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The Outhouse at Tribeca Film Festival: BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW and GREY MATTER

Written by Royal Nonesuch on Saturday, April 23 2011 and posted in Reviews

The Outhouse shows up at the Tribeca Film Festival to take a look at some of the most highly-anticipated independent films coming down the pike.  First up: Beyond the Black Rainbow and Grey Matter!

Recently, Staff Writer Royal Nonesuch purchased a package of tickets to films screening at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York.  This is the first of his reports from the festival. 

Written and Directed by Panos Cosmatos
Canada, Italy
Narrative 110 min.

“I feel like I’m watching a visual storyteller at work.  Not a director, but a visual storyteller.” 

The sentiment was expressed to Panos Cosmatos by a member of the audience at a screening of Cosmatos’ Beyond the Black Rainbow at the Tribeca Film Festival.  It’s an apt description, since the film is one of the most visually engrossing science fiction pictures to debut in several years.

Relying on beautiful long takes and deliberate pacing, Rainbow’s uncompromisingbeyond-the-black-rainbow vision recalls a filmic future past.  Beyond the Black Rainbow is the future as it looked 1983 (when the film is set).  Cosmatos, who was born in 1974, does more than simply pay homage to the science fiction films of his youth.  He cranks the period detail up to eleven with a meticulous attention to detail when he goes beyond the clothes and hairstyles; the actual pacing, rhythms, and synthesizer-led score of the film are completely 80’s, to the point that it looks like a lost cult film recently discovered at the bottom of a box of VHS tapes in somebody’s basement.

The story follows Barry Nyle (played by Michael Rogers, who was also in attendance at the screening), one of the creepiest and most sinister mad scientists in recent cinema history (and who somehow only gets more and more disturbing as the film goes on) as he examines Elena (Eva Allan), a young girl Nyle and his company have been experimenting on since birth.  These experiments have given Elena mental powers, which are displayed in a credible manner.  From there, the story veers off into some surreal, Maya Deren territory (a glorious flashback sequence is particularly mind-bending) before taking another left turn into slasher-ville.  Rogers’ performance is incredibly mannered and unsettling, and he commands every single shot he is in.     

The most arresting aspect of the film is the imagery employed.  Cosmatos’ shot composition is incredibly dynamic, and there’s never a shot that’s held for too long, and there definitely aren’t any that aren’t held long enough.  He gives so much time and space to the storytelling that it sucks the viewer in completely.  The methodical pacing, the wonderfully grainy, low-light cinematography, and the ominous, droning score that fills every scene with a sense of dread all combine to create a totally immersive experience. 

Beyond the Black Rainbow is a greatly ambitious experiment in science fiction that succeeds completely.  Mixing bits of George Lucas’ THX 1138, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, and even some of the sensibilities of experimental filmmaker Michael Snow (as well as other influences) to synthesize a compelling new whole, Panos Cosmatos has made a film that is frequently surprising, often frightening, and always completely mesmerizing.

Written and Directed by Kivu Ruhorahoza
Rwanda, Australia
Narrative 100 min

"I wanted to give an honest look at Kigali.  Most films about the genocide are about the genocide itself.  They have the men with the guns...I'm more interested in showing how somebody lives with the trauma day-by-day."

In Grey Matter, the Rwandese capital of Kigali takes the form of a palimpsest.  The beautiful, green scenery is laid atop the emotional scars the population still feels as a result of the 1994 genocide.  Although the city has been flourishing ("My city is doing very well," says writer/director Kivu Ruhorahoza.  "Mac computers, coffee shops, and classical Western literature.  This is our life now."), the trauma of the civil war persists in the minds of its people.  The first ever feature-length narrative film to come out of Rwanda, Grey Matter, is, much like Beyond the Black Rainbow, an extremely self-assured effort by a young filmmaker with a distinctive aesthetic and a great eye for imagery. 

Grey Matter starts as one film, before becoming another.  Balthazar, sensitively portrayed by Hervé Kimenyi, is a young filmmaker with grand asperations and meager resources.  He wishes to make a personal film about the cycles of violence endemic to Africa, but when the funding and equipment he was counting on don't materialize, that becomes more difficult than anticipated.  Eventually, Balthazar starts to live scenes from his screenplay, which trigger a PTSD reaction in not only him, but those around him.  Reality starts to converge with memory and history in a mind-bending and emotional portrait of internalized pain and a hellish sense of sadness. 

Starting with its second act, Grey Matter eschews most of its dialogue and is taken over by striking imagery alone.  As such, the audience is completely taken over by the film, and is, in a way, experiencing the film along with the characters.  It sounds bleak, but there is an odd beauty to the proceedings.  The cinematography is gorgeous, and the setting is so scenic that it becomes difficult not to admire the film.  The deep focus and bright natural colors contrast with the dark undercurrent of the events, which bolsters Ruhorahoza's narrative experimentation.

With his feature film debut, Kivu Ruhorahoza does more than just tell a story about a filmmaker.  By blurring fiction and reality the way he does, he is telling his own story.  More than that, he is telling the story of Rwanda.  

Written or Contributed by: Royal Nonesuch

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About the Author - Royal Nonesuch

As Senior Media Correspondent (which may be a made-up title), Royal Nonesuch tends to spearhead a lot of film and television content on The Outhouse. He's still a very active participant in the comic book section of the site, though. Nonesuch writes reviews of film, television, and comics, and conducts interviews for the site as well.  You can reach out to him on Twitter or with Email.


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