Kotoko, slow talking mirrors and Brazilian snuff

That’s the joy of a festival, the sheer international diversity. In Rotterdam the focus on young directors and cinema in non-developing countries brings an always interesting programme of hits and misses. Yesterday I saw three very different films. One of them I had picked beforehand. I really wanted to know what you get when the man who made this and this collaborated with the woman who made this. I’m not getting in review mode here, but I will say this.

KOTOKO is a deafening and utterly beautiful attack on the senses that you have to experience. Brutal and confusing but beautiful. From the first intense minutes of an incessantly crying baby. Through the intense delicate attempts of the mother to make contact with her boy, the impossibility of cooking a meal with a wok whilst holding a child and the extreme beatings and torture the mother and her lover (played by director Shin’ya Tsukamoto himself) endure.  Up until the serene and almost mute ending in the psychiatric institution.

Beautifully acted as well. Japanese singer Cocco is fantastic in her feature debut. She’s not only highly convincing and authentic in her role as mentally sick young mother, but she brings her qualities as a singer with her. There’s quite a lot of singing including a great scene where she sings for her lover, but it’s never a “piece”. Rather it enhances her performance, it accentuates her soft sides as a loving woman. This quality of using the performing qualities of  a singer who as an actress plays a mental patient  you will just not see in….let’s say any movie nominated this year for the Academy Awards.

Director Shin’ya Tsukamoto praised his lead highly afterwards in the Q&A session with Tom Mes, editor of Midnight Eye (get your email conscription now!) and author of a book on Tsukamoto. No wonder as KOTOKO has been a project where Tsukamoto and Cocco were highly committed to. They know each other for quite some time with Tsukamoto directing several of her video clips. Last year she trusted him enough to make a film with him. And that’s what happened. They made a film together, she was not just turning up for work. Cocco also co-produced and also dressed the (from time to time fantastic) sets with stuff from her own. Out of health concerns (due to this very exacting role and care for her “day job”) she only acted on a 9 to 5 basis, but was involved with all aspects of the production at all hours.

For Tsukamoto it was also a return to form. For the first time in seven years he was able to give the film his undivided attention. Tsukamoto’s trademark is that he does everything. He directs, acts, edits, is the cameraman and he produces. It’s this ability and control that makes him such an idiosyncratic filmmaker. The last seven years he chose to focus on the directorial aspects of filmmaking and let others help with the others, as he took care of his sick mother. I don’t hold these productions in lesser esteem of course, VITAL for instance was quite something, but I’m happy Tsukamoto is back on all cylinders. He demonstrated this replying to a possible silly question of yours truly “Why at the start of the movie he was sitting down at the top of the stairs of the Luxor theatre in stead of taking one of the reserved chairs?” His answer was that such was the best spot to listen to the sound of the screening. Furthermore that spot was close to the soundmixer. After listening for a few minutes he asked the man to put up the sound a notch before taking up his reserved seating. Complete Control. Nice Q&A that was. Unfortunately the extended talk caused me to miss L’APOLLONIDE by Bertrand Bonello.


My other two screenings were not planned, but I always like to moderate my intake of Japanese and Korean movies with something Spanish or Russian. Not a lot of Spanish and Russian productions to choose from this year, so I took my chances with CORNELIA FRENTE AL ESPEJO (Cornelia At Her Mirror) and SNUFF – VITIMAS DO PRAZER (Snuff – Victims Of Pleasure) .

Daniel Rosenfeld and Eugenia Capizzano, Rotterdam February 27th 2011

Cornelia is the feature debut of Argentinian director Daniel Rosenfeld. It’s an adaptation of a book of Silvina Ocampo. I’m afraid this was too much for me. Outside it was snowing in Rotterdam with a subzero temperature, inside the Cinerama it was very hot. Not readily acclimatized, I suffered badly under the slow pace and the Latin literary mythology. In other words, I almost fell asleep three or four times, so left early. Even a a possible Q&A with Rosenfeld and the beautiful Eugenia Capizzano who Cornelia could not tempt me to stay.

SNUFF is a curiosity that was shown in the mini programme THE MOUTH OF GARBAGE – SUBCULTURE AND SEX IN SAO PAULO 1967-1987, in a word Brazilian exploitation. It’s directed by Claudio Francisco Cunha in 1977. Of course I went because of the title. As it turned out this particular entry was even more a curiosity than some others in the programme as the only available print is a reconstitution of some older prints who were stored in very hot and humid conditions as surprisingly (IRONY!) nobody seems to care in Brazil about these films. Nevertheless this picture was amazingly a big success in its time, selling over 4 million tickets! The magnetic sound tapes have been lost as well, so the sound came from “subsidiary” materials. I’m glad I’ve seen it, as the chance I’m able to see it another time seem remote. Not easy to describe this one. I was tempted by the remark in the festival notes it was WILLIAM CASTLE-like. I’m afraid that’s very euphemistic if appropriate at all. I guess it was a mix of a Tiroler sex movie, quickly shot in a flat Brazilian area but with even less sex, some light humour at the expense of American cultural imperialism and a handful of racial stereotypes. Kept me awake though, colourful, a brisk directorial pace and the strange luminous green patterns made by mould and fungus on the print made it even more lively. Mix that with a funky red Ford Mustang hatchback and a leading actor, HUGO BIDET as Michael, with one of those faces you think you have seen many times but haven’t and you have as good as an ending to this year’s festival as you can get.


Talking as a collector of movie posters, some of the posters looked quite tasty. Don’t mind finding me a few of those. As with most exploitation titles the artwork is more outrageous than the actual films.

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