Uncanny valley

We couldn’t wait for Paris’ l’Étrange Festival. We expected to be astonished, taken aback, confused, and weren’t disappointed in that matter. The movies we’ve seen all made strong narrative and formal choices, and allowed us to dive into unusual and strange worlds, sometimes even to disturb and upset us, but most often to our delight and wonder. Let’s review two of those that hold a special place in our memory : Tangerine by Sean Baker, and Love & Peace by Shion Sono, seen and loved by Leon.

Tangerine

Tangerine-Sundance-Film-Festival

Out of the screening, I was surprised to hear harsh criticism from a few viewers around me, while I still was completely enraptured by the charm of Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor), two black transgender women walking down the streets of L.A. for a night, just like Cléo did in Agnès Varda’s Cléo from 5 to 7. We don’t care about the script : Sin-Dee’s back after 28 days behind bars, and she finds out her boyfriend Chester (James Ransone…. or Ziggy Sobotka from The Wire !) cheated on her. She sets her mind on finding her rival, one Dinah (or is it Dana, or Désirée ?), and take her with to confront the cheater. All the while, poor Alexandra, the best friend of fearless Sin-Dee who clumsily and involuntarily told on Chester, tries to calm things down and prep for the concert where she has to perform a few hours later.

Nothing out of the ordinary up to this point, but the movie is like no other. We won’t reveal why it’s named Tangerine, but the actresses’ dashing style, the camera’s (an iPhone 5S) swooping whirls and an upbeat score give it an electric atmosphere and a crazy humor. Choosing an iPhone, of course, gives the images a peculiar aspect, unusual and familiar all at once – far from the Super 8 or DV looks. We can only imagine that movies, in 20 years or more, will use this picture quality to relate nostalgia and memories. Beyond its fun and energetic outlook, the movie also shows great emotion and its characters are very endearing, even when they’re diving headfirst into a disaster. It’s only the intrusion of transphobia near the end that brings us back to reality. After seeing these women stroll and spin and shout and sing and live their lives, we’re even more hurt and shocked by a violent act and insults flowing, and we feel anger towards those who have apparently understood nothing, don’t know anything and certainly didn’t take the time to get to know Sin-Dee like us.

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Love & Peace

Shion Sono, whose work I very gladly discovered during the festival, is one of the craziest directors ever. He’s truly an absurd poet and a wacky master, a regular of the Etrange Festival. So it’s quite difficult to talk about Love & Peace. Let’s just say you can expect an employee befriending a tiny turtle, a cynical cat, a magical candy pot, a turtle looking for glory on a Monopoly board, a kidnapping operated by a punk rock band, Santa’s workshop down in the sewers of Tokyo, a turtle composing hits when it makes books fall down, an abandoned robot, songs against the atomic bomb and the olympics, a J-rock star in a glittery outfit, a giant turtle singing lullabies in a stadium. Surreal.

Love & Peace is one of three Sion Sono films screening as part of this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival. Credit: Fantasia.

Through all this, Shion Sono criticizes in a light and naive way the excess of our consumerist culture, of wastefulness and unsustainability. His work is completely extravagant, a eclectic mix of genres – from romcom to kaijy eiga – but ripe with a new, delightful energy.

Translated by Magui.

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