Tuesday, May 2, 2017
Gather round, my dear readers. Did you happen to know that there's an Egyptian remake of The Rocky Horror Picture Show containing Dracula as the villain, and heavy satire on Egyptian economics of the 1980s?...Why are you staring at me like that?...
The young couple Ali and Mona are headed for a party when their car gets a flat tire. Stuck in the pouring rain and without a spare, the two lovers decide to trek through the bad weather to a house they passed by in hopes of using the telephone. Things are immediately off though, with this eerie house being filled with strange music, and bizarre people. Soon, the lord of the house awakens-Count Dracula! Whatever he could possibly want with Mona and Ali, one can be sure it's not good...
The 1981 film Anyab comes from director and writer Mohammed Shebl, and co-writers Hassn Abd-Raboo and Tarek Sharara, and is largely a remake of the famous cult musical The Rocky Horror Picture Show. For the first couple of acts, this is a really faithful remake, recreating several scenes, and using similar songs in similar places. The Criminologist is even present as the narrator. Differences and deviations start popping up soon enough though, and one of them is actually a lack of deviancy! A lot of what's in Rocky Horror probably wouldn't have gotten past the local censors of the time, and thus all of the transvestitism, homosexuality, incest, etc are gone, and replacing Frank-N-Furter is Count Dracula! Yes, really! Well, better than showing a watered down and tame version of Frankie, I guess, but it's a weird addition! On top of all that, it's about halfway through the movie when the really strange happens. But more on that later.
Delving further into the Rocky Horror connection, this is definitely a remake rather than a ripoff. A presumably unauthorised one, but a remake for sure. There's even a moment where there's a visual nod to the 1975 film. A little unsubtle, but at least it's showing its inspiration upfront. As for the context, the Egyptian populace of the time might not necessarily have been familiar with some of what Rocky Horror homaged, but they were familiar with other bits of Western pop culture, and Fangs showcases or lampoons them in similar ways to, say, Charles Atlas in RHPS. This is most prominent in a fight scene near the end that riffs on the 60s Batman Series. As for the use of Dracula, that actually makes sense in an odd sort of way. He is from Transylvania after all...
Some more omissions from the original are Rocky and that entire Frankenstein narrative, Eddie and Dr. Scott, as well as Magenta and Columbia. Really, Fangs almost stops being a remake as soon as Dracula first shows up. One the other end of the spectrum, Shebl may not have been able to actually recreate them with the censors breathing down his necks, but he does deliver a subtle but noticeable nod to the dual bedroom scenes.
Onto the story, it's not all that great. It starts off well, but it really starts to drag a bit after Dracula's first mention. There's a lot of music playing, and it is nice but it feels like it should lead up to something, like a big musical number, and it never does. We just see the partygoers dancing, and dancing, and dancing, and dancing, while every now and then we see Dracula sloooowly getting out of his coffin. Things briefly liven up, but only for Drac to sing a song, so still not story progression. Following that is a dinner scene, and it's not bad, but there's not a great deal of dialogue, and this bogs the proceedings down quite a bit. If we're nearly 40 minutes in, you need hurry up and tell the story already!
Then comes the second half, and boy do things take one hell of a downturn here! This is the point when the movie decides to be satirical, and shows random vignettes of everyday people being screwed over by real life vampires in the form of money grubbing salesmen, taxi drivers, tutors, doctors, etc. (all starring the leads in various different roles, with Dracula always being the victimiser). Firstly, these scenes are pretty clumsy, all coming right after the other in a barrage, only cutting back to the 'Criminologist' laughing hysterically for a few seconds before moving right on to the next one, etc. They get tiring very quickly, and they never end! This part of the movie lasts a painful 17 minutes! May not sound like much, but when there's a new vignette every 2 minutes, it feels way longer. It's hard to overstate how much this move completely kills the tone of the movie, as well as any connection to Rocky Horror. What had come before was so faithful, which makes the diversions that much more bizarre!
