Kaemi's IFComp 2023 Reviews

Out of Scope by Drew Castalia

By the time an old servant slash formerly the imperial admiral patriarch’s mistress slash secret agent from some fractious Balkan manipulates an empire and its dissident into a war that culminates in a sniper duel between supersoldier aristocrat siblings who are potentially lovers in their crumbling mansion over a feud that consists as much of domestic relations as it does international relations, not much lies out of scope. At its core, Out of Scope wants to tell a suffocating story about how two siblings are torn apart by the different social expectations of gender, but in its attempt to amp the tension to world historical importance, it loses its message somewhere in its reams of political exposition.

With its guns blazing stagesetter, Out of Scope charges no holds barred to flourish a first impression with moody grandeur prose, where the “ceiling rises precipitously, all the way to the soffit of the second floor, letting in a huge amount of light and spiders” to narrow corridors haunted by “Statues. Family members, genuine and appropriated. All stained by a slightly ironic shade of soot.” The rich imagery glimmers in stained glass moonlight to echo through the space a moody nocturne, elegantly composing into phantasmagorical allure with its sudden piu forte into violence: “Bubbles in the glass pane swim before the scene … Seaweed rustles on the hillside and froth floats in the sky. / A gleam of treasure winks at you from a shipwreck … Her eyes are on you … You feel the collision in your memories, then in the constriction of your heart, then going through your side as the window shatters against you and you plunge down against its thick, gouging shards.” Although sometimes the opulence inelegances into the gaudiness of trying too hard, like when “You approach, unsteadily on the igneous plane”, the writing still crackles when the moody veneer is asserted selfsufficient.

But then the story balloons expository, bloating to explain who the Colibrians are and what treaties they’ve made and not upheld, thus this sharpness disappears into somewhat wooden banter, with aristocrats hmmph hmming how you might think they would, with soldiers more concerned with who hazes who than whether the war engulfs them, with your various relations being bores. To accompany this broadening, the cast of characters also widens, most of whom are hastily sketched in with broad strokes: “Uncle Graham, or Great Ham, as you call him, is inevitably at the long dining table, his mouth ingesting from a plate and his ears from the inexhaustible anecdote of Lavinia … Grandfather is accepting tribute from a fug of officers, while Aunt Marion, or Marry On, as you call her, is pointedly ignoring it all”. This flatness saps your investment in any of their subsequent shenanigans, and although there are attempts to provide twists, Aunt Marion is revealed as a skilled sculptor of previous lovers, none of these twists really broaden their remit beyond the eyeroll by which they are initially invoked.

Rather than complexifying the family dynamics through a wider canvas, the intermixing of the political with the personal proves artificial, rendering the latter vague through the interventions of the former. Take this dry bit of banter after Zoe’s mother, the editor of a national newspaper, approves of Zoe’s boyfriend: “”You’re the kingmaker,” you say, citing her nickname in this morning’s edition of Clarion Call, ostensibly in reference to your father’s conquests.” Turbulent emotions between family members loses intimate intensity when printed in the morning paper. Similarly, the supersoldier intrigue between the siblings simply dilutes their conflicted immediacy, as when a heated emotional exchange causes Zoe to remember her “psyops training” before responding. Naturlich, any successful family gathering requires a certain amount of psyops. Most frustratingly, the critical brother sister bond at the heart of Out of Scope zooms out too abstract as its spy thriller inclinations take over, leaving us with salacious descriptions of soldiery rather than their initial impactful solidarity. In the few breaths the story spares for the pair unimpacted by national security, we get more telling than showing, gesturing airily at letters rather than the roiling writings within, which is a shame, because perhaps some of its strongest sparkles exist in their tempestuous multifacets: “Remorse and the thrill of your own power electrifies you, and then together you burst into tears.” There’s a section in the sprawling labyrinths of the unfinished The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil where Ulrich and his sister Agathe dialogue into a heady and equally unsettling intimacy, and some echo of that would I think massively improve the reader’s engagement in the central themes of this work.

When it adheres to its fastest flowing currents, Out of Scope compels, especially with its excellently imperial diffidence to the moral difficulty of much of its subject matter, which allows its complications space to breathe. Indeed, there is a strong attention to preserving point of view, like a great line that translates its scenic lyricisms into a child’s voice with “fireflies playing freeze tag”. But the clean shot this style could take through the story blurs, and we get waylaid by brambling bumbles that add no hues to the bloom. Even the story’s presentation, a spatially exacting Prezi, overthinks the premise, adding little beyond Twine beyond dizzying clicksickness. The author displays much promise, but in this iteration, alas, the wayward breezes stray us from the target.


I think this is the most spectacular feedback I’ve ever received, @kaemi! I’m touched that you would summarize your experience so fully and with an opulent verve that makes my prose pale. Not only is it helpful, it is beautiful. Thank you!

Barcarolle in Yellow by Victor Ojuel

In Federico Fellini’s 8 ½, a director, mistresser of actresses, has a vision of some thespian Beatrice that will elevate his existence into a purified dedication to the Art she can safely symbolize for him, angelically neuter of her own content, so like an apparition, she comes to him from the night, offers him a ride home, and he explains an idea of a film, barely pretensed as fictional, of a man’s degraded existence melting like snow before the woman of the spring, a salvation, and she listens with 60s prettiness flair that curlicues the banter, considering whether such a person is capable of love, of redemption, of art, never failing the perfect smile and tone that mercifies the despair, except once, when the car comes to a stop, and he tells her to turn the headlights off: the tension, the stare, the pretending neither.

