“Is Fun Evil?”: Short movie reviews

Extremely ’70s rural vampires, a black neorealist classic of work and childhood, and South African manhood rituals in the age of gay rights.

Lemora, A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural: A girl whose daddy is in prison is the singing star of her little church, a pure angel with no knowledge of the big bad world. But when her daddy escapes, and little Lila Lee receives a summons to meet with him from a mysterious woman named “Lemora,” she begins a journey into a world of Gothic vampires, deformed ghouls, and–since this is the ’70s–absolutely constant threats of sexual assault.

For what it is, I mostly liked this. The Gothic touches are sufficiently swoony though visibly low-budget, the late Cheryl Smith is a preternatural mix of blank and knowing as Lila Lee, and the tight association of adulthood = sex = violence is, let’s say, convincing. Oh and there’s vampiric sapphistry, as is traditional. For almost its entire length the movie presents Lila as genuinely afraid of and repelled by all the people who want her adolescent body, and I really wish they had stuck with that interpretation. I think possibly they figured she’s more complex or something if she was subconsciously seductive, but really, that is just gross and unpleasant, and not actually in line with what we saw earlier in the film. A capitulation to its era rather than a Foxes-style exploration of the undercurrents of girlhood.

Lemora herself gives the come-on, “Is fun evil?”, which is basically a demotic version of, “Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?” from The Witch. And as both this movie and its decade prove, the answer is yes.

A Kindertrauma tribute is here.

Killer of Sheep: This 1978 slice-of-life about a slaughterhouse worker and his son was so haunting and stirring. So many unforgettable images and scenes: the dog-headed girl; the exhausted dance to “This Bitter Earth”; the hopeless comedy of the secondhand car. All the kids’ games are violent, all the adults’ lives are wrapped in threats of violence. The film loves its characters so much, and evokes such love from the viewer, that what could be a heavy slog instead feels entrancing. Unquestionably the best movie I’ve discovered so far this year.

The Wound: This is a 2017 joint about Xolani (Nakhane Toure), a young Xhosa man working in a warehouse, who leaves the city to go back to the mountains of his home for the (annual?) ritual in which boys become men. It’s short, under 90 minutes, and its style is fairly standard, unsteady camera and quick cuts. On an artistic level the best thing about the film by far is Toure, his rangy body and catlike, considering face.

The story is also fairly simple. Xolani has charge of an initiate from the city, a rich kid who’s taunted by the other boys and whom everybody expects to be a “softie.” The boy quickly susses that Xolani has an intermittent sexual relationship with his childhood best friend Vija, one of the other caregivers to the initiates.

There are two clear sides here, two moralities: “The family must expand. They will not perish, nor will their house become barren,” because on this day you have made me a man… or, What does it matter what a man does with his penis? Shaka probably slept with his warriors, “Probably Jesus and his disciples were the same way,” “Can love destroy a nation?” But Xolani won’t take either of these sides. Behind his wry face, his eyes often half-closed, he keeps a silence which slowly turns out to be the absence of possibility. He has nowhere to go.

The opening images really summarize the film. We see a waterfall, an idyll; then a smash-cut to Xolani at work, wearing headphones to shut out the clattering chaos. The mountain of ritual or the white man’s warehouse–neither world has made a place for him. It’s Alisdair MacIntyre’s thing (uh, unless I’m misremembering), virtue is embodied in community. If you have no community you have no place from which to approach your life morally, no true north for your moral compass. Ultimately I thought the movie’s final action was kind of trite, but it’s hard to think of a dramatic action that would feel more organic given the dilemma the film has set up. “All I have is the mountain,” Xolani says, “and that’s not enough.”

The Wound is streaming on US Netflix, in case that’s relevant information for you.

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