EIFF 2016: The Love Witch & Baba Yaga

EIFF are screening Anna Biller's modern take on the 70s sexploitation genre while in the festival's retrospective strand you'll find Corrado Farina's Baba Yaba, an example of the real thing

Feature by Rachel Bowles | 18 Jun 2016
  • The Love Witch

The Love Witch (★★★★★)

Nowadays, the word “auteur” is used very much interchangeably with “director” and often means one with a recognisable style or vision , usually achieved through a governing stake of control over their films, a privilege not enjoyed by many directors for hire in Hollywood (and certainly not back in the heyday of B movies). Anna Biller is, however, an auteur in the term’s most potent incarnation. For her new film, The Love Witch, an urgently feminist sexploitation horror-comedy, Biller acted as director, producer, writer and art director. She scored the film and, as costume and set designer, expertly crafted the aesthetics of a sexy 70s witchy exploitation masterpiece.

If you were to catch The Love Witch late night while channel surfing on TV, you wouldn’t know that you weren’t watching the real thing, and maybe you would doubt your sanity when at the 97th minute, a character nonchalantly pulls an iPhone from her handbag. Biller’s film realises the full potential of postmodern pastiche. The film is truly hyper real in that it’s more real – as well as funnier, smarter and scarier – than those B movie gems that inspired it. Every frame, every cut is masterfully accounted for.

The Love Witch in question is Elaine (Samantha Robinson, irresistibly seductive as a hyper sexual femme fatale), a witch who just wants what every girl wants: a man to love. Fleeing allegations connected to the mysterious disappearance of her husband in San Francisco, Elaine sets up shop in small town America, selling her witchy wares to local pagans, reading tarot cards and using sex magick to cast love spells. However, trouble seems to find Elaine and it isn’t long before local men begin to act strangely hysterical and die under mysterious circumstances.

The Love Witch is nothing less than a tour de force of 21st century queer, feminist film. It expertly negotiates gender politics, dispatching complex paradoxes of difficult feminist theory in the most simple, comically idiotic throwaway lines (“pretend is always real!”). But this is a multi-faceted gem, and The Love Witch can simply be enjoyed as a 70s gothic romp – riotously funny, overwrought, dramatic and full of suspense.

The Love Witch screens at Filmhouse, 19 Jun, 8.40pm & Cineworld, 20 Jun, 8.45pm

More coverage of EIFF:

The Love Witch Edinburgh Film Festival 2016: 11 films to see

Cheer Up Finnish films breaking out internationally

Baba Yaga (★★)

Baba Yaga

Lack of authorial control could be a huge problem for sexploitation directors of the 1970s, not least for Italian writer-director Corrado Farina whose film Baba Yaga was hacked up and released by its producers in 1973 without Farina’s consent. Over thirty years later, Farina finally enjoyed the artistic license he had always wanted for Baba Yaga, allowing him to re-edit the film into its final director’s cut. The result is a lurid, deranged giallo – a typical, if less than perfect, example of the sexploitation (and a little blaxploitation) B movie pictures of the era. Entertaining as Baba Yaga is, Farina is no Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci or Roger Corman.

Baba Yaga centres on thoroughly liberated modern woman and professional photographer Valentina, who one night accepts a lift from a strange older woman, the title’s Baba Yaga, Farina’s lesbian iteration of an archetypal Russian fairy tale character – a predatory, matriarchal witch. Before long, Valentina is having bizarre sexual nightmares and her camera seems to be under a spell. A bizarre “plot” of sorts unfurls, involving a BDSM sex voodoo doll, some brief political discussion and the occasional racist moment that may leave viewers queasy (Valentina tells a black male model to channel his savage ancestry). However, Baba Yaga is not intended to be enjoyed for its narrative or politics, but its erotic imagery and surreal dream sequences.

Bada Yaga screens at Filmhouse, 21 Jun, 11.30pm as part of POW!!!

EIFF runs 15-26 Jun http://edfilmfest.org.uk/