This tension typifies much of 60s/70s cinema’s aestheticized verselust, perhaps most explicitly in the giallo genre, with its sensuous dissociations starkening in lightning strikes an ultraviolence predation: "I love your work,” a fan enthuses, to which the actress ripostes: “You mean, you love to watch me die.” In the giallo, we drink in absinthe aesthetics, neon sharps equally of glamor and sleaze that pairs “the shadowy interior … a palette of brown wood, blue jeans and purple silk” with the “mingling with the cooing tones of the can-can girls on a break.” Although the game initially feints into a spaghetti western, a telegram summons us into a train chugging through the storm, where we hear the first whispery incantations of a Goblin soundtrack: “You open your hand, and let the storm claim the piece of red silk, as it disappears carried by the wind a second later. (Why? Was that in the script, or was it your idea?) / Outside the gates, rain falls on the canals in silvery splatters.” The police, languid cigarette smoke, credits in italics: “Starring Eva Chantry as Herself….”

As herself? Yes, asserts the giallo’s brazen delirium, oohing oozing into lurid voyeurism where the camera’s gaze surfeits nakedly male desire in its intrusive omnipresence, to entwine the reel with the reel: “Trembling, you peel off your soaked dress. If this was a scene, the camera would be sliding down as you do, catching the goosebumps in your soft skin to emphasize your vulnerability, and ending with the wet heap on the floor … You run a hot bath, waiting until it’s half full to slide in, with a sensual moan of pleasure. Again, if this was a scene, the camera would catch you from behind, lingering on your nakedness as you raise one leg, then the other, and ease into the steaming water. / Does it matter that it’s a scene or not? Only if you’re acting for the audience, as your old teacher used to use. If you’re doing it for yourself, then the camera is always on.” Luxuriating in the bath, but only insofar as the faceless yet ever more pressing audience insists, dictatorial demands flooding in, as whenever you struggle to know what to do next, the hint screen slips you the next bit of script (in)((sin)uating) sensuous headiness invoked into dreamspace: “You close your eyes and listen to the patter of the rain on the windows. Fury and violence without, softness and beauty within. A metaphor for something or the other…” This pane of glass, the barrier between you and the camera, the screen and the audience, is precisely the illusion the metafictional directness of the giallo threatens, suddenly breaking in a torrent of shards, inviting in peacock preens of patriarchal brutality as readily in the fictional layer, “You run anxiously, trying to find a hotel or shelter from the rain, cold and miserable in your sodden clothes. Suddenly, a flash of lighting stops your dead on your tracks. There’s someone right in front of you … Then the light is out, and so is the knife. You fall on your knees, looking at the blood flowing into the drenched cobblestones. The next stab is through your eye, and then you see no more” as in the metafictional layer: “You’re drifting off, when a noise awakens you. Someone is knocking on your door. Again. It’s a firm, masculine way of knocking. Here comes the outside world, wanting in. You get out of the bath and towel yourself dry quickly. Who the hell could it be?” Tension of the masculinized violence of desire latent in the camera’s slow pans equivocates the film, the filmmaker. The constant terror of the indeterminacy of the demon.

That this veers haphazardly into very uncomfortable spaces accords to the unsubtlety horrors of the giallo, where the stylized tropes run so blatantly rampant that the aesthetic judgment lies largely in whether the work’s directness rips its paperthin premise to reveal a certain grinning stupidity that fails to say anything but the obvious or, in the more successful exemplar Suspiria, the semisupernatural dizziness spins itself so wildly that it dissociates into a witches’ sabbath of suggestions that let light in like stained glass. Barcarolle in Yellow threatens both outcomes through its fracturing metafictional pane. In some scenes, like the confrontation with Leona in her apartment, the game revels in its stylish semantic porousness to achieve an apropos phantasmagoric slipperiness: “Before you can touch the door, it swings open by itself. Behind it is… nobody, and nothing. Taking a deep breath, you go in, and climb the spiral staircase, ascending as it coils upon itself, tighter, higher, until you reach the high place you seem to remember like a dream … Your ideas melt in Leona’s presence like wax in the sun. … “Tell me, Eva, how have you been feeling? Do you sometimes think… things are not quite real? As if you were reading a piece of fiction and suspending your disbelief for the sake of being a part of it… or, in other words, acting?”” In others, however, the unsubtleties run crude, which nauseates when handling such intense subject matter: “You open the door a crack, as you often do when you’re about to be murdered luridly. Or raped. Often both: occupational hazard. / Through the crack, dramatically lighted, you can see a vertical slice of face: that of the director! The slice includes a brown, intense eye, an aquiline nose, a bit of smiling lip and some seriously square jawline … His eyes go wide as they follow every curve of your naked body, his voice sounds a little raspier. “Oh my God, Eva… do you always open the door in the nude? You’re amazing. Let me in, baby, I can’t wait to have you…”” It’s hard to recover any of the tensed stylized mood in the wake of such winces, so we’ll simply slip out of the cinema into the pouring rain, where we might regain the shivery extravagance.


This is a simply amazing phrase! :star_struck:


Kaemi, now that the comp is done I can thank you properly for such a lovely AND thoughtful review. May I credit you in-game? What name would you like me to use?


Sure, Kaemi Velatet.