A striking feature about sex and intimacy among young Israelis, Hadas Ben Aroya’s All Eyes Off Me doesn’t start off on a particularly promising note. We’ve gotta admit, the first 10 minutes or so felt like this was going to be yet another film about disaffected twenty-somethings getting laid and doing drugs and talking about Instagram, but Aroya’s film quickly proves itself as a subtly complex exploration of female desire and vulnerability. In the opening scene, the camera trails Danny (Hadar Katz), a chatty young woman with glittery makeup, as she looks for Max (Leib Lev Levin), the hot guy who got her pregnant. Aroya quickly abandons this thread and instead focuses on Ashivag (Elisheva Weil), Max’s new girlfriend who wants him to choke her during sex. The following 80 minutes follow Asviag as she initiates this fantasy and contemplates if this is the type of thing she wants, or if there’s something deeper to be found. If so, where can she get it? Surely not the older man for whom she dogsits…or maybe so? Strangely riveting despite having almost no plot, All Eyes Off Me boasts solid performances from the entire cast and cinematographer Meidan Arama’s lovely camerawork keeps the action feeling natural and fluid as the story winds down with a deeply affecting interaction that leaves one with a strong sense of relief and hope.
Where does one even begin with Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn? You know a film with that title is either going to be completely amazing or totally atrocious, and Radu Jude’s latest (after festival darlings like I Do Not Care If We Go Down In History As Barbarians and Upstream Color) is a tonally uneven mess that often feels like empty provocation. The story revolves around Emi (Katia Pascariu), a history teacher facing scrutiny after a homemade sex tape leaks online, and instead of mining drama from the juicy setup, Jude opts to spend the first act following her as she walks…and walks….and walks some more (ok, we get it – there’s a lot of aggressive assholes and noisy traffic in Bucharest). These tedious opening scenes give way to an unrelated and mostly unfunny midsection entitled “Short Dictionary of Anecdotes, Signs, and Wonders” that serves no purpose other than to make ironic jokes about war, child abuse, swastikas, vaginas, and a bunch of other topics. Eventually, Jude returns to the story with a third act that feels more at home on a stage than on film as Emi is forced to face a public trial with disgruntled parents and school staff. The attempt at sociopolitical satire with rapid-fire dialogue quickly grows tiresome as it devolves into people shouting philosophical ideas at each other for the remainder of the running time. Sadly, the welcome and relevant discussions about privacy, consent, hypocrisy, and gender politics are squandered as things culminate with a trollish, Clue-like triple ending that basically admits the whole thing is a joke, none of it particularly amusing (except for all the dildos).
Long on style but short on substance, Hong Kong filmmaker Soi Cheang’s thriller Limbo follows a pair of cops (Lam Ka Tung and Mason Lee) hunting down a serial killer who’s murdering women and leaving behind a trail of limbs as clues. Shot in monochrome black and white, this thing is moody as hell and always gorgeous to look at, but falls victim to its consistent use of worn-out tropes often found in these types of movies. Uncorrupted rookie cop vs. veteran cop who doesn’t play by the rules? Check. A misogynist killer who likes to cut off body parts? Check. Endless foot chases through grungy cityscapes? Check. These chase scenes occur mostly in slums and start to look the same after while, (perhaps intentionally) leaving the viewer disoriented like we’re running around in circles in the same setting. There’s also some slightly lazy storytelling going on here – one of the cops is personally connected to a young woman (Liu Cya) who might be able to help unlock the case, and this thread feels a bit too easy and convenient. Despite these shortcomings and the feeling that none of this is particularly new, Limbo remains quite gripping throughout its two-hour running time, the many comic-book-style fight scenes are vicious and well-choreographed, and the big rain-soaked climax is a complete knockout.
All three films premiered this week at the Berlinale online industry event.