Alex Sitaras: It may seem a little on-the-nose to release a film revolving around a pandemic, yet Ben Wheatley has done just that with his upcoming film In the Earth. Written and directed in just a matter of days last August, Wheatley’s film represents his talents working under unique constraints as well as a return to the horror genre where Wheatley thrived early in his career. In the Earth shows a journey into the forest gone wrong for scientists in search of a cure, and there’s been relatively little in terms of clips or trailers shared. Given the film is released at the very end of April (April 30th), we’re likely to see a theatrical trailer being shared sometime soon.
Ben McDonald: I’ve only seen Kill List from Wheatley, but I’m curious to see what he does in a film about a pandemic. I haven’t found myself watching too many movies released since COVID hit, but unlike many, I’m actually relatively eager to see films, television, music, and other art address (whether indirectly or directly) the nightmare that has been the past year. Overall, I found Kill List to be a disappointment due to a bizarre third act twist, but I otherwise enjoyed how the anxious, disjointed mood of that film correlated to the economic and societal anxieties of the post-2008 recession malaise around the world. I’m hoping In the Earth treads the line a little more delicately between the real world horrors it is obviously channeling and the more generic horror tropes it’s likely Wheatley will pull from.
Alex: From how you describe Kill List, it seems like Wheatley could build on his prior experience crafting an uneasy, tense atmosphere with attention to social anxieties.
Another film distributed by NEON, Gunda, captures our attention this month. The film is a documentary directed by Viktor Kossakovsky and executively produced by Joaquin Phoenix (Earthlings). The film follows the daily life of a mother pig and her piglets as well as focuses on a cow and a one-legged chicken. Intended to be meditative, the film is shot in gorgeous black-and-white and does not include any music, placing us close to the animals without distraction. Kossakovsky hopes that we can relate to the lives of these animals, however mundane, as fundamentally we too have our routines, our rituals, and share our lives with families and friends. Phoenix’s credit on the documentary suggests an evident purpose or message to the documentary, but I’d imagine watching the film on a cinema screen would incline us to forget about this notion, at least at first, as we’re drawn into the story. Will this be a film you’d be interested in seeing in theaters? Obviously it won’t be intended for every audience.
Ben: You know, I’m not sure. While I love watching and observing animals in real life, I can’t say that the prospect of doing so in a feature length film is something I actively seek out in movies. That being said, I think the idea of shooting the film in black and white, completely without narration, and opting instead to focus on the animals could be an interesting choice. I’ll have to read more reviews and reactions to the film, because I also find that some movies that focus on animals to be a little too simple and sentimental for my taste.
The next film we’d like to talk about this month is one that originally premiered back in 2019 but is finally coming out in the United States. It’s About Endlessness, directed by Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson. The film is described as “a reflection on human life in all its beauty and cruelty”, and appears to be a rather existentialist, arthouse film that is also a succinct 76 minutes long. Roy Andersson has previously directed a number of relatively well-known films, including A Swedish Love Story, Songs from the Second Floor, and A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence. I’ve heard of Andersson’s work but have never actually seen one of his films. Alex, do you have any more experience than me when it comes to this filmmaker, and what are you looking forward to in his latest work?
Alex: Yes, I saw a few of his films maybe a year or two ago to clear a blindspot. Andersson’s films display a ‘no frills’ depiction of human life and activities, with his characters often pale and lifeless. It becomes clear when watching his filmography that the tedium and joylessness we experience when doing everyday tasks such as cooking, cleaning, or having a morning coffee and sharing small talk isn’t so if one is in high spirits or is able to add a charismatic or lively charm to all that we do. One could look at Andersson’s films as depictions of what human life would be like if the ‘human’ were removed from it; however, dogs, cats, and nature isn’t dull or muted in the slightest compared to Andersson’s characters. Andersson’s films aren’t for everyone- they bear more in common with videos in a museum exhibit playing in a loop than films at the cinema- but if you can find something about any given film of his that speaks to you, then it’s worth seeing. In the case of About Endlessness, I could see this film appealing to a subset of arthouse audiences who enjoy existential works that challenge if there is a point to our travels around the Sun. One minor, but maybe inconsequential, aspect to Andersson’s film is its title. Endlessness suggests immortality or a ceaseless cycle, whereas human mortality is certainly finite. The title of Andersson’s film might suggest the film explores humanity as a continuum rather than the human condition as marked by birth and death.
