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Unknown Pleasures features independent US films that give an alternative insight into US cinema and are rarely to be seen in German cinemas. At a time when binary thinking seems to be omnipresent and many are quick to make attributions, this year’s edition of Unknown Pleasures wants to cause some trouble by showing films which elegantly fail categorization. Films that have different production contexts, whose role models are not afraid of being loud and excessive and which play with genre. This year’s opening film, GIVE ME LIBERTY (USA 2019) by Kirill Mikhanovsky, could be described as a pinball machine on the screen: Like balls, the protagonists are flung about Milwaukee, out of control and surprising. Alex Ross Perry’s HER SMELL (USA 2018) starring Elisabeth Moss, is no less insane, a counterpoint to the oh so popular biopics of musicians.

Several films pick up on elements of science fiction cinema: In the satire SORRY TO BOTHER YOU (USA 2018), which is set in the near future, a black call center employee imitates a "white" voice and promptly becomes successful. The documentary THE HOTTEST AUGUST (USA/Canada 2019) explores the question of how the future will look in the style of Chris Marker and in SWARM SEASON (USA 2019) the cosmological vastness of the sky over Hawaii merges with the breeding of bees and the simulation of life on Mars.

A special program showcases the directorial works of Elaine May, who made four films between 1971 and 1987. With their zeal for breaking rules and dismantling stereotypes, A NEW LEAF, THE HEARTBREAK KID, MIKEY AND NICKY and ISHTAR are some of the greatest (New) Hollywood productions of the time and with their zeal for breaking rules and dismantling stereotypes they are perfectly suited to the other films in the program. May started out on Broadway in a comedy duo with Mike Nichols. She made her first film in 1971, the comedy A NEW LEAF, becoming the first woman since Ida Lupino (!) to score a Hollywood studio directing deal. Her career was far from linear and she had to fight sexism and stereotypes. May made her last feature film – ISHTAR – in 1987. The forced end of her directing career not only represented a great loss for cinema but is a scandal. She is apparently currently working on a new film.

GIVE ME LIBERTY (Kirill Mikhanovsky, USA 2019, 1. & 11.1.) Vic is an ambulance driver in Milwaukee. One day, everything goes wrong: Half of his Russian family suddenly turns up to be driven to a funeral in his little bus and unrest breaks out in the city. As he navigates his way through this tense situation, he gets later and later and his passengers become increasingly nervous. Kirill Mikhanovsky was born in Moscow and was a teenager when he moved to the USA with his parents. In GIVE ME LIBERTY, he explores his own experiences as a driver. This is a comedy that leaves both viewers and protagonists breathless: Rarely has everyday chaos, great and small, been filmed as masterfully as here.

SWARM SEASON (Sarah J. Christman, USA 2019, 2. & 6.1.) Manu is 10. She and her mother breed bees while her father campaigns against the construction of a new telescope not far away, where NASA scientists are training for life on Mars. All of this takes place under Hawaii's clear starlit sky. Sarah J. Christman's essayistic debut film combines the universe's abstract dimension with the no less enigmatic world of bees, crossing the complex with the intimate. In her beguiling collage of images and sounds, Christman approaches infinite vastness and also takes a historical perspective, in which time and the resulting changes become decisive questions.

SORRY TO BOTHER YOU (Boots Riley, USA 2018, 2. & 7.1.) Oakland, California, sometime in an alternative reality: A young African-American named Cassius Green finds a job in a call center. It’s tough at the start but sales start to go well for him when he decides to imitate a "white" voice. While he becomes more and more successful, his friends organize protests against economic exploitation and oppression. "This palpably handmade movie doesn't reach out, and nor does it engage in chin stroking: instead, it extends a middle finger. If there's something obnoxious about that gesture, it also feels honest: after all, satire means never having to say you're sorry." (Adam Nayman)

HAM ON RYE (Tyler Taormina, USA 2019, 3.1.) The students are nervous and put on their best clothes. After all, this is supposed to be the most important day of their lives. They set off, walking through the streets of the city apparently heading for a particular point. Finally, they meet in the local delicatessen, eating and drinking something before the start of a bizarre initiation rite, staged as a musical. Some of them disappear from the suburb, others are doomed to stay. Tyler Taormina's directorial debut HAM ON RYE, dreamy only at first glance, sometimes seems like a parallel world, which feels very familiar in its weirdness.

