South By Southwest

SXSW Film Review: Natatorium [Helena Stefansdottir, 2024]

Posted on by Gary in Reviews, South By Southwest | Leave a comment

The spoiler free version – Natatorium is an engaging psychological thriller about a family’s troubled past resurfacing upon the injection of fresh blood (pictured below).

And now that we have gotten that fast-forward urge out of the way, it’s time to properly look this film as the well-paced art-house character study it is. Natatorium oozes style from the opening scene and promises to unravel layers of meanings and secrets.

The whole story takes place in the confines of a mid-century concrete house. Had it not been for the oppressive atmosphere, one might well have felt quite comfortable browsing for the sleek high-end wares as if shopping for Icelandic souvenirs in Rammagerdin on Rainbow Street. Because of the modern set design, the significance of out-of-place things – an altar here, an old photo there – stood-out immediately. The pool in the basement, for which the film is named, is the wonky central. And every element of the film implies that the water in the house is sinister.

Despite the many unfinished hints, any trace of actual horror is left mostly to the imagination. This film is dedicated to the inter-personal struggle beneath the surface, and stays literal to this onto the last scene. The cast can be split into two camp, one includes an overly eager grandpa, an emaciated homosexual uncle, and a successful but cowardly father. And on the other team is the blossoming teenage starlet, the independent aunt and apothecary, and the matriarch. This seemed to have been set up to fulfill a stereotypical role reversal. Had the biological sex of the whole cast been inverted, wizards may still ignite the topics explored on tradition vs. freedom… albeit not as effectively as witches. Much of the dialogue reveals information while also inviting deeper intrigue. But at times I felt too many potential conversations were crammed into one scene.

Director Helena Stefánsdóttir, lead actress Elin Petersdóttir and author Celeste Ramos, parts of whose short story “Swim” were adapted for the film, were in attendence for the post-film Q&A. It’s a shame that the showing was tiny (<15 people) as there was clearly abundant opportunity for discussion. SxSW’s program manager did his best to lead and mediate, but when the first member of the audience to speak spewed out, “I have always found Icelandic stuff to be weird and confusing and this film confirmed what I’ve come to know,” it was a little dispiriting.

Helena lamented that, as a process of making the film, much was changed beyond recognition that she has had to reach back into her notes/script to find the original framework. Celeste noted that the original story was much heavier on death but the film is lighter and does not bludgeon the audience with it as a burden. And Elin, whose expressions were central to the film’s uncanny atmosphere, shared tricks she had for portraying the unyielding grandma. Overall, the film is beautifully made with clearly deliberate decisions in each and every corner. And while it might not resonate with a large crowd, it is a strong work with a long after-taste that keeps the brain churning.

SXSW Film Review: Turtles [David Lambert, 2024]

Posted on by Gary in Reviews, South By Southwest | Leave a comment

The volunteer reading his introduction script prior to the screening of Turtles spelled it out succinctly and correctly: “You will feel many a thing watching this film,” he said, which is a fair preview.

Turtles rests its foundation on a fairytale scenario, some would (and did) say a contrived one. In the midst of the AIDS pandemic in the 1980s, an English drag-queen named Thom quit his job and emigrated to France to marry his true love. This was made affordable only because a (dying) angel of a friend gave them the deeds to an inherited townhouse smack in the middle of Paris on a single condition – that they raise/keep two box turtles named Topsy and Turvy so long as they live in the house together.

Let it be said that the Gendarmerie has no time to check-in on the health of aging turtles, reptilian or otherwise, to enforce such a contract. The taboos around homosexuality were purposefully countered by these equally absurd setpieces. And this allowed the film to focus squarely on the evolving love between these two people, 35 years on. I became an instant fan of this film the moment Siri was asked to play Ottawan’s “Hands Up (Give Me Your Heart)” as an ode to love while the drag-queen in his sixties danced to entice his husband, who is recently retired from both job and love.

Suffice it to say that Turtles narrates a divorce, but one wherein the French judiciary system is made a mockery of. The ensemble of lawyers, judges, and bystanders displayed a LOT of patience as the courtroom became no more solemn than a 100 square-foot kitchen replete with domestic highs and lows. Thom desperately tried every trick in the book to reboot his Henri back into their lives including giving up for good and going back to his glory-days as a drag-queen, complete with wrinkles under his belt. It is funny, tear-jerking, momentarily grotesque, but always warm. I don’t know if the bilingual angle has any metaphorical meaning other than a Canadian nod, but it does not hinder the film. If you are not a homophobe, I highly recommend the film. And if you are, watch and learn some top-notch empathy from Madam Justice.

