Monday, July 17, 2023

Fantasia ’23: Curtain Raiser

Grab a warm cup of Nongshim noodles and start meowing for no reason. Seriously, there is no logical reason people make cat noises before Fantasia screenings start, but by now, it is a tradition. They also have a tradition of screening some of the most distinctive genre, cult, animated, and Asian films around. There will be plenty of films to look forward to when the 2023 Fantasia International Film Festival opens this Thursday evening.

Usually, Fantasia films are fun, which would seem to preclude anything depicting Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, but the backdrop of war makes a tense but fitting setting for Yeva Strelnikova’s
Stay Online. The first Ukrainian feature produced since the invasion commenced, it uses the “Screenlife” techniques of Aneesh Chaganty’s Searching and Timur Bekmembetov’s Profile.

Considering how compromised the Russian and Chinese film industries have been by their respective regimes, I no longer review any films their censors approve for release. However, Victor Ginzburg’s
Empire V holds the (happy?) distinction of being banned by the Russian Ministry of Culture for its thinly veiled satire of Putin’s oligarchs.

According to the description, Robert Hloz’s
Restore Point is the first Czech science fiction in forty years, which is saying something. Fantasia is also programming a mini-four film retrospective of Juraj Herz’s dark cult classics (but not Cremator, maybe because it is too obvious).

South Korea has produced some of the best thrillers of the last fifteen years, especially historical thrillers, so Lee Hae-young’s
Phantom looks like a solid bet.

Sadly, Nicolas Cage was supposed to be a special guest of the festival for
Sympathy for the Devil. Sadly, the actor’s strike ruined that for festival patrons, but they are still screening his film.

Plus, there is even a one-minute experimental Art Blakey short, “Visions of Blakey,” as well as many more films ripe for discovery at this year’s eagerly awaited, live and in-person Fantasia International Film Festival.