Once that's over and done with, the movie FINALLY gets back to the plot, and at this stage I was pissed off, all my good will for the film having been burnt out. To pull me back in, it'd have to work extra hard! Thankfully, it does! The last half hour of the movie is by far the best, with the story coming together, some neat character progression, and a great finale! Not only is the climax really well-handled in the visual and effects departments, but the ending is a pretty sweet one too, spending time wrapping the movie up at its own pace, with beautiful visuals, like when the young lovers are happily running together in a sparse landscape, and as the camera pulls back, we see pyramids in the distance.
I bet you're eagerly wondering what the music is like in Fangs, and how it compares to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. At first it's as abundant in musical numbers as the original, as it speeds along with the opening track right into a Dammit Janet analogue, and a There's a Light one a short time afterwards. There's a bit of a lull following this, and any Rocky fan will be expecting a Time Warp style rendition, but it never comes, and the next song takes nearly 20 minutes to arrive. The interlude really takes the wind from the movie's musical sails, but it's able to get back on its feet with three further tracks in the final act.
The songs themselves are quite good! Some of them I liked plenty, while others not as much. The biggest issue pretty much all of them face is the repetition of lyrics to pad the tunes out. This isn't so much a problem in some songs like Where's the Light, or Everything Looks Like Everything, not because it's not present, but because those songs flow better with the lyrics in that style. Meanwhile, the repetition is at its worst in the I Can Be So Ruthless number. It does have some good lyrics, and it doesn't sound bad, but there's just a little too much filler.
The remainder of the score is positively groovy! I applaud the composers of this movie.
While most of the soundtrack is original, there's some lifted music present, but for parody purposes, such as using the James Bond theme when a plumber arrives to fix a problem during the satire interlude. That works. The Clockwork Orange theme when we're back to the actual somewhat serious movie though? Not so much! At least that fits better than the William Tell Overture that plays a bit later! At least I think that's in the public domain.
It's hard to describe this movie's genre in a way. It's of course mainly a horror and a musical, but no normal horror flicks get interrupted by economic lecturing on financial instability for half an hour. Is it a comedy? Maybe, but the satire scenes aren't funny-They're more matter-of-fact. There are a couple of amusing lines in the rest of the film, but any levity comes about more from the somewhat deliberately goofy nature of the setting and genre trappings. Certain scenes are actually aided by the movie being more of a horror. The made-up vampire extras actually succeed in being legitimately a bit spooky due to their blank stares and lack of dialogue. The dinner scene has a sense of unease, though it doesn't end with quite as much punch as Rocky Horror.
The effects are for the most part really quite good, especially in the finale! I don't want to spoil too much, but it gets full on 'climax of Evil Dead' there! The fangs look pretty good too, which is always an import part about vampire movies. If they look unconvincing, the movie as a whole can suffer. I'm particularly impressed they managed to craft fangs that would both look convincing, and not impede the singers! The costuming and make-up all looks great (and suitably glam rock-ish), as does the set design for most of the movie. The spooky house looks convincingly spooky, if a little too well-lit in a couple of rooms, like Dracula's tomb. One amusing effect is for the red lips at the beginning. Either the filmmakers were unable to accomplish that image from Rocky Horror, or just didn't know how, so they painted the rest of the actor's face black to try and manage it DIY style!
The actors in Fangs do a decent enough job, with some better than others, and they can all sing well. Ali El-Haggar and Mounna Gbbr (how on earth do you pronounce that surname?!) are fine as the happy all-American (or should I say all-Egyptian) couple. By the way, El-Haggar has quite a unique and odd face! Ahmed Adawiyya didn't really impress me as Dracula. His performance as the Count seemed a bit...I don't know, petulant?
