There are only a handful of truly great films. Solaris (Distinction Series) is one of them. It’s often billed as Russia’s answer to 2001: A Space Odyssey, yet whilst sharing a desire with Kubrick to create intelligent science fiction, filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky (Stalker) uses the setting merely as a launching pad to grapple with some of the broader existential questions of our existence. Made in 1972, it’s one of the most unconventional love stories you will ever see, a mystical, at times hallucinatory parable of love, loss, and what makes us human. Sent to assess the crew at the remote space station Prometheus (Yes Ridley), in orbit above the mysterious planet Solaris, a psychologist discovers a crew in chaos, exhibiting strange paranoid, possibly delusional behaviour. Gradually though he too falls under the spell of Solaris, retreating into his memories and grappling with an unresolved past that threatens to consume him.
The film is an artistic masterwork, it’s visually spectacular, particularly on Blue Ray, and Tarkovsky is one of those few directors who know how to fully utilise sound, with incredible musique concrete techniques mixed with score. In fact Solaris redefined the cinematic language. At 166 minutes its effect on you is gradual, sensory and experiential. Don’t be fooled by cheap Soderbergh imitations. This is the best cinema has to offer.
Speaking of which David Lynch’s remarkable debut Eraserhead (Umbrella) has finally secured a Blue Ray release. This too redefined the cinematic language, though sent it confused and whimpering into an entirely different direction. It’s a dark, surreal and unsettling tale that has something to do with childbirth and fear of responsibility. Elevator doors take too long to close, chickens wriggle on the plate whilst eaten and miniature ladies with bad skin sing from inside the radiator. It has the greatest sound design in the history of cinema, is visually remarkable and funny as hell. No one creates atmosphere or scary cornball wrongness like Lynch. Despite Blue Velvet, or even the incredible Inland Empire, Lynch has never surpassed this act of pure artistic genius.
2008’s Ex Drummer (Siren) was one of the most audacious, dark and intelligent debuts in some time. Its bleak, at times violent humour and raw punk energy singled out Belgium director Koen Mortier as an idiosyncratic storyteller unafraid to lurk in the shadows. 22nd of May (Accent) is his follow up, a gentler more art house orientated deconstruction of a bombing in a shopping centre. It’s from the perspective of Sam the security guard, who after the explosion attempts to save victims trapped in the centre, before becoming overwhelmed and running through the streets until he collapses. This is where it enters Wings of Desire territory, with the near deserted streets an existential purgatory, populated only by victims of the bombing, who unburden themselves to Sam, some accusatory, some apathetic. Sam discovers lives with hopes and dreams, all extinguished via one senseless act, whilst also grappling with his own feelings of guilt and complicity. The finale is spectacular. Think Zabriske Point but with shoes.