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Locarno 2022 Review: ASTRAKAN, Social Allegory Disguised As Coming-of-Age Tale

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Locarno 2022 Review: ASTRAKAN, Social Allegory Disguised As Coming-of-Age Tale

In his feature-length debut, French filmmaker David Depesseville explores the strangeness and confusion of growing up during the prepubescent period.

Astrakan revolves around a 12-year-old orphan named Samuel. Eventually, he ends up living with Marie and Clément, a young couple with two children of their own.

The couple lives in a rural area and comes from a working-class background. Their act of taking a kid who isn’t their own under their roof is more about helping themselves than the kid. Having Samuel around provides them with money they need.

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The kid is trying to form a bond with his foster mother Marie while the violent outbursts of Clément alienate him more. Samuel’s foster family dynamics and relationship with his foster grandparents are just one dimension of his life.

The kid’s unprocessed traumas manifest themselves in bodily (dis)function while navigating his budding sexuality. The literal girl next door in Samuel’s orbit would be a godsend for any teenager. Due to the fact that they are both prepubescents, the lust-laced seduction initiated by the girl comes off as cringeworthy and awkward.

Astrakan_4©Simon Beaufils.jpg

In addition, Depesseville does not strike the usual notes of a bildungsroman. Astragan combines impressionistic and naturalistic approaches with magical realist and symbolic panache, with bleaker undertones.

The film has a rich register of dualistic patterns combined and intertwined across each other. Innocence meets sexuality and violence, superstition meets secularism and agnosticism, sacral against profane and sinful, playful against abusive, carnal and criminal, childish and infantile against mature and adult, family and communal against lonely and individual.

In the midst of this vortex, Samuel tries to make sense of the senseless and perplexing, and somehow move forward. Despite his young age, Samuel appears hardened by his misfortunes and accepts his fate with firm stoicism, for the most part.

Occasional outbursts by Samuel accompany the most extreme situations. It is especially evident when Samuel is forced to stay with his uncle Luc, an implied pederast, or when he is beaten by his foster father after he is falsely accused of something.

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The director maintains a veil of mystery regarding the duration of Samuel’s stay with the foster family. It is hard to decipher if Samuel is a new arrival or has been staying with them already for some time. Moreover, his background remains unknown, as trauma relating to the loss of his mother hovers over his unconsciousness.

Astrakan is an odd duck in the coming-of-age genre. Its rural lyricism is coupled with the misunderstandings and melancholy of navigating the whole ordeal. Samuel makes some major misjudgments, including a bloody vengeance he commits in response to a heartbreaking betrayal.

Defesseville does not even attempt to depict this brutal and evil scene in a conventional suspenseful manner. His disengaged perspective lets the act unfold naturally with lyrical realism and an anticlimactic denouement.

If Astrakan had an allegorical precedent, it would be the narrative archetype of Teorema. In Pasolini’s classic, a mysterious character, The Visitor, disrupts the lives of a bourgeois family. The stranger acts as an agent of discord, discombobulating the family’s usual flow of events.

Samuel becomes that archetype of a fool that presumably disrupts the lives of his foster family. Behind a facade of angelic innocence hiding traumas, Samuel voluntarily and unintentionally rattles a stereotypically rural folk’s life in a kind of backhand manner.

In his portrayal of Marie, Clément, and their family members, Depesseville assumes a stoical tone,  depicting tragedy and hardship in the pastoral existence of the family members. As a victim in the chain of events, Samuel often shoulders the brunt of guilt even if he has no ill intention. Yet his presence upsets the microcosm of rural society’s balance.

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As a result, Astrakan becomes an elaborate narrative on the surface, but contains hidden layers that reveal themselves upon closer inspection. Its title refers to a special kind of black wool that comes from lambs killed before birth, and there is an inherent cruelty to the film throughout.

As the story progresses, a lamb becomes a frequent symbol, amplified by the religious setting and Samuel’s preparation for his first communion. Despite conventions of the coming-of-age genre, Depesseville makes a clever play on the notion of black sheep and Agnus Dei to create an ambiguous character.

A brief epilogue reveals that the director purposefully used elliptical narration. While the entire family blames Samuel for what happens, Depesseville reveals the culpability of the entire family and society as a whole.