Onto the 'prominent black guy' as I knew him for the movie, since he's never named, played by Tal'tt Zean. From the moment I saw him I hoped he was playing Dracula, as he's much more visually interesting, and a fine actor. Thankfully he does still play a pretty sizeable role in the movie, even if it takes a while before the story gets around to that. And finally, the guy playing the criminologist, Hassan Al Imam, is ok, until he has to laugh! He's pretty terrible and annoying then, like he's really overdoing it! Haddey Saddekk is decent as the beleaguered hunchback servant Shalash, seeming like more set dressing at first but getting time to shine in the final act.
While I've gone over all the Rocky Horror similarities, there's one very interesting and no doubt completely coincidental parallel to Shock Treatment! There are a few moments where we hear the spooky gust of wind. That same kind of ambient noise was a subtle but recurring motif of Shock Treatment, and potentially one of its more fascinating aspects, depending on how much you like reading into things. Like I said, this is probably just happenstance. I imagine that even if Shock Treatment had been released before this was (it came out in the same year), there's no way the Egyptians would've seen it. After all, the Americans didn't see the dang film, due to its awful mismarketing!
One last thing to discuss is the man behind this oddity-Mohammed Shebl. He was a director passionate about the horror genre, and sought to make his own, but they were frowned upon in Egypt at the time, and had trouble when it came to censorship. Sheble managed to overcome all these hurdles and deliver a horror film that passed all scrutiny, and was released just fine. Sadly it wasn't a success, and Shebl wasn't able to make a great deal of movies before his untimely death in 1996 at the age of 47, but he at least gave/gifted the world with four. Fangs (Anyab), The Talisman (Al-Ta'weeza), The Nightmare (Kaboos), and Love and Revenge...With a Meat Cleaver (Gharam Wa-Intiqam... Bis-Satur). I hope to watch them all soon, and I hope the genre is flourishing in Egyptian cinema now.
All in all, Fangs is an extremely promising Egyptian horror film, but it very nearly falls apart halfway through. I highly recommend watching the movie, at the least as a bizarre artifact, but I also recommend skipping the satire section. Watch it some time afterwards if you like, but don't let it break up the movie for you and ruin the experience!
Sunday, April 30, 2017
After the huge success of the 2004 Turkish science fiction comedy G.O.R.A., a sequel was probably inevitable, but it took a good four years for the follow-up A.R.O.G. to come about. Potentially an optimistic sign, as it could mean the writers were working extra long and hard to deliver the best they could. Does it succeed? Let's see...
Turkish salesmen Arif is living comfortable with his beautiful alien wife Ceku, when his old enemy Logar shows up, seemingly wishing to make peace, and bless Arif and Ceku's marriage. This turns out to be a ruse, however, and Logar traps Arif and sends him to the distant past, while making himself up to look identical to his foe in order to abscond with Ceku. Arif, one million years into the past, has to work out what to do, and after a period of uncertainty and depression, he comes across a human civilization. This community of peaceful cavepeople, the Arog, are oppressed by a neighbouring tribe, and Arif, along with Crow, the rebellious and artful son of the villainous tribe's leader, strive to liberate the land, and get Arif back home...
A.R.O.G. is an example of a good sequel in one sense, but not so much in another. It has little to do with the first movie besides the main character, and what gets him sent to the past, which works both for it, and against the movie. On the negative side is that there's no Gora, or even any sci-fi elements (bar the framing), characters like 216, Bob Marley Faruk, Garavel, and more are nowhere to be seen, while the ones who do return are only present in the opening and closing minutes. Where it does work in how the series so far is kinda akin to the Tourist Ömer franchise, wherein the same lead character is in a wildly different location each movie. In that sense, it's like an anthology comedy, starring the same everyman lead Arif as each movie does something new, and that's something to be appreciated, as it means the film isn't just a retread of the first.
