Tag Archives: Wexner Center for the Arts

Floating in a Most Peculiar Way

I Like Tomorrow

by Hope Madden

Need one more reason to be thrilled that the Wexner Center for the Arts is reopening to the public? A new collaboration between filmmakers Jennifer Reeder and Nancy Andrews—the delightfully spacy I Like Tomorrow—plays through July and August in The Box.

The 11-minute short showcases Andrews’s animation prowess, as well as the versatility of performer Michole Briana White, who delivers three roles in one.

White plays Captain Regina Lamb, a lone astronaut who’s been in orbit a while. Maybe a really long while. And at the moment, she’s working through some relationship issues. With herself. Specifically, she’s navigating her commitments to her past self (White again, as Reggie) and her future self (White as Rae).

The I Like Tomorrow aesthetic is MST3K meets Bowie, and who wouldn’t be wild about that? White’s performance is lonesome, slyly insightful and very funny. She makes excellent use of Reeder and Andrews’s nimble dialog, using space exploration to mirror relationship communication, then focusing everything inward.

Captain Lamb’s journey toward appreciating who she is today, this moment, is as charming as it can be. White gives each of the three versions of Lamb age-appropriate personalities and the interplay among the three is priceless.

As layered and insightful as the film is, Andrews and Reeder never abandon their playful attitude. In fact, the comic in this cosmic episode only increases as Captain Lamb’s journey wears on.

Musical interludes and animation, set design and costumes all work together to create a mood that’s simultaneously lonely, hopeful, and weirdly funny.


Santiago, Italia

by Hope Madden

History repeats itself.  This often frustrating, even tragic theme has powered many films and documentaries over the years, including Nanni Moretti’s Santiago, Italia.  

An account of Chile’s 1973 military coup, Santiago, Italia approaches its history with a fascinating, character-driven approach. An opening news footage montage sets the stage—no timeline or voiceover narration detail events for you.

The people of Chile democratically elect a socialist president. Chileans are excited and hopeful. Big business and the military is not. Planes fly low over the city. Bombs drop. Hope turns to terror.

Moretti, 6-time nominee and 2001 winner of the Palme d’Or, isn’t exactly known as a documentarian. His instincts as a storyteller supersede, even complement, his disregard for the standard practice of documentary. The result is a slice of global, political, human life that bristles with passion and indignation.

Moretti’s main characters are a handful of Chilean exiles, persecuted and, in several cases, tortured for their political views and later exiled to Italy. As moving as it is to see emotion sneak up on someone remembering a moment now nearly fifty years old, witnessing someone recount their own torture with such a clear eye and lack of emotion is even more unsettling.

The filmmaker spends time with former military as well. Among others, he interviews imprisoned war criminal Raul Iturriaga, who believes the two sides should just forgive and forget. Irked at the direction the interview takes, Iturriaga challenges Moretti’s impartiality.

Moretti corrects him.

“Yo no soy imparcial.”  

And why should he be? With Santiago, Italy, Moretti recounts a story of two countries bound by a common desire for freedom from tyranny. As he sees that history replay itself once again, he believes that this is a story that bears repeating.

Veni Vidi Amavi

Vitalina Varela

by Cat McAlpine

Vitalina Varela travels to Portugal to sift through the ashes of the life her husband led there.

“There is nothing for you here.” Someone on the tarmac whispers upon her arrival, gripping her by the shoulders with a robotic intensity.

But Vitalina marches forward.

Varela plays herself, in a re-enactment of her journey to Libson in the days following her husband’s death. After more than two decades apart, Vitalina no longer recognizes the man she once knew. She navigates an impoverished neighborhood shrouded in darkness, searching for clues as to the man Joaquim had become.

Director Pedro Costa (Horse Money) co-wrote the script with Varela. Together they weave a tale that asks both “How do we forgive others?” and “How do we forgive ourselves?”

Varela delivers a stoic but moving performance as she seeks a kind of redemption for the years spent waiting for her husband. Costa knows where to place Varela, leaving her constantly teetering on the edge of something, in perfectly lit doorways and windows.

