Fantasia Fest: Day One

3 very different films kicked off the festival and sent me way out there.

What an interesting first day. Right off the bat I started with the hotly anticipated film from noted surrealist director Quentin Dupieux, Incredible But True.

Léa Drucker (left) & Alain Chabat (right) looking incredulous in INCREDIBLE BUT TRUE. Image courtesy of Arrow Films.

Dupieux’s latest approaches its audience in a more restrained and leveled manner, introducing the director’s trademark absurdity ingredient-by-ingredient. As someone who hasn’t exactly fallen for the charms his films are praised for, this film of his has the strongest opening and introduction of stakes for the film’s characters that had me invested for a good while. That is, until Dupieux doubles down on his commitment to inject a sense of imagery that overrides the emotional basis of its characters.

It isn’t fairly surprising that Incredible But True lulls you into accepting a concrete world like our own until it turns its cards over one by one à la Texas Hold ’Em: a house for sale that can place you forward 12 hours in time, a Japanese penis modification that replaces the original with a life-like robotic model, and then some. But it feels like there are too many cards in play when just the few will do.

Alain pours wine for his houseguests Jeanne (Anaïs Demoustier, middle) & Gérard (Benoît Magimel, right). Image courtesy of Arrow Films.

There’s some comedy here that feels fresh but ultimately undermined in Dupieux’s hands, feeling almost like handing the viewer ownership of the joke to mold their own personal punchline during certain scenes. But the performances here are the definite highlight of the film. Each character populates their own world as if plucked from a neighboring dimension. Their individual philosophies decidedly clash, causing some very amusing sequences, unlocking further behavior that perpetuates that person’s obsessions about themselves, and what they think others see of themselves. A particular dinner scene between the film’s main characters made me think of a setup to a bit from I Think You Should Leave, which made the scene feel different than what I’m used to for Dupieux’s brand of comedic insertion, although beneficial in a hilarious fashion.

The way the film’s elements come together feel like they each come from a different source; as if the film was a ransom note, each individual letter cut lovingly from its own privately sourced magazine or newspaper forming words they never were intended to spell. But the manic energy it does generate gives way to Dupieux’s tendency to conjure imagery for a slightly different film. It isn’t an unwelcome gesture, it just stands a little too perpendicular to preceding events to give those clearly meaningful moments their intended weight, and the messages they hold for the film’s audience. While Incredible But True may teeter a little over the side of the rail for my taste, fans of his style will definitely embrace this purposefully unequal mix of absurdism over surrealism.

Image courtesy of Arrow Films.

Following my dip into art-house image-heavy film at the head of Fantasia I dived into the world of Jean Rollin, most known for his cycle of vampire films. At this point I had not seen a film of his, but by the time I reached the end of Dima Ballin & Kat Eillinger’s Orchestrator of Storms: The Fantastique World of Jean Rollin, I realized what I had been missing out on.

Director Jean Rollin (right) on the set of LOST IN NEW YORK. Image courtesy of Arrow Films.

Orchestrator of Storms takes you through Jean Rollin’s upbringing and family history before going into his filmography. It’s very linear and well-metered, and as someone who hasn’t seen any films of his yet the film thankfully treats its audience in a leveled manner, so newcomers and seasoned Rollin scholars should find something of interest here.

Rollin specialized in the intersection of horror and its inherent sexuality & eroticism that he felt wasn’t explored enough by filmmakers and their audiences. This lead to his criticism that genre pictures cashed in on the more marketable aspects that leaned too much into the direction of the former. That can be argued further to address the relatively thin and puritanical views of sexuality for a lot of what horror has popularized (think Reaganism in America’s slasher films), and the analyzation of how sex & sexuality is used in those more popular and generally accepted horror films of the past. But the documentary knows it’s not a license to criticize the shortcomings of those films but rather to celebrate how Jean Rollin successfully broached the above subjects and investigated them fully and without remorse or shame.

THE SHIVER OF THE VAMPIRES, in which a couple on their honeymoon visit a castle occupied by vampires. Image courtesy of Arrow Films.

In covering his cycle of vampire films, Orchestrator of Storms takes you on a philosophical journey of sorts that enlightens the visions of those films, instead of alienating those who didn’t grasp the context of those film’s images and meanings intended. It’s really a companion piece that helps those to understand more fully what thought processes were like prior to the making of for films like Rape of the Vampire, Shiver of the Vampire, Nude Vampire and Requiem for a Vampire. Vampires on the basis of their very existence are sensual and sexual creatures, where procreation and survival share a thin border separating them, but both are equally as promiscuous and sexually charged with the energy of hedonistic indulgences.

THE RAPE OF THE VAMPIRE, Rollin’s first vampiric feature. Image courtesy of Arrow Films.