The film is also over two hours, but doesn't feel overlong. A few minutes could definitely have been trimmed, but as it is, the movie's not boring. Moving onto the story in its own right, it's fine. Not the most original of tales, but it's told in a way that feels fresh and enjoyable. The characters are fun, the conflict well-written, and the final standoff might be a bit too goofy for some with its anachronistic nature, but I didn't have too much of a problem with it. My biggest gripe was with the resolution for the bad tribe, which seemed a little too brief.
The humour in A.R.O.G. mostly lands. Thee are many funny lines, moments, and gags, as well as some amusing pop-culture references here and there. They don't feel too forced, seeing as how Arif would be exactly the kind of person you'd expect to spout them. As for the visual pop-culture jokes, the 2001 one felt a little obvious, but the Ghost-style pottery scene was hilarous. Perhaps my favourite gag in the film was Arif's bizarrely inaccurate concept of time travel, wherein he thinks if he advances prehistoric culture to a modern technological level, that'll make time catch up to the present.
The acting here is all pretty fun, with many good performances, especially from Cem Yilmaz. Özge Özberk is nice in her relatively brief but important role, and other returning actors from G.O.R.A. like Ozan Güven are nearly unrecognizable from the previous film. New actors to the series, such as Nil Karaibrahimgil, do fine jobs too. No real complaints about the acting, though I don't yet understand Turkish, so maybe a not-so-good performance flew past my radar. I'm sure there aren't any though.
The effects here look pretty good! The locations and sets are great, looking convincingly caveman-ish. Or at least, Hollywood caveman-ish. The make-up and costuming is all realized well. There's some CGI present, and it's not too bad. The biggest computer effects are a couple of prehistoric beasties, and they're clearly CG, but they don't look awful or anything, and are kept to a minimum. Onto the soundtrack, it's ok, and serves its purpose well.
One amusing little aside. A.R.O.G. is reportedly one of the most expensive Turkish movies ever made. While it of course doesn't look bad or cheap in the slightest, at first I was surprised that a film looking like this could have such a seemingly high budget!...uuuuntil I realized this is one of the most expensive Turkish movies ever made, which doesn't necessarily mean the budget was 450 million dollars, or something like that.
While not as good as G.O.R.A., A.R.O.G. is still quite a funny movie, and just like its predecessor a nice example of modern Turkish cinema. It also did super well at the local box-office! Until recently it seemed like this was the end of the series, but coming next year I believe is Arif V 216. Well that's a sequel that certainly took a long time! Hopefully it's as good a follow up as this is, and there are no diminishing returns. I remain optimistic, and I recommend A.R.O.G....
Policeman Enver, his girlfriend Meral, and friend Orhan, are investigating two nefarious cadres of villains trying to locate a hidden store of uranium. Also becoming involved in the search/quest for justice is Murat, son of a murdered archeologist. Together, these four heroes must defeat the evil Zakoff, and Fu Manchu, before Turkey is taken over, the world to follow!...
Demir Yumruk: Devler Geliyor, aka Iron Fist: The Giants are Coming is a gloriously pulpy action flick, telling a brief but mostly satisfying story of revenge and superheroics. The film sits at a snug 70 minutes long, and doesn't wear out its welcome, is relatively easy to watch in unsubtitled Turkish (*raises hand*), and hosts plenty of cool visuals, from Fu Manchu's traps, to the gas mask henchmen, and more that I won't spoil.
The plot is where Demir Yumruk kinda falls down. Even knowing the plot is about these parties searching for a cache of uranium, that doesn't make the events much clearer. In fact it actually seems to muddy them up even more. Why are there coffins with large crucifix segments, decoy coffins in the ocean, secret priests, and a cave the secret cross doesn't lead to, containing a second-hand knife stuck into a wall, that once removed causes a cave-in, and that's it. I'm not sure if understanding the language would make this plot any clearer! Moving on to the biggest issue with the plot is how the second half is a rather endless cycle of the characters being kidnapped, escaping confinement only to immediately be captured by the other villains, escape again, and be captured by the first baddies, etc!
