Reviews

Cannes 2012: 'Reality' + 'In the Fog'

Matteo Garrone's Reality, awarded the Grand Prix at Cannes, critiques today's fascination with reality television. To its credit, the film does so without resorting to an easy contrast between good traditional Italian and bad global media culture.

Reality

Director: Matteo Garrone
Cast: Aniello Arena, Loredana Simioli, Nando Paone, Raffele Ferrante
Rated: NR
Studio: Oscilloscope
Year: 2012
Website
Trailer

In the Fog

Director: Sergei Loznitsa
Cast: Vladimir Svirski, Vlad Abashin, Sergeï Kolesov, Vlad Ivanov, Julia Peresild, Nikita Peretomovs, Nadezhda Markina
Rated: NR
Studio: Ma.Ja.De. Fiction, GP Cinema Company, Rijafilms, Lemming Film, Belarusfilm
Year: 2012
Website
Trailer

Matteo Garrone's Reality, awarded the Grand Prix at Cannes, critiques today's fascination with reality television. To its credit, the film does so without resorting to an easy contrast between good traditional Italian and bad global media culture. Here a Napoli fishmonger's family looks almost as fantastic as celebrity wannabes on the Italian version of Big Brother that sends Luciano (Aniello Arena) into pop stardom.

That is, Luciano never seems quite "ordinary," in part because he's played by Arena, a former mafia hit man turned theatre actor, still in prison serving a 20-year sentence. Garrone met Arena while filming his mafia saga Gomorrah, which won the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2008. As Luciano, the actor is at once broad and jarring: Luciano sells fish by day, performs a drag act at weddings, and conducts scams by night, using old ladies to resell a mechanical pasta cooker that looks like a panda bear. After this cooking contraption, he turns to elaborate lamps and white armchairs, which he eventually gives away, Luciano, his flamboyant wife Maria (Loredana Simioli), and his loquacious relatives and neighbors are a show unto themselves well before he tries out for the Big Brother.

Still, Luciano is reluctant: he auditions for the show at the local mall only at the insistence of his kids. He's a pragmatic family man, possessed of a prodigious charm he's long since learned how to use to get what he wants. But he's not exactly prepared when he gets to the second audition, and Luciano's own life begins to resemble reality TV.

First, convinced that he'll get on the show, he sells his fish store. Then, he starts imagining that every stranger is a spy sent by the show's selection committee. To impress these spies, he decides to become a model citizen, but overdoes it, feeding a lavish dinner to the homeless man he earlier chased off and eventually selling his family's furniture -- much to Maria's chagrin. He imagines every encounter to be with the show's producers, even when he accosts two nuns in a church who give him their stock spiritual advice, "Don't give up."

Reality is a comedic departure from the mafia theme for which Garrone is best know, but it's not particularly funny. Moreover, its themes -- the crudity of celebrity culture and the corruption of reality TV -- are not new. As a meditation on self-imposed surveillance, the film is more original. Luciano only escapes his imaginary watchers when he finally sneaks on to the shooting stage and gets a place, albeit temporarily, in the bright shiny world of the reality show. This false experience is, in its way, real.

In the Fog

If Reality examines the moral choices that emerge as Luciano grapples with his newfound celebrity, V tumane (In the Fog), directed by Sergei Loznitsa, comes at such choices from another direction. Based on a novel by well-known Belarussian writer Vasil Bykov, the winner of this year's FIPRESCI prize at Cannes is a personal movie about World War II. Loznitsa specifically denied any intended political message at the Festival press conference, though this seems hard to believe, given his previous film My Joy. This film, which competed at Cannes last year, is upfront about its dystopian view of politics and social life in a post-Soviet Russian province. The new movie appears amid a swirl of efforts by governments throughout Europe to rewrite the history of WWII, thus its personal view is a political choice in itself.

In the Fog begins with a failed attempt at sabotage in an Nazi-occupied territory somewhere in the Belorussian or Ukraininan countryside. After four railroad workers are arrested and three of them executed, the German commander Grossmeier (Vlad Ivanov) asks the fourth worker, Souchenia (Vladimir Svirski), to become an informer. Souchenia, an idealized moral center here, had initially refused to sabotage the railway for fear of German retribution on civilians. He also refuses to serve as a spy, but is released anyway. Soon, two Soviet partisans come to execute him as a traitor: Burov (Vlad Abashin), an angry brute, and Voitek (Sergei Kolesov), a two-faced coward. Much of the film is composed as long slow takes, following the three men walk in the woods through the night, first to the place of Souchenia's execution, and then, after a surprise German attack, to the rebels' hideout.

Bykov wrote his novel while World War II partisans were still generally perceived as models of patriotism and virtue, and his protagonist's internal monologue reflects the writer's respect for those who choose to fight the German enemy. Today, after the Soviet Union has collapsed and researchers have been mining its archives, many partisans have increasingly been revealed as the henchmen of ruthless Soviet government than homegrown freedom fighters. We might guess the truth lies somewhere in between these two views. But Loznitsa's film, ostensibly nonpolitical, follows to the letter the currently popular politics of history. With no internal monologue in the film, no honorable partisans hidden in the woods, and no righteous political side to choose in the conflict, Souchenia's decision not to fight, even for his life, becomes a private, and the only moral, choice.

5

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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