It’s fair to mention here that not everyone was in love with Rollin’s first theatrical outing in France when Rape of the Vampire made its debut, many expecting one thing and getting another which lead to a raucous reception that could be compared to the general public’s initial reaction to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in 1913. The documentary continues through and past Rollin’s vampire films, covering his near-transactional exchanges in working on hardcore pornographic films to generate enough money to fund his personal work later on. All throughout, Rollin’s story is moderated by experts on his work with a variety of different points of view that interestingly converge on what their favorite films of his are. It’s a fascinating and emotional delve into one of the most interesting and critically misunderstood horror filmmakers the industry had to offer, and thanks to this documentary, even more fresh audience members will discover his unique framing and style as we explore Jean Rollin’s filmography. I know now that this is a world of horror that I will gladly explore given the primer of Jean Rollin’s work Orchestrator of Storms provides us.

REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE, a fairytale with a De Sade angle that finds its main characters in a haunted chateau populated by an ailing vampire and his servants. Image courtesy of Arrow Films.

The last film of my first day covering Fantasia Fest is something I’m sure I’ve had on my watch list for a long time, and is a restoration project from the good folks at Arrow Films. Directed by Wong Jing, whose films Magic Crystal and Future Cops I had seen prior to this, Mercenaries From Hong Kong packs one hell of a wild punch.

The mercenaries from THE MERCENARIES FROM HONG KONG. Image courtesy of Arrow Films.

In one of the most energetic and entertaining openings from a Hong Kong action film I’ve ever seen The Mercenaries From Hong Kong was out to capture my heart from the beginning. The cast is a veritable who’s who of Shaw Brothers studio films and HK action cinema. Ti Lung plays the main role as Luo Li, a Vietnam veteran who has been assigned to hunt an assassin that has fled to Cambodia after taking out a high profile industrialist in Hong Kong. Li is given free reign to assemble a team to infiltrate the assassin’s headquarters, as long as it totals six mercenaries including himself.

The film provides flashbacks of the team as they fought together in the Vietnam war. Image courtesy of Arrow Films.

He eventually works through his list of buddies who fought in Vietnam alongside him forming the titular group. There’s plenty of action and thrills to be had while Li tracks down and rounds up the group, but once they go to the point of no return (aka Cambodia) the film puts its thumb on the scale in service of ridiculous action, favoring gun battles, car chases, and some prime martial arts choreography. Chia Tang is a notable stunt coordinator on this, whose historic track record includes stunt and fight coordination on The Boxer From Shantung, Vengeance!, and The Web of Death. Fans of Arrow’s Shawscope release last year will recognize the first film as it was featured in their boxed set, and by the film’s incredible last act. Mercenaries culminates in a dark finale and will likely surprise anyone who may think the over-the-top tone will be consistently as unhinged as the film’s first act or so.

The baddies of Cambodia. Image courtesy of Arrow Films.

As a product of the ’80s there are some questionable motives regarding humor and tension relievers. But the butt of the joke in this regard comes back to the party responsible for their own narrow worldview. I’m speaking about an intended throwaway joke where one of the mercenaries believes he exudes an irresistible sexual magnetism towards beautiful women, and at one point in a club he zeroes in on a lady who happens to be trans. The mercenary himself becomes mortified and presumably humiliated in front of his team when they see her come into the bathroom, but she certainly doesn’t receive any vitriol. Rather it comes around on the cis-male mercenary group. Because they believe this to be a moment of humiliation for their friend, the very idea of his male sexual promiscuity turns back around to show how fragile and unequipped he is, and by extension the group as a whole. The woman retains her dignity by confronting them and firing back at those who assume they can classify them within their own construct of identity. And so the film moves on.

The film even features a warehouse fight complete with cardboard boxes. Image courtesy of Arrow Films.

While you can certainly see where the Mercenaries is going to go it still has a lot of fun taking you there. It knows how ridiculous it is but it takes its own stylish time shaping the McGuffin, a cassette tape that contains highly sought after data. This might be the ultimate film whose modus operandi is “shoot first, ask questions later.” When The Mercenaries From Hong Kong rolls around on BluRay in the near future action fans should definitely seek it out. The transfer looks immaculate and colors crisp yet cool, accentuating the Wes Anderson-ness of the film’s visual style. Seriously, those tracksuits are an inspiration and the garage scenes are so evenly shot it’d make Kubrick cry (if it didn’t already). If this is still a blindspot for you I’d recommend waiting it out until Arrow releases The Mercenaries From Hong Kong.

Image courtesy of Arrow Films.

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90s kid raised by cartoon movie wolves. Twitter: @demonidisco letterboxd.com/HamburgerHarry