The climax turns out well, but there's not really much in the way of a denouement, or even so much as a parting word. Enver defeats Fu Manchu, his girlfriend says 'Oh, Enver!', and everyone walks off into the sunset! Oh well, at least we got that much. It's actually kinda surprising how long the movie lingers on that final image, rather than show it for just a split second before cutting to Son. Perhaps the director was proud of how it looked? If so, he had good reason! It's a nice ending shot, even if it does grate on you that the characters barely said a word to each-other after the villains were dispatched.
The pacing is pretty good, minus the kidnapping problem, but there's one somewhat important thing the movie forgets for the first 37 minutes. Actually showing the superhero! I'm not kidding! It's halfway through the movie before we suddenly realize there's a costumed crimefighter present, and even then, his costume is pretty optional. After we first see him in it, Enver wears the outfit pretty consistently, but it's completely missing in the final 10 or so minutes.
Demir Yumruk's script may be lacking in certain areas, but the fun action and distinctive cast manage to mostly save the movie. There are loads of distinctive characters present here from the superhero lead, to the iron-clawed henchman and his scarred boss who wields a mitten gun, as well as Fu Manchu himself, who's a disabled transvestite! I was a little confused if he was intended to be a crossdresser, or transgender, but it seems like the former. As for how it's handled, yeah, it's good! The villain of this movie just so happens to be both these things, commanding fear and respect, which is a neat bit of representation that's still rarely seen nowadays! The other heroes are entertaining too. The comic relief Orhan isn't afraid to get into the fray, and gets an incredibly ballsy moment early on, when the iron claw guy uses said arm to strike him for insolence, and he catches it without even flinching! He looked at the thug with the friggin' metal death machine for an arm and thought "Hmmph, I can take him", and he's right! The girlfriend Meral is captured a lot, but that doesn't mean the movie is sexist towards her, because everyone gets captured in this movie! She also gets to throw down plenty too, and does enough that she's like a superhero in her own right!
Now, you may be asking, does ever this foreign 'ripoff' manage to break the cycle of yellowface and cast an Asian actor in the role of Fu Manchu? Well, not in the way you think, but it kinda does. The actor playing him is Caucasian or Middle Eastern (hard to tell in black-and-white), and at first I was of course weirded out by this, but then after a bit of thinking I realized it actually makes perfect sense. After all, if, say, an American white guy is playing an ethnically Chinese character, that's BS, but Turkey is actually partly in Asia, so even if they don't look it by appearance, a homegrown Turkish dude could totally conceivably play an Asian character, because that's what they are.
The movie mostly looks fine for what it is, with some impressively staged scenes, though there are a couple of amusing budget snafus, like the hilarious moment involving a jail cell bars that obviously weren't attached to a wall (or even anywhere near one) when the super tough hero rips them away. There was also another funny moment not caused by budget issue, but just general unintentional hilaroty, when Enver leaps off a ledge onto a moving car with a soft material top, and no-one inside hears or sees the impact! Then there's when Enver and Murat are beset by thugs while working out in the gym. They beat them up, then as the baddies are still either out cold on the floor or fleeing the scene, the two heroes have a good laugh and decide to immediately go to the showers! Naturally this goes about as well as you'd expect, with them being captured, though by other villains, but still!
Moving onto the costume, it's...interesting! It's a darker costume with a hood/cowl, and a Superman logo! There's also a Batman logo on the belt, because I guess the Turks couldn't get enough superheroes
The acting seems pretty decent, with the villains having the most fun, like Altan Günbay as the scarred crimelord Zakof, and Kayhan Yildizoglu makes for an entertaining and unique Fu Manchu, even if he doesn't hold a candle to the likes of Boris Karloff or Christopher Lee (though who does?). Something interesting to note is that he apparently speaks in an old Turkish dialect for his role!
Tunç Basaran's direction is surprisingly good for a film of its type, far from being a point-and-shoot affair. There are many well-framed and choreographed scenes.