In spite of the fact that he may go heavy on the symbolism with an actual black lamb entering the picture, and the epilogue taking a heavy-handed approach to revealing what had actually happened, it does not ruin the picaresque experience. Despite being an allegory, the film works as a concentrated representation of the agony and confusion of growing up.

Astrakan is a social allegory disguised as a coming-of-age tale imbued with the latent cringe cruelty of Todd Solondz’s poetics. Using religious imagery and child trauma, the French bucolic is a fusion of rustic and magical realism, a seemingly banal portrait of a family’s mishaps caused by a cognitive dissonance exposes society’s collective cognitive dissonance and the hypocrisies it has been running on and raising the next generation in.

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Astrakan

Cast
  • Cameron Bertrand
  • Nathaël Bertrand
  • Jehnny Beth

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Review: SAMARITAN, A Sly Stallone Superhero Stumble

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Review: SAMARITAN, A Sly Stallone Superhero Stumble

Hitting the three-quarter-century mark usually means a retirement home, a nursing facility, or if you’re lucky to be blessed with relatively good health and savings to match, living in a gated community in Arizona or Florida.

For Sylvester Stallone, however, it means something else entirely: starring in the first superhero-centered film of his decades-long career in the much-delayed Samaritan. Unfortunately for Stallone and the audience on the other side of the screen, the derivative, turgid, forgettable results won’t get mentioned in a career retrospective, let alone among the ever-expanding list of must-see entries in a genre already well past its peak.

For Stallone, however, it’s better late than never when it involves the superhero genre. Maybe in getting a taste of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) with his walk-on role in the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel several years ago, Stallone thought anything Marvel can do, I can do even better (or just as good in the nebulous definition of the word).

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The property Stallone and his team found for him, Samaritan, a little-known graphic novel released by a small, almost negligible, publisher, certainly takes advantage of Stallone’s brute-force physicality and his often underrated talent for near-monosyllabic brooding (e.g., the Rambo series), but too often gives him to little do or say as the lone super-powered survivor, the so-called “Samaritan” of the title, of a lifelong rivalry with his brother, “Nemesis.” Two brothers entered a fire-ravaged building and while both were presumed dead, one brother did survive (Stallone’s Joe Smith, a garbageman by day, an appliance repairman by night).

In the Granite City of screenwriter Bragi F. Schut (Escape Room, Season of the Witch), the United States, and presumably the rest of the world, teeters on economic and political collapse, with a recession spiraling into a depression, steady gigs difficult, if not impossible, to obtain, and the city’s neighborhoods rocked by crime and violence. No one’s safe, not even 13-year-old Sam (Javon Walker), Joe’s neighbor.

When he’s not dodging bullies connected to a gang, he’s falling under the undue influence of Cyrus (Pilou Asbæk), a low-rent gang leader with an outsized ego and the conviction that he and only he can take on Nemesis’s mantle and along with that mantle, a hammer “forged in hate,” to orchestrate a Bane-like plan to plunge the city into chaos and become a wealthy power-broker in the process.

Schut’s woefully underwritten script takes a clumsy, haphazard approach to world-building, relying on a two-minute animated sequence to open Samaritan while a naive, worshipful Sam narrates Samaritan and Nemesis’s supposedly tragic, Cain and Abel-inspired backstory. Schut and director Julius Avery (Overlord) clumsily attempt to contrast Sam’s childish belief in messiah-like, superheroic saviors stepping in to save humanity from itself and its own worst excesses, but following that path leads to authoritarianism and fascism (ideas better, more thoroughly explored in Watchmen and The Boys).

While Sam continues to think otherwise, Stallone’s superhero, 25 years past his last, fatal encounter with his presumably deceased brother, obviously believes superheroes are the problem and not the solution (a somewhat reasonable position), but as Samaritan tracks Joe and Sam’s friendship, Sam giving Joe the son he never had, Joe giving Sam the father he lost to street violence well before the film’s opening scene, it gets closer and closer to embracing, if not outright endorsing Sam’s power fantasies, right through a literally and figuratively explosive ending. Might, as always, wins regardless of how righteous or justified the underlying action.

