Aloys

Swiss writer-director Tobias Nölle's melancholic mystery, Aloys, is a film truly worthy of the overused and often inappropriately applied term 'visionary'. Detective fiction hasn't felt this fresh and exciting since Paul Auster's New York Trilogy.

Following his father's death, an introverted and lonely private detective, Aloys Adorn (Georg Friedrich), retreats even further within himself. Only connecting to the world through his video camera, and then the tapes he re-watches every night, he is left floundering when they are stolen. Tormented by calls from the mysterious woman, Vera (Tilde von Overbeck), who took them, Aloys agrees to play along with her figmental "phone-walking" game in order to get them back. Pushed to abandon the 'rules of the invisible' that he recites to himself, and into a shared fantasy, Aloys discovers a real connection that he never thought possible.

Aloys is a psychological drama in the truest sense of the term. Nölle's precise use of intricate sound design, Hopper-esque painterly cinematography, and fastidious production design, brings profound depth to the merging of Aloys and Vera's inner worlds. Beautifully composed kaleidoscopic imagery reconfigures into a multi-layered and hallucinatory array, as the distinction between fantasy and reality breaks down.

Imagination is poured into of every frame of Aloys. So many lesser films have aimed for the odd lyricism found here, yet mistaken quirky, inarticulate eccentricity for poetics. has a difficult offbeat rhythm to follow at first, but is composed of eloquent symbolism, within a tight dream logic, that unfurls its meaning if patient. It's certainly challenging, but rewards attention and effort with true poetry. Aloys achieves an uncanny expressionism redolent of David Lynch or Werner Herzog, and such a strong debut feature suggests that director Tobias Nölle might soon be considered a peer.


The Fits

Mesmerising with the power of a recurring dream, writer-director Anna Rose Holmer's debut feature is tightly focused 72-minute poem on female maturation and body anxiety.

Set almost exclusively in a Cincinnati recreational centre, The Fits is both a tender realist portrait of a tomboy outsider stuck between gendered worlds, and an ominous mystery of unexplained illness. A reserved and gangly 11-year-old, Toni (newcomer Royalty Hightower), is being taught boxing by her older brother Jermaine (Da'Sean Minor). But peering through the door of a neighbouring gym hall, as if surveying wildlife from the bushes, Toni marvels at the confidence and power exuded by the lead girls of the Lionesses drill team. Captivated, she leaves boxing behind for dance.

While awkward and uncoordinated at first, Toni becomes more self-assured and controlled over time, making friends with a fellow trainee dancer, Breezy (Alexis Neblett). During a practice session, the leader of the Lionesses, Legs (Makyla Burnam), has a violent seizure. She recovers, but soon the seizures spread amongst the other girls. As more and more succumb to the seizures, Toni begins to worry about when her time will come, and what it would mean if it doesn't.

Royalty Hightower is completely captivating in a role that sees her occupy almost every shot. Much is asked of her to subtly build Toni's developing sense of presence and flowering confidence with her body, but she commits completely. A scene of Toni repeatedly rehearsing a choreography on a highway overpass, growing in confidence until she triumphantly celebrates to the cars passing below, is an electric piece of physical performance.

Cinematographer Paul Yee performs his own graceful dance. The camera meticulously conveys meaning with subtle gestures and long takes; the slow zoom that loses Toni behind the back line of Lionesses after an embarrassing early dance attempt, or the indirect framing and soft focus on the adults that separates and obscures their world. The Fits has the confident and measured visual language required of such an intimate and internal story, and feels unique in its vision.

The score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans - all wailing woodwind, guttural strings and drill team clap-stomps - evokes a powerful unease from the off. Their ability to ratchet tension and communicate psychic distress, previously utilised to great effect on Martha Marcy May Marlene and Enemy, is exceptional here, working in perfect association with the visuals.

In a determined way, The Fits avoids simplistic answers in favour of mythic storytelling. What the seizures represent is purposefully left open to interpretation. As complex as feminist re-appropriation of Lacanian hysteria, or as simple as the conflicting trauma and empowerment of puberty, the ambiguous nature of the seizures is a rich vein for thought and discussion.

Twisting from a detached realism reminiscent of a Frederick Wiseman documentary to an otherworldly dreamscape, sometimes at a moment's notice, while retaining a precise atmosphere and holistic expression, The Fits is a stunning debut feature. Made with a minuscule budget in less than a year - as per the rules of the Venice Biennale Cinema College program it was produced under - Anna Rose Holmer has created a marvel of brave and resourceful cinema.