Lifted music is common in the scoring of these older Turkish films, and this is seemingly no exception, though I'm unsure of the provenance of said tracks. They're pretty good, though the really good one isn't first used until the final 10 minutes. I'm impressed they were able to wait that long, but given it's the best piece of music in the movie, I wish it'd popped up sooner.
Demir Yumruk: Devler Geliyor isn't a great movie, but as both a bit of pulp fun, as well as a cultural artifact of Turkish cinema, it's well worth a watch, and it's certainly one of the better films of its type that I've seen, and I've seen plenty!...
If there's one thing the world can't get enough of, it's Jean Rollin movies, and ones inspired by his works! Today I'll be looking at the new Canadian homage Blood of the Tribades, and see if the blood is indeed the life (and later on read other reviews, and realize I probably wasn't the first by any means to make that joking send-off remark)...
In a strange world, 2000 years after the great vampire god Bathor blessed the land, things have gone wrong. The men have taken control and perverted the word of their god, using it to subjugate the women and slaughter all they deem unfit in the eyes of Bathor. Struck by mysterious disease, they swear to not rest until all 'sinners' are gone. Elsewhere, in a communion of women lives two young women, Élizabeth and Fantine, who manage to escape the hecatomb brought by the men, with the help of a group of liberated female vampires who have been biding their time for 2000 years for a singular purpose...
Blood of the Tribades is quite an interesting film! The plot is a more low-key one, and it's often vague, but never to the point where you don't know what's going on. I partially wish we'd know a little more about what was going on as these characters inhabit such a fascinating world, but we learn juuuust enough to sate us. Barely though! I'm glad we learn what we did, otherwise I'd be pissed!
This movie is beautiful! Utilizing both the beauty of natural locations mixed with secluded and sometimes dilapidated older buildings, Blood of the Tribades looks truly stunning, and in this you can definitely see the inspiration. Jean Rollin's movies get lots of flack, but a lot of that I feel is unjustified. The guy's direction and eye for visuals was marvellous and breathtaking, and that's at least worth something. It's lovely to see that there are people inspired by his movies, and enough to make their own like them, rather than just hate on them.
The characters are interesting, though the vague script leaves them somewhat unexplored. We get a little interesting history, and see that the vampire women have lived for so long but forgotten much of their lives as they suffer in complacency, their true lives shrouded in a fog of lost memory. Great stuff, but perhaps the two female leads didn't get quite enough to do early on. Thankfully they make up for that in the last act. As for the remaining characters, the two liberated women were good, but a bit underwritten/unexplored. The twins were a super fun addition, too! My favourite characters in the film by far.
The villains were definitely an uncomfortably realistic bunch of monsters, and well-deserving of whatever gruesome fates might befall them. I did find it pretty groanworthy that they were so eager to kill their own dwindling members for the most minor of infractions, but that's not a mark against the movie, as religious zealots are indeed fucking psycho idiots. The cured guy, however, was terminally stupid for his actions!
There are some interesting themes here on identity, and feminism in the face of internalized misogyny. All in all, this is not a happy story by any means. This doesn't make it hard to watch though. It's just a bit depressing at times, and getting attached to any characters is a bit risky.
The film's catchphrase/mantra of 'The blood is the life' is an oft repeated one, but never to an annoying degree, and never becomes too repetitive, though it comes close. Other dialogue is well-written, and aaaalmost comes across as sounding pretentious, but not quite, and is nicely evocative.
The effects present are mostly really good! The fangs are convincing, and not akin to paper. There's a fantastic eye slitting sequence that's only sliiiightly undercut by the Wilhelm scream. That didn't amuse me very much, though your mileage may vary. One effect I was almost ready to criticize was a scarring one, where it just looked like the actresses were smearing fake blood on their bodies with a knife and calling it a wound...But then blood emerged from the fresh 'wounds'! Either they really cut themselves, or that was a really convincing effect! I'm curious how they managed it. The same is true for many of the other effects, including the diseased make-up for the men. There's a little CGI in a couple of scenes, and it's not too bad, or very distracting. Noticeable, but not distracting.