This film is largely about the emotion of light and shadow, both on screen and in our own lives. With minimal dialogue and a cast of non-professional actors, Costa must work harder to visually manipulate his tale. To his aid comes a realistic and heavily layered sound design that pairs the low rumble of a crowded neighborhood with the high-pitched notes of spoons in bowls and the yips of dogs.

Almost every scene seems to be lit with a single spotlight, which brings to your attention how dark the spaces really are.

While this technique illuminates every frame like a luxurious renaissance painting, highlighting the sharp turns of hollowed cheeks and shrouding the crumbling backdrop, after two hours your eyes tire from the strain. Vitalina Varela’s strength is also its weakness.

The film is so slow and so hyper-focused on the silence between emotional revelations, it seems largely detached from anything other than its own dark places.

There is a triumphant return to the daylight, beautifully shot like the rest, but it comes long after the movie should have ended. 120 minutes is simply too indulgent for the pacing and sparse narrative offered.

Unsane Worldwide

12 Days

by Rachel Willis

Like a fly on the wall, Raymond Depardon takes his audience inside a world most will never see, and many may never want to see again.

In France, anyone committed to a psychiatric hospital without consent must be seen by a judge within 12 days. At that time, the judge will decide whether to continue their treatment or release them from care. Each patient’s doctor, or group of doctors, provides recommendations to the judge. In every case Depardon is privy to, the doctors never recommend release for their patients.

Only one woman is okay with this decision. She admits she needs additional care and seems happy with the judge’s decision to continue her treatment for another six months. For the rest, they desire their freedom.

Many of the patients are lucid. They argue their cases before the judge, promising to seek treatment from their own doctors, find jobs, and do what they can to lead healthy lives. When they’re remitted back into the care of the hospital, they promise to appeal the decision (they have ten days to appeal any decision made by the judge).

For others, it is clear their mental health is poor. One man is unable to answer questions from the judge; it’s as if he is having a separate conversation, one that only makes sense to him. Another man begs the judge to find his father and have his father come visit him. Only after he leaves the room does the judge comment on why his father will never visit.

It’s an interesting conundrum for the judges, who must rely on the recommendations of the doctors to make their decisions. Do they struggle with their decision when patients have clear goals for their lives outside of the hospital?

Depardon doesn’t give us any answers. He remains an unbiased observer never offering a narrative to sway the viewer. We’re never given any information outside of what we see inside the small, claustrophobic courtroom. This may irritate some viewers who may wish to know more about each of the individuals seen before the judges or the circumstances surrounding their care. For those open to simply taking what Depardon gives, the film is likely to raise many important questions about the nature of mental health care.

Great Outdoors

Leaning Into the Wind: Andy Goldsworthy

by Rachel Willis


It’s the first word that comes to mind while watching Thomas Riedelsheimer’s documentary about artist Andy Goldsworthy. But that’s not a critique on the film itself, rather a reflection on the meticulous nature of Goldsworthy’s work, as well as Riedelsheimer’s.

Crafting art from nature, Goldsworthy spends a lengthy amount of time gathering his materials—leaves, flower petals, branches—then fastidiously arranges and assembles his materials into stunning works of art. It’s not only an exercise in creativity, but patience. When a gust of wind destroys hours of work, Goldsworthy takes it in stride, even though it’s the kind of setback that would leave many fuming.

To truly sink viewers into Goldsworthy’s world, into his thought process, Riedelsheimer is with Goldsworthy from start to finish as he assembles each new piece. Interviews and time spent on the sidelines observing while he works is as close as one can get to being inside the mind of an artist.

With breathtaking cinematography, the film itself is a work of art. As the viewer follows Goldsworthy around the world, the film captures the beauty of nature as Goldsworthy sees it. Knotted tree roots take on deeper meaning. Ants marching become more than insects on the ground, but a reflection of society. One of Goldsworthy’s more impressive installations is sparked by the ants. Riedelsheimer is there to capture the moment of inspiration as it turns into a stunning work of art.

