Friday, October 7, 2011

Fantastic Fest 2011 Movie Review - BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW- He Said

Directed by: Panos Cosmatos
Written by: Panos Cosmatos
Starring: Michael Rogers, Eva Allan, Scott Hylands, Marilyn Norry.
Synopsis: Elena is a special girl that has been living imprisoned by Dr. Barry Nyle. When she starts to become aware of her powers, she tries to escape much to Dr. Nyle's dismay. 

Having just experienced Animal Collective front man, Panda Bear, in concert, it feels really fitting that I'd be  writing about director Pontamos' amazing head trip of a movie. Part psychedelic mind fuck and part retro sci-fi movie, which has what has to be one of the most captivating soundtracks I've heard since THE SOCIAL NETWORK's, BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW is both a movie and an experience, much like Panda Bear's concert was both music and an experience. What was more impressive was this was an effort by a first time director. Mind you, this was a very hard movie to like or even sit through; however, if you are open to it, the experience was amazing.

This was a very visual movie, where every minute your eyes are finding something new. There were very elaborate sets ranging from a cold and sterile observation lab, to a natural habitat with a very futuristic 1970's sci-fi feel to it, which I fell in love with. I'm not a nostalgia apologist, but I found the look fascinating because it was juxtaposed with some very realistic and fantastic imagery. As far as we know, Elena has been examined all of her life under the direct watch of Dr. Barry Nyle at the Arboria Institute. Arboria's mission seemed to be one peace, but everything you saw throughout the movie said something to the contrary. While being examined, Elena was put through lots of horrible pain and misery, and you witness this through psychedelic imagery of the machines being used to suppress whatever special powers she might have. I found her sections of the story the most positively uplifting parts of this very dark movie because it showed how the drive that youth and the future have will always overcome the past.

The movie had the odd distinction of feeling epic while only having two actors carrying the film, and the character of Elena doesn't even speak. But while she might only be perpetually frightened or exasperated, I really felt bad for this character. The pain that she seems to be put through seems otherworldly, and yet, you're not privy to her story for much of the film. Strangely enough, the story focused on the antagonistic character of Dr. Barry Nyle, who seems to have taken over the Arboria and used it for his own dystopian purposes. He's a character that's fascinating to watch because his subttle mannerisms quietly reveal a lot about the character. This was a deeply disturbed man that has seen things that completely changed him and was now seemingly trying to make the world fit with his vision of it.

This was a very hard movie to love, but it pays off in so many ways. I may still be super depressed about MELANCHOLIA, but BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW was able to seep its imagery and story into my brain. Hearing only part of the Q&A, with director Panos Costanos, and hearing how part of his inspiration was partially due to the nostalgia brought on by his father's death and how dark nostalgia could be, I could not be more fascinated by this. And seeing how we are in a frustrating era where everything seems nostalgia based, this was a refreshing point of view. This trend started with movies harkening back to their earlier styles. You have lots of 80's throwback movies and even bands going for sounds frome earlier decades, but then it went as far as having freaking chips (such as Doritos) going with the nostalgia angle as part of their marketing. However, what Costanos explores here through the visuals and the story itself are the dangers and the false promise of what staying in the past does to a person. There was so much romance to a lot of the sets by way of the imagery of this movie, but there was always an even darker undertone and situation seething underneath. But it's easy to see that for all senses and purposes, nostalgia and yearning for the past is futile and sometimes very harmful.

A big point of conversation was the amazing soundtrack by one Jeremy Schmidt from the band, Black Mountains. This is not just a good soundtrack, it is a damn good album.  It flowed well, was memorable, and appealed to gear heads because according to some interviews I read, it was created just using analog synthesizer, and let me tell you, there is nothing more romantic and just bad-ass than an analog synth creating beautiful sounds not found even on a solid state synth. Regardless, I feel that the soundtrack is worth gushing about to almost Harry Knowles-like levels because it was an integral part of the story.  It drove the trippy visuals in a way I haven't seen in a long time. The closest thing that I can compare it to is to Animal Collective's ODDSAC, which technically wasn't a movie as much as it was a "visual album" according to the band.

Ultimately, what is this movie about?  A man trying to reach beyond the grasp of mankind? A beautiful girl being repressed from using her powerful gifts?  Nostalgia gone wrong?  I think it's all of the above, and I love that the movie tackles all of these topics unapologetically. Much like MELANCHOLIA's director Lars von Trier, I feel that Panos Cosmatos is a director with a precise vision. Some people might not be into the psychedelic angle of the movie, but those that do are in for a unique experience. As of now, I'm not sure when/if there will be a theatrical release for BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW, and Cosmatos mentioned he would like to release the soundtrack as a vinyl record at some point. But anyone that's able to see this at a festival, or hopefully in the theaters, go see it.

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