My biggest grievance with the film if you could call it that is the movie being in English, and with Canadian accents to boot (it sounding mostly American being the issue), but even this didn't bother me much, partly just because I got used to it, but mainly due to a very interesting linguistic shift halfway through the movie!
The acting in Blood of the Tribades is mixed. Some of the performers are really good, such as Seth Chatfield as the lead antagonist, Tymisha 'Tush' Harris, and I quite liked Simone de Boudoir. Chloé Cunha and Mary Widow carry their parts well. Other performances aren't quite as good, with somewhat kinda sorta...unconvincing deliveries, but none of them are that bad.
Writers, directors, and producers Sophia Cacciola and Michael J Epstein do a great job on all grounds, with the direction being impressive, and showing great visuals in many places!
Musically, this is very good! The score is a subtle one, but with many nice tracks, and general spookiness, and ethereal...ness.
Being inspired by the lesbian vampire fare of the 70s, there's an abundance of female nudity, and full frontal male nudity too! How often do you EVER see that? Forgetting Sarah Marshall is the only example I can think of where a mainstream film showed that, and I'm surprised that movie even managed to without being shot down and cut by the U.S. censors (because apparently those assholes are still around). Anyway, back to Tribades. It's cool seeing equal opportunity nudity in film, and this is a quality this shares in common with Jean Rollin movies. I'm definitely glad for its presence, because male nudity should be normalised in cinema.
The poster to this movie is a neat one! Not an artstyle commonly seen in film posters, but good nonetheless, depicting the film's imagery and characters well. I also dig the scratchiness, and the familiar font of the title.
To finish, Blood of the Tribades is a really good movie! Not without some flaws, but the positives most certainly outweigh them, and I'm very much looking forward to what Sophia Cacciola and Michael J. Epstein have done in the past, and what they'll do in the future...
It's been far too long since I last watched a film from the Balkan country of Macedonia. The last (and only) I'd seen was Goodbye 20th Century (Zbogum na Dvaesetiot Vek)
Many years ago, blood brothers Seraphim and Vitomir tried escaping Communist-ruled Macedonia (then part of Yugoslavia), but only Vitomir succeeded. Though separated for the rest of their lives, the two remain bound, and on his deathbed, Vitomir asks his son to honour the debt he owes to Seraphim's family if they're ever in trouble. Years later, a small war breaks out in Macedonia, and the peaceful Trendafil Karanfilov has no desire to fight. Despite the efforts of his hostile mother-in-law, Trendafil manages to hide the draft with the help of his devoted wife Ruza, and eventually flee the country for the time being. On the way though, the mother-in-law dies, and Trendafil, unable to secure a burial in the region, buys a carpet to keep her in until Ruza can return home.
However, it's not long before the carpet is stolen, granny and all, and the despondent Trendafil calls up his blood brother, Vitomir's Italian son Santino, for help. The duo then begin their search for the missing carpet, and it's one that will take them all through the scarred regions of the Balkan countries...
Bal-Can-Can is a really fun and involving watch, and shows how good Macedonian cinema can be. It's partly a comedy, of the decidedly black variety, but also an allegory on life in the Balkans, and the state of the region. If you're unfamiliar with it, this is a good piece to watch. You might not pick up on certain things that locals might, but you'll definitely get a feel for the land here, and some of the people in it.
Focusing more on absurd bureaucratics at first, the film takes its time setting the characters and world up before jumping into the road trip. That only begins over half-an-hour in. Not sure how I feel about that, because it makes the film feel like something else before suddenly shifting gears nearly halfway through. At least the set-up is very much fleshed out.
While it starts off as a goofy enough movie, if rooted in a serious location and time, Bal-Can-Can gradually gets darker as it goes on. It's a really good progression, and it was interesting seeing the movie suddenly become very serious (though it mostly never loses the comedy altogether).