There are times when the film covers the same ground. Much of the viewer’s time is spent watching as Goldsworthy (sometimes alone, sometimes with his daughter, at times with an entire crew) works on different installations. While interesting to see, it’s also repetitive, and the documentary is most engrossing when we’re allowed to follow Goldsworthy as he mines the continent for ideas.

Often the film has the feel of a nature documentary. The camera fades into the background as Goldsworthy works, becoming a silent observer, which gives the viewer an intimate look into his world. Goldsworthy becomes a part of the environment around him. Using his body, he becomes absorbed in the environment. The viewer feels the same absorption as we’re drawn deeply into his universe.

Leaning Into the Wind is a gorgeous, glorious film.

An Artist’s Life

Tom of Finland

by Hope Madden

Leathermen, homoeroticism, beefcake—three things you should not expect from the film Tom of Finland.

This biopic, often gorgeously shot with a painterly eye that mirrors the talent of the protagonist, examines the repression and fighting spirit that mark the life of artist Touko Laaksonen (Pekka Strang).

Still, there is something lacking: the energy, the bravery and the daring sexuality of the art of Laaksonen—later known as Tom of Finland.

The hushed restraint of director Dome Karukoski’s film suits its opening act as Laaksonen, a WWII lieutenant in the Finnish army, struggles against the dangers of his homosexuality. Beginning early in the film, Strang portrays a self-defined, quietly defiant figure—never reckless, but unafraid to take chances.

A strong ensemble surrounds Strang. Jessica Grabowsky and Lauri Tilkanen are particularly memorable as the artist’s sister and lover, respectively.

He finds peace and some degree of identity through his drawings—sketches of hyper-masculine men. This treatment—this particular art as a lifeline into Laaksonen’s bleak, solitary existence inside a violently repressive Finnish culture—is echoed later in the film as the art finds a grateful and receptive audience around the globe.

Unfortunately, this is where Karukoski’s presentation loses footing. There are moments where you almost feel the joy and power in this leather-clad image of defiance that Tom of Finland’s characters became, but that tonal shift gets the better of Karukoski.

Though the film touches on powerful themes of identity, art as salvation, even porn as politics, Karukoski’s reserved approach robs the film of the very vibrancy—not to mention subversive vision—of the artist’s work.

Tom of Finland is a solid, finely acted tribute to an man whose bold artistry—self-preserving though it may have been—made him a cultural icon. It just could have used a little more of his fire.

YouTube Royalty

Presenting Princess Shaw

by Hope Madden

Raw talent is a rare find. Ophir Kutiel, or Kutiman as he’s known, realizes this. That may be why he spends countless hours scouring YouTube, pulling this guitar solo and that piano concerto to mash into one of his globally admired compositions.

With Samantha Montgomery he found more than the usual diamond in the rough. Her YouTube feed oscillates between confessional monologues and heartfelt, powerful acapella songwriting. What she posts as Princess Shaw to her small online audience is vulnerable and emotionally fearless, her story of artistic and emotional struggle becoming both timeless and utterly of this moment.

Following the two artists as their work collides is Ido Haar’s documentary Presenting Princess Shaw. It’s a refreshingly unadorned look at the lonely life of an artist.

The core story contains everything that makes a documentary wonderful. There are things here you probably did not know existed – like Kutiman’s truly wonderful art, for instance, a form of composition that is fascinating to watch being made.

There is also the secret admirer angle, the underdog tale, the story of an artist being discovered, all of which are themes that can be easily manipulated into a compelling film regardless of form.

And so Haar is to be congratulated for his craftsmanship, utilizing all the themes available to him to compel the audience’s attention while simultaneously creating a raw aesthetic that matches Princess Shaw’s own material.

How authentic is his film? It’s hard to know how Haar ended up filming the songstress at the exact moment she learns of Kutiman’s intervention, but if her emotional response is faked, she’s as strong an actor as she is a songwriter.

As impossible as it is to watch this film without rooting for success and riches to find Princess Shaw, the film itself is more of a celebration of artistry as its own often painful, internal, and emotional reward – catharsis or therapy, even. It’s also a beautiful tribute to artistic camaraderie.




