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Thread: LUZ (Tilman Singer 2018)

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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    LUZ (Tilman Singer 2018)



    Sophisticated play with horror-fantasy genre tropes like demonic possession, and other pleasures, in German and Spanish

    This very short feature (no more than seventy minutes long, but packed with complexity so that is plenty) is puzzling, yet instantly self-assured. This is a subtle and sophisticated film that plays with the genres practiced by David Cronenberg, Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci - classic horror masters - but presents the material in a manner that is sui generis. It's a puzzle picture whose short seventy-minute run time doesn't mean it's going to be easy to decode. One thing that's obvious right away is that it will be tricky to detect what voice is coming from what body and in what language. Shifts of language are an economical way of suggesting demonic possession. Pay close attention, or you will be lost. Actually, you may be lost anyway. But while I came away with little, I was enticed and felt something special was going on.

    Luz begins as a young female cabdriver by that name (Luana Velis, in the title role) drags herself into a strangely empty police station. She takes a very long time to move across the floor, and eventually drops coins into a vending machine for canned drink. Luz speaks sometimes Spanish, sometimes German. Another thing: the same words will be spoken at different stages by different people, suggesting that the spirit moves from body to body.

    A demonic entity has apparently followed Luz here, aiming to come up on the woman it loves. Luz seems battered, yet vigorous and defiant; but the power within her may not ever be her own.

    At first Luz speaks some inaudible words to the receptionist, an automaton who never looks into the camera, and is always busy. Later ( but apparently earlier in the chronology of the film) the scene shifts to show two strangers talking at a bar. A certain Nora (Julia Riedler) is foisting drinks on a Dr. Rossini (Jan Blurhardt) in a forward, suggestive, dominating manner. She wants something. She's trying to get information from Dr. Rossini, evidently a psychotherapist, on behalf a classmate of hers at a Chilean Catholic school years ago. As a peculiar conversation progresses, Nora and Dr. Rossini go to the bathroom, where some kind of violent spirit transfer takes place in which Dr. Rossini is possessed.

    Dr. Rossini now shows up at the police station. He has come to question Luz - only by the time he gets there, he may no longer be himself. Luz, who looks like she's been in a car accident, is an ex-Chiliean Catholic schoolgirl, who lately, "temporarily," she pointedly says, has been working as a taxi driver. Rossini questions Luz under the direction of a certain detective Bertillon (Nadja Stubiger) with Olarte (Johannes Benecke) acting as the Spanish interpreter, and for his interrogation, he initially puts Luz under hypnosis. In this state she acts out prior events. Eventually the past becomes the present, and the police are faced with strange, unfamiliar phenomena.

    All this is with the occasional aid of simple special effects like contact lenses and dry ice; largely director Singer makes the strange happen simply by causing us to imagine it. For devotees of offbeat, challenging fantasy-horror. Not for lovers of mainstream genre material. Some of the sequences are repetitive; you have to get into the mood and be patient. I found the effect haunting and cool, but at some points I felt lost.

    In his admiring, if reserved, Variety review, Dennis Harvey compliments the film's "icy widescreen visual composure" (thanks to dp Paul Faltz), "yea-icier score (Simon Waskow) primarily sculpted of retro synths"; the "highly worked" sound design, the "pitch-perfect performances" (which are beautifully nuanced and quicksilver in their changes) ranging "from the deadpan to the hysterical" - all making Luz "strikingy controlled in every aspect." (There is something Germanic in this, nicely contrasted with the running thread of Spanish-language dialogue.) But as Harvey notes, what all this adds up to will vary with the viewer, who is still largely up to her own in settling upon a full interpretations of what it all means. What we can say is that Tilman Singer has presented us with a distinctive "calling card" that foreshadows accomplished work to come.

    Luz, 70 mins., produced in Germany in widescreen 16mm-to-HD format, debuted at the Berlinale, Feb., 2018, showing at a listed fourteen other fantasy and horror festivals including Fantasia, Montreal, July 2018 and continuing through 2018 and 2019. It begins limited distribution in New York (IFC Center, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema City Point, Nitehawk Cinema Williamsburg) and Los Angeles (Laemmle Monica, Laemmle Glendale) on Friday, July 19 with national release to follow. At the Roxie, San Francisco Friday, August 2 - Thursday, August 8, 2019. Opens Fri. July 19, 2019, IFC Center, NYC.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-15-2019 at 05:55 PM.


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