Continuing our coverage of the 2020 Fantasia International Film Festival, here are reviews of three festival selections: Undergods, You Cannot Kill David Arquette, and Morgana.
A European-set anthology, Chino Moya’s Undergods has a strange energy. Occasionally languid, other times erupting in anger or abjection, it is a turbulent film aiming to tell an exacting, terse set of stories. Each story bleeds into each other, adequately painting a bleak, grey portrait of urban decay. The manner in which these stories transition is not always clean (a father starts telling his young daughter a bedtime story about a stern businessman jilting a potential client?), but the background world building is possibly the best part of this otherwise disappointing film.
The real issue for me is the anthology aspect itself. Undergods is a fable book telling tales of ironic misfortune. The problem is that the irony of the stories don’t hit hard enough—these are not quite O. Henry caliber tales. What results is a series of stories that read slightly turgid and end, mostly, flatly. The longest story, involving a man coming home to his ex-wife after being an imprisoned worker in a factory for 15 years, is the most engaging and could have been the plot of the entire movie. It holds much more staying power in the mind than the tale of a neighbor appearing at a couple’s doorstep, looking for help, but whose true intentions are much more nefarious. As part of a larger anthology, though, this best short has to develop too quickly, to the detriment of the film as a whole.
Still, Undergods is a well-made film. It is colored ugly (intentionally), which sucks energy out of the lives of these characters. For the audience, though, Wojciech Golczewski’s score balances this energy level out. For its flaws, I would be interested in seeing Moya explore this world again, perhaps focusing on a single protagonist to ground it all for the viewer.
You Cannot Kill David Arquette
Did you know that actor David Arquette once held a championship belt in World Championship Wrestling (WCW) for two weeks? I didn’t. If you aren’t a fan of professional wrestling, it’s possible you didn’t know either. You Cannot Kill David Arquette tracks the actor’s present-day attempted renaissance in the wrestling ring.
The film presents Arquette as the epitome of what was wrong with wrestling. He was wrestling’s downfall. An actor comes on WCW in 2000 as a gimmick to promote Ready to Rumble, and he wins? The film shows a montage of people reacting to Arquette’s presence in the wrestling world. Then, it pivots to a construction of Arquette that is much more sympathetic—showing him to be in a career rut. None of it is a completely accurate or objective presentation of the man (he might not be a leading man, but the guy works).
And, indeed, much of You Cannot Kill David Arquette comes off as too pre-planned and stagey. While this type of vanity biography is not my personal favorite form of documentary, it is somewhat fitting for a film that is documenting, in part, the wrestling world. The world of professional wrestling is all about theatricality, braggadocio, and heroic storytelling. So why not construct your documentary to do the same?
All the same, the arc here is fairly limited. It is a redemption narrative told well by filmmakers David Darg and Price James, but it is exactly what it is: a famous actor gets some renewed media traction from pursuing an unlikely hobby. Not to mention it can be difficult to meet the film at its level, in terms of sympathizing with Arquette’s plateaued career, given we keep seeing his lavish house filled with needless luxuries. Viewed solely as a unique story in one of the more fascinating sports histories, You Cannot Kill David Arquette is fairly fun. But perhaps this is because I, a non-wrestling fan, would love to watch a doc on the history of WCW.
You Cannot Kill David Arquette: B-
Morgana is such an easy film to like. With an inspirational story about finding affection through touch, through sex, and finding a light at the end of the tunnel through embracing one’s sexuality, the film is a delight. As such, it is hard to write a critical review of the film, as I cannot bring myself to praise it unilaterally.
My main concern with the film is that it is in this nebulous arena between short subject and feature. Filmmakers Josie Hess and Isabel Peppard, it seems, want to push this up to feature length in order to best service their subject, adult filmmaker and performer Morgana Muses. However, this story does read thin when stretched over 70 minutes, making me feel as if this would be better as a tight 45-minute short subject.
The film is at its best when it traces Morgana’s journey to adult entertainment. It is an elegant, beautiful story of finding new erotic feelings, exciting feelings the performer admits to not experiencing in some time, and translating those feelings into erotic art. This artistic expression is the heart of the film, so one would think that documenting the production of one of these pieces of art would provide a good framing for the doc. But this aspect of the film feels secondary, and it is edited into the film in a slightly sporadic way.
Because of this, the film is at its most effective when it discusses the filmmaker’s emotional arc and shows the audience, through her individual story, how feminist pornography can be a powerful tool for identity formation and for the expression of those identities.
As always, thanks for reading!
—Alex Brannan (Twitter, Letterboxd, Facebook)