SXSW Film Review: Resynator (Alison Tavel, 2024)

Posted on by Paul in Movies, South By Southwest | Leave a comment

There’s a scene early on in Reysnator wherein Alison Tavel, the film’s director and protagonist, visits Mike Beigel, a friend of her late father Don who helped him in engineering the Resynator synthesizer. She visits Beigel to discuss her father’s invention, but also comes to him in the hope that he can resurrect the long dormant piece of tech that’s been hidden away in her grandmother’s attic for many years. As he works to put together the pieces and see what can be salvaged, it’s easy to see it as a metaphor for Tavel’s other task in the film – to put together the pieces of the late Don Tavel’s life and attempt to make a connection to the father she never knew.

WIth Don dying in a car accident when she was only 10 weeks old, it’s not surprising that his daughter Alison would want to learn more about her father and his invention. It’s also unsurprising that in her quest to learn more about her father’s musical legacy, she ultimately ends up learning a lot more about the man himself.

It’s an emotional journey, and at times a heavy one, but as Tavel learns more about her father, both good and bad, there are also many joyful moments as she takes the resurrected Resynator out on the road to test it out with various musicians, including Systema Solar, Money Mark, and Fred Armisen.

If one were to apply the hero’s journey framework to Alison’s story, then Peter Gabriel’s appearance near the end of the film would seem to fill the role of the wise sage who offers her advice and guidance and helps her along in her quest to learn more about her father and his legacy.

It’s interesting that Gabriel, who showed early interest in the Resynator back in the day, says very little on the topic of the synth itself. Rather, he gets to the heart of the matter, asking Tavel whether she’s learned more about her father “… ’cause that’s the important part of this journey.”

Indeed, in her quest to learn more about her father, Tavel does end up forming a close connection of sorts with Don, despite never really knowing him. In making that connection to her past, she ultimately gains a deeper understanding of herself.

SXSW Reviews: Thus Love, cumgirl8, Shannon and the Clams

Posted on by Paul in South By Southwest | Leave a comment

20240316 Thus Love

While the forecast for Friday called for plenty of rain, luckily, other than some early morning showers, the weather held off and it ended up being a relatively nice day. With the fear of getting soaked out of the way, we were free to do a little exploring, musically speaking. Here are a few of the highlights.

Thus Love, March 15, The 13th Floor

SXSW at its best is all about discovering something new and so in that spirit, we walked into The 13th Floor on Friday night to check out Thus Love knowing very little about them. Delivering a bracing set of moody post-punk tunes, the Brattleboro, Vermont-based band put on an impressive and impassioned performance that left me wanting to dig a little deeper into their discography.

cumgirl8, March 15, Parish

While cumgirl8 looked to be one of the buzzier acts going into the festival, they were also one of many who opted to bow out of doing any official shows in response to SXSW having the U.S. Army as a major sponsor. Luckily for those of us looking forward to seeing them, the band still came to Austin to play a few shows around town.

Taking to the stage at Parish wearing (fairly revealing) outfits emblazoned with the words “SXSW IS OVER,” the New York City quartet certainly didn’t shy away from making a statement and made it clear how they felt about the festival and its ties to the military and to defense contractors. The band commented that when they decided to drop out of their official shows, they had to ask themselves, “What would Cicciolina do?” Unsurprisingly, they followed that by launching into “Cicciolina,” their tribute to the pornstar/politician/musician of the same name taken off of their phanteasea pharm EP.

20240315 Shannon and the Clams

Shannon and the Clams, March 15, Radio Day Stage

A ballroom in a convention center is no one’s ideal spot to take in a concert, but Oakland’s Shannon and the Clams made the most of their late afternoon set at the Austin Convention Center’s Radio Day Stage regardless. Shannon Shaw and her mustachioed bandmates played a solid set of 1950s-inspired garage rock, with the absolute highlight being brand new single “Real or Magic,” taken from their upcoming album The Moon Is In The Wrong Place.