It’s what superhero audiences want, apparently, and what Samaritan uncritically delivers via a woefully under-rendered finale involving not just unconvincing CGI fire effects, but a videogame cut-scene quality Stallone in a late-film flashback sequence that’s meant to be subversively revelatory, but will instead lead to unintentional laughter for anyone who’s managed to sit the entirety of Samaritan’s one-hour and 40-minute running time.

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Samaritan is now streaming worldwide on Prime Video.

Samaritan

Cast
  • Sylvester Stallone
  • Javon ‘Wanna’ Walton
  • Pilou Asbæk

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Matt Shakman Is In Talks To Direct ‘Fantastic Four’

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According to a new report, Wandavision’s Matt Shakman is in talks to direct the upcoming MCU project, Fantastic Four. Marvel Studios has been very hush-hush regarding Fantastic Four to the point where no official announcements have been made other than the film’s release date. No casting news or literally anything other than rumors has been released regarding the project. We know that Fantastic Four is slated for release on November 8th, 2024, and will be a part of Marvel’s Phase 6. There are also rumors that the cast of the new Fantastic Four will be announced at the D23 Expo on September 9th.

Fantastic Four is still over two years from release, and we assume we will hear more news about the project in the coming months. However, the idea of the Fantastic Four has already been introduced into the MCU. John Krasinski played Reed Richards aka Mr. Fantastic in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The cameo was a huge deal for fans who have been waiting a long time for the Fantastic Four to enter the MCU. When Disney acquired Twenty Century Fox in 2019 we assumed that the Fox Marvel characters would eventually make their way into the MCU. It’s been 3 years and we already have had an X-Men and Fantastic Four cameo – even if they were from another universe.

Deadline is reporting that Wandavision’s Matt Shakman is in talks to direct Fantastic Four. Shakman served as the director for Wandavision and has had an extensive career. He directed two episodes of Game of Thrones and an episode of The Boys, and he had a long stint on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. There is nothing official yet, but Deadline’s sources say that Shakman is currently in talks for the job and things are headed in the right direction.

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To be honest, I was a bit more excited when Jon Watts was set to direct. I’m sure Shakman is a good director, but Watts proved he could handle a tentpole superhero film with Spider-Man: Homecoming. Wandavision was good, but Watts’ style would have been perfect for Fantastic Four. The film is probably one of the most anticipated films in Marvel’s upcoming slate films and they need to find the best person they can to direct. Is that Matt Shakman? It could be, but whoever takes the job must realize that Marvel has a lot riding on this movie. The other Fantastic Four films were awful and fans deserve better. Hopefully, Marvel knocks it out of the park as they usually do. You can see for yourself when Fantastic Four hits theaters on November 8th, 2024.

Film Synopsis: One of Marvel’s most iconic families makes it to the big screen: the Fantastic Four.

Source: Deadline

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Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase Star in ‘Zombie Town’ Mystery Teen Romancer (Exclusive)

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Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase have entered Zombie Town, a mystery teen romancer based on author R.L. Stine’s book of the same name.

The indie, now shooting in Ontario, also stars Henry Czerny and co-teen leads Marlon Kazadi and Madi Monroe. The ensemble cast includes Scott Thompson and Bruce McCulloch of the Canadian comedy show Kids in the Hall.

Canadian animator Peter Lepeniotis will direct Zombie Town. Stine’s kid’s book sees a quiet town upended when 12-year-old Mike and his friend, Karen, see a horror movie called Zombie Town and unexpectedly see the title characters leap off the screen and chase them through the theater.

Zombie Town will premiere in U.S. theaters before streaming on Hulu and then ABC Australia in 2023.

“We are delighted to bring the pages of R.L. Stine’s Zombie Town to the screen and equally thrilled to be working with such an exceptional cast and crew on this production. A three-time Nickelodeon Kids Choice Award winner with book sales of over $500 million, R.L. Stine has a phenomenal track record of crafting stories that engage and entertain audiences,” John Gillespie, Trimuse Entertainment founder and executive producer, said in a statement.

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Executive producers are Trimuse Entertainment, Toonz Media Group, Lookout Entertainment, Viva Pictures and Sons of Anarchy actor Kim Coates.  

Paco Alvarez and Mark Holdom of Trimuse negotiated the deal to acquire the rights to Stine’s Zombie Town book.

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