  4. jervaise brooke hamsterJune 22, 2011 at 10:17 AM

    When i recorded Forbidden Games off of the TV i used to have endless fantasys about finding her walking alone in the countryside and taking her back to my cottage so she could be my sex-slave forever. Brigitte was so stunning when she was 6, i literally lost count of the number of wanks i had about her back in those magic days of VHS.

  5. jervaise brooke hamsterJune 22, 2011 at 10:31 AM

    Have you got any pictures that you could post of Brigitte Fossey (as she was in 1952 of course, not as she is now obviously) by herself and perhaps even without her clothes on, i cant jerk-off to her in the picture that you`ve posted because of that other silly bastard in the shot with her (and the blurry figures in the background), i lost my old VHS copy of Forbidden Games years ago. Hey wait a minute, i just remembered, theres probably some clips of her on Youtube but keep looking for those elusive naked pictures of her my old mate, i`ll check back tomorrow to see if you`ve posted any. Brigitte Fossey, very much the Heather O`Rourke of the early 50`s...WOW.

  6. jimmie t. murakamiJune 22, 2011 at 10:44 AM

    Malick's "The Thin Red Line" was a better film than "Saving Private Ryan".

  7. jervaise brooke hamsterJune 22, 2011 at 12:12 PM

    Phantom, why have you published the first of my Brigitte Fossey com-girl-ts but not the others ?.

  8. My my youve been busy. I cant seem to to put digit to pad at the moment, but ill try

  9. jervaise brooke hamsterJune 23, 2011 at 5:55 AM

    Where are the naked pictures of Brigitte that i requested ?.

  10. You must be back in the states, huh? Too bad you didn't enjoy Mosquito as much as I thought you might. In all honesty, it really is a plodding bore, but there's something about Pochath's sad little sickie character I find endearing and fascinating. Hope you enjoy(ed) the other stuff.

    Here's something for your radar--Revenge: A Love Story. I haven't seen it yet and truthfully am not that jazzed about it. The reason I mention it is because it is another throwback to the sleazy and nihilistic 90s Cat IIIs released by 852 Films (the folks behind Dream Home). It seems like they are trying to affect something of a reurgence of the glory days? Perhaps with their flicks and the success of that 3D Sex & Zen it could actually happen.

    Cheers for tweaking the blog btw. I completely missed your post on Alarma and the de Mullotto post had some surprising replies.


  11. d -- yep, back... I enjoyed Mosquito more than I convey; I loved his sickie character, too. I was just distracted by the terrible, terrible score and inappropriate cinematography. It sucked the atmos out of the thing. Very grateful for it, tho. Thank you.

    REVENGE I must get onto. I'd love to see a quality return to the Cat III flicks of yesteryear in HK

    I have a really interesting deMullotto post upcoming. Unpublished art from a close source to him. With her blessing. Unfortunately, Mr. deMullutto is very sick and is no longer active

  12. Hi everyone,

    Is there a version of Mosquito the Rapist with English subtitles rather than English dub? Dubs are so awful!