HER SMELL (Alex Ross Perry, USA 2018, 4. & 12.1.) Becky Something is a singer and the driving force of the 90s punk band "Something She". She's at the height of her career so things can only go downhill from here. When her excesses trigger a fall while she is on tour, she is confronted with the past and tries to lead her band back to success. The center of this wild movie is Elisabeth Moss as Becky in her third collaboration with Alex Ross Perry. Her performance is a tour de force that hasn't been seen at the cinema for a long time. "Moss strips away every shred of her charm to reveal her charisma in its rawest state, implicating Perry and the audience in a voyeurism that can feel almost holy."(A.O. Scott)

THE HOTTEST AUGUST (Brett Story, USA/Kanada 2019, 7. & 15.1.) New York, August 2017. The city heat is oppressive, the new president has created a tense atmosphere and the TV news is all about forest fires and hurricanes. Canadian filmmaker Brett Story spends a month exploring the city and its suburbs, interviewing people about their hopes for the future. THE HOTTEST AUGUST is a report from the front lines about a society perceived to be on the verge of a disaster. A disaster, which will rip through the tension and make the question of survival gain importance. "That's my preoccupation in all my projects: what are the fantasies that we can't let go of? And what do we buy into, not just individual but collectively?" (Brett Story)

EN EL SÉPTIMO DÍA (On the Seventh Day, Jim McKay, USA 2018, 10.1.) José, an undocumented Mexican in New York, works as a delivery worker with very few rights. In his spare time, he is a passionate football player. When his boss asks him to work on the day of an important game, he desperately seeks a way out. EN EL SÉPTIMO DÍA is the long-awaited new film by Jim McKay, who caused a stir in the 1990s with a series of films and over the past 20 years has directed numerous episodes of series such as The Wire, The Americans, Better Call Saul and Mr. Robot.

A NEW LEAF (Elaine May, USA 1971, 5. & 11.1.) Henry Graham (Walter Matthau) has spent his entire inheritance and now urgently needs money. His plan is to marry and then murder a rich widow (played by Elaine May). A NEW LEAF, which was Elaine May's debut, “is a devastating feminist psychodrama concealed as amiable dark comedy" (J. Hoberman). From the start, the director faced several difficulties: a difficult star, sexism and new studio managers who took the film away from her during post-production.

THE HEARTBREAK KID (Elaine May, USA 1972, 15. & 16.1.) In contrast to A NEW LEAF, the making of Elaine May's second commissioned feature film, THE HEARTBREAK KID, was uncomplicated. In it, the sporting goods retailer Lenny Cantrow (Charles Grodin) marries Lila Kolodny (played by Elaine May's daughter Jeannie Berlin) and they embark on their honeymoon full of anticipation. But as soon as they arrive at the beach, Lenny leaves Lila to flirt with another woman (Cybill Shepherd). Probably May's least known film, THE HEARTBREAK KID can be read as an answer to The Graduate, which was directed by her former Broadway partner Mike Nichols. What begins as a comedy develops - under May's direction - into a precise analysis of her protagonists' character traits.

Compared to May’s first two films, MIKEY AND NICKY (Elaine May, USA 1976, 3. & 16.1.) is much darker. Played by John Cassavetes, Nicky is a gangster who steals money from his boss and asks his boyhood friend Mikey (Peter Falk) for help. “May's central theme is the submissiveness of women and the stupidity of men. What makes MIKEY AND NICKY unique among the buddy movies is that the male friendship is shown through the eyes of their victims. "(J. Hoberman) The studio was not sure how to deal with this masterpiece, warning audiences about the two protagonists: “Don’t expect to like them."

ISHTAR (Elaine May, USA 1987, 4. & 10.1.) Elaine May’s fourth and, so far, final feature film is still often described as a box office flop, which overlooks the fact that it is one of the most beautiful Hollywood films of the 1980s. Two wholly untalented musicians - played by Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman - travel around the world and end up in North Africa, where they become acquainted with the CIA and the stupidities of US foreign policy. In retrospect, Elaine May stated, "If all of the people who hate ISHTAR had seen it, I would be a rich woman." (hb)

Unknown Pleasures # 11 was curated by Hannes Brühwiler. Further information at www.unknownpleasures.de.

Funded by:

  • Logo Minister of State for Culture and the Media