Movies of the Week #12 (2023)

The Tied Up Balloon (1967): There have been many balloon-related headlines recently, so why not check out a balloon-themed movie? This little allegorical piece by Binka Zhelyazkova takes us to a Bulgarian village where a mysterious balloon comes flying about and the locals immediately contemplate potential ways of making material use of it. The balloon communicates occasionally, but it mostly tries to evade its wannabe captors. For what is a balloon if not freedom incarnate? Or an elaborate device for espionage? The movie is complex, its reading rooted in the fears of persecution of the times, particularly as Zhelyazkova was not a friendly regime collaborator. Some interesting background and interpretation reading is readily available online. Even without dwelling too much on the meaning of things, The Tied Up Balloon is a visually remarkable feat, with a few scenes that are guaranteed to stay with you. It finds moments of humor, is bitingly satirical, even heartbreaking, but it also meanders somewhat in abstruse exchanges – as one would expect of a balloon. 8

Spre Nord (2022): To the North is Marius Mincan’s debut non-documentary feature, an age old tale of men dreaming of a better life – only to be squashed by other men dreaming of the same. It’s the year 1996 and we meet Dumitru and Giorgi, two Eastern Europeans working in Spain who look to sneak onto a ship headed to North America. Once abord, they are reliant on the goodwill of those aboard to reach their destination – and goodwill is not that abundant on the high seas, as the haunting, foreboding score of the movie underlies. Mincan proves a patient storyteller with flair for the cinematic, be it in the wide shots of the unnerving ocean, or the claustrophobic mazes on the container-laden vessel. Anchored in particular by Soliman Cruz’s performance, To the North takes a hard look at our shared sense of humanity and finds it lacking, but for reasons that are never simple to untwine. Read the full review here. 7

Zeroes and Ones (2011): Eugene Kotlyarenko might have broken into the mainstream with Spree (2020), but I wouldn’t have come across this early movie without Mubi. After recently watching Missing, another “screen-based” experience seemed interesting, but what would one set in the mid to late 2000s even look like? 0s & 1s (man, what a title) isn’t that easy on the way, with a lot of stuff going on and clamoring for your attention. It can easily overwhelm, as we follow James Pongo, an obnoxious guy looking for his supposedly stolen laptop while struggling to endear himself to “Mildred” – a girl who shows at most moderate interest in him. Even if this whole thing isn’t easy to like, it actually felt to me like a hard-hitting foray into tech culture, the hold it can have on our lives and the way it can shape us for the worst. Definitely not smooth, but neither were the late 00s, so I’d argue this is an experimental film that’s worth a shot. 7

The Survivor (2021): This half-sports movie, half-holocaust movie feels like very familiar territory. Harry Heft is at the end of his (short) professional boxing career and looks to ensure a fight against rising Rocky Marciano, in the hope that national headlines will bring him to the attention of his former lover, whom he’d been estranged with since the war. The film is interspersed with flashbacks of Heft in the concentration camps, where he fought “sponsored” by a German officer to ensure his own survival while making the officer some money. When the movie should be over, an appendix of a story ensues, which provides some closure forty minutes later. Overall, though, in spite of the solid performance from Ben Foster and the (underused) presence of Vicky Krieps, as well as impressive period costumes, the story doesn’t engage and also doesn’t add much to the conversation. 6

Magic Mike’s Last Dance (2023): I enjoyed the first two movies in the series and generally like the energy that MM has to offer, so I gave this one a chance in spite of the meh reviews. In this last outing, Mike is swept up by an apparent divorcee to fortune (played by Salma Hayek), who looks to get one over her husband and offers Mike the chance to direct a strip-dance extravaganza in London. There’s this supposed love blossoming between them which unfortunately feels very generic and it fails in driving the movie, which is why I had less fun with this than the previous flicks. The “old gang” only makes an appearance over Skype (kudos to Soderbergh for making group calls look as atrocious as they are in reality) and while the dancing is always exciting to look at, the new dancers are faceless characters. There’s just not enough freshness in this last entry to make it worthwhile, unless you’re just interested in set-pieces and dance numbers, in which case enjoy! 5