Monday, July 30, 2018

Fantasia 2018--Luz--Tilman Singer (2018)

Dr. Rossini (Jan Bluthardt) gets a kiss to die for in Tilman Singer's super-cool Luz (2018)
As I waited patiently to file into the screening room to see Tilman Singer's Luz at the 2018 Fantasia Film Festival, a lovely gentlemen said to me, "It's like early Cronenberg, with some David Lynch, and also Zulawski."  I replied, "That's awesome, I like all those things!" now exceedingly pumped for a film about which I was already excited.  Well, he was right, but Luz is even cooler than all those touchstones, and one of the most lingeringly compelling and aesthetically beautiful films I've seen at Fantasia, this year and all the years.  Yes, it's that great.

A colleague of mine, whom I deeply respect, asked me, when I was waxing rhapsodically about Luz, "what exactly is the point?"  Hmmm.  I don't think that Luz can be explained in a pithy synopsis, because the film is not a straight-forward, linear narrative.  In fact, there is a thread of a narrative, regarding the female cabbie, Luz, and what appears to be a demon for whom she opened a door during her early boarding school days.  Intermittent flashbacks show a young, nude woman lying in a pentagram surrounded by candles--cue demon ritual.  Said demon really took a liking to Luz back in the day, and now she/he/it is on a "romantic" mission to reconnect with its lost love.  Like Justin McConnell's Lifechanger, the film's supernatural entity is also more or less a body thief, so gender does not really stick.  Yet, unlike McConnell's beast, Luz's entity is distinctly odd and inhuman, rendering the body it possesses strange and uncanny.  In the scene where the possessed Nora (Julia Riedler) seduces Dr. Rossini (Jan Bluthardt), she moves her body in a jerky, yet seductive, manner, slithering on her bar stool.  She fills the small space with her unnatural presence.

Dr. Rossini/the demon controls Detective Bertillion during Luz's hypnosis
The term "fever dream" is pretty over-used when it comes to hallucinatory horror films, but here it seems well placed, as the film shifts from different character subjectivities, and between past and present, without any discernible boundaries. Sometimes the camera gets up close to a character, such as its intimacy with Luz, but most of the time, the camera stays at a significant distance, like a wary observer.  This type of cinematography lends an eerie quality to the set pieces of the film, whether at the police station, where much of the film takes place, or at a bar, where Dr. Rossini has a very strange encounter with the intense Nora.  The scene at a local bar conveys genius on a limited budget, with oddly colored cocktails and shots served up, thrown back by Nora in a primal and predatory manner.  The scenes that take place at the entry to the police station, shot both in a long shot and in a long take, almost convey a mad "Jacques Tati" humor straight out of Playtime--although the film is far too creepy to elicit anything other than uncomfortable laughter.  A hypnosis scene in the police station's conference room becomes a melding, transformative encounter, as Dr. Rossini asks Luz to describe what happened to her the night she leapt from her moving cab.  Gunshots, body swapping, and demonic flashbacks galore explode into a gauzy mist, where characters become indistinguishable in the murky haze.
Luz's (Luana Velis) punk attitude and tough exterior hide her occult leanings
Accompanied by both a seductive and slightly discordant soundtrack, the encompassing mood of the film is deeply unsettling, and its 16mm grain gives the film a certain timelessness--even though the decor nods to 70s and 80s art horror.  Thankfully, no one's whipping out a cell phone here to ruin the mood.  Subtitles for this German film are sensitive to the multiple languages used, and Luz's blasphemous Spanish cursing is accompanied by both German and English subtitles.
Luz's deadly encounter with Dr. Rossini transforms the police station into a liminal space
All my delicate dancing around the film's subject matter cannot really express how gorgeous, imaginative, unsettling, and utterly unique the film is.  So many images leave an indelible impression that continue to haunt long after the film's screening.  Luz is Tilman Singer's student thesis film.  Yes!  I think if one of my students turned in a film with this much confidence, style, and power, my head would probably explode like a moment straight out of Scanners.  Fantasia is a place that can make a filmmaker's career, and I can only hope that a platform like Shudder or Amazon Prime will get a hold of Tilman's film and share it with everyone.  A standout of Fantasia 2018, it's too soon to tell, but Luz is a contender for my favorite film of the festival!  Wow.  Find it and see it.