Moving onto to upcoming restorations, Sergio Corbucci‘s Django will finally be released May 25th. We chose the film as one of our Most Anticipated titles before the delay was announced, the delay emblematic of this film’s long journey to release its 4K restoration on home media. Arrow Video initially announced that it would be releasing its restorations of Django and Texas, Adios together back in 2018; however, a rights dispute occurred and the home media release was pushed back to 2020. It was then delayed to this year, with its release date in flux till falling on (this time at least) May 25th. Corbucci’s film has inspired over 50 unofficial sequels and notably was paid homage to in Tarantino‘s Django Unchained. Django is about a Union soldier who became a drifter and his companion, a mixed-race prostitute. They become involved in conflict between a gang of Confederate Red Shirts and Mexican revolutionaries. At the time the film was released, Django was regarded as one of the most violent films made and generated a cult following. Narratively, the film bears much in common with Kurosawa‘s Yojimbo and Leone‘s A Fistful of Dollars.
Ben: Django was the first spaghetti western I ever saw, and having recently rewatched it I am more than comfortable calling it one of the finest examples of the subgenre out there. Unlike the American Westerns from the silent age to the early 1960s, European (and perhaps most importantly, Italian) Westerns have a much more pessimistic, pulpy, and – as you pointed out – violent view of the wild west. While often in films of iconic American Western directors such as John Ford you have softer, more forgiving portraits of American expansionism, European Westerns such as Django focus (often predominately) on the uglier features of the time: greed, corruption, racism, and genocide, to name a few. Django harshly criticizes all of these vile aspects of American history while also being extremely entertaining and thrilling, and it’s a film I don’t think I can ever truly get tired of watching. I am personally very excited for this release, as it is not only a new restoration, but will be presented on a 4K Blu-ray, making it a must-own for any fan of Corbucci’s cult classic. Have you seen Django, Alex, and what do you think of spaghetti westerns in general?
Alex: Westerns would be a genre of film that I need to explore further. I’ve not seen Django, though I am fairly well versed in Leone’s filmography. On the American side of things, I’ve only seen one Hawks Western (though I did enjoy it) and the Ford films that I have seen haven’t been Westerns. I think, presently, my appreciation for spaghetti westerns lies primarily in their aesthetic and music rather than their stories. A number of recent American Westerns owe much inspiration in their cinematography from these 1960’s & 70’s Italian films, and the leery and grandiose notes of Ennio Morricone’s music holds an immense influence on film music since.
The last film of our Most Anticipated selection this month is Bong Joon-ho‘s breakout film Memories of Murder. Receiving a Criterion Collection release on the 20th, the home media release of the film contains not one, not two, but three commentaries that audiences can review when rewatching the film. The restoration also includes a documentary on the making of the film. Memories of Murder is a detective story where two detectives attempt to catch a serial killer. Not to be undone by similar detective stories, Bong’s film also acts as a social satire and comedy, commentating on the ineptness of local government institutions.
Ben: The last time I watched Memories of Murder was nearly three years ago and I remember being mostly underwhelmed and confused by it. I’m not sure how many Bong Joon-ho movies I had seen at that point but I’m fairly confident that rewatching it in 2021 I will have a markedly different reaction, especially after adoring Parasite back in 2019. Not only am I excited to watch a fresh transfer of the film, but I’m also ready dig into some of the commentaries and special features, especially seeing how fascinating all of the features on Criterion’s Parasite Blu-ray are.