Alex Sitaras: Taking us into the wilderness is Abel Ferrera‘s latest film Siberia. It is his sixth collaboration with Willem Dafoe who stars as a man, Clint, who runs a bar in Siberia after turning back on his prior life. He embarks to a cave in which Siberia examines Clint’s psyche and memories of his family, and former wife and son. The film’s setting and contemplative themes recalls to some extent the Liam Neeson thriller The Grey, and it seems that Siberia will have its own share of gripping moments amidst meditative sequences. What do you make of this film Ian?
Ian Floodgate: I know the film screened at the London Film Festival last year where Nick Davie, our fellow critic, reviewed it. I, unfortunately, didn’t catch it but I would be interested to see it now. I agree it does look very similar to the Liam Neeson film The Grey. At a glance, I’m sure there are many films it might have comparisons with, seen as survival films seem to have become a bit of a subgenre. I don’t have much experience with Ferrera’s filmography, but I understand he often focuses on flawed protagonists. I’m sure Dafoe gives a solid performance in this film, given that he pretty much does in all of his projects. As you mentioned, this is their sixth collaboration, their fourth in the last decade. I hope watching Siberia will lead me to explore more of their previous work and more of Ferrara’s films.
Another film finally getting its stateside theatrical release this month is Zola. It follows a stripper who embarks on a wild road trip to Florida. I saw the director, Janicza Bravo‘s feature debut, Lemon, in 2017. I wasn’t entirely impressed by the finished film, but I thought she had potential, so I am glad Bravo has stepped into the director’s chair again. Her style seemed to pay homage to revered auteurs like Ingmar Bergman using blocking and staging creatively, which I found intriguing. Have you seen Lemon Alex, and if so, what are your thoughts on it and what perhaps can audiences expect from Zola?
Alex: I’ve not seen Lemon, unfortunately. From what I do know about the film though, Lemon seems in complete contrast in tone and cinematic restraint with Zola. In the film, Zola (Taylour Paige) is a waitress who befriends a sex worker, Stefani (Riley Keough). Just a day after exchanging numbers, Stefani invites Zola on a roadtrip with the destination of Florida, the goal being to raise as much money as possible while dancing in strip clubs. Accompanying the two is Stefani’s boyfriend and her violent pimp. The film is based on a viral Twitter thread shared by Aziah “Zola” King and reminds me of both Magic Mike and Spring Breakers, the difference here being that the mania that ensues in Zola isn’t a work of fiction. With acting in films such as Logan Lucky and American Honey, Riley Keough has had her go at a number of spirited characters, and in this outing, her performance seems to up the ante. Opposite her is Taylour Paige, who is up-and-coming, appearing in recent films such as White Boy Rick, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and Boogie. In the lead role, Zola is by far the biggest step of her career thus far.
Ian: One release I have mixed feelings about this month is the latest Pixar film, Luca. I’m mainly excited about seeing it but disappointed and baffled that Disney has not decided to give it a theatrical release. Instead, they have chosen to premiere it on their streaming service. They tried to hold out for a theatrical release for Soul, which I think would have benefitted from the cinema experience. However, it seems bizarre that now cinemas are open, they wouldn’t have at least some sort of theatrical release for Luca.
The film’s director, Enrico Casarosa, is making his feature debut with this film after nearly twenty years of working in animation. Luca follows the growing friendship between a human boy and an amphibious creature disguised as one. It looks like it draws inspiration from many stories and films, most obviously being The Little Mermaid. It visually reminds me of Studio Ghibli’s Ponyo because of the story and setting and Porco Rosso, which takes place in coastal Italy. Both films have beautiful backdrops, and I think Luca looks equally stunning despite being in a different type of animation. What do you think, Alex?
Alex: Apprehension would probably also be my perspective on Luca. As you noted, it holds obvious parallels with Ghibli films and much of the discourse surrounding the film has related to those parallels. That being said, it’s unlikely that the main audience for this film (children and parents) would be deterred by any similarities to Ghibli films. As you noted, it is a little odd that Luca will not be receiving a theatrical release. It’s even weirder to consider that it will be two years from the release of Onward that Pixar will have its next theatrical release (Turning Red, March 11, 2022).
But maybe that’s not a detriment to the studio or Disney. The critical success of Soul and high viewership numbers (and keep in mind, merchandise sold at Disney stores generates a more than substantial sum of revenue and merchandise sales often correlate with viewership) may suggest that more profit is to be obtained by premiering the film on Disney+ rather than a traditional theatrical release. Along with Loki, The Bad Batch, and High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, Luca‘s release might be the critical mass in entertainment needed to retain Disney+ subscribers this summer.
Hypotheticals aside, the last time I doubted a Pixar film, Coco, the film became one of my favorites from the studio. I want to wait and see what Luca can do.
The last contemporary release for this month’s Most Anticipated is Christian Petzold‘s Undine. Petzold has made a reputation for his thought-provoking romances and Undine looks to build upon the director’s filmography. Like his most recent film Transit, Undine stars Paula Beer and Franz Rogowski. Beer plays a historian whose lover (Rogowski) leaves her. It becomes destiny that she must kill he who had betrayed her and return to the water, corresponding to an ancient myth. At the Berlin International Film Festival, Beer won the Silver Bear for Best Actress and it’s become clear that Petzold is building a body of work with Beer and Rogowski, just as he did with frequent collaborators Nina Hoss and Ronald Zehrfeld.
Ian: Petzold is another director I don’t have too much experience of, and I missed the chance to watch Undine last year, so hopefully, I will catch it now. It sounds like it has an intriguing twist on the romance genre with the involvement of ancient mythical elements along with the aspect of added revenge.
The final release I would like to look at is the arrival of the Criterion restoration, The Human Condition. Directed by Masaki Kobayashi, it follows a Japanese pacifist who has his ideals challenged during Japanese war-time. I took the time to watch all six parts, which are put into a trilogy during lockdown last year. Some might say it was perhaps not the wisest decision to watch something so hard-hitting during a time of struggle but despite its length, the whole series of films is quite captivating.
Alex: With a title like The Human Condition and subject matter relating to surviving World War II, I’m not surprised at all to hear that the film is hard-hitting. The Criterion Collection previously restored the Kobayashi film in 2009, with the Blu-ray restoration including improved audio, most notably, and picture quality. There’s not too much in terms of special features compared to other Criterion titles we’ve featured in this column; however, cinephiles are no doubt pleased to have a Criterion-restored edition of The Human Condition come to Blu-ray.