As the 49th Chicago International Film Festival draws to a close, Heave features editor Dominick Suzanne-Mayer is there bringing you his last batch of reviews. It’s been a thrill covering again, and we intend to return next year for the festival’s half-century anniversary. Thanks for following our coverage, and stay tuned to Heave for ever more film writing throughout the rest of the year and beyond.
(Editor’s note: Due to a disappeared press badge, the final part of our coverage is brief in comparison to the rest.)
Where, oh where, to begin with this one. For some time now, onetime-master filmmaker Dario Argento has been on the decline, in no small part because of his continued casting of his daughter (Asia, who’s the latest Lucy Kisslinger here), who’s an appealing but rather dull leading lady. The tale of the tragic count seems a characteristic, if oddly rote, turn for the auteur, and what’s perhaps most distressing about his approach to Dracula 3D is how little he brings to it. His usually lustrous colors are surprisingly muted here, supplanted by small-village greys and browns. There’s little to what’s essentially one big Hammer throwback that the old British studio didn’t already touch on: biting as a fetishistic act, Dracula as both dapper monster and tragic hero, chesty women in every female role. The biggest tweaks include the total non-entity status of Jonathan Harker and some too-brief spurts of Argentoian madness, including but not limited to Dracula turning into a gigantic praying mantis in one scene for no discernible reason. Were the film a campier (and again, more Hammer-esque) affair from the start, it might be a better time. As it stands, though, Argento commits the greatest sin of all when adapting Dracula: it’s forgettable, and for the most part quite dull.
Tsai Ming-liang’s latest film is the sort of dense, heavily interpretative work that’s only going to give you, as a viewer, as much as you’re willing to put in. Ming-Liang has been outspoken of late about his waning interest in cinema as a traditional narrative medium, so it stands to reason that Stray Dogs is as elusive and dense a film as you’ll see this year. Little detail is given beyond the barest basics: An alcoholic man works as a “sign guy” on the streets of Taipei while barely making enough to house or feed his two young children. Ming-liang works heavily in sparse long takes; one 11-minute shot sees the father suffocating, embracing, and despondently eating a cabbage with a face painted onto it, while another even longer shot late in the film sees two adult figures contemplating a mural for over 13 minutes in total silence. While Ming-liang manages some true moments of poignance and resonance, particularly in the moments when he best captures the desperation and perpetual anguish of bottom-barrel urban poverty, most of Stray Dogs functions less as a film than as a running art exhibit, the sort in which the onus is on the viewer to take away what they will.
Stranger By The Lake
By the end of Alain Guiraudie’s Stranger By The Lake, you may find yourself wondering if that name is in reference to any of the many strange men Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) encounters by the titular lake, or whether the title exists more in reference to a state of being, the surreal insular universe created by the handful of men who come to the same French lake on a daily basis to cruise. Guiraudie fuses moments of deadpan humor with an increasing atmosphere of dread, particularly when Franck is beguiled by Michel (Christophe Paou), a handsome and clearly dangerous fellow whose endowments and aura of mystery begin to overwhelm Franck’s better nature. Though the film’s hard turn into Hitchcockian suspense late in the game feels more than a bit tone-deaf, there’s a lot to take away from Stranger By The Lake, particularly its graphic sexuality as a whole. Used as everything from a means of humiliation to a weapon to, on occasion, a mechanism for human ecstasy, Stranger By The Lake uses sex the way more films should: without making a gigantic fuss about it.