Though it gets perhaps a little too dark in the final act. It also got a bit ridiculously action-y, and I felt that took away a bit from the realism of this strange odyssey. It was pretty absurd at times, there were moments of coincidences, or stunning bad or good luck, but the finale really does start to stretch credulity in a way the rest of the film didn't. I also felt that Santino dying didn't add much, or at least, not in the way he died, which felt a bit pointless. On that note, I'm not sure if I like that we know he died from the get-go. On one hand it's quite the spoiler, but on the other hand the framing device of the corpses in the morgue 'chatting' sure is an interesting one!
I definitely enjoyed the characters here. Many are quite exaggerated, as well as more than a little silly. Trendafil is a quiet and resigned protagonist, and isn't very emotive, but that's the point, and his progression is neat, even if it did get a bit over-the-top come the climax. Then there's Santino, a low-life criminal who completely forgot about the promise he made at his father's deathbed about helping his blood brother if they're ever in trouble, but the moment he remembers, he speeds to the Balkans with barely a word, and tries his best to help Trendafil. It's interesting seeing this character grow as the events become more dangerous and serious. Ruza is likeable and somewhat abrasive, leading to many amusing lines, though she disappears from the action once the search for the carpet starts, going back to to Macedonia and only seen again at the very end.
Probably the only weak link is in the villains, not because they're poorly realized, but because they don't really appear much due to the road trip nature of the film. Instead we see the leads meeting various other people on their search, some more deadly than others (even if only to themselves), but the proper villains don't appear until the last 20 minutes, and aren't really fleshed out much. They're just evil gangsters/traffickers. Dzango the Soap is a consistent antagonist, which is good, though he's not the major baddie.
The acting in Bal-Can-Can is really good! We get a variety of performances, some more subdued and others more over-the-top. As for any bad performances, I didn't spot any, but the language barrier would make that a bit hard unless they're visually weak, like if some were wooden.
It was great seeing Vlado Jovanovski getting a lead role. He's a really good actor, and after enjoying his performances in smaller roles, I was glad to see him handling bigger material. He delivers a fine stoic perfermance. Adolfo Margiotta was really good as Santino, and come the end he was like the heart of the movie. Zvezda Angelovska was entertaining, and I especially liked Jelisaveta 'Seka' Sablic as Zumbula the grandmother, and her hilariously hostile relationship with her son-in-law.
Bal-Can-Can's direction is really good, with many beautifully shot scenes, which use the environment to full effect. There are a couple of moments where the editing goes a bit haywire, but those aside, it's put together well.
The score is varied,with a very local sound to it. It starts off pretty fun and peppy, and once the tone starts to shift, it reflects that really well. I wonder if the success of the tonal shift would work even half as well if not for the score, because it lends so much more power to the sudden drama!
I have it on good authority that Macedonians are much like us Australians in that they watch foreign films in their original languages, with subtitles. Yay! Not only that, but whenever there are characters from other countries in this movie, they speak in their respective languages, which I thought was neat! It's a very lingual film, with characters speaking in Macedonian, Italian, Bulgarian, Russian, Albanian, Serbian, etc.
One last thing to note is something any filmgoing Macedonians will no doubt have picked up on-The fact this Darko Mitrevski, writer and director of Bal-Can-Can is also the one behind Goodbye 20th Century. My reaction to this, a little while after seeing the film, was 'WHAT?!'. I swear I didn't seek this movie it based on that! I mean, I would've, had I been aware of it sooner, but I discovered it due to entirely different circumstances, and by coincidence, this just so happens to be created by the same guy behind my favourite Macedonian film! Synchronicity, huh!
Bal-Can-Can is a worthwhile watch, both funny and dark, and a great film I'd recommend to those interested in foreign cinema, particularly if the Balkans are of any interest to you. I hope it doesn't disappoint!...