Darkness on the Edge of Town

Bleak Street

by Hope Madden

The destinies of two undersized twin wrestlers and a pair of aging prostitutes braid in Arturo Ripstein’s grimly surreal Bleak Street (La Calle de la Amargura).

The veteran Mexican filmmaker works again with his regular collaborator and life partner, writer Paz Alicia Garciadiego. The two enlist the aid of cinematographer Alejandro Cantu to conjure an atmosphere that is simultaneously desolate and dreamy.

Filmed in stylized black and white and set in a maze of back alleys in Mexico City, Bleak Street begins with off-kilter vignettes that provide glimpses into the dreary lives of the film’s four primary figures before pulling the strands together to depict the true crime that inspired the effort.

Juan Francisco Longoria and Guillermo Lopez play the twin brothers, costumed dwarf wrestlers who “shadow” full size grappling counterparts and never remove their masks.

Patricia Reyes Spindola and Nora Velasquez portray prostitutes facing the realities of their shelf lives as they watch younger women take over their corners and customers.

The two pairs have workplace struggles and disrespect in common, though this hardly binds them. While Ripstein never misses a chance to showcase the humanity of each of his characters, transcending their destiny is not his aim, nor theirs.

Ripstein adds to the hypnotic quality of his picture with a score consisting only of the nearly imperceptible sound of water as scenes fade to black.

Cantu’s lengthy, prowling shots underscore the voyeuristic feel of the film. His sparkling black and white fills the screen with brightly lit surfaces and shadowy backdrops, the landscape taking on a beautiful but nightmarish quality that suits the wild assortment of characters.

Regardless of their actions, these are not characters Ripstein judges. This is both refreshing and off-putting, because the film never feels like the tragedy it is.

Respectful but absolutely never preachy, Bleak Street holds itself and its audience at a distance from the characters onscreen. While that disconnect feels intentional, Ripstein missed an opportunity for lasting relevance because he doesn’t generate any kind of emotional connection with the tragic, true events unfolding.


Bleak Street screens this weekend only at the Wexner Center for the Arts.

When Worlds Collide

Story of My Death

by Hope Madden

Infamous womanizer Giacomo Casanova’s autobiography “Story of My Life” became an irreplaceable documentation of 18th Century Europe. His libertine lifestyle and the age it represents come to an unusual conclusion in the hands of Spanish filmmaker Albert Serra, whose film Story of My Death introduces Casanova to another major European literary figure, Dracula.

Weird, right?

Well, it is certainly unique, as is every frame of Serra’s film. Utterly naturalistic performances, a judgment free approach to the proceedings, a painterly cinematic quality and a very loose narrative structure keep the film feeling simultaneously realistic and surreal.

Casanova (Vincenc Altaio) spends his waning years in his castle penning memoirs, then embarks on an extended journey to more rustic locales in the Carpathian Mountains.

Altaio brings something wonderfully fresh to his turn as Casanova, a performance that’s all sensuality and no smolder, no seduction. Delighted by bodily functions and enamored with every sensuous aspect of daily life, he makes for an unusual hero in a deeply peculiar film.

His Casanova is an overripe figure – something, like his era, just a bit past its spoil date. We spend fully half the film lazing about his castle with him and his coterie, slurping pomegranates (among other things!) and waxing poetic. Serra’s lighting and framing take on a magisterial quality, but all this – the flouncing, the debauchery, the balance of light and dark – develops a more brutal, sinister quality as the film moves to its second half out on the mountainside.

The daintiness of the chateau has no place in this land of the hardy. While Casanova’s behavior back home elicited nonchalance, here in Romania it finds disdain, whispers of condemnation, worries over wickedness.

Why does Casanova meet Dracula (Eliseu Huertas)? Serra’s image is less a monster mash up than a metaphor. By pitting iconic figures of the two eras, the film animates the moment that the age of reason gave way to the Romantic period, when reason took a back seat to darker thinking.

Serra’s film is never quite as simple as that, with every seemingly random and spontaneous scene nonetheless riddled with metaphors and busy with details. From concept to execution, his film is a unique piece of art that will confound and entertain in equal measure.